“Ooh, is that the Moon?” asked Fortitude, pointing her photo finger towards a white dot in the sky.
“No, Mom, that’s just a drone. You can’t see the Moon until night, usually,” replied her left-daughter Balance, rolling her eyes.
“How long will that be?”
“Hey!” Balance’s right-mother Ingenuity stopped, almost tripping her skittering suitcase up. “It’s a green-tree! Balance, take our photo with the green-tree!”
“Urgh, Muv, come on! You’re acting like tourists!” Balance pointed across the crowded plaza to a shimmering ziggurat, leaf-green and bark-brown. “Let’s drop the bags off at my dorms, and then you can look at all the trees you want.”
“Just take our photo, come on! I want to send it to the crew back home.” Ingenuity and Fortitude linked arms and stood in front of the tree smiling.
“Here, I’ll take it.” Joie-de-Vivre, Balance’s cross-sister, pointed at her mothers and tapped the back of her hand. “There we… wait, hold on.” A group of men walked through her sightline, wearing musical instruments like turtle shells on their backs. “OK. There we go. Posted and tagged.” She turned and watched the musicians disappear into the crowd, necks of their bass cases bobbing like periscopes over the hairy sea. “It’s so busy here. I’ve never seen so many people.”
“And so many men!” added Ingenuity. “What’s that like?”
Balance sighed, and an eye-roll symbol flashed on the Mood Index. “It’s normal, Muv! They’re just people. There are some on my course, you know. I don’t even notice them most of the time. I mean, I don’t think ‘Oh vac, a man!’ every time I see one.”
“You don’t need to give us a lecture,” snapped Ingenuity. “I was just asking.”
“At least stop staring. They can see you, you know.”
The visitors suddenly glanced at the ground, fascinated by the suitcases walking in circles around them.
The Sun was brushing the sandy horizon when Balance and her family stepped back out.
“Oh wow, so this is sunset?” Fortitude focused on the horizon, and then recoiled suddenly at the intensity of the sunlight.
“That’s right!” Balance replied, smug as if she’d painted the violet-gold skies herself. Joie-de-Vivre snapped three pictures of the clouds – just indistinguishable pastel smears, but she uploaded them all.
“OK, so, what do you want to eat?” After a cup of tea and an hour on the sofa, Balance’s patience had returned. “If you want something local, there’s a place that does tagines. That’s like, meat and veg cooked in a big clay pot.”
Joie-de-Vivre turned around. “Do they still make meat out of animals here?”
“You know, I wouldn’t mind trying a bit of animal-meat while I’m here. See if it really does taste better.” Ingenuity grinned, and Joie-de-Vivre recoiled from her right-mother.
“That’s it,” Fortitude said. “I’m laying down a veto. No animal-meat. And no wet-plants either.”
“What?” Balance said. “You’ve come all the way to Earth and you’re not even going to have an orange?”
Fortitude winced, her lips puckering reflexively. “No, it’s weird, putting acid in your mouth like that. Hey, is there a Fun Farm around here?” The answer appeared on the back of her hand, an arrow pointing toward a food mall in the corner of the plaza.
“Fun Farm? Come on! Be adventurous!” Ingenuity said, pouting.
“Yeah, Mum, you can have Fun Farm whenever you want back home.”
“Just for the first night. I just want something… Vac!”
There was a loud ripping sound and Ingenuity staggered sideways. Her storage belt was gone, and a ripple was spreading through the crowd as the robber fled.
“My belt’s gone!” Fortitude shouted. “My belt! It’s got all my grav pills on it!”
As her left-mother panicked, Balance began tapping on the back of her hand and summoned the guards. Three chattering drones dropped from the sky, and the ground shuddered as the floor tiles around the robber shifted and vibrated. Jolted off balance by the moving ground, the crowds parted, opening a space around the robber who stumbled away, trying to outsmart the security systems. Two human guards ran across the newly opened space, glue-guns raised.
“Don’t worry, they’ve got him,” Balance said.
“It’s a man.” Ingenuity didn’t look surprised. The robber held the belt up like a flag of surrender.
“I bet he overheard you all talking like bloody tourists – which you were – and figured you wouldn’t know how to use the Guards app.”
“I knew it would be a man,” Ingenuity muttered. She took back her belt when the guards handed it to her, and clutched it tight to her waist. There were men everywhere after all.
Balance watched the horizon bob on the back of her hand. She pointed to a gap in the buildings, where the blue desert stretched out into the darkness. “OK, it should appear in that direction any second now.”
The four looked intently at the skyline.
“It should take about three minutes,” she continued, reading off the screen.
“I’m ready,” Joie-de-Vivre said, stretching out her photo-finger. With her free hand, she picked umami nuggets from a foil bag. Fun Farm had won the day.
“Alright, let’s count down. Five!”
“Four! Three! Two! One!”
Zero was a bit of an anticlimax. A moment’s squinting revealed the tiniest sliver of clean white light, as if seen through the crack of a slowly opening door. Crowning, the upper edge pushed into view.
“Oh, this is exciting!” Fortitude was bouncing in place. “Now that’s got to be the moon, right?”
They sat for a moment in silence. Joie-de-Vivre frowned, flicking her finger trying to zoom in closer.
“Come on, can’t it go any faster?” Ingenuity drummed on her belt, and her Mood Index still flashed prickly cactus green. Her stress and irritation levels had barely dropped. Fortitude rested a gentle hand over Ingenuity’s restless fingers.
“You’re not still angry about it, are you?” she whispered. “It wasn’t even your belt.”
“I know! It was just, well, so brazen! He only stole your belt, but think what he could have done! It would never happen back in Prav-Base.”
The Mood Index thrummed. Balance had just sent another eye-roll. “Oh, give it a rest, Muv. Let me guess, it’s all because of the men?”
“You’re putting words in my mouth. I never said that. It’s just, this is such a planet. You hear all these things that go on on planets, and it’s because there are just so many people on them. You know, even if one person in a thousand is evil, that means there’s ten million evil people on Earth. And you know, I’m not wrong when I say there are always more bad men than bad women.”
“Am I really hearing this? Is my Muv actually being planetist?”
“Oh, give it a break, I’m just winding you up.”
“Well, it’s not funny,” Balance snapped. “Planetism is a very…”
“Come on!” Fortitude waved towards the horizon. The moon protruded from the Earth like a pregnant belly, and it’s far edge was slipping into view. “Eh, but it’s a funny shape isn’t it? I’ve seen photos where it’s a circle or a crescent, but you never see it like this. What’s it called?”
“Dunno,” Balance replied.
“Gibbous,” Ingenuity cut in. “It’s called gibbous.”
When the moon detached from the horizon, there was an almost audible pop. Suddenly it was floating unsupported, an aseptic white thumbnail in the bruised sky.
“Is that it?” Joie-de-Vivre asked.
“The Moon?” Balance tilted her head. “Er, yeah.”
“It’s so small. Does it… grow?” Try as she might, she couldn’t zoom close enough in on it with her photo-finger.
“What, is that not enough for you? A glowing rock nearly as big as Mercury orbiting right over your head? You want something more?”
“No, no, it’s just… I thought it would be bigger.”
Balance sighed and remembered her first night on Earth.
“So did I.”