Leon Summers found himself face-first on the Moon’s surface. In his excitement to take his first steps on new land, he tripped over a rock. It’s okay though. Reduced gravity made his landing a soft one. Besides, he couldn't be more happy to exist!
“You okay there, Rookie?” The lieutenant captain’s words clicked in over his headset.
“I’ve never been better!” Leon began making snow angels--moon angels--on the ground. He picked up some rock--moon rocks--and beamed at them with unbridled joy. “These are moon rocks...!”
“They sure are, dude!” Jun’s voice answered. They might’ve been one of the people staring down at Leon, but there was too much dust on his helmet for him to tell.
Someone gave him their hand and helped him to his feet. The kind soul was even nice enough to wipe the dust from his helmet, revealing herself to be Roxie.
“Thanks Roxie!” The rookie’s face started to ache from smiling so hard, but he couldn’t stop. “Can you believe that we’re here? On the actual Moon? I feel like I’m dreaming!”
“It’s not a dream!” Roxie shook her head in such a way that would’ve normally sent her curls bouncing all over the place, had they not been confined inside her helmet. She hooked her arm into his. “You’re journeying into a new frontier. The final one, in fact! So we’ve been told.”
Miles of foreign, rocky terrain stretched out on either side of the crew. The Moon's surface looked darker than it did from Earth's surface, which made the Celestion-5 stand out in comparison. A silver chariot in a desert of darkness. That sounded like something Roxie would say!
Just as Leon thought that, she turned to him. “Are you ready to venture forth, traveller?”
“Yeah!” He’d never been more ready for anything in his life.
“Okay! Let’s gooo!” Roxie broke into a skip, lifting Leon upward as her arm swung forward. The low gravity sent them soaring into the non-existent air, floating down as gently as feathers. It felt like magic.
“This is so much fun!” Leon skipped along with her as he took in the Moon’s landscape from new heights. The two continued to bounce around in circles, laughing all the way. Jun smiled up at them. “Hey Jun, do you wanna join us?”
“Bounce with us, Junzie!” invited Roxie.
They waved. “Nah, I’m fine just watching you guys have fun.”
“Awww.” Roxie whined. Someone else caught her attention. In the direction she looked, a lone star ranger stood by herself. Mia. “Dearest Wattson! Would you like to join us?”
The freckled ranger stepped back. “I-I don’t know… Shouldn’t we be conserving our oxygen?”
“You’re correct, Ranger Wattson.”
Out from the ship strode Captain Galhardo. Poised and calm, he surveyed his surroundings with the keenness of a hawk. He didn’t flinch. When Leon and Roxie nearly crashed into him, he merely tugged Leon down by the hand.
“Cooool…” Leon and Roxie whispered in unison. They soon realized that whispering meant nothing when you’re in what was essentially an in-person group chat. The captain gave them a quick glance.
“Uh, thanks Captain!” Leon spoke up. “For bringing us back down to Earth… or should I say the Moon~?” He winked. In the background, Emil did the same. The captain reacted to neither of them.
“We will be journeying over to the Interstellar Forces Moon Base ahead.” The 19-year-old captain motioned a hand toward a bulky structure about a mile in front of the group. “The trip should only take 20 minutes, but that is no excuse to be wasteful with our oxygen supply. Or our jet fuel.”
As he said this, he looked toward his brother, who was currently propelling himself upward with short bursts from his ankle jets. He looked like he was trying to do a flip, but couldn’t quite make it back on his feet.
“Oops, sorry bro!” Emil apologized, lifting himself from the ground.
“By the way, Lieutenant, where is Ranger Kelly?”
Only now did Leon realize that his roommate Aiden was nowhere to be found.
“Uhhhh,” began the lieutenant captain, “I dooon’t know. Last time I saw him, he was using his jets to do flips over there.” He pointed toward the Moon Base. “You shoulda seen it! It was so cool!”
The captain’s sigh could be heard by all. “Ranger Kelly, state your whereabouts.”
A few moments went by without an answer.
“Ranger Kelly,” Captain Galhardo repeated more sternly, “where--?”
“I’m at the Moon Base.” Aiden’s voice clicked in, grouchy as ever.
“I must ask who gave you permission to proceed to the Moon Base?”
Emil crossed his arms as if to say ‘Don’t look at me.’
“Me, I guess,” answered Aiden. “Everyone was takin’ so long, I figured I might as well fly over. Anyway, they’re letting me inside now. Later, Cap.”
“Ranger Kelly, it’s important that we arrive there as a--!” Aiden’s connection shut off before the captain got a chance to properly scold him.
Tension and silence hung in the non-existent air.
“...I guess I will have to deal with Ranger Kelly later.” The captain looked down toward the ground, crossing his arms. “For now, we should begin walking toward the base.”
Leon walked forward with the others, but he began to notice how much slower he went on the Moon compared to Earth. He felt like he was walking through molasses, or rather, moonlasses. He chuckled at his own pun.
A few feet away, Emil pretended to run in slow motion.
“Lieutenant.” Captain Galhardo did not seem to be in the mood for his brother’s games.
“What? It’s not like I’m wasting oxygen. I’m just havin’ a little fun on the way!”
“This is our first meeting with the other members of the Celestion Project, so we need to make a suitable first impression.” His voice lowered. “It’s already bad enough that Ranger Kelly entered without us...”
“We could just fly over there like he did, right?” The lieutenant flapped his hands like wings. “That would save us more oxygen and we could catch up to Aiden quicker.”
“You’re correct, but--”
“It would look lazy.” The older Galhardo winced. “Plus, using jet armor on the Moon is different from doing so in the microgravity of space. It might be dangerous for some of our less experienced members. I don’t want to use them without reason.”
The rookie was glad to know he was working for a captain who looked out for everyone. As if aware of his appreciation, Captain Galhardo made eye-contact with him.
“Fiiiine.” Emil lazily spun on one foot as he walked. “Is Dad gonna be there?”
“No, Chief Commander Galhardo is currently headed to Mars.”
“César Galhardo is your dad?” Leon blurted out. “I remember learning about him in history class!” Thinking about it, that should’ve been obvious. Galhardo wasn’t a particularly popular name.
“Yeah!” replied Emil, almost simultaneously with his brother.
“It’s kind of unnerving that a death ray was almost built miles from my house. Thank goodness your father intervened.” Mia’s words were barely perceptible.
“That’s so cool!” Just as soon as he said that, Leon realized how it could be taken the wrong way. “I mean the living near the Moon Base thing, not the living near a real-life death ray thing.”
“Did they ever find out where it was supposed to target?” asked Roxie. “I remember hearing that being a top secret mystery!”
“No.” answered the captain.
“Our dad never even told us.” Emil added. “He said it’s for our safety that we don’t know, but that’s kinda his go-to catchphrase for anything he doesn’t want us knowing or doing. Anyway, Mom’s the only one he ever told.”
“And that’s exactly why he never told us. Secrets like that are best kept by one person. If not one, then at least people you can keep an eye on.”
“Heeey, it’s not like he knew he and Mom were gonna get divor--”
Emil looked around, and even Leon could see him grit his teeth in embarrassment. No one else dared to say a word.
“It was… amicable…” he mumbled.
“I guess it doesn’t matter in the end which country it was.” Jun broke the ice. “All that matters is that nobody got hurt.”
“A crisis was averted!” Roxie chirped.
“Yeah, I’m glad there wasn’t a tragedy or a war or anything, but I’m still sad people were planning to do that to begin with,” lamented Leon. “The Moon Base was supposed to be a symbol of peace, a beacon of humanity. It’s such a shame those guys went and ruined that.”
“I understand how you feel, Ranger Summers.” The captain surprisingly acknowledged Leon’s words.
“I thought Lunaria was supposed to be the beacon of humanity…” thought Mia out loud.
“Lunaria, the Moon Base, people on Earth tend to view them as the same thing.” Emil waved a hand. “The difference only matters to us space-livin’ folk.”
Leon took a moment to appreciate this new environment. Shallow craters surrounded him, the same ones he used to view through his telescope back home. Would someone be able to see him through theirs? The thought of it gave him butterflies in his stomach. He waved toward the Earth, just in case someone was watching. And they were! It was Mia, beside him.
“Hey Mia!” He caught the freckled ranger off guard. “Have you ever used a telescope to look at the Earth?”
“Oh, um, a few times. When I was younger.” She always seemed to answer in as little words as possible. How mysterious...
“Were you able to see any people?”
“Aww man… I hope people can see us up here, though.” Leon continued waving. “Wouldn’t that be great?”
“I don’t know. I’d prefer not to be watched by people so far away.”
“You also prefer not to be watched from close up!” Roxie’s head popped up over her shoulder, making Mia jump. She began waving her hands over the freckled girl’s visor. “The Invisible Mia Wattson, obscured from all except her own heart.”
Mia laughed. “I wish…”
She seemed like such good friends with Roxie. It made Leon smile.
“You know,” he began, “I don’t think I could’ve taken my first steps on the Moon with a better group of people. You guys are pretty great! This is only supposed to be a 20-minute trip and all, but I could spend hours walking around with you all!”
“Awwww! You’re such a sweetie pie!” If it weren’t for his oxygen tank, Roxie would’ve squeezed all the air out of him.
“Thanks Rookie! You--” the lieutenant pointed at him from behind his own head, “--are a cool guy too. Don’t go forgetting it!” He winked.
“It’s been cool hanging out with you too,” Jun looked back toward him. It was surreal how little time it took for them to go from an almost mythical figure to being like the big sibling he never had. “About the 20-minute trip thing, though, it has been about that long, right? Like, I’m not, like, bugging out am I?”
“Oh thank goodness, I thought it was just me!” blurted Emil. “We’ve been walking waaay too long for us to be, what, halfway there?”
“It seems that I neglected to account for the Moon’s gravity,” admitted the captain. “That is my mistake. We should still have more than enough oxygen to get there, though, but let’s not take too long.”
His younger brother saluted. “Aye-aye, Captain!” Just then, something caught his attention. He hopped back toward Leon. “Yo, Rookie! Check out the horizon!”
Just over the horizon, Leon could see the beginnings of an arc. A dome. And not just any dome, either. One that glowed with hopes, dreams, and a projection of an artificial blue sky.
“It is!” The lieutenant winked with both eyes. How impressive!
“The Lunarian Dome!” Leon gasped. “Home of Lunaria, the Moon’s one and only colony! A place where the stars shine every night!”
“And even in the day if you leave the dome.”
“It’s a glimpse into the future! A city above it all! On the cutting edge of everything, from technology to transportation!”
“You sound a little like a tourism ad.” Jun noted through a smile.
“I can just taste that fresh, stale air!” The rookie ranger took a deep breath. “Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get to see the sky bluescreen! Or space punk fashion! In person! Or! Or! Or I could finally drink a real bottle of Astro Juice!”
“The coveted elixir, only available in Lunaria!” added Roxie.
Leon vaulted a few leaps ahead of the group, who stopped for some reason. “I wanna get a closer look!”
“Ranger Summers, stay back!”
Gravity was already in motion before Leon could even register the captain’s command. In trying to get a better look at the Lunarian Dome, he found himself high above the ground, but when he looked back, the crew was even higher above him. That’s when he realized he fell into a crater.