The sprinklers visible as they ratchet their sprays that Sunday he fooled about with the neighbor’s daughter for the last time, them thinking that by keeping the shed door open a crack they might more easily hear the approach of a vehicle in one of the adjacent driveways out front. And still the shadows within sufficiently private and exciting, half of the thrill of seeing something being in the strain to do just that. Afterwards they’d gone their separate ways, each to nurse the memory while the sensation throbbed, basking in their minds even as they glowed in their loins for the defiance they’d shown, the rules they’d flouted, the order from which they’d snatched back so fundamental a right, a need, the structure that would deny them so supreme a pleasure absurd, damnable, and yet all the same necessary for the full and complete savoring of a liberty that once known would compel a journey through hell itself if only for another taste.
Walking by the sprinklers afterwards, she already having jumped the fence, the young Moonman saw the drops separated from their general pattern as touching him they made damp a growing spot on the leg of his jeans. He’d held his hand to his opposite side, then, dipping his head down low past the spray, and with face still slick with sweat had gone back into the house, wafting triumphantly, exultantly and already longingly in the privacy of his bedroom those fingers below his nose.
All of god’s creatures, says the Moonman under his breath, almost singing the words. Down here he’s safe with his memories, nothing for the aliens to harvest by skimming with their rays the inflamed surface of his brain. His eyes flick to the side. Yonder scuttles a protein pill.
Very carefully, blooming as though at hardly greater a rate than a flower itself, he opens his right hand, palm up, knuckles pushed down into the acquiescing dirt. He waits. Patience is key when harvesting one’s protein pills, that most necessary of supplements prior to any upward jump. They’d been briefed on their duties during in-processing to the Lunar Corps.
The Command Sergeant Martian standing before the men after they had taken their seats upon rows of metal benches with no backrests. They’d squirmed in place, the weather outside rainy and therefore the inside of their meeting space–a rough shelter of cinder-block walls and its corrugated tin roof, from which were suspended a string of half-caged light-bulbs–more cramped, more sticky, more uncomfortable, if such a thing were even possible. They wore all of their gear, the battle-rattle of canteens and ammunition magazines, and waiting ahead of them as surely as they’d already finished the same was a 10 kilometer march back to base; their ruck-sacks lay covered in ponchos in orderly lines out front. No time to piss, hold it–just file in and sit down, the CSM’s about to talk.
Already they’d incurred the wrath of the drill sergeants by shushing each other while they waited, the instigatory parties taking such offense at the intervention of their peers that inevitably verbal and sometimes even physical altercations would break out, the scuffling sound of boots over rough concrete and the tearing sounds of cloth while the rain made divots under the eaves and crater upon crater inside the dirt. Each grunt and sock of fist on flesh in contrast to the tiny perforations struck out from the Earth, the swelling of the sides of each miniscule point of impact, so that taken together with this violence and seen at some grander view and loftier scope all this would in fact seem soothing, nature going about its business in all of the old ways, the grass being fed, the wet holes each serving as a cavity for a seed. How even the bark of the trees drank deep, the drill sergeants not directly engaged in separating the recruits and thereafter doling out group punishments–push-up positions and weapons pressed skyward until the point of muscular failure–taking refuge under the branches there, smoking a butt, having a chew. Kick at the roots, spit, look out for the approach of the Command Sergeant Martian, who when finally he comes sends a thrill like an electric current, part terror, part fluttering of heart, through recruits and cadre alike.
“Now you men,” says the CSM, pointing at them with one hand on his hip. “You each have as your responsibility the procurement of your survival gear.” A solid bearing, a soldierly challenge.
As one they bellow: Yes, sir! The thrill of being able and willing to obey an order at once, absolutely, unfailingly.
“I want this done before your first deployment to the Moon. Understood?”
“If you men don’t have your own breathing apparatus and helmet ready for,” he clenches his fist out in front of his chest, a grin spelling out fraternity and malice all at once, “fighting those alien bastards, you’ll answer to me. Understood?”
The room knows silence now, not a whisper or rustle of cloth; not a sneeze, nor an eggy fart, both of which they in their periods of waiting and idleness like to employ as both diversion for themselves and torture for their peers. Nothing. Perfect comprehension, only the rain outside with its wet and multiform impact–and who can stop the rain?
“I know you men can do it.” Both hands on his hips now, a jaunty smile of challenge and esprit de corps. “Yeah, you killers are going to be all right. Let me tell you something, men: I’ve been fighting those damn alien bastards since before you were even born. Hell,” he laughs, stealing a glance at his drill instructors, who even in sharing in this moment of levity express in their laughs some undertone of a snarl, some layered message to convey to the recruits the low regard in which still, jokes notwithstanding, they’re all held, “I’ve been fighting those aliens since before your species even came down from the trees.” He nods. “That’s why I know when I look at you, I’m in the company of men willing to fight for their sheds.”
In spontaneous exclamation the men of Lunar Corps class number 333 let out a whoop that reverberates inside the structure’s cinder-block walls.
“Now,” says the Command Sergeant Martian, preparing to leave. “What is it I want all of you to do?”
Get our space suits ready, sir!
And I did, muses the Moonman to himself under the house. The chill down here nice as he eyes the blind and probing transit of a protein pill nearing his trap…