The Spaceman, dares to venture the Moon and find what it is that pulls at his soul...
ADRIFT, LIKE THOUGHT
October 19th, 1878 A.D
Thousands across the West bore witness to the miracle. Gleaming in its promise, the grand experiment floated implausibly high. From the spacious wheat fields and the tallest structures, observers beheld what appeared to be the oaken hull of some rounded galleon, strapped with wide iron bands. Four stitched leather balloons strained to lift the craft. Men declared it to be the finest marvel of science, while women thought it mad. The Rail City Chronicle posted a four-page piece dedicated to its splendor, and to what may come of its findings. From such periodicals, everyone knew that somewhere inside of that bulk of advancements and contrivances was the pilot. A man trained in many occupations and titles: dilettante, soldier, spokesman, scientist, champion, mutated abnormality. But first and foremost, Alexander Mitchell Amberson was a dreamer.
Drifting slowly, the vessel seemed not to elevate, but to crawl vertically along some undefined ladder. Six thousand feet, then eight thousand. Hours seeped by as the pilot gazed out a solitary porthole allowing him to view the objective of his embattled soul; the fullness of the Moon. He longed for it, pined for its secrets, and was now on his way, tense with anticipation.
Twenty thousand feet. Time and travel were tortoise like. One mile. Three miles. The balloons were the sturdiest ever made, thousands of yards of wax-coated silk, surrounded by a second layer of rough leather, attached to a unique copper vessel. But at this altitude they began to falter. Clouds were passed long ago, air incredibly thin. Alexander raised both black gloved hands forward. With the rapid releasing of four valves, each balloon was emancipated from the ship. With equal swiftness, the pilot initiated the blowers, the gears and the wheels to the prototype's mechanical muse: a condensed steam boiler. A passionate fire boiled stored water, turning once cold pipes furnace hot. All around him came a whistling roar that would have induced deafness, were it not for the padded mask he wore.
From above, the ship was no ship at all, but a massive bowl. Its unique content, attached loosely to parallel supports of wrought iron, was a near-perfect figure eight of two spheres, with the larger at the rear and secure on a two-pronged fork, the smaller orb at the front. The only distortion to its shape being two long pipes at either extremity, each curved backward and funneled down to form a tapered nozzle. The front orb possessed a dull and unpolished finish, while bearing a broad panel of thick glass.
Its foundation originated with the ancients themselves, the earliest of great thinkers. Boilers heated water within the confines of the largest sphere, evaporating liquid tranquility into an immense gaseous pressure. Scalding steam, beautiful in its power, hissed and fired viciously from each pipe. As that pressure released, the construct sought to roll on its supports. The great ball rotated at faster intervals, and as the container ark began its downward spiral, steam pressure pushed the sphere up and away at a breakneck pace.
Cold copper twirled away from Earth's influence. After forcing its gales for several minutes, the final whirs of steam gasped out of the two curved pipes on the gigantic new age aeolipile. Sky blue gave way to a black expanse as the far-off light of stars bloomed in their brightness. The Earth became ever smaller. At this height, gravity had such a miniscule effect that a temporary steam rocket would suffice. Allow the ether to do the rest.
He was unbound!
Alexander Mitchell Amberson was at last on his way to the Moon. Hours of floating high, dropping weights, and cranking the volatile steam engine to short life had paid off for the dreamer. Now Luna, the whole sum of his future, lay ahead. He stretched his powerful muscles in the padded suit of ebony wool, rubber and steel plating, and sighed at the multitudes of new sensations. Abject quiet. Burning cold. Humbling power of the heavens. The uneven wobbling of this sphere-on-sphere he called an ethership. To compensate, and to remind himself that this state was indeed real, Amberson clutched tightly to the two crystalline levers that could subtly keep the orb in its trajectory towards the bottom of the gray moon, a deadening hole at the end of another world.
Ease back. Do not break the controls, he reminded himself.
Wobbling turned into level flight, and as he relaxed, he felt the lessening of gravity. If it were not for the straps, surely he would be touching the ceiling! It was a tempting thought, a unique desire, to experiment and feel something fully unknown to any other man, the suspension of encumbrance. But the goal, his singular passion, kept him belted down, mindful of the protocols agreed upon back home, when the varied difficulties of this conundrum were first pondered. Admiring the ship preoccupied him on the initial lift, and he took in the shine of the brass and the attention to detail of the internal sphere's wall. Copper, brass and nickel wove an intricate montage of lunar cycles and eclipses. He sat in a simultaneous fit of calm expectation and nervous anxiety within this smaller ball, both transport and prison. Before him were the controls, an immense clutter of functionalities that would, supposedly, grant some form of maneuverability. But this was all theory, so much conjecture. As to the validity of their usefulness, he would only know at the final, agonizing seconds. Alexander performed the mental regulations:
Proper alignment with satellite. Positive.
He examined the inner walls of the sphere acutely. Sighed in relief.
Breaches within the hull. Negative!
Lastly, he tightened the arachnid-like mask designed by his mentor, Edwin Bedford Seer, which gave the explorer a familiar comfort; glanced down at the tanks strapped to his person.
Portable atmospheric inclusion device operational? Positive. He tapped glass on the pressure gauge to give the check tangibility.
Amberson twice checked his instruments, and then a third time. He alternated between relaxing and flexing his limbs in order to keep his extremities thriving. Cold kept him awake and aching, the thermal aspects of the uniform were proving inadequate to sustain warmth. The rhythmic pumping of the inclusion machine along his back and sides became a hollow form of music, attempting to lull the mind. He felt lighter and a bit unhinged. The old world, the previous life, surrendered its invisible grip of his person. Excitement and terror alternated in his soul.
This is all so new. I have no guide here. What are the rules in this eternal plane? Focus. Eyes ever forward.
Luna grew and swelled. Steam had hurled him just far enough to allow Her tentative fingers to grasp his transport, and pull him ever closer. Pitch black craters became more visible, yet revealed nothing. Gray dirt became merely more shades of gray. An absence of movement. A void of biology. The vacancy of the world renewed deeply suppressed doubts. Such closeness to the objective humbled the pilot, and reminded him of how the past, what he left behind, had bade him to become some stargazing Ahab, the grim Moon his whale.
Five years of dreaming of the Moon! Whereas other men dreamed of women, better living, vengeance or wealth, the traveler longed only to walk along on that other realm. His father was certainly the former, and died in a splendid mansion outside the Railroad City he helped to build. Yet, Alexander Amberson, son of wealth, heir of empire, dreamed thoughts outrageous and inquired of philosophies too much to his parents' chagrin. Before the dreamings, even as a child, nothing quelled his melancholy. Neither riches nor lavish dinners stopped his heart from bleeding about truth and the ills of men. Military service, his father Gavin's demand, only darkened the young man's outlook. He struggled to control rising emotions.
That time was naught, but now is all! Self control. Maintain yourself.
He slowed his breathing, forcing his eyes and conscious efforts upon the globe before him. Speed was incalculably swift, though the ethership felt stagnant after leaving orbit, for now there was nothing in eyesight but the majesty of Luna herself. Its pallid landscape became ever more desolate and pitiful, reminding him of battlefields and sorrow. Miniscule adjustments were made in the directional levers, brief wisps of released air that encouraged the metallic bubble in its angle downward. Careening toward the absolute end of that realm, its vastness opening overhead, he shuddered for many moments. All before him was an empty cavity of bleakness, jagged monuments to no one. The cavernous sea went on forever. As its size loomed above, so did terror and exasperation swell in his core.
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