For the Moon: 1
Captain plopped the armor onto my shoulders and my knees nearly buckled under the weight. I straightened my back and puffed out my chest as much as I could, hoping to prove that I belonged here. Captain already had his doubts about me. No need to give him more reason to shake his head and tut his tongue at my feebleness.
The second he walked away, I hobbled to the nearest rock and sank onto it, sweat pouring down my forehead at the effort to stay upright. The pressure of the hefty padding on my ribcage had me worried that my lungs might collapse. Even for a three-hundred pound bulk of muscle this had to be tough. When I reached age, I would be stronger. I would grow into it. I had to.
Samson tiptoed over to me, glancing around to make sure he wasn’t seen. “How you doing, buddy?”
I gave the thumb’s up and choked out, “Living the dream.”
He wrenched at the straps, cinching them up to squeeze tighter around my puny midriff. “You’ll get the hang of it, I swear.”
“Can’t people fight better without these?”
“You won’t fight very well when the Kraiks drive one of their blades through your gut, or a Treecian slams you with a ram.”
He tied off his adjustments to my armor. “How’s that?”
“Worse,” I whined, the vest seeming to compress every organ into a flattened disc.
“It won’t be once you start moving around. The more formed the fit, the more the weight is distributed. It won’t drag down your shoulders so much.”
“Nolan,” he sighed with a sadness in his eyes. “You don’t have to do this, you know. Captain wouldn’t blame you. No one would.”
“Why does everyone keep trying to talk me out of it?” I grumbled.
“You have a lot of good years left on you. I don’t want you to throw all that away out of pride.”
I shimmied my armor forward until I had enough momentum to stand up, then I lifted my chin at him. “My pride is what’s going to get me through this in one piece. You watch. I’ll prove it.”
“Of course I believe in you,” he assured me, “but a lot of times out there, in the field, most of what happens is out of your control.”
“I’ve got this, Samson.” I circled around myself. “Where’s my club?”
He fetched it from where it leaned on the side of the bathhouse and tossed it into my arms. “It’s about as tall as you are.”
“And just as deadly as me too.”
“You’re both definitely stubborn,” he conceded with a smirk. “We’ll see about deadly.”
We strolled out to meet the rest of our crew at the ship. Many of our cohorts had already boarded. Captain stood like a sentinel at the mouth of the entrance, watching as we approached.
“Any time today, gentleman,” he called to us.
Samson whispered in my ear. “He’s just trying to make us squirm. We’ve still got a good ten minutes before launch. If he wants to rake us over the coals, he can take it up with me.”
I snickered. “If you’re so tough why don’t you say that loud enough for Captain to hear?”
His lip curled in mock uncertainty. “I don’t want to put Captain in that position. He wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he’s quaking in his boots at the thought of facing up to the likes of you.”
“He should be.”
Our laughter gradually tapered off as our arrival at the ship brought Captain into earshot. We both kept our heads bowed out of respect. No matter the slander we shot off behind his back, Captain was the best of us.
We expected a harsh reprimand for our tardiness, as was Captain’s way, but when we peeked up at him, his attention was elsewhere. His gaze locked onto the sky, a dreamy calm overtaking the set wrinkles that usually adorned him. I swore a twinkle shone in his eye, though I had thought the deep umber of his irises would always remain a never-ending, untouched darkness.
He finally addressed the two of us in a tone more genial than ever before. “Have you ever been to the moon, gentlemen?”
I followed his train of thought to the giant white orb that overtook most of our sky. My skin crawled with nerves as reality set in. “No, sir. My feet have never left this planet.”
“I’m guessing they never wanted to,” he mused, a hint of a smile tugging at the thin line of his lips. “Corsius has been a good home to us.”
“Yes, sir,” Samson chimed in, his bravado from earlier melting away.
Captain winked at us. “Let’s do our part to keep it that way, for our sake and for everyone else that has made a life here.”
“That’s the plan, isn’t it?” I tilted my head up at him. “That’s why we’re going off to fight.”
“Yes, it is,” he replied, though his patented look of chastising seemed to edge back onto his features. “We fight for the resources to survive, and the moon is the only place that can give us that. We lay claim and every person on this planet will never want for anything again. We fight for the moon, and we fight for the people of Corsius.”
“Yes, sir,” Samson mumbled again.
“Which means,” Captain added, “there is no room for ego or glory in this battle. The fate of this planet goes far beyond me, and far beyond you.” He raised an eyebrow in our direction.
Though I’d been straining to stand tall, his pointed upbraiding sagged my shoulders. “Understood, sir.”
“Now, if the two of you would please take your places on the ship. It’s time to win the moon.”
Samson and I lugged ourselves up the ramp and onto the deck with our heads hung. The rest of our fellow soldiers already claimed seats and strapped themselves in. Most men stared straight ahead with tight jaws, fully aware of the brutal events we were about to write into history. Hesitant and begrudging, I allowed myself to be pulled down into the truth of it too. Of the hundreds of men on this deck, few would return. I would likely be one of the missing ones on the ride back. My stomach lurched at the realization.
Everyone had chosen their seats, first come, first serve, which meant the two remaining were eleven rows apart. Samson slid into the first available and shot me as much of a comforting smile as he could muster as I passed. No more words needed to pass between us. We both knew that on the other end of this flight, the action would grab us instantly. This could be the last exchange between us.
I slumped into my seat and struggled with the tangle of belts and straps that seemed to have no end. The nameless soldier next to me scanned me up and down in judgement, and I used the opportunity of our eye contact to take note of the way his straps were buckled. Soon I solved the puzzle and raised my head with dignity. I ignored the fact that my scrawny chest failed to fill even the tightest setting of the belts and I had plenty of wiggle room. It was secure enough that I wouldn’t slide out and that’s what mattered.
The metal rumbled under our feet as the engine whirred to life and the panic returned to my innards. I swallowed at the nausea tickling my throat.
Our ship jolted and for the first time ever, my feet left Corsius.
To be continued in For the Moon: 2...
© 2021 by Kelsey Garber