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It was the end. He had seconds to live, he felt unready. His life flashed before his eyes in the classic style, he saw it had been nearly empty of content, he thought But I wanted more! The elderly Chinese gentleman strapped into the seat next to him leaned onto his shoulder to get a look out the window.
No, their fate was in the hands of their machinery. As always, of course, but this time it was too much, their dependence too visible.
The old man smiled. Previously his face had been calm, ancient, a little sad; now laugh lines formed a friendly pattern on his face, making it clear he had smiled like this many times.
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It was like switching on a light. White hair pulled back in a ponytail, cheerful smile: Fred tried to focus on that. If they hit the moon now they would be smeared far across it, disaggregating into molecules. At least it would be fast. Whiteblackwhiteblack alternated below so quickly that the landscape blurred to gray, then began to spark red and blue, as in those pinwheels designed to create that particular optical illusion.
He was light-headed, sweating. Another wave of nausea washed through him, he feared he might throw up. I was once a guest of one of your federal agencies. Your National Science Foundation sent me to Antarctica. A very fine organization.
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The push shoving them increased. If their ship was already magnetically attached to its landing strip, as this shove indicated must be the case, then they were safe, or at least safer. Many a train on Earth worked exactly like this, levitating over a magnetic strip and getting accelerated or decelerated by electromagnetic forces.
The white land and its black flaws still flew by them at an astonishing speed, but the bad part was over now. Now that wave function had collapsed to this particular moment. Magnetism is just as spooky, if you ask me. Quantum entanglement has what they call non-locality. So it is pretty weird. The moon now flashed by them a little less stupendously. Their deceleration was having its effect. A white plain stretched to a nearby horizon, splashed with jet-black shadows flying past.
Their landing piste was more than two hundred kilometers long, Fred had been told, but going as fast as they were, something like kilometers an hour at touchdown, their ship would have to decelerate pretty hard for the whole length of the track. And in fact they were still being decisively pushed back into their seats, also pulled upward, or so it seemed, strange though that was.
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This slight upward force was already lessening, and the main shove was back into the seat, like pressure all over from a giant invisible hand. The view out the window looked like bad CGI. But it meant they had come in around forty times faster than a commercial jet on Earth landed, while the tolerance for error in terms of meeting the piste was on the order of a few centimeters. No problem, his friends with knowledge of the topic had told him.
No atmosphere to mess things up, rocket guidance very precise; it was safer than the other methods of landing on the moon, safer than landing in a plane on Earth—safer than driving a car down a road! And yet they were landing on the moon! It was hard to believe they were really doing it.
It was easy to tell when they stopped decelerating: the pressure ended. Then they were sitting there, feeling lunar g properly for the first time. That meant Fred now weighed about twenty-four pounds. He had calculated this in advance, wondering what it would feel like. Now, shifting around in his seat, he found that it felt almost like the weightlessness they had experienced during the three days of their transfer from Earth. But not quite. Their attendant released them from their restraints and they struggled to their feet.
Fred discovered it felt somewhat like walking in a swimming pool, but without the resistance of water, nor any tendency to float to the surface. No—it was like nothing else. Their flight attendant was better at getting around than they were, very fluid and bouncy.
Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson | Hachette Book Group
Movies from the moon always showed this bounciness, all the way back to the Apollo missions: people hopping around like kangaroos, falling down. Now here too they fell, as if badly drunk, apologizing as they collided—laughing—trying to help others, or just pull themselves up.
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Fred barely flexed his toes and yet was worse than anybody; he lofted into the air, managed to grab an overhead railing to stop himself from crashing into the ceiling. Then he dropped back to the floor as if parachuting. Others were not so lucky and hit the ceiling hard; the thumps indicated it was padded. Pretend you are a sloth. Topics Science fiction books. Fiction reviews.
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