“It was a goddamn oddball thing to do,” said Paden, his voice tinny over the cheap standard suit radios we’d been issued. I turned my face a little so I could see him out of the left side of my helmet, but I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t see his face behind his faceplate because of the reflection of the landscape. I looked back down into the crater.
“The photographers from Life seemed impressed enough,” Janny said. He stepped a little closer to the edge of the crater. “Even that old expert they brought up.”
Paden breathed a grunt, the sound harsh over my helmet speakers. “Oh, I know it was a hell of a lot of work. Just ask ‘Shadow’ Schergen here,” he said, lightly punching me in the shoulder with a gloved hand. “He practically lived out here most of the time Kivett was doing it. But it’s still a goddamn funny thing to do. The first time I heard someone say Kivett was making a garden, I thought he’d lost it, and get himself rotated back Earthside ahead of schedule. And he was about the only one up here who wouldn’t have wanted that.”
“Had to give it to him, though, just for working so damn hard on it,” Janny answered. “Out here after every shift, almost, except when it was completely dark.”
“He worked hard,” Paden admitted. “But I don’t get it, now that it’s done, I’ll tell you that. Do you? I wouldn’t know it was even finished if he hadn’t told everyone so.”
“Well, I guess I wouldn’t really either,” said Janny, laughing. “It’s still rocks and dust. All of his work didn’t change that.”
“And what do you say, Shadow? You’re the poetical one, aren’t you?”
“Come on, Paden,” said Janny. “So he tried to write a couple poems. And I didn’t think they were so bad.”
“Yeah, yeah. But we still have to get your take on this, Shadow.”
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
We were standing on the lip of the crater, looking down. The crater, a nice, sharply-defined one, was about twelve meters across, and the area enclosed by its walls was where Kivett had worked. Over the last several months he had painstakingly raked and swept and unobtrusively sculpted the soil. I had watched him remove, and then carefully re-site, each of the rocks, so now they made simple designs, like tumbled boulders among the smoothly-combed powder fields and gentle hills. With no atmospheric dimming, it was easy to lose your sense of scale, and see the small area as an entire landscape.
The designs in the rocks and powder were not obvious, but you could see some of them, different ones at different times, maybe, if you looked for a while. Now I noticed a meandering, broken line of rocks that led my eye to the crater’s central spire. And I sometimes thought I saw a small river straying through this landscape, not of water, of course, but of a carefully swept and sifted whiter dust. But if you tried to focus on this river you would lose it.
The whole thing looked so natural, so right, when it was done, almost like it was not the work of hands at all, and yet it stood out against the lunar surface anyway, as something new, something somehow important. And it belonged here. It could have existed nowhere else but here, on the surface of the moon, still as a photograph. This garden was not like a traditional Zen rock garden; it was not a garden that people would rake again and again, as a meditation. Movement was alien to the moon. Dead? Sterile? Maybe so.
It was quiet. You might think — most people who’ve never been here do — that there’s no sound topside on the moon, but it’s never silent. There is always the hiss of recirculating air in the suit, and the vibrations of pumps and generators and mining coming up through the soles of your boots, even when you’re outside. Unless you’re way out, and who goes that far? When someone is doing some blasting, well, the whole base might feel it if it’s a big one. And the suit’s sounds — the air pumps, the creaking of the fabric as you move, and of course the radio, humming with static, or clicking, or voices; no one’s ever alone on the moon.
But looking at Kivett’s garden, the noises and the machines and the other people all seemed to fade into the background. I’ve heard about machines they make that are designed to cancel out noises by broadcasting the opposite sounds. I don’t know how that works, but the garden was the visual equivalent of that.
Light from the Earth behind us threw our long shadows across the rock garden. The sun had gone down a couple of days before, and the Earthlight was the only light around, natural or artificial, since the base was over the horizon. It washed the garden in a soft but sterile bluish light. Beautiful and cold. Our three shadows, and the shadows from the rocks, cut the soil like knives, as definite and certain as death, even in this light.
* * *
“The light. It seems... di -- [End of Preview.]