Hard rain washed over Pin when he broke the surface. It poured sheets down his visor, obscuring his vision in the already obscured dark of night, leaving him panic struck as he treaded water and searched furiously for land.
He wiped at his glass helmet uselessly with waterlogged gloves and turned circles to scan the horizon. But his heart sank when his eyes met nothing but endless waves that evaporated into the pitch black distance.
Two tiny splashes erupted close by and he turned to see Emma and Adam break the surface. He swam towards them as they struggled to keep their heads above water, holding onto Adam just as the boy sank under the waves.
“Lay on your backs,” he told them, using his legs to steady himself as he lay Adam down across his arms. “You can float that way. You won’t get tired.”
Emma lay back too, her helmet anchoring her to the rise and fall of the waves with its buoyancy.
She closed her eyes and let the rhythm calm her until her heart slowed and her breathing normalized and she could sense the flurry of rain showering around her, kicking the water into a deafening veil of organic vibration. Such a sound was wholly new to her and she opened her eyes and stared into the stormy night sky with raw curiosity.
Even through the heavy drops of water bouncing off her visor, she could make out the stunning red silhouette of the gas giant watching over them from above. It was the light that had guided her up from the depths, she realized, both a monster and a savior.
Meanwhile, Pin continued his search for land. He strained to see in the dark, but the storm was proving impenetrable beyond a few meagre leagues.
“Which way will we go?” Adam asked breathlessly over the communicator.
“We may need to stay put until the storm passes,” Pin replied, his breathing heavy, his voice weary. “Maybe even until morning. If there is a morning on this moon, that is. Could also be it’s always night for all we know of it.”
Adam didn’t like the notion of an endless night. Living life in darkness, ignorant of what was right in front of you seemed like a horrifying existence.
As though in response to his thought, a great burst of lightening flashed across the night sky and, for the briefest of moments, the world burst into view.
“Children!” Pin cried suddenly, his voice muffled by the crash of resounding thunder that followed. “Land! Right behind us! Look there!”
Pin pointed and Emma and Adam searched the darkness for what Pin had seen. But if there was land in the distance it had been swallowed by the darkness once again.
Pin stroked his way back towards the children, passing between them and pulling at the backs of their suits to help them move through the waves towards the land he’d seen.
“I’ll pull you until I can’t. Kick your feet to help me now!”
Both children did as they were told, struggling to kick their heavy boots amid the waves as thunder crashed and rain poured down around them.
No more than an hour later, Pin’s vision was proven right when his boots touched a long sandbar and he was able to walk along the sandy ocean floor.
Since it was still too deep for the children, he flipped them onto their fronts and showed them how to paddle their arms as he pointed out the dark outline of land that had finally shown itself from behind the curtain of night.
Even at a distance it looked vast and wild and they could make out many strange and wondrous shapes; the most startling of which were towering, multi-armed goliaths that flailed violently in the prevailing winds and tempestuous rain.
“Monsters!” Emma cried at the sight the terrifying figures. “They’ve come back!”
“Not monsters, my girl,” replied Pin. “Trees! Great and wild beasts to be sure, but trees nonetheless! By god, I’ve never seen any so big in all my life! Adam, do you see them?”
“Hurrah!” Adam cried joyously. He was not sure what trees might be like, but Pin’s voice was jubilant and the strange moon was proving to be full of fresh visions.
“Land ho!” Pin yelled out again. “I see the beach right before us. Can you touch the bottom, children?”
Adam stopped paddling and let his lower half sink until his boots felt the lose sand beneath them. The water level was still well above his nose, but with his helmet on he was still able to breathe freely and make out the beach before him.
Being shorter than Adam, Emma had more trouble steadying herself against the push and pull of the waves, so Pin had her ride upon his back as he and Adam trudged onwards through the water.
As they drew nearer, the sea grew more active and savage, and the thunder of the surf became clearer. The breakers were fierce and threatening, pushing and pulling at them until finally the opening widened and invited them upon the dark beach where they climbed and fell to the wet sand.
Fighting the urge to collapse and let precious sleep claim him, Pin ushered the children up the open beach and inland a ways.
The storm showed no sign of letting up and, in fact, the wind seemed to wage a personal war against them as though venturing to push them back out into the great sea. But, hunched together and moving as a single mass, they managed to defeat its best efforts, and were soon picking their way through thick and tangled foliage that lined the border of the sand.
Eventually they came upon the mammoth trunk of an almost endlessly tall tree and Pin ordered the children to stop, but keep their helmets on.
“There’s too much interference in the storm to read the air, so keep your suits on until it passes,” he said as he sat them up against the tree.
Protected by high overhanging branches covered in human-sized fronds that reached out in all directions, the rain had all but reduced to a sprinkling of drops against their helmets. The sounds of the storm had also dimmed to a constant drumming patter that raged on somewhere above them, like a war being fought in heaven.
Emma and Adam were too overcome to take in the details of the savage world around them, or imagine what dangers may be lurking just out of sight. Instead they watched Pin work—as they had become so accustomed to doing—tearing at the bushes and smaller trees close by and stripping the larger branches of their leaves.
Digging shallow divots by striking with the hard heel of his boot, Pin set the ends of each wooden stake in front of the children and leaned the tops against the tree until they were fully protected from the harsh wind and rain. Then he covered the leaning structure with leaves and smaller sticks.
When his crude shelter was complete, Pin crouched low and squeezed himself inside to join the children.
“It’s not much better than a pod, but it’ll keep us safe from the storm until morning—” he said, stopping suddenly when he saw Emma and Adam huddled together and already passed out and sleeping deeply.
He sighed heavily and closed his eyes. Against all odds they were free from space, the pod, and had escaped an endless ocean. He didn’t know where they were, or what new complications the morning might bring, but, watching the children safe and sleeping, it struck him that they had come from worse places.
“Sleep now,” he said quietly, feeling his eye lids grow heavy. “Yes. Sleep.”
The scream infected Pin’s sleep, turning a perfectly fine dream into a perfect nightmare.
That voice. A boy’s. I know it. It almost sounds like Adam’s, only far, far away. And, no matter where I look, I can’t see a soul.
“Pin! Please, come quick!”
At that, Pin’s dream ended and the old man opened his eyes.
He was dripping sweat in his suit and felt the slap of sweltering humidity immediately. He coughed and shifted and felt a body next to him. It was Emma, still asleep, her head resting against his shoulder. She was also sweating, her hair soaked and sticking to her brow in clumps. Then he noticed the two of them were alone under the shelter.
Pin sat up and looked to where Adam should have been, but the boy was gone. In his place, a glass helmet and space suit lay derelict on the forest floor.
He strained to listen. It was achingly quiet. The storm had passed, the wind no longer howled, and thin beams of bright light penetrated the cracks of their little shelter.
“Pin!” came another scream from far off in the distance.
“Adam,” whispered Pin quickly. “I’m coming for you! You hear me, I’m coming!”
Pin shook Emma awake and told her to stay hidden until he returned.
“What’s happening?” she asked, groggy with sleep.
“Adam’s in trouble somewhere,” Pin answered swiftly. Then he crawled out from under the shelter and into the bright, sunlit open.
All at once, Pin’s senses were overcome with the sights and sounds of the wild jungle before him. An electric buzz of insects swam inside his helmet, while the heat of the sun beat against his suit, turning it into a hot oven, his body into cooking meat.
He looked towards the sky as he moved forward, marveling at the scale and height of the trees around him. Their massive leaves reminded him of Earth’s palm trees, but their trunks were much wider at the base and blood red. And by god they were tall! Six hundred feet at the low end, the tops of them so high they became lost to the human eye.
Alarms rang out from his suit then. His oxygen was almost gone.
“Adam! Where are you?” he called as he moved towards the beach.
He stopped when he heard a skittering of motion somewhere ahead and positioned himself into a ready stance. Whatever has Adam might be coming for me now, he thought nervously.
Then a tangle of waxy bush parted twenty yards ahead and Adam burst forth and ran towards him. The boy beamed, his eyes wild and arms waving.
“Pin!” he cried as he moved towards the old man.
Pin ran forward, ready to sweep the boy up and whisk him back to their shelter and away from whatever might be chasing him. But when they finally met, Adam grabbed his hand and pulled him back the way he’d come, back towards the beach.
“Pin, come see! You won’t believe your eyes!” he yelled.
Pin pulled the boy towards him and bent down to his level.
“Why aren’t you in your suit?” he asked harshly.
Adam gave a puzzled look as though he’d forgotten Pin’s warning the night before. “Oh, it was too hot in that old suit,” was all he could think to say.
“You can’t run off like that! Not here. You get that? We don’t know anything about where we are,” Pin continued.
“Okay, okay, but Pin— look!”
Adam pulled and Pin followed until finally they broke the tree line and were looking upon the most glorious of wonderlands.
In the light of day, Pin saw that the ocean they’d travelled the night before swirled around coral piers and flooded into a heavenly, sheltered lagoon.
On either side lay a great sweep of waving blue water, but the lagoon was a calm oasis; a lake of sapphire and aquamarine with water so clear that even at a distance you could see branching coral and great schools of passing fish casting long shadows across the white sandy bottom.
But the soul of it all, the heart-stopping thing about this blue lagoon, towering trees and sky, was the light.
In space, light is cruel. It comes in two varieties: man-made fluoresce so unnatural it inspires sickness in the pit of your stomach, or blazing constellations bright enough to burn your sight away forever. In space, light has nothing to focus itself upon, nothing of beauty to exhibit or illuminate to a beholder, only infinite emptiness and desolation.
But here, the light was glorious. It turned the air into a crystal through which Pin saw the loveliness of the land and reef, the green and red of mammoth trees, the bleached white coral and, of course, the lagoon, all heart-achingly beautiful.
Pin looked down at Adam who was smiling and shielding his eyes from the harsh light as he stared out across the lagoon. Without his suit, the boy looked as natural a figure as could be imagined.
Slowly, Pin closed his eyes and twisted his helmet. It let out a great hiss before he lifted it off and held it at his side. He breathed in slowly, letting the fresh air fill his lungs fully before breathing out again and opening his eyes.
The lagoon, the great ocean beyond, and the jungle behind them were all still there, as real as he was.
As he and Adam stared, awestruck at the sight before them, Pin knew they had found the soul of eternal happiness and youth. Pin knew they were saved.
“Where are we?” asked Adam in hushed reverie.
Pin put his arm across the boy’s shoulder and looked down at his young face.
“It’s everything,” he said quietly. “Come on. Let’s get Emma. We have a lot to do.”