As they approached the red planet, Pin used the pod’s scanners to examine its atmosphere. While they were still more than 4000 Kilometers away, he knew it wouldn’t be long before the giant began pulling them into its orbit. If he needed to maneuver them away, he would need to act quickly.
The children sat against the wall, still in their suits, the pod’s oxygen now fully depleted. Emma was groggy but awake, stimulated by the excitement of the planet’s appearance. Adam shifted uncomfortably in his suit. He was getting frustrated by how long it was taking to get to the planet, but had learned not to complain while Pin was working.
Finally, the pod’s control panel spoke its electronic language, spitting lines of numbers and elemental signs across its dusty old monitor. Pin muttered to himself as each line appeared, reading every character carefully.
“Nitrogen. Argon. Helium.” he said quietly as text continued to appear. “Okay, okay. We can work with that in the right amounts.” He pushed his face closer to the monitor and squinted as new information appeared. “What’s this now? Hydrogen at eighty percent... surface mass is... molten.”
Pin gripped the panel’s thin metallic edge and hung his head. For a long while he didn’t move and Emma was beginning to wonder if he was feeling sick.
“What is it, Pin?” she asked him, her voice muffled through the glass helmet.
Pin didn’t answer her directly, but came alive at once. He shook the electronic panel violently, cursing and kicking at the controls. Then he pounded the monitor with his fist, yelling out in pain as his knuckles cracked against the hard glass.
“Stop!” Emma yelled, frightened by his outburst. She gripped Adam’s arm and shook it as if requesting him to help her understand.
“Pin, stop!” Adam said and rose to his feet. He shuffled across the pod until he reached the old man and pulled at the back of his suit. “I’m scared! Stop!”
Pin either didn’t hear him or couldn’t comprehend the words, because he reached back and shoved Adam away and continued to rage against the pod, pulling down cables and punching open compartments until the once pristine and ordered interior was a jungle of wires and broken panels.
Finally, he stopped and threw his face towards the pod’s ceiling. “Why did you bring us here? What do you want from me?” he cried out before crumpling to his knees.
After a moment, Adam stood back up slowly and walked to where Pin was huddled and breathing heavily. He put a gloved hand on the man’s shoulder and bent down to look upon his face.
“Pin?” Adam asked, but the old man did not look up. “Pin, will we land on the planet soon?”
Emma was surprised to hear Pin begin to laugh then. It was a quiet sort of laugh and first, high-pitched and whimpering. But when Pin looked up at Adam’s expectant face it turned hearty and rich and seemed to roll along the pod’s ceiling as he grabbed at his belly and cried tears of rich irony.
“What’s funny, Pin?” Adam asked confused. “Is it a joke?”
Pin grabbed the boy’s hand. “Help me up, boy,” he said calmly, and Adam helped him back onto his feet.
Looking around the messy pod, Pin felt ashamed that he’d let the children see him act so destructively. He looked at Emma, still weak and sitting up against the wall, and then down at Adam whose hand was still in his.
“I’ll tell it to you straight, children. We can’t land on the planet,” he said.
“Why not?” Adam asked, disappointed.
“Because it’s full of poisonous gas and lava so hot we’d burn to a crisp before we even touched it,” Pin answered moving towards the pod’s window. “In fact, we’ll need to thrust ourselves away quickly, or be swallowed up whole in no time flat.”
As Pin moved back towards the beat-up control panel, Adam stepped up to the window and peeked out. The planet was closer now and he could make out violent swirls of gas and dust storming across its atmosphere.
So impressed he was by the beautiful severity of it all, he wished Emma could see it too. But, when he looked back at her, he could see she was too weak to join him.
“I’ll tell you what it looks like, Emma,” he said and turned back. “Swirls like draining water are dancing across the red surface. But it’s not water, it’s gas. Pin says it’s poisonous. And there’s flashes of light sparking all over. It’s like a laser show. Boy, I wish you could see it.”
When Adam looked back at Emma again, her eyes were closed and he could see she was crying. He was about to ask her why, but lost his footing and fell over as Pin engaged the thrusters and the pod blasted away at a 90 degree angle.
Keeping low, he crawled back over to Emma and sat with her against the wall. “We’re moving away, aren’t we?” Adam asked as Pin looked out the window again to make sure they were on course to miss the dangerous planet.
“We are indeed,” answered Pin. “Like old Jonah fleeing the beast’s belly.”
“Where will we go, next?” Adam’s questions continued. Only this time, Pin wasn’t the one to respond. Eyes wet with tears, Emma turned to Adam.
“Nowhere!” she shouted, surprising her companions. “Don’t you get it? We’re all going to die!”
“No we’re not!” Adam yelled back, pushing her away. “You don’t know that!”
“Yes I do,” Emma said.
“Pin, are we going to die?” Adam called across the pod.
Pin sighed and looked towards the boy and his expectant eyes. “Everything and everyone comes to an end and that’s the honest truth,” he said slowly.
“What does that mean?” Adam answered.
“It means I’m right and we’re going to die, dummy,” Emma said mockingly.
Pin cut in quickly saying, “The hardest part of it is not knowing when, or how the end will come.” Then he moved over to the children and kneeled down to meet their eyes as he continued slowly. “It could come today or maybe not, but I’ll tell you this much: I never believed life had a plan for any of us. Always seemed to me we were all just particles zipping through space without any rhyme or reason. But now, well, let’s just say I’m not so sure there isn’t some kind of plan working itself out all around us.”
“What do you mean?” Emma asked quietly.
“Well, life brought us together didn’t it? And we’ve managed so far, haven’t we?”
Pin put Emma’s hand in his. Then he grabbed Adam’s and squeezed it tightly, the three of them locked in a tight circle.
“I almost lost you once, I don’t intend to lose you again,” he said to them softly.
Emma cried harder then, overcome with emotion. She lowered her face, unable to look into Pin’s eyes. “But, I saw it,” she said. “Blue skies and flowers. I could smell it. I know I could. But, we can’t land on the planet.”
“Emma LaFarge, you look at me this instant,” Pin said sternly and Emma looked up at him again. “In all my life you two children are the most important thing that’s ever happened to me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned since meeting you it’s that you never know what’s waiting just around the corner. So don’t you give up hope on me, because without you I reckon there’s no hope in this whole damned universe.”
They were quiet then, the hum of the pod’s exposed mechanical systems the only sound filling the silence as they drifted away from the poisonous planet.
Pin watched its reflection in the glass of Emma’s helmet. Her face was on fire with the red glow of it. All except her big blue eyes, which were a striking contrast to the violence of the receding red gas giant. They were powerful and pure, and pulled him in with their youthful intensity and fear, purity and wildness.
Then, as though her eyes had the sublime power to conjure miracles, the red began to drain from Emma’s face. It was slow at first—like a curtain being drawn to let sunlight into a dark room—but soon the red glow was completely usurped by a new light that bathed the girl’s face in rich blue.
Moving away, Pin looked down in shock to see that he too was being washed in a natural blue light. And indeed, so was the pod’s small interior.
He looked back at Emma to see her focus was now on something behind him. Something outside the window was reflecting in the glass of her visor. A blue orb, tiny in comparison but no less impressive in scale, was emerging behind the red planet.
“Pin, look,” Emma said, breathlessly. “Is it sky?”
Pin jumped to his feet and rushed to the window. What he saw made his heart pound in his chest and blood pulsed through his body like a dam bursting and releasing a flood across dry land.
“It’s a moon!” he yelled and bolted towards the control panel. “Hold onto something, children!”
Pin programmed a change in their trajectory quickly and slammed the ignition. The pod jerked violently as the thrusters threw a puff of ozone into space and pushed them in a new direction. Then, working to get a readout of the blue moon’s atmosphere, Pin trained the scanners towards it and waited.
A moment later, the panel beeped aggressively and he cursed and slammed a fist against it. Then he knelt down and picked at a bundle of wires strewn about the floor under his feet.
“Blast you and your temper, Paddington Pin! You fried the bloody scanners!” he shouted at himself as he tried to determine where the problem might lay. Unable to find it, he rose and turned to Emma and Adam who were now standing at the window and watching the moon grow larger.
“We’ve got no choice but to go in blind and hope that life’s got bigger plans than for us than to choke to death on a poisonous moon in the middle of uncharted space,” Pin said as he pushed the children towards the far bench where they sat down.
“You two strap yourselves into a landing harness and hold onto each other. And when we land, you keep your suits on until I say so. In fact, don’t do anything without my saying so. We don’t know anything about this moon and after all this I’ll not have you killing yourselves doing something stupid.”
Adam helped Emma strap herself to the wall, clipping four straps into a single round harness point at the center of her chest.
When she was good and secure, Pin harnessed Adam in and pulled the straps tightly around his emaciated frame before sitting down on the bench across from them.
The pod began to shake as Pin strapped himself in. He yelled that the moon was pulling them into its orbit and it wasn’t worth worrying about, but Emma felt sick and woozy like she might pass out.
As they continued their descent, the pod shook worse and worse until the three companions could barely make each other’s shapes for the vibrations.
A moment later, Emma felt hot inside her suit and saw wild flame outside the pod’s window. She screamed and shut her eyes as they entered the moon’s atmosphere and plummeted towards its mysterious surface. It wasn’t long after that she passed out completely.