B- Bridge To The Moon

June 13th 8834, Moon

The school bus briefly hovered over and then gradually began its descent.

From far away the dome looked like one of those souvenir snow-globes from Earth : misty, filled with dense green foliage, dotted with flowers of many colors. The eager faces of the children stayed glued to the window the entire time, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was inside.

The bus then docked itself. The kids hopped down in their yellow outdoor uniforms and started getting sucked in by the entry tunnel like bouncy tennis balls.

The kids tumbled and landed in the reception area where a sweet breeze welcomed them. They started taking exaggerated deep breaths.

“I can smell the Violets!”

“They are Jasmines!”.

“They are Love Lunas!”

“Aaaaaaaah!”

From here, the kids were shepherded to the Main Dome. And as they walked in, their eyes opened wide in wonder.

The dome was filled with flowers of all colors and variety: multicolored tickberries, night jasmines, roses, orchids, daisies, hyacinths. Rows of pink and white cherry blossom trees were radiating out from the center. There were small ponds filled with lotuses, and giant bulbs of yellow tulip hung from the ceiling. At the back, there was a very tall waterfall, gushing boisterously.

And there, right in front of the waterfall, they finally saw her.

She was one of the grandest things these 6 year olds had ever seen in their life.

“So here we are kids. We have read about her in all our books. We sing her songs in the morning assembly and we celebrate Moon Day in her name.”

“Moon Day Holiday!” screamed Trsedtr.

“It’s not a holiday, we are supposed to wake up and goto school to sing songs for her!” sighed Resupr.

“Yes. We do and don’t we love singing those songs!” said the teacher.

“Does it move?” asked the ever inquisitive Yuglt.

“No. It is cement”, said her friend Ghlrv.

“It’s not cement!” corrected the teacher. “It is the rarest of the marble, mined from the deepest mines of the most treacherous Vallis Rheita. And then elegantly crafted by Trepostolis, the most gifted artist of our times!”

“What’s her name?”

“That’s another tragedy. We don’t know her name. Nor do we know her story. But we could recreate her using her DNA, which we found scattered throughout the Moon. And does anybody know what happened because of her DNA?”.

Tret raised his hand. Tret was the smartest kid, who knew all the facts and other kids’ parents secretly resented him.

“Her DNA started life on the Moon!” — he said.

“That’s right, she is the one who started early microscopic life on the Moon which found a way to mutate and survive and ate away all the poisonous gases, regulated the temperature and made it inhabitable for all of us.”

“And then we all moved in!”, yelled Yuglt.

“Yes we all did!”, smiled the teacher.

Little Ghlrv stared at it. The giant marble statue glistened in its full glory, her hair carved in details of beautiful locks, and a large ancient dress wholly carved out of a large marble draped her body. Her face was calm with a distant gaze.

She looked happy.

The kids then ate food in the recreation area, and were made to see the hologram videos of biological reactions that led to life on the Moon. They later heard stories of how it lead to mass migration to the Moon. At this point they were too sleepy to pay any attention (except Tret).

And after the noisy restless kids left the dome, the statue continued to stand there silently, calmly, with all the precious scent of flowers , all the unruly droplets of the waterfall, and all the mysteries of her origin, whirling around her.

December 5, 2020, Earth

It was the breaking news of the day.

“We are burning them all. All those secrets. Especially this one particular one!”, declared the Head of Berlin Secret Department.

The news cameras focussed on his flaring nostrils as he looked livid, shaking in anger. His indignation and passion adding a certain gravity to this situation that quashed all voices of disagreements.

In his every interview he sounded increasingly aggrieved, exasperated and pained to know the disgraceful secrets of his own country, a country he so deeply loved.

“Lets begin 2021 with a clean slate and a cleaner history”, he roared further.

His announcements were repeated again and again on all the television channels.

“Burn all those secrets. Especially this one particular one –- “ “especially- this — one- particular — one!”, the news would go on and on.

The internet was on fire with chatters, the phones went abuzz with notifications and conspiracy theories.

“Unmasking Berlin” , an online community, took this announcement as a personal affront. “We cannot run away from the past by just burning it away.” “What will we unmask if they burn it all.”

This community consisted of youngsters, stuck in dreary day jobs but moonlighting as vigilantes, and with this news they sprung to action. Petitions were sent, demonstrations were held, government web portals were defaced by citizen hackers, but they only heard one thing from the Head of the Berlin’s Secret Department –

Loosely translated : “You morons.”

Then in the , a challenge emerged. “Find those secrets and put them in public. Let us teach a lesson to The Head of Berlin’s Secret Department”.

The challenge was read by Lucas, one of the moderately active members of “Unmasking Berlin”. Lucas was a programmer, all of 23 year old. And with him, was his childhood best friend , Flynn , a handsome fitness coach who like Lucas, felt a great deal for their country.

“Why don’t we take the challenge?” Flynn suggested.

“We have never done anything like this!” said Lucas.

“It will be a shame if those secrets are burnt without anyone knowing what is in them”, said Flynn.

By now the December festivities had begun. And Flynn felt that probably they could attempt this “robbery” on Christmas Eve , a day with few people at work and the building being empty.

Lucas was curious as well. He procured the blueprint of the Berlin Secrets Department from it’s architect company and studied it for days. He then went for a walk around it’s premises and figured out a way to enter it from the back gate.

A week later, he came up with a detailed plan. It felt fool-proof. Flynn was impressed too. 2020 was ending in an adventure!

So finally, on the night of Christmas, they both stepped out of their homes, exactly at 11:45 pm.

The snow covered city streets were adorned with delicate twinkling fairy lights, some in the shapes of reindeers and Christmas trees. People were out and about and there was a general gayness, with country music and hot wine stations and smoke from chestnut vendors filling the air.

The Berlin’s Secret Department had only one guard that night. He was on a long call with his wife, and Flynn sized him up , temprementally and physically, and realized, even if caught, they would be able to stand him down. Lucas was confident too. He was feeling like a superhero already.

“We are meant to do this!” he yelled.

They climbed the back wall of the museum having already cut the thorny wires a few days ago. They skirted around and found a door open that led to a corridor. They walked through it, their footsteps muffled by the carpet under their feet, and then landed in the main reception of the department.

The main reception was a small room with simple wooden furniture. In the centre were blue chairs arranged in rows with old magazines on a table. It could be mistaken for a doctor’s waiting room. Then further ahead was a glass enclosure for employees lined with a few desks and computers. The enclosure was locked, the glass seemed bullet proof.

Flynn could smell something unusual in the air, a faint artificial smell. Like that of a paint, but not exactly that either.

Beyond the reception area were stairs to the basement. They tiptoed down and reached a room filled with several cabinets and worn out tables. Several dusty files were stacked on top of these tables.

The strange smell that was bothering Flynn became stronger here. It suddenly occurred to him that it was actually the nauseating smell of the Secrets. These neglected Secrets tumbling out of weary files were decomposing away and were sending out this faint pungent smell. An odorous siren, a cry for help, to find a rescue, a reader, another bearer, before they fell off these tattered pages or burnt away.

“They don’t want to be burnt away”, he said.

Lucas who was scouting the room called Flynn. He had found one cabinet strangely tilted as if someone had moved it recently. As someone who had studied the map thoroughly, Lucas knew there was a doorway behind it.

“Why would they cover it with a cabinet? What fools”, said Lucas.

“Yes fools!” echoed Flynn.

“Let’s move this,” said Lucas.

Flynn was reluctant. “This place is weird, the secrets smell ugly, dirty, maybe it’s a good idea they are burned away.”

“It won’t take long, I promise,” Lucas insisted.

Flynn, stronger, moved the cabinet. And true to what Lucas said, there they found a door.The door opened to a long corridor and the smell of the Secrets grew stronger for Flynn as they walked through.

And at the end of the corridor they found a very vintage looking rickety old lift.

“Was the lift on the map?” asked Flynn.

“No!” said Lucas. “From here on, we discover the secrets on our own.”

“I think we should go back,” said Flynn.

Lucas was already getting slightly annoyed by Flynn’s lack of courage, enthusiasm and frankly even lack of appreciation. It was dawning onto him that Flynn had actually done no work in the whole heist, sitting on the sidelines, while he himself had meticulously planned the entire operation.

Lucas tried to hide his anger. For now he needed his partner in case they landed in some trouble. “Lets just see where it goes. We made it this far.”

They stepped on its wobbly floor, and Flynn’s heart sunk.

“It looks like a trap.”

He started worrying. “What if we would end up getting buried in the belly of this building just like these old secrets. And what if they burn us with them!”

Lucas dismissed him. Or ignored him. Or just tolerated him. The lift panel contained floor numbers that went all the way down to minus 20.

He quickly pressed minus 20 before Flynn complained again. The lift started descending.

After about five minutes of descent, that even made Lucas a little nervous (and thankful for having Flynn with him), the lift door opened.

Guided by their torch’s frail light, they found a switch board. Lucas pressed some buttons and the space lit up.

They were in a vast and endless underground cement room. It’s area was probably larger than the building, which made them suspect that these secrets were buried beneath the city square itself.

There were many cabinets arranged in endless rows and columns. Flynn was taken aback . “So many secrets!”. Lucas too walked around amidst these cabinets, awestruck. He felt dwarfed by them. Few cabinets were marked with a “X”. A cross.

“I think these are the ones to be burnt.” Flynn started clicking their headings.

The drawers of the cabinet were taped over. They cut it with a pen-knife and opened one drawer. It contained a thick folder.

Lucas opened it and saw that it contained elaborate drawings and incomprehensible mathematical calculations.

One of the pages had drawings of a really tall thin cylindrical building with what looked like turbines and machines on every few floors. The next page had detailed diagrams of these floors with complicated water storage and pumping mechanisms.

What surprised Lucas about the building was that the floors of the building did not have any chambers, or place for people to live but only had an ascending staircase to go up . Even on the floors that hosted the turbines, there was only a very tiny room for an operator.

Basically the building to be constructed seemed to have had no purpose except to be infinitely tall.

Lucas opened another folder and it had some pictures and newspaper snippets.

- An under-construction building similar to one in the sketch

- Actually pictures of Large tankers being transported on railroads

- A newspaper article titled “Germany to win the Space Race”with a subheading “Wagner-Wolfgang Staircase to Touch the Moon in Four years”.

- An old photo of a man and a woman, labelled Ernst Wagner and Noah Wolfgang.

And then there was a letter there. It was signed by Noah Wolfgang, the woman in the picture. Both Lucas and Flynn read the letter and rose up in alarm.

“They are right in burning these!”, said Flynn.

“Yes. Let’s leave!”, said Lucas.

And then they crawled back up, climbed up the staircase, and out of the building, and decided to never speak about what they saw and read.

And by now we recognize the woman Noah Wolfgang.

It is her statue that the kids saw on the Moon.

May 11, 1960, Between Earth and Moon

In the 1960s the Space between Earth and Moon was filled with the souls of the early astronauts. The early ones were Russian space dogs, American monkeys, criminals who volunteered to be strapped and rocketed up to the Moon in the hope that a successful round-trip would grant their freedoms. But Space spared no one. It was as ruthless as it was beautiful.

To the people of Earth, the Moon continued to look like a distant dream, an imaginary luminous optical illusion, a giant white marble.

Though the race was dominated by Russians and Americans, Germany had a strange plan of its own, envisioned by two engineers, a man-woman team of Ernst Wagner and Noah Wolfgang.

A civil engineer, Noah Wolfgang, found points on both the Moon and the Earth that came closest during the Moon’s orbit and proposed building a staircase that touched both the surfaces once in every 27 days.

Ernst, an engineer himself but a lesser one, had a charming disposition. He enjoyed admiration of his peers and was great at garnering funding for his plans. Together they were the most sought after duo building many great churches, government buildings and private castles.

One day, in a highly confidential meeting with the Chancellor, they proposed building the world’s tallest staircase, “Staircase to the Moon”. Noah suggested that she could make it, a staircase that could withstand all the variables of weather, gravity, wind and atmospheric pressures.

“The staircase can be housed in a building. Every 20th floor of this building will be made as a . A balancing floor’s job would be to keep the building erect at all times, perpendicular to Earth.”

These balancing floors had wind turbines placed on all six directions feeding their readings to a complex water-based balancing mechanism. When a force would be exerted on that floor by weather or gravity, the water would move in the opposite direction to counter the force. Appropriate heaters were arranged to make sure the water was always of correct temperature and volume. There were diagrams and sketches of these “Water Dampers” and the floors were also called “Hydraulic Floors”.

On seeing their meticulous plan and preparation, the project was approved.

Based on soil and terrain study, Noah calculated the depth of foundation required to build such a building . And a place near the Limestone Alps was designated to be the site where it would be built. Funds, men, engineers, machinery and workers were approved, all in great secrecy and the construction began.

A special railroad was also created to transport the giant turbines and other building material. Scientists and scholars from all over Germany were brought to advise on the project and make sure no key aspect was missed and they took into account everything, even migration of birds over the landscape.

Noah led the project while Ernst travelled most of the year gathering funds, speaking to wealthy industrialists and government personnels alike.

The key to the success was the “water dampers” that would be installed in the “Hydraulic Floors” or “Balancing Floors” and it was soon realized that the complexity and frequency of them would increase as one moved further and further away from Earth — in the space between Earth and Moon.

In the earlier days when Ernst would visit, both Noah and Ernst would climb up, inspecting the “Balancing floors” making sure they were responding well to the wind. Men were stationed every 20 floors, a job they would do day and night, with shift changes only once a week, the earlier ones were also scientists making observations and reporting any nuance they might have missed. Noah and Ernst, would walk past all of them, taking notes and climb the farthest, right to the top and look at the Moon. Their dream as a couple was now becoming the dream of the entire humanity.

It’s to be noted here that Ernst and Noah, even though not married, were like a couple, finding great love and companionship in each other. While Ernst was keen they wed sooner, it was Noah who always resisted the institution of marriage. “A woman has to be twice as good to go half as far!” she would say. “But once I reach the Moon, maybe then,” she would tease.

Gradually, the building grew taller, impossible to climb everyday, and the balancing floors became more “self-regulated” and automated. Ernst got Noah a telescope and she would use this telescope to inspect the workers at the higher floors and measure how far the building is from the Moon.

Meanwhile Ernst, on one of those funding expeditions had met a lady, secretary to the finance minister, who seemed to have captivated him. So besotted was Ernst with the young girl that he decided to bring her to the project grounds on pretext of making her the treasurer of the project. Ernst kept his romance a big secret from the world, even from Noah but the most beautiful romances find a way to be discovered in the clumsiest, most awkward ways.

On a dark windy night when Noah was inspecting the Moon with her telescope, she looked down and saw Ernst on Earth, making love to that girl.

Angry, humiliated, but most of all feeling a keen loss she couldn’t understand, she decided to climb up the staircase. The tower was 3458 floors tall now, but she continued to climb, checking on every post. Making notes.

She went up there and sat there all night, gazing at the full Moon and returned only in the morning.

Everything changed between Ernst and Noah after that, though they never spoke about it. The project was bigger than Noah’s feelings and it continued in full speed. And just like that two more years passed.

The taller the tower grew, the more funding it garnered. On all inspection nights, Noah continued to point the telescope both at Earth and the Sky. And the more she saw the Earth, the more she saw all of Ernst’s treachery, not just of today but of so many years. She could see his past infidelities, his white lies, the fakeness in his charm. And gradually, disgusted, she stopped looking at the Earth altogether.

After 5 years, the staircase was only months away from completion. It was a rainy night when Noah wrote this letter to Ernst:

“Dear Ernst,

Earth has no meaning left for me. Only the Moon has been truly faithful. Loyal, patient and true-hearted. I build this staircase, so that I can go there and be one with it. You took away the Earth from me, I take away your Moon.”

And so that night, the workers were asked to take a rest. The balancing systems worked well on their own, reporting no errors. Noah took a lantern, a bag and started climbing up. She walked non-stop, crossing the floors, braving the wind, the rain, the darkness.

After a certain height she put her oxygen mask on, and she kept going above the clouds, then beyond them. Further up, she wore a suit, had to strap herself to the staircase, and in the darkness between Earth and Moon, alone amidst the stars, she walked and climbed, for days, till she reached the final edge.

She had timed her ascend perfectly. As soon as she reached the top, the Moon started coming closer. It was only a few miles away, shining in its full glory. The staircase was shaking with its many balancing floors, and started rattling like a nervous lover as the Moon came further closer. And just there Noah realized the only thing she failed to account for, not the wind nor the weather, nor the gravity of the Earth, or the hostility of space but the attraction of the Moon!

And as the Moon came closer, the closest it has ever come to anything connected to Earth, the balancing floors started shaking, swaying even, the water in them started getting pulled upwards.

Noah could have gone back, maybe only the top floors would have broken. But she didn’t want to. She knew there was no way to account for the attraction to the Moon and the staircase will never be built.

So she lept, lept up in the empty space between Earth and Moon, till she was suspended upside down floating between the space from where no one had ever come back alive.

And then she saw her body gradually being pulled towards the Moon, it’s attraction overpowering her.

Behind her she saw the staircase falling apart, pieces scattering and falling all over the Earth.

She now no longer needed to look at the Earth. She looked at the Moon above her, her faithful companion, gradually pulling her towards her, for a final embrace.

And like all the souls that floated above the Moon, for a second her eyes shone with the joy of seeing the giant white marble so up close. And at that instant, she was filled with a certain divine love she had never experienced in her life. And with that feeling of love her body started turning into silvery dust, a potent biological dust that fell like the first snow on the Moon.

One of the dust spec fell deep in the crevice of Vallis Rheita. It lay there for thousands of years. A tiny spec but terribly stubborn- stubborn with its desire to survive, desire to live, desire to love.

And from that spec emerged the first life — the first life on the Moon.

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