Bass was best felt more than heard. Music in general was best when it was a pounding explosion of feeling that took over the body. There had to be at least some sense of being invaded by the sound.
At least, that's how Teal felt. And it was one of the best things about Earth so far. Noise discipline was practically non-existent. On a whole planet!
Yet, that was a common theme. Discipline. The lack of discipline. An absolute ignorance that it was even an option. Teal would watch them, the Earthborn, and find little things that were a shock with every moment.
It made for an excellent club scene at the very least, especially because of people that shared an interest in loud music and wriggling bodies. Teal was surrounded by others that shared those hobbies for nightly excursions.
It was not a shared Lunatic trait. The other moonborn had left after the first thirty minutes. They talked about finding somewhere quiet. Relaxing. A coffee shop, probably, especially since Earth coffee was astronomically better than anything up in space.
Teal tried to forget all that by becoming lost in the bass-driven moment. The departing group had been frustrating, had added an unwelcome tension to the evening, but alcohol had helped with the transition.
Zie had plunged into the crowd to escape their pleading retreat. It hadn't been enough for the other Lunatics to leave, they had been adamant that they stick together. So, Teal had fled, and now zie was dancing alone.
But not really. There were at least a hundred people in the club. There had to be a few earthlings with an eye for rare gems.
The song changed up, and dozens filtered off the dance floor to take a break or get drinks. Teal considered catching a breather too, but then zie met someone's curiosity-laden gaze with a grin.
Teal wandered over with a saunter that probably looked ridiculous, but damnit zie did it with confidence.
The potential dance-partner was a young man with a pleasant face, a well-groomed beard, and styled hair that barely contained wavy curls. His skin was a light-brown, like Teal's, but he had eyes that were a bright green rather than dark brown.
Cute, in that softer, dense look common to people raised in higher gravity.
Zie immediately wanted to kiss him on his plump Earthboy lips.
He closed the gap as the music rose in tempo and volume. They exchanged smiles and began a back-and-forth of watching each other dance. The rest of the dancers melted into background. They slipped into a private show of admiring one another from a distance.
And then closer. And closer.
Until his hand pulled at Teal's waist.
Zie smiled, too wide, too happy, but the expression was met with an equally-wide smile.
Luckily, the desire for a kiss seemed a shared sentiment. The man wrapped both arms around Teal's back and they turned the rhythm into a personalized tempo.
There was too much joy to be found on Earth. It was no fair.
Teal had two weeks left on vacation. Two weeks of freedom. Two weeks away from responsibilities and a future that was gray and mostly sequestered away from all of life.
Which, was nice, in its own way, if you were into that sort of thing.
Quiet had a certain attractive ring to it.
But, at least for the present, Teal wanted action and noise and a certain hint of violence. Zie wanted pleasure and the perfection of a hasty escape into something unrecognizable and unknown. Zie wanted freedom, whatever that meant.
The young dance partner leaned forward and murmured in Teal's ear, "Want to get out of here?"
Zie could feel a pointed pressure from the earthboy's groin. Excitement hummed through the heart and along the skin. "I'd love to."
Taking the young man's hand, they wove their way out of the club and onto the cool air of the street. There was a just-rained sheen on the road. A sweet-smelling breeze carried a hint of summer's end. It was perfect.
Teal was going to live to the fullest of every moment zie had left.
. . . .
"Whoa, check this out."
Teal pushed blue-tipped gray hair out of zir eyes. A practical tomb of pillows covered the bed, so it took some doing to wrangle enough out of the way to see.
Matias, the name of the cute boy from the club, was watching the hotel room's video wall. He was still naked, they both were, and it took considerable effort to stop staring for long enough to focus on the screen.
The moon, of all things, was shining in the void-black emptiness of space. Earth was a plum-sized companion on the opposite corner of the video.
Someone was zooming in, slowly, on the space between planet and companion.
"So, uh, empty nothing? I'm not seeing anything?" asked Teal.
"No-no, wait. See that pinpoint of light. Right." Matias pointed. "See that? It's a motorcycle!" He hesitated, clucked his tongue, and corrected with, "Well, kinda. It's more like a rail-guided bicycle train thing, I guess?"
"What." Teal sat up, scattering blankets and pillows, before feeling the biting chill of the room. Zie pulled blankets to zer chest and scooted to the edge of the bed. "Huh. What's it doing?"
"Falling. Or, they called it a jump. I dunno. I'm just catching up. They had some special while you were dozing. I flipped in halfway through, but I guess dude's already been going for a few days."
"Dude? There's someone in that thing?"
"Yeah, it's like a really cool, oversized spacesuit." His face lit up. "Oh yeah, it's that daredevil guy! Remember? He jumped between two drone platforms a few years back. Over one of those Hawaii islands."
Teal shook zer head and flopped back onto bed. "I'm not awake enough for this. Sounds absurd!"
"Aw, I was thinking we could go get something to eat."
"You want food? At a time like this?" Teal grinned. "Besides, I thought we already ate?"
Matias laughed. "I meant real food, but I'm for certa not discounting enjoying you." He blushed, which was a distraction when it tinged the young man's chest with red.
"Mm, well I hope not." Zie rolled zer eyes. "I had fun too." Teal hunched down in the blanket. "I just kinda, wanna stay in for now? Maybe the rest of the night? Or morning. Whichever it is now."
"Oh, well, yeah, that's cool too." The shift in his shoulders, the change in tone, told a different story. Matias looked back toward the television. He watched a series of pop-out diagrams pointing out features of the stuntman's spacecraft.
"Matias?" Teal sighed. "You don't have to stay. I had fun, really."
"Yeah." He twisted in place, glancing over his shoulder. "Me too." He gave a wistful grin. "Just doing as I do. Wanting too much too soon."
"Wow, just jumping right into your feelings now?"
Matias rolled his eyes. "Come on, don't give me that. I'm just trying to be real." He stood up. "But, maybe you're right. I'll go."
Teal smirked, admiring the highlight of wallscreen light on the young man's body. There was definitely something to the effect of densely-packed gravity on a person of Earth.
Natives of Luna City felt more loosely connected. Sometimes, they seemed as if half-floating, either spindly or in a perpetual state of dance.
"Or?" He noticed zer roving eyes. "You trying to get me to come back to bed?"
"Well I wouldn't mind." Teal pursed zer lips with exaggeratedly raised eyebrows.
Matias hesitated, still shining in the nude, an offer that wasn't quite rescinded. Then he shook his head. "Nah, I should go. I've gotta get across city, and I've got work in the morning."
Teal sighed and reached up to run a hand through zer hair. It took everything not to jump up and go with the young man. For all zer earlier thoughts of enjoying the loud, the brash, zie was hoping for a recharge. Quiet, maybe sleep, the soft moments of half-wakefulness in someone's arms. And then more fun.
Turning onto zer side, the wallscreen flickered over the bed's uneven landscape of pillows. Zie watched, unfocused at first, while listening to Matias getting dressed.
"So, uh, hey." He had pants on, some felt-like material that was sleek and form-fitting. Promising. His shirt was still unbuttoned. "Maybe we could catch up on another night? Try something a bit less. Loud?"
Teal flicked zer gaze away from the man and back to the screen. It helped with concentration. "It's probably for the best if we don't." Zie paused. "I'll be back on the moon in a few weeks."
"The moon!?" The force of his shock drew attention back to his mostly-clothed form. He was shaking his head, fingers touching his parted lips. "Shit! That's why you laughed earlier."
The question had been, "Do you live far from here?" Teal had laughed, shrugging, playing coy, but never quite explaining or giving details. It was fun to play with bits of anonymity.
"Yeah, I'm just down on vacation. One of my last getaways before sailing into the promise of my career focus." Zie waved a hand across the room to emphasize the overly-dramatic proclamation.
"So wait, so you weren't kidding about your pants? They are assistive?" He stooped, shirt opening to bare chest-fuzz and a nipple.
Teal shook zer head. Zie really had to focus elsewhere. Think about something else. Their romp's earlier satiation had faded too quickly.
Matias picked up Teal's pants and rubbed his fingers over the fabric. He shifted his grip and examined the seam. "So cool! I've never seen these up close."
Earth's gravity was a pain in the ass, literally, when walking around a place with so much space. Everything was too far apart and public transportation was a nightmare. Hence, walking. Also hence, assitive mechanical fabrics in all of zer clothes.
"Yeah, they're the only reason I can even dance around here." Teal laughed at that reductive minimization of an entire planet. "Around here, you know, Earth."
Matias didn't speak. He was distracted.
The screen flashed, twice, and then a bold red outline surrounded the display.
"What? Tin-Man find a new star?" Teal glanced toward the television.
They watched, live, as chaos erupted from the surface of a choppy sea. Low-light enhancements pushed the color and contrast toward the surreal. According to a news chyron, something was erupting off the coast of Belize.
"Is that. A volcano?"
Matias shook his head. "Can't be! That's insane!"
Yet, there it was, boiling up and belching fire. Even without being there, Teal got a mental whiff of acrid smoke.
Zie had experienced a terrible fire, years before, when a living module had been bombed by some asteroid miner. Something about the separatist movement, they'd found, but the smoke-tainted air had lodged into memory.
"Is that-" zie had to think, tried to picture it in zer mind, but Earth was too big. "Is that near here?"
Matias shot a look of stunned incredulity. "Near here? Teal! That's right offshore!"
. . . .
Strange, Teal thought, how the streets had seemed too big. The city too open. Everything too spread apart. Earth was huge, and everyone could just sprawl out wherever felt convenient. Or, it had felt that way.
Luna City was the opposite out of necessity. Every square centimeter was carefully allocated for best use at the best place at the best time. Nothing was free, or easy, or happenstance.
Then, suddenly, as if through spontaneous existence, the streets were too full. The city too crowded. The world too small. It was three in the morning and yet everything was bustling.
Matias had insisted on getting Teal back to zer traveling group. Their hotel, the one where'd they'd seen the news, had been just right for a fling. A place to get away and revel in another person's body.
Teal and zer group had rented a house, a month-long deal, for their entire leg in Cancún. It had four bedrooms, massive rooms, high ceilings, and was basically a palace compared to anything they'd have on the moon.
Unfortunately, it was further north along the peninsula than where the group escaped for that evening. And, despite talking about keeping close through the trip, none of them had bothered to check in before heading back to the house after leaving the coffee bar.
There had been dozens of messages after the news broke, messages from the moon, messages from mother and father, and messages from the rest of the vacationing moonborn. Everyone was worried and wanted the trip cut short.
So much for two weeks.
Teal continued tapping away on zer phone, frustrated, ready to cut it off and say it was out of charge. Zie had just barely convinced the group to stay indoors. Wait. Reschedule the tickets, the flights, the rocket, if they wanted to be useful.
Coming after Teal would be foolish. Plus, zie really wanted more time with Matias. With everything being cut short, the connection felt more important. More real.
But Teal only had an hour left with the last earthling zie would talk to for years. Zie hated it. It was selfish and stupid in the face of tragedy, but it was the truth.
Luckily, Matias had his own car, too, which was helpful for both getting back and for spending time together. He leaned into the horn. "Pinche pendejo cabrón! Fuck!" Someone wedged their car in the hint of a gap in front of them. "Sorry, this is gonna be. Difficult."
"Seriously, I could just catch a ride from someone else." Zie would hate to, but would still offer. "You gotta get home too." Zie wanted to go home with him. Because why not.
"I live just outside of the city, so this is on the way. Besides, you're not catching anything in this chaos. People are freaking out."
"Well rightly so. That is a fucking volcano!"
"So? I mean, it's not normal, but really it shouldn't mean anything to us. It's far enough from shore that we'll just have a new island. We're not in danger, and the ejecta isn't likely to reach us." Matias had put on a pair of glasses once in the car. He had smiled to say, "They're mildly corrective, mostly informative." He'd been reading news and details while weaving through traffic.
Teal stared out the window toward the volcano's building plume of ash. "At the very least, we shouldn't be breathing that gunk. But I bet it just makes more people come and gawk. This place is gonna be hell because of the fire and the crowding."
"Says the tourist."
"Hey, but I'm a tourist on all of Earth. That lets me off the hook."
"It does? Huh! News to me."
"Seriously! I don't come with the baggage of other countries. I'm not part of their histories of shitting on each other. Plus, we're no threat up on the moon. We're far away, largely ignored, and we can hardly survive on this over-moisturized ball of phlegm."
"Ball of phlegm!?" Matias cough-laughed. "Wow! I had no idea you were so mean!"
"It's not mean if it's true!"
"No," he retorted, "It's especially mean if it's true."
"Oh please, see this is gonna get into weird eartherisms. You ground dwellers are so sensitive about facts. Like they're more than just stating the obvious."
"Uh, ground dwellers?" Matias eased the car into an alley to cut across between roads. He brushed them past an overfilled dumpster and honked at a bicyclist rocketing through from the back. "Last I checked, you lunatics live in the ground. You're all basically dwarves, is what I'm saying."
Teal scoffed. "What!?" Zie was having far too much fun with this conversation. The physical attraction had been great. The chemistry had been perfect. It was no fair that he was also enjoyable to be around. "If anything, we're elves. Even our shortest people are taller than all of you combined!"
Then, somehow, the world inhaled.
It was an audible, physical change in the air. The clouds, reflecting city lights, shifted as one. As if nudged by an invisible hand.
And then, having taken its breath before the plunge, the world exploded into fire.
The ground shook in time with the shockwave of some unseen outburst. Every building around them gave off a sudden cloud of dust. Like rugs overdue for a good smack.
Traffic stopped in the way it must in moments of shock. Vehicles slammed into one-another while others veered into buildings or onto sidewalks crowded with running pedestrians.
Matias slammed on the brakes, still in the alleyway, and someone rear-ended them. His car twisted from the impact until shoved against the wall of the alley.
Both walls wobbled, not from the impact but from the near-constant shaking that continued a rising intensity. One of the walls was brick, and it practically shattered before crumpling in on itself.
The other wall, some mix of glass and steel, twisted as its grounding foundation buckled beneath the pavement.
Matias, still frozen after the crash, was holding the sides of his head. "We have to get on top of something!" Blood trickled down his forehead from bits of windshield. His hands were covered in white-powder from the airbags.
Teal struggled to unbuckle zer seatbelt. Everything suddenly hurt. Zie, too, was covered in flecks of blood and glass and dust. "Ugh." Zie could hardly think. "Out of the alley. Things are falling."
"No, climb up, up there!" Finally, Matias began to move. He pushed his door, shoving with both arms and a leg, until it opened with a grating pop. "Up the side of this building.
The metal-glass building had fallen over, mostly intact, but the ground was cracking beneath them. Everything was still shifting, moving more.
Sirens, deep, all-encompassing, blotting-out-thought, erupted into a sonorous wail.
"Whatever just erupted, we have a tsunami heading here like now!"
Teal coughed, shoved zer own door open, and tumbled from the vehicle. "Shit." Zie scrambled after Matias for the twisted side of the building. "Shit, shit, shit."
Vacation on Earth, zie thought. Once in a lifetime opportunity, zie remembered hearing. Zie felt shards of the windshield biting into zer hands while climbing up the side of the wall. Zie really wanted to like earth, but now it felt like all the naysayers might be onto something.
. . . .
Hours had gone by, but it wasn't getting brighter. If anything, the sky seemed to grow darker. Closer.
The clouds felt like they'd fall at any moment.
Teal wrapped an arm around Matias' shoulders. He kept coughing, so it was uncomfortable, but as least it let them share warmth. The day, if you could call it that, was staying depressively chilly.
"How long before the water recedes?" asked Teal.
An older woman, gray-haired but pacing with energy, glanced over her shoulder. "Maybe, eh, two, three, hours, but, uh, es difícil con seguridad, Delan?"
A younger man, one that shared the woman's features, shrugged. "This isn't like some usual flood, no. The ground has changed." He shrugged again. "She is right, maybe three hours."
"What's it matter though? If the water goes? You said it yourself. The earth itself is collapsing. Look!" Matias gestured with his still-bloodied hand.
A nearby hotel, a twenty-story behemoth, a block wide, a block deep, was sinking into the grime-coated waters. As it tilted, enough weight shifted so that half of a wall caved in. They could hear the newly-crafted rubble crashing into the flooded streets below.
"Everything is washed away," mumbled Matias, "and what isn't will be swallowed by this hole into hell."
Teal grimaced. "Someone has to have some boats. There are ships out there, too." Internally, zie hoped similarly for the rest of the lunatics. The townhouse was two stories. Surely, they would've gotten on the roof. Please, she thought, the building survived the initial quakes.
"Whatever might happen, hasn't happened yet," grumbled the old lady. She crossed her arms and walked to the edge of the rooftop. The building had crumpled to one side, so the structure was tilted at an angle, but it seemed to be holding up.
As long as the ground didn't swallow them whole.
"Sorry I couldn't get you back to your friends," muttered Matias.
Zie rubbed his back, up and down, up and down. "It's okay, hey, it's fine. You tried. Tried your best." Zie thought it was absurd for him to apologize, to take any of the blame. He had no control over a wondrously ridiculous planet.
"We should try and sleep," Teal offered.
They heard a distant grumble.
Looking toward the sea, back where the plume had been, they could see a rising glow. "Shit. Is that thing still going?"
Thunder, and then lighting crackled across the sky.
"Look, we need a plan." The gray-haired woman glanced between the three of them. What appeared to be her son, or grandson, a scrawny moonborn, and a local man still shaking in shock.
"What can we do?" asked Teal.
"First, some of us must swim."
The other young-man nodded. "I could probably make it to the marina. Go from one building to another. There's bound to be a few boats."
"Why not just wait for the water to recede?" Matias raised his head. "Then we can grab a vehicle and head inland."
"Not happening, lindo niño. The roads were already swamped before the water came." The old woman shrugged. "And we cannot leave. We must stay here, to help those still trapped. But we will need boats to do that."
Teal felt zer eyes bulge. "I'm sorry, what!? You want to stay here? This place is actually in the middle of exploding!"
Matias squeezed zer arm with a sigh. His face was showing extra stubble, extra lines, from the long night. He looked exhausted. "No, she's right. This is home."
"Will one of you come with me?" The other man stood, brushing off his knees. He was covered in grime from the damp dusty air. Flakes of ash had been falling for hours.
"Can't swim, myself," said the woman. She raised her hands in a long shrug. "I never did like the ocean."
Matias frowned. "The most I would do is slow you down, or put you in danger. I'm no swimmer, and that's on a good day."
"How about you?"
Teal winced. "I mean, I only ever swam in wave pools or the submerged domes." Zie glanced at the wide-eyes of zer new companions. "Oh. Right. I'm from the moon."
Matias sighed. "What the hell is a submerged dome?"
"Well, we need the biome diversity, so-"
The old woman raised a hand while shaking her head. "While very interesting, it isn't the time. Please, it sounds like you can help, moonborn."
Zie looked away, toward the red-tinted horizon. "It's Teal."
"My name's Teal. Teal Dyltissoni. And this is Matias Gutierrez."
Matias waved. "Hey."
"Georgina. Call me Georgi. This is my grandson, Nicolas."
Georgi rolled her eyes. "Nicolas." She gave her grandson a soft smile. "I love that name, cariño." Her gaze flicked back to Teal. "So, you will go?"
Teal gritted zer teeth and took a breath. "Yeah. I guess it'd be for the best. Take care of him." Zie glanced down to Matias. Kneeled beside him. "I really like him." Zie kissed him on the cheek.
Then they shared a proper kiss.
Georgi sighed. "A splendid time to find love. Now we just must live for it to grow."