I first met Amon Tobin while writing my name in the moon dust in the crater that makes up the Sea of Cleverness. I was in a solitary mood. I always find the far side of the Moon to be a good place for me to clear my head. You stare out to space, looking at a million light years of nothing, while behind you, just over the horizon, there’s so much life it can be exhausting. The universe feels unbalanced in that way. Not that we humans are alone. We live a dreams distance from all that can exist.
I was writing my name in letters ten miles in width. It was taking a while. I was using a moon skiff I’d borrowed from an Arthur C. Clarke story. On the back of the skiff was a brush a few hundred metres wide. It had taken ages putting the whole thing together. I could have asked Neil for a hand, but that would have defeated the purpose for being on the Moon.
I was going up and down the Sea of Cleverness, lost in my thoughts, when I noticed a hitchhiker wearing a space suit, thumb out on one hand, waving with the other. Just my luck, I thought. Here I am trying to get some peace and quiet, and someone just happens to be here waiting for a lift. I knew right away it was going to be a music maker. They always know how to find me when I don’t want to be found. I was tempted to keep going, ignore whoever it was and get on with my project. Thing is, I’m not that sort. I can’t ignore the possibility of a conversation.
I slowed down, opened up the side airlock and motioned for the hitchhiker to get in. I unbuckled and went in the back to see who I had picked up.
What are the chances? said the man when he had his helmet off.
Music maker? I asked.
How’d you guess? he asked. Don’t answer. It’s kind of obvious, I know. I’m Amon Tobin. What you doing up here?
I explained my task. Amon nodded along, a smile on his face. Sounds like you’re bored, he said.
Boredom is relative, I said. As long as I have access to the imagination of the universe, I don’t think I can be bored. I can be tired. I can be listless. I can be overwhelmed by all the possibilities that eternity offers me. But, bored? I don’t think so.
Just you wait, he said. It takes time. We all get there. That’s why we end up with all these tribal infights.
Why are you on the Moon? I asked.
Spelunking, he said.
I’m not sure one word is a good enough explanation, I said. Especially when that word is ‘spelunking’.
There’s a cave around here, not far, a skylight to drop into a lava tube. Word is, you can walk under the surface for miles, maybe even get around the whole place. It’s why I brought a packed lunch.
Sounds like my sort of fun, I said. You want a tag-along?
You leaving your name like that?
I’ve got plenty of time to get it finished, I said.
I dropped the brushes off the skiff and set off in the direction Amon Tobin directed. We arrived at an opening in the crater floor, about two hundred metres wide. Outside, looking down, we didn’t see what we expected. It was no mere cave. Down there was an adventure we weren’t prepared for.
Did you know that was down there? I asked Amon as we backed away from the lip of the pit.
I’m as shocked as you are, he replied.
Shocked is a bit strong, I said. Perturbed, maybe.
You want to head off? He asked
We better, I said. I don’t want to be caught up here without some serious back-up. I think I better call a few friends.
We de-suited in the airlock. Amon Tobin was visibly shaken. I can’t have been much better. It took me a while to get all the clasps undone.
Fucking Neil, said Amon Tobin, as we entered the main body of the skiff.
I’m not sure I follow, I said.
I have a confession, said Amon Tobin. Neil Cassady told me you’d be up here. He said that you might want some company, and that he would have come but you two needed a bit of space.
He was the one who suggested I come up here, I said. To clear my head.
Fucking Neal, we both said together as climbed up to the bridge.
Someone say my name?
Sat in the captain’s chair was Neal Cassady, hand stuffed deep in a party bag of Maltesers. About time you two got back here, he said. We’ve got work to do. From the look of your faces I can tell you’ve seen the worm. He stood up. How about we get this hunt on?
Worm? I shouted. That’s not a fucking worm. Worms are little tubes that eat and shit dirt. They come out when it rains. They are about as long as my finger. That thing is no worm. That thing is… Is… Is… It’s fucking huge.
You’re an arsehole, said Amon Tobin to Neal. Just look out for the kid, you said. Do a bit of spelunking. Keep him company. I should have known you were up to something.
What? I said.
Yes, said Neal, you should. It’s just a worm. It’s nothing. We can do this. We burn it.
We’re in fucking space, I said. What burns in space?
Worms, said Neal.
I’m not even discussing it, I said, starting up the engines. Or, attempting to. Nothing was happening. I tried the console. Nothing was working. Why isn’t anything working, Neal? I asked. I knew the answer.
We need to kill the worm to get out of here, said Neal.
No, I said. No we don’t. You need to fix whatever it is you broke and then we can get out of here. I’m happy to leave you behind to do whatever it is you are going to do to that worm, but Amon Tobin and I are out of here. Isn’t that right Amon?
To be honest, said Amon.
Don’t, I said. Just don’t. Neal, what the fuck have you done to my skiff?
Why are you fighting it? asked Neal.
I don’t know, I said. I banged my head on the command console. I don’t know.
Five hours later I was back in the same seat. Bruised. Aching. Bleeding from somewhere. One eye was fogged up. My left knee felt like it was on the wrong side of my leg. Most parts of me were feeling relieved to be still attached to the other parts of me. The fight with the worm/dragon/fire-breathing beast of the Moon played on repeat in my head. The part where I was swallowed and had to tunnel my way out of the thing using a blowtorch hastily Macgyvered from my oxygen reserves and a ballpoint pen was the most repetitive. New fodder for my nightmares. I could smell the bits of charred meat that still stuck to me. It was making me hungry, which made me want to vomit.
Fix the console, I said to Neal.
No problem. He fished a bit of wire from his pocket and stuck it in the back. That was easy, he said. No hassle. We even got a trophy.
There’s no way I am attaching that head to the back of the skiff, I said. You can come back for it. Right now, we are leaving.
I kind of enjoyed it, said Amon Tobin.
You didn’t get fucking eaten I said, taking off.
Neither did you, technically, said Amon.
I used to like you, I said.
Cheer up, said Neal. Now we can come back whenever we want and use those tunnels ourselves. Trust me, we are going to need them. You guys are the greatest. He hugged both Amon and myself. I shrugged him off.
This is not over, I said.
Sure it is, said Neal. It’s dead. We’re alive. What more could we want? Apart from a shower. I’m getting a shower.
I made a sign with my fist at Neal’s back as he left the bridge. Music, I said. I need music. Amon, you got a tune?
Sure, said Amon Tobin. He pulled a few bits of equipment from about his body and fashioned a Suzuki Omnichord and played One Shy Morning from the album Long Stories(2019).
When Amon Tobin finished, I asked, Do you think we can forgive him?
Probably, said Amon.
That’s what annoys me, I said, and we’ve been friends ever since.