Just a brief blurb. People underestimate the culture shock, returning to a familiar place.
Gone to Ground
The first night back was the hardest. The sky was clear; I saw stars.
In the daytime, the sky was a pale robin's-egg blue. The world had a ceiling -- although the open spaces, the massive scale of it all, were amazing to me. The fresh air didn't taste metallic. There was a spring in my step, partly from higher oxygen content, partly because I actually weighed less here. It felt like I could run a mile without even breaking a sweat.
Little things, like a bench designed to the exact specifications of a human ass, stairs of the perfect size and steepness for my feet to walk on, were a wonder. I became acutely aware of the crosswalk buttons, set at exactly the right height for my hand to reach out and press one. But mostly, it was the freedom to move in any direction. I wasn't locked-up in a ship, didn't need one to breathe. This was my natural habitat.
Still, when all that freedom got to be too much, the artificial enclosure of a mall sheltered me, its overall fakeness reassuring. This was only my first day back, after all. Besides, I did have to buy a few things.
I spent more time than necessary, marveling at the signage and commercial logos, all of which were immediately legible to me. The colours, the composition of things, their proportions -- doorways, displays, light fixtures, light switches, the building itself -- all of these were made by human beings, for human beings to use. And there were human beings in the mall, lots of them. I tried not to stare at the people.
I probably didn't pass for normal, not even for one second, wandering around gawking at everything. There were funny looks, but most avoided eye contact. No one approached me, and I wasn't ready for that yet anyway. The basics of commerce conversation were more than enough. I bought a few essentials and moved on.
All in all, it was a pretty good day.
But at night I looked up once, and for a moment that bottomless sky truly scared me. I saw stars. Beyond those still, angular lines of rooftops, there was a gaping hole in the world, and beyond that the endless vacuum of space. Where's the glass? Where's the shielding? Where's the fucking hull?
It wasn't until my lungs burned and my heart pounded, that I noticed I'd stopped breathing. It wasn't until a moment later, by deliberate act of will, that I could finally get some air. Like that first time swimming with a snorkel, as a kid, the hardest part was realizing I could still breathe with my face in the water. There was air to breathe, although my senses told me otherwise.
There was air to breathe. That was not a hull breach, despite looking exactly like one.