Trigger warnings: climate change, death, and hunting
The worst thing was the empty sky.
It was the first detail I noticed when we got off of the transport, Basi yelling orders as if he knew what was going on, his flawless jaw concealed by a breathing mask. Sofia and Eve were the first to disembark, clinging to each other and apologizing for just about everything, except what mattered.
“I’m sorry I never told you about the wages—”
“I should have explained—”
“You deserve more than this—”
“I never said—”
Neither seemed to notice the empty sky. But as I clambered down, my feet hitting the hard ground, breathing steam through my mask, I looked up.
Stars were still on this side, of course. They spread out before us, endless, untouched by the fumes spewing from the ES. Elea dropped down beside me and took off her mask.
“It’s safe,” she said, her eyes wide with disbelief. “J, take off your mask.”
I did so without my eyes ever leaving the wide, black sky. “Earth’s gone,” I said.
Elea glanced up, once. “Good.”
Luna walked up beside me, their opal eyes narrowed as they followed my gaze. Now you see my world as it should be.
I supposed they were right. It was Earth’s fault that we came to the moon, Earth’s fault that my mother proposed terraforming, Earth’s fault that she fucked up the plans and we didn’t have enough soil to last more than twenty years, Earth’s fault that they tried to frack the liquid iron beneath the crust.
Luna nudged my elbow with their antler. You came from Earth, but your mother’s faults are not yours.
Shocked, I looked into those wide, strangely reflective eyes. Luna was the first fauxdeer I’d interacted with, really. There were hardly any on the ES—Earth Side of the moon. Fauxdeer were native to the DS—what most of the colonists referred to as the Other Side. The Dark Side.
What I had seen were the hunting trophies.
The ground beneath us lurched, sending us all stumbling into one another. Basi yelled that we had to get under cover. I wondered what Elea saw in him, if anything.
Were it not for the fact that he was the only one with access to a transport and the knowledge to pilot it, I would have advocated leaving him on the ES to putrefy in the fumes.
Come on. Luna ducked their head and cantered forward, following Basi, Sofia, and Eve across the barren plain. Though terraforming stretched across all of the moon’s surface, and the synthetic atmosphere continued to shield us on the DS, this side of the moon had none of Dr Toareta’s great improvements: trees, greenhouses, even hills of wildflowers. I remembered the awards my mother received for her work, back before everything went wrong. Before Chuo City was swallowed by poisonous gas.
Elea grabbed my arm, jerking me from the memory of a heaving crust, the terrible grinding under us as we ran together to the center of the university campus, where Eve, Sofia, and Basi were waiting with the ship.
I followed Elea away from the transport now, trying not to look up at the empty sky. But every step on the hard, rocky ground reminded me where we were. And in the corner of my vision, the horizon glowed.
The DS was empty, promising little shelter from the storm that was to come. Flying to the other side was only a temporary measure. Luna had assured us that once the moon was awakened, there was nothing we could do. Oddly, this didn’t really surprise me all that much. I knew the science beneath the mistakes people had made, beginning with my mother and her twenty-year Taoreta Plan.
No, what unnerved me was how Luna had phrased our fate: You’ve let her notice you, they said the night they arrived at my house, Elea and Basi in tow. You’ve let her notice you, and now she will return herself to the way she once was.
I didn’t know who she was. At first, I’d assumed Luna meant another fauxdeer, until I found out that fauxdeer were gender neutral, like me.
The next day, I went with Elea to the campus. Classes weren’t in session. It was—Saturday? Was that really this morning? In the span of a few hours, the entire world had fallen apart. I found myself with people I would never have stayed with otherwise.
Elea was like me: daughter of a scientist, born here after terraforming. Her father worked with plants. Is he dead too? Everything and everyone we’d left behind on the ES was consumed in yellow gas and boiling sulphuric magma—or whatever that stuff was pouring out of the ground as Basi flew us away from the university. My mother’s back there. She would be at the centre. I was so angry at her when I followed Elea, but now…
High above us in the blackened sky, light began to intrude. It started at the edges, gathering. I recognized the putrid yellow. We had flown through those clouds to escape Chuo City even as the ground broke up below us, spewing golden liquid over the streets. I remembered covering my eyes while Basi shouted and jerked the controller of the transport, taking us through the swirls of mist and collapsing buildings. Luckily, the ship was equipped with masks. I don’t think we would have made it, otherwise.
It might take days for the fumes to reach us, if we were lucky. That bought us time. Time for what? As I watched the yellow linger on the very edge of the world, I couldn’t help but look up. No earth. My life on the ES had always consisted of counting the continents, looking for Japan through my mother’s telescope, and wondering what our original planet was like.
Not like this. My eyes traced the endless gray, the creeping clouds of yellow. No, nothing like this.
Sofia and Eve led us to a cluster of rocks and we each collapsed, worn out not by any physical exertion, but by the weight of—everything. I knew Eve, sort of. She was from a rich family, taking physics at the university. I didn’t know Sofia at all, but I could tell she and Eve were together, which was a surprise. Sofia looked like she was working-class, part of the settlers who were brought to work the terraforming equipment, tend the greenhouses, and make sure everything went smoothly.
But it didn’t.
As we huddled in our makeshift shelter, I sat back listening to Sofia and Eve apologizing, and tried to count the stars.
“What was the moon like, before we came?”
Luna blinked their orb-like eyes. They had no definite color but shimmered like a puddle of machine oil. We had entered our second day, camped out with our backs to the ES, as if by ignoring the danger we could make it move slower, or go away entirely. Every now and then I couldn’t take it anymore, and I looked over my shoulder. Yellow gas filled the line where horizon met sky. Each time I looked, it was a little taller, a little brighter.
Like this, but not, Luna said, nodding their head at the rocky landscape. They had six sets of antlers, dappled with colors like colonies of lichen clinging to rocks. I stared at the gray landscape and tried to picture it filled with fauxdeer.
“Are there many of you left?” Elea asked.
I knew what she was thinking about. Fauxdeer antlers adorned walls throughout Chuo City, especially in the homes of families like Eve’s. I glanced over at Eve and Sofia. They had moved away from the three of us and sat together nestled between some larger rocks, only their feet visible. I wondered for a moment where Basi was, then decided I didn’t care.
Luna shook their antlered head. Not more than forty. We can hear each other, though not as well, since your people arrived and sealed the air.
I looked up at the sky and stifled a shiver. Space was wide and empty overhead, but if I stared long and hard enough, I could see the shimmering skin of the synthetic atmosphere, the bubble of life that made the moon inhabitable.
To us, I thought. For the fauxdeer, it was a prison.
“What’s happening?” I asked Luna. “That…what happened as we were leaving the capital…” leaving everyone else to—die? There were other transports. Maybe even a ship strong enough to make it back to Earth. But what was left there to support life? My mother spearheaded the moon settlement because Earth was no longer viable.
Could anyone be left? Or was Earth empty, the ES empty, and Elea, me, and the others all that remained of humanity? I shivered again.
Luna was watching me, and I felt like they could read my thoughts. You know what you awakened, J.
“What?” Elea said. She looked at me. “Awakened? J?”
“Fauxdeer can breathe the gas,” I said, not acknowledging Elea’s question. Luna nodded, their antlers glowing with reflected light. Not sunlight. Yellow light.
I looked over my shoulder. The gas was spreading.
On the third day, Basi flew the transport deeper into the DS, Elea co-piloting. From the hold I could hear them arguing. I tried to block it out, closing my eyes until we landed again. I stood to disembark, but Sofia and Eve hadn’t moved.
“What is it?”
Sofia swallowed. There were tears in Eve’s eyes. “Look outside,” Sofia said.
As I walked to the window, I wondered why Elea and Basi weren’t talking, weren’t coming down for us. I leaned against the window and looked out.
The rocky ground was glowing yellow. If we flew any farther we’d find ourselves right back in the gas we were running from. We were caught in the middle of the DS, the gas closing in on both sides.
I loved my mother. But I didn’t know her.
Dr Taoreta was responsible for the success of the moon’s settlement. After an initial crew landed and instituted terraforming, transports of settlers came from Earth until there was no more room. I never knew what happened to the people who were left behind. My mother didn’t talk about it.
Chuo City was packed tight, with scientists on top of politicians on top of workers on top of students. Yet on this side—on the DS—there was nothing. Why did we stop halfway? Why didn’t we bring the last people here?
My mother was dead. She had to be. A cataclysm like that and she would have been first on the scene, assessing damage, planning how to contain the burst. But it wasn’t a normal burst. It wasn’t a cracked crust or a fracking accident or even a nuclear meltdown.
It was her. The moon.
We were sitting in the middle of a ring of yellow. The gas was rising around us on all sides, gradually filling the sky, coming closer with each successive minute. Every time I breathed, it inched towards me, as if drawn in by the motion of my lungs.
Elea was holding Basi as he cried. It was a side to him I hadn’t expected, and in a twisted way, I liked him better for his imperfectness. Elea had her eyes closed. I didn’t think she could bear the sight anymore. Yellow horizon, empty sky—I couldn’t blame her.
But it was beautiful. I sat on a rock in this barren landscape and watched the wall of gas advancing, climbing up the sky, slithering against the synthetic atmosphere. How much longer would the atmosphere function? With the capital destroyed, the alterations to the moon would start to shut off, one by one. We’d lose the air, and then we’d lose the sky. When that was gone, the ground would peel away into space. Everything that humans had put on the moon would be gone.
Only fauxdeer would be left, and not many.
Luna was standing next to me. They were the only one who joined me in watching the gas. Sofia and Eve had stayed in the ship, and I thought they were probably fucking, desperately clinging to each other to numb the awareness that we would all be dead soon.
“She’s mad at us,” I whispered, not really thinking about the words that came out. “And she’s right. She was our mother, and we raped her. We changed her. We deserve what we’re getting.”
She is our mother, Luna said, their voice vibrating on the air. It made my spine tickle. Not yours.
But she’s mine. My mother is rising in golden clouds. She is coming to reclaim what’s hers.
The sky is like an inverted sun. All is shining and gold, save for a hole of black just above us. Everywhere I look, I see her. Swirling coils of gas sweep across the plains, rolling over rocks and craters, closing in. I think her touch will be warm. I want to hug her again. She never hugged me much when I was little. She always had other work to do. But I knew she loved me.
And here she is, her golden arms encircling me, a hug I can’t escape. A hug I don’t want to.
My mother is not dead. Dr Taoreta tried to kill her, but she failed. My mother is alive, and she is fighting back. When I look up into the sky I don’t see the Earth. All I see is the moon’s golden light: a vast swirling eye, black pupil studded with the far-off lights of distant galaxies.
The deeper I look, the closer she comes.
You should put on your mask. It will help you last a little longer.
Do you want to die from the gas?
It is almost here. I’m sorry.
My mother killed yours.
“No, my mother’s alive. She’s holding me. I feel her.”
I will remember you.
“Thank you, Luna.”
When the gas fills me, it feels like a memory I almost lost. I see her then. I want to join her, but I don’t know if she shares my memory. Is it just as new to her as it is to me? Can we be reunited if we’ve never been connected?
Can a mother without children recognize her only child?
Can I die to help her live?