Jesse McVeigh had lived long enough to remember a time before the wall was erected, way back before the seawall was necessary to keep back the waters of the Sea of Tranquility from encroaching on the borders of the city of Artemis. Old Jesse McVeigh will tell you about those days, if you ask him. He’ll do it if you don’t, too.
Jesse sits on a rocking chair on the porch of the Armstrong Inn, where his son is the proprietor. Sometimes he’ll sit with the old man, but more often than not he can’t spare the time. He’s heard all of the stories, anyway, he’ll say. Jesse McVeigh, like the moon, has no new stories.
Some stories are too old, even for Jesse. Ask about his life on Earth, for example, and Jesse McVeigh will rub the sleeve that covers the barcode tattooed on his right arm and change the subject.
Jesse McVeigh’s granddaughter, who happens to share his name, dreams of space and visiting Earth. Her father gave her a telescope, and she shows her grandfather the barren fields and jagged canyons of the old planet through the lenses, proudly reciting the names of each one. But old Jesse McVeigh only sees the trenches in which he and his brother hid from the iron colossuses. And he sees the grave of his brother, which he was forced to leave unmarked. Jesse McVeigh smiles and acts impressed with his granddaughter’s memory, but he does not look at Earth for very long.
Sometimes friends of Jesse McVeigh will sit with him. They will not talk about their barcodes, or who they were before the moon. They will talk about the chill in the air off the Sea of Tranquility, how the fish and crab harvest will be affected. They will talk of the hotel business, of recipes for beef stew and jing char siu bau and doro alicha, of pains in new places. They will talk about when Artemis was smaller, of sons and daughters and grandchildren, of the possibilities of moving to warmer New Houston. These topics are as old as the wall itself.
Once once in awhile, a young person will bring up terra-forming Earth back to how it was before the war. That the moon cannot continue to hold the human race, that they were running out of room as it was. That going back to Earth is rapidly becoming the only option. And Jesse McVeigh and his friends will scoff. But they know the truth, that the wall on the edge of the Sea of Tranquility exists to keep the city from drowning the water just as much as it keeps the water from drowning the city. That someday, there will not be enough room. The walls will not be enough.
Jesse McVeigh will not be among those that return. He will stay on the moon, stare into its blue sky, and try very hard to put the Earth behind him.