Author: Andrew Dunn

Tijani queued with other girls alongside a block wall, its once brightly painted designs sun-bleached and flaking. It was September, dry and hot. Sweat jeweled like dewdrops on her face, moistening on her skin. The clatter of an air conditioner teased the possibility of a cool classroom inside. They were students.

Students being a simple term that belied the gravity of the situation. Lunar gravity specifically. A generation of moon mining lessened the mass of Earth’s largest satellite. The lunar cycle was off, ever more erratic each year, altering tides and seasons. But not Septembers. It was as hot as any Tijani remembered.

Tijani’s teacher was a scientist. Mr. Ikego’s skin was light, the color of teeth Tijani thought. His hair was gray, and he stooped and shuffled like her grandpa, leaning on a cane. But Mr. Ikego hadn’t lived his years in the markets and fields. Mr. Ikego spoke of Tokyo, and a dozen trips he made into space when he was young.

Tijani was walking into the cool of the classroom. Mr. Ikego was saying “Good morning” and imploring students to take seats.

“I have exciting news.” Mr. Ikego said. “Your work is showing progress. I will put an email I received on the bulletin board later so you can see.”

Tijani was reading what the teacher scribbled on the board months before. ‘The world depends on you.’ She mumbled, “And the gravity machine,” mopping sweat from her skin before sticking electrodes to her temple and base of her neck. Their wires snaked down the leg of her desk into a conduit with others, and then past the teacher’s desk through a hole in the wall. The gravity machine was on the other side.

Tijani hadn’t seen it, but Fa’izah had. Fa’izah stayed after school once to wait for her brother to finish soccer practice. Fa’izah was strolling corridors, listening to sounds filtering in from outside. And she was listening to the hum from behind a closed door one down from their classroom.

“I looked inside.” Fa’izah told Tijani, “It was big and grey with wires and blinking lights.”

Tijani didn’t know whether to believe Fa’izah. There was no reason not to, and there was no denying that whatever was inside the room was tethered to a dish antenna on the school’s roof.

Mr. Ikego was shuffling down the rows, laying folders on desks. Inside Tijani would find a stack of punch cards and math problems.

Electrodes would siphon synaptic energy she and other students expended solving the problems and punching cards. Mr. Ikego would collect cards every hour and hurry them to the machine. The gravity machine would check their work, and combine them with synaptic energy into pulses the rooftop antenna beamed into space.

Mr. Ikego connected his laptop to a projector to explain it all once. A dozens places on Earth were beaming pulses up to satellites that amplified the signals, and swirled them around Earth the way the ceiling fan in the corridor churned stale September air – a long shot at keeping a wayward moon from stealing too much more of an already thinned atmosphere.

“There aren’t many like you.” Mr. Ikego said, depositing the last folder on Fa’izah’s desk.

Tijani was reading again what the teacher had written on the dry-erase board.

Mr. Ikego was staring at his stopwatch. “Ready. Set.”

And Tijani was scraping pencil on paper, new dewdrops of sweat beading on her forehead as the weight of it all levied heavy on her spirit.