Author: Chana Kohl
People think the Moon is a tranquil place. I suppose that’s the impression one gets seeing the silvertone reflections of its hauntingly barren expanse from Earth. In reality, it is a painstaking maze of rugged terrain and deep crater mounds, open mouths gasping for breath beneath a cold and empty sky. Lunar dust clings everywhere, leaving lingering traces of saltpeter and sulfur. The most serene thought I have up here is of a long, hot shower, the one thing most scarce in supply.
I maneuver my SEV, like a slow, rumbling, metal crab, past the western ridge of “Mare Serenitatis.” From across the horizon, a lone habitation module comes into view: a small, white sugar cube in a vast bowl of basalt. Why anyone would choose to hole up here is a mystery. I guess Space Force Command believes I can unravel it.
Nearing the docking hatch, I make radio contact. A woman’s voice replies, dulcet and low, as if to convey she probably won’t shoot me, but don’t be too sure, “Who the hell are you?”
“Col. Lily Woodard, this is Capt. Thomas Spike, USSF. I was sent here with an urgent request. I..”
“Nobody calls me that anymore,” she breaks in. “Whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying. Pack it up and roll it out.”
“Ma’am,” I try not to sound desperate. “I also have a private message for you from Brent.”
A minute of thumping silence passes before I hear clamping locks engage. I slide out my suit port and wait until the docking pressure equalizes. An older woman with smooth, umber skin and mahogany eyes opens the hatch. She motions for me to follow her inside.
“I don’t normally get guests out here. You’ve got two options: coffee or coffee.”
Sitting down at the drop-leaf table in the galley, “I’ll take coffee then,” I say. She sets down two, piping cups then sits across from me.
“To the point, Colonel, I’m here on behalf of Central Command. Know that your accomplishments are greatly admired on Earth still. New Columbia needs your expertise with the Mars deployment.”
“That’s not my job anymore, next item.” Reaching too fast for her cup, she misses the target, knocking it over. She freezes, like a kid with a hand caught in the cookie jar.
I stare at her, slowly piecing together what’s off. The peripheral eye contact. The shuffled walking. The harsh, bright lights…. Macular degeneration. Don’t know how I missed it before. “How bad is it?”
Damn. Sending people to Mars and we still can’t reverse it.
She juts her chin up defiantly, “Still want me advising your pilots?” She wipes up the mess.
So this self-imposed exile isn’t about a falling-out with SF. This is personal. She’s coping with loss, not just of her sight but of her sense of self. New Columbia may have to manage this next operation without their retired hero.
I reach into my pocket and place the data pod encrypted for ‘Aunt Lil’ into her open hand. “This is for you.”
She takes it to her port station to listen in private. As the message plays, I watch her expression soften. Something in her family ties connects, an invisible tether, drawing her back to the rest of humanity. When it finishes, she stands.
“I’ll be ready to leave in an hour.”
As the port retracts inside the SEV, I apologize for the odor of burnt gunpowder permeating the air.
“That’s alright, Tom,” she says, inching towards the shotgun seat and smiling. “I love the smell of Moondust in the morning.”