The Woman in the Moon

by Aeryn Rudel

When I was little, I would look up at the Moon and ask if anyone lived there.

“No one,” my father would reply with a wry smile. “Not yet.”

I’d take his hand, callused and strong. “I’m gonna live there one day.”

Dad would pick me up, kiss the top of my head, and laugh. “I believe it. You could be the woman in the moon.”

My father was killed along with 7.7 billion other humans when Nergal—an asteroid the size of Rhode Island—slammed into Earth and made it unlivable. His work, however, kept exactly 1,200 people alive. Me among them.

My father had pushed for colonization efforts on Luna—he hated calling it the Moon—for over a decade, but he’d been ignored. Our government and every other couldn’t see a reason for a permanent colony when the funds to build one could help people right here on Earth. Dad argued it would be a refuge from a planet-wide catastrophe and our first step toward colonizing the solar system. He’d been right about the former, and all the people who make the big decisions changed their tune when Nergal passed Mars without altering course.

The asteroid’s trajectory gave us roughly two years to make a habitable zone on a lifeless rock. I’d followed in Dad’s footsteps, focusing on the necessary engineering to create long-term dwellings in a place inimical to life. Miraculously, we finished the interconnected hive of twelve habitat domes before the asteroid struck. The compound was built to hold thirty thousand. We managed enough shuttle runs to save twelve hundred before it was too late. That’s twelve hundred people out of almost eight billion.

Most of us on Luna went to our quarters before Nergal hit. I didn’t.

I saw the end of all things from the viewing dome of Habitat Eleven. I watched a bright eruption of flame and molten rock scorch the planet and reduce the biosphere to an ash-choked hellscape. The rock that crushed the dinosaurs was a pebble thrown into an ocean. Nergal was a boulder dropped into a kiddie pool. Nothing survived.

After the initial shock, we tried to make some kind of life on Luna. There would be no shortage of air or food. The habitats were designed for thirty times our number. We had the engineers and medical personnel to maintain the health of our dwellings and our bodies. At first, we were determined, even hopeful. We dreamed of using Luna as a steppingstone to the colonization of Mars. We talked of huge, high-minded ideas like terraforming and water harvesting.

Of course, it was a fool’s dream, a distraction to keep us from acknowledging the dire truth of our situation. Without the resources of Earth, we couldn’t even launch a shuttle from Luna. We could survive, and that was all. As the months wore on, life became mechanical, rote, and depression set in. The first suicides were shocking but not unexpected, the hundred that followed less so, and, in time, the hundreds more simply inevitable.

After two years, our population of twelve hundred was halved. I think what really broke us was that there were no births on Luna. There couldn’t be. The low gravity made carrying a child to term all but impossible. Something we hadn’t foreseen or expected. That there could be no new life only heightened the sense of our pointless struggle for survival.

We lost another three hundred when Habitat Six depressurized. The malaise had infected more than our minds, it had spread to our work, and the crucial maintenance necessary to keep our little bubbles of life going fell by the wayside. Many of us envied those lost in the accident. A quick death without the guilt and terror built up by the decision to take one’s own life. A mercy.

The habitats became tomblike, still and cold. We passed each other in the tunnel-like warrens without a word. All work ceased, and the last of us wandered like the living dead through the slow nightmare of extinction.

When Habitat Seven began to show signs of inevitable collapse, almost everyone remaining moved into it. I remember how spirits lifted in those final days. I saw smiles, even laughter, as people connected and hoped for the end. They got their wish four days ago and our numbers sat at a mere six.

I heard three gunshots yesterday—Kellogg and his wife and son. Down to three. I left my quarters not long after to check on Salinger and Fried. Dr. Debbie Salinger had luxuriated in a warm bath before she cut her wrists with a scalpel. When I went to Xen Fried’s quarters, I found they had swallowed an entire bottle of Vicodin and an entire bottle of vodka. They had probably gone to sleep feeling pretty damn good. Not a terrible way to go.

That leaves me. Prisha Singh, the last human in the universe. I haven’t eaten in a week, and that’s how I’ll meet my end. Just waste away looking down at Earth from the viewing dome, which miraculously hasn’t cracked. There’s a comfortable couch here and the view is beautiful. The fires have gone out, and my former world is covered in shifting swirls of gray ash. Beneath it, there would be only darkness, but from my vantage point the sun gleams off cobalt clouds, and the Earth shines like a great silver diamond.

As the days drag on, I think about my father. I see him sometimes. It’s a hallucination brought on by starvation, but I don’t care. I miss him so much. He appears on the other side of the glass, out there in the cold vacuum, a warm, slightly bemused smile on his face.

I’m so happy to see him. So happy to tell him, “Look, Dad. I’m the woman in the moon.”

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