I used to be fascinated by the little blueish-white ball in the sky, rather than afraid. My first memory was of my mother teaching me that ground beneath my feet was called ‘earth’ and that ground in the sky was called ‘moon’.
Through the glass we would gaze up at the moon, and Mum would tell me stories about the two million people that had gone to sleep in technologically decorated coffins beneath the surface just before the meteorite hit. Then Dad would tell me stories about the scouts that had flown to the moon to see if it was safe to wake the sleepers. We have big skyhooks in the sky, and twice a year they are lined up with the skyhooks around the moon whilst our fuel supplies are in surplus. Every year for the past two thousand years we’ve sent one person to the moon in the stasis shuttle, and later that year the previous scout returned. Unless something went wrong.
There had been a lot of years when no-one returned.
I didn’t dwell on that back then. The moon was just a magical faraway place where if I looked closely enough after window cleaning day, I imagined I could make out land masses.
It was only when I was told that I would be the next person to go to the moon that I started being afraid of the orb in the sky.
I should have seen the trip coming. The year I was born was when everything changed. That was when the scouts found what they were looking for. The moon was ‘ready for life and civilisation’ and we didn’t need scouts anymore. First, they sent the scientists. My parents were both scientists. They went to the moon and never came back. Instead I got letters off the teletype every week, about how different things were up there and how strange the people they were waking up were. Once a year, my grandparents were allowed to take me into the ancient Comms Module where the last videophone was kept. I got to see my parents once a year, and every time I saw them they looked completely changed by life on the moon.
Last year, my grandparents asked if I wanted to live with my parents again. I said yes, not knowing I’d volunteered to be the next one sent up in the rocket to the moon.
My cousin Lexie was the one that broke the news to me. “What? You thought they’d be coming back?” She’d said. “They’re busy waking the sleepers. They can’t come back. Ever.”
My grandparents didn’t understand why I was so upset. It was very rare for someone to go to the moon. It showed what a good job my parents were doing and how well the reawakening was going that a rocket could be spared for me. Wasn’t I proud of what my parents were doing? Wasn’t I excited to go to the moon?
Whenever we went to any appointments related to my journey, I ran away and hid in terror. During my first physical I ran to the nutrient vats and gorged myself. After that, Lexie decided to share a new ‘fun fact’ she’d learnt about the moon with me.
“They don’t eat like normal on the moon” she told me. “You’ll have to get surgery and learn to eat in a completely different way. Also, you’ll never get normal food again.”
“Now that’s not true” Grandma said. “There’ll be enough earth food for you to eat until you’re used to moon food.”
I didn’t want to get used to moon food. When I did end up seeing the doctor, I cried through the whole appointment.
“Couldn’t we wait a few years?” Grandpa asked the doctor. “Until she’s old enough to understand where she’s going?”
“If we wait any longer, she won’t be able to adapt to the difference in gravity” the Doctor explained. “We don’t want to force her to choose between never seeing her parents again or being crippled while on the moon.”
That just made me more scared. I was old enough to know what gravity was and I didn’t want it to change.
The next appointment I hid in the park. Lexie found me and told me how on the moon I’d be fully exposed to the sun, and how it would burn so much brighter.
“And do you want to hear about night on the moon?” She asked.
I told her I didn’t want to hear any more of her ‘fun facts’.
I kept hiding from anything rocket related until the week before I was due to leave. Our class received letters from the first class of children to be awakened on the moon. They had a lot of questions for us. And for me, their future classmate.
It was weird hearing from them.
They thought our food was disgusting and weird. They thought we were too exposed to the sun. They thought our gravity was funny. They thought our animals –
I’d never even thought about animals on the moon. They’d all have been artificially created. I hoped they weren’t scary.
I didn’t talk to my family about the lesson. For some reason, I liked thinking that my regular life was as scary to the moon-children as theirs was to me, and I didn’t want Lexie to tell me a ‘fun fact’ about moon-children and make me scared again.
In the end, it was one of the scouts that did that. Grandpa had asked her to tell me about her trip to the moon. It was meant to comfort me, but when she mentioned how the very atmosphere of the moon made her shuttle burn up I screamed and ran away.
My family found me later in the rabbit farm, crying alongside an affectionate angora rabbit. The launch was so close and I really just did not want to go. I buried my face into Grandma’s hug and asked why I had to go to the moon.
Grandma and Grandpa comforted me, and then led me to the Comms Module. I was so confused; we’d already had our one call for the year. The fact that we even got a yearly call was huge, since it took so much processing power to send a video message to the moon that it was only used for the most important occasions.
“Are we allowed to have a video chat again so soon?” I asked.
“Of course” Grandpa said. “This is very important.”
I entered the communications room and saw my parents on the screen. I hid behind Grandma. My parents had grown fatter and their skin darker since the last time I saw them, and I’d never liked the metal braces they had to wear.
Grandma didn’t force me to go near them. She just patted me on the back as I listened to my parents tell me it was alright to be scared and that they’d missed me so much.
“We’d really like to see how you’ve grown” Mum said. “Why don’t you sit down in front of the screen and talk to us?”
“We can’t bite you from there” Dad added. “No matter how scary the moon has made us.
I inched forward. Grandma squeezed my shoulder and then backed away. I sat in the chair and looked my parents over. They were moon-people now, but they still had big smiles on their faces and they were still my parents. I found myself relaxing.
“You’re moon-people now” I said.
“That’s what the moon-people say about us” Dad said with a laugh. “We were too old to adjust to the gravity, so we’ll always be moon-people to them.”
“They call our ground the moon” Mum explained. “Since it’s in their sky. In our sky now.”
“It can be your sky soon too” Dad said. “If you’re able to be brave and go on the rocket.”
“Everyone says I have to” I said. “But I don’t want to be a moon-person.”
“You don’t have to” Mum said, her voice cracking. “But if you don’t come this year, then you’ll grow too much to adjust to the gravity here. Then if you do come later, you’ll need support. And… and I miss you so much. I wish you hadn’t been too little to come on the big ship. Or that they’d just delayed the awakening for a few more damn years.”
Mum was crying now and Dad was hugging her, tears on his face too. I sniffled.
“Is it so bad being a moon-person?” Dad asked me.
“I dunno” I said. “The moon is so far away and everything is so different and scary.”
“Different doesn’t have to be scary” Dad said. “It’ll be strange at first, but it isn’t bad here. Remember; moon is just ground in the sky, and earth is ground beneath your feet. It’s all the same ground and once you’re here you’ll still be the same little girl. All the scary weird things that happen here are normal to the people here.”
“From here, it looks like your life is strange and scary” Mum said. “See? You’ve already been doing weird moon stuff without even knowing it. Haven’t you precious?”
I nodded, trying to find the hole in their logic.
“All that matters is whether or not you have people who love you looking after you” Mum said. “And you have that wherever you go.”
The screen beeped, warning that they were almost out of time. I didn’t want the call to end. I’d been scared of how Mum and Dad looked at first, but now they just looked like my Mum and Dad. They’d stopped being scary.
“We have to go” Mum said. “we’ll send you a letter right after this call. And remember, you don’t have to make up your mind right now. Think about it and then make up your mind on launch day. We love you no matter which world you’re on.”
“But if you come here, Grandma, Grandpa and Lexie will be the moon-people” Dad said.
I laughed at how silly the thought was, but I found myself thinking about what my parents said a lot during the following week. It was hard to imagine my everyday life being strange and scary to other people. Maybe that meant that strange and scary wasn’t that bad. Maybe I could learn to live with a new strange and scary.
Which ground I stood on, and which ground was far away in the sky, all depended entirely on my point of view.
I told Lexie this, and she laughed at me.
“Well actually” she explained “the word ‘moon’ used to mean a small planet orbiting a big one. Not just a ball in the sky. So, you can’t really say either planet is the moon and either is the earth. One has to be The Moon.”
“Which one is the true moon then?” I asked.
“That one of course” Lexie said, pointing to the glowing ball visible through the habitat dome. Her face looked uncertain, but I found that I didn’t really care. I liked the more common meaning for the words and the picture they gave me better.
The only question was whether I wanted to live my parents or my grandparents.
“Visits will become easier once the awakening is further along” Grandpa said when I asked him if going to the moon would mean I never see him again. “But if you grow up on the moon, it’ll be easier for you to visit earth. We’ll always be here waiting for you and sending you letters.”
The thought of getting on the rocket and going to the moon still terrified me, but I kept repeating what I had learnt over and over again.
What was strange and scary depended on how I saw things.
I had people who loved me and would help me no matter where I lived.
The day of the launch arrived, and I didn’t hide. I hugged my grandparents, then turned and hugged Lexie, even though she said going to the moon would turn me into a freaky moon-person.
We were all crying.
I let the tech lead me up the rocket scaffold to the shuttle at the top. It was big enough to hold one adult-sized bed built into the wall, surrounded by all the tubes and tanks and straps needed to keep me sleeping for the trip.
I tried not to be scared.
Not scared by how my feeding tube would be removed and I’d have to learn how to eat unprocessed animals and plants with my mouth.
Not scared that I would be standing under the sun with nothing but the thin atmosphere to protect from it’s deadly rays.
Not scared about the heavier gravity, or the animals that had gone extinct from the meteorite and been recreated by the scientists.
It was all normal to the people living there. Soon, that would be my earth, and I will look up to the moon and think fondly about the strange life I’d been living before.