“Last one out, turn off the lights” By Rob Shauf
Faye Anderson bounced behind her mentor Dr. Grayson Linde a considerable ways back. For a man whose age numbered in the eighty-somethings, he was quite spry and much quicker than she expected; his years of experience and expertise were being displayed. The Selene outpost was located only a few hundred feet from their landing site but traversing the distance required intense concentration for someone who was not accustomed to it. Anderson was quickly learning that movement on the moon somehow feels like slow motion but in real time; if you aren’t disciplined and intentional with every step you’ll get ahead of yourself and over-correct and end up flat on your face. After ten minutes of intense focus and exacting exertion, Anderson finally caught up to Dr. Linde who had arrived at the Selene and was already working at the external control panel to get the entrance hatch opened.
“Well, Anderson, years in the making and you’re finally here! What do you think?”
She thought for a minute. Decades earlier the Selene was indeed the pride and joy of the earth, hailed as imagination incarnate and the realization of the sum of all human aspiration. On the Selene, humanity was proving it had grown up and was ready to move away from home. Now Anderson was here, standing right in-front of it with her own two feet.
As a child, she dreamed of one day getting to be a Lunaut, one of the lucky few chosen to work and dwell in the Selene. Her mother thought it was a childish dream and frequently chastised her for it. She thought living on the moon would be fun, floating around and having the ability to lift super heavy things in the slight gravity. Maybe it was a bit childish. But, as young as twelve, she longed to see the stars unhindered by the atmosphere. She desired to contemplate the mysteries and problems of Earth from the incredible vantage point found only in the Selene, where the planet hung low on the moon’s horizon and (she imagined) you’d feel like your perspective was literally above it all. The second she moved away from home, Anderson dedicated all her time and resources to walking the decades-long path gaining her eligibility to be a Lunaut.
The Doctor’s question continued to ring in Anderson’s mind as she stared at the outpost and contemplated its meaning. Selene was a technological triumph and tangible proof of the immense adversities could be overcome when people worked together. But the Selene also gave humanity fresh insight into an old perspective: If everyone can band together to survive well enough where it is inhospitable, wouldn’t it be best for humanity to cooperate and thrive in the very environment that had birthed it? That rekindled belief profoundly reshaped humanity’s imagination and aspirations and led to a renewed commitment to live and grow and find contentment on Mother Earth. Now, decades later, the Selene was little more than a half-abandoned curiosity from a less-enlightened time. She shifted in her suit- what did she feel? What emotion did being in the presence of this relic draw out of her? Nothing noteworthy at the moment, aside from the relief that she could finally complete her doctoral dissertation.
“Honestly, it’s smaller than I expected. It looks about the same size as the house my mother raised me in.”
“Your house must have been larger than mine! But you’re right of course. It is quite small relatively speaking- barely large enough for a hundred people to fit in, and that’s probably only if some were stacked on top of each other. But that’s not really what I meant in asking you. You’ve faced a lot of resistance to this project, your research, your vision… You’ve been ridiculed and yet you’ve persisted. And now here you are. This is the fruit of your labour! How does it feel?”
“Oh, you know…” She didn’t really know how to express it palatably. The doctor was especially right about the ridicule she had endured- Anderson’s mother was the worst offender. She was so insufferably pompous when the world’s governments announced the cancelation of the Lunaut program. You’ve wasted your life, Faye! I told you to get your head out of the clouds. I knew it all along- you should grow where you’re planted. Anderson went very quiet as she thought about it. Anything she could have said wouldn’t belong in pleasant conversation.
“Fear and trepidation, I suppose. After such a long build up I can’t imagine anything could live up to the hype. Or maybe it truly is underwhelming, finally seeing Selene in person? They always say you should never meet your heroes. Well, regarding the Selene, you must keep in mind that the inflatable sections were decommissioned and disassembled long ago- those were quite large. In its heyday, this outpost was a thriving community that comfortably housed almost a thousand people. I loved the work we did here.” As Dr. Linde spoke and worked on the panel, the lights in the observation dome at the top of Selene’s structure started to brighten. “It’s profoundly ironic, of course, of all places and of all people, that we would back here to put the old girl to rest once and for all.”
“Yes, a sweet sort of irony. Last one out, turn off the lights, hey?” Anderson joked and Dr. Linde let out a chuckle. “Well… You were up here back then, right? When the Selene was at full capacity?” Anderson already knew the answer to this question- it was the main subject of their professional relationship. She knew very well that Dr. Linde had been the Selene’s long-time chief steward nearly thirty years earlier but it was a bit of a game. She’d ask, He’d reminisce, she’d nod along taking fresh notes. Maybe she’d find some fresh insight that would prove critical to building her arguments but it wasn’t likely. She had tudied years’ worth of his reports, books, political theories and philosophies, and she knew everything worth knowing about the Selene and Dr. Linde’s time stewarding it. Before she had even met him, she’d heard his stories a thousand times. Even still, she thought it polite to ask.
“Yes, I was. Oh, and we accomplished so much! You should’ve seen it back then- it really was quite something. Bustling with the world’s elite, our best and brightest. But as impressive as it was, it was never the goal in and of itself. It was always meant to be the first step down a path that would lead us to even greater things.” The doctor paused his work. He stared at Anderson with a pained expression on his face as he struggled to find the right words. Eventually he smiled and said, “But time brings perspective, and perspective brings wisdom. So they say, anyways. Mother Earth beckoned, and humanity chose to make the best of it at home. Majority politics win out in the end, I suppose, and people prefer to live in comfort. I don’t regret what happened. True growth is a process that takes time. But I do believe it was a setback. Not, uh… what I… would have… chosen…” Dr. Linde’s voice trailed off as he concentrated more intently on the control panel. With a few more button presses, some flickers and flashes, a clunk and a tremor, the Selene was now fully powered and clearly illuminated. The walls of its structure glowed bright grey as light spilled out from the tubes installed along its base and the various hatches and portholes found indenting its surface were outlined in strings of cerulean blue. With the lights on, Anderson immediately noticed pitting in the surface of the walls and cracks in its foundation. Clearly the station was timeworn and tired, but even still, the Selene stood proudly defiant of the mindset that saw it neglected. The hatch opened. “Ah! Here we are, then. Come along, Miss Anderson! The Selene awaits us!”
The two entered the Selene through the airlock. They followed the safety procedures, locking the hatch behind them (check), pressurizing the airlock (check), properly storing the gloves, helmets, boots and suits in the proper cubbyholes (check, check, and check). Health monitor checks, radio checks, and so on and so on. It took a while but eventually they left the entryway and made their way into the heart of the Selene: its observational dome. The air tasted old, of copper and dust- though strangely enough, there was no dust to be found. If the exterior was a bit haggard, the interior looked pristine.
“Doctor Linde, how long do you think this will take?”
“Do I sense anticipation in your voice? Maybe the excitement of this moment is finally starting to catch up to you!”
“Maybe. Will it take long?”
“No, no. Not long at all.”
The Selene’s control center was a raised platform in the middle of the observation dome. Built into the center’s floor were workstations, each a fully reclined chair with computer interface panels integrated into the armrests. Dr. Linde climbed up to the central workstation and strapped himself into the chair, tapping the computer and getting right to work. Anderson eventually made her way up and stood beside him. The doctor smirked. He exhaled slowly and whispered, “Alright Anderson, let’s see if I can’t remember my password.” She laughed, as a courtesy.
From up there, she had a full panoramic view of the heavenly expanse. She looked up through the observational dome and saw the Earth looming immense and proud, a sturdy titan of blue and white standing stark against the vast starfield. She stared for quite some time at the planet rightfully described as mother. Life-giving, nurturing, balanced- full of promise. So much of humanity’s history is broken, fraught with violent conflict. Even still, living on the Earth’s surface takes barely any effort at all. Air to breathe and everything you could ever need. Like those Lunauts who once manned the Selene, Anderson felt the Earth beckoning her to return and reciprocate its warm embrace. Beautiful, but unsettling.
“Wait-” Anderson spoke softly, “just wait a moment.”
“I’m almost done. Are you re-evaluating your thesis at a moment like this?” the doctor paused his work. He looked concerned.
“No… It’s just…” She realized that she had been crying. Low gravity and surface tension meant her tears were pooling on her eyes, making it difficult for her to see. She wiped her eyes and looked up once again. Standing in the Selene, lording over the cradle of humanity, it was not doubt but resolve that gave her reason to pause. If only her mother could see her now. “Sorry. I just needed a moment to collect my thoughts. Please, continue.”
“Good.” A minute later, and Dr. Linde’s work was complete. The outpost shuddered for a moment, and then everything was still. He unstrapped himself from his workstation and moved to stand beside Anderson. He looked around wistfully. Satisfied, he said, “That’s it, I’ve sent the signal. No turning back now, I suppose. Should have what you need any minute now. It really is the end of an era, isn’t it Anderson?”
“It is. Thank you for helping me see it through.”
“Of course! Long overdue. Onward and upward.”
In a flash, the Earth went from sphere to smudge as it was splayed out across the entire dome’s field of view in a terrible a cloud of dirt and vapour, fire and calamity, destruction, death. Humanity (or at least those elite few awaiting them on the Ark) had finally cut the cord. Anderson could now conclusively prove her thesis- the strength of Humanity is directly proportional to the adversity it overcomes. It wouldn’t be easy, but it was for the best. She breathed out a sigh of relief and reached for the radio.
“Houston, do you read me? Houston, come in? Houston, are you there?” Anderson smirked. She already knew the answer. Still, she thought it polite to ask.
This short story was written for my creative writing class in the fall of 2022. I challenged myself to write something without relying on comedy, which is a tool in the toolbox I am comfortable with and reach for all-too-often! Big thanks to those whose names I stole for this story! haha. I hope you don’t mind. Thanks for reading and I hope you liked it!