by Mario Milosevic
I never understood the term “new moon.” When the moon is invisible, how can it be new? “New moon” should be called “empty moon,” the opposite of full moon. I resolved to use the term when I was quite young. I figured all my friends would agree with me and we’d start a new way of talking about the moon. Only thing is, the phases of the moon don’t come up in conversation all that often, so the terminology never caught on.
Another thing I remember about the moon: I used to put my finger over it to make it disappear. Lots of kids did that There’s immense power in erasing an object big enough to have its own gravity. Kids crave that kind of power. They want to rule the world.
You work at a medium-sized law firm. You get a call from some nerds. Space cadets. They want to reclassify the moon. They say it’s a planet, not a satellite. You think this has to be some kind of joke. But no. They are dead serious. They have money to pay for your legal work. Seven hundred and eighty-six dollars. And thirty-two cents. They collected it by passing a hat.
You are amused. You take the case. Why not? No point in being who you are unless you can have some fun once in a while, right? Right?
Alice Creighton knew as much about Richard Mollene as anyone who ever looked at a gossip website, which made sense, since she wrote for one of the most popular.
Mollene was the richest person ever, a complete recluse, a widower, and dedicated to three things above all else: stopping global warming, halting disease, and making the moon disappear. He had already accomplished the first with his innovative solar cell technology, had made real progress on the second with his universal vaccine, and now, with the pepper mill in orbit around the moon for the past twenty years, he was well on his way to achieving the third.
Alice approved of Mollene’s first two dreams, but was not in favor of the third. A lot of people said they understood Richard Mollene and his pepper mill.
Alice Creighton did not. She asked for an interview with Mollene to get more information. To her surprise, he said yes. Alice would get face time with the man who set the pepper mill grinding and seasoning the moon from lunar orbit almost twenty years ago. A lot of people said its mission was impossible. They said fine non-reflective dust, no matter how abundant, couldn’t quench the light of the moon.
But they were wrong.
Like most everyone else, I saw the alien craft arrive on the moon via tv. Unlike most others, I did my watching from inside a correctional institution, the state prison. Don’t feel sorry for me. I had embezzled a lot of money and I got caught, fair and square. I was paying my debt to society.
There wasn’t a lot of fuss when the aliens arrived. It was during a full moon. One minute they weren’t there. The next, spaceships were landing on lunar craters and mountains. Astronomers everywhere had been tracking the ships for months, so we knew they were coming.
People were insulted at first. The aliens saw fit to go to the moon, but none of them bothered to visit the dominant species on Earth? It was as though humans did not count in the eyes of the aliens. After thinking about this for a while, people stopped being insulted and began to worry.
Over the next few days it became obvious that there were no aliens. The spaceships contained terraforming machines. They crawled out of the ships and immediately set to work transforming the moon into a livable planet with vegetation, an atmosphere, and water.
No nation had the resources or the guts to send a crew to the moon to investigate. We had to watch from afar, with telescopes, a set of circumstances which disgusted many, including me. Fact is, we should have been right there, on the moon, either observing the process or putting a stop to it.
You listen as the nerds tell you about the footprint. The one left by Neil Armstrong when he first stepped off the LEM decades and decades ago. They want to preserve the footprint. Neil Armstrong is dead and gone. People have not been to the moon in decades. The footprint, the footprint, (actually a boot print, if you really want to be accurate) would not last much longer. All the constant heating and cooling of the lunar soil that bears the image of the print, constantly expanding and contracting, loosening and settling, was altering the print. The nerds tell you that even now it is probably already more blurred than sharp. There is little time to waste if the print is to be preserved.
The nerds show you a plan that will dig up the print without disturbing it and bring it back intact to the Earth. To be put up in a museum, no doubt, maybe the Air and Space in Washington DC. The print will inspire a new generation of space explorers, that’s what the nerds say. But to do that we have to go to the moon. Except no one wants to do that anymore. If they go anywhere, it will be to Mars. Mars is where it’s at. Mars is a planet. The moon is, well, a moon. Nothing but a lowly satellite.
But you can change that.
Alice tried to find the moon in the sky. Her almanac told her it was full, but it took a while for her to find it, barely visible and high in the sky. The pepper mill had done its job admirably. About the only people who were happy about the moon slowly slipping from view were the astronomers. They never did like the moon’s glare, the way it splashed light all over the sky. Made observing the stars tough. Damn near impossible sometimes.
But the rest of humanity? The lovers, the dreamers, the werewolves, the eclipse watchers, all who appreciated and hungered for beauty, what about them? They missed the moon. Alice missed the moon. She wanted it back. She was going to go to the source, to the man who built the mill and set it grinding, to find out one thing: why?.
My grandfather worked on the original Apollo project, the one that put people on the moon and brought them back to Earth. Twelve of them. All dead now, more than sixty years after the last one came home and we have not been back since. Not just Americans. No one from any country has gone back safely.
I could only imagine what kind of machinations were going on behind the scenes at NASA and the oval office over alien terraforming machines on the moon.
A few months after it started, astronomers reported a new development: comets were coming our way. Hundreds of them. At first we thought they were on a collision course for Earth. Mild panic for a few days. Until they figured out the comets were going to the moon instead. Speculation ran rampant. The best guess was that the alien terraformers wanted water on the moon. The best way to do that was to crash a bunch of comets on the surface. The moon would get billions of tons of water in no time since comets are mostly ice.
So we waited and watched. We wondered what alien power could tip all those comets from the oort cloud to come raining down on the moon. Again, much speculation, but nothing concrete. The aliens, if indeed that is who was responsible, never showed themselves. Not once.
The comets arrived. None of them crashed into the moon, much to the disappointment of billions of tv viewers. Instead the comets took up orbits around the moon. Long eccentric orbits. Some experts saw what was happening immediately. The moon was receding from the Earth under the influence of the pulling forces of the comets. The retreat was slow, but steady. The damned aliens were not only developing our only natural satellite for their own purposes, they were stealing it right from under us.
I was incensed, but I was in the minority.
I wrote letters to the president. Lots of them. I said we had to do something. Anything. We had to stop this this theft.
Most people, though, simply did not care. The astronomers, especially. They said the moon interfered with their observations anyway, throwing all that light on the night sky. If the moon was gone, they could get a lot more work done.
I have to say, I never thought of that.
So the nerds tell you the only way to go to the moon is to convince people it is not a moon at all but a twin planet of the Earth. And for that they need you. A lawyer. They are petitioning the International Astronomical Union to have the moon declared a sister planet of the Earth. There are precedents, they tell you. Pluto was reclassified. Also, if the Earth and moon were discovered in another solar system today, they would be considered twin planets because of the size of the moon relative to the Earth. It is only fair and right to make them twin planets here.
So earnest, these nerds. So intent on that boot print. They amuse you with their belief that fair and right matter.
You tell them their idea makes no sense. Changing the name of something does not change the thing. They tell you that you are wrong. All disputes are about semantics, they say. They have linguists to back them up on this. Philosophers and experts on cognitive concepts. Semantics is destiny, the nerds tell you. More than once.
You think they are crazy, but you don’t tell them this. You are still entertained by them.
You start to research this classification business. Much of it is arbitrary. There is no real iron clad definition for what a planet is. So that leaves wiggle room. The moon really could be called a planet. It makes sense. Suddenly you begin to see the wisdom of the nerds. They make a lot of sense. You are fired up by the challenge. You pelt the IAU with petitions for reclassification of the moon. They ignore all of your efforts.
This does not discourage you. On the contrary, you begin to sense a challenge. You redouble your efforts. You research all cases of classification revisions of the past. You find a way in. You tell the nerds they need to find a group of astronomers, prominent in the field, who will go along with their scheme. With that kind of back up, you can make some progress.
The nerds listen very carefully.
Alice was aware most people thought of Richard Mollene as a kind of mad man. A rich mad man who made his fortune immorally. He was also a sad lover who decided he couldn’t stand looking at the moon. It reminded him of his wife, Sally, who loved the moon, but who had died early in their marriage. Terribly sad story, romantic and beautiful.
And Alice never believed a word of it.
Now, she hoped, she was about to find out the real story.
Alice arrived at Mollene’s house around midnight. He always received visitors late at night. Was there something about simply having that much money that made people eccentric? Maybe. Alice shouldered her camera bag and greeted the guard at the gate. He checked over his log book and asked for Alice’s bag.
“I need it for my interview,” she said.
“Sorry, no cameras, tape recorders, camcorders, or senscorders.”
“Those are the rules. You don’t have to go in if you don’t want to.”
“They’re one of his senscorders.”
“He doesn’t want them in the house.”
An inventor who didn’t want his own invention near him? More eccentricity. Alice sighed and handed over the bag.
“It’ll be waiting here when you leave,” said the guard.
“How about a pad and pencil?” said Alice.
The guard punched a button and a gate swung open. Alice walked down a paved path toward a building that would have glowed like a haunted house in the moonlight not two decades ago. The front door swung open as she approached it.
A man in formal clothes greeted her and took her coat. He showed her to a lushly furnished room lined with bookshelves. Mr. Mollene would join her in a few minutes.
Another thing I had not thought about was the tides. What with climate change and all, a lot of coastal areas were getting flooded. High tides tended to make things even worse. Without the moon–no tides! People could hang onto their seaside property that much longer.
Well, okay. I saw the benefit of that.
But it didn’t matter. I still wanted the moon to stay up in the sky. Was that too much to ask?
My cell mate didn’t care. “I’m in jail,” he said. “What do I care about the moon?”
“We’re not going to be here forever,” I said. “Don’t you want to see the moon in the sky when you get out?”
“Because it’s romantic?”
“Something like that.”
“No. I don’t care.”
Prison can do that to a person. Make you apathetic. I wasn’t apathetic. I was the opposite. I was completely obsessed with this one issue. The moon. Prison can do that to you too.
So here’s the picture: The moon was being overrun by cosmic developers turning it from a pretty cool dead cinder into some kind of suburbia for intergalactic somethings. And, in addition, it was being towed away by the gravitational effects of orbiting comets. And, oh yeah, one other thing: the people of Earth couldn’t do a damned thing about it.
The nerds thank you for the suggestion. They go out and begin their search. You want to help them, you really do. You see the historical significance of the print. You want that print back on Earth. You seem to be turning into a nerd yourself.
The nerds come back. Very excited. They tell you they have assembled a team of astronomers. Lots of them. They all agree that the moon is not a moon. It is a planet.
You are thrilled. With such a team, there is no doubt you can present a formidable case. You begin to draw up a new petition. You are into this. You spend several hours with the nerds as they help you with language and fine points. The committee wants things a certain way, you see, and only the nerds can help you there.
The nerds tell you that they are working for the betterment of humanity. We need a dream, they say. The print will reawaken the dream of space travel.
You tell the nerds they are inspiring. You continue the work, long since having put it in the category of pro bono cases. You begin to neglect your other clients. You don’t care. You practice your delivery to the committee in front of a mirror for hours on end.
The committee sends word: They will hear your case. You and the nerds appear before the committee and you launch into your spiel. The committee members listen politely. You are on fire, bringing in scientific precedent, the testimony of living scientists, and good old common sense. You lay out the reasoning with devastating logic. You know you have nailed the case. You have to win.
The committee says it needs to consider the issue and will issue a ruling in two weeks.
The butler retreated from the room and left Alice to her own devices. She’d never been in a rich person’s house before, not rich like this anyway. Mollene had more money than the queen–than all queens combined, probably. He was the only private person on the planet with the funds to send up his own rocket to the moon.
Actually, a succession of rockets, hundreds of them, each one sending blankets of “pepper” to the moon’s surface.
Alice sat for a while, then got fidgety. She went to the bookshelves. Lots of trashy bestsellers, a few picture books. Did Mollene have them here because his guests often spent a lot of time waiting for him?
She leafed through magazines. Mollene apparently still liked getting them on paper. Another eccentricity, she supposed. She was starting to get a little drowsy when the door swung open and a small man who looked to be about eighty shuffled in on scratchy sounding slippers.
“Miss Creighton?” he said with a surprisingly solid voice. Alice had seen pictures of him, of course, but had never heard him speak. His eyes were dull, his skin was dry and wrinkled. He seemed tired, used up.
“Mr. Mollene,” she said. “I’m glad to meet you.” She rose and offered her hand. He shuffled by her and sat down on a chair. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one and took a long puff then blew the smoke up towards the ceiling. Mollene was a nicotine hound. Alice was surprised. No one had ever guessed that about him. Mollene looked at Alice but did not say a word.
Alice sensed it was up to her to get things going. “Why did you agree to this interview?” she said.
“You’re the first one who’s asked me in years.”
“People gave up asking because they thought you never talked to the press.”
“Well, they were wrong. I’m talking to you.”
It had been at least ten years since Alice had known anyone who smoked. Her eyes stung from Mollene’s cigarette smoke.
“Why did you take away the moon?” she said.
Mollene studied her for a few second. “The pepper mill isn’t going to go on forever, you know.”
“Sure I know. Everyone knows. After it has blotted out the moon, it’ll stop.”
“The moon,” said Mollene. “Everyone cries for the moon like it’s some poor lost soul. People really need to get over that.”
Then the biggest surprise. They let me out early.
I had a couple of years left on my sentence. But one morning they came to my cell and told me I got some kind of pardon. From the president, no less. Guess my letters had an effect.
My cell mate looked at me like I was some kind of magician. I shrugged my shoulders, conveying to him that I had no idea what was going on.
They hustled me out of the prison before I could say boo. Two guys in suits. I asked them where I was going, because it didn’t look like I was going home. They didn’t say anything. They put me in a car, then put me on a plane. A really nice one.
The three of us were the only passengers.
They handed me a sheaf of papers. They told me I needed to read them. So I did.
Looked like I was to be part of a task force. We were to figure out what to do about the moon getting stolen. My expertise was required because I was a criminal. The good kind. I’m not kidding. The thinking was that a criminal mind, my kind of criminal mind, the kind that does not do violence, thinks effectively outside the box and knows how to cut through red tape and bureaucracies to get things done.
I asked my two escorts if this was for real.
They said nothing. I assumed they were supposed to say nothing.
They brought me food. I read through more of the papers. The task force had a big job ahead of it. At the current rate of acceleration the moon would be gone from the solar system in a few years. We would never see it again, except perhaps as a tiny dot lost among the stars.
The press besieges you. The case of the nerds has the world enthralled. Do they really think they can reclassify the moon? You wonder. As the days go on you begin to second guess yourself. Did you make the best argument? Did a good argument even matter? Was this all for naught? You are obsessed. Your employer tells you you look tired. She recommends you take a vacation. She quietly assigns your cases to other lawyers.
By the time the committee reconvenes, the press corps has become enormous. You and the nerds barely have room to fit into the hall. Flash bulbs pop all over the place. A general loud presence. Some of the committee members look frightened. They are not used to this much attention.
The first committee member speaks. He explicates his reasons for denying the petition. The nerds hoot at him. You tell them to shush, but they will not be silenced. Some of the nerds drop their pants and display their buttocks to the committee. You laugh, despite your horror at their antics. No client of yours ever does such things. Until now. Security removes the offenders from the room.
The remaining committee members each speak in turn. They give their own personal feelings on the pros and cons of the petition. You listen carefully, trying to catch the subtext of each speech. Soon you think you know how the decision is going to go. It becomes apparent that you are to be in the majority. You feel a general buzz of positive anticipation around you. Others notice it too.
The moon’s days as a moon are numbered.
“A lot of people miss the moon, Mr. Mollene. They blame you for taking away a beautiful part of the world.”
“You know people have walked on the moon,” said Mollene, “left garbage on the moon, crashed rockets into the moon. You know this?”
“But none of that made it any less beautiful.”
“Sally didn’t think so.”
“Sally? Your wife?”
“My wife, yes. She loved the moon. Always had.”
“I would think that after she died you would want to keep the moon in the sky to remind you of her. Why destroy something she loved so much?”
He puffed on his cigarette and stared at Alice for a few seconds. ”It’s not destroyed,” he said.
”It might as well be. No one can see it. Why did you do that?”
”I have my reasons.”
”What are they?”
“Next question, please.”
Alice wanted the answer to the last question but knew that if she pushed, he was probably going to see her out the door and into the dark moonless night.
“There’s been a lot of speculation about what the material is. Care to comment?”
He flicked ashes from his cigarette into a glass ashtray at his elbow. “I had a lot of scientists working on this project you know. People think I’m the only one who wanted the moon hidden, but it’s not true. Big wigs in the astronomical community begged to work on this project. They came up with the plan, I implemented it. The pepper’s nothing but ash. Black, cold, ash.”
“Do you ever look up at the moon and wish it was still there?”
“It is there.”
“But it looks like it has disappeared.”
“When I’m dead and gone, all you survivors who love the moon so much, you can go up there and vacuum up the ash. It won’t matter to me then.”
The plane lands. I am escorted to a large meeting room. No chance to rest or clean myself up. By this time I am tired.
No matter. We have a date with destiny.
I arrive at a room filled with people. All kinds of people. My task force. Someone grabs me and whisks me to a table. They slap a name tag on me. Everyone chattering and yammering about the moon. Crazy moon.
Someone asks me why I’m there. I tell him I want to save the moon. He looks at me like I’m ill.
Someone else sees my name tag. “Hey,” she says, “wasn’t your grandfather on the moon missions”
“Yeah,” I say. “Ground crew.”
“What would he think of all this?”
I rub my eyes. Am I really here? Does any of this matter at all? Shouldn’t we be knocking those comets out of the sky and bringing the moon back? She’s ours, after all. Born of the Earth. Made of the same stuff as the ground we walk on.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I wish someone would go to the moon and take care of this.”
“But no one can. Not since the Chinese tried, and that was a while ago.”
I knew that. Three missions they sent, all of them ended in complete failure, the death of all three crews. After that no one wanted to do it anymore. No on had the appetite for more disaster on that scale.
But a long time ago people did do it. They ramped up Apollo in less than ten years. Couldn’t we do it again?
I spent a long time on the task force. We debated endlessly, tying to come up with a recommendation for the country.
In the end, we decided to let it go. All of our proposed schemes to get it back would be too expensive. No nation could afford it, even with help from others. You know that. You look up in the sky now and don’t see a moon.
It wasn’t always like that. It didn’t have to be like that. But the moon was not a priority. We let it go.
When the committee finally renders their decision, it is almost anti-climax. You cheer and holler along with everyone else. The moon is no longer the moon. She is our sister planet.
You are hailed as the man who erased the moon.
You try to wear the distinction with honor.
“I see,” said Alice. “May I make an observation?”
“Go ahead,” Mollene said with his mouth a half smile.
“I think you are the most selfish and arrogant man that ever lived. You have a broken heart. Well boo hoo. You’re not the first one. Are you so weak that you take away one of the most beautiful objects in existence just to ease your pain a little? I think you are terrible.”
Mollene let his half smile broaden into a full smile, then a laugh. “If I was just a couple of decades younger,” he said, “I’d ask you to marry me.”
“I would never say yes.”
“You do know how rich I am, don’t you?”
Alice stood up and prepared to leave.
Mollene stopped her. “Wait,” he said.
Something in his voice made her reconsider. She stopped.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That remark was uncalled for. Will you forgive me?”
She didn’t say anything. Merely returned to her seat.
“I have wondered myself if what I did was right. I have done many good things in my life. I have sunk billions into renewable energy, and I have sunk more billions into fighting disease. Both were big important things. I am proud of them.”
“I know all about those projects,” said Alice. “Your name will go down in history as one of the world’s greatest benefactors based on those two initiatives.”
Mollene nodded. ”Yes, I did all that for humanity. But this one thing. This moon erasure. It was for me.”
“I am aware of that as well,” said Alice. “Just because you can do a thing, does not mean you should.”
Mollene leaned forward. “Did you ever look at the face of the moon?” he said.
Alice thought back. “In pictures,” she said.
“The moon had a complexion. It looked like someone.”
Alice noted Mollene’s suddenly urgent tone. He was telling her something important “That someone,” said Alice. “Was it Sally?”
Mollene nodded. “I saw her features there. In the face of the moon. I had to blot them out. It was too painful to see her all the time, every month, staring down at me. As I said before, people can take the ash away after I’m gone. But until then, I don’t want to look at the moon’s face. I’m hoping you can understand that. Maybe you can help your readers to understand it as well.”
I finished my stint with the task force. Such a waste of time. There was no will for the moon. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I had not seen it firsthand.
I looked up at the night sky a few months later. The moon was still there, but it was smaller. A miniature version of its true self.
I tried saying goodbye to the moon, but I could not find the words.
You finish your time on the case. You get back to some kind of normal routine in your life. You step outside late one night, just to look up at the sky. You see the familiar silvery disk and realize you are not looking at the moon. Because of you and your efforts, you now gaze upon a planet. The Earth’s sister planet, Luna. You feel a sense of profound loss, merely because of a designation. A name.
You wonder if it is possible to reverse the decision.
You wonder if you can bring the moon back.
Alice finished her interview with Richard Mollene. She returned to the gate and retrieved her bag from the guard, who touched the brim of his cap in greeting. She walked to her car. Just before she got into the driver’s seat, she looked up at the sky again. The moon was now almost on the horizon. She could barely make out it’s face, almost as black as the night sky, but not quite.
“Good night, Sally,” she whispered. “I hope you sleep well.”
About the Author
Mario Milosevic lives in the Sonoran Desert, one of the most beautiful places anywhere. He started writing quite young, and submitted my first story to a magazine when he was 14 years old. Nowadays he writes poems, stories, novels, and a little non-fiction. He’s married to fellow writer Kim Antieau.
About the Narrator
Bill Bowman started voice acting on the Metamor City Podcast, and has wanted to do more ever since. He spends his days working at a library, where he is in charge of all things with plugs and troubleshooting the people who use them. He spends his nights with his wife, two active children, and two overly active canines and all that goes with that.