Edward Willett

Moon Baby

Moon BabyCover art by Randy Asplund.

“Moon Baby” appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of Artemis Magazine.

Here’s what Tangent Online reviewer Steven H. Silver had to say about it (read the complete review here):

“Moon Baby,” by Edward Willett is the story of Scott Morgan, the first child born on the moon, who has been assigned the task of escorting an earth tourist around the moon. Scott suffers from typical teenage anxiety and rebelliousness, exasperated by his disdain for Earthers. Willett’s story bounces back and forth over a period of a few days, which is disconcerting at first, but the reader rapidly gets used to the time disjuncture. A well-written story, although Scott’s change at the end seems a little too contrived.

Moon Baby

The moonquake wasn’t much, as such things went; back in Apollo City it wasn’t felt at all, though of course it registered clearly on the hordes of seismographs that recorded every twitch of the moon’s thick, cold crust. But here, near the epicentre, it was enough: enough to send Scott Morgan reeling across the rock-strewn plain like a drunk; enough to make Pamela Ash gasp and then say a most un-ladylike word as she staggered and fell on her moonsuited rear; enough to raise a thin miasma of dust that hung above the surface like mist over an Earthside swamp; and enough to topple a half-dozen medium-to-large chunks of basalt that had probably stood balanced on the crater’s rim since before there was life on Earth. While Scott watched in horror, they tumbled down the towering crater wall in dust-shrouded slow motion and slammed soundlessly into the transporter, tipping it almost gently onto its side, where it lay like a dying cockroach, half-buried in rubble.

Then it was over. “Scott, what’s going on?” Pamela cried.

“Shut up,” he said, eyes on the transporter. “Tour One, Scott here. Do you read?” He paused. Pamela bounded toward him with giant steps, and he snapped, “Pamela, you idiot, you want to hole your suit?”

She pulled up, slipped, and fell on her rear again. He turned back toward the transporter. “Jack? Al?” Nothing.

“What’s wrong?” Pamela picked herself up, trying to brush the dust off her suit, but it clung as if glued there. Her voice wavered. “Why don’t they answer?”

Scott stared at her. Dust was still slowly settling on the overturned transporter, and she asked what was wrong? “Earthers!” he muttered.

#

“Earthers!” Scott growled in disgust as he watched the twenty-four tourists disembark from the Lunar Shuttle. They squealed and bounced up and down in the one-sixth gravity as though the moon had been put there just so they wouldn’t have to buy a trampoline. You’d think after three days in zero-G and two days in slow-spinning Gorbachev Station, the novelty of low gravity would have worn off, Scott thought sourly. And most of them were old enough to be his parents. Or his grandparents.

Just like everyone else in Apollo City.

Scott shook his head and walked toward the tour group with the graceful, low-energy shuffle that marked a true Lunite. Jack Porter and Al Donovan, a hydroponics tech and an assistant geologist who had been pressed into service as tour guides, were doing their best to calm the Earthers down before one of them bounced a little too high and cracked his or her graying head on the ceiling. Then they’d be ushering them off to the “Apollo Hilton,” just another pre-fab underground hut dressed up to only slightly higher standards than the colonists’ own quarters. Nothing like a real Earth hotel, Scott had been told, but then, nobody expected that; they’d paid the extraordinarily high ticket prices just to be on the moon.

He didn’t understand why they’d want to. Nor did he understand why he’d been pulled away from the observatory to meet–he checked his wristcomp–Miss Pamela Ash. But he could guess. She was probably some old biddy who’d been a Scott Morgan groupie since the days when he was headline news on Earth. “BOUNCING BABY BOY BORN ON MOON” and “MOON TODDLER TAKES FIRST LOW-GRAVITY STEPS” and all that crap. She’d probably asked specially to see him, and Luna Agency, never one to miss a P.R. bet, had not only agreed, they’d ordered him to spend the entire tour with the dried-up old–

“You must be Scott,” said a voice. A very young voice. He blinked and refocused his eyes from the group of aging tourists to someone who had come up on his left. A girl about his own age held out her hand. “I’m Pamela Ash.”

#

“Come on!” Scott headed across the crater floor to the crippled transporter. If the hull had been breached–Scott hadn’t grown up on the moon without being thoroughly indoctrinated about the effects of explosive decompression. He’d heard the stories from those who had returned from the futile rescue mission to Far Side Outpost after it had abruptly ceased transmission. He’d never seen a decomp victim himself–and after hearing those stories, he didn’t want to.

“Has anybody been hurt? What about my parents? Are my parents all right?” Pamela sounded close to panic. She bounded after him, wasting energy and oxygen.

“How should I know?” Can’t she see? he thought furiously. Doesn’t she realize? If the transporter was holed, everyone inside without a suit was dead. Even if the hull was intact, the transporter had toppled onto its airlock. The people inside couldn’t get out and he and Pamela, the only ones still outside, couldn’t get in. He didn’t know how much oxygen Pamela had left, but he knew how much ˆheø did–and it wasn’t much. Not much at all. Yet she kept wasting what little she had with useless jabber and useless bouncing around and–useless. That’s what she was. Useless. Like all Earthers.

#

As he led her after the others toward the Hilton, she kept up an endless string of prattle about Earthside entertainers and Tri-V programs and school friends and the two weeks she’d just finished “back home in Montana” riding horses and rock-climbing and how she’d been looking forward to coming to the moon for two years and how it was going to be hard to go back to high school after this–and she kept bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, as if she couldn’t believe that a world existed where she weighed only one-sixth of what she was used to and she had to prove it to herself with every step. Scott grimaced, and wished he was back in the observatory comparing starplates, doing something useful instead of wasting his time with this…this girl.

He glanced over his shoulder at her as she paused by one of Apollo’s few windows, this one showing the view out over the Sea of Tranquility. The three-quarter Earth hung in the sky like it did in the famous Apollo 8 photograph that decorated one full wall of the dining room. Pamela quit talking for a few seconds, and just for those few seconds, Scott couldn’t help admiring the way the Earthlight reflected in her blue eyes and lit a few stray strands of her long, light-brown hair–and then she spoiled it by saying, “Isn’t Earth beautiful? Have you ever been there?”

Scott turned away abruptly. “Hurry up. We’ve got to catch up with the others.”

She hurried after him. “You didn’t answer my question.”

He said nothing.

“You’ve never been to Earth?”

Scott clenched his left fist, the one she couldn’t see. “No,” he said, in a tone that should have meant, “Leave it alone.”

Apparently it didn’t. “I know you were born here, but I just assumed–”

How much of this did he have to put up with? Scott clenched his fist a little tighter, his nails, short-bitten though they were, digging painfully into his palm. “You assumed wrong. Now drop it.”

They were close behind the rest of the tour group now, just approaching the “lobby” of the Hilton, and his final words must have come out a little louder than he intended, because a couple near the back of the group, not quite as old as some of the others, looked around, frowning. “Hey, Mom, Dad,” Pamela called cheerfully. “Isn’t this great?”

“Wonderful,” said the woman, smiling at Pamela, but then she gave Scott a look somewhere between “uncertain” and “unfriendly” before turning back to catch something Al Donovan was saying.

“How come you’re not telling me all the stuff the other two guys are telling the old folks?” Pamela asked. She didn’t seem to have been put off by his brusque answer one bit, but at least she had changed the subject.

“It’s just a lot of crap about how Apollo City was built. If you’d done your homework before you came up here, you’d know all that.”

“Oh, you mean stuff like, first permanent base established 2011, first year-round workers here in 2020, four years later, first baby born off-Earth–”

Scott’s face burned. “Stop it.”

“But you said–”

Scott looked ahead, saw the last of the tour group disappearing through the pressure door into the Hilton, turned and grabbed Pamela’s arm and pushed her up against the wall. “Let’s get something straight,” he snarled. “The only reason I’m here and not doing something useful is that this is what I was assigned, and I don’t have any choice. Why I was assigned this particularly unpleasant job I have no idea. It must be a punishment for something. I’ve got no use for lazy, wasteful Earthers. I’ve got better things to do than show a spoiled rich kid around Apollo City. I’m going to do it because up here, unlike Earthside, everybody has to work and sometimes they have to do things they don’t want to. But I don’t have to like it, and I won’t be happy again until you and your parents and the rest of you rich wasters who could afford to blow money on something as useless as a trip to the moon are back on Earth where you belong. Got it?”

Pamela easily jerked her arm free. “You won’t be happy ‘again’? With an attitude like that, it’s hard to imagine you ever have been.” Then she smiled at him sweetly. “Now would you mind showing me where everyone else has gone? We wouldn’t want my parents to start thinking we’re trying to sneak off alone together. They might get the wrong idea.” She bounded off down the hall, and Scott, after banging his hand hard once against the ceramic wall, glided after her, not nearly as smoothly as before.

#

Up close, the damage to the transporter looked superficial. The sides were dented, but not holed that he could see; he was glad the Earthside Lunar Agency idiot who had been pressing for big windows in the transporter just for the tourists had been properly ignored. But there was still no answer to his repeated requests for radio response, even from Pamela, who had fallen uncharacteristically silent. About time, Scott thought.

He slid around to the nose of the vehicle. The drivers’ windows were buried in dust and small rocks, but he thought he could dig through the debris–in three or four hours. He glanced at the instrument panel on his left suit cuff: a little over two hours’ worth of air left.

Something on the edge of the rubble covering the transporter’s nose caught his eye. He bent down and, with a little effort, tugged it free.

Pamela leaped over to him. “What is it?”

“Main antenna.” He tossed it aside. “That’s why they’re not hearing us.” For the first time he said what he feared out loud. “If they’re alive.”

“If they’re alive?” He could feel Pamela’s horrified stare, though her expression was hidden behind her reflective faceplate. “But Mom and Dad are–we’ve got to do something!”

“We can’t get in,” Scott said. “And we can’t see in. I don’t–” He stopped suddenly. “Grab a rock.”

“What?”

“A rock! Oh, never mind.” He found a likely looking specimen nearby, knelt by the transporter, touched his helmet to the hull and began banging for all he was worth, the sound ringing as clear in his ears as he hoped it would ring inside the transporter–if there were still air in there.

Pamela dropped to her knees beside him and touched her helmet to the metal, too, her quiet, “Please, God…” almost lost in the clanging of stone on metal.

#

Following orders grimly, Scott spent two days showing Pamela everything–the hydroponics farm, the fusion reactor, life support, Base Central, living quarters, the recreation dome, laboratories–everything that made up Apollo City, home to 120 researchers and support personnel on one-year shifts, eight permanent residents, including his parents, and one native: him.

Pamela took it all in with wide eyes and that same upbeat approach that had annoyed him from the start. After meeting his parents, Drs. Arnold and Elizabeth Morgan, noted physiologist and honored sociologist, respectively, she introduced him to her own: her father, Lloyd Ash, president of a company specializing in temperature-regulating sporting outfits, and her mother, Mary Anne Ash, who wrote historical romances set in the 1960s. They were a pleasant couple who obviously weren’t at all sure what to make of Scott. “Guess you’re glad to finally have someone your own age around, eh, son?” Mr. Ash said with bluff heartiness as they ate lunch together in the main dining room.

Scott, who had been as pleasantly neutral as he knew how to be during the meal, flushed, temper rising. It was what his own parents had said after he had come home from his first encounter with Pamela and the rest of the useless Earthers. They’d practically grilled him on what he’d thought of her, as if he should have fallen in love at first sight or something. He kept his voice under careful control as he answered Mr. Ash. “I don’t mind being the youngest here. I do my full share of work.”

Mrs. Ash laughed. “I’m sure you do, Scott, but haven’t you ever had anyone to play with?”

Play with? What did they think Apollo City was, a resort? Yeah, Scott answered himself bitterly. They probably did. “No,” he said.

“Oh, you poor boy!” said Mrs. Ash, and that was as much as Scott could take.

He stood up, chair skittering backward. “Excuse me. I have work to do.” Then he left the table without looking back.

He went straight to the gym. Pamela found him there an hour later, “lifting weights”–though the resistance on the bar he was curling was actually created by a magnetic field. Sweat poured down his bare back and chest as he did a dozen repetitions at a higher “weight” than he normally used. “Very impressive,” she said, coming around the machine to face him. “This is what was so important you were rude to my parents?”

“I have to work out every day,” Scott grunted, continuing to lift.

“Have to?”

“Have to.” He finished the reps and released the bar, then leaned on it. He didn’t look at Pamela as he reached for a towel and wiped away sweat. “I’m sorry if I was rude. But your parents were rude first.”

“All they did was ask a question–”

“Yeah? Well, what business is it of theirs?” Scott tossed the towel away and began readjusting the machine for bench presses. “I had enough of nosy Earthers prying into my life when I was a kid. I don’t need it any more.”

“They were trying to be friendly.”

Scott lay on his back and adjusted his grip on the bar. “I don’t need Earther friends.” He began lifting.

“Oh, right, you’ve got so many here on the moon.” Pamela shook her head. “I can’t figure you. So you’re the first and so far the only person ever born on the moon. Big deal. You can’t make a life out of that. But you’re trying, aren’t you? It’s like you’re part of the machinery here, not a real person at all. I’ve watched you: you’re always alone, except when you’re ordered to be with somebody, like me. You don’t want Earther friends, and you don’t have any Lunite friends. Far as I can tell, all you’ve got is yourself.”

“Good enough,” Scott said between clenched teeth.

“Yeah?” Pamela shook her head. “I’ve seen clams with less shell than you.” She turned away. “I can tell this bus trip tomorrow is going to be a real joy.”

#

Scott quit banging and waited, holding his breath. No answer. Beside him Pamela shifted position, and as her faceplate fell into shadow he was able to see her eyes, wide and frightened, in the light of her helmet instruments. He lifted the rock and banged again. Still nothing. Scott swore and lifted his head. “They’re not–”

“I heard something!” Pamela cried.

Scott pressed his helmet against the hull again. Was that a faint click? It came again. Yes! He tapped back, wishing someone had thought to make Morse code required learning on the Moon for just such emergencies. They could communicate nothing except their presence, but whoever was inside kept tapping frantically, over and over…

#

At last Scott banged again, twice, by way of good-bye, and got to his feet. “At least we know they’re alive.”

“We’ve got to get help!” Pamela said frantically. “Can’t you call Apollo City on your suit radio?”

Idiot! Scott thought. “Not enough range,” he said. “What we’ve got to do is set up the transporter’s emergency transmitter–it sends out a distress signal. But it has to go through the Lunar Communications Satellite, and it’s low on the horizon from here. I’ve got to get it out of this crater.”

“Back the way we drove in?”

“Too long. I’ve only got a couple of hours’ worth of air left. What about you?”

“I don’t–”

They shouldn’t even let Earthers on the moon! “Left arm. Third readout.”

Pamela looked. “3:07?”

“Three hours, seven minutes. Estimated from your rate of usage so far. Take it easy, you could have more. But it’s still not enough to get out of the crater the way we came in.” He tilted his head back and looked up the crater wall to the high rim from which the rocks burying the transporter had fallen. “I’m going to have to climb up there.”

#

At supper, Scott’s parents quizzed him again about his day with the Earthers. “So you had dinner with the Ashes,” his mother said pleasantly as his father placed steaming dishes on the table. “How nice.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Scott ladelled potatoes onto his plate. “All they wanted was to ask nosy questions.”

“What kind of questions?”

“The usual Moon Baby crap. ‘Didn’t you miss having kids to play with?’ That kind of thing.” Scott poured a glass of Pepsi-Coke. “What business is it of theirs? I get enough of that around here.” He had the glass halfway to his lips before something suddenly registered on him. He set the glass down carefully. “Wait a minute. I didn’t tell you I had dinner with the Ashes.”

His parents exchanged glances. “Someone mentioned it–”

“You’ve had the cameras on me again, haven’t you? Haven’t you?”

“Now, son, the cameras are on all the time, you know that,” his father said reasonably. “They’re not aimed at anyone in particular–”

“But you were using them to watch me, weren’t you? A laboratory rat gets more privacy than I do!”

“Dear, you have to understand, you’re a unique–”

“I know all about how unique I am. My nose is rubbed in it every day, isn’t it? Everybody is urged to work out, but I’m the only one who has to do it religiously, because I haven’t quite developed properly, have I? Not enough gravity up here. Everyone has medical checkups on a regular basis, but I’m the only one who has to see the doctor every week and have a complete physical every month. And it all goes into the computer, doesn’t it? Wonder how puberty is affecting Moon Baby? Check the computer. Moon Baby’s latest IQ scores? All in the computer. But you’d think I could at least eat dinner without being spied on by my own parents!” For the second time that day, Scott walked out on a meal.

Until that moment he’d been trying to think of a way to avoid the “bus tour,” as Pamela had called it, a two-day trip out and back to a special dome set up at the Apollo 11 landing site, with a couple of stops in “scenic” locations where the tourists were suited up and carefully shepherded outside for a few minutes of “basking in the Earthlight beneath the unwinking stars,” as the purple prose of the tourism brochure put it. Scott had hated the whole useless exercise, but now it appealed to him. Maybe it meant close quarters with Pamela and the other Earthers for a couple of days, but it also meant escape from Apollo City, from “safety” cameras and from his parents, who he sometimes thought had conceived him simply as a physiological and sociological experiment, though they claimed he was an “accident.”

Either way, once his mother was pregnant, his parents had fought for three months with Luna Agency for the right for him to be born on the moon. The Agency had finally agreed, but had stipulated that no other moon-born children would be allowed until this “experimental” child had proved to develop normally.

So Scott had grown up surrounded only by adults, in a harsh environment, subjected to an unending barrage of tests and evaluations and, for his first few years, to an equal barrage of publicity, until finally the novelty wore off and the Moon Baby was allowed to slip into relative obscurity–until tourists started coming to the Moon. Then Luna Agency had made him one of their drawing cards. See the Moon Baby in its natural habitat!

Only this time, for the first time, they’d ordered him to accompany a single individual instead of just putting in an appearance, and as he mulled that over while getting together his gear for the tour, Scott suddenly realized the truth: it was all another experiment. Thrust the Moon Baby, now the first Moon Adolescent, into the company of an attractive young member of the opposite sex. See if he’s grown up normal by the way he reacts.

“I might as well be on a treadmill!” Scott shouted, and just in case there was a hidden camera in his bedroom–and at that moment he wouldn’t have been surprised –he made an obscene gesture to empty air, added a couple of choice swear words he’d picked up from the newest workers from the stations, then stormed out of the apartment. No, two days with Earthers didn’t look bad at all.

#

Scott brushed away dirt from an equipment hatch at the rear of the transporter while Pamela watched, silent again. For a moment, as he tugged at the hatch, he feared it had jammed, but finally it jerked open, revealing the featureless white box of the emergency transmitter. He hauled it out and checked to make sure the green power light glowed at its base. Then he glanced at his wrist again. 1:41. He looked up at the sheer crater wall. He thought he could make it up and activate the transmitter. But they were still an hour from the Apollo 11 dome, a full day from Apollo City. The crew at the dome would set out at once, but by the time they reached the accident site…

His heart pounded in his chest and sweat ran off his face. Too bad his parents didn’t have a monitor on him, he thought numbly. They could learn a lot: Moon Baby suffers abject terror. Moon Baby undergoes oxygen deprivation. Moon Baby suffocates. Poor Moon Baby.

He was wasting time. He started toward the cliff face, then pulled up short as Pamela bounded past, turned and faced him. “I’ll lead,” she said.

“Don’t be stupid!” He didn’t have time for this! “You’re an Earther!”

“And you’re a stuck-up Lunite with a chip on your shoulder the size of Alaska and a swelled head to match,” Pamela said pleasantly. “You ever done any rock climbing?”

Scott hesitated. “No,” he admitted finally.

“I have.”

Scott blinked at her. Bouncy little Pamela, a rock climber? Under full gravity? He vaguely remembered her chattering about it the day she arrived, but…On the other hand, he remembered much more clearly the way she had so easily shrugged off his grip. And her body, revealed in the one-piece form-fitting undersuit in the transporter airlock as they’d suited up, was lithe, strong and supple. But still…

“That was on Earth.”

“Yeah, on Earth. Under one full gravity. On full-size mountains.” She waited.

The moon is different, he wanted to say. A hundred different things can kill you here besides falling. You could hole your suit, bump a control and never know it ’til the oxygen mix went bad, freeze your feet or fingers, go blind from looking into the sun…

“I’ve got more oxygen than you do,” Pamela continued relentlessly. “It’s going to take help a while to get here even after the transmitter is turned on, isn’t it? We’re going to have to share.”

Share? Share a suit pack? Scott had heard of it being done–once. If anyone else had tried it, they hadn’t survived to talk about it. You risked losing all the air in both suits.

Which is what happens anyway if you don’t get going, an inner voice taunted him. What’s the matter, Morgan–afraid Earthers aren’t so useless after all? Afraid the Moon Baby isn’t as wonderful and special as you’d like to think? Afraid she’ll show you up?

“All right,” he snapped. “Let’s climb.”

#

The EVA went smoothly at first. Before they had left Apollo City everyone had donned undersuits. Now they slipped into the moonsuits themselves, with help from the Lunite guides. Scott helped Pamela into hers, finding himself momentarily nose to nose with her as he zipped up her suit and connected and checked the suitpack. She grinned at him and he found himself smiling back, and for a moment he wanted to stay that close to her, and maybe get a little closer…

He stepped back quickly, angry at his body’s reaction. So she was young, and female. So what? She was a spoiled rich-kid Earther and his parents had set things up just to check how he reacted. He’d breathe vacuum before he gave them the satisfaction.

Pamela had reinforced his disdain of her out on the crater floor, when she ignored the call to return to the trasnporter and instead bounded half a klick away to investigate an oddly coloured outcropping of rock. He’d been forced to go after her; by the time he’d gotten them both headed back to the transporter, everyone else was already inside.

Then the moon had shrugged.

#

Pamela knew what she was doing. Scott had to grudgingly acknowledge that. She’d insisted they use piece of webbing that had held stores on the outside of the transporter as a short rope, and now she toiled above him, testing each handhold and foothold, never moving until she was sure of her next step, yet even so, climbing steadily, twice as fast as he could have managed on his own–if he could have managed at all. The airless shadows were so black it was almost impossible to judge the rock they hid, but Pamela never seemed to put a foot or finger wrong.

Scott’s own feet, fingers, legs and arms ached abominably after fifteen minutes, were pure torture after half an hour. Maybe it was the pain–maybe it was their increasing height above the transporter and the jagged rocks that covered it–but as they neared the top, Scott reached for a rock he had seen Pamela pass over a moment before, and pulled himself up on it.

It crumbled away like cake and he fell.

Their makeshift rope brought him up with a jerk, a gentle jerk in the light gravity, but enough to set him swinging. He barely saw the sharp tooth of stone in time to throw up his arm and fend it off. Instead of smashing his faceplate, it rang against the side of his helmet. He grabbed at it frantically and clung to it, breathing hard, all-too-aware of how close he had come to finding out first-hand what explosive decompression was like.

“You all right?” Pamela’s voice was a little higher-pitched than usual, but steadier than his own was as he said, “Yes.”

“All right, then. Reach up and put your hand where you see my left foot…” Step by step she talked him back onto safe rock, and she kept talking to him until, only a few minutes later, she abruptly disappeared. Another few feet and Scott reached the top himself, to find Pamela standing, arms spread, slowly turning a circle as she absorbed the view. “I wish I had a flag to plant!” she cried. She’s not even breathing hard, he thought. He was, and he had less than an hour of oxygen left. Not enough time for rescue to reach them from Tranquility Base.

He shook his head, refusing to think about it yet. First things first. He planted the transmitter firmly in the gritty soil, opened a small panel at its base and pressed a switch. The device unfolded like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, extended antennae, and let out a piercing electronic shriek that told everyone within receiving range that there was TROUBLE at this LOCATION and they’d better SEND HELP FAST! Scott knew it transmitted on every commonly used Moon frequency; he quickly dialed his own radio to an unaffected one and then grabbed Pamela, who was staring at the transmitter with her hands uselessly over her ears, and reset her radio, too.

After that there was nothing to do but wait–wait for help to arrive, or for Scott’s air to run out. There was little doubt which would happen first.

At first they sat in silence, then finally Scott asked, “You really are a good climber.”

“Thanks. It’s a big sport in Montana.”

“Montana,” Scott said. “I’ve seen pictures. It’s very beautiful.”

“Pictures! Pictures don’t do it justice. You should come see it for yourself.”

Scott stiffened. “I wish you’d quit saying things like that.”

“Oh, come on. You can’t be planning to spend your whole life on this rock.”

His whole life? All thirty-two minutes of it? He shook his head. She still didn’t understand about the air. Not really. How could she? Scott thought half-bitterly, half-sadly. In Montana there was lots of air. “This is my home,” was all he said out loud.

“I’m sorry. And it’s very beautiful. But it’s not–natural. It’s not Earth.”

“I’m not natural either. I’m the Moon Baby.”

“And I’m a Montana Baby. It doesn’t–”

“Don’t you get it? I’m special. I’m unique. I’m an experiment. If I left the moon, went back to Earth–it would spoil the experiment.” He paused. “And there’s something else,” he finally went on. He didn’t like to talk about it, but what difference could it make now? “My parents–the other doctors–they think maybe I can never go to Earth.”

“What?” They were sitting on the ground by the transmitter, back to back; he felt Pamela shift, sensed she had turned her head toward him. “Why?”

“Gravity. They’re afraid of what might happen to me under full gravity.”

“But they don’t really know.”

“No. Some of them say, a couple of weeks in bed, some gentle exercise for a few more weeks, I’d be able to adjust. But some of them–” He shrugged, though he doubted she could sense it. “Some of them think I’d be risking permanent damage–I could be crippled. Or worse.”

“That’s why you work out so much!”

“Yes. And that’s not all.” He told her about all the other things being the Moon Baby had meant–the examinations, the lack of privacy, all the rest, the words starting slow and then flooding out of him, until he was talking about those things as he had never talked to anyone about them before.

When he had finished, Pamela was silent for a minute. Finally she said, “You mean, even arranging for you to spend time with me while I was here was just part of an experiment?”

“Yeah.”

“That stinks.”

Scott shrugged. “I’m used to it.”

“But how can your parents–”

“I don’t really blame them.” Scott was surprised to find he meant it. “I mean, I understand it. This is the Moon. Apollo City is both a research station and a kind of frontier colony. Everything has to serve a purpose; most things have to serve two or three purposes. I might have been an accident, but once I was born, they couldn’t waste me. So I became an experiment. Lunites–we tend to view everything that way. It has to be useful, has to accomplish something, or else it’s just wasting space, wasting air, wasting time, all resources in short supply up here. If they hadn’t learned from me, they’d have been wasting me. It’s not that they don’t love me, they’re just–”

“Using you.”

“That’s not–”

“Sounds fair to me.” Pamela sighed. “Look, Scott, believe it or not, I know what it feels like. My parents–they’re busy all the time, you know? Dad’s business keeps him away a lot, and Mom’s always either off on publicity tours or locked in her office with a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door. They try to make up for it by buying me stuff and letting me do whatever I want to. This trip was my idea. They weren’t wild about it, but they felt so guilty about ‘neglecting’ me they went along with it.”

“I don’t see–”

“My parents are there, I guess, you know, in the house with me, but they’re not ˆthereø, not all the time. I figure the sooner I’m able to look after myself, make my own decisions, the better off we’ll all be. Sounds to me like you’re in the same boat. It’s about time you started looking after yourself. Forget this Moon Baby crap and start thinking of Scott Morgan. What does he want?”

What does he want? Scott thought. To be useful on the Moon as a walking guinea pig? Or to take a chance on the Earth? It might be painful–even impossible. But shouldn’t he at least try?

If he lived. The thought hit like a blow. He’d forgotten his situation. Amazing how the brain refused to accept, even believe in, its own impending end. He looked at his wrist, saw with bleak fascination he was down to five minutes of oxygen. He probably had a couple of minutes’ leeway after that, breathing the air in his suit, but that would grow stale in a hurry, and then…

…then…

Then he wouldn’t have to worry about what Scott Morgan wanted, because Scott Morgan wouldn’t want anything at all.

If they were going to try to share suitpacks, they’d have to try soon, Scott thought, before lack of oxygen made him sluggish. But if they bungled it, when the transporter arrived it would find not one but two stiffening corpses beside the transmitter.

Even if they succeeded, that might be what the rescuers would find. Pamela had about an hour’s air left. That should be enough for the Tranquility Base transporter to find them. But if they shared air, they might each, with the inevitable loss involved in the transfer, have only about 20 minutes–and that might not be enough. They could share air and still die together.

Pamela doesn’t deserve that, Scott thought. The Moon was his home. He’d always known something could go wrong and the Moon would prove that old saying about it being a harsh mistress. If he died…well, it would be fitting, wouldn’t it? First native born on the Moon, first native to die on the Moon. But Pamela…he’d wanted her to understand the Moon’s harsh realities, but not that way. Cheery little Pamela deserved to go back to her Montana horses and her school friends and her rock climbing, to laugh under the Earth’s blue skies, where she belonged and he never could.

And so he said nothing, only sat there in morbid silence and watched his wrist gauge count down his life; watched it reach zero, and heard the faint hiss inside his suit die away.

#

Light swept over his face, vanished. The ground vibrated. Moonquake! he thought sluggishly. Aftershock…the thought dribbled away into darkness.

More light. Voices. Air! He gasped air, rich air, unbelievably sweet air, and his eyes fluttered open. A woman loomed over him. He blinked her into focus. “He’s coming around,” she said, and vanished.

“Scott?” Pamela’s worried face swam into his field of vision.

“Wha–?” His voice was dry as moondust.

“The transporter came–maybe ten minutes after you passed out. They’d left Tranquility Base right after the quake, before they heard the transmitter, because they tried to contact the tour bus and couldn’t. But they said they would have missed us completely if the transmitter hadn’t been activated.” Pamela sounded both happy and furious. “You idiot! I told you I’d share. You could have died!”

“Sharing–trying to–could have killed both of us.” Scott coughed raggedly.

“But it didn’t, did it?”

For a moment that didn’t register on Scott’s still-sluggish brain. “What? You mean you…”

Pamela grinned. “It wasn’t that hard. I’d watched you connect all the hoses when we suited up, so I knew what went where.” Her smile faded. “It was close, though,” she admitted. “I figured we had about five minutes apiece left when the transporter showed up. If it hadn’t left early…”

“I knew–not enough,” Scott croaked. “That’s why–didn’t try it. Figured–you deserved air. Climbing–you saved everybody.”

I saved everybody? I was running around in circles chasing my own tail down below. I wouldn’t have known how to set up the emergency transmitter–I didn’t even know there was an emergency transmitter. You’re the hero.”

Scott shook his head vigorously.

Pamela grinned again. “Tell you what. We shared air, we’ll share glory, too. But you have to make me a promise.”

Scott managed a small smile. “Name it.”

“You have to come rock-climbing with me again.” Her eyes locked on his face. “In Montana.”

Scott thought about what his parents would say; what Luna Agency would say, especially when he refused any publicity; what the doctors would say. He thought about what Pamela’s parents would say when they found out their daughter was meeting that strange boy from the Moon in the wilds of Montana. But he didn’t think about any of it very long. None of it mattered.

He’d almost died. Moon Baby had died. From now on, he was just Scott Morgan–not unique, not a hero, just a boy. Still a Lunite, and always a Lunite–but more than willing to give other parts of the Solar System a chance. Even Earth.

Even Earthers.

He met Pamela’s gaze. “It’s a deal.”

Copyright 2000 by Edward Willett

Share