Readers who may not be familiar with the Moon’s environs are referred to An Atlas of the Moon, by Theodore Dies, which has gone through several editions. It shows all the geographical features, towns, rivers, political boundaries, and contains as well individual topics on flora and fauna, geology, resources, and demographics.
We embarked on the twenty-second of March, a day cloudless and fair, and a harbinger of many, for we enjoyed fine weather, and were favored by a stiff solar wind at our tail for the entire crossing. Our antigravity vessel reached its destination in just over twenty-eight days, a speed that astonished and delighted our Selenite pilot, Lothmar, for it had taken him forty-two to cross the immense divide in the opposite direction. He had become our friend during the voyage, we had grown accustomed to his quiet and reserved demeanor, and it amused us to see the difficulty he had in containing his jubilance when in record time we plunged safely into the Oceanus Procellarum.
The water on the Moon being somewhat thick and frothy, our ship pitched languidly as we awaited arrival of the city. It was a splendid sight when it appeared, tall with towers, amid a colorful regatta of towns and villages. She had every yard of canvas out, and a multitude of pennants snapping in the wind. The thrilling scene was like a picture from Earth of ancient knights and tourneys sprung to life from a storybook.
A brilliant crowd welcomed us on the quay of this most hospitable of cities, and accompanied us, with Lothmar leading the way, through mazelike corridors to the Turquoise Hall, where the sultry air was wafted by a multitude of feathered fans. Here we made our prostrations before the shimmering throne of the Lady Cynthia. She bid us welcome to Sidera, fairest of cities. She expressed satisfaction with the successful conclusion of her kinsman’s mission, relief at his safe homecoming, but said nothing of the distress I saw linger in her eyes.
It now seemed an appropriate time for Lester, our self-appointed spokesperson, to make an Address. And he began first by extolling the magnificence and beauty of Cynthia’s court. Scarcely had he summoned his second breath, however, when she waved the wind from his sails with her hand, declaring, “That is entirely unnecessary.”
“Your Ladyship is graciously modest,” returned Lester, with reverence. Then renewing the attack, he launched into his Second Part, wherein he revealed that he had always suspected the CIA of an outrageous sham when in the desperate struggle of the Cold War it had foisted on the World the stupendous Lie that the Americans had landed on the Moon. This doubtless was the most spectacular Propaganda Achievement in human history, and for that reason a true record of it would always be cloaked from public eye. The elaborate scheme had of course been conceived in Utmost Secrecy, nourished with the unlimited dollars the CIA had access to, and midwifed through a combination of media maneuvering, special effects, and pure showmanship, proving beyond doubt that the most creative minds of Hollywood had been recruited into the devious pact with the Secret Service and NASA. Nonetheless, the evidence apparent to the observant examiner, details of the Apollo 13 incident, for instance, and the telling fact that Neil Armstrong had never consented to be interviewed . . . .
To which Cynthia interjected, “ROT.” Then addressing his deflated countenance sternly, “You will fare but poorly on this planet, sirrah, if you cannot bear a few simple shifts in logic.”
“The delicate matter on which you have condescended to consult us,” he pursued gamely, trying to get steam back up. “The pressing nature of the circumstances that compelled you to adopt the Extreme Measure of sending your kinsman on so perilous a voyage to us, of this of course we have been given a hint, but as to the complexities involved—”
“The matter is in fact extraordinarily simple,” she broke in again. “The Earth is now seven billion people. They are shrugging off their mortal coils at the rate of two hundred and fifty thousand souls daily, or more than ninety million per annum. Have you got any idea, on a globe as small as the Moon, what it’s like trying to cope with a population increasing at that rate?”
“Just a minute,” said Bonnie, a little too sharply as usual, her businesslike eyewear tilted at a no- nonsense angle. “Are you trying to say that the Earth’s dead wind up on the Moon?”
“Exactly. And most of them never leave it. They are not fit to enter Paradise, and unfortunately they do not deserve Hell.”
Then the Pretzel Girl, the girl with the impossibly thin and brittle looking arms and legs—Sharon? Shawna?—had one of her wide-eyed epiphanies. “I get it! Your problem is overpopulation!”
“It has become an unmanageable crisis,” Cynthia replied. “You have been carefully chosen and brought here to correct it.”
“But how? Why? Why were we chosen?” asked Bonnie.
“Because the lives you were leading were essentially pointless and empty, and therefore you were available.”
I wanted to ask how that criteria narrowed the selection to us, but Bonnie indignantly jumped the queue: “Just a minute, I happen to be Treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce, besides being the largest independent manufacturer of women’s bath products in the province of Manitoba.”
To which Cynthia crossed her eyes.
Her final counsel to us was this: “There are two strategies you can choose from. You can find a means to redeem their immortal souls, or you can ensure their eternal damnation. I am indifferent to methodology, so long as the effect is the same in regards to the population of the Moon.”
“I don’t need a mission,” said Bonnie, later when we had collected in the salon of our elegantly appointed suite. It was evening, and French doors were open to admit a pleasant coolness from the garden, and strange fragrances as well, for the garden was full of plants we had never seen before, with names we had never heard. Beyond the garden a vast and dewy Earth hung like a succulent fruit in the night sky.
Bonnie went on, “I’ve got my own problems to deal with, like being a postmenopausal woman, and still trying to gain some distance from my mother.”
I pointed out that she was now two hundred and thirty-nine thousand, nine hundred miles from her mother, whilst Lester speculated that not marrying or having children led to a self-centered existence. Which triggered one of Bonnie’s explosions.
Later that evening I took a walk, for I felt trapped by these people whom I had been thrown in with, and whom I scarcely knew. They seemed to take up too much space in our little room, the pontifical Lester, the domineering Bonnie, the Pretzel Girl—Cheryl?—with her jarring horsey laugh grating on my nerves, and Professor Whatsit of the foul breath and the pasty complexion from a thousand fluorescent-lit lecture halls. They consumed too much of what little oxygen there was. The alluring sights and sounds of the unexplored city beckoned, cloaked now in evening’s cool, soft cocoon.
I walked the pavement for hours, drawn by the endless parade and revelry of this most festive of cities. Casement, portal, and arch threw out light and bright laughter. Lines of merrymakers like knotted strings thread through the narrow streets, and coiled into the plazas. I paused occasionally to watch the public entertainments, lurid, noisy, and exotic. I always hung back, however, fearing to attract attention as a foreigner.
Then to quieter alleys my steps led me, deserted but for the occasional sound, a solitary voice, the clang of a gate, or footsteps on stairs. At the end of a lane in a crack between buildings I glimpsed the Arabian Peninsula of the setting Earth.
I climbed to the top of the tower that is called the Lovers’ Tower, where Selenites in pairs stood at the railing, or sauntered arm-in-arm under the velvet night sky. Here I could stroll without fear of being noticed, the darkness masking the foreign cut of my dress, my figure, my features. The Selenites have stronger features than we, they are taller and slimmer, but of course on that tower they had eyes only for each other. I stood at the railing, looked up at the stars glittering above me, and thought, somehow, in some way that I could not fathom, the stars were kindred. Kindred, and yet, Zounds! They are searing furnaces where the hardest metal would vaporize in a minute, and revolving around them are cold, cold, toxic planets. But how could that be more than half-truth?
I thought, what a lonely existence!
The next morning I sought our friend Lothmar, and found him still at breakfast, for he had treated himself to a sleep-in, which he certainly deserved, for as with any ship’s master he had no more than catnapped during our voyage. Pacing up and down his room, I implored him to tell me in greater detail what it was we must do, for I told him with great sincerity that I felt myself on the edge of madness, or on the brink of some revelation, or hanging over some pit of despair which I must any minute plunge headlong into.
He replied in his commonsense (I almost said earthy) way that I merely suffered the symptoms a long journey occasions, combined with the Lunar Effect, a lightness in the head that would pass eventually, he promised. Even he, a Selenite, was not feeling in top form, and a flu that he had contracted on Earth—the first sickness he had experienced in his long life—and that he thought he had shaken off, had returned, and though he had slept for a very long time (the reader will recall that the duration of the lunar night is approximately two weeks), this morning he felt tireder than he could ever remember, and the breakfast he was eating tasted like crater dust. A journey of two hundred and forty thousand miles took its toll, even on an immortal, he said with a sadly ironic smile. He added that Cynthia had wisely allotted fifty days of recuperation to be spent in rest and diversion in Sidera, most salubrious of cities, before our true work commenced.
And where would that take us? I asked him. To the Brown City, he answered. Terminus of Bewildered Souls. Nine days by dromedary from the Bay of Maris, for which even now Sidera, swiftest of cities, sped.
“How dismal it sounds!” I lamented. I imagined a place oppressed with the atmosphere of an overcrowded bus depot at two in the morning, with busloads always coming in, but never any buses out. Most of the encampment would presumably be quite contemporary, as few of its citizenry would have been born much earlier than the Industrial Revolution, the Malthusian Principle being applicable to the afterlife as well. It would have more consultants, salesmen, and civil servants than would be good for anyplace: counting light bulbs, selling appliances, and completing Form B’s, much as they do on Earth. The Customs and Immigration procedures would be a nightmare, with endless questionnaires to fill out, Have you eaten citrus fruits in the last 48 hours, ad infinitum. We might spend years in the customhouse alone.
These gloomy forebodings intruded on my thoughts in the weeks that followed, preventing my distracting myself with the entertainments of the city. In the daytime we went on excursions to the Aviaries, or were given guided tours of the Desalination Plant. Our outlandish costumes and bizarre manners—Professor Whatsit’s finger in his ear, the Pretzel Girl’s neigh—always ensured that we were the center of attention wherever we went. In the evenings we were guests of honor at banquets at all the great houses. We were toasted and fêted all around town, and toured like a circus of freaks.
Our celebrityhood had a remarkable effect on Bonnie in particular. She became a vivacious and alluring creature at dinners, hilarious during our daily outings, her ringing laughter competing with the Pretzel Girl’s hee-haw. At parties she vamped shamelessly, wore glittery eye shadow, had her hair cut in a flapper style bob, and even affected a cigar when she went to after-hours clubs with Selenite gentlemen. I noticed a youthful vigor had come over my other companions as well, a ruddy glow even blooming on the cheeks of the Professor.
But for me the orchestrated pleasures gave no rejuvenation, and increasingly I found excuses not to participate. Usually I said that I was ill, that the change in altitude brought on the migraines to which I was prone, that the food upset my digestion. They sent their physicians around to examine me, of course, but what did the ageless know of earthly ailments, or lunar ones for that matter? In the evenings I shut myself in my bedroom. Then after hearing my companions leave for their nightly soirées, I leaped from bed into my clothes, then out the bedroom window, through the garden, and out the back gate. I left by this path as I harbored the suspicion that my private expeditions would not have sat well with our Sideran hosts, had they known of them.
I walked for hours. I went down to the warehouses lining the edges of the city, where the white foam of the city’s wake hissed. I went through the sailmakers’ district, and that of the fisherfolk. I visited the market stalls, the bazaars. I ventured into shops and examined merchandise that felt awkward in my hands, with puzzling shapes and baffling purposes. I went alone to the theatre. As I was taller and slimmer than the average Earthling I found it not as difficult to blend with the crowds as I had first feared. As a further measure, I adopted Sideran dress. I studied Sideran mannerisms, the way they held out their empty palms in greeting for instance, and adopted these customs too. The time came when I could pass as one of them. True, my accent was still guttural, but they assumed I was from the country, a rustic’s life also accounting for my swarthier complexion.
Through sheer bravura I talked myself into a couple of the clubs, and made a few friends among the regulars. Sometimes I revisited the Lovers’ Tower, and often thought, when I was up there, that all I needed now was a Selenite sweetheart. Was there enough time left, I wondered, to fall in love, to start a family? Then perhaps I might never have to leave this contentest of cities.
My new friends, a boisterous lot, often convened early in the evening in a small café, where they had a dish of green curd and a glass of moonshine, and joked with the girl who worked behind the bar. Her name was Selina. Sidera is a city of a thousand Selinas, it being the favorite name for girls. This Selina began to attract my attention. She was pretty, not so tall, and I knew something about me appealed to her, for she sometimes gave me the lingering look. My chums noticed this as well, and nudged and winked broadly, and Hasop, always the crudest, made an obscene gesture I had never seen before, but it was universal enough in meaning.
I began to arrive at the café early, to be the first there, and one night I summoned the courage to ask her out. Thus my double life became complete. Officially I was confined to my bed, suffering from a combination of various ailments and the bizarre medications the nincompoop physicians prescribed, but in actuality I was dating a Selenite maid. She took me to tiny hidden teashops where a password was required to be admitted, and where heady potions were consumed from tiny china cups. We held hands and walked along the banks of the—well, it would be inaccurate to call a channel so obviously artificial a river: Where did it come from? Where did it go? It gave off an unwholesome smell, and I wonder now what it looked like in daylight. Sidera is a city best appreciated at night. In the day it was shabby, and the Siderans, if truth be told, well, they are not the cleanest people. But I digress. We walked along the banks of the sewer holding hands, as the stars threw down their darts. I also took her to the top of the Lovers’ Tower, and high above the roofs of that most amorous of cities in a recess in the wall I kissed her. If you have not kissed a Selenite girl, well, they do not kiss like Earth girls.
All this I kept secret, even from Lothmar. He, poor fellow, was in a terrible state. He was now hacking and coughing whenever he visited my bedside—and how guilty I then felt over my little deception. His skin had erupted in festering sores. Earth had not been kind to him, he said, then joking like his old self added that between the two of us we were a medical encyclopedia, in this halest of cities.
The evening came eventually when she invited me to her small room to listen to some of her albums, and to take turns on her little pipe. We undressed. She lay on her bed. Spain peeped in at the window. Some scruple hindered me. I stammered, “Perhaps you think . . . I mean, perhaps I’m not—” She put her hand on my mouth and smiled reassuringly. “I know.” Did she? Maybe it was all a misunderstanding. It was enough, however, to overcome my last little uncertainty.
In hindsight I suppose there was something reckless about her from the start, the way her eyes first sought me out. The average Selenite maid is modest and reserved, or at least acts that way.
The next morning when I awoke, the place beside me was empty save for her lingering scent. There was no note, no sign to say where she had gone. Her clothes still lay on the floor mingled with mine. Then that evening in the café, no Selina. What had happened? Had I transgressed some rule, or was this all according to some mating custom I didn’t know? If I asked Hasop or the others, they would chaff me, so I said nothing. Yet all night I thought about her. I thought to find her on the Lovers’ Tower, but she wasn’t there. And what about my litter of little lunar children?
I thought I might be able to get some answer from Lothmar: as I had not told him about Selina, he would think a few questions about Sideran courtship no more than innocent curiosity. But how ill he was! I had to give up the pretext of being bedridden myself to visit his bedside. He was rotting away. I could barely bring myself to touch his hand, but I felt I had to.
“My friend, I am dying.”
I was aghast. “But that’s impossible. Besides, our doctors on Earth know how to cure diseases. We’ll take you back.”
He smiled grimly, and shook his head. “It is the disease of mortality I caught, and for that even your doctors have no cure. It was the price that had to be paid. And I chose to pay it.”
“You knew this would happen?” I marveled, “and yet you went?”
“It was the only way. I was prepared. Tomorrow it will be over. My only regret is that I die alone.”
I grasped his hand more firmly. “My friend, I will not leave your side.”
His eyes looked grimmer still, yet he bore a brave smile. “I know, my friend. But that is not what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean?”
“Ah! Our worlds are so far apart. Did I never tell you how we die?”
“Until now I thought you could not.”
“Oh we can. Not from sickness, or old age, as with you, but from love. When two Selenites come together in sexual union, after they fall into each other’s arms in post-coital slumber, they melt into each other and pass from this world like a soap bubble, into the world of bliss.”
“No, you never told me that,” I said quietly. “You only mentioned that you were one of the Eternals, and celibate, but you never, I mean, until now I guess I didn’t make the connection.” Then in the silence I pondered the fate of my dear Selina, whose lover had failed to melt away with her. And what of poor, diseased Lothmar, who would never have a maid: how was he to pass out of the world like a soap bubble? My eyes welled with tears for the one who had loved me, and the brave man who was dying before me. It has occurred to me since that their two drifting shades might meet. Perhaps my short relationship with Selina was providential. But, perhaps that is only wishful thinking.
I learned later something wonderful about Sidera, most magical of cities, and I share it here because the question will naturally have occurred to the reader. Three days after lovers have died in each other, their progeny are delivered, or are drawn out of the sea in the fishers’ nets. To us, of course, this is a curious thing: that parents and children should never encounter each other, but it is normal enough to them. What parents pass to their children in our world, the Celibates, or Eternals, pass on in theirs. For further discussion of this topic, the reader is referred to Dr. O. Kazuma’s original study, Aspects of Sideran Culturization Process. But I digress.