It was the perfect table next to a window, candlelight flickering, casting a warm glow over the white tablecloth. Neither Audrey nor Nick could have imagined that after spending decades on the moon, they’d one day be sitting together in a cozy French restaurant in Orlando. Decades ago, they’d flown boldly into space in the first wave of lunar colonists. Now they stole fleeting glances at one another while fiddling with their silverware, taking frequent sips from their tumblers of bourbon.
Audrey gazed out the window, noting a little rush in her head as she looked up. She shouldn’t have ordered wine with the imminent entrée. “It feels strange to look at the moon now, don’t you think? After living there so long?”
Nick’s eyes lingered on her. He was still reconciling the chestnut-haired woman he’d first met in mission training with the silver-haired knock-out sitting across from him now. “Yeah,” he said, finally looking up at the waxing crescent above the skyline. “Never thought I’d want to leave.”
She turned her attention back to him. “Why did you decide to come back?” She felt strange having to ask—they should have known each other better by now. Then again, their duties hadn’t really overlapped, and they’d lost track of each other during the rapid expansion of the colony.
“I don’t know,” he said. His eyebrows lowered briefly, then he shook his head as though clearing cobwebs. “It just felt like time.”
She reached for her bourbon, then remembered to pace herself and settled for running a fingertip around the rim. “Same here. It’s hard to explain. I’d planned to stay up there until… well...”
“Me too.” He rubbed his beard, hoping its sprinkling of grey didn’t make him look too washed up.
She found it made him look distinguished. Like a silver fox.
Dinner came, along with more glasses of wine, and as they talked, they found they had more in common than they’d thought. They’d returned to Earth around the same time five years earlier. Each of them had wound up back in their respective hometowns before discovering they didn’t feel like home anymore. Somehow, each of them had been drawn to Orlando, as though craving proximity to the Kennedy Space Center.
As pioneers of moon colonization, they’d both written books and traveled the talk circuit, waved from parade floats, visited dozens of schools, shaken hands with any number of local and national dignitaries. Yet, they both felt there was something off about it, like they were imperialist icons being paraded about, some fetishized vanguard of an invasion of the moon. They felt immense relief admitting this out loud, expressing thoughts that felt so true yet so disloyal, giving voice to feelings that had been building up inside them since their return to Earth.
She sighed, shaking her head. “I guess it’s just in us, you know? As a species.”
“But you know what I can’t figure out?” he asked. “Remember when we first got there? We weren’t supposed to come back.”
“I know,” she said. “Used to be, lunar command would’ve tossed you out of the office for asking, much less forward the request. Now it seems like they just go ahead and grant it. So what changed?”
They both frowned slightly, as though trying to recall something at the edge of their memories.
Dessert came, courtesy of the manager for such distinguished guests.
“At least there are plenty of replacements,” she said, digging in. “Lots of qualified people never got a chance before. Now they can go.”
“And come back. And we’ll send more,” he said, “as long as Congress keeps funding the rotating door to the moon.”
“None of the senators I’ve met seem to mind the cost.”
“Well, who could say no to you?” He lay down his spoon, dessert untouched. “So, do you—would you like to—” He floundered, wondering what was possessing him to be so direct.
“Yes,” she said, surprising herself. This wasn’t like her. Her usual timing was like starlight reaching earth: by the time she felt comfortable enough to get close to someone, their interest in her had long since died out.
The trip to his apartment was a blur of kissing, fogging up the windows of the self-driving car, stumbling over the threshold while peeling off coats. Still standing, they snaked fingers past buttons and zippers, until—
“Wait.” She felt something strange. She pulled back to look at him. His beard was moving. Growing.
She stepped back to observe it lengthening before her eyes, wondering why she wasn’t the least bit afraid.
He, for his part, observed her silvery hair rising until it was horizontal. Reaching out toward him.
They thought absently about notifying someone. Surely the medical team would want to know.
But suddenly nothing seemed all that urgent to either one of them.
The silver tendrils wavered toward one another, touched. Twined. After so many years apart, traveling this new planet in separate bodies so far from home, reaching out to even more bodies with all the handshakes and dinners and conferences and speeches, spreading bits of themselves to flourish and grow, the counter-invaders finally had an evening to themselves.
Tara Campbell is an award-winning writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, fiction co-editor at Barrelhouse, and graduate of American University's MFA in Creative Writing. She teaches flash fiction and speculative fiction at venues such as American University, Johns Hopkins University, Clarion West, The Writer's Center, Hugo House, and the National Gallery of Art. Publication credits include Masters Review, Wigleaf, Electric Literature, CRAFT Literary, Daily Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and Escape Pod/Artemis Rising. She's the author of a novel, two hybrid collections of poetry and prose, and two short story collections from feminist sci-fi publisher Aqueduct Press. Find her at www.taracampbell.com.
Other stars in the Range asterism:
As a boy I fell inside of a shape. The villagers set out their rescue / pants and sharpened their knives, but who could say what / constitutes dimension?
Scientists had shone a light on a squirm with one hand, and pronged them with the other. The worms wound into tight coils.
Waiting for Motherhood
You eat a whole cherry pie as big as your entire hand. You feel her dance inside you on Sunday afternoons.
Curiously, pieces are in four colors. But always numbering sixteen. Any similarities to pairs of eyes, ears, lips, wrists, breasts, shoulders, hips and legs, also count of sixteen, purely coincidental.
O’Gallivan on the Mountain
In his 28th year of research, he met a cow named Cass. Cass was a Braunvieh and her favourite time of the year was late March, when it wasn’t too cold or too hot and the lilies were blooming.
I wish I could tell you the dead and gone are younger now, healthier, or stronger, but my impression is that, if anything, they have grown older, smaller, and weaker.