Under peculiar moonlight, the stones began to breathe

The fragments of the moon blotted the sky. Day and night had become unseemly, shards of bone loose in a limb. A veil was ordered, woven from tungsten and carbonfibre and inlaid with massive projectors. It hang in the thermosphere, a mural covering the planet with history of the victorious nation. The same men that had ordered the satellite’s destruction were not only heralded as universal heroes, but aesthetic geniuses to boot.

Along the equator, one could travel west to east and learn that humans sprang from caves with great axes of stone, with which they dispersed enemies and belligerents. Their axes turned into hefts that toiled the earth, and these hefts became swords, and so on, until the last remaining island of Indonesia, where the final rebus in the timeline was not a hologram, but the great machine itself. The laser cannon that brought down the moon colony, aptly named the ‘Nightender’, ever aimed at the ruins.

The satellite phone rang.

“Goodness, come in?”
“Reading you loud and clear, Delight. What’s up, spice?”
“Oh, you know, I saw something that made me wanna call you.”
Really? So you checked your texts just now?” Goodness lowered his voice, worried the supervisor might hear, but it had an enticing effect. His pants were still unbuckled; he loved teasing him while he was in the field.

“Ha! I’ll look later, dear. But, no, I detected something interesting. And only my special man in the sky can zoom in on it for closer analysis.” Before he could respond, Delight added, “and no, it’s not this fantastic ass.”
“Aw. Interesting, how?”
“Well, I was on standard life patrol – didn’t find any survivors again, but my CO2 radar keeps showing up blips.”
“Could be frogs or mice. Smaller lifeforms.”

Delight’s laugh was eponynous, even when sarcastic.

“Honey, not in this sector.”
“What? Lemme put it up. Okay, wow, no one told me you were inspecting the Deadest Sea today — oh, Christ.”

The Nightender tremored impressively. Lights flickered for a moment and the screen fuzzed and people buzzed. Goodness’ office chair glided him away from the overhanging cover of his station. The supervisor raised a tall eyebrow at his undone belt.

“You okay?”
“Yeah. Think we hit some satellite debris, is all. Happens all the time. Wish we had windows so we could see where we were going, to be honest. So tell me more about the readings, spice.”
“So as I was saying, blips. I’m standing on top of a cluster now.”
“And what do you see?”
“It’s shiny as hell down here. Like someone left the lights on. That’s why I called you. Point the camera where I am.”

Delight looked up at the facsimile. It looked like an old picture book, Winnie the Pooh or Kikker. He knew otherwise, but believed the lie: now no one had to see the moon, burst apart like a gored matador. Blinders to shield sights from the chunks of glass that used to be part of a biodome, merged by the laser’s heat with children’s toys or the aluminum of a water park. Mars had undergone the same, but it was conveniently far away. The children’s novel told him not to worry so much: anyone who could read it was, after all, privileged to process and progress. He sighed, then smiled. A pedagogy against panic.

Goodness finished securing permissions during Delight’s shuteye reflection; he lied to the supervisor “big lunch” when questioned. Checked the date: 2186 July 16. Alongside his couple hundred colleagues, he still had access to the true skies, provided the camera was aimed up. He didn’t really get the moralism around it – for millenia, humanity had toiled and clenched teeth under abject insignificance faced with stellarity. This was humanity hitting back, terraforming and lunareforming meant the cosmos and all its ineffable vagaries belonged to them, the people on the Nightender. Any pacifist just had to see it for themselves: the lunar remnants were beautiful. Refracting sunlight the same when it was whole, but now a myriad times over. Thousands of mirrors and mirrors and mirrors and thank God our faces won’t show up in them.

The lens had been focused on some aberrant activity between solar and lunar loci, flashes of light. The wavelengths penetrated the lampshade, and connected with vestiges of the earth, which raised radiation concerns. The bored scientists said, yeah, of course there’s going to be some leftover phenomena when we shoot gargantuan levels of heat into space, don’t worry about it. So no one did. Repositioning the camera down to earth took a while (Goodness always closed his eyes when Australia came into view. Dad came from Canberra, but, it’s a hole now). When he heard the friendly ping, he opened his eyes, and was met by the sight of a shiny malpais, pools of rotting mush, and his husband finally checking his phone.

“Turning on life filters now, spice.”
“You got it, tiger. Need me to step out the way?”
“Not really. I could tell you how hot you are in Fahrenheit, exactly.”

That eponymous laugh again. “Just hurry up, I want out.”

Goodness flipped a switch and his breath stocked, audibly.

“That… can’t be right.”
“What’s up?”
“The CO2, it’s coming from below you.”
“Yeah, I told you that already. But I don’t see what’s causing it.”

The supervisor, rallying behind his station, suggested a subsurface pocket. That would make the most logical sense, but the sensor data could not corroborate that. No density readings or concentration values matched that of natural gas formations, methane-soil poisoning, stratigraphic toxicity, or greenhouse effects. The computers began cross-referencing everything.

“Talk to me, Goodness.”
“We’re working on it. And you, please, get out of there.”
“C’mon, hun, I’m not in danger. They call it the Deadest Sea for a reason. Nothing but dirt and stone here.”

The computer still had not pinged. It cleared all geological and meteorological data, and was almost done with radiology. In that register, ‘biology’ seemed to stand out to Goodness. It was probably his sweating that did it, the radical association meant nothing.

“But okay, I’ll head back to the ship. Sorry to dump this up on you.”

Goodness saw it happening on camera before Delight could realise he was stuck. A hand had burst from the stones he was standing on, gripping his ankle. No, it had formed around him, rapidly.

Oh my God,” the three men synched.

More hands attacked, petrifying Delight other leg, tearing holes in his safety suit. The computer uttered neutrally, life: bloodflow; removing.

Goodness was dragged away from the camera just in time. Delight’s gaze was fixed up, at that great engine, pleading to it, finding importance or salvation in it for the first time. His bones shattered, shards flying in his body. The hands grew, glew, and, based on the anatomical damage inflicted, knew.

A face formed. The computer pinged.

CO2 match found: lungs, human.

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