“Mommy, the drawings of the moon are all wrong.”
Anthea looked up, startled. It was always the moon, that constant lover and thorn in her soul. A shining orb that rained down joy and sorrow, comfort and pain.
The year was 2029, and life was as perfect as one could hope. She was loved and in love, both with a handsome young space jockey and her profession.
They were both slated for the first manned expedition to Mars. After many fits and starts—due to the vagaries of political posturing, the collapse of several economies, and sheer scientific apathy—humanity would finally set foot on the Red Planet.
The confirmation of deep aquifers by a series of landers, and advances in technology, made the upcoming mission possible. They would land, establish the beginnings of a permanent base, and drill wells to bring up the water. Over the course of a year they would erect a small domed city and attempt to cultivate their own crops in the Martian soil.
The water of Mars was the key to success. More than a necessity for daily survival, it would be the source of both power and oxygen. The expedition was staking their lives on their water separators, fusion powered generators able to split water into its constituent atoms through electrolysis. The process would provide the raw materials they needed for the air they would breathe and the fuel for their tanks.
The prospects, though dangerous, were exciting. The good fortune that both she and Jin had won berths on the expedition only added to the joy of being chosen. Sure, they had to keep their relationship secret, but not for much longer.
In fact, the Agency recognized that relationships were sure to form during the lengthy voyage, and so they struck any regulations against them from the books for the duration of the mission. Once they were off-world, nothing could keep them apart.
Until she woke one day to learn the moon had changed.
The call came early that morning, telling her to check the news feeds. She did, and what she saw both intrigued and horrified her. Video from sources worldwide, amateur and professional, showed a moon altered in ways only seen in science fiction movies.
Gone was the familiar ball of mottled gray floating through the heavens. In her place was an orb of luscious green forests, shimmering blue lakes, and wide sweeping plains. The moon was gone, replaced by a thing out of someone’s fantasies.
For Anthea it was a nightmare. Jin was on the moon.
“Have we heard from Lunar Base?” she asked the voice on the other end.
“Nothing, Anthea,” they said. “There’s already talk about an expedition. We want you to come in.”
“You’re our best propulsion systems specialist, Anthea. We’re fast-tracking the new lunar shuttle, and we want you on task to help get it done. The faster you can get here, the faster we can get her in the sky.”
Anthea scrambled to pack and called a cab to take her out to the Space Agency. They stuck her on the first bullet train from Houston to Cape Canaveral. She spent the five hour trip glued to her touchpad, watching the latest news reports with fascination. All those around her saw a member of the Agency taking it all in with cold calculation, but she was secretly near panic on the inside.
There was still no contact with Lunar Base. No contact from Jin.
Signals from satellites orbiting the moon had disappeared along with Luna herself, so the Agency had to settle on directing available telescopes at the planetoid in an effort to collect data. Their findings sent shockwaves around the world.
There was evidence of life. Massive herds migrated across grassy plains. Flocks of birds flitted across the sky. Some observers thought they could make out schools of fish swimming in the lakes.
All this was fantastic, but insignificant in light of what else they discovered.
Small villages dotted the new lunar landscape. One here in a forest clearing, another there nestled along a lakeshore. Small tracks of cultivated land made a patchwork quilt near some of the villages. Faint wisps of smoke from cook fires or stoves wafted up from wooden houses. All evidence pointed to a preindustrial society.
Sometimes, the highest resolution telescopes caught glimpses of the beings. Bipedal, green-skinned, tall and thin. They were certainly not human.
What were they? Where did they come from? Where was our moon?