“Where did the stars go, Mommy?” was the first thing Zilya asked when they reached Earth. Cara squeezed her son’s hand and looked up at the sky she hadn’t seen in well over a decade. It was night in southern Texas where her parents lived. The lights of Houston were so bright they obscured all but the brightest heavenly bodies.
“They’re still there sweetheart. It’s just difficult to see them with all the city lights reflecting in the atmosphere.”
Zilya’s little brow furrowed, just like his father’s did when he was actively doubting. “The air reflects stuff? But I can see through it…”
Cara answered a thousand questions between the airport and her childhood home, and a thousand more over the next few weeks. She’d thought that her children were well-educated about the differences between Earth and the Moon, but at six years old, her son noticed things that she’d never thought of.
Sunrise and sunset continued to mesmerize him. They had a gorgeous view of the sunset from her parent’s back deck. Every night of their month-long visit, she enjoyed a good long snuggle with her oldest baby, watching the colors light up the Texas sky before taking him inside and tucking him in for the night.
Fortunately, her father was an early riser and was willing to take his grandson down the street to the park every morning at the break of dawn. They would watch the natural spectacle over and over again.
“Still tired?” asked her mother, patting her hand.
“Constantly. The supplements help, and of course we’ve always been conscientious about exercise. But actually being here is much more difficult than I’d thought.”
“At least you’re able to come home for short visits. There was a time when the adage was ‘Once on the Moon, forever on the Moon.’”
“I’m not sure I’d have been so keen on making the move if it that was still true,” Cara said.
Her mother looked her up and down, then took a long swig of her tea. “Any regrets?”
Cara thought about the question before answering. She didn’t want to give her mother a flippant answer. “No.” She shook her head slightly. “I absolutely do not regret moving to Luna. Of course, there are things I miss, but it was definitely the right decision for our family.”
“I’m so glad we finally got to see Zilya in person. The vis-windows help, but it breaks my heart that I can’t actually reach out and squeeze the stuffing out of him or his sister.”
Cara’s gaze drifted to the full-length, gold framed window hanging on the wall next to the pantry door. It wasn’t actually a window, it was a real-time display from its counterpart in her own home on the Moon. She loved being able to glance up at the frame in her dining room and see right out the patio doors of her childhood home.
“Mama, Mama! Papa called and he said he’s going to look at me from the telescope! We have to go out back right now!”
“Well, he’s certainly adjusting to the heavier gravity well,” her mother remarked with a smile, standing up to give her husband a kiss as the three adults followed the boy outside.
“Can you see me now?” Zilya asked, talking through his link.
Cara glanced up. It was a bright Texas day and the Moon was peeking through the branches of the large tree in the yard. Zilya moved farther back, chatting with his father and waving up at the moon.
“He sees me! He sees me!”
Cara sat at the table and marveled at her son’s happy enthusiasm and boundless energy. When they went back home, he’d be literally bouncing off the walls. As much as she loved Texas, she was looking forward to going home again. It was hard being away from her husband and daughter. On top of that, her body constantly protested the demands placed on it by Earth’s greater mass.
The weekend before they were scheduled to go home, the extended family came over to eat hotdogs and make s’mores. Zilya tried to keep up with his cousins, but they were all faster than he was and had to be constantly reminded by parents and other relatives that it wasn’t nice to leave him behind.
The cousins all ignored the sunset, but Zilya was as enthralled as ever. On the Moon, sunrise and sunset only happened about every twenty eight days. They used clocks set to Greenwich Time. With no atmosphere to scatter the light rays, the ball of light that was the sun simply disappeared under the horizon, plunging the lunar surface into sudden darkness every sunset. Most of the citizens of Luna, living in specially designed habitats, rarely noticed the bi-monthly events.
Cara tried to ingrain this sunset into her memory. It was particularly pink, with yellows and oranges swirling in a riot of color that constantly changed.
She looked at her watch, then looked at her son roasting marshmallows with his cousins. “It’s a good night to stay up late, don’t you think?”
Her mother nodded. “He’s not used to the idea that darkness means sleep, is he?”
Cara nodded. “Of course, we darken our bedrooms when it’s time to sleep. But the idea of night meaning darkness is something we have to teach our children. It isn’t intuitive to them.”
“I say we let him stay up until he falls asleep on his feet.”
Cara laughed and enjoyed what little time she had with her family before she had to start packing for the trip home. The cousins had found fireflies and Zilya was completely beside himself. She thought he was going to faint when he actually caught one and brought it to show her.
The relatives with the smallest children were the first to say goodbye. Zilya hugged them all before racing back to the yard and the real live bugs he’d discovered. Cara found herself crying, knowing that it would be years before she’d see any of them again. Even with the elevators making it easy to get from the Moon to orbit and back, the Earthside leg of the journey was extremely expensive. When her daughter was old enough to make the trip, it would be her husband’s turn to visit his family.
A breeze ruffled her hair, something else she missed about life on a planet with a natural atmosphere. Rain was coming. All they’d had since she’d been there were a few short showers, not a real storm. She looked forward to it.
Most of the extended family said their goodbyes before the rain came. There was a flash of light off in the distance and Cara counted to see how far away it was. A fire engine with its siren blaring went by right as the rumble of distant thunder reached her.
She watched her son playing in the real grass under a sky with few stars, lit by the overwhelming glow of the city. She’d have to call him in soon before the storm rolled in. They could watch it from the living room, one last natural phenomenon to experience before returning to the artificial environment they called home.
She opened her mouth to call to him, but there was another, even brighter, flash of light followed only a moment later by a loud crack.
Zilya screamed. Never in his young life had Cara seen her son so completely terrified. He slipped once trying to leap directly to her, forgetting that in the heavier gravity he had to take more steps. She jumped down the stairs to the lawn and scooped him up, then fell down on her bottom with the added weight she wasn’t used to.
He continued to scream, and her arms and reassurances didn’t help. She struggled to get up with him and take him into the house, instantly relieved when her father scooped up his grandson and ran inside with him. Her mother helped her up, finding grandfather and grandson huddling together in her father’s den, the heavy curtain drawn across the single small window. His shrieks had turned to sobs, and her father handed Zilya to her as she sank onto the floor to hold him tightly.
“It’s all right. Remember how we learned about thunder and lightning and how it happens a lot when it rains?” She kept up a running commentary, knowing her calm voice would soothe him. She wished then and there that his education hadn’t also included the information that lightning could also be dangerous. She had never seen him so thoroughly terrified. No nightmare, no scary movie came close to the genuine fear he was experiencing. “I used to sit on that couch in the living room and count the seconds between the lightning and thunder so I’d know how far away the storm was. I used to fall asleep listening to the pitter-patter of rain on the roof.”
Eventually his sobs subsided, out of exhaustion rather than from overcoming his fear. Cara rocked him and stroked his hair away from his face while her mother kept them supplied with tissues.
He fell asleep there in her arms, and her father taking him once more and carrying him off to bed.
Zilya woke just enough to say, “Mama?”
“Yes, sweetheart?” she asked, walking next to her father.
“I want to go home.”
Cara sighed. She wanted to go home too.
“All right, my love. We’ll go home,” she said, and kissed him goodnight.