The airlock opens, revealing the moon’s surface. It’s beautiful, a palette of grays and blacks in a thousand different shades. The light of the distant sun makes everything it touches luminous, throwing crisp shadows across the moondust.
I turn to the only other occupant of the airlock. “Time for one last first, Kate,” I say, staring down at the still form wrapped in a black plastic bag.
She doesn’t answer.
I sit next to her in the descent vehicle, holding her hand, imagining I feel her warmth through the pressure suits we wear. The jolt when we touch down doesn’t break our grip, and the all-clear barely sounds before she’s removing her restraints. We descend the ramp together, take our first careful steps holding onto each other. Kate gazes at the ground, at the prints we’ve left in the moondust, rapt with wonder.
I smile. “We’re not the first people to walk on the moon, love.”
“I know that,” she replies, voice full of awe, a pioneer making her own frontiers to conquer, like always. “But these are our first steps on the moon.”
I close my eyes against the tears, then pick up her body. She’s so light in the moon’s gravity, no burden at all. Then again, Kate’s never been a burden to me. She makes everything easier to bear. Even this.
Carrying her, I leave the airlock, start across the cold, lovely moonscape. We were supposed to make a new life here, part of humanity’s first permanent lunar colony. Now, I’m preparing to bury her here instead.
“We’re going to the moon!” Kate says, radiant with joy, brandishing the letter. “Going to live there!”
“Congratulations,” I say, smiling for her. Later, she’ll be the trained scientist we both are, but for now, she’s too excited. Kate’s always been an explorer in a world with nothing left to explore, always wanted to accomplish what no one else has—not to prove something, but simply for the experience. She fought for this, for so long, and now she has it: command of the first lunar colony initiative. “Just remember, people have been going to the moon for a long time now. This isn’t really a first for the species.”
“That doesn’t matter,” she replies, eyes shining, enthusiasm undiminished. “What matters is that it’s a first for us.”
I reach the chosen spot, atop a low rise. Overhead, the great orb of the Earth hangs, a jewel of blue and white. Our old home looking down on our new. I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to spend eternity.
NASA would disagree. They want Kate’s body sent back, dehydrated, frozen, and crammed into a sample container. But this is where she wanted to live. And this is where she’ll stay in death.
My shovel bites into the chalky soil, raising a small cloud that drifts upward in the minuscule gravity.
My gaze is fixed on the monitor, the view from a distant suit camera. The image jumps as the rescue team hurries across the moonscape, but I can see the expanding cloud of dust clearly.
“Careful, Rescue,” I say, my voice breaking with fear, urging caution when all I want to do is force them to hurry. “Don’t trigger another slide.”
“Copy,” a voice replies, breathless and ragged.
As they draw closer to the scene, I can see the devastation. Monitoring Post 7 was situated on what was supposed to be a stable crater’s edge. But two minutes ago, the escarpment gave way, taking the instrument array on a sixty-meter drop.
Along with Kate.
On the screen, I watch the team slow, anchor ropes, then descend the slope. Thermal imaging shows a brightly-colored blob in the middle of the dust cloud. My hands clench tight, nails digging into my palms.
“Two meters to your right,” I say. Please, I plead silently, to whoever might be listening. Please let her be okay.
“Copy.” Hands appear in the camera’s view, shoving large, jagged rocks aside. More dust rises, the picture dissolving into gray haze.
Then the digging stops.
“Control, found her.”
“Check vitals.” Please, please, please.
A second passes. Then I hear a sigh. “Sorry, Control. She’s dead.”
My eyes burn, the tears finally coming as I lose myself to my grief. I slump forward, shaking with sobs, the room silent around me.
On the screen, the pall of moondust continues to rise, drifting up into the cold darkness above.
I’m surrounded by a cloud of moondust, so thick I can’t see the Earth above me. It’s like being in limbo, a timeless place of waiting.
The hole is deep enough. As I gently lower Kate into the grave, I imagine a look of peace on her face, contentment at what I’ve done for her. I start to fill in the grave, feeling tears trickling down my cheeks. The grief is a cold ache, a wound I will live with that will never heal.
When it’s finished, and all trace of the woman I love is buried under the moondust, I straighten, unsure what to do. I want to say something, but I can’t find any words. Would she hear them anyway, here on the airless surface of the moon?
With a sigh, I turn and start to walk away. As I leave the pall of drifting dust, I see a footprint, pressed into the soft ground. I don’t know if it’s mine or hers, how long it’s been there. I know it isn’t the first one there. But I realize that doesn’t matter.
I look back at the cloud of dust behind me, watching it slowly rise and spread, like smoke from a funeral pyre, a sign of a soul set free to explore whatever adventure comes next. Kate wasn’t the first one to leave her footsteps in the moondust. But she left her last steps there, where she wanted to.
That’s all that matters.