Michele Lee writes horror, science fiction and fantasy from the relative safety of her haunted house in the oldest section of Louisville, Ky. When she isn't writing, she reviews books of all genres, spends too much time on Twitter and grows monstrous vegetables. She can be kept track of at www.michelelee.net
"Men in the Moon" was written in 2007 and won Honorable Mention in 2008's L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future contest.
Men in the Moon
By Michele Lee
The bomb exploded from his middle, up his body and out. The last of him shattered into a pink mist, much like the glass of the greater lunar dome moments later.
* * *
Steven looked at the big board, first thing, when he entered the office of The Daily Feed, the only mass-media print paper based on the Moon. He read down the list, followed the row with his name over to assignment and cursed.
“Do I not rank a story today?” he asked when he spun to face Bill Prange, his editor. Nursing a feeling of being squeezed out, Steven suspected he was being encouraged to quit. No matter how civil he tried to make his question it came out bitter.
“Actually we need to talk,” his editor answered. Bill nodded his head toward his glass encased office, one of the few proper offices on the floor. Journalist didn’t deserve privacy, or so the paper seemed to feel. Steven prepared himself for the worst words a man in his late forties, surrounded by twenty somethings, could hear. He masked a foul face as he closed the door behind him.
His chest felt tight and his stomach burned. Maybe he’d have a heart attack and wouldn’t have to worry about being fired and abandoned so far from home. If he dropped dead he wouldn’t have to worry about anything anymore. It sounded nice for all of three seconds.
“Look,” Steven began, “I have a lot to offer this paper. Sure I’m not fresh and new, but you can’t buy the kind of experience I have.”
“Of course you can’t. Calm down, Steven. You’re not being fired.” Bill sat behind his desk, propped his feet up in the stool he kept under it and looked Steven over seriously.
“Then what the hell is this?”
“You’re being given a special assignment.”
Steven stopped his pacing and sat in one of the gray cushion and foam chairs in front of the desk. “What kind of special assignment?”
“The kids out there, they got a lot of good ideas, a lot of drive. But they got no patience for people that aren’t them. I need you because you know how to get an interview, how to bring people out from behind their walls. You know how to listen.”
Steven looked suspicious again. “What kind of interview?”
“A special kind. An exclusive kind. A lead story kind of interview.” Bill let the words hang between them. “I got access to La Bete. They want to talk. I want them to talk to you.”
“A fucking terrorist group? Are you joking?” Steven wanted to stand and storm out. But under the gray hairs his nose picked up the scent of raise. The scent of defining his place again, and putting all those kids snapping at his heels back in their damn places.
“See, I knew you’d know how to handle this. I can see it in your face Steven, you know what this would mean. Those kids out there, this would just be a sensational story to them.” Bill smiled and sat up straight, leaning toward Steven. “You know this is more.”
“This is prize stuff, big stuff.” Steven smiled.
“I knew you’d understand. This is an exclusive to us. The papers on Earth will be buying this shit up. It’s so much easier to live with exciting dangerous stories when they’re two million miles away. Everyone will be buying up rights to print this. This’ll be sent to all the big prizes. One fanatical, underdog group against an oppressive, misunderstanding world.”
“This is big.”
“And it’s yours, Steven.” Bill stood and handed Steven a piece of paper across the desk. “Be at Regan Park, 7pm. Someone from the group will meet you there. Other than that, take the day off.”
* * *
Steven didn’t know how to prepare. He didn’t know if he should bring a weapon for protection, or a survival kit, or a packed lunch. His recorder was a sure bet, along with an extra memory stick, his back up battery, and a notebook and pens just in case. He looked at his gun, an old movie style tooled silver revolver. Then he chose his stun gun, a small black innocent looking rectangle, and slipped it into the semi-hidden inner pocket of his jacket instead.
The piped in air made it perpetually cool in the lunar domes. No one would think it immediately suspicious if they saw him wearing a jacket.
La Bete, Steven didn’t know what to think of them. Everyone knew who they were, they claimed six events of civil unrest in the first half of the year. Everyone knew, because the media told them, that La Bete was planning something big. Like they aspired to be the LRA or FARC of the Twentieth Century. The Moon had a lot of cults, but only one real active terrorist group-La Bete.
Steven tried to sleep, alone and cold in his tiny economy apartment on the slummier side of Maanstad, Moon’s Town. His mind told him he was a fool, but the air felt clammy, almost liquid as he started to drift off. His stomach started acting up again, the acid burning through his stomach lining and occasionally rippling up to his esophagus. Steven bolted upright, gasping for breath, feeling like he’d swallowed boiling water. He looked at his clock, an hour lost laying like a stone in his tiny, hard bed, and he felt no closer to any sort of nap.
He gave up with a gruff grunt. He would have liked to hear a voice, but he promised himself when he moved into the apartment, leaving behind the closest person he’d ever had to a wife, that he wasn’t going to be one of those crazies who talks to themselves all the time. When Whinnie chose not to move to the surface with him it broke his heart. But he couldn’t fault her. Some people aren’t meant to be explorers.
Steven dressed in clean new jeans and a pale yellow polo shirt, imported directly from the good old U.S. of A. Where the air was thick enough to eat and when you got gritty from a good day of hitting the street you didn’t glow in the dark. He trekked down the stairs, five floors, and out onto the matte silver streets. The Earth people, they were all about the novelty of people living on the moon, but gods forbid something mess up their lovely silver night light.
Steven wondered if he returned home, would he be able to see any color but grays again?
He stopped at a little deli on the way to the park, picking up dinner, and a little extra in case he needed it. He didn’t think a band of underground felons and murderers would have snacks to spare for him. He bought two extra bottles of filtered water as a precaution, in case he got stuck where ever they took him.
He wasn’t a fool. Steven had been an embedded journalist through two wars, or a war and a “political skirmish” depending on who was writing the story. He knew no one would be sitting all nice and proper at a bench in the park giving him the interview. Likely there’d be a sack over his head and an unmarked van filled with armed people. Steven felt content to sit in the shadow of a marble statue, and the only green spot, artificially created of course, on the whole planet. He ate his turkey sub, and his baked potato. And he waited, for something to happen.
At seven on the nose the lights went out. Twelve hours of sunlight, twelve hours of darkness. The moon had no seasons. Steven’s breath caught in his throat. The nighttime park lights weren’t coming on. He could barely breath, and something, maybe someone if someone could have eyes that glowed in no light and a hand covered with fur, held a rag with something acrid smelling on it against his face. Steven eyes closed against his will and he sagged into the arms of the glow-eyed thing over him.
* * *
Steven knew something was wrong with the people he saw around him, but his mind refused to define it. His mind refused to define a lot of things.
“It’s okay,” a gruff voice reassured him. A thick, meaty hand that might match the voice held his head still and something warm beamed down on it. Steven thought he saw a glimmer of light, like a laser, in the space around his head. He tried to look toward it, but the hands held him firm. “No, no, ya don’t want to look into that.”
The light stopped flickering red and the hands released him. Steven looked up toward the hands. His vision went in and out of focus, but he could tell the man hovering over him was large, round and graying. The man smiled. His eyes were real blue, sparkling, clear blue. And they looked amused. Even more so when Steven’s gaze continued up and realized the man had floppy, gray, triangle-shaped ears on the top of his head.
The man chuckled as Steven tried to hide his surprise. “Take it easy, Mr. Reporter. When we drugged you to get you here all anonymous like, our guy didn’t manage to catch you when you fell. You got a scratch on your head. That doesn’t go well with the stuff we used to knock you out.”
Steven reached for his forehead, expecting to find blood. Instead he felt skin, tender, but whole.
“Ah, you’ll be alright. We patched you up with our nifty little machine here.” The beefy man twiddled what looked like a thick silver pen light in his fingers. “It speeds up cell reproduction. You’re all fixed up, it’ll just take your body a few minutes to realize that. And clear out the stuff that knocked you out. Hey, Muck, get Mr. Reporter one of his bottles of water.”
There was movement. Steven’s head started clearing. His stomach was acting up again, even though he’d tried to eat stomach smart. It must be the stress. A moment later a thin kid, almost a teenager, skittered into view. He smiled shyly at Steven, reached out one long hand, the back covered by rust colored fur, and offered a bottle of water. The kid looked Steven in the eye, his eyes a brighter shade of the color of his fur. Steven didn’t know what to think.
All of the people around him, a dozen of them, had something animal about them. Strange eyes, fur, and dangerously pointed upper and lower canines were most common. A few of the younger members, kids more than adults, had ears, spots of discolored skin, some with fur, and even tails.
“Don’t look so scared, Mr. Reporter. We ain’t gonna bite.” The big man chuckled and most of the others followed. Even one blonde haired little girl, who hid her delicate, furry face in a woman’s hip, laughed and wagged her fluffy tail.
“What...?” Steven stopped himself. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. What are we? That’s what you wanna know right?”
“Yeah, pardon my French, but what the hell happened to you?”
“We’re morphs, splits, compositions, if you will.” The man tugged at one of his ears. “We’re part animal, part human. Some of us chose to splice our genes with our animal of choice. Some of us were changed through a sort of plastic surgery. Some of us were born from those who were spliced.”
Steven sat up and opened his water. He took a long, sweet swig and felt his breath return to normal. His stomach settled down into a memory of an ache rather than an active burn. The scenes of the last few terrorist attacks on the lunar domes flashed through Steven's head and settled with the knot in his stomach. He didn't want to end up like the guards who had tried to stop these people. He deserved a better fate than becoming a smear of blood on the reflective ground. “Sorry, I’m not usually so rude. I’ve seen splices before, just not so far gone.”
The man shrugged. “Take your time, let your system clear. This is important to us, Mr. Reporter. We can wait a few minutes for you to get yourself together.”
“Steven, my name is Steven. No, I’m fine, I promise. I’m a tough old geezer. I recover fast.”
“Well, Mr. Steven, my name is Linus. And this is La Bete, the beast.”
“The beast?” Steven patted his pockets looking for his recorder. He found his jacket empty. “Where’s my...?”
“Your things are here, Mr. Steven. Even the shock box.”
Steven eyed the dented steel table as Linus moved around it and took a seat on the other side. Everything Steven had brought with him sat spread out on the table. The stunner lay next to the audio recorder. For one mad moment he thought about taking Linus out with it, collecting the half a million dollar reward and retiring back on terra firma. Surely the consideration flitted over his face as he was being watched. Steven didn’t know if he should reach for it or not.
“Go ahead, Mr. Steven. Take your things, even your weapon if you’d like. We want you to feel safe and if that’s what it takes, feel free. But I assure you it’s in all of our interests to return you safely to the lunar world. At least your boss knows you’re with us. Likely you’ve told others as well, for your safety.”
Steven smiled but didn’t answer. Truthfully he hadn't even thought of that. He pocketed the stunner and checked the recorder’s power meter.
“Everything satisfactory?” Linus asked.
“Yes,” Steven nodded. “Why are you doing this, talking to me I mean?”
“Turn your recorder on, Mr. Steven. You’re going to want to record this.”
Steven straightened himself up. The red recording light came on and Steven’s reporter side came out in force. “You said that you are La Bete, the beast. What does that mean?”
“Well, from what you see of us we are the beasts. But the name comes from the old French. La Bête du Gévaudan, the beast of Gevaudan. After tracking the monster who ran rampant in the countryside of France a wolf hunter reportedly laughed and said, ‘la bête n'est aucun loup’- The beast is no wolf.”
“Werewolves.” Steven kept his face far more neutral than he felt. He felt like laughing.
“Not anymore, Mr. Steven. Even if we could have proven it back then, before our parents made it real through genetic mutating, no one could ever mistake what we are now for people who can change back and forth between animal and human. So now we’re both.”
“Are you serious?” Steven meant to roll it around in his throat for a moment before spitting it out. But he went with it. “Your mission, your goal to get people off the Moon, I mean. Are you serious about it?”
Linus looked serious for the first time. “Of course we’re serious. Have we ever done anything to make you think we aren’t?”
“The explosion on support pillar seven?” Steven asked.
“The explosion that caused the failure of the air filter system?”
“The pipe bomb in front of the lunar court?”
“Ours. As far as I know we’re the only active group on the lunar surface. All the others are just looneys.”
“You seem to have a thing for explosions,” Steven said.
“What can I say, I like the way they look on TV.”
“Any big plans?” Steven asked. The others watched each other. No one let him see them looking.
“Of course. Lots of big plans. Plans and theories and plots and analyses. We’re here until you’re not.” Linus looked neurotically cheerful again. More like someone’s jokester uncle than a terrorist.
“How did you get here? Every space flight and barge is heavily regulated. How did you manage to get here, looking like...”
“Like this?” Linus smiled. Maybe his teeth, too, were changed by forced genetic mutation. They looked predatory. “I admit we’d stick out individually, much less all together. And these are just the people who wanted to meet you. We got here the same way we always got here.”
Linus drew a symbol on the table and laughed. “But see, we’re allowed to be here. It’s like way back when, with the Native Americans. This is our sacred place. Our secret.”
“So us humans being here?”
“It fucked up our mojo. No sacred space, no mojo.”
“No shape shifting?”
Linus shrugged. “Not possibly with you here, according to our best guesses. Far back as we can see the tales of man to animal stopped in 1969, the first lunar landing.”
“There are people who think that was a hoax.”
Linus looked like he didn't care. “Something happened then. That proves it was no hoax in my opinion.”
“So you expect us to abandon a project worth hundreds of billions of dollars, pack up our lives and just leave?”
“We’ll stay here. It won’t go to waste. Hell, we'll even pay rent. You have your planet, we have the satellite, or whatever the hell the brains are calling it these days. What is this place to you anyway? A hoity-toity get away for millionaires? A safe haven for alcoholics and criminals looking to escape the system? There’s nothing of value here, no abundant natural resources. Hell, you have fight tooth and nail just to make this place habitable. The only good thing about it is it’s a great place to broadcast from. Communications and all that.” Linus' smiled looked sharp and wicked. Steven's stomach gurgled again.
“And werewolves,” Steven added.
“Enough with the fucking werewolves.” Linus drove a fist into the table. The recorder fell over with a clank. “This isn’t about who we are, this is about people, you, being where they shouldn’t be. This is about staying on the planet where you fucking belong before something really bad happens.”
“Something like? What do you think is going to happen?”
“Do you really think it’s just us out here, Mr. Steven?” Linus’s voice sounded snide now, mocking. “It’s not even just us down there. We can’t even get along down there, where we can all, to a degree or two, talk to each other. We can’t escape jihads, genocides, racial beatings, invasions. And that’s just the big stuff, Mr. Steven. Show me one person, one, who has never been the subject of a racial, sexual or social class discrimination.
“And now, now we’re making our own races, our own genders. Me, I’m thirty percent gray fox, a species only in captivity now. What’s to stop a person from giving themselves fairy wings? Or two phalluses? We can’t even accept our own limits. How the hell are we going to accept and respect other being’s limits?
“It’s about laying out a line, Mr. Steven. It’s about saying absolutely not. It’s not about ‘can we do it’ it’s about ‘should we do it’. Sometimes people have to step up and remind others that caution and ambition gotta go hand in hand.”
“And you’re those people?” Steven asked. Linus turned his very blue eyes on Steven. Something swam behind the blue.
“Someone has to be.”
“What do you want people to know?” Steven asked. He felt nervous again, with the threats being thrown about. They made his stomach feel like it was filled with hot liquid again. And the truth was that years ago Steven had agreed with them. Agreed that people were taking things too far. But he'd put all that away when the job offer came, what he thought was his last chance to get some real seniority. His last great adventure.
Looking around Steven began to wonder if they planned to let him out of where ever they’d taken him, or if they were just going to mail his recorder back to the paper.
“I want people to know.” Linus looked around at his people thoughtfully. Most looked canine, or maybe fox, like Linus said he was. Steven followed Linus’s gaze and wondered how many of these people were spliced with animals that didn’t exist in the wild anymore. Did anyone ever imagine that millions of years of genetic evolution would one day only exist in a mutated human body?
“I want people to know that they aren’t safe here, on the Moon. There aren’t terribly safe any place else either, but they sure as hell aren’t safe here. This isn’t a game, this isn’t a joke. Yes, Mr. Steven. We are very serious, both in who we are and in what we are doing.”
The blow came as the first one had, unexpectedly, the world went suddenly dark as Steven’s consciousness swirled down into his over active stomach. Pain was the last thing to go numb.
* * *
The lights went on, waking Steven. He sat stiffly on a bench outside the paper’s offices. He checked himself and found he was no worse for wear. Even his forehead had lost its tenderness. His stomach complained as he stood up. Years of working while sitting on his rear had its consequences. He looked down the street toward a newsstand. It would have antacid, but at right after seven a.m. the window was still pulled closed.
Steven decided his stomach could wait. He rushed up to the news floor, as others began trickling in. He sat at his desk, waiting for his computer to boot up. He listened to the last few second of the recording to make sure he’d gotten it all. Linus’s voice came out, sounding as if he was leaning right over the machine.
“I want to thank you for helping us, Mr. Steven. It means a lot to us.”
Steven smiled and started planning how he’d describe Linus and his crew to the general public. After this, every splice or morph would be a suspect. But Steven didn’t see how that could be avoided. Out of habit he reached down to rub his grumpy stomach and found his abdomen harder than he remembered it. He’d been in shape at one time, but no muscle felt like rock under his skin.
Steven raised his shirt and looked, but not a trace of a scar or a single stitch was visible on his skin. Deep in his guts Stevens stomach churned out more acid in response to his anxiety.
* * *
The bomb exploded from his middle, up his body and out. The last of him shattered into a pink mist, much like the glass of the greater lunar dome moments later. A central explosion set off smaller ones in a concentric ring throughout the dome, bringing down supports, pulverizing glass, and eradicating artificial life supports. In the end only dust, and silver metal, specially coated to capture and reflect the sun’s rays, remained.
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