February 17th, 2013


The First Lunar Orbit

I wrote this to aldersprig's eighth prompt "The moon and what's wrong with it."

Sometime in the far future, when the seasons are stable and human civilisation has become capable of things Tarrascotti, Capalini and the others of their time could never imagine…

The space capsule was tiny on the inside. Weight was at a premium and that meant extra crew space was a luxury they couldn’t afford. That made the identity of the third crew member surprising. When the religious community had insisted that a priest of Lunifer had to be on the first craft to orbit the Moon, the Space Agency had refused because they could launch and return home three men, not four.

“You misunderstand,” the senior military chaplain, a priest of Aschaer, had explained patiently. “Not as well as, instead of. He can go up as the third crew member.” He placed a plain file on the table. “Here’s a list of Luniferan priests who meet the physical, educational and psychological parameters of the programme.” As it happened, some of them were better qualified than astronauts already in the programme.

Thus, the co-pilot, back-up engineer and guy-in-charge-of-the-cameras on this historic trip was a Luniferan priest. No-one mentioned that he had a better degree than the crew’s official engineer or most of the engineers on the ground. He sang beautifully and his short, wiry frame was a good fit for the capsule. He was such a good fit for the job that everyone had almost forgotten that he wasn’t the Agency’s choice. His team mates barely remembered that when he’d first arrived and they’d asked him why he was there he’d said, “Because you’re likely to have a crisis of faith when you pass the dark side of the Moon.”

Fabiano, the priest and co-pilot, started the cameras rolling as they went past the planet-facing side of the Moon the first time. Sartarelli, the pilot, had the flight controls while Radovic, the engineer, hummed over his readout dials. Cameras one and two busily transmitted live to the watching world while cameras three and four recorded so there would be a record of their flight over the dark side.

They passed the imaginary line that marked the edge of the full moon as seen from home, seeing new features for the first time, then Sartarelli gasped in horror.

“Keep on course,” advised Fabiano. “Our plotted orbit is still good. Do you need me to take over?”

From behind them Radovic asked, “Holy what?”

The moon had been a sphere, once. Now it was more of a hollowed-out cup, filled with jagged splinters that gave a vague indication of its original shape. The planet-facing shell didn’t look terribly thick.

“This doesn’t shock you?” Sartarelli would have indicated the scene, but his hands were busy. “Mission Control, are you seeing this?”

“Copy that, Moon Sweep One. We’ll have revised second orbit instructions for you when you come out from behind the lunar shadow. Good luck.”

“Copy that, Mission Control.” The radio went dead.

“It shocks me, but I was expecting something like this. It’s been a matter of doctrine for a very long time.” Fabiano smiled and began to recite a very old prayer. Lord, let me lend thee of my strength while thou art weak and recovering, for I loved thee and thou became my shield and because of thee, I live.

Back in Mission Control the senior military chaplain was saying, “And that is why Lunifer is accounted first of all heroes, before Aschaer Himself, all other gods and every man who have ever lived.” Then he recited, “For when he who had been Aschaer’s warleader fell, Lunifer took up the Shield of Invulnerability and slung it across his back, then turned his face from the enemy, wrapped his cloak about himself, braced and took a step backwards. And the Moon swayed backwards in its path with the step of its god and the killing bolt aimed at the world struck the Moon instead. The Shield of Invulnerability fell from Lunifer’s back in two pieces. He staggered and fell to his knees. The alien world approached, fast as screaming thought. Then the three child goddesses took up the reins of their dead mother, the Earth Queen, and joined hands in a circle with Lunifer. Then the four of them swayed in unison and the world and the Moon swayed with them, and the alien world missed. Thus both worlds lived and when they straightened again, the child goddesses were children no more but adult and in their glory.