Some people noticed straight away.
They looked up into the night sky like they always did. The stars shone down on them, like they always had.
But the moon.
The moon was gone.
For a few days people wondered if they’d gotten their dates wrong, if it was merely a new moon, but as weeks passed and it didn’t reappear, they began to understand.
Some people claimed to have seen it happen, that it was as though the moon was shrinking, shrinking away into nothingness like a drop of butter melting away on a pan.
Others didn’t notice anything was wrong. They were the ones who never bothered to look up at the sky at night, or whose cities were so polluted that they wouldn’t have seen anything had they bothered.
Of course, it was hard to ignore the way the ocean stopped moving.
It became calm, eerily still, no waves rippling the surface, no tides brushing the shore. Fishermen frowned down at their tide charts, scientists frowned down at their readings, sailors frowned down at their reflections in the suddenly motionless water.
It was as tranquil as it had ever been. Flat, shimmery, reflective.
So, some people saw it happen, some noticed the empty place in the sky where it should have been, and some saw the ocean fall flat and realised what occurred.
It was two months before anyone thought to contact the lunar colony.
“They’ve been up there for decades without a single word of contact, most of us only know about them from school, it’s not unthinkable that we wouldn’t-“
“Wouldn’t remember the six thousand people living on the moon? Wouldn’t remember their existence on the day they drifted away from us? Wouldn’t think to contact them? To find out what happened, where they went, if they caused this?” Doctor Fushko frowned down at the lab tech and deliberately lengthened her stride. He scurried to keep up.
“Well… to be fair ma’am, you didn’t say anything either.”
The doctor stopped in her tracks and turned to face the tech, pointing an angry finger in his face.
“You know very well I was four miles underground at the time. Christ,” She started to walk again. “I go on a dig for half a year and you idiots lose the fucking moon.”
They reached the briefing room. All eyes turned to her at her entrance. The people there were the tops in their respective fields, naturally.
“Nice to see some talent in the room for once. Thank you for coming.”
She set her briefcase down on the chair at the head of the table and stood facing them all.
She looked down at all of the faces in front of her, people of varying ages, genders, ethnicities, specialisations. The tops of their fields.
They all looked utterly lost.
“I think we can all agree that this situation is completely unprecedented and that therefore we will be asked to utilise effective improvisational techniques in order to search for a method of dealing with this unfortunate circumstance.”
The room was quiet except for the creaking of chairs as a few people shifted uncomfortably.
“Which I’m sure you all know is a fancy was of saying we have no clue what happened or how to fix it.”
Their resident astrophysicist, Aisha Langat, laughed uncomfortably.
“Obviously our first step has to be to make contact with the colony.” She was met with glares from more than a few of the scientists. “Yes, I know, I know, but we need to put aside our prejudices for now because they are still people, people trapped on a satellite without a primary.
“So. Egan,” - the telecommunications expert - “Rhee” - the engineer - “and Langat, put a team together, get us in contact with the colony. We’ll work from there.”
“Ma’am!” Fushko looked up from the printout she was examining. “They’ve made contact!”
The doctor flinched in surprise, realising she’d never really believed it possible, but recovered quickly and followed the tech at a run as he led her to where the team had set up two months ago.
“Langat.” She leaned over her shoulder to peer at the screen. “Status report.”
Langat spoke quickly in her excitement. “We finally found a way to bounce our radio wave off a planet to make it reach the moon. We have hardly any readings from the moment when it broke away from the earth’s orbit, so it was incredibly difficult to calculate its velocity and direction of travel. But not impossible.”
She smiled triumphantly and reached out to access the return signal. Her finger paused over the space bar.
“We… we haven’t watched it yet. We wanted to wait for you to be here.”
Fushko looked at her for a long moment, and nodded.
Langat hit the spacebar.
Egan spoke up when he saw the file’s signature. “It’s an auto-response. The system must have been set up to send the last hour or so of security footage to any requests from earth.”
“Guess they really did want nothing to do with us.” Rhee muttered.
Fushko watched as several windows opened up on Langat’s screen, each showing a different area of the colony compound.
“They’re… It’s empty. Where is everyone?”
“I’m gonna open up the rest of them,” Egan leaned forwards to access the computer. “There must be something on the secondary cameras or-“ He cut himself off as he pulled up the footage from the main housing area.
At first glance they could have been sleeping.
Rows upon rows of people, tightly packed, all huddled up against each other.
They could have been sleeping.
But as the doctor looked closer she saw the frost clinging to their skin. The icicles falling from the ceiling.
The stillness of their chests.
“Fuck…” Egan sank slowly back into his chair.
“They froze to death.” Rhee’s voice was flat.
“But-“ Langat looked over her shoulder at Fushko. “They had power. They’d been up there for years they must’ve found some way to keep warm…”
The doctor walked away from the computer, stopping when her back hit the wall. The others’ voices passed over her.
“They must’ve had a power failure, or a containment breach-“
“Maybe their generators just weren’t built to handle deep space-“
Fushko let herself slide down the wall to the floor.
“God, their clothes look so worn, do you think something happened before this-“
“They’ve been out of contact for so long, we don’t have any idea what’s been going on up there-“
She tuned out their voices, unable to tear her gaze from the camera footage now being displayed on the big screen.
The cold, blue faces of six thousand corpses stared back at her.