Take You To The Moon

They call him Tae, which is not short for anything else. He is a Lee, the direct descendent of one of the Five Dragons—powerful corporate magnates that have dominated the moon for close to a century.

A/N: Based on the Luna trilogy

What does it mean to be loved?

“Hey there. Thanks for reaching out,” Jon says to no one in the shower, practicing a conversation that will never take place. He makes up scenarios in his head and forgets them, over and over. He creates and perfects his responses to the compassion and attention and love he does not receive. This is how he comforts himself. This is his way of assuring himself he hasn’t been forgotten. That people remember him. They may not say it so often, and they may not write regularly to tell him as much. But, he does matter to them. He is important to them.

What does it mean to be loved?

The flight between Earth and Luna station is not very long, but he likes to remain strapped in his seat for the duration. When he was a boy, he would dream of one day unclicking the latch and floating through the cabin, performing somersaults in zero-g, as he laughs fabricated air from his lungs. But it took him too many years to be able to make this journey, and now he is too old. Now his body would look too awkward and sad as he drifts along the aisle. This is a dream he wants to keep to himself, never to be shared with the rest of the world.

They are headed up for two years of regimented maintenance work on various refinery plants and transportation outposts on the moon. Jon has done this several times before—two years of duty in the dusty plains and then several months of recovery on Earth to regain the loss in bone density. It should feel like a relief to return to a place where breath isn’t measured. But, every time he goes home, his mother looks older and his sister’s smiles don’t reach as far out as her eyes anymore. They stop somewhere on their journey, as if lost in space.

He once considered not returning.

“Hey there. Thanks for reaching out. I appreciate the offer of a complimentary slingshot ride to Wenchang Launch Site, but I think it would be best if I simply continued my shift here indefinitely.” He’d briefly considered it before his water ration spluttered out on him and he was left to wrestle with other thoughts.

What does it mean to be loved?

Work is tedious. The food looks and tastes like soggy cardboard. Sleep evades him. Being on Luna station doesn’t always feel like he is realising his ambitions, but once in a while, when his account is topped up with more credits than expected, he feels some warmth in the centre of his chest. “Hey there. Thanks for reaching out. Just wanted to say I’m really grateful for the recent bonus, and I know my family back on Earth will appreciate the gesture too.” He types the words out in his head and promptly deletes them.

The others who work on the same base keep to themselves as well. Some separate into groups and some pair off and head for the urban centres where the fashionable cafes are located. He watches them fragment off into their clusters when break hour is announced, leaving stragglers like him behind. He watches their backs and wonders why the people who built the moon decided to build it in the image of the planet they’d left behind. Why does this place mimic all of Earth’s lonely vastness despite being so small and cramped?

At a rest area, a hot drink is offered to him at a highly discounted price: the overalls that mark him as an Earther are sometimes an invitation for unwarranted kindnesses. He doesn’t ever refuse. He caresses the drink and looks out of the convex bubble glass at humans and machines surviving the dead grey landscape of their regolith desert.

What does it mean to be loved?

The man doesn’t ask if he can sit at the table, he simply pulls out the seat across from Jon. “So,” his voice is neither amicable nor hostile. It idles in an unfamiliar middle. “You’re back.”

Jon is hesitant to respond. He has never met a native – much less conversed with one — and from the way the guy is dressed in the most enviable clothes among anyone in their immediate vicinity, his origin is a dead giveaway. They like to call themselves natives but really, they’re just the great-great-grandchildren of the first settlers who built the domes and established the colony now known as Luna Station. Jon doesn’t know much about birthing and fertility, but he’s sure Lunar babies are more synthetic than flesh and bone. They would have to be to retain any semblance of humanity in their appearance, living without the pressure of sunlight or real gravity. The man before him has been sculpted to perfection. He is flawless. Undeniably attractive. A powerful strain of inferiority runs down the length of Jon’s spine.

“Yes,” he finally replies after a long awkward silence. He doesn’t know what else would be appropriate to add so, he doesn’t. He reins his tongue back in from its very short-lived gallop.

The ‘native’ raises an invisible toast between them. “Welcome back, then.”

He could say thank you and leave. He could simply walk away from this. He could return to his shift early and clock in some extra hours, and possibly get a special ration of water and oxygen in exchange for his diligence. He could be how he always is. But the stranger holds his gaze for a long time, not shying away and not holding any hint of self-consciousness. His ears are pierced with metal tusks, his fingers are adorned with silver rings, his lips are smiling with secrets that wait to spill out into the artificial air.

So Jon extends his hand for a shake and introduces himself.

What does it mean to be loved?

They call him Tae, which is not short for anything else. He is a Lee, the direct descendent of one of the Five Dragons—powerful corporate magnates that have dominated the moon for close to a century. It shines through in his careless spending: Tae 3D-prints whatever new outfit strikes his fancy. He buys whatever raw consumables he likes the sound of, with no regard for their use or price. He travels station to waiting station all day, meeting his friends, lounging with his lovers, doing as he pleases. He is happy to be anywhere and is easily satisfied with the slightest stimulation. He is like a deity, Jon thinks, whenever they meet. Never discontent, always venturing into the wild unknown.

“Have you ever been to a cocktail party?” he asks one afternoon while they’re playing a rover simulation game in Tae’s extremely luxurious apartment.

“No,” Jon replies truthfully.

“Do they have any of those on Earth?”

“They used to,” he’s told with a slow nod. “But alcohol is expensive. And a lot of disease outbreaks happened, and then—”

“You make Earth sound so sad,” Tae pauses the game and chuckles. “Isn’t it your home?”

Jon gives a little smile. “Sorry.”

“And now you look sad too,” Tae reaches out to caress his cheek. “Do you miss it?”

The touch is strange, filled with nothing and everything in the one instant. Jon knows what occupies the lives of the rich here. They party, they drink, they find someone to sleep with, and then do it all over again. Tae must be used to that sort of thing too, because his little gesture feels like throwaway generosity. But the cold of his rings bites into Jon’s cheek, steadies him even as he instinctively thinks to jerk himself away from the contact.

What does it mean to be loved?

The refrain often climbs up his throat in his “Hey there”s and “Thanks for reaching out”s. As an applied engineer, Jon is often stunned by the questions theoreticians ask themselves. While he chips away at data overloads and electrical malfunctions, his more accomplished colleagues spend their lives battling inquiries of existence and morality. They spend months framing their hypotheses, years searching through page upon page of analysis for any sign of success. Or even failure. He is perpetually in awe of their capabilities, secretly asking difficult questions in his own mind.

For example: does love have the same mass here as it does on Earth? Is it given as easily in such a controlled environment, or is it rationed too? If he ever experiences it, would it show up as another column on his weekly quota—air, water, data, love? Would love feel as it always did, or would it be weightless? Would it float around space, never really settling anywhere? Could it be manufactured like everything else on the moon – 3D-printed to the exact dimensions and given the perfect shape so it can fit in one’s chest? What does it mean to be loved, so far away from everyone he loves?

He doesn’t know what the party is for but he shows up anyway. Tae had been adamant when pushing the invitation into his hand. An experience to end all experiences, he’d promised, with his usual self-assured smirk. The food is surprisingly good too. Despite the unfamiliar faces hovering around him, measuring and assessing him, the atmosphere reminds him of home. The room is packed, the conversations are loud, the alcohol is free and so is the laughter.

“You know,” he’s approached by Tae’s elder brother, Sun. “Our parents seem to think you’re a good influence on the idiot,” the man says, lazily swirling a toothpick in his glass. He smells and sounds drunk, but so does everyone else in the room. “I’d agree, but you don’t look like the type he’d hang around for anything more than a quick fuck.”

“We aren’t like that,” Jon clarifies. Tae touches him and holds him and caresses him, but not with the intensity of someone as young and indecorous as a Lunar native with unlimited time and resources. They aren’t like that, he silently repeats to himself.

“Oh?” Sun seems surprised. “And you’ve known each other… how long now? Six months?”

“Thereabouts.”

“Huh,” the other gives a little disbelieving laugh. “Never ceases to amaze me, that kid. Take tonight, for instance,” he motions around them. “Here we are, wondering why you haven’t been in his bed like everyone else on this damn station, and there he is signing a bloody kyo contract that will hold him accountable for the rest of his life. Unbelievable,” he shakes his head.

What does it mean to be loved?

“Congratulations,” Jon speaks into the communicator.

“What for?” Tae chuckles. “It isn’t really official till next year. Something about… “being sure the financial projections are realistic” or whatever. I don’t understand half the things they tell me.” He sighs, flaunting another luxury. “Do they have kyos on Earth?”

“Not like this, no,” Jonghyun explains. But really, he doesn’t know for sure either. He’s seen photos of his parents, in albums that live buried in the depths of their cupboards. He’s heard processions on the street for when a politician’s daughter is being carried from her old home to her new one. He’s heard of people around him, ‘tying the knot’, as they call it. But he has never seen the knot itself. He’s never felt its burden or its fortune. Even as his mother’s hair turns more grey and his sister’s face grows more wrinkled, they never ask him when he plans to settle down. If he plans on doing so. A wife, a child, a home, a family: there may never be an opportunity for him anyway, not if the radiation gets to him first.

But how does he explain to Tae that there is no contract, no liability in his version of marriage? It is sustained on the element of love, which as he theorises, is not a zero sum game. Something is given, and it is returned in an approximation of its original quantity. Maybe far more, maybe far less. You feel thankful for everything you receive; you don’t let it sit unattended and unwanted just because it isn’t enough. There is no SI unit for measuring love, he wants to tell Tae, but he thinks it wouldn’t really mean anything to him.

“Will you come meet her?” Tae asks. “She’s a Nabokov, you know. You work for her father. Maybe you’ll be thick as thieves, as you Earthers say.” His chuckle is the end of the conversation. He isn’t asking, he’s telling. Jon must obey. He must play his role in this, even if it’s not his name or signature on the contract.

“Yeah, I’ll be there.”

What does it mean to be loved?

“What’re you doing?” Tae calls out from the other side of the airlock. His fiancé may not be as charming or as touch-dependant as him, but she is a good spy. She tells him everything—how Jon is performing at work, what his account looks like at the end of each cycle, how the only calls he ever makes are recordings sent home to Seoul, how his distracted humming echoes in the solitude of his tiny windowless residential unit. Tae has a map of Jon’s life now, carefully annotated with every shortcoming.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

Jon can hear the suit recycle his every exhale. He can hear the thump in his ribcage and the pulse in his fingertips. He can hear the reel of his thoughts screeching as it’s pulled taut, the end farther and farther out of reach. Tae’s fists thump the plane of reinforced glass, leaving behind prints and fogged breath as he’s pulled back by restraining arms.

“Hey there. Thanks for reaching out. While I deeply appreciate your concern, after careful consideration of your offer of protection, I will have to decline.” He doesn’t say it out loud on the comms, because he doesn’t have to.

“Get back in, you’ve never done this before!” Tae yells. “Please, please, you’re being an idiot!”

He’s right. Jon has never done this before. He’s never been out there, never walked the real surface of the moon, never seen the craters or the dust up close. This is a job for someone on the maintenance crew, and he would let them do it under normal circumstances. But, these aren’t normal circumstances. This is an emergency. This is a big problem, one that needs solving immediately or a large portion of the settlement will lose power. That may only mean a minor inconvenience on Earth, but up here, grid failures would stop the recyclers, stall the air pressure systems, halt the food printers. Up here it’s a matter of life and death.

The hiss is so low, so drowned in the noise of everything else, that Jon has to wait for the signal from the control room, just to be sure. He receives a buzz and a light to go ahead. The second airlock is open. He is now one with the moon.

What does it mean to be loved?

“Did you do it because you don’t care?” Tae sniffs. The intensity of his reaction doesn’t add up in Jon’s mind. He is back inside, alive and safe. And despite how badly it could’ve turned out, it baffles him that a careless young man like Tae could be so shaken up by something that, by all accounts, should be insignificant to him. He looks afraid. He looks like he could either throw a punch or cry harder.

“Because your life doesn’t mean anything to you, is that it?! You think you can be reckless like that and no one will notice?”

“No,” Jon shakes his head, frowning. “No, I wanted to be noticed. I… I didn’t think anyone would.”

The admission seems to shock more than the two of them. It seems to bring time to a standstill, because Tae doesn’t look like he’s breathing.

“Why?”

There isn’t a coherent answer to that. He hasn’t had time to prepare it in the shower and the words are still raw, tasteless. Hey there, thanks for reaching out. Not everyone does. In fact, no one does. People’s lives are too full of everything else to have room for more. So I make myself smaller and smaller and hope that maybe I’ll fit somewhere. Someday. But I’m so small now that I almost don’t exist. I don’t think I do. You could keep stretching your arm, you can keep waving it in the darkness, but you won’t touch me. You’ll keep missing me. I’ll be right in front of you, but you won’t see me. He doesn’t want to say all that. He doesn’t want to sound so desperate and broken, not to someone who looks at him like Tae does. Not to someone with his kindness.

“I… just didn’t,” he nods.

Tae scoffs. He dries his tears and pulls Jon in by the hand, hugs him, strokes the back of his head like he’s in the wrong. Like this is all Tae’s mistake, and he has to fix it. His lips are soft on Jon’s temples, on the shell of his ear. His embrace is tight and unsparing in affection. His murmuring words of consolation are lined with sweetness, with a generosity that isn’t just for show. It means something.What does it mean to be loved? Jon doesn’t know. But, he thinks Tae could teach him.

About the author

quagmireisadora

Vi. 30. Ace. His walls may still stand a hundred feet tall and unyielding, his sentries may still keep their guns trained on possible intruders. His gate may be locked shut and his moat may be filled with beasts that could tear Jinki to pieces should he so much as dip a toe into the black depths. But everything else that makes Kibum has fallen to pieces. His indomitable fortress protects nothing. There is no one to save and no one to keep alive. He is completely emptied. He belongs completely to Jinki.