The world was on fire. Earth was a luminous tangerine. I could make out the ocean, like mould on rotting skin and then beyond the atmosphere’s halo, the infinite plain of space. What had happened down there? I’ve been floating here on Moon Station 3 for days, it could be weeks for all I know. I‘d kept track until I witnessed the Earth glowing; three-hundred and sixty degrees spin with nothing to see but a burning planet. Anyway, the concept of time didn’t have a point when nobody was counting. I was never the type to disbelieve. After all, they’d been sending people like me to the Moon and beyond since 2034, I’d been on the front line of space travel. I believed mankind could do anything. No, this was disbelief you couldn’t swallow, it stuck in your throat. I mean, there was the Earth, (or what was left of it anyway) right there and it must be three thousand degrees celsius by now. Here’s a question: What’s better? Freezing up here or burning on Earth? It’s hopeless to watch your planet burn countless miles away, like a father who cradles their baby with their first cold. There’d be no explanation, just continuous cries. I could’ve been a father, you know? I held my eyes shut, held an inhalation, and let it out only when I felt dizzy. So that’s it, no one is coming and I’m never going back. End of. I’m going to die on this miserable rock. Moonbase Fueling Station 3 was built in the 2030s. It was a routine stop for miners and space ferries who went beyond, into the solar system. I’d not dreamt of being a Mooner but I’d failed tests to fly beyond in 2041 on some bullshit about engine thrusts, so there you go, it’s the Mooner life for me. I was a Rocket Engine Re-fueler. Let me redefine that: I’m a glorified station pump. My colleagues and I were called Mooners because of how long we'd be up here. Secretly, I was proud. I found solace in the fact that without me, the guy at the halfway house, nobody would get beyond, to Io or Europa. Nowhere. There’s one problem, it’s one Mooner at a time on Moonbase fueling station 3. Earth’s base was unreachable and Europa hadn’t responded either. Not one word, just crackles, fizzes, and fuck all. Loneliness as an only companion was not conducive to a healthy mind. In my dreams, each time, the airlock opens and in comes a stray space vagabond. Sometimes it was Paige. I always remember their faces. Click! The tape player in my hand jolted me back to reality. It was a vintage Dad had bought me from Truly Vintage Music in London when the 2040’s craze was kicking off. You know, all this state-of-the-art technology in a lunar fuelling base and they’d not even installed bloody speakers. Anywhere. Not one place. Oh, how I space-dream of the music cranked and biting the dust whilst throwing anti-gravity moonwalks. I flipped the tape over, my finger hovered over the PLAY button. The start was always the hardest part, I’d looped it enough times to know. “Fuck it,” I blurted and pressed PLAY. Song number one, Don’t Dream It’s Over. It is now. The familiar strum of a guitar consoled me and the lyrics sang, “There is freedom within, there is freedom without. Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup”, I scoffed, recalling my first conversation with Paige at NASA. I’d been moving towards her group, perched at the bar, for over an hour, and I’d attempted eye contact from different angles to no success. I’d told myself I just wouldn’t do it, no way but when I saw her sing I knew it was my only chance. “Such a great song!” I projected over the opening line, my stomach churned, “I love Crowded House, such an underrated band!” “Oh man! Me too!” She turned, shocked. “But seriously, who puts deluge into the first line of a song?” We laughed at the accurately absurd statement. It was a beautiful laugh, spontaneous and true. I had to admit that however much I loved the song, she was right, it was pretentious. “Cheers to deluge in a paper cup then… whatever that means,” I raised my cup. She returned the gesture and blasted into the chorus: “Hey now, hey now. Don’t dream it’s over!” I was going to marry her, I knew it. The words echoed off the walls of my cavernous mind in an attempt to reach me from down the empty passages. “Music is much sweeter when it‘s shared,” Paige had said once, clutching her bulging belly. She’d slipped this mixtape, “Songs For a Mooner”, into my hand moments before I’d stepped into the rocket for the last time. I’d held her for a long time that day but in my head, I’d held her forever. I‘d not noticed the song change until Sonata was crooning Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. It was always said Christmas songs before the big day was bad luck, but superstition didn’t matter now. Bad luck had happened all at once. I floated to the thin window and held my palm to the barrier between me and endless nothing. The light reflecting on the angelic moon dust resembled a Christmas scene. Baby, are you alive? “Oh my god!” Paige shrieked, her New York accent shone when stressed. “I’m so sorry.” “It’s ok, it’s ok.” My dad chuckled as he hopped from his seat, trousers sodden by spilt red wine. “Stay sat.” As he shuffled to the kitchen, Paige buried her head in her arms on the table, stifling a groan. Mum had made me promise to look after Dad days before she died in her hospital bed, and every Christmas since we’d come to the family home and every year Paige committed a silly act, she was horrified. I thought it was cute. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas serenaded like a distant carol. Later, after Dad had fallen asleep in front of the fire watching repeats of his favourite shows, we’d head out into the snow. It had been nonstop since Christmas Eve and the hills rolled with white. We walked out to the woods, over sty and kissing gates and traced our history: meeting in Houston, settling in New York, old and new friends and that time we’d gone away the Big Bend National Park — one for the storybooks. Somewhere, I’d led us astray to a place where there were no lights. I panicked and did what only one man could in that situation. I got down on one cold knee. “You know, for a Mooner, you’re sure bad at….” Paige turned to me and trailed off, “Really, Ryan? Now? When we’re lost in a forest.” “If we’re going to die I want this to be our last memory.” I always enjoyed teasing her at the worst times. I sniffed my streaming nose and presented the ring. It sparkled in her eyes. “Paige, will you marry me?” I held my breath. “On one condition…” She bit her lip before turning her face away towards the piercing bulb of the Moon. “You come back to me every time you’re up there.” She rubbed my knuckles, waiting. I flinched, a Mooner doesn’t have control. Space was unforgiving, there are no rules to the Universe. But she was my Universe. “I promise.” I rested my forehead on her hand, “It’s my job up there but you’re more than that. I hope it won’t be as cold up there as it is now.” “Fine. Yes. I mean, of course, you silly Mooner!” She sounded elated, to be honest.
I’m sorry Paige. I couldn’t keep my promise. Here’s the thing with promises: they’re umbilical cords that transfer burdens. I never made them because I only break them. A promise is fragile like a snow globe or a lonely man’s spirit. A frozen tear floated away from me, not even my tears were mine now. Anger seethed inside. It flowed to the outer stretches of my limbs, alerting my lethargic mind. Paige and Dad, Mum and our home, I’d let them all down. Their songs and promises, their umbilical cords, pulled me to the window overlooking the Moon’s plains with Earth raging far in the distance. Not today, mate. I’m not dying on this rock. I’ve got to find Paige. Now I could see, promises are like umbilical cords. All your burdens connect, they’re your links to others. There’s no Earth, no Europa, only the Outer Moon’s remained. Maybe those that had evacuated had taken another route? They could’ve received messages of what happened down on Earth and be staying put on the edge of the solar system. It was a risk. It didn’t matter, I had to try. I spun away from the miserable darkness and David Bowie sang, “Ground control to Major Tom”. Apt really. Floating past the mirror, I glimpsed the reflection of a haggard face, a jaw jutted through taught skin. It was a stranger’s face. But that stranger wouldn’t be the dead Mooner on Moon Base Fuel Station three. I rerouted the radio signal to the Outer Moons. “This is Moon Base fuel station three, this is Moonbase fuel station three. Outer Moons are you there?” My breathing was heavy with anticipation. I was greeted with silence. 10… I promised Paige I would be back every time. 9…. I promised Mum I’d take care of Dad and the house. 8… But I mean, the Earth is a fireball. Is there even a house anymore? 7… “I repeat, Outer Moons are you there?” 6… Space Odyssey crescendoed, the sounds synced with the beating of my heart. 5… Maybe they were all gone? Maybe there would be decades of leftover miner gear and cars on all these moons for some distant civilizations to one day find. 4… “Please, please, Christ, Outer Moons… Earth is… well, Earth..” Realisation, like an anvil, dropped on my chest, crushed me. Paige, I’m sorry. 3… A crackle. A fizzle. 2… I held the radio to my ear. 1… “This is Outer Moons base one”