Honeymoon on the Moon. Short story.
Honeymoon on the Moon
Translation from the French by Marybeth Timmermann
That evening, Jek had taken me out to the Moonlight restaurant. We had just ordered dessert when he announced, “Gaïa, my darling, today I started my yearly vacation, so we can go on our honeymoon. I’ve reserved a room at the Earthlight hotel….”
“I’ve never heard of this hotel. Where is it?”
“On the Moon...”
At that time, the Moon- now habitable after colonies of specialized bacteria had been cultivated there in order to synthesize the necessary gases to form an atmosphere- had become a popular tourism destination for those living on Earth.
“Isn’t it a bit far… Why the Moon instead of somewhere else?”
“I’m taking you to the Moon to prove my love to you… even if we only spend one day there...”
“Yes, a lunar day- the residents of the Moon have two weeks of daylight and then two weeks of nighttime. So, a day on the Moon lasts 28 of our days.”
“What does our love have to do with the Moon?”
“It’s an ancient belief. Our ancestors celebrated true love with a Moon cult. The masters of ceremony of this cult were called ‘poets.’ They called the odes they sang to the Moon ‘poems.’ Some of those songs have been handed down to us. The poets used to describe a beloved woman with lunar imagery. I studied this cult back when I was doing my Master’s thesis on ancient myths...”
“You know that the Moon is under the jurisdiction of the Spacians. Remember that they threatened to kill you after the articles you wrote against Exterior Worlds…?”
“I’m not scared of them!”
The next day, we were at the space airport ready to board. Our flight was scheduled for 3pm. I took my place at a window seat and fastened my seat belt. The ship took off vertically, like a rocket. A synthetic voice resonated in my head and images began to flash in my mind. First the security instructions, next an introduction to the hotel, then the complete tourist’s guide to the Moon:
<Magical Moon! Who hasn’t dreamed of staying on the Moon, that magical star of our earthly nights? For your stay on the Moon, this guide will give you information about the Moon, the main tourist sites and guided tours, plus the best restaurants, concerts, and means of transportation...> Tired, I dozed off and lost track of the telepathic tour guide.
When I woke up, he was talking about the caves on the Moon. <Don’t miss a visit to Hadley’s Cavern, in the Ocean of Storms region, the vast volcanic plain. It’s the entryway to an enormous network of tunnels that stretch out beneath the surface of the Moon. This cavity was formed by the collapse of a lava tunnel, perhaps due to a meteorite impact. Before the formation of the lunar atmosphere, humans installed their first bases of space conquest here. These vast caves were dug out by lava during a time when the young Moon experienced intense volcanic activity. They formed the network of tunnels that fan out under a layer of rocks that is several hundred meters thick. The first astronauts built their bases here in order to protect themselves from radiation, meteorites, and temperature extremes. The temperature in the tunnels was stable, getting no colder than the coldest caves on Earth. On the cave walls, you can see representations of the primitive vessels and the gods worshiped by the men of that era. There are also representations of flying humans...>
I turned toward Jek to express my surprise. “Do you hear what they just said?”
“What? I wasn’t listening; I unbuckled my seat belt.”
“They said that humans used to fly!”
“That’s true. Living on the Moon, they would have fun playing with the weak gravity. On the Moon, they were six times lighter than on Earth. Some of them built wings and flew like birds...”
Just before landing, a robot flight attendant handed out respiration masks to us. “A violent regolith storm is sweeping over the Moon. The regolith was produced by the intense and continuous bombardments of meteorites that the Moon underwent for millions of years before it had an atmosphere. This fine powder sticks to everything and inhaling it can be fatal.”
On the Moon, a hostess took charge of us and led us right to the hotel’s teleportation booth. We found ourselves in front of our room, whose door opened after a facial recognition scan. The air in the room was saturated with the aromas of intoxicating perfumes. A muted light filtered in from invisible sources. The air conditioning system detected the heat from our bodies and kicked on to adjust the temperature of the room. Bouquets of scented flowers brightened up the space with enchanting fragrances. All of this created an ambiance of an intimate cocoon.
After getting settled in our room, we went up to dine in the hotel’s Ganymedian restaurant. Located on the 22nd floor, the restaurant afforded an unobstructed view over Lunatown. The storm’s intensity had subsided, and the dust had started to dissipate. We could now distinguish the pale full Earth rising over the horizon. The Earthlight shown faintly through the city lights.
“You seem tired and you’re dozing off...”
“I feel dizzy and am having trouble swallowing. I feel like I might even faint...”
“You are suffering from the time change, and you need to rest …”
We had just come back to our room and were getting ready for bed when a violent explosion blew out the window. Masked soldiers, dressed in black and suspended from ropes, erupted into the room and opened heavy fire on Jek. I screamed in panic:
“Jek! Jek! Help! Help!”
Through the broken window I saw helicopters hovering in place. The intense gunfire on Jek had split his head in two. The soldiers were leaving now, holding onto the ropes suspended from the helicopters.
Robots from the hotel medical unit helped me to put the two halves of Jek’s head back together and performed the steps to conserve the body before putting it in a coffin. I was transferred along with the coffin to another room. I asked the reception desk to cancel our reservation and book two seats- one for me and one for my husband’s coffin- on the first shuttle leaving for Earth. They informed me that my return flight was scheduled that same night, in 73 hours. So, in spite of myself, I experienced the ancient custom of keeping vigil over the dead. I put myself in complete darkness inside the room.
For the first few hours, I couldn’t stop crying and reproaching Jek:
“Why did you take us to the Moon? I knew that the Spacians would take advantage of it and assassinate you!”
After several hours of lamentations, I was overcome with drowsiness and fell asleep with my head resting on the coffin. When I awoke with a start, I was screaming like a madwoman:
“Jek! Jek! You will live again! I don’t want to lose you! I’m going to clone you!”
I informed no one of my premature return. I contacted the Stemage clinic that specialized in human cloning. They collected skin cells from the body and made a complete copy of the mental processes. Then, I had the body cremated without telling anyone about the death.
After the cremation, I again went to the clinic. They explained to me that the cloning would be done by nuclear transfer of fibroblasts into my enucleated oocytes.
“You will undergo a series of treatments and tests before the oocyte retrieval. We must stimulate your ovaries to obtain a sufficient number of mature oocytes. Cloning can be done in two ways: either by ectogenesis, which is the development of the embryo and fetus in an artificial womb, assuming the various functions of the natural uterus, and he will be delivered to you in eighteen months. He will be the same biological age as Jek was at his death. The advantage of this solution is that we can program the brain with the copy of the mental processes that we have made and obtain a clone that will have the same personality as your husband...”
“So, the clone will be identical to Jek?”
“Not exactly. There will be a biological difference caused by the mitochondrial genome of your enucleated ova and by potential genetic mutations… The second solution would be to implant the embryo in your uterus with the inconveniences of an at-risk pregnancy. And if you succeed in having the baby, you will have to raise him- in the hopes that he would reach adulthood- and when he does reach that age, you would be as old as his grandmother, if you are still alive….”
I chose ectogenesis.
“You will have to have hormone injections twice a day at specific times for 12 days in order to stimulate the ovaries and produce several follicles at the same time. You can do the injections yourself. But during the treatment cycle, you must go regularly to the lab for ultrasounds and blood tests, to monitor the development of the follicles.”
The hormones caused me to swell, and I was very tired. The treatment produced a severe hyperstimulation of my ovaries. At the end of the 12 days of treatment, the ultrasound showed about 40 follicles measuring between 18 and 30 millimeters. I was able to get the trigger shot. 35 hours later, I went to the operating room for the egg retrieval procedure. After giving me a local anesthetic, the gynecologist located the follicles on the ultrasound and aspirated them into a tube.
“We are going to identify the viable eggs, enucleate them and place them in the incubator long enough to thaw out the fibroblasts for the nuclear transfer, which will be done in 2 hours. The fibroblasts will develop in your enucleated eggs and will produce genetic clones of your husband.”
One embryo was selected out of the 30 that had developed. The biologist asked me if I wanted to genetically modify it before the implantation.
“Did the pre-implantation tests show any anomalies?”
“No, but I want to know if you want to correct any flaws that your husband may have had… For example, do you want to increase his physical strength?”
“Yes… I remember that on our wedding night, he wasn’t able to carry me in his arms...”
“Do you want to increase his strength by a factor of ten, or a hundred?”
“Increase it tenfold, that will be enough!”
“OK, but be aware that it will cause his metabolism to be ten times faster...”
“So, he will need to eat ten meals per day...”
“That’s no problem! I will have a gargantuan husband, but he’ll be able to carry me in his arms!”
“Are there other modifications that you would like to make? Make him more handsome, for example, or taller?”
“Yes, he was average height and his long face sometimes made him look like an awful gourd!”
“We can reprogram the parts of the DNA responsible for height and facial features; a few DNA modifications will suffice to change his face. Do you want him to keep the same color of hair and eyes?”
“No! He was blond, but I prefer him to be dark-haired with light eyes.”
“Are there psychological characteristics that you would like to modify?”
“Yes. He was fickle by nature and was always looking at other women.”
“Was he cheating on you?”
“I don’t know, but I suspect he was unfaithful...”
“We can correct that with a simple change to the vasopressin gene...”
“There’s also his grumpy mood in the morning and his tendency to daydream...”
“In 24 hours, we will call you in to be here for the implantation of the embryo into the artificial womb.”
The womb room was enormous. It contained hundreds of large machines, sorts of large, pear-shaped tubs with thick walls and convex glass lids. The wombs were connected to interlacing cables and transparent hoses that were gurgling in unison. They contained clones in all the stages of life, some were still mere embryos, others were babies, children, adolescents, or adults. They all were swimming in clear or tinted liquids.
“In the artificial womb, the embryo develops just like in the mother’s womb. But in its third week, you should talk to him regularly and be attentive to his responses, in order to stimulate him.”
“Will he hear me?”
“Yes, there is an audio amplifier so he can hear sounds coming in from the walls of the womb.”
“What should I say to him?”
“Tell him stories like those that the ancient mothers used to tell their children.”
During this time, I kept having nightmares and bizarre dreams. I dreamed that I was in labor and gave birth to an adult man. One dream kept reoccurring: the Spacians were attacking the clinic, occupying the birthing room and unplugging the wombs… I still remember a strange dream that I had during the third week after cloning: upon leaving his womb, Jek was bicephalous, both of his heads were shaved, and a bird was coming out of each of his mouths… During the last nights leading up to the birth, the nightmares became more frequent and more violent. I often dreamed that I was giving birth to a monster…
Jek was now in the fetal position.
“It’s an innate reflex. He thinks that he’s in his mother’s womb and that it’s almost time to be born,” the caretaker told me.
“Once upon a time...”
“See how his heart beats faster when you talk to him! He’s sensitive to your voice.”
“Once upon a time, a very long time ago, when the Earth was still divided into several states, there was a kingdom called Arabistan. This kingdom had a cruel and abominable king who never was able to satisfy his thirst for human blood. This tyrant of unsurpassed cruelty lived only to gratify his impulses. He fell victim to lycanthropy, a disease that transformed him into a werewolf. He would undergo a metamorphosis every night there was a full moon. The men, women, and children of the entire kingdom were at the mercy of his evil spirit.
“One day, he arrested one of his subjects, a man by the name of Jem Spooner, who had been exiled in a faraway land called the Country of Sam. The man was tortured before being killed by strangulation. After being killed, he was dismembered and delivered to the cannibalistic monarch. But secret recordings of the crime were leaked and circulated around the world, creating a massive wave of disapproval and forcing the Country of Sam- which exercised guardianship over Arabistan- to hold the bloody monarch accountable. But it was discovered that the king still had in his possession the dismembered cadaver’s head. He told the palace coroner to remove some skin cells from the head and use them to clone the assassinated man. The clone was presented to the international press to deny the murder. No one knew that the man presented to the press was merely the clone of the assassinated man.”
Today when I arrived, Jek was holding his feet and sucking his toes.
“Once upon a time...”
When he heard my voice, he burst into loud laughter.
“Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a country called the Land of Moors. This country was inhabited by nomadic tribes that warred among themselves, each one jealously defending its territory. A man named the Father of the Nation declared that he wanted to unite these tribes. He first decided to construct a capital. He found that the ideal location to build the new city was along the coast. He went to visit the holy man of the tribe that occupied this part of the territory. ‘I want your blessing to build a capital for our future state here.’ «He wants to invade our territory, » thought the holy man to himself, but he kept his face impassive and said to the Father of the Nation: ‘Do you see that tree? Dig at the base of its trunk and bring me some of the sand you dig up.’ The Father of the Nation obeyed. When he came back with the sand, the holy man recited some inaudible incantations over it. The Father of the Nation, who had kept the sand in his hand, lifted it to his mouth and started to eat it. When he left, the holy man gathered the wise men of the tribe together. ‘We must leave this place! I have had a visit from a man who asked me to bless his project to build a city here. I asked him to bring me some sand and I recited the sayings that were supposed to cause him to go far away from our territory, if he had kept the sand with him, but he ate it! By that act, he canceled out the effectiveness of the incantations I had recited. It is thus written that he will construct his capital here!’”
Today, when I arrived in the womb room, Jek was playing with his umbilical cord. His brain had already been programmed. The clinic asked me to come and attend the birth. I was impatient and filled with emotion; I was crying tears of joy. «At last! The long wait is over, and I am finally going to be able to hold Jek in my arms! » As he came out of the womb, he let out a loud cry that scared me.
“That’s nothing,” the birthing assistant told me. “He just filled his lung with air, and they expanded.”
His skin was all wrinkled and a little purple. He was covered in blood and grease. The machine released him by clipping the umbilical cord that still attached him to it.
“Gaïa!” he cried, leaping into my arms.
He was all slimy and sticky, but in spite of that, I thought he was the most beautiful of all the clones. He had become tall, dark, and extraordinarily handsome.
“Jek! How you’ve changed!”
“Why am I naked? And what was I doing in that machine?”
“Did you forget that you died? I cloned you when the Spacians assassinated you...”
“What are you talking about? I was never assassinated!”
An android came in. “I’m going to take him from you for a moment, so he can get cleaned up and dressed.”
That evening, Jek and I made love. I was relaxed and in a good mood.
“Now, you really deserve your name!” he said as he caressed my hair.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Don’t you know the significance of your name? In mythology, Gaïa was the mother Goddess of the gods; she gave birth to a son without any help from a male and married her son. I am ashamed! I feel guilty to have made love to my mother!”
“I love you, my son! Do you feel good in your new skin?”
“With all the muscles you gave me, I feel that my soul is weighed down with the burden of my body! Frankly, I’m unhappy in my new body...”
“How can you be? It’s so strong and so handsome...”
“Yes, that’s true, but it weighs on me… I would like to be able to explore my previous life. I am going to connect with a hypnotist to rediscover my former self...”
“That’s not necessary, the Clinic has a copy of it. You can consult it whenever you want to.”
“How am I going to explain all the changes that you had me undergo to our friends and my work colleagues?
“Tell them that you took advantage of our trip to the Moon to have a genetic makeover.”
A few days later, I went back to the clinic to see the psychologist. I wanted to know why Jek persisted in denying his death and why he now claimed to be the Spacian ambassador to Earth:
“Ever since his birth, Jek persists in denying his death and has gone back to writing articles and sharing them on the space networks, but instead of lambasting the Spacians, like he used to do, he now praises them and says that he is preparing for their arrival on Earth!”
“He no longer remembers his death and says that he is preparing for the arrival of Spacians on Earth?! Yet in the mental processes that we copied, the Spacians were presented as the enemies of humanity…”
“Now he presents them as their saviors...”
“Before programming him, I myself checked the copy of his mental processes that we had made, and I noticed that he had a highly advanced autobiographical memory…”
“But did he memorize his death?”
“He certainly had memorized and classified the memories of his death. It might be a matter of traumatic amnesia, or a false memory. We are going to investigate to find out when and how he acquired it. Bring him back to the clinic, we are going to verify the programming of his brain.”
This morning, I received a pathy from the clinic informing me that they had detected the origin of Jek’s false memories, and that the psychologist wanted to have a meeting with me.
“Why were you surprised by your husband’s amnesia and by his false memories when you yourself were the one who caused them?”
“Come on, we are going to review the images of you captured by the womb camera. They were recorded one hour after his programming.”
A close-up of me appeared on the screen. My face wore an expression that I had never seen reflected in my mirror. I wore light makeup and a resplendent suit that was not part of my wardrobe.
“Who is that woman who looks so much like me?”
“What do you mean, who is that woman? You can see perfectly well that it’s you!”
The woman sat down next to the womb, took out a tube attached to a hoop that she placed at the level of Jek’s head. A beam of multicolored rays converged on his forehead and started to spin. When it stopped, she started to talk:
“Jek, my darling...”
I recognized my voice.
“It’s Gaïa, your wife. I have just put you to sleep. You are sleeping now. I have established a connection between our mental spaces. You are in a modified state of consciousness. Let my mental suggestions flow toward you. Integrate them as elements of your memory. They programmed you with false memories and want to make you believe you died assassinated by the Spacians. Don’t believe any of that! The inhabitants of the Exterior Worlds are peaceful and want only the best for the inhabitants of Earth...”
“That woman is doing an inception on Jek...”
“What? Don’t you recognize your own voice?”
“That’s not me, it’s a Spacian who’s taken on my shape to get close to Jek!”
“Remember,” continued the woman, “that night at the Earthlight hotel, when you asked me to come up with you to the roof to admire the panoramic view of Lunatown, and I told you, ‘Go up without me; at that height I’ll get dizzy’…”
“I can’t believe it! What a liar!”
“Remember, you went up by yourself and didn’t come back until 36 hours later. Remember. You told me that you went up to the roof of the hotel and that you were admiring the view of Lunatown when a spaceship came down from the sky. Remember. You told me that a Spacian came out of it and offered to take you with him, so he could pass on to you the extraordinary knowledge of the peoples of the Exterior Worlds….”
A counter-inception was done on Jek, and he was able to recover his real memories.