In the Absence of Trees

by Ann K. Schwader & Marge Simon

We were young, so eager to volunteer for the moon colony. Inflatable membranes in the deep lava tubes protected us from the extreme temperatures. Celia dyed some cotton sheets with sepia, gold, and aqua to match our memories. I helped her hang them on our walls. She was the first of the women to give birth. We called him our moon-child. In the absence of trees, our son has taught himself to read. He has thoughts to climb, and time. And though we are proud of him, we do not speak of it. If only history could be reinvented in the bright wilderness of a child’s mind. But I don’t believe in miracles.

Twelve years later, we watch the nuclear glut of a war we never imagined. An unnatural shadow crossing and closing on the blue-green sphere that was our home. Our mechs are failing, there is little we can do to make repairs in an airless tube. The boy tugs my sleeve. "Have faith," he says. "I can keep them working for another fifty years. But the rest is up to you." I tell him I will handle things. Looking in his eyes, I do not doubt his word. What scares me is that I doubt my own.


My son tells me today – or is it tonight? that he has done all that he can for our mechs. Fifty years, three months, twelve hours. Our computers keep home time, though their colleagues there no longer speak to them. Not since that shadow season, when we gazed into each others’ faceplates and saw … no, we cannot be the last. We must be ready when they call us home.

Shining wires and plugs for my wrists. My chest. My temples. Celia meant them for herself: we found the schematics in her data pad after she collapsed on her rounds. First and finest physician of our colony, she understood what human bodies could do that mechs could not. She knew how our circuitry is more subtle than engineering, more enduring than the memory of metal. The rest is up to me.

“Are you sure, Dad?” His face is solemn but his voice has a catch in it. I nod. He doesn’t know I have been sure since his birth. His finger is on the switch as I nod and the changeover takes me, branching out behind my eyes into sepia and gold and aqua coded pathways.

Out and up.

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