Sunday, October 22, 2023

“Trans-Earth Injection” • by Pauline Barmby

Sabastian’s heart pounded and his breathing echoed in his helmet as he crested the hill beside Matilda. She loved their walks on the Lunar surface, the only place they could be alone together. He intended to use this one to propose a cohabitation agreement, so they could move out of the dorms into a tiny hab all their own.

Sab turned his bulky suit to face Matilda’s and nearly tipped over as he tried to get down on one knee. “Til—”

“There it is!” Matilda cried, pointing to a small crater a few hundred metres away. She bounced down the hill without waiting for him. Sab sighed and followed.

Matilda stood at the crater’s centre, facing a dozen or so rough-hewn rock slabs clustered together like penguins huddled against the cold. Each slab had one mostly flat face, engraved with words Sab didn’t recognize. He scrunched his nose, perplexed. “What are they?”

“Gravestones,” Matilda explained. “Earthers used to bury dead bodies in the ground and mark the locations with these.” She knelt down to carefully brush dust from the nearest slab. “This is one of the first Lunar memorial sites,” she said. “No bodies, but the early settlers kept the custom of a special place.”

Of course, it had to be a history thing. Sab could have cared less about old stories, but Matilda was fascinated by tales of the earliest settlers. He held out a hand; she grasped it to haul herself up and activated her helmetcam.

“I wanted to get some images,” she said. “Then I can compare them with the layout of Earth graveyards, when I go down for my thesis fieldwork.”

Sab’s mouth went dry. “I thought we’d decided going to Earth was too dangerous.”

We decided no such thing,” Matilda replied. “Just because you don’t want to go, doesn’t mean that’s how I feel.”

“But the gravity adjustment—”

“I’ve been training hard. I’ll be ready.”

“But—” Sab cut himself off. They stood in silence for a few moments. Sab imagined himself reaching out to hold Matilda’s gloved hand, wishing they weren’t separated by dusty, creaky suits. 

She changed the subject. “People used to think graveyards on Earth were inhabited by spirits, the essences that remained after death.”

He snorted. “Spirits. Even if they existed, why would a spirit want to hang around with a bunch of stones? Wouldn’t it want to go back to where it had been in life?”

Matilda’s reply was cut off by the excursion-return alarm. As they turned to leave, Sab ruminated over Matilda’s plans and his own. He didn’t notice the shadow rising from the graveyard behind them.


The snores of Sab’s dorm-mates were a cacophonous background to his tossing and turning in the narrow bunk. Today had not gone as he’d planned. He loved Matilda. She loved him. So how could she be planning to leave? How could he convince her that staying here and combining their lives would be better than a dangerous trip to Earth? 

His comm unit buzzed; he nearly hit the ceiling. On screen, Matilda was wide awake and excited. “Sab! I read some more about ghosts and graveyards. We have to go back there.”

Sab yawned. “Why?” 

“You know those tunnel blow-outs and airlock leaks on level two?”


“That’s right under the graveyard. What if those leaks and blow-outs are the actions of troubled spirits? Early settlers who weren’t properly put to rest?”

“What? That’s ridiculous,” he grumbled, trying to keep his voice down.

“I know, but so many cultures on Earth believed in spirits. There must be something to it. Maybe we can enact some kind of ritual, put them at ease.” Matilda’s dark eyes shone with anticipation.

“You want to put Lunar spirits to rest?”

“Exactly! I mean, it can’t hurt, right? And it’s another reason to go outside.”

Another excursion might trigger radiation warnings and discipline. It would also mean another chance to talk about their future. “Okay, if that’s what you want,” he mumbled. 

Matilda smiled. “Get some rest. See you tomorrow, sweetie.”


The lovers stood at the edge of a five-meter circle boot-drawn in the regolith. Miranda read a passage projected on her helmet’s HUD, her voice droning in Sab’s headset. He cut his mic so she wouldn’t hear him groan in impatience. Dust swirled behind the gravestones. Sab squinted, puzzled: there was no reason for dust to loft here. A micrometeoroid strike?

Matilda made a series of hand gestures and knelt down. Sab backed away to give her more room and raised his gaze back to the gravestones. There was definitely a swirl of dust—or something darker—on the far side of the circle. The dark spot rose and drifted toward them, blotting out the stars.

“Til…” Sab said. Still chanting, she didn’t respond; he cursed and unmuted his mic. “Til, we need to get out of here.”

Concentrating on the symbols she was drawing in the dark gray surface, Matilda muttered, “Almost done.”

Sab grasped Matilda’s suit to haul her upright. “Now, Til!” he shouted.

The shadow reached them and enveloped Matilda’s helmet. Her legs went slack. Her hands drifted down to her sides. Sab began to drag her toward the airlock, her heels leaving tracks in the dust. Suddenly Matilda stiffened and rose to her feet. She shook off Sab’s grip and knocked him down. As he fell he glimpsed a gray, swirling mass in her faceplate, as she began to run toward the shuttleport. 


Facedown in the regolith, Sab eventually realized that the screams echoing in his helmet were his own. He felt the ground vibrate and pushed himself to his knees, to see a shuttle rise from the launchpad. The Moon’s ghosts were heading home.

Pauline Barmby is an astrophysicist who reads, writes, runs, knits, and believes that you can’t have too many favorite galaxies. She lives in London, Canada and hopes to someday visit her namesake main belt asteroid, minor planet 281067. Find more of her words at



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GuyStewart said...

This was ABSOLUTELY not what I expected -- and for ME that's EXACTLY what I wanted. I WANTED to be surprised; and honestly, it's the first convincingly hard SF/horror story I've ever read. Thank you!

Guy Stewart

Pauline Barmby said...

Thanks Guy - so glad you enjoyed!

Made in DNA said...

Pure excellence. Brilliant setting.