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The Ripe Stuff

Lavie Tidhar is the author of the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize winning and Premio Roma nominee, A Man Lies Dreaming (2014), the World Fantasy Award winning Osama (2011) and of the critically-acclaimed and Seiun Award nominated The Violent Century (2013). His latest novel is the Campbell Award winning and Locus and Clarke Award nominated Central Station (2016). He is the author of many other novels, novellas, and short stories.
Everyone knows that the moon is crawling with bacteria, which give it that ripe, green sheen so admired in our night's sky. The moon is pockmarked with impact craters and bubbles of carbon dioxide gas, which give it that distinctive, hole-riddled look so beloved of the poet and gourmand. The moon is the fifth-largest satellite in our solar system but, to the best of our knowledge, it is the only one made of cheese.
Lingu La Fleur was a prospector, running out of the rough-and-ready frontier town of Algernonsville to hunt for fallen chunks of lunar meteorites out on the big empty plains.
The moon, as every pup knows, is a spherical cake of slowly ripening cheese, covered in tough rind all over, with an orbital period of just over twenty-seven days. It is made of a complex mix of amino acids, fatty acids and amines, set around a hard, rocky core. Mice astronomers have studied the moon for centuries. The moon has an equatorial radius of some 1700 kilometers. That's a lot of cheese. It's been ripening for billions of years.
In the night Lingu saw a marvelous sight. The moon, brighter than he had ever seen it. And there, traveling on the horizon, a bright trail of luminescence which bathed the dark skies in deep reds. Spurred by this vision, he tracked its progress for hours across the plains, untiring. It was then that he witnessed a false dawn--a silent, towering inferno far ahead, lighting up the sky.
The meteorite had made impact.
For two days and two nights he rode, until he came to the site. Already from afar he could smell the impact, that magical, tangible scent of selenite cheese, to which there is no equal. It drew the wild animals, too, but he fought them off, and at last he came to the impact crater. It was the largest he had ever seen.
Moon rocks lay everywhere, chunks of cheese as large as the fists of the vanished giants which once peopled the planet. His fortune would be made forever, he knew. It lay there for the taking. Even a small find, even a paw-sized rock could make a mouse's fortune. In the docks of Hickory Dickory the trade ships come and go with traders hungry for the ripe stuff.
And yet Lingu pressed on, deeper into the heart of the crater, driven by he knew not what. It smelled stronger there. Putrid. It had long been theorized by scientists that the moon is composed of more than one type of cheese. Here lay the fabled Luna Mortis, made of a soft, crumbly material.
It was there that he saw the horror that lay in wait for him.
Maggots.
Wriggling, living forms emerging out of the soft, alien cheese.
White, blind, fat grubs.
Fear gripped Lingu's heart. In terror, he attacked the alien monstrosities. Splat, splat, went their fragile bodies. Sticky ichor stained his travel-worn clothes. He would have killed them--killed them all!--but for a note which sounded, then. A whisper, in the air. The sound of wings, struggling against the heavy gravity of the planet.
"We come in... peace."
He raised his face, and saw her. A vision of ethereal beauty: black and shiny, with delicate, faintly iridescent wings, graceful antennae, and beguiling, compound eyes.
"Please...."
What creature was this, in its adult form, this lunar cheese fly, with its brood crawling, in the heart of the crater, this alien invasion? Lingu could not take his eyes away from this Selenite visitor, this creature from the moon.
His heart longed for her.
His mind rebelled at the thought.
Mice are not a violent species by nature, though they do sometimes eat their young. Lingu held the cheese axe. He stepped through the grubs, to the waiting alien.
"Help... me...."
She seemed a princess to him then, a princess of the moon. He saw then that he had been grossly mistaken. How weakly the larvae moved, how they struggled, here, on the planet's gravity. The princess herself was now prone on the ground. Her wings struggled, but would not lift her.
He sat beside her. It would not be long, he thought.
She reached with her antennae and touched his forehead. Telepathically, she showed him the splendors of the moon, the hidden underground seas where her kin burrowed and laid their young. How ripe this cheese was! How delicate! The maggots broke down the fat and induced advanced fermentation.
Through her eyes he saw the rock that crashed into the moon--that broke the rind surface--that violently and savagely tore a chunk and sent it reeling into space, with unwilling passengers on board that comet.
"My... children..." she whispered. Her pain surged through him. He held her, close, stroking that chitinous brow, all through that long night.
Till dawn came.
Lingu La Fleur rode away from that crater with a fortune in his cart and a pain in his little mouse heart that had permeated into his blood stream and would never leave him again, no matter how far he traveled and how rich he'd become. For though he grew to a ripe old age, and found new love, and sired many litters of babies, he could never look up at the moon again without feeling that special rending of his heart when he thought of her, and all that could have been, yet wasn't, and could never be again.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

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