Terra Forma

Reading Time: 11 minutes

“It’s truly miraculous,” Mirabyi said softly, eyes wide, as she looked out of the Domes’ porthole at the small forest growing on the lunar surface. At 28 years old she was already considered the most accomplished soil scientist on Earth and still, the sight of trees on the moon took her breath away.

“I think so too, every time I look at it,” Tim replied, standing beside her. “You should walk through it. It’s even more amazing,”

“Oh my god, when can I go?”

“Not right away. You’ve got lots of onboarding to do.” Tim took her by the elbow and guided her further down the corridor. “First, let’s get that suit off.”

(Image created by Marie LeClaire via Adobe Firefly)

He took her to a locker room where space suits hung neatly in cubbies adjacent to lockers. Names were printed out on small plaques above each suit.

“Earthbound suits are kept here. You’ll also have a Moonsuit, designed specifically for the lunar surface. You’ll get one when you have clearance to be outside the Domes. But you already know this, right?”

Mirabyi had just completed the six-month training required for her post on the Moon’s surface. “Yes and no. It’s one thing to know something, and another to actually be here.” She was still wide-eyed with excitement as she looked around the locker room.

He continued to talk as Mirabyi desuited. “I’ll be your government-issued shadow for the next thirty days. I’ll answer questions, show you around, and keep you out of trouble.”

“Will we be working together?”

“Not exactly. We’re both assigned to Biome Development. You’re fungus. I’m trees.”

Tim was equally accomplished in Botany, with a specialty in species that grow in harsh Earth environments. The lunar forest consisted of hybrid plants from the most inhospitable Earth environs; the Saguaro cactus from the Sonora Desert, the Polylepis tree from the Andes Mountains, and Himalayan Moss. The result was a tree approximately twelve feet tall, thick around the middle, with thousands of short branches and small, waxy leaves.

Mirabyi hung her suit on the assigned hook and smoothed out the orange cotton jumpsuit she was wearing underneath it. “I feel like a prisoner.” The bright color was intended to make her stand out as a newcomer so people could help her steer clear of restricted areas. At any given time, there were a dozen government agencies and a few private ones assigned to the Domes, all working on their own classified projects.

“You’ll lose the orange after thirty days,” Tim flashed her a smile. “And the shadow too – but I’ll get to all that later.” He guided her further down the hallway. “Which brings us to step one, the security office to activate your badges and clearances. Then to your quarters.”

“The dorm? Please tell me I got a semi-private.”

“You’re in luck, sort of. You’ll be sharing with a woman from DOD research and development. Unfortunately, there won’t be too much you’ll be able to talk about.”

“What do you mean?”

“Her security clearance is three levels above yours. My advice? Don’t ask her anything more than directions to the dining hall. And even that she might not tell you.” When he saw her expression sink, he added, “You’ll get a more appropriate roommate when one comes available.”

“Great.” Mirabyi tried not to be discouraged. She had known it would be difficult. Her training on Big Blue—what the Moonies called Earth—had been rigorous. The psych eval itself had lasted for hours. But the worst part for her had been the Accompanied Isolation training. She was put in a room with three other people for three days. They were not allowed to talk to each other. They said it was to prepare her for keeping secrets from other lunar residents. It felt like torture and left her heart heavy for days.

She distracted herself from the memory by turning her attention to her attractive host. She felt an instant connection to him. Was the feeling mutual? Or was she just imagining it? Time would tell. And she had plenty of it. Three years with an option to extend for three more. She was already calculating her chances of making it through the first round.

Tim continued his rote delivery. “I need to remind you that the entire base, inside and out, is monitored 24/7 by video and audio surveillance.”

“Check.” Mirabyi checked an invisible box in the air.

“The only rooms not visually monitored are the bathrooms and bedrooms.”


“No communication with Big Blue for 120 days.”


“You’ll eat three meals a day with me for 30 days.”

“Mmmm. Check, check, check,” she flashed him a smile.

Tim deviated from the routine long enough to return her smile and nod.

They stopped outside a metal door with a large window. Domes of Galileo Security Inprocessing was stenciled on it. “I’ll leave you in capable hands with Sergeant Chang,” Tim said as he opened the door and gestured her into the office. “He’ll let me know when you’re done and I’ll be by to pick you up.”


Mirabyi fell easily into the daily rhythm of the Domes. After a few conversational faux pas, she picked up on what could and could not be said and where. She was still getting used to the stilted, indirect language patterns people used in common areas to adjust for the various security levels, and also to accommodate for the constant surveillance of personal conversations.

Restricted areas were easier to navigate. The security points were indicated with thick red lines painted on the floor, up the walls and across the ceiling, with the number representing the level of clearance needed to go further. So far, she’d not crossed any, but she had seen one unfortunate soul face down on the floor with a security guard standing between his spread legs with his weapon drawn. Another guard searched his pockets and a third was on the radio talking to the command post. It was enough to keep her hypervigilant.

When she commented about it to Tim, he had laughed her off.

“It’s not as bad as it looks. I’ve been taken down a few times. It’s easier than you think to cross the lines. Especially after you’ve been here a while. You can get a little complacent.”

“I will never be complacent,” she insisted. Fortunately, work areas were well separated and the likelihood of her wandering across a red line was small but not zero.

“The worst threat is being DnD’d.” He was referring to being Deleted and Deported, the unsatisfactory discharge of staff. Employees deemed unfit for duty were hypnotized so that they forgot everything about the moon and then were sent back to Earth.

“That does sound worse,” she agreed. “Have you ever known it to really happen?”

“Not specifically, but I have noticed someone missing.”


Her lab was her safety zone. There were no limitations in her work area and she was free to run whatever experiments she wanted. It was a scientist’s dream job. Her fascination with fungus and its possible benefits to agriculture had won her grant after grant until she came into the sights of the Space Force. They were particularly interested in her work around the patterns of exchange of electrons over large areas of fungus. They hired her directly into the Domes project, which was almost unheard of.

She loved her work. Every day held some new experience or understanding of the fungal ecosystem. To be able to push her research into creating a living environment on the moon was beyond most researchers’ imagination.

Her work had started out as she expected with the acidic lunar dirt being tenaciously inhospitable. Fungus, with a short lifespan, decomposed and regenerated quickly without needing much sunlight, easily accommodating for the sixteen-day cycle of light and dark. Still, it was taking much longer than she expected to convert even a small sample of moondust into viable soil. She hadn’t yet been cleared for a visit to the trees, so her experiments at modifying soil content used samples brought back and forth by the Forest Manager, Tim. Although they were both assigned to Biome Development, he worked in tree monitoring and she in soils development, so they hardly saw each other during the work day.

In the past few days things had turned a bit sideways. Twice now, she’d received a noticeable jolt from the fungus that she could only describe as an electrical charge, but not really. It had a warm soothing feeling to it. She thought maybe something had gone wrong and set the sample aside. But when she recreated the same experiment, she got the same gentle jolt.

When she brought it up with the chief scientist, he quickly dismissed her.

“Just static electricity, isn’t it?” he scoffed, and walked away immediately, without waiting for a response.

But it continued to bother her. She didn’t know what to make of it. And she didn’t know why her boss would be dismissive of it. She’d try to talk to Tim at their next meal.

Through their limited communication, she had gleaned that Tim’s contribution was something called heavy COx2, a carbon atom that was weighted to remain close to the moon’s surface under the lighter gravity. It created a fog-like mist around the grove. She got the impression from Tim there was more to it than met the eye. She wondered if it was connected to her shocks.


She had just seated herself in the dining hall when she saw him approaching the table.

“Happy Day 30.” Tim greeted her for dinner with a cupcake decorated with a smiley face.

“Already? Hard to believe,” she replied, even though they were both well aware of the date. She reached out for the sweet. “Thanks.”

He took a seat beside her. “You know, not everyone makes it this far.”

“No. I didn’t.” She was surprised. “I’d think, after all that grueling training on Earth, people would be more prepared.”

“I think it’s the accompanied isolation that gets to people the most.”

“Yeah. That’s been interesting for sure. Now that you’re officially released from shadow duty, can we still meet for meals?” She feared there might be some prohibition about it.

“We can if we want to.” He looked at her with a coy smile.

She blushed. “I could, you know, want to.”

Despite her self-cautions, she had grown quite comfortable with him over the past month, and she thought he felt the same way. Although interpersonal relationships were discouraged, they were tolerated among those with the same security level.

“I’d like that. Both our time will be allocated differently now though, so dinner is probably all we can manage.”

“That would be great.”

Now she tried to ease into her question.

How is that beautiful forest going? she wanted to ask, but last time she had attempted shop talk in the dining hall, a buzzer had gone off, indicating that someone had breached protocol. Everyone had to stop talking until the second buzzer sounded, indicating that the transgression was minor but everyone should be more careful.

Instead she asked, “How are you liking your job?” (How’s your project going?)

“I’m liking it quite a bit right now.” (Getting lots of positive results.) “How’s the dirt business?”

“Not as dirty as you’d expect. It’s shocking, really.”

At her use of the word, Tim’s face flashed a split-second recognition.

“Research can be like that. Nothing for days and then, one night, a light goes off.”

He was trying to tell her something. She was sure of it.

“Maybe we can play cards tonight?” he said in a hushed voice. Code for Meet me in the bathroom for some unsupervised alone time—Moon parlance for asking someone on a date.

The invitation was a little unexpected but she was game. “Sure. Where?” she mumbled, hiding her mouth with a forkful of mashed potatoes.

“Bay C. 30 minutes,” he said, wiping his mouth with his napkin.

She nodded.

He got up a few minutes later and said goodnight. She watched him as he left the hall, waited a few minutes, then made her own exit.


They met in the bathroom in Bay C. ‘Bathroom’ wasn’t exactly accurate. The community restrooms were well appointed, more like professional team locker rooms. This one had four small rooms: a sitting area with bench seats and mirrors, a room of lockers, a room with shower stalls, steam room and sauna, and toilet stalls in the last room. She was waiting in the sitting area when he arrived.

He immediately put his finger to his lips to shush her before she could say anything. He turned and locked the door. Then, out of his pocket, he pulled a Tuner/4 player and tiny speakers. He set them up on the nearby shelf and turned them on. The equivalent of elevator music quietly filled the room. Then he reached into another pocket and pulled out a notepad and pencil.

They can still hear us. No visual feed. Just don’t rustle the paper when you write. 

Mirabyi nodded and took the note paper. Okay. This is a little weird. Not what I was expecting.

I know. I wish my intentions were more romantic than they are. Under other circumstances they would be. He shrugged an apology and gently touched her cheek.

She took the pencil again. Sounds serious. What’s wrong?

He hesitated, looking at her and then down at the paper. Finally, he began to write.

It’s the forest. It’s changing. What are you doing to the soil?

She made a quizzical expression. Just playing around with different fungi. Why so secretive? We could be talking about this at work.

Work doesn’t know I know. It’s above my clearance.

Know what?

The trees. I think, Tim hesitated again, looked into Mirabyi’s eyes and continued, THEY THINK.

She held her hands out, palms up, needing more information.

He tapped the words with his pencil for emphasis then wrote, Sentient.

They think. Sentient.

She looked at him for a long moment before taking the pencil.

Why do you think that?

When I go out there, they react to me. They move toward or away depending on what I’m doing. 

She stared at him in disbelief. Was this some kind of prank?

He wrote again, his words becoming more jagged and unevenly spaced as he tried to convince her. It’s happening more often every day and more distinctly.

That’s crazy. 

I thought so too but it’s been happening more every day. It started when you got here with the fungus.

She thought about this for a moment then took the pencil. There’s a theory that fungus has a biochemical kind of consciousness, communicating fundamentally with itself through electrical pulses.

Like electric shocks? Tim wrote. Their eyes met as an understanding clicked into place for both of them. She nodded.

I’ve gotten them too, Tim continued. What does it mean?

Mirabyi thought for a moment. The theory says that large colonies of fungus are actually one organism. Not proven.

I think we just proved it.

That’s great, isn’t it?

Josee went into the forest to cut samples 4 hours ago and hasn’t come back.

What does that mean? 

I don’t know. Last time I was in there, I couldn’t help thinking of you (more than I usually do). He stopped to share another apologetic smile and shrug. Like it wasn’t my thinking, like it was coming from the trees.

Mirabyi sat back in disbelief.

He continued writing. I think the bosses are on to me. I think I might be D&D’d.

She inhaled sharply. She opened her eyes wide and mouthed a silent nooooo, shaking her head.

Tim wrote, I’ve seen them do it before. People just suddenly go back to earth. If I go, you have to get to the forest to see what’s happening. I’ll leave a final message taped under the seat here. 

This is CRAZY. 

If I get D&D’d, I won’t remember you. Find me when you get back to Earth. Promise.

She put a hand on his, wanting to say of course she would.

He circled the word promise and tapped it urgently.

She nodded.

Satisfied, he put the pencil away, tore the paper up into tiny pieces and flushed it into the composting toilet, confident that no scraps would survive. He returned to the powder room, took her hands in his, looked her in the eyes and kissed her.


The next morning, she arrived at work to hear that Tim had taken sick overnight and was on his way back to Earth. No mention was made of Josee.

As soon as she could, she slipped out of her office and made a circuitous route to the bathroom in Bay C. After retrieving Tim’s note, she went directly to the Moonsuits stored at the hatch that led most directly to the forest. With trembling hands, she sorted through the suits until she found Tim’s, which hadn’t been removed yet. As quickly as she could, she donned the puffy oversized suit and locked the helmet in place. She was barely breathing when she approached the panel by the door which flashed green with Tim’s clearance. She pushed the button that read Depressurize and Open. The doors slid open to the silence of the moon’s surface.

She made the slow moon run for the forest’s edge and was more than halfway there before the security lights started flashing inside and out of the domed village. She knew sirens sounded inside but she couldn’t hear them. She was under cover of the forest before security left the dome.

As soon as she stepped into the woods, she felt it. An undeniable sense of wellbeing, of welcoming. Did the trees just close in around her? No light shone through the leafy canopy. Unusual, since the sun wasn’t setting for another three earth days. The tree trunks looked midnight black. Branches and vines twisted and twined around each other adding to the dense undergrowth. She took the crumpled note out of her pocket to read again the cryptic clue Tim had left her.

Go to the trees. They will know what to do. 

She lay down in the dense foliage as roots emerged and wrapped gently around her. “Mother,” they whispered.

This story previously appeared in the anthology Tales From Shelf 804.
Edited by Melody Friedenthal


Marie LeClaire writes in Magical Realism. She has five novels available on Amazon.com. She also writes short stories that appear on MetaStellar and on her website Marie LeClaire. She also has an anthology, Tales From Shelf 804, published in May 2023. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.