The President peered through the telescope and the Moon looked exactly as he had always imagined it: a huge, bone-colored disk, disfigured by great sprays of craters, its pock-marked surface broken up here and there by the smooth rounds of the dusty mares.
“What should I be looking for?” he asked.
The NASA administrator coughed into his sleeve.
“Well?” the President straightened up so his advisors could see his rhetorical eyebrow.
The general elbowed the administrator in the ribs.
“You could look at the edges, I suppose,” said the administrator, and when the general glared at him he added: “Mr. President, sir.”
“The edges?” the President returned to the eyepiece.
He was briefly motionless, bent precisely at the waist, a clockwork figure frozen in its pose, and then he hopped.
“Holy shit!” he said and seized the telescope firmly in both elegant hands to steady his view. “It looks like they’re crumbling away! Like they’re disintegrating!”
“What is it?” he straightened up, this time with both eyebrows raised. “What’s going on?”
The administrator coughed again and the general glared at him.
“Well?” asked the President.
The administrator mumbled something and cleared his throat.
“Pardon me?” the President asked.
“Moths,” said the administrator and dissolved into a fit of ragged coughing.
“Moths?” asked the President and his brows met in a frown. “I don’t understand.”
“Moths,” said the administrator when he’d caught his breath. “A massive proliferation of moths: the Moon is infested with them.”
“What kind of moths?”
“Tineola bisselliella,” said the administrator.
“I don’t understand,” said the President again.
“It’s goddam moths,” snapped the general. “Common moths. Cloth moths.”
“Clothes moths,” said the administrator with a small smile. The general flushed.
“What are they doing up there?” asked the President.
“They’re eating the goddam Moon,” said the general.
“Eating the Moon?” asked the President and glanced up at it.
“Yes, Mr. President,” said the administrator. “They are consuming it at an alarming rate. In five years there will be so many of them on the surface it will no longer reflect the sun’s light, in ten years it will be so small the tidal force it exerts on the earth will be negligible, within twenty-five years it will be gone.”
“Gone?” asked the President.
The administrator shrugged nervously.
“But how?” said the President. “How?”
The administrator shrugged again and the general’s nostrils flared.
“How’d they get up there?” asked the President.
The administrator coughed into his sleeve.
“Well, tell him!” the general’s eyes were bulging.
“Buzz Aldrin,” said the administrator.
“We think he, uh, might have, um, we think he may have left a sweater up there. Mr. President, sir.”
“Buzz Aldrin?” the President scratched his forehead. “A sweater?”
“Yes sir, Mr. President, sir,” said the administrator. “A wool one: a yellow cardigan.”
The President bent over the eyepiece again.
“Is there anything NASA can do about this?” he asked.
“Not really,” said the administrator. “It’s not in the budget.”
“General?” asked the President. “Could we nuke them?”
“Too many, Mr. President,” he said. “And the costs of delivering the payload would be astronomical.”
The President was still peering into the telescope. The Moon looked so very solid to him, like it would last forever.
“A yellow cardigan,” he murmured. “How extraordinary.”
William B. Squirrell lives and works in western Pennsylvania. His work has been previously published with Blue Monday Review, Bastion Science Fiction, Bewildering Stories and AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review.