What Would Happen if the Climate Crisis Sent Influencers to Outer Space?
What do you do when your favourite travel destinations disappear under water and you have nothing left to post to Instagram? You head to the cosmos, of course. At least that's what mega-influencer Dakota Fielding decides to do in Hayley Phelan's fictional short story, "Over the Moon." Here, Phelan (who’s first book, “Like Me,” was published last year by Penguin Random House Canada) transports us to a not-so-unbelievable future.
The moon, it turned out, was a shitty place to take a selfie. Dakota Fielding was pissed. She had been on this godforsaken rock for nearly 24 hours and had hardly gotten anything worth posting on her MeChannel’s main page. The lighting sucked, and the unwieldy spacesuits they make you wear outside the Moonstone Hotel’s terraformed bubble made it difficult to hold the camera still. Dakota had been looking forward to this trip for nearly a year and had been teasing it on her MeChannel, Kota Travels in Style, for months, taking follower polls on what to wear and drumming up excitement to almost delirious heights. On the day of the launch, 60 million of her 300 million followers tuned in to watch her slip into the infrared-lined SmartSuit that the Moonstone had provided. (She accessorized with holographic nail polish and a retro bandana face mask to offset the SmartSuit’s cobalt blue.) She was one of just 30 mega-influencers and celebrities invited to the Grand Opening of the Moonstone, the first operational tourist site on the moon. “It was supposed to be content gold,” thought Dakota huffily as she dialed back the opacity on her suite’s floor-to-ceiling windows, revealing…more of nothing: a flat landscape covered in grey silt and scattered with rocks against the blackest sky she’d ever seen.
Dakota twisted the dial sharply back to the suite’s mirror preset and looked at herself in the now-reflective window. She wore an iridescently sheer ultraviolet anorak over a bikini she’d scored from one of those stores specializing in vintage from the aughts — a time when people actually sought the sun for pleasure, basking in the toxic rays for what they called a “tan.” “Beauty standards are so weird sometimes,” thought Dakota. She admired the glittering gold of the smart tattoo she’d had embedded just before leaving; it curved around her collarbone and snaked toward her breasts. As she traced one of its flourishes with her finger, her vitals were projected before her: basal metabolic rate 1,480, oxygenation levels normal, 40 new subscribers on MeChannel, heart rate 101 bpm — reflective of the anxiety and impatience coursing through her body. She missed Austin. “Mr. Kota,” she thought amusedly, as her followers called him. Even in 2032, that might have bothered some cisgender men — hell, it would have bothered her — but not Austin. He’d left his well-paying digital-mining job to support her. Together they’d built the brand — her brand. They’d made Dakota Fielding, travelling the world in search of new content, always pushing themselves to go farther, more extreme, more remote. They’d hiked the last glacier, scuba dived through Venice, camped out in the Italian desert and watched cyclones dance down the tornado fields in Kansas during wind season. It’s true they hadn’t spent more than a week at home in Toronto in years and their parents always gave them a sob story about how they never saw them (and they were getting old — Austin’s father already had to wear a breathing apparatus to filter out the city’s smog), and, yes, she had missed seeing her sister’s kids grow up and had lost touch with most of her old friends — but it was all worth it. They were really living the kind of life that most people could only dream of — one of near total freedom, a constant paid vacation. They had just one rule: Never go anywhere twice.
So, she was bummed that Austin couldn’t come along on this trip to the moon — seating was limited on the ship — but not bummed enough to pass up the chance to go, even though it meant missing his 30th birthday. He was understanding, of course. She did the calculation in her head for the 10,000th time — Moon Standard Time kept tripping her up; it was 10 hours till his birthday began on earth, but it wouldn’t be his birthday on the moon for another two days. Or was it the other way around? Ugh… Just one more thing that sucked about astro travel, which was totally not shaping up to be the exciting adventure she’d been promised. It was more like being stuck in an airport lounge, and not even one of those amazing ones with spas and recalibration tanks; it was more like an oldschool one, with a buffet.
A cheerful jingle filled the room, and the window switched automatically into portal mode, alerting her to a call from within the hotel. “Probably Abby,” she thought. Abby was the deliriously upbeat PR girl who’d been strenuously insisting how uh-mazing everything was. She clicked accept.
“Uh, hello Ms. Gorgeous,” a disembodied voice said before the picture filled the screen. “Look at you, Skinny Minnie, you’re like wasting away.” Yep, it was Abby. “I am so jell.”
Dakota managed a thin smile. Abby’s bleached hair was pulled back into a ponytail so tight that Dakota could see the temporary facelift lines at her temples. She was wearing pale-blue lipstick and opaque-white face powder, which was pretty stupid, Dakota thought, since you don’t need that level of sun protection on the moon.
“OK, so dollface,” Abby went on breathlessly, “we have a super super super exciting excursion planned for today; it’s gonna be bananas — you’re just gonna die.” Abby had said that about just about everything they’d done so far. “Meet in the lobby in five, K?”
“For the first time since arriving on the moon, Dakota actually felt excited. This was the content she had been waiting for.”
Abby was waiting for her near the front desk, where a smattering of the Moonstone Hotel’s other guests were milling about. There was Lion Jackson, the teen pop star, and his mother, Mona Jackson; Mimi Tangiers, one of the old-school celebrities, an actual actor; Ping Xi, the reclusive Chinese billionaire; and the Kookner twins, superstar soccer players who famously belonged to opposing teams.
“OK, guys!” Abby clapped her hands to get the group’s attention. “There is right now a rover waiting to take you on a one-of-a-kind, super crazy, amazing tour of the moon, where you will get to see one of the great wonders of the universe: what we call an ‘earthset’! It’s like a sunset,” Abby went on somewhat confusedly, “but on the moon. And with the earth. Whatever, you get it, it’s uh-mazing.”
For the first time since arriving on the moon, Dakota actually felt excited. She’d seen photos of the earth glowing like a blue marble as it sinks slowly below the moon’s horizon. This was the content she had been waiting for.
Under Abby’s enthusiastic direction, the group formed a single-file line and, one by one, entered the pressurized gantry, which led to the rover’s door. Dakota wanted to get on first so she could film it without getting the back of anyone’s stupid head in the shot, but unfortunately Mimi, being considerably older than the rest of the crowd, was ushered on first. “No problem,” thought Dakota. “I can still get loads of video once we’re on there.” The rover was squat and utilitarian, with large rectangular windows, though the Moonstone team had done their best to make it feel a little more luxurious by providing guests with a gilt tray of mini bottles of wine and chrome drinking straws. The set-up reminded Dakota of the submarine they’d toured South Beach in — she’d worn a neoprene jumpsuit and pink inflatable heels, and she remembered how hard it had been to get a good outfit shot on the ship. Still, viewership had been good that day, so she wasn’t too disheartened.
“You guys ready for the best experience of your life?” Abby trilled once they had all boarded. The rover took off with a shudder and a bang, and soon they were scuttling across the moon floor. “The Moonstone Rover is a state-of-the-art vehicle and proprietary to the Moonstone Hotel,” Abby went on, a little more soberly. “It was decommissioned from NASA, but the Moonstone has completely rehabbed it so that it meets the highest standards of safety and comfort. It’s controlled by an algorithmically modified driving AI, and optimal levels of oxygen are calibrated at all times so that guests can take in the earthset and then make it back to the hotel with plenty of oxygen in the tank. Originally designed by…” Dakota started tuning Abby out. She was staring at her face reflected in the rover’s dark window and surreptitiously taking photos with her pinkie iRing. She was still taking photos of herself when she heard a collective gasp from the other passengers. Dakota turned her head to see the earth, utterly luminescent and larger than life, hovering in the sky.
“My God,” uttered Dakota. She sighed, momentarily dazzled. “What an amazing backdrop.” She tapped Mona on the arm, gently but not without some urgency. “Do you think you could take a picture of me?” she asked, but the words came out so fast (was she lightheaded?) that she had to repeat the question before Mona understood. Dakota positioned herself at the front of the rover, with the earth hanging in the background, and handed Mona her iRing, which projected a holographic screen in front of her. “Make sure you get the earth in there but also my outfit — like at least from the waist up,” she said.
Mona nodded but said nothing. The flash went off, and Dakota moved gently with it, tilting her head this way and that and moving her hips back and forth to create the appearance of fluidity, of casualness. She was definitely feeling lightheaded now. Mona smiled. “I think I got some good ones,” she said, handing Dakota back her iRing. Just as Dakota reached for it, there was a sudden loud crunching noise and the rover jerked forward. Dakota lost her balance and fell toward Mona, knocking her over, to the surprised shrieks of the other guests. One of the Kookner twins helped her up quickly, but when the nose of the rover slid down, wracking the vehicle with loud scraping noises, Dakota was thrown to the floor again.
“Ha! Whoopsies,” said Abby. “Just hit a little pothole; it happens…” But her words were soon drowned out by a loud alarm; it screeched through the rover, and a red light bathed the passengers in an ominous glow. The smile that was plastered on Abby’s face faltered — for a moment. She steadied herself, clambered to the front of the vehicle and pulled out a control box from under the front seat. She pressed a few buttons, and its LED screen lit up. She gasped.
“What is it?” Dakota asked. Abby just kept staring, gape-mouthed, at the screen. Ping, preternaturally calm and unruffled, gestured for Abby to step aside. He glanced at the control box and then shook his head. “We’ve almost depleted our oxygen stores.”
“What?” said Dakota.
“It looks like it was miscalibrated,” Abby replied, staring at the box in betrayal.
“It’s been pumping an excess of 30 per cent more oxygen,” explained Ping.
The siren kept screaming. It was difficult to think. Dakota looked out the window and saw the earth hanging before her: majestic, indifferent. She thought of Austin, and a sharp longing ran through her — a pain so visceral she could feel it in the back of her throat. She thought of all the places they had been together — the exotic snowcaps, the five-star hotels and the luxurious spas — but for some reason she kept picturing the bedroom of their first apartment together in Toronto, back when they were still broke college students and Kota Travels in Style had a pitiful 100 subscribers. A pigeon had flown into the funny round window in their bedroom one night in September and shattered it. They didn’t have the money to fix it, so all through the fall and well into winter, their apartment had a terrible draft. They had to sleep in two layers of clothes, in sweatpants and a sweatshirt and sometimes even a hat, but in the morning, the light would filter through the broken shards and create the most beautiful rainbows all over the room. They moved out of the apartment and never went back. Never go anywhere twice. She looked at the earth, still hovering in the sky. Home. Why had she felt she had to go so far away to see miracles? It all became clear to her, how not just she but all of mankind had squandered so much on earth — set forests afire and drowned sea mammals and burned a hole in the ozone with supersize jets, same-day shipping and disposable fashion, always searching for the next best thing, the coolest new place or just a thrill….
Suddenly, silence descended on the rover. There was a moment of apprehension — maybe even of grief — before the rover, with surprising grace, began reversing. Abby yelped. “It’s rerouting us back to the hotel!” They all cheered. Dakota watched as the earth grew smaller through the rover’s windshield, a feeling of relief suffusing her body. As soon as she was back within the hotel’s range, she uploaded to her MeChannel, confident that the whole escapade would make great content after all.
Hayley Phelan is a novelist and journalist from Toronto. Find more of her work here.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s April issue. Find out more here.