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Читать онлайн Lifeboat Moon. Marusiak Luke.

Luke Marusiak


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Mark thought of the orange earth and felt an icy fist of blind hate clench in the pit of his stomach. He took careful steps sinking an inch into the talcum powder-like lunar dust. The internal blower of his spacesuit provided a constant maddening whine in his right ear. He looked at the stark horizon through the multi-layered plexiglass tube. I need to get back before the earthrise,  he thought. He nodded to himself and stepped with more purpose moving through the mile-long tube. It’s crazy the oxygen reactor is so far from the base. Of course, this was laid out when the base was going to be the first of many in a vast colony. But that was before…  

He stopped and looked at the dust covered curve of the tube. Irritation surged through him. Thad doesn’t need to drive the moon buggy so close to the chute.  He tapped the tube with the back of his hand. Some moon dust fell away revealing an impossibly dark sky illuminated with a jaw dropping celestial spray of stars. Mark swallowed. He used to love gazing skyward. Now, he could only bear it those hours when humanity’s home planet was hidden.

The last two months, it was too painful. He felt tears well in his eyes. What was it like for those I left behind?  He shook his head. I must stop these thoughts.  Those musings led to black depression, to madness. Besides, there was Sally. Sally was his hope, his dream.

Mark checked his suit pressure and balked. I’m almost out of air!  He continued his trek, controlled his breathing, and noted the white cloud puffs with every footfall. There were people to fight for. There were things to fight for. What was the phrase? Live to fight another day. That’s what it was all about. It was a thin thread of hope. If they could hang on maybe… maybe.

He stopped before the ramp that led to the underground entrance and opened a large panel. He exhaled with satisfaction. The power from the solar cells is transferring well and the oxygen reactor is at 98%.  His walk accomplished its purpose. He bounded down the ramp to the outer load lock and pushed the large return button. He took a labored inhalation and pushed the button again. I should never run my air supply so low. 


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Sally was irritated. “Chuck, move out of the way. I need to see the status panel.” She knew being a woman on Moon Base Armstrong would have its challenges but she hadn’t thought boorish men would top the list.

“There’s nothing to see baby.” Chuck stood in front of her, his silhouette filled the hatchway. He sported an idiotic grin.

“Mark’s out there.”

Chuck shrugged. “He always takes enough air.”


Chuck entered the small breakroom and grabbed Sally by the shoulders. “We have time.”

“Stop it.” Sally pushed Chuck to the side and looked at the status panel. She gasped, heart in throat, when seeing the blinking red distress light. “Oh my God! How long has that been on?” Sally bounded in the one-sixth earth gravity out the hatchway across the control deck. It’s Mark!  She fought anxiety as she gasped short hyperventilating breaths. Mark’s in trouble. 

Sally grabbed the rail at the middle of the deck with her left hand and swiveled her body over it in a gymnastic move. She sailed down onto the hangar’s loading dock where, as soon as her feet touched the diamond steel floor, she bounded again toward the hatch.

“You’re not following protocol.” Chuck called after her.

My suit’s on the right, number 105.  Sally willed her mind to work. She removed her gear from the rack and sat on the cold steel as she separated the spacesuit into its upper and lower half. The cold bit into her bottom through her thin sweatpants. I’m getting my ass frostbit.  She pushed that reality aside. Mark’s in trouble.  She slammed her stockinged feet into the bottom half and stood. Cold drafts and fear caused a paralyzing shudder that stopped her for precious seconds in orienting the top half. Move, move… it might be too late. 

The shudder passed and she popped her head into the top half as she slid her arms into the space suit sleeves. She cocked her head to see through her helmet dome at her gloved hands. She fumbled to align the pins on the mid-section locking ring. She looked up at Chuck. He stood, arms folded, with the idiotic grin still on his face. “Are you going to help?”

Chuck shrugged. “What difference does it make?”

“It makes all the difference!” Sally wrestled with the top half and realized she had wide pins over narrow slots. She rotated the locking ring ten degrees and felt the alignment guides engage. Finally.  She snapped the belt clasp in place, connected her inhalation and exhalation tubes, held her breath, and pushed the pressurize button on her chest-mounted tank. Air hissed in her ear for thirty seconds before the indicator on her helmet visor flashed green.

She slowly inhaled and smelled the ever-present spent-gunpowder aroma. She exhaled slowly to prevent fogging. Her space suit was way too cold to put in partial vacuum but she was out of time. She grabbed two straps that had D-rings on each end and affixed one end of each to her suit’s harness. I’ll hook him and get him in here fast.  She wanted speed but all movements were in slow motion.

She looked at the lunar chute hatch indicator and pressure gauge. Something went wrong. Mark didn’t open the lunar chute hatch and the load lock is at atmospheric pressure.  She pulled the inner hatch release lever, swung open the massive door, and winced when the large black edge seals released with a loud popping sound. Sally stepped through the hatch into the load lock, closed the door behind her, and faced the lunar chute.

Stay calm. Stay calm , she coached herself. She saw that the automated control panel was dark. Great.  She laboriously worked the large thumb screws to the manual control access panel. Come on!  She undid two screws, swung the panel access door open, and pushed the depressurize button. She shivered as, even through her spacesuit, she felt the rush of life-preserving air rush out into the lunar vacuum. After an interminable wait the lunar chute hatch pressure equalization button flickered on. I’m coming Mark! 

Sally pulled the lunar chute hatch release lever. It stayed stubbornly stuck. She propped both feet against the bottom of the hatch and tried again. Slowly, the lever moved and the hatch door opened with an audible sigh. Then she saw him.

Mark was crouched outside the hatch door, head down and hands on knees in the universal distress ‘I can’t help myself’ position. Oh God! 

Sally grabbed the two straps affixed to her harness, slid her gloved hands out until they reached the end with the large D-rings, and hooked each onto the top of Mark’s harness. She bounded back with all her strength. Mark shot through the hatch onto Sally and they both crashed into the wall behind. Damn it.  Sally rotated off her friend and lunged for the door. She grabbed the handle, yanked the door shut, and with all her weight got the close lever to seat.

No time. No time!  Sally scrambled to her feet, tripped over the straps connecting her to Mark, rose to one knee, and punched the pressurize button. Seconds ticked by as the pressure gauge rose. Sally felt a rush of heated perspiration. I’ve drenched the inside of my cleaned space suit.  Her heart raced and she saw warning pinpoints of light. I can’t faint. He only gets air when I get his helmet off. 

She shook her head to clear it. Finally, the atmospheric pressure light came on. Sally opened the hangar’s inner hatch door — a much easier task than the lunar chute hatch had been — and bounded through with her charge. Chuck, goddamn him anyway, hadn’t moved from his relaxed position in the control room. She slammed the hatch door shut, latched it, and attended to Mark.

Sally found the release hook in front of his helmet, pulled out the locking pin, ignored the space suit alarm, and ripped her friend’s space suit helmet off. She thought she heard him gasp. “Mark? Can you hear me?”


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Mark opened his eyes to slits, got a gli

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mpse of his surroundings, and closed them shut. He needed all his mental energy to breathe. His oxygen-deprivation training kicked in and he resisted panting. He sucked air through his gaping mouth in long deep breaths and exhaled through his nose. The air was heavy with oxygen. There were the acrid smells one never got used to, there was the near freezing temperature, but the air, thank God in heaven above, was rich with oxygen. He could sense it. This is 30% oxygen, not the 25% in the habitation modules. I can feel it thick in my lungs.  He breathed using the oxygen-deprivation protocol he’d drilled on so often. In… slow… deep… out through the nose… controlled exhale.  

He sat like that for several minutes eyes closed, hoping all his faculties would return. His brief glimpse was enough to let him know he was in the hangar just inside the load lock hatch door. And he knew another precious thing. Sally was there. Sally was there and she saved him.

Whatever happened to strand him out in the unforgiving vacuum, she saved him. He chanced opening his eyes on a large inhale and saw Sally, through a clearing fog of consciousness, staring at him with wide eyes and ridges of concern etched on her forehead. He forced a smile. “What took you so long?”

“That was my fault,” a familiar voice, not Sally’s, answered. “Sorry man.”

Mark turned his head and through his clearing haze saw Chuck. “What?”

“I got up for a minute and was talking to Chuck,” Sally said. “I lost track of the time.”

Mark frowned. What the hell? I should’ve had more air.  He unbuckled his locking ring and Sally pulled the top half of his spacesuit off his head. He gingerly stood and extracted himself from the bottom half of his suit. He gave Sally a puzzled glance.

She didn’t meet his gaze. “I’ll get these processed. I need my suit done as well.” She took Mark’s suit, grabbed his helmet, and bounded toward the equipment room.

Mark’s alertness returned. “The oxygen plant’s doing fine in case anyone wants to know.” His anger flared. “That stuff doesn’t take care of itself.” He looked toward Sally but she’d already moved through the equipment hatch. He turned to Chuck who still leaned against the control panel. “What’s the smirk for?”

“I guess you’ll be around a few more days,” Chuck replied.

Mark bounded from the hangar to the control panel in one large move. He caught himself on a ceiling rail placed there for just that purpose and dropped in front of Chuck. “I’ve had enough of your fatalistic bullshit.”

“You didn’t need to go out there sport.”

“Making sure our pod’s oxygen reactor has adequate power is one of the most important things I do.”

“Blah, blah, blah… who cares? We’re all going to die anyway. I was doing you a favor and Sally screwed it up.

“You left me out there on purpose ?” Mark’s wrath rose and he could feel his newly oxygenated red blood cells burn his cheeks. “Are you serious?”

“Yes, I tried to get Sally to leave you out there on purpose.” Chuck shouted. “Then we can end this ridiculous charade.”

Mark lost control. He balled a fist at waist level and drove a powerful uppercut into Chuck’s chin. He felt and heard satisfying bone cracks as his fist made contact. Like in the old cartoons, the force lifted Chuck completely off his feet. He flew back, was stopped abruptly by a wall, and then fell forward crumpled on the deck. Blood pooled from his disfigured jaw.

“What did you do?” Sally asked, appearing beside Mark.

“The son of a bitch tried to kill me.”


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Chuck tried to open his mouth and, in a panic, realized it was welded together. He reached up and discovered he had on a virtual reality — VR visor with noise cancelling earbuds. He ripped his VR headset off and tried again to open his mouth. Instead, his lips peeled back revealing teeth surgically wired together.

A nurse appeared at his side. “Don’t try to open your mouth. We’ve wired it shut.”

Chuck wanted to say ‘Why?’ but what came out of his clenched teeth was, “Eeeiiii?”

The nurse understood. “You’ve got a broken jaw. It’ll take six weeks to heal.”

“Urrrgex eeeks?” Chuck was aghast. That no good bastard. 

“Someone is here to see you,” the nurse said.

Chuck looked at the hatchway and sat bolt upright. Standing in the med-bay’s hatch was none other than the person responsible for his broken jaw. He peeled his lips back from his teeth and forced a clenched mouth intelligible word. “Maarrk.”

Mark shook his head and walked to the side of Chuck’s bed. He turned to the nurse and read the name stitched to her uniform. “Carol, can you give us a minute?”

“I’ve got twenty patients with the flu so I’ll be gone for a while.” She pulled a mask over her mouth and nose and turned to Chuck. “You’re the only one with broken bones. Be more careful next time you go drinking.” She bounded out the hatch with a light jump.

“Thas the story? I was drinking?” Chuck realized by pretending he was a ventriloquist, his speech was more or less legible.

“That’s the story Ace,” Mark answered. He glared at Chuck. “You rigged my tank. I went out thinking I had more air. You damn near got me killed.”

“We’re all gonna die.” Chuck replied through clenched teeth. “The earth’s gone.”

“We don’t know that. No one’s giving up.”

Chuck shook his head.

“Listen.” Mark leaned close. “If I catch you pulling a stunt like that on anyone, I will  kill you.” With that pronouncement Mark arose and exited the med-bay.

Chuck felt tears well and, not wanting anyone to see, put his VR headset on. He closed his eyes and muted the sound. This is all wrong,  he thought. Nothing was as promised two years ago. Nothing’s right.  He sighed. I wish I was down there when it happened. 

For all the things people thought would end the earth’s future; few had an inkling of what would be its demise. The most surprising thing was that it wasn’t humanity’s folly. It wasn’t climate change, nuclear war, or meltdowns. It wasn’t a meteor strike or a super volcano eruption. No, it was a bizarre celestial anomaly that, even now, was uncertain in effect.

Chuck started as his VR headset was shook. He removed it and stared into the big brown eyes of Sally Ride Henderson. He forgot for a moment that his teeth were wired shut and grunted out, “Eeehh.”

“Hey yourself,” Sally replied. “What were you thinking?”

He exhaled in frustration.

“Mark knows you adjusted the offset for his air.”

“He waas here.” Chuck still worked talking through his wired-shut jaw.

“I’ll bet that went well. You wanted to kill him?”

“We’re all dead anyway. Juust a matter of time.”

Sally frowned. “Chuck!”

“I wasn’t trying to kill him.” He was getting his annunciation down. “I wanted everybody to know how fragile we are. Big Mark needed to stop playing the hero.”

“There’s only 137 of us up here. Everyone counts. Everyone should be the hero.”


“Don’t screw around like that again. It could’ve been serious.” Sally gave Chuck a chilling disappointed gaze and departed.

Chuck put his VR headset back on with the muted noise cancelling earbuds. He tried to slow his racing thoughts. It was no use. He had visions of forests, waterfalls, snowcapped mountains, and the historic Space Needle of his birthplace: Washington State. He remembered camping, academic achievement, and yearning for adventure. He remembered the thrill of being picked to come to the moon and the rush in his gut when he first laid eyes on his fiancé, Mia. He remembered the disgust at being introduced to the walking recruiting poster that was Captain Mark Martelli.

This is wrong.  Chuck regarded the idea that the base could use the lunar regolith and AI — artificial intelligence prototype processing reactors to make everything as madness. There used to be three schools of thought on the state of the earth. One, a huge part of the earth was spared but it was not the US and Western Europe. Two, many survived around the world but were reduced to a primitive state. And three, the damage killed all but insects and deep sea creatures. Now there was only one school of thought. Chuck talked to Doctor Ezekiel Ben-Ami just before pulling shift at the control panel, just before knowing which school of thought was right.

The first school of thought proved wrong the first week after the incident. If China survived, then Japan would’ve survived. They all knew from communications with the Japanese moon base — Japan Station — that they were just as stranded as the U.S. moon base — Moon Base Armstrong. There was no communication with earth — absolutely nothing — since the incident. And, as far as China was concerned, they didn’t even know if its moon base was shielded enough to survive its certain exposure.

The second school of thought also proved wrong. If any human survived it would’ve been by using technologically advanced shielding technology. If they used technology to survive, one of the first things they would’ve done was communicate with their moon base. Chuck waited like everyone, hoping against hope.

The only explanation, no matter the persistent hope, was that little life survived. One look during earthrise at the mottled orange surface of the once pristine beautiful blue marble should have been enough. You could see it was a corpse, not a living planet. After his visit to the University Pod, Chuck knew the earth was dead.

He also knew using M

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oon Base Armstrong as a Noah’s Ark to reconstitute humanity was hope over logic. There was an international base on Mars but Moon Base Armstrong never communicated with it and Doctor Ben-Ami did think it was shielded. By all accounts they were alone up here with Japan Station at Shackleton Crater.

What was left for Moon Base Armstrong? The only thing we can do is die with dignity , Chuck concluded. It’s either that or we’ll be choosing who lives and dies. We’ll be savages, cannibals, and die just the same; swimming in our own excrement.  He sighed.

Now I’ve got to wait six weeks for my jaw to heal.  He turned on his VR headset and queued up the entire Breaking Bad  television series. I must figure out a way to end this charade with dignity.  The first episode of the high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine drug dealer distracted him from further morbid thoughts.


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Sally reeled from one crisis to the next. The incessant chaotic firefighting absorbed her twelve-hour shift. The director, whenever she showed up, refused to dive into the excruciating detail that determined Moon Base Armstrong’s day to day survival. And it was day to day. There wasn’t a shift that Sally didn’t wonder if a catastrophe would end it all. She wanted to hand the shift responsibility off to someone — anyone else. The shine and adulation of being in charge was long gone; replaced with foreboding, doubts, and unremitting fatigue.

She’d no sooner returned to the control panel after seeing Chuck, when Sally saw a bank of red alarm lights. She lifted her equipment harness from her chair and gasped seeing five missed urgent calls on her contactor — the moon base equivalent of the terrestrial smartphone. Chuck was right. I didn’t follow the protocol and use my head set when I rushed out to get Mark.  Always-on communication was a prime directive and was critical for the Shift Manager. She clipped on her ear bud, scanned the missed calls, and punched the icon of the most recent.

The Manufacturing Pod Manager, Jerome Papadopoulos — Jerry, answered. “Sally, where the hell are you? We’ve got an air leak.”

She blanched. “Where?” Of urgent problems, none was more terrifying.

“On segment three of the Prototype, I mean, Manufacturing Pod.” The pod was originally set up, when Jerry took charge, to test prototype samples. The idea was to see what things the AI controlled tools could manufacture and use that learning in the next phase of expansion. After the incident, expansion requiring rockets from earth was off the table. Now the exotic 3D printers and tooling they brought for prototypes would have to do much more.

A week ago, the director renamed Prototype Pod the Manufacturing Pod and gave it the task to produce the parts needed to make Moon Base Armstrong self-sustaining. The Manufacturing Pod was making parts on a daily basis. The parts it produced were critical for survival.

Sally clipped on her equipment harness and bounded out of the control room. “How bad is it?” she asked through her ear piece.

“We closed all hatches and the rate of fall is sixty millitorr per second.”

Sally worked her brain as she moved to the Manufacturing Pod. Sixty millitorr per second — how much time does that give us? There’s 760 Torr at atmosphere, which we call green pressure, and we can function till we get to 523 Torr so… 60 millitorr per second drops 237 Torr in… 3,950 seconds.  There was a reason NASA picked Sally for this mission and one was she could do lifesaving calculations in her head. We have sixty-six minutes.  “We have an hour to stop this leak Jerry.”

“We don’t know where it is.”

Sally arrived by going through the double locks that separated the pods from the hub — the Nexus. The double locks were to prevent more precious atmosphere from escaping a leaking pod. There was a threshold beyond which air and oxygen production couldn’t recover. Going below that threshold would kill all in Moon Base Armstrong. She sized up the situation and noted Jerry and two others, James Staid and Gitanjali Chatterjee — Jim and Gitty — were in the pod.

Jerry bounded to Sally. He displayed visible relief that someone of higher rank had shown up. “We’re getting the steam going.”

Sally remembered how, on earth, she would dip her bicycle inner tube in water to check for a leak. Here, Jerry’s team was using visible water vapor. Rather than bubbles they were looking for places that sucked in the vapor. Sally bounded to segment three. “Why do you think the leak’s in this area?”

“We heard the hiss,” Gitty was the one who answered.

Sally looked at Gitty and thought, in a different time and place, the exotic looking woman would be a model or movie star. Now she was, like Sally, in the middle of numbing day to day life or death chaos.

After agonizing moments, they discovered the leak was in a seam in the outer wall. The vapor had clearly shown the problem by disappearing at the upper section of the seam. Sucked out into the vacuum , Sally thought. Nothing but an airtight structure separated them from instant death.

They first mixed curing agent in sealing putty. Jim and Gitty applied the curing putty to the seam and Jerry covered the new seal with three layers of the ever present duct tape.

While waiting to confirm that the rate of fall had stopped — that the leak was fixed — Sally pondered that they were using putty and duct tape at an alarming rate. “What’s it look like?” Sally asked.

“That’ll do it,” Jim said, staring at the digital gauge. “We’re back in business.”

Sally sighed. “Good work.”

Rescuing Mark and patching the leak in the Manufacturing Pod proved to be the most urgent tasks of Sally’s shift. The continuous drumbeat of requests, adjusted plans, and electronic documentation occupied the rest. The electronic documentation for the next shift manager, Douglas Graham, was most important.

Each pod of the base was responsible for creating a pass-down for the next twelve hour shift and it was the Shift Manager’s job to make sure all was detailed; that nothing slipped through the cracks. As she completed this work and yearned for respite, Sally received a summons to meet the director of Moon Base Armstrong. Now what?  She finished the pass-down to Doug and, as she gathered her equipment, thought it likely she was about to get a reprimand for breaking protocol when getting Mark. Sally was in for one hell of a surprise.

Director Constance Collier, head of Moon Base Armstrong, stared with a frown at her workstation screen. Sally, seated directly across from the director, cleared her throat. Director Collier didn’t lift her eyes. “You’re one of forty-one women here,” Director Collier said in a deadpan tone.

“I guess that’s right,” Sally responded. “There’s eighteen on my shift of sixty-two.”

“That’s the problem.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The earth’s gone. Not just Houston, not just the US, all of it.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s been two months. We’ll keep trying to contact them but even Japan Station hasn’t heard anything.”

“What about the China moon base?”

The Director shook her head. “No contact. It’s likely gone.”

“But we never had contact with the China base.” Sally licked her lips and stared at the wall. “And the Mars Base?”

“No one knows. We never talked to it. Before we launched, the Mars Base was only in contact with Houston. Doctor Zeke Ben-Ami isn’t sure if it got hit with the gamma ray burst or not.”

“So it might have survived.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’ve spoken at length about this with Doctor Zeke. We have to act as if we’re humanity’s last stand.” Director Collier lifted her head and locked eyes with Sally. “Of the forty-one women here, thirty-four are fertile and you’re one of them. We’re going to need you to birth four children over the next six years.”

“What?” Sally shrieked.

“That’s the only way. If we don’t think of saving humanity now, it’ll be too late.”

“I don’t… I’m not even with somebody.” She slapped her palms on the director’s desk. “And to think I was happy NASA appointed a woman in charge of the first group.”

“The first group’s all there’s ever going to be. Nobody else’s coming. We’re it. I’ll give you one year to get your Shift Manager replacement ready. I can’t pull you off that duty without risking our ability to be self-sustaining. Maybe Chuck can step up.”

“Chuck’s convinced we’re doomed.” Sally couldn’t believe it. “Self-sustaining? We’re barely keeping the moon base together now. We’re all liable to die for lack of something as simple as duct tape.”

“Figure it out. I need you barefoot and pregnant in a year.”

“That’s a patriarchal trope.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe this.”

The director laughed. “This isn’t a patriarchy.” She leaned forward and glared at Sally. “I never said all four children would be from the same father. We need to use Moon Base Armstrong’s ethnic mix to maximum effect so we have a robust species. You need to have four children from four different fathers. We can fertilize with artificial insemination or the old fashioned way. I don’t care but you and the other thirty-three fertile women up here need to bear four to six children. Doctor McCarthy is mapping the needed ethnic and health pairing.”

“Paring? Eugenics? That’s fascist bullshit.”

“No, this is humanity’s last chance.” The director looked back at her screen. “We’re telling you first as Shift Manager is the toughest job to

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replace. This is top secret. The other women won’t be told for six months. We’ll work on educating everyone on the stakes involved in the meantime.”


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Captain Mark Martelli sat on the edge of his bunk and wondered what Sally thought of him. I’m supposed to be the head of our QRF — quick reaction force — a roving all around jack. I’m the go-to guy when tough jobs need done. And Sally had to save my sorry ass.  He stared at the ungainly walls adorned with cables, insulation, and flickering LEDs. This place is ugly.  He wanted companionship, he wanted beauty, and he wanted something to ground him. Sally’s tied up for couple more hours.  He looked at his contactor which also doubled as an e-book reader and video player. Mark flicked through a few book and movie collections but found nothing to grab his interest.

Purpose was the be all and end all and Mark, usually the inspiring optimist, struggled to find Moon Base Armstrong’s raison d’être. There was nothing but hardscrabble odiferous survival. There were temperature swings and smells that differed section to section. There were warm and cold sections — and offending odors everywhere. It stank in this moon base. He remembered gagging when getting a whiff of the Agriculture Pod.

Yeah, let’s use our daily human excrement and mix it with lunar soil and our precious water. Then let’s seal the pod, increase the heat and humidity, and pump in CO2. Then we keep the pod at 720 Torr so it’s contained, damp, and fertile.  He shook his head and remembered fixing the Agriculture Pod mulcher. Nothing ever smelled so bad. His eyes watered for days.

He looked again at the ugly interior. It was a stark reality. There were no animals, grass, trees, or blue sky on the moon. If all that’s gone, what’s our purpose?  He sighed. Is it only us? The only animals here are humans. No dogs, cats, hamsters… nothing. It’s only people that make this moon base worth anything. We preserve our culture and history… for what?  He’d fought, like the others, for weeks believing the earth survived. Now he felt gloom descend and realized more would be like Chuck; they’d give up and become destructive.

Mark stood up with such speed he had to stop himself from bouncing off the ceiling. I need to see my friend.  He moved to the hub — the Nexus — and bounded to the University Pod. The University Pod was another renamed part of Moon Base Armstrong. It wasn’t a pod at all, but a small computer server room also used for archival storage.

After the catastrophe came the realization that, whatever was in archival storage, was their only source of knowledge, history, and culture. A week ago, Director Collier renamed the small room the University Pod the same time she renamed the Prototype Pod the Manufacturing Pod. Mark knew what Director Collier was doing. The director was nudging the base’s inhabitants to view themselves as a self-sustaining community. Mark knew as well as anyone they were a long way from self-sustaining.

Mark arrived at the University Pod’s single hatch door and peered in the Plexiglas window. He smiled. Good, Zeke’s here.  He pushed the visitor button and was rewarded by his friend’s glance and smile. The hatch door popped open, Mark entered, and closed the door behind him. He grinned. Doctor Ezekiel Ben-Ami — Doctor Zeke — gave Mark a warm, two-handed handshake. “It’s good to see you,” Doctor Zeke said and Mark believed he really meant it.

“It’s good to see you too Doctor Zeke.” Mark released his hand.

“There’s no need for the title. Call me Zeke.”

Mark laughed and wondered if they’d ever tire of their formality ritual. “Did you hear what happened when I went out to the oxygen reactor?”

Zeke removed his reading glasses. “No.”

“I ran out of air. Chuck changed the gauge offset so I didn’t know how much I had.”

“Why would he do that?”

“He thinks we’re doomed.”

“We may be.”

Mark looked at this friend. Zeke was only two years older than Mark but he exuded deep wisdom. “Tell me Zeke. Tell me what really happened to earth.”

“You know what happened.”

“No. I never wanted to face it.” Mark sighed. “I saw that orange earthrise again… I have to know.”

Zeke nodded, turned, and swung down a whiteboard from its ceiling mount. He looked at the equations scribbled on it, laughed, and erased them. He drew a circle in the bottom right corner. “This is earth.” He drew a smaller circle nearby. “This is the moon, our new home.”

“A barren place for our new home,” Mark said.

Zeke drew a dot on the top left corner of the whiteboard. “This is where Wolf-Rayet Star 104 — WR 104, in the Sagittarius constellation, collapsed into a supernova.” He drew two beams coming out, one in line with earth.

“What are the odds?”

“Very low, it only happens in the Milky Way Galaxy once every five million years. That’s why no one was prepared.” Zeke turned to Mark. “The supernova became a hyper-nova and released a long duration gamma ray burst.” He went back to the whiteboard. “This burst created a gamma ray jet of more energy than will be released in the entire lifetime, that’s over ten billion years, of our sun.” He fanned the beam over the earth. “The rotational axis of WR 104 was such that the gamma ray jet traveled 7,500 light years distance. Earth happened to be in the way.”

“And it’s gone?”

“Complex multicellular surface life is extinct. Deep sea creatures likely survived.” He pointed to the small dot representing the moon. “We were lucky to be shielded from the direct blast. With no atmosphere, and being underground, we missed it all.”

Mark stared at his friend and said nothing for a long time. “Complex surface life is extinct? Trees, deer, dogs, cattle…”

“All gone.”

“What’s it mean?”

“It means we better get our act together here on the moon. Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station are it.”

“What about Mars?”

Zeke shook his head. “Not sure. The gamma ray burst may have got it. We have to act as if Moon Base Armstrong is humanity’s last stand.”

“Before you talk about our last stand, there’s something else.”


Mark stared at his hands with a deep frown. “I have all these pictures, you know, of where I’ve been; pictures of the people I’ve seen and the things I’ve done.” He looked up. “What does any of it mean?”

“I don’t follow.”

Mark stood up and reached behind the whiteboard. He withdrew one of Doctor Ben-Ami’s prize possessions — a hardback book. “We had to choose a whopping five pounds of personal things to bring here. I took devices that store my books, thousands of pictures, videos.” He set the book on the shelf and pointed to it. “You brought this, the Talmud.”

“It’s just a few commentaries on the Talmud. I have all of it in an electronic version.” Zeke licked his lips and got a faraway look in his eyes. “This book is part of my heritage.”

“That’s what I mean. I went to Jerusalem, I saw the Wailing Wall. I went to Jericho the oldest continuously inhabited city.” He tapped the book. “I’ve been to New York City, walked through the British Museum in London, saw the Terracotta Army in China…” He stopped and stared at a wall. “All that’s gone. How could this happen?”

“I just explained it.”

“I mean, how can a benevolent God do something like this? In all the apocalyptic tales, like Wool , or Battlestar Galactica , or The Day After , or Dr. Strangelove,  or even the bible’s book of Revelation ; we did it to ourselves. Making something that killed us or destroying our home through war or pollution made more sense. There was karmic justice in the idea of being our own destroyer.”

“You’re looking for justice?”

“Yes, how can an unthinking, uncaring universe snuff us out? This is worse than Sodom and Gomorrah which the bible says was destroyed because all in it were evil. There may have been a lot of evil people on earth but there were also a lot of good people down there.” He exhaled and shuddered. “What of our family and friends on earth? What did they die for? What was their crime?” Mark pinched his nose. “What did five millennia of human history mean?”

“You think I or the Talmud can answer that?” Zeke shook his head. “You’re better off looking to Voltaire’s Candide  for that answer. Bad stuff happens and it’s best we don’t pretend there’s some grand scheme. Just tend your own garden.” He pointed around the garish interior. “This is our garden for better or worse.”

Mark picked up the book. “You realize we’ll never see another newly produced, leather bound, wood pulp paper book?”

“I’m working on that. The lunar regolith has enough materials to make writing sheets and markers. They’re not paper but we’ll have material for the poets among us.”

“For what purpose?”

“To feel… to live…” Zeke picked up his book. “Don’t look for purpose here.” He tapped Mark’s breast. “Look for purpose there. All religions say that.”


“Genesis. We’re made in the likeness of God. And we are most god-like when we create.” He motioned to the station around them. “I’m finished mourning. I still draw breath. We humans are the end, not the means. We must have reverence for our humanity and that reverence will lead to grand lunar creations.” He smiled at his friend. “We’ll create our future.”

“You really believe we can create a future with purpose? Look at this place.”

“We’ll create a new future — not more of what is but wh

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at it could be, what it ought to be — and we’ll do it with those of us who survived the gamma ray burst.”

“You really believe we can find a new purpose?”

Zeke pointed to a display monitor showing the stark lunar surface. “This is the perfect spot to create our new meaning.”

Mark was about to reply that Zeke’s last comment sounded more like Ayn Rand than the bible but was interrupted by his contactor. He looked at the notice and smiled. “Doctor Zeke, I’ve got to go. Sally’s waiting to see me.”

“Go… survive, feel, create… your purpose is before you.”


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Sally waited outside Mark’s living quarters. Was it a mistake to bring Chuck with me?  She looked at Chuck who was making faces through his wired-shut teeth at his reflection in the window. Mark’s arrival stopped any thought of retreat.

“What’s this?” Mark asked standing just inside the Nexus, facing them from a distance.

“I never got your pass-down on the condition of the oxygen reactor.”

Mark glared at Chuck. “I was occupied in recovering from oxygen deprivation.”

“So, what’s the status?”

“The oxygen reactor is in good shape: 98%. I’ll log in and transfer my data summary.”

“Good, um, can we talk?”

Mark pointed to Chuck. “All of us?”

Sally nodded. “Please?”

Only Sally could get him to agree to something so preposterous. Mark grunted. “Okay.”

The three entered Mark’s quarters. His living quarters, like Sally’s and Chuck’s, were spacious because they were intended to house four. NASA planned three more crew launches to fully staff Moon Base Armstrong. Now that those launches would never happen, they all had extra space. Mark sat on his bunk and pointed to two stools. “What’s this about?”

“Chuck,” Sally elbowed Chuck. “Tell him.”

Chuck’s face pinched into a mask of regret. “I’m sorry Mark. I didn’t…”

After a long pause Sally interjected. “He didn’t mean it; what happened to your air. He talked to Doctor Zeke two days ago.” She sighed. “The earth’s really gone.”

“I know,” Mark answered. “I just came from the University Pod.”

Sally stood. “It looks like the University Pod just came to us.” She went to the door and opened it. “Doctor Zeke?”

“Zeke’s fine,” Doctor Ben-Ami answered. “What are titles up here anyway?”

“To what do we owe the pleasure?” Mark asked.

“When I told you I was done mourning, I lied.” Zeke crossed the room and sat on an unoccupied bunk.

Chuck stood. “That’s what happened to me. You’re fine because there’s so much to do and then you go out and see that orange earth in the sky and it hits you. What we lost hits you right between the eyes.” He lowered his head. “Do you guys know I proposed to Mia?”

“No,” Mark replied. “When?”

“Six months ago, just before our group launched.” He nodded. “Her group would be up here by now if not for the gamma ray burst.” Tears traced his cheeks. “I lost everything.”

We  lost everything,” Mark corrected. “You know, when I first went up here I did everything imagining what my extended family would think of it.”

“Why?” Sally asked.

“It’s like I needed an audience for validation. Hell, I still imagine what they would think of my actions and they’re long gone.”

Sally sat silent and watched the men grieve. This was what she wanted; a pause in the urgent day to day survival — contemplation.

“They’re not gone if we remember,” Zeke said.

“What?” Chuck asked.

“You should write down all you remember about Mia,” Zeke answered. He turned to Mark. “And you should write down all you remember about your family.”

“Why?” Chuck asked. “What good will that do?”

“We’re all there is,” Zeke replied. “Our past and our loved ones; they only live through our memories.”

“What about creating this brave new lunar world?” Mark asked.

“We do that too because one thing’s for sure — our past and our loved ones only mean something if we survive. All of humanity only has meaning…”

“If we survive,” Mark whispered.

Chuck buried his face in his hands. Sally saw Mark’s eyes shine with tears. She felt a lump in her throat, blinked, and watched her tears fall in glittering sparkles that splatted wet starbursts on her thighs. We live — our lives matter. That’s the only thing and that’s everything. The weight of all that humanity was — is on our shoulders.  “How?” Sally choked out the words. “How can we motivate? How can we inspire what’s left of humanity to fight?”

“Isn’t that the director’s job?” Mark asked.

“No, it’s ours.”


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Director Constance Collier took off her equipment harness and hung it on the hook next to her bunk. She stared at the equipment that was her daily lifeline. Behind her, a pneumatic door hissed open. She smiled. “It took you long enough.” She purred as strong arms encircled her waist.

“You’ve got to pace yourself Connie.” The deep baritone voice of Huxley Little filled the room. Huxley was the Assistant Director of Moon Base Armstrong, also known as the Armstrong Controller — ArmCon for short, and he was the director’s right hand man in all ways. He spun her toward him and kissed her dry lips.

“Hux, what would I do without you?”

“Find a younger stud to shack up with.”

She laughed. It felt good to laugh. It was sweet blessed release. “I just broke the birthing plan to Sally.”

Huxley stepped back, eyebrows raised. “Why now?”

“Because nobody can do what she does. I’ve given her a year to get a replacement trained.”

“And you’ve given me a year to get this place self-sustaining. What’s so magic about a year?”

“You know… that’s when we run out of consumables.”

“We may run out long before that.”

“Doctor Ben-Ami has some good ideas at massively increasing the oxygen supply — the air supply — and he’s got a sample of sealing lunar cement. We’ll use sprayers and the compound will react with the surface and seal the tube sections.” She nodded in satisfaction. “We’ll be able to pressurize the tube one section at a time. Once we do that, we’ll be able to start constructing above ground green houses and habitation pods.”

Huxley nodded. “We’ll have to check the radiation first. If there’s too much, we’ll need to stay underground for our living spaces. Hell, that’s why we’re alive now.”

The Director nodded. “Well, there are  solutions. And even if no one likes to hear this, if we’re going to survive as a species, we better start making babies next year.”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

She laughed again. “I’m too old.”

“Forty-eight isn’t old.” He beamed a Cheshire cat grin. “Everything you’ve got seems to work just fine.”

She kissed him, pulled back, and stared at him with a soft gaze. “Let’s not talk about this now.”


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Mark was thankful Sally stayed after Chuck and Zeke departed his living quarters. He looked at Sally. Her shoulder-length brunette hair had a hint of red and was pulled back in a ponytail. Mark liked that Sally remained, in the face of everything, utterly and agonizingly female. “You’re amazing you know.” He beamed at her.

“Stop it,” Sally said.

“No, I mean it. You came out and saved me. You patched the leak. You run the shift.” He nodded. “You are  amazing.”

She smiled and Mark’s heart skipped a beat. “You’re not so bad yourself,” she replied. “By the way, congratulations.”

“For what?”

“ArmCon said you’d made rank of major.”

Mark snorted. “I was selected for major by the U.S. Air Force’s promotion board three months ago.”

“And now you’re due your promotion. You can pin on your major’s insignia.”

“There’s no U.S. Air Force left. There’s no U.S. left. What good is a major’s rank?”

“We have to keep conventions.”

“Humph.” Mark regarded Sally. “I’m not totally on board with Zeke.”

“What do you mean?”

“I see the orange earth in the sky but I’m not convinced the U.S. Air Force is gone. We had all those tunnels and Cheyenne Mountain… millions, hell billions of people died but I’ll bet there are few hundred left deep underground.”

“Then they’ll have to stay underground a very long time.” She shrugged. “We’ll never know for sure.” She put her hands on her knees. “What do you think about Doctor Zeke’s challenge?”

“What challenge?”

“Humanity’s last stand.”

“Humanity’s last stand? I think it’s a grim world.”

“Not so grim if we pull together.”

Mark looked into Sally’s big brown eyes and thought he could lose himself in her gaze. Maybe , he thought, maybe there’s something worth living for.  “We’ve seen what happens when someone accepts that the earth’s gone. Most of the crew haven’t seen the orange earth in the sky. We’ve seen what that view did to Chuck and he’s supposed to be one of our leaders. How do we get Moon Base Armstrong on the same page?”

“I don’t know.” Sally paused. “But there’s something I need from you first.”

“What’s that?”

“I need you to replace me.”

“Why? Are you sick?”

“No and don’t a

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sk, please… not yet. Can you shadow me when you’re not going out fixing things?”

Mark nodded. “Yeah, I can do that.” He sighed. “Back to humanity’s last stand — what do we tell the others? What do we say to the crew?”

“I don’t know.”

“We have to tell them something. We have to inspire them to go through the rash of shit in front of us.”

Sally nodded. “I know. It’s going to be hard but it can be done.”

Mark stood, pulled a stool next to Sally, and sat beside her. “I can’t think of the past anymore. It’s just too painful. I can’t think of my family and those we left behind… those thoughts lead me down a dark abyss.” He regarded her quizzical glance. “Our purpose, if we create one, is in our future.” He smiled. “One thing I know is that if I have to be stuck here, I’m glad it’s with you.”

“I am glad you’re here too Mark.” She flashed a smile. “We need to change how we view each other. We’re not crew. We’re not workers on shift. We’re all brothers, sisters, and family.”

Mark grinned. “Yeah, we’re all family and we better pull together.” He smiled in gratitude. “If we pull together, we can make it. We save ourselves and we save humanity.”

The two sat side by side without saying anything for several long moments. The whining electrical motors that kept the air scrubbers and air circulation fans moving created a perpetual white noise that was punctuated by creaks and pneumatic hisses. But save for that, it was quiet. Two people in the most impossible of situations sat side by side pondering how to move forward. Mark saw themselves in a new light and had a measure of Doctor Zeke’s reverence for the new purpose of Moon Base Armstrong’s crew.

Humanity’s last stand gives us the noblest goal of all,  Mark thought. The scope of what we’re attempting is ineffable. We’re not cowering or surrendering. We are using our god-like minds to adapt, to create a new world. If we can pull together and inspire everyone… 

He draped an arm across Sally’s shoulders and pulled her toward him. She closed her eyes and purred. Yes,  he thought, we can do this. 



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Director Constance Collier stood on the raised platform at a podium and addressed the assembly. Moon Base Armstrong’s crew was gathered in the Nexus. Mark Martelli sat in front panting shallow breaths. It was six weeks after his near-death suffocation and his burgeoning anxiety felt like a lump of ice in the pit of his stomach. He swallowed on a dry throat. Don’t ask me to go out there,  he silently pleaded. I’m not ready. 

Mark licked his lips. It was the nightmare my first sleep period after… it happened.  When Sally rescued him, he was glad to be alive and angry at Chuck. It was afterwards the cold sweats began. It was afterwards that terror came calling. Mark felt his cheeks flush. Every night I dream of suffocating just before losing consciousness.  He forced himself to take a deep breath and fought down the panic-inducing thought. There’s no air on the moon. The one thing we need more than anything and it’s not here. Why didn’t we stay on earth and face the gamma ray burst? There’s no air here. 

Moon Base Armstrong Controller — ArmCon Huxley Little stood next to Director Constance Collier on the platform and smirked as he placed a stack of what looked like grey plates on a small table. Mark was grateful that two so skilled in leadership were at the helm. Fatigue blurred Mark’s awareness. For weeks, his suffocating nightmare recurred so often it robbed him of sleep, courage, and sanity. And he didn’t go outside on moon walks again. He delegated that task to the other Quick Reaction Force Team Leader, Thad Rudzinski, and Thad took Mark’s role as Sally’s go-to guy.

Quick Response Force Team Leader Captain Mark Martelli swiveled and looked behind him. Doctor Ezekiel Ben-Ami was there, looking straight ahead with a deadpan stare. To his left sat Shift Manager Douglas Graham the second shift lead, and next to him was Shift Supervisor Charles ‘Chuck’ Tully and Shift Supervisor Arthur ‘Art’ Sledge. First shift lead, Shift Manager Sally Ride Henderson and Quick Response Force Team Leader Captain Thaddeus Rudzinski sat to his right.

They were doing the assembly thing: leaders up front. Mark’s dismay increased. Maybe Dad was right. If I can’t demonstrate sustained courage, how can I lead?  His visceral terror of asphyxiation impacted every waking moment. And everybody knew it. He blinked his eyes and focused on the podium.

Music emanated from recessed speakers and filled the ad hoc auditorium with acoustic clarity. The assembly rose to their feet. The Star Spangled Banner played from a recording in perfect tones and, as the final stanzas of ‘Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?’ rang out — tears traced the cheeks of many of the Moon Base Armstrong crew. Mark felt tears trace his cheeks as well.

The crew applauded with an enthusiasm once reserved for football games. ArmCon Little, standing next to the director at the podium, remotely lowered a large projector screen that filled a wall of the Nexus.

“Please take your seats,” Director Collier spoke in a steady command voice. “There’s something we all need to see.”


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“I’m about to show you something disturbing but, in the interests of candor, it’s necessary.” Director Collier was big on candor. It was one of her espoused core values. She believed candor cleared the decks so the bullshit could stop and the real work could proceed. That value seemed a quaint remnant of distant organizations long gone.

The director paused and nothing but the faint whirring of fans could be heard. She glanced from side to side, taking everyone in. “I know many of you hope your friends in Houston or Cheyenne Mountain defied the odds and survived the gamma ray burst.” She stared at the crowd a long moment. “I did too.”

There was another long pause and Mark wondered at the director’s reticence. He looked at Sally and noted her frown. He looked left and his eyes fell on Chuck who was slouched in his seat, arms crossed. Resentment surged. That no good son of a bitch.  Chuck’s tampering with his air offset shattered Mark’s confidence and, as a consequence, his hard won respect.

“It turns out,” the director continued, “our friends occupying the side opposite us in the Shackleton Crater mounted more than an antenna on the top of the Mons Malapert Summit. Japan Station also pointed a camera at earth and yesterday, when they heard about our persistent hopes of survivors, they sent us these images.” The director frowned. “I cried when I saw them.” She stopped and cleared her throat. “A few who go outside on moonwalks see that our beautiful blue earth is now orange. We all need to face this reality.” She turned to ArmCon Little. “Hux, show them the first picture.”

The wall-sized screen was filled with a vivid view of space and in the center, brilliant and dazzling, was the blue and white marble of earth. Throughout the Nexus could be heard murmurs of how beautiful that precious blue marble was. Many appreciatively mumbled the word home.

“This was how our world looked when we left.” The director nodded to the ArmCon. “Show them the next image.”

The next projected picture prompted an agonized wail of grief. The picture captured the gamma ray burst as it surged across earth. Two-thirds of the earth was brown charcoal and one-third was still the innocent helpless blue marble. The dividing line that irrefutably showed the gamma ray burst’s planet-killing effect was a bright ring of fire. Mark could make out Australia a moment before its destruction and he saw that the burst annihilated the precious atmosphere. The gamma ray burst left nothing but a smoking ruin in its wake.

There were cries of despair, some still punctuated with denial. “No! No!” rippled through the assembly. The director let the group take in the enormity of the catastrophe for a few moments.

Director Collier nodded to the ArmCon who advanced to the next image. The wail increased in volume at the picture of the incinerated earth. It was a different, foreboding planet. Its continents were nearly indistinguishable and dark. Its seas were burnt orange. The earth was streaked with simmering orange residue. There was a wavy penumbra between the earth and dark space; the remnants of atmosphere. The sound of grief, almost at a cue, dropped to quiet sobs.


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“We are humanity’s last stand,” the director continued as the image of their ruined planet was replaced by an overhead diagram of the Shackleton Crater showing the outline of Moon Base Armstrong. She pointed to the diagram. “This moon base and our four

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supply pods orbiting overhead give us a fighting chance. We are colonists.” She indicated the opposite side of the crater. “Twenty-one kilometers away from Moon Base Armstrong is Japan Station with sixty-four colonists. We’ll work together to save humanity.”

Mark stared at the diagram. The robots that preceded them to the moon carved out ledges at the top of the steep crater that allowed for internal burrowing of habitation tubes. The ledges were as wide as four lane highways and also enabled a 1.7 kilometer plexiglass walkway that Mark thought of as his mile long walk to the air reactor. The ledges allowed passage from the shadowed crater area to the edge where the sun illuminated the extensive solar array ninety-seven percent of the time. The air and material processing reactors were next to the array.

Another NASA and ESA — European Space Agency constructed ledge traversed down the steep wall of the crater at a slope of two degrees in a clockwise corkscrew nearly all of the 4.2 kilometer depth. The bottom of the crater had ice needed to provide a consistent source of water. Most of Moon Base Armstrong’s consumables were from earth and the last of those consumables were in four very precious supply pods orbiting overhead.

The bottom of the crater beckoned. Self-sustainability — human survival itself — was at stake. The automated digger never made it to the bottom. It stopped 300 meters short either due to mechanical failure or lack of power. The original plan was to wait for arrival of the next crew and then go down to find out. A new plan was needed.

The projected diagram showed dotted lines of the interior of Moon Base Armstrong. At the crater’s edge was the large hangar and command center where the shift leads did their work. The Nexus was behind the hangar and angling from the Nexus like spokes from a wheel were three large habitation tubes buried in the side of the crater’s wall.

Habitation Tube One comprised of the large med-bay, the University Pod, and ended with a large circular room that served as Director Collier’s quarters. Habitation Tube Two consisted of the Manufacturing Pod, the Agriculture Pod, and ArmCon Little’s quarters. Habitation Tube Three consisted of everything else: food and consumable storage, spare parts, and large machinery that had yet to be installed.

Living quarters were enclosed rooms distributed around Habitation Tube Two and Habitation Tube Three. Mark pondered that the crew, other than Director Collier and ArmCon Little, were well dispersed in what looked like notches on the diagram.

Mark stared at the projection. His fears transformed everything he viewed. The Nexus, hangar, and habitation tubes are the only place of sweet breathable air. The base is the only place we don’t suffocate to death.  

The director pointed to the side opposite Moon Base Armstrong. “Japan Station is situated in the shade with their solar array and reactors in the sun similar to us. They’ve gotten a large pipe into the crater bottom and are scavenging water and material. We’ll need to figure out how to link up with them so that this crater becomes humanity’s new Garden of Eden.”

There were snorts in response to the Garden of Eden comment. Chuck raised his hand. ArmCon Little frowned but the director acknowledged the interruption. “What about the China base?” Chuck asked.

Director Collier took a deep breath. “China set its base up on a different philosophy than Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station.” She chatted briefly with ArmCon Little and he replaced the projected crater image to one of the entire moon. Director Collier pointed to the center. “China set up on the equator. Half of their base consisted of massive energy storage fuel cells because, at the equator, the moon has fourteen days of intense sunlight and fourteen days of dark shade. That’s a plus 123 degrees to minus 153 degrees temperature swing.”

“Was that temperature Celsius?” Doug asked.

“You civilian contractors make me nuts,” ArmCon Little answered. “In the sun it’s a scorching 253 degrees and in the shade it’s minus 243 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“Huxley,” the director admonished, “we’re all colonists now.” She turned back to Chuck. “Here we control what’s put in the shade and what’s put in sun.”

“We’re not sure,” the ArmCon added, “if the China base was shielded from the gamma ray burst.”

“Could we go and find out?” Chuck asked.

“It’s 1,642 kilometers away,” the director answered. “That’s over a thousand miles. We have no way to explore that far.”

“What would have happened,” Doug continued the question, “if the China base was hit with the burst?”

“The same thing that happened to four of our eight orbiting supply pods. It would’ve been blown to dust by that much energy. We were fortunate four of our orbiting pods were shielded by the moon itself.” She shook her head. “And for those who wonder about Mars — we’re also pretty sure the thirty-four person Mars Station was exposed to the gamma ray burst.” She extended her hand and swung her arm from one side of the assembly to the other. “Look left and right. We’re it.”

The director whispered to ArmCon Little who changed the projected image from the moon back to the Shackleton Crater. Director Collier continued. “We need unity and we need each of you to do your part.” She swallowed. “I know you’ve all been shaken by what you’ve seen, by what’s become of our sweet earth. For the last several weeks we were all hoping against hope.”

Mark stared at Moon Base Armstrong’s two leaders and marveled how they faced grim reality in unflinching fashion. He doubted he’d have been so composed.

Director Constance Collier heaved a deep sigh. “We have to face our future without earth. We  are the future of our species. We’ve got to take what we have,” she pointed to the image of Moon Base Armstrong, “and make it a self-sustaining home. We’re going to talk about our steps to do that.”

On this cue the director stepped to the side and ArmCon Little stepped to the podium.


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“Let’s talk about the good stuff.” ArmCon Huxley Little said with a wide smile. “We’re all gonna make it and I’m to show you how. We’ve done a lot of work to make this moon base our home.”

Huxley Little’s smile and positive attitude after the projections of the incinerated earth rattled Mark. Mark’s sleep deprived mind was stuck on the searing images. It’s gone. Everything and everyone is gone.  He felt a wave of nausea. What’s the point?  Sally elbowed him in the side. He turned to her. “It’s going to be okay,” she whispered.

“Jerry Papadopoulos, Gitty Chatterjee, and Jim Staid have something to show us,” ArmCon Little announced. “Please demonstrate what you’ve been able to accomplish this week.”

The Manufacturing Pod’s threesome came to the front holding a shoebox-sized device. Jerry looked up with a sheepish grin. “This is a rover prototype and every molecule of material in this rover was mined and manufactured right here.” He turned to Gitty who beamed a smile that lit the room.

She pointed to the rover’s front. “This is an electric motor whose insulator comes from processed GGC — glass-glass composites. The windings are ninety-six percent pure aluminum wire and the magnets are made of processed iron.” Gitanjali was pleased with herself. “We have our first working machine.” She smiled and turned to Jim Staid.

Jim grinned but Mark thought his smile far less genuine than Gitty’s. “We have the first lunar produced solar panels,” Jim announced. “We used nanoengineered additive technology to achieve the needed purity of the silicon. It took a few iterations but now we have a scalable manufacturing process.”

Jim crouched, toggled a switch on the prototype, and used a flashlight to illuminate the panels. The prototype rover scooted across the room with a satisfying electric whine. Jerry caught the rover and lifted it high for the assembly to view. The room burst into applause.

“That’s right,” ArmCon Little said at the podium. “We’re on our way.” He grinned. “We also produced, solely from the lunar regolith, our first Moon Base Armstrong set of Innovation Awards. Jerry, Gitty, and Jim — report.” The three Manufacturing Pod engineers were awarded 3D printed glass-glass composite plaques with sparkling raised letters that detailed their names and accomplishments.

“Doctor Ezekiel Ben-Ami, report.” ArmCon Little kept the ceremony going. The doctor came up with two olive-colored tongue and groove shaped bricks. “Doctor Zeke is presented an Innovation Award for his ingenious development of construction bricks. These Lego-like bricks connect well and, when heat is applied, react and bond together to provide an airtight seal.”

Doctor Ezekiel Ben-Ami lifted the bricks for the assembly to see. “This will enable rapid expansion of our CELSS — our controlled ecological life-support system into other parts of Shackleton Crater and the moon.”

“Thank you Doctor Zeke,” the ArmCon said. “Now from the Agriculture Pod: Christina Bennet report.” A young woman with shoulder length blonde hair came to the front holding what looked like an egg carton with green sprouts. “Tina Bennet is presented the Innovation Award for optimizing our hydroponic farming. We’re all going to be vegan, and that’s fine.” As Tina stood and received the award ArmCon Little added, “There’s probably nothing more valuable we produce up here than our own excrement.”

The award ceremony continued with Doctor Zeke getting another award for a small scale lunar produced material separator and

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Jim Staid was called again for designing a 3D printer also fully manufactured from materials extracted from the regolith. We didn’t get to Kurzweil’s vaunted singularity in computer artificial intelligence , Mark thought as he watched the progression of awards, but we came close enough to give us a chance. 

Sally Ride Henderson and Douglas Graham were each given a Sustainability Award for diligent identification and repair of leaks. Thaddeus Rudzinski, Mark’s shift two Quick Response Force Team Leader counterpart, was presented a Water Award for getting a sample pipe into the crater bottom from the Moon Base Armstrong side of Shackleton Crater. Like Japan Station, Thad was able to extract ice particles.

As the award ceremony continued, Mark’s stomach tightened with anxiety overpowering his fatigue. The specter of anonymity in the new Moon Base Armstrong order of things jolted him.

Mark feared the worst as Director Constance Collier came alongside ArmCon Huxley Little at the podium. He felt his cheeks burn as both the director and ArmCon cast their gazes on him. What now? 

“Captain Mark Martelli — report,” the director commanded.


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Captain Martelli stood at attention before Director Collier and ArmCon Little. He felt exposed to ridicule. He felt exposed to Moon Base Armstrong’s knowledge of his overpowering fear of suffocation.

The director held up antique U.S. Air Force major’s insignia pinned to an index card. “We have the distinct pleasure of promoting Captain Mark Martelli to the rank of major. This will put him third in command of Moon Base Armstrong — the highest rank after the ArmCon and myself.”

Director Collier favored Mark with an uncharacteristic smile. “These insignia are a legacy. They were first worn by Mark’s great great grandfather, Major Leo Martelli, when he became an ace flying a P-51 Mustang over the skies of Europe in World War II. They were then worn by Mark’s great grandfather, Major Gino Martelli when flying an F-4 Phantom in Vietnam. Mark’s grandfather, Major Patrick Martelli, wore these insignia when flying an F-15 Eagle over Iraq in the first Gulf War. As most of you know, Mark’s father was General Michael Martelli who flew an F-16 Fighting Falcon.”

Mark would’ve preferred that the director stop there on the description of his father. His family’s legacy was impressive. All but one detail indicated Mark was a patriotic volunteer and not placed on the moon by his father who called in a favor. But the director added that damning detail. “General Michael Martelli, Mark’s father was my commander as head of the U.S. Air Force Space Command out of Colorado.”

Yes,  Mark thought as he stood there trying to keep his face calm, General Martelli was not only your commander, he raised a brood to carry on his legacy. He watched his oldest sons pilot F-22 Raptors while me, his youngest son, piloted drones out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. My brothers got promoted to Lieutenant Colonel so fast they never got these major’s oak leaf insignia. I got stuck being a captain and was passed over for promotion to major… until tapped to come to the moon.  He wondered if the director and the ArmCon knew the truth. Then Dad pulled strings for me, his embarrassing youngest son hidden up here on the moon, to get promoted to major. 

The director turned to Mark and lowered her voice. “The general would be gratified to see you get these insignia.”

No he wouldn’t. 

The two leaders flanked Mark and each affixed the antique golden oak leaf major’s insignia to an opposite collar of his U.S. Air Force space jumpsuit. The director and the ArmCon took a step back and both snapped a sharp salute. Mark returned the salute and, as he held it, tried to discern whether ArmCon Little’s expression was one of respect or amusement.

The director extended her hand and gave Mark a firm handshake. “Congratulations Major.”

The assembly applauded.

“Your dad,” the ArmCon echoed, “would’ve been proud to see this.”

“My dad?” The newly minted major was not of the same mind. Major Mark Martelli struggled to feel anything of merit in this promotion. Mark knew that General Martelli had many feelings about his youngest black sheep son. Pride was never one of them.

“Yes,” the ArmCon continued oblivious to Mark’s consternation. He flipped the index card over. “The general wrote a short note I’ll read for the crew.”

Oh God please… no.  Mark could only stand in front of the assembly helpless as the torture continued. The effect of his multi-generational legacy shouldn’t have mattered after the gamma ray burst. But it did. The burden of expectation rose to unbearable weight.

“The general wrote this note months ago, right after the major’s board selected Mark for promotion. General Martelli sent the century-old major’s insignia with the last launch.” ArmCon Little cleared his throat with genuine emotion. “I knew General Martelli well and it’s right that his heritage continue here on the moon with his son.”

Mark wanted to vomit. He felt beads of sweat form on his forehead. He inhaled and felt lightheaded. He unlocked his knees to avoid fainting. Let this end, please. 

“To my son, Major Mark Martelli,” the ArmCon read the general’s note. “These major’s insignia convey the great honor of carrying on the Martelli tradition on the fantastic adventure of the first moon colony. May they prod you to display worthy courage and leadership.” With that short exhortation, the ArmCon handed the note to Mark and shook his hand. “Again, congratulations Major Martelli.”

Mark exhaled slow and steady. The assembly applauded. The new major did an about face, looked at the applauding crew, and did his level best to smile. He wondered who in the assembly caught the implied scolding of the note; that he needed the prod to courage, that he needed the prod to leadership. He was sure his father intended that to be a private note — not to be read in front of the entire moon base crew.

The new major faced the applause and he knew many of those clapping doubted he had either courage or ability to lead. He knew most there were happy that Director Collier and ArmCon Little were in charge. So was he.


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The director and the ArmCon grabbed Chuck, Doug, Art, Sally, Zeke, Jerry, Tina, and Thad. The group converged in Mark’s quarters after the ceremony. The ArmCon wielded four bottles of 2019 vintage Dom Perignon champagne. “Break out the glasses we’re going to celebrate!” ArmCon Little bellowed.

Celebration was the last thing that Mark wanted but the director and the ArmCon couldn’t be denied. As the group piled in he looked at his domain. He always viewed his quarters as spacious but, with ten inside, it was crowded. He turned to Director Collier and pointed to the champagne. “2019?”

“Fiftieth anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon,” the director said with a flair. “I’ve got six cases of 2019 vintage stored in my quarters. This is the first event where I’ve pulled out the champagne for a toast.” She turned to her Manufacturing Pod Manager. “Jerry, you better figure out how to produce some local champagne before we run out.”

“Um… grapes are Tina’s specialty,” Jerry said and turned to Christina Bennet.

Tina was in the back leaning against the wall next to the pneumatic door. She saw Jerry’s wave and jostled amongst the group until she was beside Jerry. “What did you say?”

“Champagne!” ArmCon Little thundered. “We need to be making lunar champagne in six months.”

Tina Bennet frowned, attempting to measure the seriousness of the request. “Grapes are luxury, not staples. And they take more water than we’ve allotted.” She looked from the director to Jerry. “Are you guys kidding?”

“No,” the director answered. “We’re going to get this base up and running in a full luxury mode.” She pointed to Thad. “Thad found the ice. Mark and Thad are going to have us swimming in water.”

At this point Mark wondered if the director and the ArmCon imbibed before the ceremony. It was nuts to put a rah-rah cover on the most epic tragedy imaginable. He looked around the room and then realized it wasn’t nuts. It was genius. The group was smiling and laughing as lined up glasses were filled with Dom Perignon. The unimaginable enormity of the earth’s destruction was pushed out of the moment.

Once everyone had a glass of bubbling champagne Director Collier lifted hers. “To Major Mark Martelli and the success of Moon Base Armstrong.”

“To Mark and Armstrong.” ArmCon Little led the chorus.

“To not just surviving but to thriving.” The director lifted her glass again.

“To thriving,” the gathering boomed in unison.

Mark took handshakes from the group. The director and the ArmCon excused themselves after the toasts. Mark felt buzzed after downing three glasses.

“Good thing your dad was a general, eh?” an unfamiliar voice said behind Mark.

Mark turned and faced Shift Manager Douglas Graham, the second shift lead. “Excuse me?”

“I saw you got passed over for major when there was an earth. Good thing Daddy pulled some strings before it all happened.” Doug Graham said this in a warm convivial tone.

“Hey,” Thad Rudzinski elbowed Doug to the side

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in a none too gentle manner. “This is my boss and he damn sure outranks you.” Thad had one of the bottles of champagne in his hand and he topped off Mark’s glass. “That disastrous decision in 2010 on the space program let all you civilians in and cost us ten years of colonization. The old Apollo astronauts were right. We should have kept the space program out of civilian hands and invested like crazy. That 2010 decision put us in a pickle.”

“Easy on the politics,” Doctor Zeke chimed in. “Me, Tina, Jim Staid, and Chuck are all civilians along with control room managers Doug and Art. And Doctor McCarthy and several others are from the European Space Agency.” He looked around. “Where is Doctor McCarthy anyway?”

“Still in the med-bay tending our flu outbreak,” Chuck answered. “I got to spend some quality time in the med-bay thanks to our new major.” Chuck looked at Mark while rubbing his jaw. Mark ignored him. Chuck turned back to Zeke. “Viruses made it up here and there are always a few cycling through with flu symptoms.”

“That’s a concern,” Zeke replied. He turned to Thad. “We rolled the governance of Moon Base Armstrong under a hierarchical military command structure but always planned a broad vision. Once we unite with Japan Station, we’ll have representatives of all but China here.”

“You know what that means,” Doug said. “The U.S. Military doesn’t drive everything.”

“Well,” Thad said without apology, “I’m the last in a military legacy back to World War II like Mark here.” He raised his glass. “My grandfather was on the ground in the sands of Iraq when his grandfather was screaming overhead in his F-15 Eagle.”

“Big deal Captain Rudzinski,” Chuck, standing next to Doug, exclaimed.

“It is a big deal,” Thad answered. “We could use more like Major Martelli here.”

Mark nodded in gratitude. The alcohol was having its effect. Mark felt the discomfort of spreading pain at the back of his neck. “Thanks. Like the director said — we’re all colonists now.”

Doug snorted. “I see you guys close ranks.” He stuck his hand out to Mark. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Mark shook his hand. “No worries.”

Doug departed and that, along with the empting of the last of the champagne, prompted an exodus from Mark’s quarters. Mark shook everyone’s hand ending with Zeke. “Congrats to you Zeke,” Mark said as he pumped his friend’s hand. “Those bricks are really something.”

“They’re just what we need,” Zeke answered.

Mark sighed as his door swished shut. He turned and started at seeing Sally sitting on the edge of his bunk. “Hey.” His headache expanded.

“Hey yourself,” Sally responded.

“Some ceremony, huh?”

Sally nodded and stared at him as if she were looking into his soul. Her brown eyes never moved from his. “Yeah, some ceremony.”

Mark wasn’t sure of Sally’s intent. For weeks she’d been distant. She pinned him with a piercing glance. It was as if the temperature in his living quarters dropped ten degrees. “Do you…” He had no idea where to go with his sentence. “…want to hang out?”

Sally frowned at the juvenile question. “No, I want to ask you something.”


“What’s wrong with you?”


“You haven’t been outside since I pulled you into the hangar. This isn’t going to work. If you’re third in command, you need to get out there.”

“I will.” He didn’t expect this. “I’m…” He looked at Sally for a hint of empathy. He took a deep breath and let it spill. “I’m having nightmares about suffocating.” He felt relief at naming his terror.

“So what?” Sally wasn’t having it. “Even Chuck went out there a day after getting the wires out of his teeth.” She lowered her gaze to the floor and shook her head. “I almost believed in you.”

“Hey.” Mark put a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t give up on me.”

Sally looked up with a glance of pity, stood, and then exited Mark’s quarters. Mark stared at the closed door. An awful feeling of loneliness overwhelmed him.


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Mark got a precious six hours of sleep before his contactor chimed. He slid out of his bunk, rubbed his eyes, and answered. “Captain… er… Major Martelli.”

“Mark, can I still call you Mark? I want to come over and cover the pod descent.” Thad’s voice came through with energetic enthusiasm.

“Yeah, give me twenty minutes.” Mark disconnected the call and stared in the mirror. He saw slackness in the skin of his face. He lifted his chin and traced his jawline. Mark couldn’t tell if it was the booze or the one-sixth earth gravity that accounted his aged look.

He ran precious droplets of water onto his sanitizer sponge, gave his body a quick once over, and dry-brushed his teeth with UV as disinfectant. Got to keep the viruses at bay.  He popped open his consumables compartment and took out a bottle that held his morning ration of water. He drank his water, pulled on his jumpsuit, and looked in the mirror again. That’s better. 

Captain Thaddeus Rudzinski showed up precisely twenty minutes after waking Mark. He was all business. “We have the pod coming down in six hours. I’m going out to place the beacons an hour before touchdown.”

Mark cleared his throat. “Thad, maybe it’s time I get out there.”

Thad shot Mark a wide-eyed look. “Why? I’ve done it before.”

Mark had braced himself to suit up and exit the moon base today. He didn’t feel ready but, after facing the brunt of Sally’s disappointment, he was going to force it. He stared at Thad’s eager gaze. This was a way out.

Thad made it easy for him. “Look, you’ve spotted something like twelve pod landings.” Thad’s admiration was a tonic.

“Eleven actually.”

“Well, I’ve done three and there’s only four orbiting supply pods left.”

“Why does that mean anything?”

“Because I appreciate what you’ve done for me.”

“What’ve I done?”

“You trusted me to do the tough jobs you used to do. That’s given me visibility to the director and the ArmCon. That trust meant everything.”

Mark decided against correcting Thad’s impression. It wasn’t trust in you, it was my suffocation fear.  “And landing this pod gives you more visibility?”

“Look, you’re third in command now. I need to be the visible guy. Let me do this.”

Mark didn’t need a big push. There was no reason for him to go out there today. It’s not like he wouldn’t get another chance. He smiled. “Okay Thad, you do the beacons for the supply pod.”


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Chuck and Doug sat side by side in the control room staring at Moon Base Armstrong’s indicators. All was fine, nominal in the NASA vernacular. The base was running well and, with the addition of some crater-mined ice, could very well be the self-sustaining home the director imagined. Chuck turned to Doug. “I can’t let go of earth.”

Doug nodded. “None of us can. We’re all faking it. Even those with military bravado bullshit.” He snorted. “Especially those with military bravado bullshit.”

Chuck turned and faced the glowing displays. His eyes misted. “I keep waking up expecting to see Mia smiling at me. I expect to hear crickets chirp and see hummingbirds dart about.”

Doug frowned. “Chuck, you need to go easy on the virtual reality images of earth. That pulls you too deep into a lost past.”

“What the hell else was I supposed to do after Mark cracked my jaw?”

“There is that.” Doug licked his dry lips. “You think if it came to it, Mark could run the base?”

“No way. He hasn’t even suited up the last six weeks. If we were on earth and he refused the pool exercises for six weeks, he’d lose his spacewalk certification.”

“That promotion was show,” Doug concluded. “It was an excuse to celebrate after the director’s vaunted candor.”


“Showing those views of earth. Did you see those images before the ceremony?”

“No but Doctor Zeke convinced me the earth was gone after I saw the orange earthrise.” He harrumphed. “That’s why I tampered with Mark’s air indicator.” He looked away. “It’s tough to go on.”

Doug shrugged. “The base wouldn’t have missed Mark. It’s a shame Sally saved him.”

“Nah — the problem’s not Mark. I just wanted to scare him. It looks like I did that job too well.” Chuck pointed to the hangar. “The problem is this cold, nasty-smelling place. I only came up here for a year-long tour. I didn’t plan on this being my prison.”

“You and me both brother. You and me both.” Doug frowned. “I signed up for two years… not this.” He nodded. “And I’m damn sure not going to salute those order-giving military types.”

“You have anyone up here?”

“You mean friends or family? No. My life was wiped out when earth was wiped out. It doesn’t matter if we survive up here. It doesn’t matter if we link up with Japan Station.” He shook his head again. “Nothing matters.”

“You have your pictures and videos of family, right?”

“I can’t look at them. I can’t even look at a picture of a tree anymore. I was the great environmentalist hacker and now I’m stranded on this barren rock.”

Chuck was surprised at Doug’s emotion. “We still have a chance to survive.”

“For what purpose? When you think of humanity’s place on the earth, we were an insignificant blip. Nothing special.”

“Yeah,” Chuck agreed.

The buzzer announced someone coming into the hangar from the Nexus. The two

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turned and saw Captain Thaddeus Rudzinski enter. Thad closed the hangar door, verified the seal, and with one graceful bound, alighted on the control room platform in front of Chuck and Doug.

“You’re doing the pod beacons?” Doug asked.

“You bet.” Thad grinned. “It’s a great view. Do you want to come out and watch it with me?”

“No thanks.”


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Thad was early. He placed the spotting beacons as planned 300 meters from the solar array and waited. These beacons weren’t absolutely necessary. The pod could be remotely directed for descent but the beacons allowed a precision of the landing to the nearest meter.

He stood in the sunlight and marveled at the view of the sky. For all of the lost beauty of earth, there was transcendent celestial splendor from this vantage point. He tried to remember which scientist said that all the interesting parts of the universe were ionized plasma, everything else was just dead rock. He looked down and kicked up a white cloud of moon dust. Like the moon. But somehow between the ionized plasmas of the universe manifested in the spectacular spray of stars and the dead rock that was the moon, they were going to make it. They were going to save humanity.

Captain Thaddeus Rudzinski felt a measure of happiness. It wasn’t that he was glad earth was gone. But the loss wasn’t as devastating to him as it was to his colleagues. He looked in the direction of distant earth.

It was his mom. It started after his father, who lived life full and well, passed away. Within a month his mom started to forget things — then came the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. That diagnosis robbed him of everything much as it had her. Thad lost his wife of three years when she was afraid he’d spend their last dollar on his mom’s care. He lost his childhood when he returned from his third deployment and his mom couldn’t remember his name.

Then came the cancer diagnosis. He didn’t know which was worse, her frustration at forgetting or the pain from the treatment. And, true to his young ex-wife’s fears, he lost every dollar of wealth his family accumulated by paying for inadequate treatments. It didn’t help that Silicon Valley billionaires were living to extraordinary ages by stockpiling life-extending blood they got by paying low income youths to bleed in bottles. Nothing helped. He came to resent the inequity of society. He came to resent singing birds, the burst of spring flowers, and the smell of fresh cut lawns. He came to resent life itself. It was easy to volunteer as a permanent colonist at the new moon base.

He didn’t feel joy when the gamma ray burst hit but he didn’t despair. His first thought, one he never shared with anyone, was ‘now Mom’s at peace’. He looked back at the mile-long plexiglass walkway and mustered a smile. He was up here with the earth’s best group of handpicked volunteers struggling to survive.

He thought of Tina Bennet holding the hydroponically grown green sprouts and made a mental note to visit the Agriculture Pod. Tina’s blonde hair and youthful curves were just what he needed. They were scratching for survival and it was right and good. He thought of the first humans that scratched a furrow in the African savannah twelve thousand years ago. He smiled.

Tina, after a fashion, was doing the same here. There was nobility in this lunar quest and Tina felt it as much as Thad. That joint feeling was the beginning of something special. Now that Thad thought about it, that was the beginning of all love — shared values, shared dreams.

The glow of rockets firing announced the supply pod’s imminent arrival. Thad watched the beacon indicator lights flash green and flicked on his transmitter. “Pod communication established. All nominal.”

“Confirmed.” Chuck’s voice came back with business-like efficiency.

Thad turned on his helmet camera and watched through his magnifier as the pod descended. The thrusters cut off on schedule. Thad gasped when he saw the craft rotate. He flicked on his transmitter. “Pod is yawing aft! I say again — pod is yawing aft about a 160 degrees. Must be a glitch in the gyro.”

Only silence greeted him. The gamma ray burst must have fried the pod’s gyros.  To his horror the thrusters kicked on not slowing the descent as planned but, as the thrusters were pointing skyward, accelerating the pod toward the surface. “Cut the thrusters!” Thad shouted on the control room communications channel. “Cut the…”

It was too late. The supply pod became a powered missile that slammed into the back of the crater wall. Just as Thad realized the impact looked to be right on top of the buried base, the created tremor knocked him off his feet. The moon’s surface rang like a bell and Thad could only wait it out face down and rotating counterclockwise. Over the noise of vibration, his panting breaths, and beating heart he heard something much more terrifying — the crackling sound of decompressive ruptures.


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Mark had no sooner heard the panic in Thad’s voice on the intercom when the impact rocked him. He sprawled on the floor of the Nexus. Someone screamed and awful crunching sounds increased in volume as the vibration continued. Mark fought panic as catastrophic sounds of crackling and hissing reverberated through the Nexus.

He looked up and his stomach dropped when seeing the red ‘breach’ light flashing over the tube that housed the med-bay, University Pod, and director’s quarters. He scrambled on hands and knees to the door and pulled the emergency seal lever of Habitation Tube One.

“Wait!” Zeke hollered behind him.

The emergency seal was an iris of overlapping polymer louvres that closed between the inner and outer doors. The iris sung as the seal closed.

“People are in there!” Zeke shrieked.

A concussive ripple of waves buckled the sealed iris but it remained intact. Mark, wide-eyed, turned to Zeke. Another wave of the induced moonquake knocked both off their feet.

Mark crawled to the intercom. “Everyone stay at your posts or in your quarters!”

The wave subsided. Zeke pulled himself to his feet and bounded to the sealed iris. He punched buttons on the status panel. Mark stayed on one knee and braced for another tremor. “What the hell happened?”

“Oh no.” Zeke said as he stared at the status panel. “The pressure readings in the med-bay, University Pod, and director’s quarters are at deep space vacuum.”

“What?” Mark gasped.

“It looks like Habitation Tube One imploded.”

“We have a problem,” Doug’s voice came over the intercom. “The pressurized portion of the plexiglass walkway is gone and Thad’s still out there.”

“Can someone get out to him?”

“Who?” Doug’s voice had an unmistakable edge. “Who are you going to send out there?”

Sally appeared beside Mark. He didn’t have time to wonder where she came from. “Thad’s still out there,” Mark whispered.

“I heard,” Sally replied. She leaned to the intercom. “Doug, Thad has enough air to make it back. Tell him to stay away from the plexiglass walkway and get to the hangar door.”

“We don’t know if the hangar load lock’s been compromised.” It was Chuck who answered.

“Just do it,” Mark commanded.

“Okay stand by,” Doug replied. After an interminable pause the intercom crackled to life. “We got a hold of Thad. He’s coming back.”

“What the hell happened?”


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“Status report!” Mark hollered. “Did anyone locate ArmCon Little?” He turned to Zeke who was working the Nexus controller computer. “Zeke, we need status of our base.”

“I’ll look for the ArmCon,” Sally said as she went to Habitation Tube Two. She paused, checked the status panel, and toggled the double door switch. “I’ll check on the Agriculture Pod and the Manufacturing Pod on the way to the ArmCon’s quarters,” she announced. “I’ll come back with ArmCon Little so we can get organized.”

Mark nodded and turned to Zeke. “We need to take roll call to see how many casualties we have.”

“We can do it remotely,” Doctor Zeke answered, getting his emotions under control. “We’ll poll the base through contactors section by section.”

Mark nodded and attempted the same level of control Zeke and Sally displayed. He rotated the intercom transmit switch from the command center to the base-wide transmit selection. “All Moon Base Armstrong crew, this is Major Martelli. Something went wrong with the supply pod descent and we’re assessing damage.”

Zeke nodded at Mark and pointed to his contactor. Mark continued. “Stay at your posts or in your quarters and look for Doctor Ben-Ami’s report request on your contactor. Respond immediately so we know you’re all right.”

Mark had no sooner finished speaking when Sally’s voice came over the intercom with an urgent tone. “Jerry, Gitty, and Jim report to the Manufacturing Pod, now!”

“What’s going on?” Mark asked.

“The seam we sealed weeks ago is leaking. We can manage it if we hustle.”

Mark swiveled at the sound of quick bounds and saw Jerry, Gitty and Jim enter Habitation Tube Two. He turned back to the intercom. “Did you get to the ArmCon?”


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is quarters are empty,” Sally replied. “The Manufacturing Pod team is here. I’m going to seal us up until we deal with the leak.”

“We see Thad,” Doug’s voice came over the intercom.

“Is he at the hangar?”

“No, he is still a ways out but will be here soon. The pressurized section of the walkway is just gone… but the hangar doors appear sound. Chuck is suited and waiting in the load lock for him.”

“Good. Good.”

“Oh no,” Zeke said in a barely audible voice as he stared at a computer screen.

“What?” Mark was desperate to get his bearings.

“The ArmCon’s last contactor location was in the director’s quarters.”

“We lost ArmCon Little?” Mark didn’t immediately digest this.

Zeke scanned the contactor responses on the screen. “I count eight that we lost.”

“We lost ArmCon Little?” Mark asked.

“The eight we lost include Director Collier, ArmCon Little, Doctor McCarthy and the five McCarthy was tending to in the med-bay.” Zeke’s voice was calm but his face was pinched.

“Chuck’s got Thad.” Doug’s voice came over the intercom. “Thad made it back.”

“Eight?” Mark gasped. “We lost eight of our crew?”

“Seam is resealed.” Sally’s voice came over the intercom. “Manufacturing Pod is stable.”

“Director Collier and ArmCon Little are… gone?” Mark tried to get his mind around it.

Doug, Chuck, and Thad came into the Nexus from the hangar at the same time that Sally, Jerry, Gitty, and Jim entered from the Manufacturing Pod.

Thad started speaking first. “The beacons were green but I saw the craft yaw and then the thrusters lit…” He shook his head. “The damn thing became a missile.” He looked up. “Is everyone okay in here?”

“No,” Zeke said. “Habitation Tube One depressurized. We lost eight including the director and the ArmCon.”

“We lost Director Collier and ArmCon Little?” Jerry was still panting from his rush to seal the Manufacturing Pod. “Then who the hell is in charge?”

“He is,” Thad said pointing to Mark.

“Okay Major Martelli,” Chuck said with obvious sarcasm. “What the hell do we do now?”



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Major Mark Martelli apprised the group in the Nexus. All eyes were on him. The supply pod mishap that destroyed Habitation Tube One altered everything. After the director’s ceremony that highlighted the innovation of their hydroponic farming, moon buggy model, and manufactured bricks; the crew had confidence that Moon Base Armstrong would be their salvation. The pod crash shattered that confidence. Mark looked into the wide fearful eyes of the crew and put on a brave face. “We’re going to fix our moon base.”

Doug looked down at his flashing contactor. “Japan Station is hailing us in the control room.”

“Japan Station?” Mark asked.

“They must be wondering what’s going on.”

“Do they contact the control room often?”

“They usually contact the director. I better get in there and answer them.”

“I’ll go with you.” Mark turned to Zeke and Sally. “Can you guys give the base a once over so we know what we need to fix first?”

“Fix?” Zeke was incredulous. “We need to validate all seal integrity and make sure our air supply is solid.”

Mark nodded. “Makes sense. I’ll talk to Japan Station with Doug and then come back to see what you’ve come up with.” He turned and followed Doug to the hangar door, ignoring Zeke’s look of dismay.

The first thing Mark noticed upon entering the hangar was that the floor was vibrating. “What the?”

“Dampeners,” Doug explained. “The Nexus and habitation tubes have dampeners. The hangar and control room are sealed directly to the crater wall without dampeners. That’s why we feel the shake.”

“But it’s been ten minutes since the crash. The ground’s still vibrating?”

Doug shrugged. The urgent beeping on the control panel beckoned. The vacant control room was illuminated by a flashing red light Mark hadn’t seen before. He’d shadowed Sally for over a month and never saw that light and never talked to Japan Station.

Doug and Mark bounded to the control room platform. Doug grabbed an orange colored handset and flicked on the speaker. “Japan Station, this is Moon Base Armstrong — we’re dealing with an emergency.”

“So are we,” a well annunciated voice replied. “We need to speak to Director Collier or Armstrong Controller Little.”

Doug looked at Mark with raised eyebrows. Mark reached for the handset and replied. “Japan Station, this is Major Mark Martelli of Moon Base Armstrong. Our supply pod crashed and one of our habitation tubes depressurized. We lost both the director and the ArmCon. I’m in command.”

There was a long pause punctuated by what Mark heard as a sucking sound of long inhalation. The voice returned. “This is Japan Station Director Katsumi Hayashi and with me is Captain Yumi Kaneko. Your accident created seal integrity problems with our station. We are still dealing with this emergency.”

“As are we,” Mark replied. “Give me one hour to assess damage and get our containment in place.” He frowned, looked at Doug, and turned back to the handset. “We’ll call back at that time.”

“We’ll be awaiting your call.”

Doug couldn’t help himself. “Damn, they’re upset!”


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Zeke watched Mark disappear into the hangar and glanced back at the monitor. The seismograph trace showed that the moon’s crust was still vibrating from the crash. He looked at the pressure readings in the living quarters, the Nexus, and both operational habitation tubes. He heard someone call his name and turned. He locked eyes with his lover Habibeh — Habi Rahimi.

Habi’s expressive Persian eyes regarded Zeke with calm reserve. “There’s a problem in the Manufacturing Pod.”

“Is it leaking again?”

“No but the vibration is straining the seams.” She looked at the computer trace showing the crust’s vibration. “And your bricks won’t work.”

“Are you sure?”

Habi displayed an image from her contactor — her lunar version of the smartphone had a large display — that showed the prototype bricks bonded to a wall in the Manufacturing Pod. “Look at the bottom. There’s a crack that moves up about a centimeter.”

“I see it.”

“And that brick is against a wall mounted to dampeners.”

Zeke examined the image of the crack. It was another blow, another hit to the edge of calm he was desperate to maintain. “Okay, one thing at a time.”

“Zeke honey, this might be everything. They’re too brittle.” She swept her arm in an encompassing gesture. “The whole base is too brittle.”

“Well, we have to fix it.” Zeke stared off into space. “Do you have ideas how to do that?”

Habi sighed. “No, I don’t know.”

“My dad’s gone?” An urgent hand grabbed Zeke by the arm and swung him around.

Zeke stared into the pained expression of Armstrong Controller Huxley Little’s son, Brexton Little. Zeke wasn’t ready to face this grieving boy. “I don’t… not sure…”

“Just tell me.”

Zeke steeled himself. “Brex, indications are that your dad was in the director’s quarters when it depressurized.”

The young man gasped, tears welled and then streaked both cheeks. “Dad…”

“I got Brex.” Habi moved between Zeke and Brexton. She worked with Brexton in the large Manufacturing Pod group, the Manufacturing Engineers, and draped an arm around him. “We got to let Zeke do his thing,” Habi’s voice was liquid serenity. “Come with me.”

Zeke watched as Habi escorted the sobbing young man away. He was envious. He wished Habi could comfort him that way. He turned back to the wall-mounted computers. He flicked through several status screens and stopped at the status of the air supply. He stared at it a long moment, ice forming in his gut.

The pressure in the air supply hose wasn’t dropping but at 740 Torr, it was a full twenty-five Torr below the nominal setting. He thought of the small crack in the image Habi showed him. If there’s a hole in the hose or a crack in the air supply fixtures, we’re done. 


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Mark reentered the Nexus and saw Zeke staring at the screen with a deep frown. He looked around and his gaze fell on Thad Rudzinski who was in animated conversation with Tina Bennet. He heard someone crying and noticed Habibeh and Brexton off to the side of Habitation Tube Two. I forgot about Brexton. When we lost the ArmCon, Brex lost his father.  There was no time to provide comfort. He bounded to the center of the Nexus and came alongside Zeke. “Japan Station sprung leaks from the moonquakes. They’re pretty upset.” He pointed to the status screen. “How’re we doing?”

Zeke shook his head. “We keep getting bad news.”

“Tell me.”

“You know those tongue and groove bricks I got the Innovation Award for?”


“They crack.” He sighed. “I don’t have a quick seal solution.” His eyes neve

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r left the screen. “The vibration from the crash continues. Habi thinks our whole base is too brittle.” Zeke pointed to the oxygen reading.

“What’s that?”

“Oxygen. I don’t know why the pressure in the supply hose from the air reactor is twenty-five Torr below specification.”

“Our air supply might be compromised?”

“Shush, everyone’s on the edge of panic.”

“Where’s Sally?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the Manufacturing Pod.”

“I told Japan Station I’d give them a status update in an hour.” He looked around. “What do I tell them?”

“Hell if I know.”

Heads turned. Mark struggled to exhibit calm. He faced the group in the Nexus. “Thad and Tina, please come here so we can detail next steps. The rest of you, return to your posts or quarters. I’ll call an assembly as soon as we stabilize our plan.”

“Plan?” Brexton Little wailed. “We’re all screwed.”

“No, we’re not.” Mark looked at the ArmCon’s son and wished he had something better to say. “But we do have work to do.”

There was grumbling but NASA picked the crew for discipline. They left the Nexus as ordered. Thad and Tina came alongside Mark and Zeke. “What can I do?” Thad asked.

“Zeke’s unhappy with the pressure in the air tube. I need you to go out to the reactor and trace it back. Take sealant and apply it to anything that looks suspect.”

Thad nodded and his expression told Mark he fully understood the importance of the integrity of their air supply. “Yes sir, I’m on it.”

Mark grabbed Thad by the arm. “Listen, use the moon buggy and park it down by the hangar entrance.” Mark noticed Thad’s pained expression. “What’s the matter?”

Thad stared at his mentor. “Mark, I don’t know why the pod crashed. I did everything by the book.”

“I know Thad. Make sure our air supply’s secure. I’ll come out later and we’ll use the buggy to check the ledge.”

“The ledge?”

“First things first.”

Thad nodded. “I’ll make sure the air supply’s solid.” He departed through the hangar door.

Mark swallowed. He wished to high heaven he could ask someone for help. He turned to the Agriculture Pod Manager. “Tina, please check the seams in the Ag Pod. The base is still vibrating and we need to understand the extent of the damage.”

Tina heard the exchange with Thad and knew seal integrity was paramount. “Will do.”

Mark pulled out his contactor and called Sally. “Where are you?”

“In the ArmCon’s quarters. Brexton and Habibeh are here too.”

“I need you.” Mark thought he’d never spoken truer words in his life.

“I’ll be right there.”

Once Sally arrived Mark spread his hands to encompass her and Zeke. “Both of you come with me to the control room. I want to make sure Japan Station knows our leadership.”

“That’s what we are?” Sally asked.

“That’s what we are,” Mark said.

Japan Station’s Director Katsumi Hayashi and Captain Yumi Kaneko were calmer this time around and they appreciated the introductions. “We believe our station is stable,” Katsumi reported in a confident command voice. “The vibrations exposed weaknesses in the design of our seams. We’ve also had a supply pod mishap since the gamma ray burst.”

“We had direction control go out of the last Japan Station supply pod we landed,” Yumi added. “It’s still out there, fifty kilometers away. We need to get our supplies from it soon. Of course, that was a soft landing.”

“We’re not sure what happened with our pod,” Mark replied, “and we’re still assessing damage to Moon Base Armstrong. We’re verifying our internal seals and I’ve got Captain Rudzinski out checking our air supply hose.”

There was nothing but silence after that report. Doug, Sally, Zeke and Mark all frowned as they waited a full minute for a response. The receive light flashed on. “Are you sure it’s wise to send Captain Rudzinski to check the air? Isn’t he the same one who signaled the pod?”

Mark trusted Thad with his life but he realized the Japan Station leadership didn’t know any of them. “Yes,” Mark answered. “He had nothing to do with what happened.”

“You can’t conclude that.” Yumi’s voice was sharp. “We sensed anomalies in the telemetry.”

“What anomalies?”

Again, there was a long pause. “We are preparing to visit Moon Base Armstrong,” Katsumi said. “We’ll bring our information for your investigation.”


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Thad bounded away from the hangar onto the ledge. He paused, looked down, and saw white rocks jumping in the dust. After all this time, the moon was still vibrating from the crash. Those Apollo astronauts were right — the moon rings like a bell.  That interesting observation could wait. Verifying the air supply was critical. He commenced rapid movement up the ledge alongside the plexiglass walkway. Thad felt he mastered the bounding moves on the moon’s surface. He was able to cover large distances with each bound, conserving both his air and his energy. He used a calf muscle powered flick just before launching that gave him another two meters of distance per bound. It was something he would train others once they got everything nailed down. If  they got everything nailed down.

He got to the end of the ledge, which was a mile in distance, a scant seven minutes after departing the hangar. Thad activated his in-helmet display with his chin and, using the indicator-selector switch the implant in his left eye provided, ensured his visor was ready for his move from the dark shade to the burst of sun.

Thad shuffled into the brilliant sun next to the massive solar array. He regarded the glittering panels and large air reactor. It’s a damn good thing the pod didn’t crash here. That would have been game over.  He shuffled to the garage.

The garage with Moon Base Armstrong’s three moon buggies was behind the array in the panels’ shade. This allowed for the mechanized transport to get the dual benefit of access to power and shielding from direct sunlight. Thad unplugged a buggy, verified the charge in the nickel-hydrogen batteries, and took a seat. He remembered that the buggy’s batteries had a specification life of five years. That thought rattled him. In a rush, he realized the tenuousness of their future survival. For all the pomp of self-sufficiency in the awards ceremony, most of their life sustaining technology relied on earth-provided equipment. And the earth was gone.

Thad drove the buggy out of the garage and stopped at the humming air reactor. The air reactor bathed several tons of machine mined moon rocks in melted salt. Nearly a third of the array’s electricity powered a giant electrode centered in the salt vat. The electric current separated the oxygen from the metal oxides. The reactor was brilliant in its simplicity but would require a reset — tons of new moon rocks — in a few months. He hoped Zeke had a plan for the reset. But they’d need the second reactor first. Thad remembered that the parts of the second air reactor were in Habitation Tube Three.

They would’ve constructed the second reactor by now but the gamma ray burst disrupted the meticulous NASA-ESA schedule. That schedule was replaced by a plan Director Constance Collier and Moon Base Armstrong Controller Huxley Little prepared. The director and the ArmCon talked of a post gamma ray burst plan but Thad had never seen it. He hoped Mark had.

These were important thoughts but the urgent beckoned. Thad got out of the buggy and carefully inspected the twenty centimeter diameter flexible air hose connection to the reactor. Thad toggled his visor display with his chin and paused before turning on his camera. He noted he still had a file in the helmet camera’s memory. I need to send the video of the pod mishap.  He flicked on his transmitter. “Control station, this is Captain Rudzinski commencing air hose inspection. I need to send you the video of pod descent first.”

“Go ahead and send it,” Chuck answered.

Thad frowned. Chuck was the last voice he heard before the pod went crazy. Chuck was the one who screwed around with Mark’s air gauge. Suspicion surged. “Sending now,” he replied. Thad sent the supply pod descent video to the control room but also sent a separate transmission directly to Mark and to Zeke.

Feeling he’d covered his bases with the video of the crash, he turned his helmet camera on record and started the inspection. He looked at the gauges and noted pumping efficiency was ninety-seven percent. He exhaled. The procedure for the air reactor checks involved two things: ensuring the electrode was adequately powered and ensuring the blowers were operating at efficiency. When the efficiency dropped, the blowers were swapped out with a cleaned unit from the base. After fourteen days of operation the blowers needed the electrostatic talcum-powder-like moon dust removed. They rotated four blowers through the cleaning process. That was another thing they’d have to do soon. The basic actions of day to day survival were all consuming. The air hose connection was sound but Thad was concerned. There were too many single points of failure and the pod crash reduced their odds of survival.

He drove the buggy alongside the hose. He stopped when he saw the pod landing pad. He noted the beacons he’d placed just over an hour ago. They were flashing bright purple indicating that the pod locked onto another signal. There was something wrong with that status. The beacons he placed were to provide the only signal for the supply pod landing.

The flashing beacons prompted a sense of loss but Thad realized his musings and fears slowed his progress. A

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s much as he wanted to investigate the beacons, the air supply was the priority. He drove the buggy alongside the walkway so he could see and record the hose condition in high clarity. Mark hates it when I kick dust onto the plexiglass.  But that couldn’t be helped. He carefully inspected the hose, noting its integrity. He drove a buggy length, stopped, inspected, and continued. Meter by meter he inspected the hose and was relieved it was intact. As he completed the hose inspection, with the buggy right next to hangar, he saw the problem.

At the connection housing just outside the control room, the bottom of the housing plate had a noticeable crack. Thad’s pulse quickened. He stepped out of the buggy, pulled out a sealant kit, and bounded up to the offending plate. His stomach tightened when he clearly saw wispy waves of precious oxygen escaping. “I see a crack on the air entrance housing and I see venting. I’m repairing it now,” he transmitted.

“Understand.” It was Doug who answered this time.

Thad carefully cleaned and sealed the crack, applying extra sealant above and beside the fracture. He crouched on one knee and stared at the seal, looking for any telltale sign of venting. Minutes ticked by and he wondered how many spare parts for the air delivery system Habitation Tube Three held.

“Good job Thad,” Zeke’s welcome voice came through his helmet speaker. “Pressure is nominal. You fixed it.”

“Great,” Thad answered. He exhaled in relief.

“Stand by the buggy,” Zeke replied. “Mark’s coming out.”


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Mark waited until the load lock showed vacuum and then he opened the door. For the first time in over six weeks, he was on a moonwalk. Everything was awkward. His pounding heart and sticky-with-sweat inner suit were reminders that it had been too long since he’d been outside. As he reached out the door, Thad locked a grip on his arm and helped him exit the lock. Together they closed the door and verified the seal. Mark pointed to the lower right of his helmet, a signal to Thad to activate the short range low power Bluetooth transceiver. This was standard protocol and allowed continuous communication between the two.

“Housing is sealed,” Thad’s voice came through with a hint of deference.

“Good,” Mark answered. “We’ll inspect it on the way back.”

“Back from where?” Thad asked.

“The ledge. I want to see if we can get the digger started.”

“The digger?”

“Yeah, we can use it to clear the area of Habitation Tube One. That way we can do salvage work and repair our moon base.” Mark pointed to Thad’s pack. “How’s your air?”

“Fine, I’ve got over an hour.”

Mark paused and looked at the destroyed section of the plexiglass walkway — a result of the supply pod crash. The walkway was sectioned in hundred meter lengths separated by a person-wide connection that could be sealed twice. The connection could be used as an airlock and that was the original plan — pressurize the tube to allow easy transit to the air reactor. But that plan, like the first hundred meter walkway section, the section pressurized before the crash, was shattered.

There was nothing left of the first section. All that remained was a ragged edge of broken glass around the seal. The pieces of walkway had blown out in a wide circumference. The sawtooth edge of remaining glass at the seal reminded Mark of a car accident he’d seen years ago where the passenger flew through the windshield.

The two climbed in the buggy with Mark on the driver’s side. He didn’t think Thad could see the sweat rolling down his forehead. He drove at a snail’s pace down the ledge. They had no sooner traveled fifty meters when the effects of the pod crash were visible in the form of large rocks strewn on the once pristine lane. “You see that debris?” Mark asked.

“Yeah,” Thad answered. “This place wasn’t supposed to be so fragile.”

Mark steered the buggy around rocks and stopped when he saw that a large area of the ledge was missing, it had dropped straight into the crater. The ledge was four highway lanes wide but at this point a full two lanes of ledge width had vanished into the crater.

Thad leaned away from the slide toward Mark. “I can’t believe that. Half of the ledge slid into the crater.”

Mark panted. “Do you think the left side of the ledge is stable?”

Thad was silent for many seconds before answering. “If it was going to give way it would have already.”

That logic was dubious but Mark had no other plan. He guided the buggy so that it hugged the crater wall, passed the large forbidding gap in the ledge, and continued. After traveling 600 meters he stopped again, staring with dismay. “Whoa.”

“Yeah… wow.” Thad got out of the buggy. “There’s no driving around that.”

The ledge in front of them was obliterated by a slide of moon regolith and rocks. There was a steep grade to where the side of the crater gave way. Mark got out of the buggy, checked his air, and turned on his camera and helmet lights. He shuffled slowly to the edge of the drop as close as he dared. The slide disappeared in a startling abrupt cliff.

Thad was beside him and the only thing Mark heard from the Bluetooth communications were long breaths. Mark looked over the cliff into the dark abyss. His helmet lights didn’t penetrate and he realized the drop was four kilometers straight down into the unchartered bottom of the crater. He felt a rush of terror. He bounded backward toward the crater wall. “Stay on solid ground.” His voice was raspy.

Thad bounded back. “Good advice.” Thad followed Mark’s example and turned on his helmet lights. He tilted his head back, illuminating the obstacle.

Mark followed Thad’s light beam with his own. He looked up the wall of Shackleton Crater, where the slide began. “Do you see that?”


Mark noticed the slide didn’t begin at the very top but started from a shadowed area. He reached up and adjusted a helmet knob that narrowed his light beam. The beam brightly illuminated an outline of a dark shadowed area. The shadowed area looked like a hole in the side. “What is it?”

Thad turned and added his light to Mark’s. “That looks like a cave.”

“That’s right,” Mark replied. “The radar scans of the unmanned rovers indicated a large multi-chambered cavern.”

“You’re saying there’s a cave in the side of the crater? How did it get here?”

“If I remember right, ancient lava streams.” Mark looked up and curiosity, parent of much of his ambition, overcame his anxiety. “We should see what it looks like.”


“Let’s make a staircase. I’ve got Zeke’s spray sealer and heater.”

“Now we’re talking.” Thad extracted two shovels from the buggy and handed one to Mark.

The two used their shovels to construct a stair step a meter wide and half a meter deep. Mark sprayed on sealer and used a portable battery powered microwave to cure it. They decided to put the next step a half a meter high and the two shoveled the moon dirt again. They tossed the removed dirt on the slope and paused from time to time to watch the dust and rocks roll off the edge of the cliff and into the crater. After the second step they got into an alternating rhythm that made the work proceed at a good pace. Step by step they constructed the first lunar staircase in the history of the universe.

They completed the fourteenth step and their heads were above the lip of the cave entrance. Mark pushed a large rock aside and shined his light inside the cave. “Wow.”

Thad leaned on the crater wall beside him and a set his helmet light to wide beam. The two lights showed a massive internal structure that had three visible branches. Although the opening was small the sides widened to nearly twenty meters across. The cave walls were smooth and the cave floor showed no indication of recently fallen debris. “The quake didn’t disturb this at all,” Thad said in wonder.

Mark moved his narrow light beam to one of the branches and saw that it appeared to go down. There was no way to tell the length. Again, curiosity trumped fear. “We need to get in there. Let’s use the emergency air packs on the buggy to add to our time.”

“Let’s do it.”

Mark and Thad descended their just-constructed staircase, extracted emergency air from the buggy, and hooked the supplemental air packs to their spacesuits. Mark looked at the gauge and fought off a surge of panic. “Okay, we give ourselves thirty minutes to make it back. That gives us twenty-five minutes to explore.”

“Thirty minutes to get back? We can do it in ten.” Thad’s curiosity was not tempered by fears of suffocation.

“Thirty minutes — I don’t want to cut it close in case these gauges are wrong.”

“I understand.”

Mark went into the cave first and felt giddy at the size. “This cave is massive.”

Thad was right on his heels, bounded to one of the branches, and began laughing. “Check out this side. It branches three more times in there.”

Mark went beside him and couldn’t help laughing himself. It had always been a dream of NASA and ESA to find a large subterranean moon cave. “I wish we could show this to Houston,” Mark said. “They’d never believe it.” He shined his light around and noted that there were no piles of recently collapsed moon rock. “You’re right. The pod crash didn’t affect this cave at all. This is perfect and I’ll bet anything it’s airtight.”


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Sally went to the control panel and found Doug there with his feet propped on a chair. Her stomach knotted seeing Doug’s relaxed attitude. “What are you doing?”

Doug turned to Sally and smiled. “Thad fixed the air leak.”

“I know.”

“Thad and the major are out looking at the ledge.”

“The ledge?”

“Mark’s got some cockamamie idea that he roped Thad into.”

“Well, he is out there.” Sally was pleased Mark found the nerve to suit up for a moonwalk.

Doug swung his feet down and stared at Sally. “Do you ever wonder what it would’ve been like to be on the Titanic after all the lifeboats were full?”


“The Titanic’s musicians who kept playing probably thought they were accepting a great death.” Doug chuckled. “Legend says the last song they played was ‘Nearer My God to Thee.’”

Sally didn’t like the comparison. “We aren’t the Titanic.”

“We weren’t but then the director was killed today. Or was it yesterday? I can’t remember.” He turned back to the control panel. “I mean seriously, it’s asinine to think Mark’s going to save us. The dumbass is out there with Thad trying to get the digger going.”

Sally masked her reaction. Why the hell would Mark go after the digger?  She gave Doug a thin-lipped smile. “How’s our other life support systems?”

“Shaky,” Doug replied. “Pun intended.” He sighed. “What’s wrong with the Titanic comparison? Of course, the song is ridiculous. There is no God… no nothing.”

“There’s us.”

“You know,” Doug ignored Sally’s comment, “in college I was so proud to lead an environmental group to preserve the old growth redwoods. All that effort for what?” He turned to her. “There’s nothing left but this lifeless rock. There’re no plants except what we brought. Up here there’re no animals, no trees, and no hope.”

“There’s always hope.”

“How can you say that? Between us and Japan Station we’ve got what, 200 people? That’s it. And after the pod crash, it’s only a matter of time before we’re nothing but some petrified relics for aliens to find.” He harrumphed. “And boy won’t they be impressed.”

“Our survival’s worth everything. If we can claw our way to succeed on the moon, we have a chance. Humanity has a chance.”

“For what purpose? What the hell is the point of working ourselves to exhaustion?”

“We are the point.”

“Have you studied history? People lay themselves on the line in wars for the motherland, the fatherland, or amber waves of grain. Radicals protest for justice. People sacrifice for their families. All of that, every bit of it, is gone. There’s nothing to sacrifice for. There’s nothing left but this pathetic lifeless rock.”

“The biggest sacrifice people make is for the future. It’s so the next generation can live. Whether we succeed or not, that’s our duty; to whatever future humanity may have.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. We lost our future when that gamma ray destroyed our planet and everyone and everything on it.”

“It didn’t destroy us. The universe knows nothing of what was destroyed. We do. We know exactly what happened and what the stakes are. We are duty-bound to struggle, to rise.”

“By going out there and getting the digger.” Doug shook his head. “I wish to hell I was on earth when the burst hit.” That sentence hung in the manufactured air for a long while. “Look, it’s time for your shift. I’m going to turn in.”

“Go ahead, I got this.”

Doug departed and Sally was left alone with her thoughts. Within moments, she wished Doug were back because when she was fighting his gloom it helped her fight her own. In spite of her pep talk to Doug, the sense of loss overwhelmed her. There was an idea, a pillar of her personality, the definition of how she saw herself, that was lost. Sally Ride Henderson dreamed of heroics and acclaim and courageous adventure. She dreamed of finding a man who matched but not overshadowed her excellence. She had awards, medals, and rare experiences. But what did any of that mean?

Staring at digital gauges of a wounded moon base; realizing all that God, nature, and civilization provided were reduced to 193 people between Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station; she fought against despair. Doug couldn’t be right, could he? There had to be meaning in their quest for survival. There had to be a future. She nodded to herself. I won’t give up. 

Sally checked the logs and indicators. Moon Base Armstrong, or what was left of it, was stable. She checked the messages and noted that Thad had sent video of the pod crash. She opened the telemetry logs, synced the log timing to the video, and ran both in parallel. Watching that video, her anxiety for the future turned to dread.


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Mark and Thad entered the hangar in an ebullient mood. As soon as they got the doors sealed and their helmets off they were backslapping and laughing.

Sally regarded both. “What happened? Did you get the digger going?”

“No,” Mark replied. “A side of the crater collapsed and wiped out the ledge less than a click down.”

“That’s why you’re laughing?”

“It revealed a cave,” Thad said.

“A cave?”

“A beautiful undamaged massive cave,” Mark said. “Once we get Moon Base Armstrong fixed, we’ll have a place for expansion.” He stopped and noticed Sally’s look of consternation. “What’s wrong?”

Sally looked from Mark to Thad and back to Mark, considering whether or not to blurt it out. “Do you remember when Japan Station said there were anomalies in the telemetry of the pod crash?”

Mark frowned. “Uh… yeah, why?”

“I tried to review the telemetry against the video Thad sent of the crash.”


“And there is no telemetry data from the moment Chuck confirmed that the beacons locked on the pod’s descent.”

“What do you mean there’s no telemetry?” Thad asked.

“I mean the data log of communication from the pod stops just before it went haywire. There’s no record of what happened when it yawed and accelerated into our moon base.”

Mark had the top half of his suit off but paused at this news. “What would cause something like that… the same glitch that caused the crash in the first place?”

“No way,” Sally said. “The telemetry was intentionally removed.”

Mark and Thad exchanged a glance and both turned to Sally. “It was Chuck,” Mark pronounced. “He sabotaged my air gauge. He did this.”

“He was the last one I talked to before the crash,” Thad added.

“Was he the only one in the control room at the time?” Mark asked.

“No,” Sally answered. “He and Doug were on shift.” She turned away from Mark’s accusatory gaze. “And Doug’s despair seems worse than Chuck’s about now.”

“Bullshit,” Thad replied. “It was Chuck who confirmed the beacons were locked onto the pod.”

Mark pulled out his contactor and summoned Chuck to the control room. He stepped out of his spacesuit. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”

“What are you going to do?” Sally asked. “Bring Chuck here and accuse him?”

Chuck appeared moments after his summons. He was obviously fatigued from the long day. He looked at the threesome. “What’s up guys?”

“We’re doing an investigation into the pod crash,” Mark replied. “We discovered that the telemetry is missing.”

Chuck stared, eyes glazed.

“Chuck,” Sally asked, “did you erase the data log of the crash?”

“What?” Chuck finally understood. “No! I was in emergency mode like everyone else. Right after the crash, we brought Shift Supervisor Art Sledge in the control room to back me up. Then I was free to go into the hangar load lock.” He pointed to Thad. “Hell, I was the one who made sure we got Thad back after the walkway section disintegrated.” He glared. “Why would I erase data?”

“To mask sabotage,” Mark replied. “Maybe you just wanted to crash the pod and never reckoned how bad it would be.”

“Mark, I didn’t crash the pod and I didn’t do anything to the data. I don’t know what happened.”

Mark shook his head. “Japan Station said there were anomalies in the pod telemetry data.”

“Maybe they recorded something of the descent,” Sally said.

“Good point,” Mark replied. “Send them a message requesting data they captured on the crash to aid us in our investigation.” He turned and glared at Chuck. “Tell me again why you tampered with my air gauge weeks ago.”

Chuck sighed. “I wanted to teach you a lesson. Your ‘I can conquer anything’ bravado was wearing us thin after the gamma ray burst.”


“Me, Art and Doug.” Chuck shook his head and put a hand to his jaw. “I paid my debts on that screw up. I looked you in the eye and I told you why.”

Mark extracted his contactor again. He summoned Zeke to the control room. “We need answers.”


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Zeke stared at the sleeping form of Habibeh Rahimi. He admired the curve of her hip and the specific beauty of the female form. He felt love, gratitude, and a prick of angst. In this quiet moment, it was the angst that occupied his thoughts. There was a dark force loose in the moon base. He knew it was evil battling good. It was the age-old fight, a key tenet of humanity.

Doctor Ben Ami had a PhD in Physics, with degrees in Materials Science and Applied Dynamics. He was, like all crew that NASA and ESA selected for the moon ba

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se, utterly scientific, utterly secular. The book on the Talmud that he brought with him was a family link, not a testament of faith. Now that he thought about it, his one and only book was somewhere in the destroyed depressurized University Pod. I need to retrieve my family heirloom.  

Despite Zeke’s training and disposition, his mind wandered to his religious studies. He stared at a seam in his living quarters in Habitation Tube Three and let his mind roam. Zoroastrianism, if he remembered right, started the whole good versus evil battle.

That there was a battle between the light and dark forces was an ancient thought. There were two strong powers battling for control of everyone’s soul. That was a different tenet than from the Talmud, where evil exists but is more an absence of the holy. This evil wasn’t an absence, it was an active malevolent force. It was a force to be reckoned with.

Zeke knew the evil stalking Moon Base Armstrong must be opposed. This evil threatened doom and extinction of the remnant of humanity. His mind grappled with the good versus evil power struggle. It wasn’t just Zoroastrianism, even modern Christianity described a light versus dark battle between powerful forces.

There must be something to it. Staring at his lover and hazy with fatigue, he felt angst like an embedded thorn. He struggled to clarify his thought. Zeke’s mind rolled around what was holy and what was depraved. He thought of the Christian concept of sin, humanity’s falling into evil. But wait, was it really sin? All sin was forgivable, right? If you repented, you could be forgiven anything.

No, that wasn’t right. The Christians, or the Catholics anyway, held there were two unforgivable sins. There were two things no one could come back from: presumption and despair. He nodded. That was it.

Presumption or pride was the bugaboo of the last two centuries. Zeke pressed his lips together. It was bitter irony that in the incredible bounty of the earth, humanity always erred in pride, in the presumption that they or their institutions could be God. The folly of presumption resulted in wars, genocide, totalitarianism and all other malevolent forms of evil. Once you thought you were above God, you couldn’t be saved.

But here, on the barren moon, where a little bit of god-like confidence could be useful, it was the other unforgivable sin that threatened to destroy: despair. It was the flipside of pride. If you lost all faith that there was a point to anything, then again, you couldn’t be saved. Despair was the problem. Despair was the active powerful dark malevolent force that threatened to undo the last of humanity.

Zeke felt there was nothing, except making sure the base didn’t depressurize, more important than battling despair. If too many of the crew succumbed to hopelessness, all was lost. And hopelessness, like slow moving lava that destroyed all in its path, was here in Moon Base Armstrong. There were some that had already given up and many were on edge.

He could fix his bricks. He could recover the University Pod data. He and Jerry could 3D scan 3D printer parts and create new 3D printers, indeed create it all from scratch. But somehow the crew had to believe. They’d have to hang onto the thought they were worth saving. Zeke needed Mark to understand this and he pondered how to tell him.

Zeke’s contactor buzzed. He picked it up and answered. “Mark, I’m glad you called. We need to talk. It’s important.” He frowned when hearing Mark’s request. “I’ll be right there.” He pulled out an electronic whiteboard from a storage cubby, wrote Habi a short note, and left his living quarters. He wondered at the mischief going on in the control room.


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Mark was relieved to see Zeke enter the hangar. He waved him over to the control panel terminal. “Zeke, there’s odd things we see in the pod decent recording and we need your help.”

“Mark, we need to talk.”

“First, take a look at this.” Mark pointed to the screen showing a data log.

“Yeah,” Chuck added. “Tell him I had nothing to do with it.”

Zeke stopped and looked around. “What’s going on?”

“The telemetry from the supply pod cuts off just before the crash. We’re trying to figure out how it got erased.” Sally said. She pushed a chair toward Zeke.

“What Mark and Sally really mean is that they’re accusing me of causing the crash. They’re saying I erased the telemetry to cover it up.” Chuck wasn’t happy.

Zeke was in a different frame of mind. He shook his head. “Finger-pointing isn’t what we need.” He looked at the terminal. “Did you check the key-logger?”

Mark flinched. “This has a key-logger?”

“Of course,” Sally answered. “I should’ve thought of that.”

Zeke seated himself in front of the terminal and entered commands. “Give me the time the telemetry data stopped.”

Sally pointed to the video log she had on her display.

Zeke entered the time and scrolled though the data. He pointed. “Look, there were no key strokes during the descent until the alarm command was sounded after the crash.” He entered more commands and brought up the list of key strokes from the second terminal. Again he scrolled and again the data logger showed that no keystrokes happened during the pod descent. “Okay now let’s review any commands that relate to the log itself.”

Zeke, Sally, Mark, and Chuck were all huddled around the terminal. Mark could see that his accusation against Chuck was hasty. “Chuck, I may owe you an apology.”

Chuck glared at Mark and grunted in response.

Mark turned to Zeke. “What would cause something like this?”

“That’s a puzzle,” Zeke replied. “Maybe the pod stopped sending the telemetry.” He frowned. “But then we should have seen an ‘end signal’ in the telemetry log.” He stared at the data for a long moment and turned to Mark. “We’re being tested.”

“I was the one being tested,” Chuck said. “Doug and I were sitting here, we heard Thad report the yaw and request the thrusters be cut, and then the base shook like hell. That’s what happened. No one in here did anything when the pod went haywire.”

“That was a damn unlucky crash.” It was all Mark could come up with. “Chuck, you can see why I thought you had something to do with it.”

“Hold on everyone,” Zeke said as he arose from the control room chair. “We’re facing a much bigger enemy: despair.” He turned to Mark. “In the eighteenth century, when ships were lost at sea and, feeling death was upon them and seeing nothing but vast wasteland, the crews turned to God.”

Mark stared at Zeke and blinked. “What are you talking about?”

“This thing — the survival of humanity — it’s too big for us to carry. It’s too big for you to carry. We need to turn to God or the higher power of your choice.”

“God?” Sally asked. “How can anyone believe in a benevolent God or a benevolent universe after the gamma ray burst?”

“Because we survived,” Zeke answered. “Because we’re here and we can fight for everything.”

“We all saw what happened to our beloved earth,” Mark added. “Just look at the orange earthrise… and now the pod crash and the director and ArmCon.” He shook his head. “The crew’s badly shaken.”

“We need to give them a reason for hope,” Zeke replied.

Mark wondered at Zeke’s intensity but he saw the point. “Thad and I found a great reason for that hope you’re talking about. There’s a perfect cave less than a click away that’s bigger than Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station combined. I need to tell everyone. Let’s get everyone together and lay out the situation.” He smiled. “Let’s assemble the crew so we can tell them it’s hard but it’s also promising.”

Zeke returned Mark’s smile. “Now that’s a plan.”


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Mark watched the crew assemble in the Nexus and pined for the time just two days ago when the director and the ArmCon stood at the podium. He put on a brave face as the shaken crew, the hope for humanity’s future, came in and took their seats. He was pleased the remaining leadership took the front. Zeke Ben-Ami was right across from the podium with Chuck and Doug on one side of Zeke and Thad, Arthur Sledge — Chuck’s shift supervisor counterpart, and Sally on the other side. The Manufacturing Pod crew led by Jerry Papadopoulos was in the second row. Jerry had his team on either side of him that included Jim Staid, Gitty Chatterjee, Habibeh Rahimi and Brexton Little. Tina Bennet, who ran the Agriculture Pod, sat beside Brexton.

Mark considered Zeke’s caution about despair. He disagreed with his friend. The problem wasn’t despair, it was leadership. Mark wondered if he were up to the task but he wasn’t going to shirk it. Responsibility demanded that, when trouble called, you stepped up. No matter the difficulty or criticism or the unexpectedness of it all; duty required that Mark lead and lead he would.

NASA and ESA picked this crew for the early launches because they all had the same regard for duty. They were all tested so that in adversity they’d face their fears. Mark would trust that selection as he would trust that JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, did the same. The despair that Zeke feared was a projection, nothing more.

Mark knew what Zeke’s problem was. Zeke, like Mark, felt the overwhelming burden of humanity’s future and doubted his ability to carry it. Mark nodded and f

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orced a smile for the crew. His heart raced but his resolution was firm. Doubt doesn’t matter. I must face this. 

“Thank you for coming here,” Mark said into the microphone. The group stopped stirring and all eyes were upon him. “I know everyone is shaken. I am too.” He believed, just like Constance Collier, that candor was everything. “Here’s what we know. The supply pod crashed into the back of the crater and Habitation Tube One depressurized. Eight people, including Doctor McCarthy and five in the med-bay were lost. Both Director Collier and ArmCon Little were lost.” He realized that since the med-bay took up so much space in Habitation Tube One, the director’s quarters were the only living quarters there. The human loss would have been much more if the pod had hit either Habitation Tube Two or Habitation Tube Three.

“But why?” Brexton asked in a voice that reminded Mark of his father. “Do you know why the pod crashed?”

“We’re still investigating,” Mark answered. “It was coming down smooth and then went haywire. We don’t know why. But there’s some good news I’d like to share.” He looked at Thad. “Thad can you come up here and get the screen lowered and projector on? I want to show them what we found.”

“Yes sir.” Thad popped to his feet and went to the wall cubby that housed the screen and projector remote.

As the screen lowered Mark took in the group. “We need to pull together now more than ever.” The group responded with deadpan stares. He was relieved when the projector flicked on. Thad displayed an image of the interior view of the cave. Mark pointed to the picture. “We found a cave not far from the hangar entrance. It’s large and undamaged. Once we fix our moon base we’ll expand into the cave.”

A sharp hissing sound from Habitation Tube Two interrupted the presentation. All heads turned. Mark froze mouth agape.

“Jerry, Jim, and Gitty follow me!” Sally ordered. The four jumped to their feet and ran into Habitation Tube Two.

“Hey,” Thad said as he stood beside Mark. “Let’s get someone into the control room and check the base integrity again top to bottom.”

“Good idea,” Doug said. He turned to Chuck and Art. “Come on, let’s see what the sensors tell us.” Doug, Chuck, and Art departed the Nexus.

Mark stared at the crew which had become raucous. His mind raced to formulate a plan. “Zeke go with Doug, Chuck, and Art.” He did his level best to project calm. “All who have posts or quarters off the Nexus or in Habitation Tube Three, please return to them now. We’ll have to pick this up later. Crewmembers from Habitation Tube Two stay put until we figure out what happened.” He reeled from the unending blows and his Quick Response Force leader instincts prevailed. He grabbed Thad’s arm. “Thad, stay with these guys in the Nexus. I’m going to find out what’s going on.”


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Mark entered Habitation Tube Two. He saw Sally and Jerry exit one of the living quarters and close the sealed door. Two rooms down, Jerry and Gitty exited a second quarters. Both groups had small bundles in their arms.

“What happened?” Mark asked.

Sally stared at the pressure gauge of the quarters. She then moved to the adjacent room and checked that pressure gauge. Her worry was apparent. “One of the living quarters started leaking.”

“Living quarters?” Mark was aghast. “I thought all living quarters were double hulled.” He felt dryness at the back of this throat. There’s no air out there.  Mark’s personal demon wasn’t despair, it was the vacuum of space. He felt that vacuum as the hand of the Grim Reaper inexorably squeezing the life out of Moon Base Armstrong.

“A leak in the double-hulled wall of living quarters was never supposed to happen,” Jerry said. “It threatened the entire tube.”

“It threatened the entire base,” Sally said.

“We were lucky we heard the hiss,” Jerry said.

Mark’s suffocation terror returned. What Sally and Jerry were calmly discussing induced an unwanted recollection. Losing his air, being unable to breathe, was the most helpless and terrifying situation Mark ever faced. His near suffocation experience scarred him and for a crewmember’s living quarters to spring a leak like this now? He was just telling everyone they had a chance.

There was something to that thought. Mark tried to make his mind work. That’s exactly what the director and ArmCon were doing before the supply pod crash. Showing everyone there was a reason for hope. That’s what I was doing by showing the cave.  Something was very wrong.

“We decided to seal the quarters with the leak as well as the two beside it,” Gitty added. “We grabbed the personals of the two adjacent quarters.”

Mark understood. “We need to permanently seal all three quarters. The last thing we want is someone to come in and break a seal to Habitation Tube Two.”

“How do we do that?” Jerry asked.

“There’s a barrel key required to permanently seal these doors,” Mark answered.

Sally turned to Mark. “Yeah and only the director and ArmCon had those keys. Jim is in the ArmCon’s quarters to see if he can find one.”

“I’ll go help him,” Mark answered. He went down the corridor and entered the ArmCon’s quarters. This was the first time he was there since the pod crash. Jim Staid sat on the edge of the bunk with the barrel key dangling from his hands. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Jim?”

Jim looked up at Mark. “Jerry set up the ArmCon as my mentor.”

“Hux Little was a good man.”

“The best.”

“I need that key. We have to secure the suspect quarters so no one accidentally opens them.”

“I know.” Jim extended the key to Mark.

Mark took it. “Thanks Jim.” He turned to leave.

“Did you get the plans?” Jim asked.

Mark turned back. “What plans?”

“The ArmCon and director had plans for making this base work without help from earth. ArmCon Little said they kept them off the server to not upset anyone.”

It bothered Mark that Jim knew something about Huxley Little that he didn’t. “Do you know where these plans are?”

Jim pointed to a bottom locked drawer. “I’m pretty sure that key works there too.”

Mark went to one knee, inserted the barrel key, and opened the drawer. There were photographs, a bible, and a ruggedized solid state storage device. He lifted the device out of the drawer. It was the size of two decks of cards. The memory itself was tiny but this container could handle shocks, heat, cold and even electromagnetic pulse and still retain its data. “This must be it.” He turned to Jim. “Thanks, I really need this.”

Jim nodded. “You know, my family was split in two factions. I guess my grandfather had a twin brother and they wound up on opposite ideological sides. Go figure.”

Mark didn’t want to dig into Jim’s ancestry but he paused just the same. “Is that why you came up here?”

“Yeah. I wanted to show the two factions that we’re all one.” He shook his head. “I had this dream that I could send them a picture of earth and show them what we do here and they’d all get it.”

“And now?”

“Now I’m the only one left.”

“Not just you Jim. We’re all that’s left.”


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Mark needed time alone. He’d permanently locked the three living quarters to ensure base integrity. He sent those still in the Nexus back to Habitation Tube Two and he arranged for the three who lost their quarters to move in with others.

Sally, Doug, Zeke, Chuck and Art scoured all status indicators and the base appeared stable. There was no explanation on how the double hulled living quarters lost its seal integrity. There was no explanation for what caused the devastating pod crash.

Mark directed Sally and Zeke to keep looking for answers and detailed Thad to be the Quick Response Force leader on standby. Mark hoped for a couple precious private hours to look at Moon Base Armstrong’s post gamma ray burst plan.

He turned a knob and his living quarters windows became opaque. Mark went to his quarter’s workstation and connected the ArmCon’s storage device. He then stared at a screen asking for a password. He slumped forward and held his head in his hands. This was too much.

The incessant body blows of failure, the ever increasing terror, and his own doubts overwhelmed. He tried to force himself to think, to come up with a plan, to come up with the idea of a plan but the burden of humanity’s last stand and fear of suffocation blotted everything. He opened his eyes, his vision was blurred. He rested his forehead on his desk and concentrated on breathing.

Mark had never been the ultimate one in charge of anything. He’d led teams sure, but always with a boss; someone who guided, prompted, and commented on his decisions. If it wasn’t his boss, it was his dad who was never shy in providing snap judgements and near instantaneous decisions. It was the fighter pilot mindset. You never delayed. You assessed, moved, and engaged the enemy. One pilot, one plane, one task: destroy the enemy. That mindset even worked when Mark piloted drones to do their deadly tasks from his comfortable command chair in Nevada.

He’d volunteered for the moon base assignment for recognition and a grasp for acclaimed achievement. The real experience was different in all ways. And the one task, destroy the enemy, didn’t work here. Who or what was the enemy? If so

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me malign force of the universe planned to wipe them out, why hadn’t it done so already?

He lifted his head and stared at the accusing screen still waiting for a password. Mark needed to see that post gamma ray burst plan. He got up and paced. There was no way the ArmCon would’ve left the password written somewhere in his quarters. He wouldn’t have told Jim Staid but… Brexton? Would he have told his son? It was worth a try. Mark called Brexton on his contactor. “Brex, I know you’re hurting but can you come to my quarters?”

Brexton Little had both the linebacker physique and PhD-worthy scientific mind of his father. Brex excelled at everything he attempted and was detailed for an early crew launch more for his skills than his father’s desire. But he was his father’s son. He was his father’s cheerleader, confidant, and partner in a way few sons ever were. Brex entered Mark’s living quarters and saw the reason he was summoned. He walked to the workstation. “You’re hoping I know that password.”

“I am.” Mark wondered if confidence was passed down from father to son because Brexton Little exuded it. Mark wondered why his dad, General Michael Martelli, Commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, didn’t pass down his overbearing confidence. Maybe he did, but not to me.  He thought his brothers — wiped out along with the rest of earthbound humanity — wouldn’t have been so uncertain, so unnerved by this situation.

Brexton pursed his lips pondering. He sat at the workstation and punched ‘GuionBluford1983’. The screen flicked to the list of files. He chuckled. “Dad never talked about his pride. That’s why his passwords were so effective.”

“What’s that mean?” Mark asked.

“Guion Bluford was the first African American astronaut and 1983 was when he flew on the Space Shuttle.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years.”

“No one would.” Brexton turned to Mark. “Dad kept a lot of things to himself. Did you know Dad and the director were together?”

“Yes. I found out just a few days before the ceremony.”

“They spent so much time together and then after the gamma ray burst — with the end of the world and all.”

“Yeah, it makes sense they’d get together.” Mark searched for words. “I know you’re grieving. I am too. But if we’re to have any legacy at all…”

“We have to survive.” Brexton finished the sentence. “Man, I don’t know what you’re going through but know this. I’m here to do my part.”

“Thanks Brexton. I appreciate it.” Mark pointed to the screen. “Do you know what’s in the post gamma ray burst plan?”

“I have some idea. There’s a lot you’re not going to like.”

Mark didn’t know what to make of Brexton’s comment. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll read these then I’ll include you in the plan review.”

“I’d keep that plan review down to a very small group.”

Mark frowned. “Why?”

“You decide. I’ll leave you to it.” Brexton departed Mark’s quarters.

Mark wondered at the secrecy. Director Collier’s candor and transparency with the crew were well-known. That she and the ArmCon would show them pictures of the incinerated earth but hide this plan made no sense. What could be so upsetting? After the pod crash, they had a meager 129 people left in Moon Base Armstrong and Mark thought that was a small group.

NASA and ESA worked for years detailing a daily structure of tasks for all roles. Every crewmember practiced their role and two alternate roles as back up. Every crewmember was schooled on always knowing the overall mission, the main goals. They trained on earth for eighteen months as a crew so all knew each other, what to do, and how to do it. The crew were given reasons for actions, no matter how difficult, every step of the way.

There was no secrecy when this handpicked talented crew launched. So why now? Why would a strategy for survival need secrecy? For that matter, why hadn’t he been taken in confidence? Mark started reading the post gamma ray burst plans. And then he understood.


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Sally and Zeke sat side by side in the control room. They reviewed the video of the pod crash over and over. They watched it until the terror subsided. They watched it until nothing but a puzzle remained. Why? Why did the pod yaw? Why did the thrusters kick on? Why? Why? Why?

There was one thing. Zeke noticed upon the tenth viewing a faint reflection from a corner of the inside of Thad’s helmet during the pod descent. The video camera centered on the pod but there was a little glimmer in the corner of the frame. It was a reflection from the beacons.

The beacons flashed green, as expected, when Thad was looking at them. Green meant they locked onto the descending pod and it was using their placement as a guide for the landing. What Zeke discovered when he isolated the helmet reflection and increased the contrast was that the beacons flashing color switched from green to purple at the precise time the pod went haywire. It was another puzzle. Purple was odd. Purple meant that another beacon had superseded the lock and was now guiding the pod.

Flashing purple was a protocol developed to enable the base to bring a dozen supply pods down at a time. It was meant as an automated notification of what was envisioned as lunar air traffic control when the Shackleton Crater and Moon Base Armstrong became a burgeoning metropolis. But that never happened. They never had to bring twelve pods down at once. Zeke couldn’t find an example of when another beacon needed to supersede a lock on. And if the pod locked onto another signal, the telemetry logs would show the switch. Instead, the logs abruptly stopped at the precise time the beacons’ flashing changed from green to purple. It was a mystery, perhaps a red herring.

The red light indicating communications from Japan Station flashed on the control panel. Sally stared at the light for a moment before registering its meaning. She picked up the orange handset. “Japan Station, this is Moon Base Armstrong, go ahead.”

Zeke reached across Sally and turned on the speaker. They both heard perfectly annunciated English. “This is Captain Yumi Kaneko and with me is Director Katsumi Hayashi of Japan Station. We wish to review the results of your investigation.”

Sally frowned. It was Zeke who answered. “We are still conducting that investigation.”

“We can provide some missing pieces but the information is sensitive and we will only do so in person.”

Sally muted the speaker. “No one from Japan Station visited before — even though they’re only twenty-one kilometers away, just opposite us on the Shackleton Crater.”

“Right,” Zeke responded. “But they can’t fly across.”

“We mapped it out. It would take a one way trip of thirty-six kilometers to drive around the crater.”

“A seventy-two kilometer round trip. They must feel it’s darn important if they’re planning that journey.”

“Please open the hangar air lock,” came the voice from the speaker.

Zeke and Sally exchanged a glance. “They’re here?” Zeke was amazed.

Sally bounded down to the loading dock and looked at the monitor. “They’re right outside the hangar.”

“Let them in,” Zeke answered. “I’ll get a hold of Mark.”

Director Katsumi Hayashi and Captain Yumi Kaneko entered the loading dock of Moon Base Armstrong for the first time. Major Mark Martelli, Doctor Ezekiel Ben-Ami, and Shift Manager Sally Ride Henderson greeted them. Katsumi and Yumi accepted the greetings and then raised their hand indicating that the Americans would have to wait. Mark, Zeke, and Sally waited and watched as the Japanese stowed their recently shed spacesuits into knapsack-looking polymer bags, checked in with Japan Station on their contactors, and conversed briefly in Japanese. Only then did Director Hayashi walk up to Mark and extend a hand. Mark shook hands and gave a slight bow mimicking Katsumi’s show of respect. Captain Kaneko then approached and again Mark shook her hand and both bowed in respect. Mark formally presented Sally and Zeke who followed Mark’s example in the greetings.

“This is the first lunar meeting of people from our two stations,” Katsumi said. “I wish it were under different circumstances. Our condolences at the loss of Director Collier and Armstrong Controller Little. We held them in the highest regard.”

“Thank you,” Mark answered.

“We don’t know you,” Yumi said. “But we must work together for our future.” She pointed around the hangar. “This is an impressive station.”

Mark didn’t know what to make of that comment. He attempted a smile. “We look forward to working with Japan Station.”

Director Katsumi Hayashi nodded. “Thank you. We now ask about the progress of your investigation into the supply pod crash.”

Mark looked at Zeke and nodded. Zeke motioned to the upper platform. “Let’s go to the control panel and I’ll show you what we’ve found.

The group huddled around a monitor and Zeke walked them through the video, the logs, and the changing light colors of the beacons. “That’s as much as we know.”

Katsumi nodded, extracted a storage device, and extended it to Mark. “We want you to view the video we took of the tragic pod crash.”

Mark handed the storage device to Zeke who plugged it in and played the video. The Japan Station video was a zoomed image of the pod descent from a different angle. It played all the way through the crash. The view of the pod yawing, the thrusters lighting, and the acceleration into the crash prompted groans from the group.

“Now, open the slow motion video file of the crash. We edited the descent video to highlig

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ht our discovery.” Yumi indicated the file for Zeke to open.

There was a slow motion version of the video and this time the image froze just before the yawing started. The pod was suspended in the video, its three landing spotlights glimmering. A yellow circle was imposed on the side of the pod that faced Japan Station. “Please note this signal,” Yumi said pointing at the screen.

There was a momentary green-purple flicker that could be seen in the highlighted circle. Then the pod yawed. The video backed up to the flicker.

“What does that mean?” Mark asked.

“It means something communicated with the pod just before it yawed,” Zeke answered. “That’s an amazing view. It shows the pod controller so we can see visual signals during descent.”

“Was there some reason you recorded this descent in so much detail?” Mark asked.

“Yes,” Katsumi answered. “Japan Station had a pod that was improperly signaled and it was low on fuel. So we aborted the control and it landed fifty kilometers off target.”

“What was improper about the signal?” Sally asked.

“Our operator tried to maneuver it to a spot closer to Japan Station,” Yumi answered. “He used too much fuel.” She pointed to the video. “NASA and JAXA aligned on the pod designs. They were designed for simplicity and maximum cargo carrying, not maneuverability. That’s why beacons are used.”

“But what do you think happened to our pod?”

“Your beacon color change and the pod controller lights show the same thing. A signal from the moon caused this crash.”

Mark shook his head. “What would cause this signal?”

“We believe it was sent from this station.” Katsumi was direct.

“But nobody would do that.” Mark was irritated at the accusation.

“Our data and your data indicate the pod crash was due to it being signaled.”

“And you think someone here sent that signal?”

“That is what the data suggests,” Katsumi said. “I understand your need for caution. The stakes are very high.”

“That we know,” Mark replied.


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Mark invited Katsumi and Yumi for a tour of Moon Base Armstrong. He wondered, upon entering the Nexus, if that was a mistake. Stares from the crew indicated they weren’t ready to be viewed by the commanders of Japan Station. As Sally remained in the control room, Mark had Doug and Zeke accompany them.

Katsumi remained impressed with the size of everything. Katsumi and Yumi viewed the seal to the depressurized Habitation Tube One. Both were aghast at how close the destroyer, the vacuum of space, got to the Nexus due to the pod crash. Katsumi enjoyed Tina’s presentation on the progress of the hydroponic farms. But the real highlight, the thing that gave Mark the most hope, was the Manufacturing Pod.

Jerry, Jim, and Gitty gave a demonstration of their solar powered model prototype. As it zipped across the floor Yumi smiled. She turned to Jerry. “What about the fuel cell?”

“We haven’t got that far,” Jerry replied. “Our first model is designed for use only in the sunlight.”

“We also have our first Japan Station constructed moon buggy,” Yumi said.

“Really?” Jim asked. “Did you bring the model?”

Katsumi and Yumi laughed. “We drove it here,” Yumi replied. “It’s right outside the hangar. We designed it as a simple aluminum frame with silica magnesium tires. It has both an aluminum wound electric engine like yours and a hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell.”

“You’ve got a full sized buggy?” Mark asked. It was his turn to be impressed.

“Yes,” Katsumi answered, “and we see you have the tools to make one as well. We can show you how to compress the processed oxygen and hydrogen and store it for use.”

Jerry’s jaw unhinged. “If you’ve used your solar generated electricity to make hydrogen and oxygen that means…”

“You’ve got a good supply of water,” Doug finished the sentence. “So the Shackleton Crater has that much water?”

“It’s ice, but yes,” Yumi answered. “There is a vast quantity of water here.”

“That’s great to hear,” Mark said. “We’ve only taken one sample of ice.” He clapped his hands together. “Fuel cells enable us to transition from our irreplaceable nickel-hydrogen batteries.”

Brexton and Habibeh watched the demonstration and both got animated at the discussion of the buggy and fuel cells. “Fuel cells were always a part of our expansion plan,” Brexton said. “We need to start establishing outposts.”

“And we need to understand your silica magnesium compound,” Habibeh said. “Does it provide flexible seals?”

“It does.” Yumi was delighted. “We have the tools we need to survive.”

“I’d like to start work on this now,” Brexton said. He turned to Jim. “We should stop screwing around with models and make a full size buggy.”

“I agree,” Jerry said. “But how do you store the compressed hydrogen and oxygen? Do you use moon-made cylinders?”

“Exactly,” Yumi answered. “We need to show you.”

Mark needed to partner with Japan Station and this was an opening. He turned to Katsumi. “Perhaps we could send a team to your station to compare notes.”

“Compare notes?” Katsumi struggled with the phrasing. “It should be a technology transfer.”

“Yes,” Mark answered, “that’s what I meant.” He turned to the head of the Manufacturing Pod. “Jerry, how would you like to be on the technology transfer team?”

“I’d love to see it.” Jerry turned and looked at his team. “I need one more.”

“I’ll go,” Brexton said. “I’m the perfect guy to help.”

“I should go,” Habibeh said. “We need that silica magnesium compound for our seals. That’s my specialty.”

“Is it really a good idea to send a team?” Doug asked.

Mark was irritated Doug wasn’t on the same page. “Of course.” He made a quick decision. “Jerry and Habi, you go on the technology transfer team.” He turned to Katsumi. “Is that acceptable to you?”

“Yes, yes,” Katsumi said.

Mark knew that there should always be reciprocation in negotiations — and he did have one thing of immense value to offer Japan Station. It was what both their station’s needed most. “And we can show you the cave we found in the side of Shackleton Crater.”

“You found a cave?” Yumi asked.

“We discovered it when we drove down the ledge. We were going to the digger and instead found the cave.”

“Did you get to the digger?” Yumi asked.

“No, the slide that uncovered the cave stopped us.”

“A cave?” Katsumi’s eyes went wide. “You found a cave in the side of the crater? How large is it?”

“It’s big and branches several times. We couldn’t explore it all.” Mark was pleased. Finding a large air-tight cavern was priceless. Mark was also happy the cave entrance was on the Moon Base Armstrong side of Shackleton Crater. “We’ll show you.”

Katsumi brightened. “Very good.”


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A crowd clustered outside Moon Base Armstrong’s hangar. Mark, Zeke, Thad, Jerry, and Habi joined Katsumi and Yumi; all dressed in their respective spacesuits. Mark figured this was the largest spacewalk since the gamma ray burst. The group agreed to visit the cave first. After that Mark, Zeke, and Thad were bound for the pod crash site and Katsumi, Yumi, Jerry and Habi were bound for Japan Station.

Before the Katsumi and Yumi’s visit Mark wanted to judiciously conserve Moon Base Armstrong’s buggy batteries. There was a limit to the amount of charge-discharge cycles the buggy’s batteries could take. The more a battery discharged — the longer the buggy trips — the less the overall battery lifetime.

Now, knowing that water was in great supply and fuel cells could be manufactured; Mark was willing to run his moon base buggies on long trips even if it meant deep discharge cycles. Thad had gone to get their moon buggy and Yumi took pleasure showing Zeke, Jerry, and Habi the Japan Station buggy.

Katsumi grabbed Mark by the arm and pulled him away from the group. An icon popped up in Mark’s helmet display indicating the request for an encrypted private conversation. Mark used his left eye selector implant and agreed. Katsumi got to the point. “There’s a strong possibility that someone in Moon Base Armstrong caused the pod crash.”

“We don’t know that.” Mark answered on the private channel.

“Please consider the possibility.”

“We will let our investigation and facts lead us.”

The Japan Station director was blunt. “Four Moon Base Armstrong crew are most suspect — Shift Supervisor Charles Tully, Shift Manager Douglas Graham, Shift Supervisor Arthur Sledge, and…” Katsumi pointed in the direction that Thad disappeared. “Quick Response Force Leader Captain Thaddeus Rudzinski.”

Mark needed Japan Station. He needed their technology and he needed their help. But this accusation was too much. “We will go to the pod crash site and find the recorder. As I said, we will let facts guide us.”

“The facts are already very bad. And you are bringing Captain Rudzinski with you.”

“I will share everything we find at the crash site and we can discuss. I trust Captain Rudzinski with my life. He’s not at fault.”

“I hope you are correct.”

Thad returned driving the Moon Base Armstrong buggy. He pulled it alongside the Japan Station buggy. Mark grinned at the sight. This had all the appearances of a lunar family outing. The astronauts loaded into their respective buggies and drove toward the entrance of the cave. M

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ark stopped his buggy just before the section of the ledge that had given way.

For the second time he apprised the dark curved gap that showed where half of the ledge had fallen into the crater. For the second time he wondered at the stability of the remaining piece of the ledge. The Bluetooth communications crackled to life.

“Look at the damage the crash vibration caused.” Yumi said. “This is not a safe path.”

“Follow our tracks,” Mark answered. “It’s the only way to the cave.”

Mark could see that Yumi and Katsumi were having a private conversation about the ledge stability. If the ledge gave way at that moment, the loss of leadership would be more catastrophic than the pod crash. The survival of both moon bases would be irretrievably compromised. In spite of the concern, Yumi followed when Mark resumed moving; both hugged the crater wall and kept the dark abyss as far to the right as possible.

They stopped at the foot of the constructed staircase. Mark swelled with pride at the compliments coming over the group-wide channel at the clean lines and well thought out dimensions of the stairs. The group eased his suffocation fears for the moment.

Habi pulled Yumi to the corner of the lowest stair. “This is our construction compound.” Habi gave the corner a sharp blow with her pick-shovel tool. She lifted a corner of the stair that she had broken off.

“The silica magnesium combination is better,” Yumi answered.

The group went up the stairs and without hesitation entered the cave. Mark wondered who was more pleased — the Moon Base Armstrong crew of Jerry, Habi, and Zeke or the Japan Station crew of Katsumi and Yumi. Thad and Mark, who had made this momentous discovery, stood side by side and enjoyed the reaction.

“These caves are vents from lava flows three and a half billion years ago.” Zeke was excited. “And look — the walls are pristine. The pod crash had no effect.”

“This is what JAXA dreamed of when agreeing to come to the Shackleton Crater,” Yumi said. She pointed to the openings. “How big are these caverns?”

“We only explored the beginning but each of the three main branches branch out themselves,” Thad answered. “If you look in the rightmost main branch you’ll see five different paths inside.” Thad was pleased to share the discovery and oblivious that the Japanese viewed him with suspicion.

“This can save us,” Katsumi said.

“This will save us,” Mark replied.


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Doug, Sally, and Chuck were in the control room watching the monitors that showed the outside of the hangar. “What do you think they’re doing out there?” Doug asked.

“They’re checking out the cave,” Sally answered.

“Pfft — that’s a fool’s errand.” Doug was in a bad mood.

“So is defeatism,” Chuck answered.

Doug glared at Chuck. “Don’t you two need rest? This shift is for me and Art to cover.”

“Yeah, I guess we need to sleep sometime.” Sally replied.

“If anyone can after hearing that hiss,” Chuck said. “I’m anxious about sleeping in my quarters.”

“Follow our new protocol,” Sally ordered. “Set your quarters alarm to go off at the smallest pressure drop. That will ensure you have time if something like that happens again.”

“But why did it happen at all?” Chuck asked. “We sealed up the quarters before we found out why.”

“It was either that or risk the entire habitation tube.”

Shift Supervisor Arthur — Art Sledge entered the hangar. He regarded Sally and Chuck. “You guys need to rest. We got this.”

“Okay,” Chuck answered. He turned to Sally. “I’ll set the alarm and hope like hell I get some sleep.”

Chuck left the control room. Sally hesitated as she stared at the monitors. “I’m going to patch a feed into my quarters. I want to see when they come back from the cave — and the backside of the crater.”

Doug laughed. “Whatever works but in eleven hours I expect you to be here with bells on.”

Sally typed some commands, checked her contactor, gave the twosome a smile, and departed.

Doug turned to Art. “Did you set your quarter’s pressure alarm?”

Art nodded. “Yeah.” He pointed to the monitors. “What’s going on out there?”

“The dumbasses from Japan Station are looking at the cave Mark and Thad found.”


“That’s my question as well. Did you see those guys in the Manufacturing Pod? They’re clinging to the thought that we can make this work.”

Art stared at the monitors and said nothing. “I don’t think that’s the point.”

“Then what’s the point?”

Art shrugged. “There is none.”

Doug considered his shift partner. “You seem especially down.”

“I now have a bunkmate. He was from one of the pods that were compromised.” Art snickered. “A whiny kid from the Agriculture Pod that’s upset his hardcopy family pictures were sealed up.”

“Like that’s worth being upset about.” Doug flicked a monitor display so it showed the distant sun. The sun’s intensity at the lunar south pole was far less than at the equator and was always a bright spot just above the horizon. “There it is.”

Art looked at the monitor. “Yeah, the perpetual sunrise.”

“No. It’s the perpetual sunset.” Doug stared at the barren moonscape. “What the hell were we thinking coming up here?”

“I can tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking to punch my ticket for 3M Space Mining Corporation so I could get back, be a millionaire, and send other poor slobs up here to mine these precious minerals.”

“And now?”

“And now I try not to think.” Art coughed and cleared his throat.

“It’s a bad time to get the flu. The med-bay is at vacuum.”

Art nodded. “I know.” He sighed. “I’m going to miss the med-bay. Doctor McCarthy gave me amphetamines to fight this gloom. There was quite a supply in the med-bay. High test Adderall is what he called it.”

“Maybe we’re not supposed to fight the gloom.”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe we’re supposed to accept it.”

“Is that why you called the guys out there dumbasses?”

“Exactly.” Doug faced Art. “Did you know the director had a plan?”


“The director had a plan for after the gamma ray burst. She kept it top secret.”

“If she kept it secret how do you know about it?”

“The ArmCon came by a couple weeks ago and instructed me to make a copy. I was instructed to copy it without viewing the files. So naturally I ran an instruction for two copies to be made, one for the ArmCon’s portable device, and one for me.”

Art shrugged. “You are the master hacker. What did you find?”

“Our good director, ArmCon, and Doctor McCarthy had plans for all of us. They constructed a list of who was most critical and who wasn’t.”

“Makes sense.”

“No, listen. They had breeding plans. They assigned women who could reproduce the highest value and then the good doctor lined up who was going to impregnate whom.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“No, I’m not.” Doug pulled a small memory stick out of his pocket. “I’ve got it all right here. They even had plans of who would survive if the hydroponic farming failed to produce enough. They were willing to reduce the base to forty-five essential personnel if they needed to conserve food.”

“What do you mean reduce?”

“All living quarters have a reversible check valve that no one knew about. That’s what happened to the quarters in Habitation Tube Two. All they would’ve needed to do is open the valves of those they didn’t value.” Doug pointed to Art. “There was a roster of people to save and you my friend weren’t on that list of forty-five. Neither was I.”

“That makes no sense.”

“It does. The director and ArmCon gave us a forty percent chance of becoming self-sufficient within a year. They made contingency plans.”

“Contingency plans?”

Doug snorted. “That’s what military types do. They decide who gets to live and who gets to die. And those destined to die get to be used as food and fertilizer. Is that worth the future of humanity?”

“You’re serious.”

Doug turned back to the control panel. “The thing is, the director was optimistic thinking we had a forty percent chance. After the pod crash, it’s hopeless.”

Art dropped his head into his hands. “This is hopeless.” He kept his head buried. “You’re telling me I count for nothing but fertilizer?”


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Katsumi and Yumi shook hands with Mark, Zeke, and Thad outside the hangar door. Mark wondered if Doug, from his view in the control room, was recording the gathering for posterity. Jerry and Habi stood next to the Japanese and were inspecting the fuel cell power usage on the Japan Station buggy.

“This cave you found is very, very good.” Katsumi said.

“I agree,” Mark answered. “We should figure out how to seal and pressurize it.”

“Yes,” Yumi answered. “We’re going to need it.” She pointed to two tall cylinders that were a meter in diameter and mounted to the side of the hangar. “Cryogenic nitrogen storage dewars?”

“That’s right,” Mark answered. “Don’t you do the same?”

“No, there’s little nitrogen up here.”

“We sent tons of it here ahead of our first launch,” Zeke said.

“So what’s the composition of your air?” Mark asked.

“We use a pure oxygen environment as it was too expensive to send nitrogen here. Why didn’t NASA and ESA decide the same?”

“The Apollo 1 fire,” Mark answere

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d. He, like all of his crew, knew NASA used pure oxygen in its Mercury and Gemini space programs but on an Apollo program launch rehearsal test, when there was an electrical spark, the pressurized oxygen environment in the Apollo 1 capsule turned that spark into an inferno. It was an inferno that cost the lives of three NASA astronauts: Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White. Everyone in Moon Base Armstrong knew that story and viscerally felt the need for the safer eighty-percent nitrogen, twenty-percent oxygen mix. Mark only now reckoned with the implications of the scarcity of nitrogen on the moon. “What do you do for static?” Mark asked.

“You saw how we pack our spacesuits. We wear anti-static boots and keep Japan Station at high humidity. We ground ourselves with wrist straps when moving from section to section.” Yumi laid out the protocol.

“We never planned on a pure oxygen environment,” Zeke said.

“But they’re right,” Mark answered. “Our air reactors only make oxygen to mix in our internal atmosphere.”

“There’s only trace amounts of nitrogen on the moon,” Zeke said. “We need to figure this out.”

“Would we pressurize the cave with nothing but oxygen?” Mark asked. “Is that really a good idea?”

“We have no choice,” Katsumi answered.

“One spark… it only takes one spark.” Mark didn’t like it. “Maybe we use the remainder of our nitrogen when we first pressurize.”

“Let’s make a plan,” Katsumi replied. “The cave you found is massive. We don’t even know how big it is or how long it will take to pressurize.”

Mark nodded. “There’s a lot of work to do.” He grinned and regretted that Katsumi and Yumi couldn’t see his wide smile behind his helmet visor. “Thank you for this visit. It means so much. We have a good chance at survival.”

Katsumi lifted his hand and pointed to his helmet. Mark saw that Katsumi was again initiating a private exchange and authorized the conversation. “For us to have a good chance,” Katsumi said only to Mark, “you must fix your problem. You have a disease in Moon Base Armstrong. It is a consequence of how NASA and ESA picked their crew. This is why Japan Station is separate. We have no disease.”

“What do you mean?” Mark asked.

“NASA focused on picking crew for the right social mix, not the right mix for the mission. Not the right dedication to make hard choices. JAXA picked crew with ironclad discipline. We can make difficult decisions if necessary. Can you?”

Mark wondered what Katsumi knew of the director’s post gamma ray plan. “Yes, we can make difficult decisions.” Mark rejected the plan’s contingency option of reducing the crew the moment he saw it. He wasn’t going to tell Katsumi that.

There was no way Mark would direct culling the crew down to an essential few. He was stunned beyond description when he first viewed the director’s plans. Using some of his crew for food and fertilizer was something he would never do. Humanity demanded they pull together. Mark would never direct Moon Base Armstrong’s leadership to kill their colleagues.

But Mark thought it possible that, faced with the same choice, Katsumi would. There was a threat in Katsumi’s warning. Future cooperation between Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station depended on satisfying Katsumi and Yumi. And they were far from satisfied that Mark understood the reason for the pod crash. They came all the way out around the crater to personally ensure their message was received.

“Difficult decisions require unity,” Katsumi said. “We at Japan Station do not see unity here.”

Mark pointed to their moon buggy and noted that Zeke and Habi were having their own private conversation. He turned back to Katsumi. “We’ll finish our investigation and get the answer to the pod crash.” He kept his voice steady to mask his dismay. “The crew of Moon Base Armstrong are good people. There’s no disease.”

“You cannot risk our future on that assumption. You must know and you do not. You must know for us to work together.”

“I will know. We will know.”


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Mark drove the moon buggy on a trip that would be the farthest ever travelled from Moon Base Armstrong since the gamma ray burst. The round trip calculations showed the buggy would have to cover just over forty-four kilometers, twenty-two each way. That was the distance to the pod crash site. After the Japan Station team’s seventy-two kilometer round trip, this shorter trip had to be done. They had to finish the investigation and put all doubt to rest.

The moon buggy had a top speed of fifteen kilometers per hour so the journey would take ninety minutes each way and require them to replace air tanks at the crash site. Thad sat beside Mark. Zeke sat in back with the equipment. Mark felt the buggy rise and fall as he guided it over the uneven terrain. The beautiful desolation that so enamored the Apollo astronauts struck Mark as forbidding. The Apollo astronauts knew they’d go home again. They knew the bright blue marble was waiting for them. They knew that, when moon dust fouled their seals and consumables ran low, they’d leave. The loss of earth and the unforgiving vacuum inundated Mark’s mind.

As Mark drove through the bleak landscape his thoughts raced. The myriad of constraints, the asinine contingency plan, the reason for the pod crash; all jockeyed for priority in his head. The air composition constraint was a big problem. The lunar regolith was made predominately of oxides so extracting oxygen was straightforward. But the thought of pressurizing the massive cave with pure oxygen and filling it with electronics and moon manufactured burnable aluminum structures distressed Mark. If they used pure oxygen, they would have to trust their lives to a static electricity protocol that had to be failsafe enough to prevent an infernal-creating spark. That seemed nuts.

Lack of carbon was another problem. Carbon, like nitrogen, was also a trace element. And carbon was life itself. Without carbon they couldn’t grow enough food and couldn’t sustain themselves. Shortage of food was the main trigger for the culling crew reduction contingency plan. Moon Base Armstrong’s crew was slowly switching to Tina’s Agriculture Pod farming of five grown crops: lettuce, potatoes, wheat, rapeseed, and soybeans. Mark cringed at the bland culinary future. Mark had an intense desire for spices, for something of flavor, for a good cheeseburger with all the toppings.

“How’re you doing Mark?” Zeke’s calm and steady voice came through his helmet.


“Don’t let the dark force of despair win.”

“I’m not.”

“You’re not saying anything,” Thad entered the conversation over their Bluetooth communications.

“I’m trying to get all these details down,” Mark answered. “There’s so much to keep track of.”

“You need our help,” Zeke offered. “The director and the ArmCon always split their duties.”

“That’s right,” Thad added. “It’s like the commander and the executive officer in U.S. Army units. You always need a right hand man.”

“Or two,” Zeke chimed in.

Mark laughed. “If you two are volunteering, you’re hired.” The simple communication from kindred spirits lifted his mood. He opened up to his friends. “Katsumi thinks someone caused this pod crash.”

“Really?” Thad asked. “They think I screwed up?”

“The data indicates a signal caused the pod to lose the lock on your beacons. A signal that caused the crash.”

“A signal?” Thad was fully engaged. “What type of signal?”

“A beacon signal,” Zeke answered. “The data they brought indicates a different beacon signal changed the guidance.”

“Okay,” Thad replied. “But then how come the pod yawed and the thrusters lit? If it just changed landing locations, it would have come down soft.”

“We need to find the pod recorder,” Mark said. “The telemetry stopped as soon as your beacons switched from green to purple.”

Mark kept trying to make sense of the crash. What if Katsumi was right and they did have a disease, someone who signaled the pod? He shook his head and grimaced when sweat from his forehead splattered the inside of his helmet visor. There couldn’t be a disease. There had to be a better explanation. He didn’t know what it was but he expected to find it. He steered the buggy into a gentle right turn and drove toward the backside of Shackleton Crater.

“Check that out,” Thad said pointing. “A supply container. When the pod crashed, it scattered its contents over a wide area.”

Mark drove the buggy next to the container. He surveyed the area and was surprised at the dispersion of the supply pod’s cargo. The group hopped out of the buggy and looked at the container. “It looks intact,” Mark observed.

“Makes sense,” Zeke said as he ran his gloved hand across the top. “These containers were designed to handle g-forces, shocks, vacuum — you name it. If the force of the crash didn’t puncture it, the landing in one-sixth earth gravity wouldn’t have either.”

“Can you read the markings that show of what’s in it?” Thad asked.

Mark brushed off a thin coat of moon dust. “It’s food. And I’ll bet its fine. We need to bring it back to the base.”

“We can use our trailer,” Thad said. “It’ll only take a minute to unfold the erector set moon buggy trailer. I’ll start stacking the supply containers and we can plan another trip to recover the one’s we don’t bring back now.”

“This is good news.” Mark said. “The crew will be cheered that the supplies weren’t destroyed in the crash.”


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Arthur Sledge stared at the four high test Adderall amphetamine pills in the palm of his hand. It was all he had left. This was it, the last mind-blotting pills that would give him peace. He could stretch them for four days. Or he could take two a day for two days if he wanted to really blot the pain. Was it really pain he felt? No, it was something else. It was worse than pain. Art felt numb boredom. His mind descended into a bottomless pit of ennui for life itself.

His family was gone as was everyone else’s. The crushing loss of family was universal and there was little to hang onto. That’s why his new roommate was infuriated at losing the hardcopy pictures of family. Mementos and the memories they triggered was all that was left.

Art looked at his new roommate’s bunk and wrinkled his nose. One thing about sharing a room with an Agriculture Pod worker; he smelled like excrement. Another thing to endure, another thing to hate. At least his roommate was on shift. He snorted when thinking of their routine. What was a shift anyway?

The micromanaged daily task procedures that everyone still followed no longer made sense. They were doomed. The losses of family and of the sweet earth were so overwhelming, so numbing, that they all just went through the motions. The leaders tried to peddle hope while they secretly planned on culling the crew, on killing the least valuable of their supposed friends. And what else did Doug say? After the culling they would use those killed for food as fertilizer. That was not an end any human deserved.

If humanity needed to resort to culling and cannibalism, it didn’t deserve to survive. No one left here knows me. No one values me or anything about me… except the carbon in my bones.  Tears welled in his eyes. They were all doomed but, among them all, to be so insignificant? Art wiped his eyes and shook his head. They were wrong. They were wrong to think he had nothing to offer, even in these final moments. They were wrong in failing to see him as the special human he was.

Art was worth nothing to no one. He stood and pulled the cover off the electrical receptacle that was adjacent to a seam. He stared at the secret check valve. These secret valves were in everyone’s quarters and, according to Doug, caused the hissing leak earlier. These secret valves would enable the culling of the crew. The leadership could remotely open the values so they would determine which quarters went to vacuum. Then they would close the valves and pressurize the quarters so they could extract the occupant for use as fertilizer. The leadership already determined which of the crew had value. The leadership already determined who would live and who would die. Art stared at the valve as the embodiment of the truth of Doug’s statements, of the truth of the evil plans, of the truth that his life meant nothing.

Art looked at the closed pneumatic door. He then stared at the four pills in his hand. He reached up and set his quarters’ check valve to slowly vent to vacuum. That should take an hour.  He lifted his water bottle, popped the four pills in his mouth, and washed them down.

He ran in place to get his blood circulating. His feeling of worthlessness dissipated. Yes, this is better, much better. It’s like Socrates said after drinking hemlock. There’s no need to struggle.  He opened his terminal and used the last of his consciousness to send a time-delayed email. Yes , he thought as he set the timing of the email, I will mean something after all. In their last moments, they will think of me.  Arthur Sledge lay on his bunk for the last time and closed his eyes. Sweet peaceful sleep overtook him.


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Mark, Thad, and Zeke put the supply container of food in the just assembled trailer, piled back into the buggy, and Mark drove to the center of the pod crash site. He drove as close as he could to the impact site, stopped the buggy, and the three got out. They stared at the destruction. The pod had come down on the circular dimple that was the director’s quarters and splattered its contents in a wide area.

They could see the two phase action that happened in Habitation Tube One’s final moments. There was a visible blow out of lunar material from the rapid venting and then the tube collapsed on itself creating a valley outline of where the director’s quarters, med bay, University Pod, and tube itself had once been.

“That was the worst spot it could have come down on,” Thad’s voice cracked.

“Yeah,” Mark stared for a long moment. He turned to Thad. “Thad take the buggy and police up all of the containers you can find.” He pointed to a relatively flat piece of terrain. “Stack them on that smooth area.”

“Will do.” Thad answered as he stared at the destruction.

Mark pointed to the valleys created by the habitation tube’s destruction. “Keep the buggy away from this.”

“Okay, I’m on it.” Thad answered. He bounded toward the moon buggy.

“What are we going to do?” Zeke asked.

“We’re going to the impact site to investigate,” Mark answered. “We need the pod’s recorder.”

Mark and Zeke moved to the nearest depression. Mark sidled up to the very edge. It looked as if a snowball was dropped off a tall building into a foot of snow. A round depression marked the spot where the destroyed quarters of Director Collier were.

Mark and Zeke slid down the bank. Mark was disconcerted to see a thick line of talc-like moon dust clinging to his spacesuit seam around his shoulder. He remembered that Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan nearly compromised the seals on their spacesuits with the gritty moon dust. He activated his visor controls and was relieved to see that the status screen indicated his seals were in good shape. There was a lot that could go wrong on the moon.

The disaster they were investigating showed as much. When something went wrong, and the demon of vacuum struck, people died. After the gamma ray burst, there were few precious people left. Mark pushed that thought from his mind. Zeke bounded in front of him and wrestled with a flat piece of metal. Mark followed and helped remove what was a piece of the supply pod. It was the top of the spacecraft. Underneath the cover, caked in dust, was the pod’s recorder.

“There it is,” Zeke said.

“Let’s get it out so we can take it with us.”

Mark and Zeke used the small digger tools they carried in their spacesuits and extracted the recorder, the pod’s black box, from its harness. “This should tell us what we need to know,” Mark said. He hoped it wouldn’t confirm their worst fears.

“Look at that.” Zeke noted an opening in the wall. It was as if a large caliber bullet was fired from the inside and ripped a gaping hole through the double-hulled curved wall. It was the curved wall of Director Collier’s living quarters.

Mark and Zeke pried the hole to open wider and in moments they were standing in what remained of Constance Collier’s living and command quarters. A wave of emotion swept over Mark. This strong leader faced wars, discrimination, and the destruction of her home planet. She came through it all unscathed but then was destroyed by a ridiculous accident. He controlled his breathing to keep from sobbing.

Mark moved with somber respect and looked at a mound of moon rock where her bunk was located. The contactor locator showed that the ArmCon was under that mound as well. What were they doing when the pod crashed? Did they have a chance for one last embrace? Did they feel terror or was it over in a blink?

Mark looked to the opposite side of the quarters. He saw the spot in front of Director Collier’s command desk where he himself stood from time to time. A flashing light under some moon debris caught his eye. He pointed. “Zeke, do you see that?”

“Yes,” Zeke answered. “That’s odd.”

Mark and Zeke dug a flashing device out from the debris of the late commander’s desk. As Mark scraped dust off of the peculiar device he saw that it was a beacon duct taped to an electrical box. “Look at this.”

“It’s still flashing,” Zeke said.

“I see that. The beacon’s showing it’s locked on to the pod by flashing green.” The moment Mark said that he dropped the device in horror. “Oh my God! Someone put this under the commander’s desk.”

Zeke lifted the device. He twisted it around examining the construction. “This looks like a remote with a power supply hooked to the beacon.”

“What’s going on over there?” Thad’s voice came over the link.

Mark tried to breathe. “This was put here before the crash.”

Thad slid down the bank and bounded next to Zeke. “This was sabotage? That’s why the pod crashed off target?”

“The crash wasn’t off target to whomever planted this beacon. They wanted to make sure the pod took out the director,” Zeke said.

“And the ArmCon,” Mark added. He felt rage building. “Someone plotted to kill the director and ArmCon and they used the pod as a bullet.”

“Someone killed our leadership just as they were building hope after the gamma ray burst?” Thad was incredulous. “Why? Why would someone do that?”

“Despair,” Zeke answered. “The dark force of despair had to strike against hope.”

Mark’s rage bubbled. “We will find the murderer. We’ll find them and we’ll survive.” Thad and Zeke stared at Mark as he faced the mound that covered the director and ArmCon. He turned. “Zeke, put the recorder and this

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beacon in a bag that we can hide.”

“Both the beacon and recorder will fit into our spare air container cover,” Thad offered.

“Good, good.” Mark’s voice was a laser beam of retribution. “I’ll drive the buggy to the hangar entrance and signal for a work team. I’ll put the buggy with the trailer full of supply containers into the large section of the load lock.”

Thad nodded. “You want a bustle of activity when we get back.”

“Yes I do. Thad, the moment we get the trailer in the hangar loading dock, you get everyone who’s manning the control room unloading the supplies. Zeke, you keep the beacon and recorder hidden in this bag. I’ll contact Sally and we’ll take the bag to her quarters where we can examine it further.”

Zeke was disturbed. “We don’t know who caused this crash and they’ll be suspicious when we get back. I’ll do what you ask but then what?”

“Then we figure out who’s trying to wipe us out. Then we figure out who’s trying to destroy humanity’s last chance.” Mark turned back to the mound, balled a gloved fist, and slammed it into his open palm. “This will not go unpunished. This will not destroy us.”



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Sally stared at the monitor in her living quarters and waited for the group to return from the back of the crater. She wished she’d have gone with them. Her hopes of survival were whipsawed between the discovery of the cave and the pod crash. There had to be something else, something firm and solid to hang onto. The unremitting reactions to emergencies during her shift combined with the dark pall of dread over their lost leadership had worn her raw.

The monitor flickered, showing action. Sally watched as the moon buggy with attached trailer entered the hangar. She stood and noted that only Doug was in the control room to meet them. I wonder where Art is.  Doug had dressed in his spacesuit as a precaution.

The few times the moon buggy did drive into the hangar there were extra precautions as, with the inner hatch open, there was only one sealed wall that separated the hangar from the moon’s vacuum. She watched the hangar doors close and saw all wait for the green light indicating that the inner hatch was sealed. I should go to the hangar and help. 

She pulled on her NASA jumpsuit and was about to depart her quarters when her contactor beeped. She flicked her earpiece to answer the call. “This is Henderson,” she answered.

“Sally, this is Mark. Are you alone in your quarters?”

She frowned and noted this was a private one to one call. “Yes. Why?”

“Zeke, and I are going to bring something we found to your quarters. Stay put.”

That made no sense. “Okay.” She looked at the monitor and noted supply containers being unloaded. “I don’t have room for a full container.”

“It’s not a supply container. We’ll show you when we get there.”

Curiosity piqued, Sally watched the hangar activity over the monitor. A work team had entered the hangar to unload and there was a lot of activity. The crew from the backside of the crater got out of their spacesuits. Mark gave directions to Thad and grabbed a small air container bag from him. She watched Mark and Zeke bound toward the Nexus as Thad continued unloading.

After what felt like an interminable wait, Mark and Zeke entered Sally’s quarters. “What’s going on?” She asked.

“Katsumi was right,” Mark answered. He pulled an electronic box assembly from the air container storage bag. “We have a disease in Moon Base Armstrong and it threatens to destroy us.”

“What are you talking about?”

Zeke took the box and turned it over for Sally to see. “We found this under Director Collier’s desk.”

Sally looked at the battery-beacon assembly and gasped. “You found this in the director’s quarters?”

“Flashing green. It guided the pod right on top the director and ArmCon,” Zeke said.

Sally felt as if she were slapped across the face. “Someone intentionally crashed the pod into the director’s quarters?”

“And damn near took the base out.” Mark’s expression was one of bubbling rage. He noted his contactor signaling a call and he answered. “Thad, come to Sally’s quarters. We’re discussing our find.”

Sally tried to process the information. “Someone sabotaged the pod decent to murder the director and ArmCon?” She shook her head. “What kind of psychopath does that? Who in this crew is a murderer?”

“Someone who succumbed to the darkness of despair,” Zeke answered.

Thad entered and went straight to the battery-beacon assembly. His face was flushed red and he panted in excitement. He picked the assembly up and examined the connections. “I got Doug and the team interested in the food in the supply containers. He’s probably wondering why we’re not in the control room.”

“Because we have a small circle of trust,” Mark answered. “And he’s not part of it yet.”

“My mind’s been racing around and around on this,” Thad said. “Who knew enough about beacons to rig this remote, knew about the timing of the pod descent, and had access to the director’s quarters?”

“Not many.”

“Wait — back up,” Sally said. “How did you guys find this remote beacon assembly?”

“The back of the crater has supply containers strewn everywhere. We found those first,” Mark said. “Then we noticed the depressions of Habitation Tube One, the director’s quarters, med bay, and University Pod.”

“They all depressurized and collapsed,” Thad said.

“Then we went down into the depression of the director’s quarters,” Zeke said. “We found the supply pod’s recorder first.” He pulled a fist-sized box from his pocket. “We thought this would give us the answers we need. But then we noticed a blown out hole in the wall of the director’s quarters that looked like an artillery shell went through it from inside out. That must’ve been from explosive depressurization. We pried the hole open and went inside.”

“I noticed a green flashing light under rubble that covered the director’s desk,” Mark continued. “I removed a few rocks and found that.” He pointed to the battery powered remote controlled beacon in Thad’s hands. “It was still flashing green.” Mark’s contactor beeped. He looked at the incoming call. “It’s Brexton.”

“You should answer,” Sally said.

“Brexton’s a good one to bring into this,” Zeke said. “He may know who wanted to kill the director and ArmCon.”

“If his anger doesn’t get the best of him,” Thad added.

Mark answered the call. “Brexton, this is Major Martelli.”

“Major,” Brexton’s voice came over the speaker of Mark’s contactor, “I heard you guys returned from the back of the crater. I thought you may want help going over the pod’s recorder data. We need to find out what happened and calm the crew down.”

“Brexton, please come to Shift Manager Henderson’s quarters,” Mark replied. “There’s something we need to show you.”


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Brexton was agog. “Someone killed my dad on purpose? Someone sabotaged the supply pod guidance and intentionally crashed it into the director’s quarters?”

“That’s the only conclusion,” Zeke answered.

“We need an inquisition to find out who did this,” Brexton said. “Waterboarding should be on the table. Chuck’s the first person we should start with.”

“Hold on a second,” Sally said. “Chuck was in the control room the whole time during the pod descent.”

“Someone put the beacon there beforehand,” Mark said, “and that someone remotely turned it on as the pod began its landing sequence. The control room is the perfect place for someone to trigger the sabotage.”

“He’s right,” Thad said. “If the beacon under the director’s desk would have come on twenty seconds later the pod would’ve already soft landed.”

“The only way to do the sabotage was to be in the control room or have access to its systems,” Mark said.

“Who was in the control room during that time?” Zeke asked.

“Doug and Chuck,” Thad replied.

“And then Art Sledge came in later so Chuck could go out and get Thad.” Sally said.

“I didn’t need getting,” Thad answered. “I knew enough to come back to the hangar hatch. All Chuck did was open the door when I got there.”

“We think Chuck did the sabotage?” Zeke asked.

“He did it before,” Mark said. “I don’t care if he was consumed by despair, he damn near got me killed by messing with the offset on my air tank gauge. He certainly could’ve done this after his jaw healed.”

“I don’t think it’s Chuck,” Sally said.

Thad examined the remote controlled battery-beacon assembly. “It has to be Chuck or Doug.”

“Chuck, Doug, or Art,” Zeke added. “They’re the most likely.”

“They’re the only ones who could’ve done this,” Mark answered. His contactor beeped again. “Doug, what’s up?”

“Japan Station Director Katsumi Hayashi and Captain Yumi Kaneko are hailing you major.” Doug used the formality of titles with unveiled sarcasm.

“I’ll contact them in an hour,” Mark answered.

“I think they would like to talk to you now Major.”

“Tell them I’ll contact them in an hour.”

“Yes sir.”

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Mark looked at the group who regarded him with lidded eyes. “Japan Station’s leaders, Katsumi and Yumi, don’t believe we have correct discipline. They believed the crash was due to sabotage the moment it happened.”

“We may have a bad apple,” Thad replied, “but the overall discipline of our crew is exemplary.”

“I agree,” said Sally.

“Don’t forget — discipline is more important for Japan Station,” Zeke said.

“Why’s that, culture?” Thad asked.

“It’s part of their culture but it’s critical for oxygen,” Zeke answered.


“JAXA didn’t send nitrogen up here like NASA and the ESA insisted we do for Moon Base Armstrong. Japan Station is pressurized with pure oxygen. They have very disciplined procedures for grounding and static electricity avoidance.”

“Pure oxygen?” Sally asked. “Don’t they know about Apollo 1 and the Soviet Union space program deaths from incineration in pure oxygen environments?”

“They do. That’s why they have ironclad discipline. The only nitrogen we have up here is what we brought with us. Long term, we’re going to have to deal with the same thing.”

“So in the future of a pure oxygen pressurized station, a rogue crewmember who has a bad day could light the whole thing up with a spark?” Thad lowered the beacon.

“That’s the fear,” Mark answered. “That’s why Japan Station’s leadership is paranoid. They believe NASA and ESA were more concerned with social engineering than with ensuring a disciplined crew. When they find out about the sabotage, they’ll know they were right.”

“Our survival’s at risk because of one bastard that killed my dad,” Brexton said. “Even if we waterboard them and get a confession, Japan Station will never believe we have the right discipline.”

“Would you?”

Mark shook his head. “We need to face this. There’s nothing to be gained by taking counsel of our fears.”

“Really?” Sally asked. “You think now is the time for a George Patton quote?”

“Actually the ‘never take counsel of your fears’ was first said by President Andrew Jackson,” Zeke said. “And it’s good advice. We need to take this one step at a time.”

Mark nodded. “We need to find the culprit, let everyone know we found him, and get everyone on the task of making the cave livable.”

“Now we’re talking,” Brexton said. “Is waterboarding on the table?”

“No,” Mark answered. “We’re not going to resort to torture. We must lead with hope, not fear.”

“I agree,” Zeke said. “We must conquer despair as well as its causes… like hopelessness.”

Sally’s contactor beeped. She answered by pushing the speaker button and all were stunned by what they heard. “Sally, this is Doug. There’s a signal of a vacuum breach in the quarters of Shift Supervisor Art Sledge.”


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In the scramble to find out about Art Sledge, Mark forgot he promised to update Katsumi and Yumi at Japan Station. The signal of Art’s quarters venting to vacuum was met with the discovery that all quarters had remote controlled venting check valves and that there were plans to use those check valves to cull the crew down to size.

That discovery wasn’t made by investigation. Art sent a time-delayed email, just before suffocating, that detailed it all — the check valves, the culling plan, the use of humans as carbon based fertilizer. Art sent his email to the full crew and copied Japan Station. Mark reeled from these blows. Every time he grasped a thread of hope, something overwhelming happened that took a blowtorch to residual plants of confidence. Art’s email was that blowtorch.

Sally and Thad secured the quarters adjacent to Art. Since Art manually opened the check valve they couldn’t remotely close it. There was no choice but to lock Art in his final resting place. Mark used the barrel key to permanently seal Art’s quarters.

“Art’s a permanent vacuum embalmed mummy,” Sally said to Mark after he sealed the quarters.

The email traffic in the base’s crew surged with angry defiant threats and demands for explanation. Art’s death was accompanied by rumors of sabotage. Faith in the future wore thin with all of Moon Base Armstrong’s crew.

“Call for an assembly,” Mark told Doug over the intercom. “We need to lay everything out.”

“Yes sir.” Doug’s deadpan answer grated.

“Mark,” Zeke grabbed his friend’s arm. “What are you going to tell the crew?”

“The truth,” Mark answered. “They deserve to know why the director and ArmCon were killed.”

“You don’t know the truth.”

“I know enough. I read the post-gamma ray burst plan yesterday. I don’t know how Art got it but it all makes sense.”

“What? What makes sense?”

“The despair you’re so worried about.”

The crew assembled for the third time in a week and newly minted Major Mark Martelli was numb. He dreaded explaining the outrageous culling plan he had just read himself. He wondered how to motivate the group. He wanted to highlight that Thad and Zeke would be his right hand assistant commanders but feared that’d look like picking favorites — the same thing the culling plan did. Those not picked or on good terms would wonder if they were tagged as insignificant as Art Sledge.

The assembly resembled the same assortment as when Mark stood at the podium to address the pod crash. The commander for a week stared at the crew and mustered his nerve. This was about more than motivation. It was about human survival. He apprised his leaders.

Zeke Ben-Ami again sat across from the podium with Chuck and Doug on one side of Zeke and Thad and Sally on the other side. The Manufacturing Pod crew in the second row was now headed by Brexton Little with Gitty Chatterjee and Jim Staid beside him. Beside Jim was Agricultural Pod’s Tina Bennet.

Mark noted the absences from the last assembly. Manufacturing Pod head, Jerry Papadopoulos, was with his colleague and Zeke’s companion Habibeh Rahimi in Japan Station. Also absent from the assembly in the most conspicuous manner of all was Shift Supervisor Arthur Sledge — now an eternal relic of Moon Base Armstrong. The crew, the majority of existing humanity, all buzzed about the man who killed himself due to insignificance.

“Thank you for assembling so quickly,” Mark began. “I know you’ve got a lot of questions and I’ll provide what answers I can.”

The murmuring quieted. Mark apprised gazes that ranged from blank, to sullen, to hopeful. “Art Sledge is dead. He suffocated by opening a crew quarters check valve after finding out about a post gamma ray burst plan.”

There was a rising hum of consternation in the assembly. “Let him talk,” Brexton commanded. The group quieted down again.

“Thank you. Art’s email indicated there were plans to cull the crew down to forty-five and use those killed for fertilizer. That’s true and it’s a plan I just saw for the first time myself yesterday — before the Japan Station visit.”

“Bullshit!” a voice from the back resonated.

“He’s telling the truth,” Brexton said. “I helped Major Martelli get the plans from my father’s — the ArmCon’s — quarters. The director and ArmCon had this secret plan and only those two were supposed to know about it.”

“Then how did Art find out?” A crewmember asked.

“Who cares about that? Our leaders planned to kill us in our sleep and use us for fertilizer,” another said.

“Quiet please!” Mark used his command voice. “I called this assembly to get everything out in the open. That’s what I plan to do. Please stop interrupting and, when I finish, we’ll spend as much time as you want to answer questions.” The room calmed but Mark noted the once blank expressions were now angry. “I’m going to say this with unequivocal certainty. This culling plan is off the table. It will never happen with me in charge.” He turned to Zeke. “Doctor Ezekiel Ben-Ami, you’re one of our leaders. Would you permit this?”

Zeke started. “Never. I will never allow this to happen in my purview.”

Mark turned to Thad. “Captain Thaddeus Rudzinski, you’re another one of our leaders. Would you permit this?”

“No,” Thad answered. “Each and every one of us is precious. We’re all in this together.”

In like manner Mark polled Shift Manager Sally Ride Henderson, Shift Manager Douglas Graham, Shift Supervisor Charles ‘Chuck’ Tully, Manufacturing Pod’s Brexton Little, Gitty Chatterjee, and Jim Staid as well as Agriculture Pod Manager Tina Bennet. The poll was a formal declaration of loyalty — loyalty to the human race.

Mark pulled out the remote controlled battery-beacon assembly and held it high for the crew to see. “This is what caused the pod crash. We found it when we went to the backside of Shackleton Crater and removed debris from the destroyed Habitation Tube One. It was placed under the director’s desk and directed the pod like a missile.”

This was new news to most of the crew. The sound in the Nexus dropped and all that could be heard was the light buzz of the ventilation system. The gazes turned wide-eyed. “We believe Art Sledge, after he found out about the director’s secret culling plan, planted this beacon.”

A collective groan emanated from the crew. They all realized the precarious predicament the pod crash caused was due to sabotage. The director’s now condemned culling plans may have doomed some of humanity to oblivion, but the pod crash threatened to erase them all.

“I wish Art would’ve talked to me or Zeke or one of our other leaders,” Mark said. “We’re either going to survive or perish as a group. You have my commitment and heard the other leader’s commitment — we’re in this together. Our long term survival rel

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ies on the cave we found. We’re going to reorganize our routines and tasks to relocate our equipment and occupy the cave. There’re a lot of unknowns and we’ll need the best from each and every one of you. Look left and right. Your colleagues, this crew, is the only thing we have to rely on to secure our survival. All of us must pull together.” The assembly ended with a few more questions but, in the main, Mark got everyone on the same page.

Zeke, Thad, and Brexton accosted Mark after the crew dispersed. “How did you conclude it was Art who sabotaged the pod decent?” Zeke asked.

“He had motive, means, and opportunity.” Mark replied with the standard crime threesome. “Who else could it be?”


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Japan Station’s leadership, Director Katsumi Hayashi and Captain Yumi Kaneko, weren’t happy with the delay in the update from Moon Base Armstrong. Both Katsumi and Yumi expressed their displeasure to Mark on the inter-base communications phone. Mark, Zeke, Thad, Sally, Brexton, and Chuck huddled over the speaker connected to the Japan Station link. It was apparent the Japan Station leadership weren’t happy to be addressing the assembled crowd.

“There’s no way to conclude that Shift Manager Arthur Sledge solely and individually sabotaged your supply pod.” Yumi was clinical in her assessment. “You communicated this to your crew with little corroborating information.”

Mark was surprised by Yumi’s legal English vocabulary. “I understand your concern. The email that Art sent indicated he succumbed to despair.”

“We’ll not discuss this further on this call,” Katsumi said. The consternation in his voice was apparent and Mark knew Katsumi and Yumi still felt Thad, Chuck, and Doug could’ve just as easily be the saboteur.

Mark realized it was Thad and Chuck’s presence on the call that curtailed further pod crash discussion. “I am redirecting our efforts to preparation of the cave.”

There was silence in response. Zeke jumped in the conversation. “I’d like to talk to Manufacturing Pod Head, Jerome Papadopoulos, and Additive Manufacturing Manager Habibeh Rahimi,” Zeke said. “Are they available?”

“Yes,” Katsumi answered. “We have them here. We are making good progress on the technology transfer. Here is Manufacturing Pod Head, Jerome Papadopoulos.”

The full names and titles used in the exchange gave the conversation an aura of formality. Mark knew that was the last thing Zeke wanted when talking to Habi. But any communication, formal or otherwise, was welcome. “Major Martelli, Doctor Ben-Ami,” Jerry continued the formality, “I am pleased to report we have been able to capture the process for using regolith material and additive manufacturing — 3D printing — to build a fuel cell. Additive Manufacturing Manager Rahimi will cover the moon buggy technology transfer status.”

“This is Additive Manufacturing Manager Habibeh Rahimi.” Habi’s voice came over the speaker in clear rich tones. “We’ve captured the manufacturing process for flexible silica magnesium tires, the fuel cell design, and a scaled up aluminum wound electric engine. We have the knowledge and equipment to make a hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell moon buggy in Moon Base Armstrong. What we lack is sufficient quantity of mined ice for water generation.”

“We are resetting our base plans,” Mark said. “I’m placing the highest priority on ice extraction and cave preparation.”

“Do you have adequate piping for ice extraction?” Katsumi asked.

“We have enough piping for one ice well,” Mark responded. “That’s a start.”

“Doctor Ben-Ami,” Habi said, the name rolling off her tongue like a song, “I’ll send you the information for the flexible silica magnesium compound.”

“Yes,” Jerry added, “Japan Station uses silica magnesium for buggy tires, ice well tubes, and airtight construction.”

“That will be useful,” Zeke answered. “We’ll remanufacture our bricks and spray sealant with this compound.”

“And we’ll get a second tube for the ice well constructed,” Mark said.

“Very good,” Katsumi answered. “We’ll send this technical information so Moon Base Armstrong can get started on the manufacture of the ice well. We also request a joint plan review of cave preparation. There’s much to discuss.”

“Agreed,” Mark said. “We need time to prepare our information. There’s a lot of data to compile.”

“We should meet daily,” Yumi said. “If the cave is to be our future home, the future home of humanity, we need to closely collaborate on the preparation.”

Mark nodded. “Good point Captain Kaneko. We agree to daily calls to jointly plan on the cave preparation and eventual occupation.”

“We can establish this as the appropriate time to meet every day.”

“Agreed,” Mark said. He wondered how much longer the twenty-four hour time slice of a day would be meaningful. “We’ll prepare all our scans from our cave visits so we can jointly map the interior as a first step.”

“Very good,” Katsumi replied. “Let’s cover the mapping plans tomorrow.”

“Director Hayashi,” Zeke said, “I am the companion of Additive Manufacturing Manager Habibeh Rahimi and request a private conversation with her.”

This request didn’t strike anyone on the Moon Base Armstrong side as odd but, due to the prolonged silence, Japan Station took time digesting the companion news. “There is no such thing as a private conversation in Japan Station,” Yumi said.

“I didn’t mean private,” Zeke answered. “I meant a personal conversation. I know all will be listening.”

“Go ahead,” Katsumi said.

“Hey Zeke,” Habi’s voice came over the speaker. “All’s fine here but I do miss you.”

“I miss you too honey. We’re pretty shook up about Art’s suicide. The despair we’ve been fighting has a cause — the culling plan.”

“I don’t see much despair here in Japan station,” Habi replied.

Although there was the possibility Habi said that due to being in Japan Station with its leaders beside her, Zeke believed the statement. “How do you and Jerry find the anti-static protocols?”

“They’re manageable,” she answered. “We see the strong discipline in every member of the Japan Station crew. That’s why the protocol works so well. They’re committed to survival.”

“We’ve been whipsawed since the pod crash. In a strange way Art’s suicide was just what we needed to reset our plans, defeat despair, and unite our crew.”

“That’s important,” Habi replied. “We can’t live together in security, we can’t love, and we can’t build families unless despair is defeated.”

“Before families we must first find love,” Zeke said. The classically trained scientist was no poet.

“In order to love, we first must hope.” Habi’s words hung in the air as a simple truth.

“That’s why I love you Habibeh. Since we found the cave and the cause of the pod crash, we can hope and we can build a future.”

“The crew of Japan Station is still concerned about our morale,” she replied. “We need to put this death and despair behind us.”

“We will,” Zeke answered.

“Additive Manufacturing Manager Habibeh Rahimi is wise,” Yumi’s voice interrupted the conversation, “but we in Japan Station need more answers to the pod crash than you provided. The murder of Director Collier was a strike against the survival of humanity. We must be certain we understand how that happened. Only then will we be able to move forward without concern.”

“We understand,” Mark replied. “We will move forward with hope but be diligent in completing our investigation.”

“Thank you,” Katsumi replied.

“I love you Zeke,” Habi said.

Zeke cleared his throat. “I love you too Habi.”


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Thad preferred to be with Mark and Sally mapping the caves rather than at the backside of the crater with Zeke and Chuck. But Chuck’s help was needed to get the rest of the supply containers, Zeke needed to get the archives from the destroyed University Pod, and Thad was the skilled buggy driver who best knew the way.

Thad first placed a communications repeater at half the distance to the backside of the crater. He then drove the buggy the rest of the way and got out. He watched as Chuck reacted to the same scene of destruction Thad, Zeke, and Mark saw a day before. He grimaced. This depressing view of destruction was the past. Mark and Sally were investigating and mapping the future. He spoke into his helmet communicator. “Doug, we’re at the back of the crater and have begun recovery operation.”

“Roger, good copy,” Doug replied from the control station. “The mapping crew is about to depart. It’ll be lonely in here without all you guys.”

Thad snorted and used his implanted eye signaler to switch his communications channel to his crew. “Okay, we’ve got ninety minutes to get this done.”

“I’d prefer we do this in eighty minutes,” Chuck said. “Maybe an extra ten minute buffer isn’t such a bad idea.”

Thad found it interesting that Chuck of all people would want to make sure they had adequate air. “I took into account our increased heartrate from the work we’re doing but we’ll do an air gauge check in forty-five minutes. If we need to cut this moonwalk short, we will.”

“I’m getting that archive.” Zeke’s voice came over the communications channel with firm determination.

“Let’s get to it,” Thad said.

Chuck, no matter what else he may have been, was an efficient planner. He rolled

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the trailer to the outermost stack of supply containers, timed himself in loading one, and calculated how long it would take to finish. “We should have all supply containers loaded within sixty minutes.”

“Good — Zeke, I’ll help you retrieve the archive.” Thad saw Zeke was already bounding toward the depression of the University Pod’s collapse. He bounded to the buggy, grabbed a shovel, and bounded in long hops following Zeke.

Zeke slid down the University Pod depression just as Thad got to the edge. “Look at how small this pod was,” Zeke said. “It’s no bigger than a study and yet it has whatever remains of our human culture.”

Thad slid down the side of the depression next to Zeke. His spacesuit took two cleanings after investigating the director’s quarters. He made a mental note to remind Mark and Jerry to prioritize making new spacesuits from the regolith. At the rate of wear, their earth-produced spacesuits would be unusable long before the nickel-metal hydride moon buggy batteries failed. There was nothing but a mound of moon dust over what was the center of the University Pod. “Let’s start digging.”

Zeke scooped handfuls and Thad scooped shovelfuls of talc-like moon dust away from the crushed hull of the University Pod. The director’s quarters had an excavating burst of depressurization that cleared a lot of debris. There was no such luck with the University Pod. The pod and its archive of human culture were buried deep.

“Thad, this is Mark.” Thad’s other communication channel signaled. The repeater worked well.

Thad used his implant signaler to switch communication channels. “This is Thad, go ahead.”

“Sally and I are in the buggy and proceeding down the ledge. Do you have the light to mark the spot for the second air reactor placement?”

“Not yet,” Thad replied. “Chuck’s collecting the supply containers and Zeke and I are digging for the archive at the University Pod.”

“If you can get the light positioned in the next twenty minutes, I can spot you from the cave entrance.”

That must’ve been a recent discussion because it wasn’t in the original mission plans for their backside of the crater work. “I wasn’t planning on coordinating the timing of the light placement.”

“Sally suggested it. It makes sense and it’ll be good to see your light from the cave entrance.”

“It’s going to take me ten to fifteen minutes to get to the lip of the crater. You want it directly over the cave entrance?”

“No, we need it off to the side. That way we can start locating the equipment for the second air reactor on the crater as well as run an air tube down to the cave. I’d like to start pressurizing the cave as soon as we complete the mapping.”

“That makes sense. There’s no telling how long Moon Base Armstrong will be stable. I’m working it.”

“Finally, there’s the top of the pod.” Zeke had no inkling of the conversation between Mark and Thad.

Thad switched communications channels. “Zeke, I’ve got to let you to this while I place the light for the second air reactor. Mark wants to spot it from the cave entrance.”

Zeke’s voice came back in a breathless tone. “Okay, but we’ve got to get this archive. Can you help me pry this open with your pick before you go?”

“Okay, step back,” Thad said. Zeke remained fixed in place. “I said step back and I’ll rap the hull seam.”

“I can’t. My feet are glued in place.”

“What?” Thad looked down and noted the talc-like moon dust they excavated from the mound was halfway up his calf. He tried to lift his foot and found he was, like Zeke, fixed in place. “I’m stuck too. We need to dig ourselves out.”

“We’re not skilled in this type of lunar regolith work.”

Thad took a video of the scene that included his cemented-in-place feet. He crouched and started scooping the dust away from his calves. After five minutes he was able to extract his feet and move around. “We’ve got to be careful.”

“A little help over here,” Zeke’s voice was tinged with panic.

“I got you Zeke. No problem.” Thad was able to quickly remove enough dust for Zeke to move. “Now step back.” When Zeke backed away Thad hammered the University Pod hull seam with three strong blows from his pick. On the third strike the seam sighed open with a white puff of moon dust. “We’re trashing our spacesuits.” Thad turned to Zeke. “You got this from here?”

“I think so. Can you leave your pick?”

“Yes, but keep lifting your feet so you don’t get stuck.”

“I will.”

Thad took two small jumps and was out of the University Pod depression. “Chuck, I need to place a light on the crater lip above the cave. Mark’s going to spot me.”

“I’ve got the trailer loaded with the supplies. I’ll bring the buggy with the two air reactor containers to you.”

Thad was pleased at Chuck’s workmanlike execution. “I’ll wait here.” He turned and saw Zeke was making good progress opening the hull that once sealed them all from the vacuum of space. This is a tenuous grip on survival , he thought. He wasn’t despairing but when his feet were trapped for those few moments, he had to push genuine alarm away.

Chuck rolled up in the moon buggy. Two supply containers were strapped to the sides. “Captain Rudzinski, your ride awaits.”

“Let’s get this light placed. Mark’s probably waiting on us.”


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The lip of the crater with ridged contrasts of bright edges separated by ink-black shadows looked steep and foreboding. Mark felt a rush of anxiety and struggled to push it away. There was nothing to do but keep moving, keep acting, keep facing this awful vacuum of space until either you conquered it or it conquered you. Where the hell is Thad?  He knew it would take time for him to set up the light but the wait was stretching on and consuming their precious, oh so precious, air supply.

“What do you think of the pure oxygen protocols Japan Station sent over?” Sally’s voice was calm.

“I don’t know,” Mark answered. “We aren’t used to acting that way. And we don’t know…” He left the sentence unfinished.

“Yeah,” Sally replied. “One person with a grudge would only need a single spark.”

“Mark, this is Thad. Chuck and I are in position. Are you at the cave entrance?”

“We are,” Mark replied. “Go ahead and shine the light.”

“Okay — here goes.”

There was a pause of a full minute. Mark saw some debris roll down the crater wall. Then a bright ray of light streaked sideways across the shadows of the crater. There was a warm feeling in seeing the light from the backside crater crew. It was the first time since the gamma ray burst that a multi-crew effort was attempted.

“I see it,” Sally said. “There they are.”

“Can you point the light down?” Mark asked.

“This crater edge is powdery, I got Chuck to hold me in a harness so I don’t go sliding down.”

“Can you see the ledge?”

“No, we’re in bright light up here. All I see below is a dark abyss… and I don’t want to fall into it.”

“Agreed, be careful.” Mark raised his arm and lined up the light. It was located to the left of the cave and he wanted it on the other side. “Can you move to your left about fifty meters? That would be the best position.”

“Fifty meters? Okay, wait one.”

The light flicked off and again Mark and Sally waited several long minutes. The light came on again, this time angling downward to the right of the cave. “Perfect Thad,” Mark said. “That’s the perfect placement. Can you secure it there?”

“Already ahead of you. We’ve put climber type anchors into the crater edge and used Zeke’s sealant to fix them in place. The solar powered light is anchored well. I’ll seal its base if you’re happy with the placement.”

“I am. Good job.”

“It was Chuck’s idea to use the sealant. We’ll finish here, get Zeke, and bring the remaining supply containers to the base. We’ve used most of our backside crater allotment of air.”

“Sounds good. We’ll start our mapping and meet you back at the hangar.”

“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time,” Sally said. Mark and Sally stood side by side and stared at the shining light. That light was a beacon of hope. It was a tangible symbol of coordinated efforts, of the place where their second precious air reactor would go. It was a small but essential step in saving humanity.

“Ready to start mapping?” Mark asked.

“You bet. It’s nice to see you back in charge.”

“Did I have you worried?”

“After I pulled you into the hangar I wondered if you’d make it back.”

“It took a while but I’m back.” The two used the staircase and climbed up to the cave entrance. Mark looked up and smiled. “I still see that beautiful light. Now let’s map this lifesaving cave.” He used his eye implant to switch communications channels. “Doug, log that the second air reactor light is operational and in position. Sally and I are beginning our detailed cave mapping.”

“Got it Mark. Zeke’s got the archive record and the backside crater crew’s loading up to come back.”

“Sounds good.”

“I know I don’t need to say this but watch your air in there.”

“Will do.”

Mark switched to Sally’s communications channel and the two turned on their videos and magnetic imaging mapping radars. “Let’s get to work.”

“Wow. This is the first time I’m in here,” Sally said. “The pictures don’t do it justice. I can’t believe how big the cave is.”

“Let’s start mapping from left to right. We’ll follow a branch together to the very end.”

“Wouldn’t it be faster for us to do one each?”

“Yes but we don’t know what we’r

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e going to run into. Some of these branches branch out several times. We’ll approach this exploration and mapping like scuba diving. Always stick with a partner.”

“Makes sense.”

“The last time we were in here our radios didn’t communicate to the station. There’s too much interference.” The two circled the large entrance, mapping as they went. The roof of the cave angled upward from the floor with a ceiling, per their mapping radar, of twelve meters high. They entered the leftmost branch which had an entrance twenty-nine meters wide and six meters high.

“Privacy isn’t such a bad thing from time to time,” Sally said as they went down a sloping incline.

“Other than these trips, there’ll be little privacy.” Mark examined the walls. “These look solid but I wish the floor would stop going down. It’d be nice if it flattened out into something like a room.”

“This cave and these branches were formed by ancient rising bubbles.” She carefully mapped the adjacent side. “Mark, did you see all of the director’s post gamma ray plan?”

“I did.”

“Including the breeding plan?”

“I saw it.”

“It’s funny Art didn’t say anything about that in his email. It was far more likely that Tina’s Agriculture Pod would produce enough lettuce, potatoes, wheat, rapeseed, and soybeans to grow the colony. The director wanted me to have four to six children each from different fathers. Did you know about that?”

“I did. Since we’ve been in such a desperate fight for survival, I didn’t think much of it.”

“The director thought we couldn’t wait long to start breeding. She gave me a year and that’s why she asked you to shadow me — so you could take over as First Shift Manager. I was supposed to be barefoot and pregnant for six or seven years.”

“We don’t need to worry about that plan anymore.”

“Why? Once we get things settled we’re still going to need children. We’re still going to need a plan to grow the colony.”

“Sally, what are you suggesting? I don’t believe the men of the colony could handle a plan for their partners having children with multiple men. It should be a choice… and it should be about love.”

“Love? Do you really think a quaint idea like love is important compared to the survival of humanity?”

“Our scientist Zeke does. He and Habi publically display their love for all to see.”

“They do and, I have to admit, I like that.”

“Sally do you feel that?” There was a sliding grinding vibration from the floor of the cavern. “Whoa!” The bottom gave way and the two dropped five feet into a pile of moon dust. “Are you okay?”

“I think so.”

Mark looked up toward the branch entrance. “I’ll get my pick so we can work our way back.”

“Mark! My legs are fixed in this moon dust. I can’t move.”


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Thad drove the moon buggy far below its rated speed of fifteen kilometers per hour as he rounded the backside of the crater and headed for the hangar. The buggy was laden with three people and towed a trailer stacked with the remaining supply containers. Moon dust, a growing concern in Thad’s mind for fouling spacesuit seals, churned up on either side of the buggy.

“Can’t you go faster?” Chuck asked. “I’m already down thirty percent on my last air tank.”

“I don’t think so,” Thad replied. “I’m nursing the remaining battery power of the buggy. We’re going to be fully discharged by the time we make it back.”

“It’s all about power,” Zeke said. He clutched a bag containing the precious human archive and, something that took more time extracting than he wanted to admit, his hardback copy of the Talmud commentaries. “Electric power is everything. It’s more important here than on earth. It makes our air, our food, our ability to move. That’s why we’re at Shackleton Crater.”

Thad was puzzled by the professorial commentary. He eased the moon buggy up to ten kilometers per hour as he rounded the curve and followed the tracks back to Moon Base Armstrong. “We know all that Zeke.”

“We haven’t done electric power calculations since the burst. There’s a minimum amount of necessary power for the base, for the air reactor, for the battery charging, for ice extraction… for all of it. We need to make sure we have enough capacity before turning on the second air reactor.”

“You don’t think we have enough electrical generation capacity?”

“I think we need a second solar array with inverters right next to the new air reactor. The electrode of the current reactor takes a third of the first solar array’s generated electricity. We need to connect the electrode of the second air reactor to a different source of power.”

The moon buggy tilted side to side as it rolled over the uneven terrain. “Do we have enough panels for the second array?”

“I don’t think so. We’ll need to do the calculations.”

“There’s more solar panels and the remaining equipment for the second air reactor in the orbiting supply pods,” Chuck said. “When we get them down we’ll have what we need.”

“We’ll need to get them down with soft landings,” Thad said. “We can’t handle another pod crash.”

“Japan Station would divorce us if we crash another pod,” Chuck said.

“I’m still not sure we’ll have enough electricity generation capacity,” Zeke said. “I need to lay this out. We can’t shift our essential Moon Base Armstrong power into the cave development. We’ll need added power for the cave preparation.”

Thad was pleased to see the operational solar array as he approached the moon base. Again he thought that if the saboteur — Art — really wanted to destroy everyone, a crash onto the solar array would’ve done the trick. He drove next to the plexiglass walkway and realized that, with the first section completely gone, it was a useless relic of plans before the gamma ray burst.

Doug and the Moon Base Armstrong crew were pleased to see the return of the moon buggy. Doug commented how all three on the expedition — Thad, Chuck, and Zeke — consumed all but fifteen percent of their precious air supply. The battery of the moon buggy was discharged to a point of only having ten percent of its power. “We may need to push this buggy to the charging station,” Doug said. “You guys cut it close. If something would’ve gone wrong, you’d have been out of air.”

“We used more than expected,” Zeke replied. “We should tell Mark and Sally to conserve their air in doing the cave mapping.”

“They saw our light from the back of the crater,” Thad said. “Do you have contact with them?”

“No,” Doug replied. “Our signals don’t go into the cave. We need another repeater.”

“We’ll rig up a repeater at the mouth of the cave,” Zeke said. “We should always be in contact with those in vacuum.” He pointed to the caked moon dust clinging to his spacesuit seams at the calf level. “There’s a lot that can go wrong out there.”

“You got my seeds!” Tina squealed in pleasure from the other side of the hangar as she inspected a supply crate. “I hoped the pod manifest was correct. We’ll have enough of these seeds to set up a whole new Agriculture Pod in the cave.”

“You know the cave has little nitrogen and carbon,” Zeke said. “We are going to run out of the nitrogen we brought.”

“How does Japan Station do it?” Thad asked. “They didn’t even bring nitrogen tanks up here and they’re operating in a pure oxygen environment.”

“They must be scavenging and accumulating the trace nitrogen from the regolith,” Zeke said.

“They’d have to,” Tina added. “There’s no plants and no food without nitrogen. Maybe the regolith has pockets of nitrogen we can mine.”

“Maybe the cave has some.”

Thad looked at the counting timers in the control room. “When are Mark and Sally due back?”

“I told them to watch their air,” Doug replied. “They should be back in forty minutes.”

“I hope they’re enjoying the cave exploration.”


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Sally struggled to pull her excavated leg free. The fine moon dust compacted around her leg and fixed it in place for a precious twenty minutes. She had removed as much dust as she could until she cleared her leg down to her ankle. She pulled her leg and felt her foot pull out of her boot. The boot compressed from her foot’s partial extraction and, blessedly, the compacted dust released her boot. “One down, one to go.” She tried to be cheerful.

Beside her Mark was in an equal struggle. “This moon dust isn’t just abrasive to our suits, it’s like dry cement.” His dread simmered just below the surface. They both were trapped in the first branch of the cave without communications and with limited air. We have extra air tanks on the moon buggy.  He looked at his air gauge. But if we can’t get there in time…  

“How’re you doing?” Sally asked.

“I’ve got both legs cleared to my calves. I used Zeke’s sealant to make a ledge to stop the dust from coming back down. So much for the pristine caves.”

“The vibration from the pod crash may have created this dust,” Sally said. “It did uncover the cave after all.”

Mark sprayed sealant on the dust he just piled above him. “I don’t have much air.”

“We can do this,” Sally replied. With a heroic pull she extracted her second leg. She exhaled a sigh of relief. “I’m free.”

“Careful you don’t shake more dust down on us.”

“I’ll use my pick to get above you. Maybe I can help pull you o

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Mark worked the dust out from around his left ankle. The excavation felt like digging his leg out of packed damp sand. He wondered if static forces were the cause of the cement-like compaction. He tugged his left leg and felt the dust release. “Okay, I got my left leg free.”

“Here, reach up and grab my hand,” Sally said.

Mark looked up and saw that Sally had fixed herself to the solid floor above him. He reached and grasped her hand. Together they pulled and Mark’s second leg came free. “Whew — finally!” He panted for a moment. “Let’s get back to the buggy. I’m almost out of air.”

“Me too.”

The two climbed up the incline of the leftmost cave branch. Mark examined the walls and floor with suspicion. He was rattled by the difficulty of exploration. He was rattled by the specter of being trapped with dwindling air supply. The wide mouth of the cave entrance, once the most welcome thing he’d seen, now looked like a large coffin. He looked at his air gauge and fought down panic. Calm, calm… we need to get to the buggy.  Sally bounded down the staircase Thad and Mark constructed to access the cave entrance in three large jumps. Mark followed. They got next to the buggy and extracted their spare air tanks.

They hooked them to their suits and both sighed in relief. “That was worse than I thought,” Sally said. “I felt that trapped suffocating fear you must’ve felt.”

Mark nodded inside his helmet. “I was on the edge of dread the whole time.”

“Some astronauts we make,” Sally said. “We should be cool as a cucumber in death-defying situations.”

“The astronauts had a home to go back to. They all knew they were risking their lives but having a family back home gave them comfort. Those that did die in the Apollo 1 fire or the Challenger or Columbia all had family that survived. That’s the difference. If we die, if we fail, all of humanity dies with us.”

“Is that what you were thinking about when we were trapped down there?”

“No, the helplessness when my legs were fixed in place overwhelmed my ability to think of anything else.”

“Me too. I was ready for low air and difficult tasks. I wasn’t ready to be immobile, pinned by moon dust.”

“Let’s get back to the base, we’ve fouled our spacesuit seals.” He paused. “And I’m drenched in sweat.” The two got into the buggy and strapped themselves in.

Sally forced a chuckle. “I’ll need a thorough clean up too. We need to get the water tube in place so we can take showers.”

“We need to get so much in place.” Mark switched his communications channel. “Control panel, this is Major Martelli, we’re at the buggy and coming back.”

“Major Martelli,” Chuck’s voice came over the communicator, “it’s good to hear you. How did you guys make out at the cave?”

“We ran into some difficulty,” Mark answered. “We also found out that a pile of moon dust is dangerous. It can immobilize you if you get your leg stuck in it.”

“Really? Doctor Ben-Ami discovered the same thing when excavating the University Pod.”

“Did he get the archive?”

“Yes… and his Talmud book. How did you guys do in exploring the cave?”

“We never completed the first branch. The floor gave way and we were stuck for the rest of the time digging ourselves out.” There was a long pause as Mark and Sally climbed in the buggy.

“Is cave stability suspect?” Chuck asked.

“We need to explore more of it,” Mark answered. “It’s too early to tell.” Mark and Sally got strapped in and used the last of their precious air for the slow trek back to Moon Base Armstrong.


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Doug heard that the cave expedition consisting of Mark and Sally were on their way back. That, combined with the optimism of the return of the backside crater expedition, drove him to distraction. There was no way hope should be alive after all that had happened. There was no way the crew should be motivated to survive. But they were. Against all odds, the hastily promoted major was keeping the crew together and focused on survival. He had to change that.

“That’s a shame about the cave,” Chuck said as he looked at the video Mark had sent ahead to the control room. “But it still looks airtight. We’ll just have to be careful of floor collapses on the next explorations.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No, we need the cave.”

“You made more sense when you were cutting Mark’s air supply short.”

“Doug, I told you about that. I wanted to take Mark down a notch, not kill him.”


“What do you mean why? Murder’s wrong.”

“Same question, why? I’m not saying I agree or disagree with your reasoning. I just want to ask why?”

“You’re asking why murder’s wrong? It’s wrong because Mark is a person — a living breathing person with hopes, dreams, and aspirations like the rest of us — that’s why.”

“All of humanity and all of the things that made life worthwhile are wiped out. What survived for several millennia and was universally considered supremely significant is gone. How many do we have left on the moon?”

“Moon Base Armstrong started with 137. We lost eight due to the pod crash and then Art so we’ve got 128 here.”

“And Japan Station has sixty-four for a whopping total of all of humanity of 192 people.”

“That makes my point. All humans are vitally precious.”

“How does that make your point? If the smartest and greatest that humanity ever produced are already gone. How are we so presumptuous to think we’re better? How are our measly 192 humans so presumptuous to believe that we’re precious? A purpose to do nothing but survive is no purpose at all.”

“You’re wrong. That’s why Zeke got the archive. That’s why we’re capturing all the pictures that we do have of mother earth. It’s of the highest moral imperative to save what little we have of human culture.”

Doug shook his head. “I still ask why? All of the moralities and –isms and religions espoused on earth — including my favorite, environmentalism — are reduced to absurdity. How can anyone still believe in God or social systems or mother earth when all that’s gone?”

“What are you asking?”

“Since all that’s gone, what’s the point?”

“The point is to live and survive so that someday we can go back.”

“Are you kidding me? There’s two things wrong with that. One, our precious 192 humans don’t have a chance in hell of surviving as a species long enough — through something like ten or twenty generations — to go back when the earth’s not a boiling radioactive cauldron. And two, even if we could, there’s nothing to go back to. But let’s play your thought out. If we try, we’ll have to stay motivated all those generations with only one aim — that of survival. That’s never been a basis for morality. It couldn’t be.”

“You’re saying there’s no purpose to surviving and, even if we do, there’s no morality in how we live.”

“How could there be? The director’s culling plan displayed that front and center.”

“Hmm… I wonder how Art got a hold of that.”

“Again, who cares? What difference does it make? They used to ask what’s right and wrong with the world gone mad? I’m asking what’s right and wrong with the world a brunt cinder?”

“The ones who saw no purpose to life and no difference in right and wrong were nihilists. Is that what you are?”

“That word means nothing up here.”

Chuck laughed. “Yeah, that’s kind of the definition.”

A beeping light announced the arrival outside the hangar of Mark and Sally. “You asked what I am. What I am is Shift Manager Douglas Graham running the second shift of Moon Base Armstrong.” He pointed to the monitor. “Our fearless leader and Shift Manager Henderson have arrived.”


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Mark was pleased to see Chuck and Doug waiting when they returned. On the slow moon buggy trip back, Mark collected his thoughts and calmed after the cave floor collapse. In the end , he thought, it’s probably good that there’s an area with powder. We’re going to want to start growing food in a cave based agriculture section as soon as we pressurize and get our water supply.  His hope remained.

Inside the hangar both he and Sally were startled to see the amount of wear the abrasive moon dust caused on the leg portion of their spacesuits. “There’s going to be a point where we can’t clean these anymore,” Sally said.

“It was a lot different from when I just walked the plexiglass tube to check the air reactor.”

“Those days are long gone.”

But it wasn’t just their spacesuits. Both were drenched in sweat and, when they removed their suits, that perspiration mixed with the abrasive dust. Mark looked at the rub marks on the knees of his jumpsuit. “I need to clean up.” He saw Doug approaching from the control room.

“All okay over there?” Doug asked.

“Yeah, I need to get cleaned up and get some rest. That was a tough walk.”

“What was the difficulty?”

“The cave floor collapsed under us and we spent most of the time we were in there digging out.”

“We saw that from the videos you sent. Did you send all the videos to control?”

“The videos and radar map files should be there now,” Sally answered. “I want to look at them but I need to clean up as well.”

“I’m going to get a few hours of rest myself,” Doug said. “Your new twelve hour overlapped shifts are exhausting.”


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aybe we can rearrange the work to better staff the control room.” Mark moved toward the hatch for the Nexus with Doug and Sally.

The three bounded at different times creating what Chuck saw as an odd undulating dance. He laughed. “I’ll analyze your files, you guys rest up.”

“Thanks Chuck.”

The three went into the Nexus and Doug secured the hatch behind them. “So you and Chuck buried the hatchet, huh?” Doug asked.

“We did,” Mark answered.

“I’d still keep an eye on him,” Doug said. “He’s still under that black cloud of depression.”

“Yeah, so am I but we still have hope.”

The three went separately to their quarters. Mark entered his quarters, sealed his door, and turned the knob to make the view windows opaque. He stripped naked and apprised his nicked up body in the mirror. His knees were chafed raw, his armpits and neck had red abrasive rub marks, and his eyes were bloodshot. I look like hell. 

He took his sanitation sponge and carefully dabbed off the moon dust that transferred from his spacesuit. He flipped the sponge over and cleaned his skin. Mark shivered but padded across the room to his water locker naked. He opened the locker and downed a pint ration in quick gulps.

Only then did he fight against the chill and pull on his composite lined jumpsuit. The inner lining was a clever NASA concoction that felt like flannel but wicked away moisture. He wondered if Zeke or Manufacturing Pod’s Jerry Papadopoulos had managed to reproduce this from the regolith.

Mark heard his doorbell sound its distinctive sing-song chime. Who could that be?  He went to the door and opened it. Sally stood in front of him wide-eyed with her hair splayed on her shoulders. “Sally? What’s wrong?”

“Can I come in?”

“Of course.” Mark stepped aside and Sally entered. He closed the hatch and noted that his windows were still opaque. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m shook up.”

“Here, take a seat on my bunk.” Mark escorted Sally to the one area of his quarters that didn’t look like a science lab. Sally and Mark sat next to each other. “You look scared. What’s going on?”

“That cave-in and our struggle to get out. Do you realize how close we cut it with our air?”

“I do. You were great in there — fixing yourself to the incline and pulling me up.”

“A wave of fear hit me afterwards. I was in my quarters shaking in terror. We came so close to being nothing. It finally hit me. It’s not death we’re facing. It’s something much worse — extinction.”

“I know,” Mark answered. “The monstrous vacuum of space is everywhere, waiting to destroy us. After you pulled me in the hangar when I nearly suffocated… the vacuum of space was all I could think about.”

“Too much moon dust in a seam of our suit and we’re dead.” She shuddered.

Mark draped an arm across Sally’s shoulder and pulled her toward him. She melted in his arms and shuddered again. “I’m scared. I don’t know where this came from. I’ve never been scared of anything but when I realized how close we came…”

“The fear washed over you like a tidal wave.” Mark was acutely aware that this beautiful capable powerful woman was in his embrace. She sought comfort and his heart nearly burst at the thought he could provide it. “I know Sally. I know.” Caught up in the tenderness of the moment, he leaned down and kissed her. It was nothing more than a brush of lips but it sent an emotional jolt through him.

“Yes.” Sally wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close. They kissed in earnest, suppressed passion was released by their fear.

The most human of all things, ridiculous in an unforgiving lifeless world — passion — overcame the couple. Resistance, rank, and consequences receded. Their passion led them into a near desperate quest for being fully alive in this moment where the only beauty and experience were what they could give each other by their bruised bodies.

Their coupling transcended desire and became an intense communion of spirit, a physical union of love against harsh loneliness. It was a defiant comfort, a life-affirming rebellion, a uniquely human experience.

Time turned from a measure to a moment. Sally and Mark extended this moment, its intensity, and the sweet relief it provided. They writhed in their wanton embrace oblivious to anything but each other. They rescued each other from despair and saved themselves through love. It wasn’t pleasure of relief they gained, it was exquisite proof they were alive and could feel as only humans could. The moment turned into an unspoken assertion that the future was worth fighting for.

Limbs still intertwined, Mark brushed a strand of Sally’s hair off her cheek. “I love you Sally Ride Henderson.”

“I love you too Major Mark Martelli.” She hugged him tight. “And only you.”

“Yes, that’s always the way it’s supposed to work.”

“What do we do now?”

“We love and we live. We show others what’s possible.”

She nodded. “And we beat back that airless monster called vacuum.” She hugged him tighter. “We use each other to combat our fear.”

The juxtaposition of love and fear hung in the air. There was nothing more to say. The embrace, the act, and what it meant were enough.

The klaxon sound of a hull breach alarm jolted both back to their awful reality.


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Sally scrambled to her feet, naked, and picked up her jumpsuit. She saw that, in the heat of the moment, Mark had ripped the front. She watched Mark pull on his jumpsuit in one quick movement and held up her suit. “This is ripped.”

“Take one of mine.” He pulled a wrapped suit out of his cubby and handed it to her.

By the time the two got through the Nexus and into Habitation Tube Two, Manufacturing Pod’s Gitanjali Chatterjee had already assessed the situation. “That damnable seam is leaking again,” she said. “I’m going in to fix it.”

“We don’t know how bad it is,” Mark said.

“Jim’s in there. I’m going to get him.” Gitty moved in emergency mode as she’d been drilled countless times on earth. She pulled the portable helmet and air tank from a wall cubby, donned the gear, grabbed a large tube of sealant, and went to the Manufacturing Pod load lock. “I’ll only open one door at a time to preserve the Habitation Tube.”

“If the leak’s too bad, we’ll have to permanently seal it,” Doug showed up behind them and said what Mark feared most of all.

“I’m getting Jim. Procedure states only one of us risk ourselves. That’s me.” Gitty sealed her helmet, checked its pressure, and opened the first load lock door.

“There’s a point where risking isn’t a great idea,” Doug said.

“Let her go,” Mark said. “If we lose the Manufacturing Pod, we’ll be in trouble.”

Gitty entered the person-wide space between the habitation tube and Manufacturing Pod and sealed Habitation Tube Two behind her. Without the slightest hesitation, she opened the hatch to the Manufacturing Pod and entered. Zeke, Brexton, and Thad joined Doug, Mark, and Sally in Habitation Tube Two. All watched the inner hatch of the Manufacturing Pod close.

“Good luck Gitty,” Sally said.

Mark watched Gitty’s heroics through the hatch window. It was one thing to see crewmembers in training, it was quite another to see them act with courage in the moment. Gitty bounded to the back of the Manufacturing Pod and, in one arcing move, applied sealant from ceiling to floor of the leaking seam. She used the tool attached to the sealant bag and spread the sealant on either side of the seam with quick motions.

“She’s good,” Mark said.

“She’s in love,” Doug said behind him.

Gitty disappeared around the corner and seconds later reappeared carrying Jim Staid slung under one arm. Even knowing this was due to one-sixth earth gravity, the sight of her power struck awe. Gitty bounded to the hatch, opened the inner door, repositioned unconscious Jim Staid upright, and closed the inner hatch behind her.

“She’s got him,” Zeke said.

The moment the seal light of the inner door blinked, Gitty activated the habitation tube hatch. She pulled Jim into Habituation Tube Two and closed the Manufacturing Pod hatch.

“Help Jim,” Mark said the moment they entered.

Zeke appeared beside Gitty and Jim. “Lie him down,” he said. “I’ve got oxygen and a defibrillator.”

Mark turned to Doug. “Get the pressure data from Chuck. We need to see if Gitty was able to seal the leak.”

Doug bounded to the intercom. “I’ll do it from here.”

Zeke fixed the oxygen mask to Jim’s face and bared his chest. He affixed four charge pads and turned on the defibrillator. “Step back, we don’t know how long he was out.” The defibrillator’s screen show traces of an irregular heartbeat. “Good, this should work.” He pushed the button to start the automated defibrillation process.

“Manufacturing Pod is at 550 Torr,” Chuck’s voice came over the intercom. “I don’t know if we can get it back up to 760 or not with our current air supply.”

“We should permanently seal it like Habitation Tube One,” Doug said.

“No,” Mark answered. “We wait to see if the pressure’s stable.”

The defibrillator gave a measured pulsed shock to Jim. He began coughing. Gitty rolled him toward her. “I got you Jim, you’re going to be okay.” Jim reached for the oxygen mask but Gitty stopped him from removing it. “You were out for a while, breathe in the pure oxygen.”

Zeke removed the defibrillator and sighed. “You got to him in time.”

“Just in time,” Thad said. “How in the hell did the Manufacturing Pod get down to 550 Torr so fast?”

“The previous seal was c

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racked. It looked like it was pried open by something,” Gitty answered.

“How far was it cracked?” Sally asked.

Gitty never took her eyes off of Jim. “It was cracked top to bottom. I don’t know if the sealant worked or not.”

Jim removed his oxygen mask and grinned. “Gitty, we were supposed to keep this a secret.”

In response Gitty lowered her mouth onto Jim’s and kissed him for all to see. She pulled back and smiled. “Whatever happens, I’m in this with you.”

“Now that’s not right,” Doug said. “We’re supposed to be professionals.”

“We are,” Mark answered. “What’s the Manufacturing Pod pressure now?”

Doug apprised the baggy jumpsuit on Sally and quickly connected the dots. “Okay, am I the only one not getting laid in this moon base?”

Mark wanted to savor his union with Sally before it became common knowledge but the dark force of vacuum was always there and always threatening. There wasn’t a moment of hope not punctured by its insidious peril.

“I was about to bring my buggy team into the Manufacturing Pod to assist Jim in assembly,” Brexton said. “What the hell is going on with our base?”

“Manufacturing Pod pressure is holding steady at 550 Torr,” Chuck’s voice came over the intercom.

“We need to pressurize the Manufacturing Pod and get it back to 760 Torr.”

“That seal is held together with chewing gum and duct tape,” Doug said. “We are risking all of Moon Base Armstrong by keeping that pod unsealed.”

The vacuum monster reared its ugly head again and everyone knew it.


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Manufacturing Pod’s Jerry Papadopoulos and Habibeh Rahimi were keenly interested in what happened to their work area in Moon Base Armstrong. The daily call with Japan Station heightened concern regarding the long term survivability of the meager human crew on the moon.

“I don’t see how that seam cracked like that,” Jerry said over the speakerphone. “Gitty, are you sure it was top to bottom?”

“I am,” Gitty replied into the speakerphone. The control room was crowded with Chuck, Mark, Sally — still wearing Mark’s baggy spacesuit, Gitty, and Doug. “I saw the crack pull the sealant into it just as I applied it.”

“Is Jim okay?”

“Zeke’s tending to him. Since we lost Doctor McCarthy, Zeke’s our go-to medical guy,” Mark replied. “But yeah, he’s doing fine.”

“We built a fuel cell here and Jim and Brex built a large frame buggy with the new silica magnesium tires. The frame is in the Manufacturing Pod which appears to be fragile. What do you want to do?” Jerry asked.

“We need to accelerate the pressurization of the cave and we need Japan Station’s help,” Mark answered.

“We need time to properly plan,” Director Katsumi Hayashi’s voice came over the speakerphone. “This is a complex multi-faceted endeavor.”

“We’re running out of time,” Mark said. “Moon Base Armstrong is running out of time. Since the pod crash we’ve had major leaks in both pods and living quarters. Habitation Tube One is destroyed and permanently sealed. We don’t know how long before the whole base is compromised.”

Sally and Chuck gasped at the blunt statement. Gitty audibly groaned and Doug grunted. It was something everyone knew in their gut. It was also a blunt reality everyone suppressed. It was a truth, once expressed, that couldn’t be ignored.

“What are you proposing?” Captain Yumi Kaneko asked.

It struck Mark how Katsumi was never without his right hand Yumi in conversations or planning. He cringed at being forced to state his thoughts before consulting his right hands — Thad and Zeke… and Sally. Zeke was tending to Jim but where was Thad? Why wasn’t Thad beside him now? None of that mattered. “We need to seal and start pressurizing the cave. We need to get the second air reactor going. And we need spacesuits manufactured from the lunar regolith. Our current spacesuits are wearing too fast.”

“Everything’s wearing too fast,” Doug added.

“We don’t know if the caves are airtight,” Katsumi said. “That’s a big risk.”

“It wouldn’t take much air pressure to find out,” Yumi said. “We can test it in a few days.”

“What are you thinking Captain Kaneko?” Katsumi’s tone came through the speakerphone with such rich warmth that everyone in Moon Base Armstrong assumed Katsumi and Yumi were a couple.

“We have the material to seal the cave mouth,” Yumi said. “The silica magnesium compound can be made in large quantities. We’ve made panels that are one meter by two meter in size. It would not take long to double seal the mouth of the cave.”

“And we could use the double door hatch from our unused plexiglass tube as an entry point.” Mark was surprised Yumi so quickly seized on the cave possibility. He didn’t want to let the moment pass.

“We could pump in a little bit of air, maybe enough for 100 Torr, from our existing reactors,” Sally added.

“Yes,” Yumi replied. “Exactly what I was thinking. Then we watch for leakage.”

“Even our current bases leech air,” Thad said behind Mark.

Mark turned and looked at the late arrival. Thad stood beside Tina Bennett and both looked in a flushed state of dishevelment. Of course. When life’s so uncertain, we humans grasp the most life affirming thing we can.  Thad and Tina obviously clung to each other in this emergency — much like Mark and Sally or Gitty and Jim. “That’s true,” Mark said. “But 100 Torr of air in the sealed cave will give us data we don’t have now.”

“We’ll still need the second air reactor to generate enough oxygen,” Thad said. “I’ve inventoried the air reactor parts at the backside of the crater at the spot I placed the signal light. One of our last four orbiting pods has the remaining equipment we need.”

“There’s a lot of moving parts to arrange,” Mark said.

“Is your plexiglass tube long enough to reach from Moon Base Armstrong to the cave?” Katsumi asked.

“Good question,” Mark answered. “Only one section was destroyed. What remains may be long enough.”

“And if we seal the regolith under each section with the new spray-on flexible silica magnesium compound, we’ll have a much more reliable tube,” Sally said.

“If that could be routed from Moon Base Armstrong’s hatch to the cave entrance we could use it for people and air transport.”

“It’s long enough,” Thad said. “I’ve just done the calculations.”

“We’ll focus on production of more moon buggies so we can move our crew when ready,” Katsumi said. “Japan Station is also too fragile to last long.”

Mark grinned. “This multi-faceted plan is developing well.”

“Please cover the steps so there is no misunderstanding,” Katsumi said.

“One, we work together to map and seal the cave entrance. Two, we relocate the plexiglass tube while you manufacture moon buggies. Three, we land the correct supply pod and assemble the air reactor. Once we get the cave sealed and the second air reactor on line we can start moving equipment from our station.”

“And our station,” Yumi said. “As Director Hayashi indicated, the pod crash exposed fundamental weakness in our station construction as well. We share your urgency.”


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Mark considered the workmanship in activity with satisfaction. The best way to win against despair , he thought, is constructive organized work.  The efforts of the united crews uplifted everyone. The bustle of activity after the Manufacturing Pod leak and the Japan Station call fully engaged the crews of both moon bases. Three teams were working continuously in shifts to make living in the cave a viable option.

“Okay, ease the section down,” Mark said on the plexiglass work shift communications channel. A group of four from Moon Base Armstrong lowered a plexiglass section. One thing Mark and the moon base crews learned was that working in one-sixth gravity allowed a few people to move a lot of material. “There, that’s good placement. Let’s line it up to the previous section.”

“We got it,” Jim Staid said.

“Good.” Mark was pleased that Jim not only came through his Manufacturing Pod leak ordeal in good health but also proved to be a motivated leader. Jim confided to Mark that he wanted his work and achievements to be worthy of Gitanjali Chatterjee.

“Now let’s align the double hatch section,” Jim said to his team. They had started from the staircase base with the plexiglass tube. That was Yumi’s idea. The plan was to use manufactured material for any distance not covered by the tube. That and Zeke’s spray sealant with the new silica magnesium compound would be enough to provide an end to end pressurized tube.

“Major Martelli, this is Shift Manager Henderson,” the call came from Moon Base Armstrong control room.

“This is Mark, go ahead.”

“Thad and his team have excavated an entrance into the med-bay. He’s going to bring some of the big equipment here to store in Habitation Tube Three.”

“Sounds good. Remind everyone to watch their air and check their spacesuit seals.”

“Will do.”

Mark and Sally hadn’t embraced again — not since the Manufacturing Pod leak. Like Jim, Mark felt he had to earn Sally’s respect through his work and achievements. He didn’t know if that was a hardwired desire or not. He didn’t care. Sally was worth fighting for and in some sense, he viewed his efforts to make the cave viable as efforts to prepare for their futur

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e family. There was no future in the fragile Moon Base Armstrong — only the cave offered that vision.

“We’ve mapped the second branch,” Yumi’s voice came over Japan Station’s team channel. “And we’ve got two panels in place at the cave mouth.”

Mark monitored three communications channels even though he could only talk on one at a time. The fourth open channel, Thad’s backside crater work team, he left for Sally to monitor from the control room. That kept things organized and the right people informed. The communications protocol worked well.

Mark quickly got adept at switching between the Moon Base Armstrong, Plexiglass work team, and Japan Station work team channels to provide comments. He switched channels to talk to Yumi. “Good work Captain Kaneko. Did you find any issues with the cave floor?”

“No Major Martelli,” Yumi answered. “Only cave Branch One, which you and Shift Manager Henderson mapped had a falling floor. Cave Branch Two is solid and branches multiple times itself. The variable we must consider is that all branches incline upward to the cave entrance.”

“Thank you Captain Kaneko.” Mark kept the formality when talking to Japan Station. He knew that made it easier. As Japan Station monitored Moon Base Armstrong’s communications, they kept that channel formal as well. The informal stuff was kept to the work team communications.

“You got the hatch aligned ass-backwards,” Jim said to a team member. “We need to turn it around.”

Mark looked at the plexiglass tube work and reckoned Jim handled it well. He bounded up the constructed staircase and entered the cave. Yumi saw him and came alongside. Mark pointed to the panels her work team assembled at the cave mouth. “Do those seal well with the irregular structure of this opening?”

“We took our flexible silica magnesium compound and applied Doctor Ben-Ami’s spray technology,” Yumi answered. “This is working very well.”

“It looks good. Do you have ideas on how to level these branch inclines?”

“Our radar mapping shows where the cave floors are solid. There are very large inclined sections in Cave Branch Two. We can excavate half of the section on the high side and use the material on the low side to level it.”

“Makes sense.” Mark stared at Cave Branch One and felt a chill. “I hope the floor is solid throughout.”

“We’ll manage even if it isn’t. You and Shift Manager Henderson showed us what to look for. We radar scan ten meters in front of our mapping team at all times. If there’s another weak spot, we’ll find it.”

Mark turned to leave but Yumi grabbed his arm. He was surprised by the gesture and turned to her. She pointed to her helmet indicating she wanted a private conversation. Mark looked at his communications request indicators and opened the private channel. “Yes?”

“I must tell you that Director Hayashi and I are still concerned that the cause of the pod crash was never satisfactorily solved.”

“Captain Kaneko, we know exactly what happened.”

“Major Martelli, you know that a remote controlled beacon crashed the pod but you can’t be certain Shift Supervisor Arthur Sledge was alone in this sabotage. And you don’t know the cause of your Manufacturing Pod’s recent leak.”

“Captain Kaneko we know Shift Supervisor Arthur Sledge was in possession of our post gamma ray plan that had culling as a prime feature. This caused his despair. We got all of Moon Base Armstrong aligned. The Manufacturing Pod leak happened at an already compromised seam.”

“But you haven’t re-entered the Manufacturing Pod to inspect it. The length of the crack is suspect and your Manufacturing Pod Manager Jerome Papadopoulos is puzzled. Once we move to the cave, our living structure will be stable but our organization structure is still tainted with doubts and mistrust.”

“Captain Kaneko, Doctor Ben-Ami believes the biggest enemy isn’t a person. He believes our biggest enemy is despair. Despair that we lost everything with earth and won’t be able to survive.”

“We have many in our crew who despaired but it isn’t over survival, it’s over the immense loss. The loss of earth weighs heavily on us all. Some believe we have no right to survive with our ancestors and history destroyed.”

“Do you think despair is a threat?”

“Yes but to state it frankly, Director Hayashi and I still have suspicions on people you rely on.”

“Who are you concerned about?”

“You are still relying on Captain Thaddeus Rudzinski, Shift Manager Douglas Graham, and Shift Supervisor Charles Tully when one of them could be the saboteur.”

“We will check the Manufacturing Pod crack before blaming anyone else.” Mark didn’t like the constant accusation but Yumi had a point. Once the combined crews were all in the cave, their vulnerability to sabotage would be total. One despairing person could destroy this last remnant of humanity.


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“Why isn’t the pressure in the Manufacturing Pod higher than 630 Torr?” Sally asked. “Is it leaking?”

“No,” Doug replied. “I turned off the air supply to check on the pressure change. I’m convinced we’re risking the whole base by messing around with the Manufacturing Pod.”

Sally referred to the log. “From Chuck’s entry, there’s no change in the pressure over ten hours. We should get it up to 760 Torr so we can check the seam and retrieve equipment.”

“I think that’s a bad idea,” Doug said. “That seam has been a problem since before the pod crash.”

“I remember. I personally fixed a leak on that seam. But this is different. Gitty said something caused the seam to crack from floor to ceiling.”

“Vibration would do it.”

“But the vibration happened weeks ago — right after the crash.”

“I think it’s like a crack on a car window. It starts small and then expands as you drive it.”

“You think people working in the Manufacturing Pod caused enough vibration to open the seam that wide?”

“I do. It might be sealed now but start messing around in there again and look out.”

Sally wrestled with her thoughts. She wanted, above all else, a slight modicum of security, a slight comfort that when she inhaled her lungs would fill with sweet air. Of all the dire problems of food, water, and air; air was by far the biggest concern and the one that could doom them in an instant. Doug’s insistence that the Manufacturing Pod seam could risk their precious air supply hit the mark. “Okay, before we work in there, we need to satisfy ourselves that it’s well sealed but I’m still going to get the pressure up to 760 Torr.”

Doug was irritated but didn’t object. “I’ll take care of it. During our shift overlap, you should get our away teams back.”

“Thad’s on his way from the backside of the crater with the medical equipment he retrieved from the destroyed med-bay and Jim’s finishing up the last of the plexiglass sections. Jim and his team are outside the hangar now.”

“What about Mark?”

“Mark is in the cave with Yumi. They have half of the cave’s mouth already sealed.”

“How’s the mapping going?”

“Two branches are fully mapped. Those branches alone provide more space than Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station combined. The third branch promised to be as large as the second. Director Hayashi expects the cave mouth to be sealed and Cave Branch Three to be fully mapped in the next two days.”

“Do you trust our Japan Station colleagues?”

“I do. Why wouldn’t I?”

“Maybe Japan Station and Director Collier were in cahoots about a culling plan for both stations.”

“I doubt it but, if it makes you feel better, I’ll ask. We’re trying to make a base for humanity’s survival over generations. That only makes sense if we treat every human life as precious. If you think about it, we may be the only complex life left in the universe.”

“You never gave any stock to the intelligent aliens of 2001: A Space Odyssey?”

“I believe what I can prove. For all our discovery of the vastness of the universe we’ve never found a single instance of intelligence outside ourselves.”

“Yeah, and we’ve never found an instance of God either but I’ll bet most of our crew still believes.”

“No harm in that. It’s good to think we were spared for a great purpose.”

“Great purpose? We’re scraping along by eating bland food, breathing manufactured air, and waiting for one more disaster to end it all.”

“We must prevent that disaster.”

“The die may have already been cast.”

The hangar hatch light blinked announcing Jim’s and the tube construction team’s arrival. “That’s one team back. Let’s depressurize the load lock.”

“You know every time we do that, we use irreplaceable air. That’s why I was careful with the Manufacturing Pod.”

“That’s why we manufacture oxygen and recycle carbon dioxide. I’ll meet them as they enter the hangar.” Sally lifted her equipment belt from her chair, strapped it on, and bounded down to the hangar just as Jim entered the load lock. She waited for the lock to pressurize and then opened the hatch.

Jim and his tube assembly team came into the hangar. Even before they got their spacesuits off Sally could see spring in their steps and hear the ebullience on their communications channels. This was a team satisfied about work well done. They believe,  Sally thought, that we can all make it and that they’re contributing to our survival.  Once Jim and the others got their spacesuits off, she saw the flushed smiling faces and took heart.

“The tube’s in place and we sealed the floor as we went along. There’s a connection piece right outside of Moon Base Armstron

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g and it goes to the foot of the stairs that lead to the cave.” Jim was pleased. “They said it would take two days and we did it in one. Now we need to work the stair covering.” He laughed. “When we finish this, you’ll be able to walk in your underwear from Moon Base Armstrong to our new cave dwelling.”

Sally laughed as well. “Good job Jim. But we need a different name for our new home. Cave dwelling sounds too primitive.”

“How about catacombs?” Doug said from the control room.

“Stop it,” Sally replied.

Jim’s elation couldn’t be dented. “Team, assemble in my quarters for a celebration in twenty minutes. Get cleaned up and bring your appetite.” He turned and winked at Sally. The away teams were designated to get the last of the supply pod food — the last of the earth food. Jim planned to enjoy it with his team.

As Jim and his team departed the hangar, Doug reported on pressure. “The Manufacturing Pod’s up to 650 Torr. I sure hope we’re not wasting our air.”


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Thad’s away team arrived soon after Jim’s. Sally heard them roll up and again, saw the load lock depressurize. When Jim and his team entered, only the small person hatch was opened. Since Thad rolled up in the moon buggy the large garage sized door opened to vacuum to allow for the large vehicle to enter. Putting most of the lock to vacuum was an action they took with extreme caution prior to the pod crash.

Such a large opening could depressurize the hangar so fast that those in the hangar and control room would be killed in milliseconds. Sally remembered that, previously, they had donned spacesuits before allowing the moon buggy to enter the hangar. When did that change? There was too much at stake to be taking these risks. She made a mental note to ask Mark to reinstitute the safeguards. There was going to be a lot more buggy entries to the hangar before the caves would be ready.

Thad and his team weren’t on the emotional high of Jim’s team. They’d excavated the med-bay for equipment and they’d also uncovered Doctor McCarthy and the five that were killed during the pod crash.

Sally groaned at the hissing sounds of the pneumatic actuators opening the buggy-sized hatch to the hangar. She felt her stomach knot. Thad and his team drove buggy and trailer into the hangar and, the moment they cleared the seal, she pushed the button to close the large hatch. The garage-sized door slid down and sealed shut with a satisfying pop.

Thad got his helmet off and looked to Sally. “Is everything all right? I didn’t think you were still on shift.”

“Everything’s fine. I finished my shift pass-down with Doug and helped Jim get his team’s suits to the cleaning station.”

“I saw the tube. Jim and his team did good work.” Thad and his team extracted themselves from their spacesuits. “We got the top med-bay items from Zeke’s priority list — two drug packs, three advanced sensor kits, the boxed surgery kit, the large autoclave, and two examination beds.”

Sally looked at the equipment in the full trailer and nodded. “We should store all this in Habitation Tube Three once we get your suits.”

“Yeah, that’s another thing. My suit developed a slow breach that I had to spray seal closed. When we shovel and move moon dust and rocks by hand, we really do a number on our spacesuit material.”

“That’s why we need the Manufacturing Pod — we need to come up with an alternative.”

“Your spacesuit breached?” Doug asked from the control room. “How did that happen?”

“This moon dust fouls our seals. The locking ring of my top to bottom half connection got so caked with dust in the front here that my suit alarmed.”

“Is it damaged beyond repair?”

“I don’t know. I’ll inspect it after the dust is removed with the cleaning. We need to do something different with our spacesuit seals.”

“I’ll log that for Chuck and Zeke to consider,” Doug said.

“Is Mark back?” Thad asked Sally.

“He’s in the cave with Yumi. They have the second branch fully mapped and half of the cave mouth sealed.”

Thad nodded. His forehead was lined with worry. “I know we’ve got to go fast but we still need a separate air supply for those caves.”

“And that’s in an orbiting supply pod.”

Tina Bennet came into the hangar from the Nexus. She bounded next to Thad. The two hugged oblivious to those around them. “I’m glad you’re back Thad.” Tina didn’t hide her concern.

Those two are a couple as well , Sally thought. The director’s breeding plan was just as bad as her culling plan. The crew’s pairing off on their own. 

“We got everything Zeke asked for,” Thad said.

Tina turned to Sally. “I’d like samples of the recovered moon dust from their spacesuits. I’ve got to plan on growing our five staples in something different than what we have in the Agriculture Pod. I have ideas on how to prepare the regolith dust in the cave without a huge amount of earth based preparation material.”

“Five staples?” Doug asked. “That’s what we’re calling lettuce, potatoes, wheat, rapeseed, and soybeans?”

Tina turned to Doug. “That’s all we’ve got now. Japan Station has a rice variant I’d like to try but it takes a lot of water. We do have seeds of nearly everything else, including trees and grapes if we ever get that far.”

Thad and his team got their spacesuits stowed in the racks of the clean station. “I’m going in,” Thad said.

“I’ll go with you guys,” Sally said. “It’s way past the end of my shift.” She turned to Doug. “Can you let me know when Mark makes it back?”

“Sure,” Doug replied. “I’ll tell him you’re waiting with anticipation in your best lingerie.”

Sally glared at him. “Just let me know when he’s back. There’s a lot of survival things we need to discuss.”

Doug laughed. “I was kidding. No problem.”

“Let’s get the Manufacturing Pod up to pressure. We can’t go on without it and we need to see how bad that crack is.”

Doug stopped laughing. “I will but I’ve shared my concern about that.”


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Sally went into the Nexus with Thad and his team. She watched as they proceeded to stow the recovered med-bay equipment into Habitation Tube Three. She also saw how Tina and Thad worked together and wondered how long they were partners. It could have been weeks or months — Sally never would’ve noticed.

Sally waved to Thad and Tina as they went into Habitation Tube Three, one toting the autoclave and one toting a drug pack. She went into her quarters, sat on her bunk, and braced as a wave of dread washed over her. Unbidden, Sally remembered her training on instabilities as related to chaos theory. Her own emotional stability was like that.

She remembered the explanation. If you dropped grains of sand onto a smooth table, after a time you’d get a pile of sand. As the sand pile grew fingers of instability would grow. Oftentimes mini- slides would take place as the sand pile grew in size. But, when the pile grew too big and there were too many fingers of instability, eventually there’d be a large slide that took out half of the pile.

It was a model of a mini-cataclysmic event that was applied to political, economic, and environmental systems with good effect. The problem was that you could never know what grain of sand would cause the cataclysmic event. You knew you had instabilities and you knew you could expect periodic small slides but the grain of sand that caused the big event was never predictable before the fact.

Doug, even back on earth, had a pessimistic streak. Sally was used to it. It never mattered. Until now. Doug’s pinging Sally on the fragility of Moon Base Armstrong and its crews’ spacesuits became that unpredictable grain of sand that caused an emotional cataclysmic crash in Sally’s confidence in survival. She sat on the edge of her bunk in the throes of a panic like she’d never felt before.

The day to day crises of her shift combined with the big disasters had worn away her assurance layer by layer. The accident in the cave with Mark added to it. The news of the spacesuits and the fear of the Manufacturing Pod stability, were too much. There was too much to absorb, too much to push back against. They were all going to die in the unforgiving vacuum of space. There wasn’t enough air, wasn’t enough food, and wasn’t enough time to save themselves.

She saw wisdom in Art’s suicide. With no hope, why fight? Why do any of it? The struggle took too much effort to no avail. She panted in quick short breaths and felt faint. Try as she might, she couldn’t stop the slide into despair. There was nothing good to fight for.

“Your boyfriend’s back,” Doug’s voice came over the intercom in her quarters. “He’s coming to see you.”

“Thanks.” Her voice quaked. Sally struggled to register Mark’s arrival with anything but more dread. She’d lost her tenuous grip on hope.

“Are you okay Sally?” Doug asked.

“I’m fine.” It was a lie. She’s lost her faith that there was something bigger worth fighting for. She lost her faith in God and humanity. Her quarters hatch chimed. She sat on her bunk, staring at the flashing light, numb and faint.

“Sally?” Mark’s voice came from the doorway intercom. “Are you in there?”

She tried to answer but no words came. The hatch of her quarters swished open and Mark entered. He saw her ashen tear-streaked face and came beside her as

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the door closed behind him. He said nothing but simply hugged her tight. She shuddered and reveled in feeling his warm contact. Her panting continued. She felt Mark weld his forehead to hers.

“Sally, I’m here. We’re going to be all right.”

She wept. It was as unexpected as her emotional collapse into dread. She shuddered again. “We’re kidding ourselves. We can’t survive.”

“No, we’re going to live. I love you Sally and I’m going to make sure of it. You saved me time and again –it’s my turn to save you.”

“The Manufacturing Pod is cracked, Thad’s spacesuit breached… maybe Art had the right idea.”

Mark clung to her. “Sally, you’re the strongest person I know. You’re the strongest person in Moon Base Armstrong. Come back to hope.”

“I can’t.” She panted and wept.

Mark held her. “I’m here and I’m not letting you go.”

“I’m trying…” Sally’s intense melancholy refused to subside. “I’m trying…”

“I love you Sally. We’re going to make it. We’re going to have a family and build a new future. Our struggle is for that future. That’s our purpose.”


“Yes, our future family is what gives our life meaning.”

Sally latched onto the word purpose as a drowning person would a life preserver. “Purpose… future…”

“It all works because of you. We need each other. You and I, Zeke and Habi, Thad and Tina, Gitty and Jim, Katsumi and Yumi… we are defying our situation and choosing to live for a new future.” He hugged her tight. “I love you. I’m fighting for you.”

Sally sobbed again but now, there was a crack of light illuminating her depression. It was this moment and this love that were important. The uncertain, unknown future may or may not come. What was important was that she was here now and she was loved. She loved and she was loved. That was the thing, the most important thing of all. That was the touchstone she needed.


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Rhythms like seasons or tides had driven human behavior since ancient times. Even when earthbound society became so computerized as to forget the seasonal cycles, the day itself provided an alternating bright and dark pulse that was the source and motive force of all life. The artificial environment of Moon Base Armstrong disturbed that fundamental ebb and flow of life’s vibrance and of the understanding of the human emotional cycle.

Mark tried, along with Zeke, to formulate a new rhythm for their new life. They needed a cycle based on the reality before them. Chinese scientists, either for spiritual or practical concerns, highlighted their base’s location on the moon’s equator as providing rhythmic fourteen day light-dark cycles for their colony to adapt.

The gamma ray burst destroyed most of life on earth, the earth’s atmosphere, and any other life exposed to its deadly radioactive burst. But it did something else. The gamma ray burst also destroyed the remnant of humanity’s connection with natural cycles.

The Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station crews followed a day sleep cycle as a matter of necessity and custom. They used time segments of seconds, minutes, hours, days, and weeks as a matter of convention. All these earth cycle based measures weren’t connected to anything the survivors could see and feel.

“Companionship is key,” Mark said. “The loneliness led to Art’s despair.” He clasped Sally’s hands. “I’m glad you let me stay in your quarters last night. We should share space. We need to lean on each other.”

Sally nodded and smiled. “I’d like that.”

“You’re right. Companionship is key,” Zeke said. He had joined the couple at Mark’s request. “I can’t wait until Habi gets back. We should pair up everyone in Moon Base Armstrong.”

“I agree,” Sally said. “But there’s more. We’re all tied to instinctual ebbs and flows that only exist in recollection.”

Zeke nodded. “The longer we stay here the less of a connection we have to those recollections of cycles, to our memories of seasons.”

“We need to establish new cycles. NASA never figured this out. Before the gamma ray burst even orbiting space stations had days and nights. Our unchanging perpetual day here at Shackleton Crater is taking an unexpected toll.” Mark said.

“That and the continuing reminder with the orange earthrise that life on earth is gone,” Zeke said.

“And the fact that existence is so uncertain,” Sally added. “We don’t know if we’ll survive this.”

Mark moved beside Sally. “We have a future. We can’t doubt.”

“I won’t show my doubt to the crew,” Sally said. “But you know I’m anxious. We’ve absorbed body blow after body blow of disasters.”

“You’re right,” Mark said. “Any sane person would have their doubts.”

“It’s not passive force causing all this,” Zeke said. “The gamma ray burst was the unexpected. Every other disaster has been created… by us.” He looked at Mark. “Including the culling plan.”

“We need to include the crew in a conversation of how to change,” Mark said. “We need to evolve into a different organization with different schedules — different cycles.”

“First, we need stability,” Zeke said. “The work on the cave has motivated those involved. But those not doing constructive survival work are at high risk.”

“Like the Manufacturing Pod crew.” Sally said. “I also feel it in the control room. Unless the crew were on Thad or Jim’s away teams, they were confined to their quarters. They’re probably all wondering about our survival.”

“That’s right,” Mark said. “We should be able to enter the Manufacturing Pod by now.” He stood and went to the intercom. “Doug, what’s the pressure in the Manufacturing Pod?”

“Mark this is Chuck. Doug’s on his food break. I’ll check on that pressure.” After a pause he came back. “The pressure’s at 760 Torr… it’s ready for entry.”

“Good. I’m here with Sally and Zeke. Log that we’re going to inspect the crack Gitty sealed.”

“Will do.”

“We should take our portable oxygen,” Sally said. “Doug thinks the slightest vibration could reopen that crack.”

“Sounds good.” Mark grabbed his portable oxygen helmet. “We should also take sealant.”

“I’ve got that,” Zeke said. “I’ll bring twice the quantity Gitty used to seal the length of the crack.”

The three donned their gear and went into Habitation Tube Two. At the hatch to the Manufacturing Pod, they ran into Doug. “What are you doing here?” Mark asked. “Chuck said you were on a food break.”

“I was,” Doug replied. “I wanted to see how the Manufacturing Pod looked.”

Mark, Zeke, and Sally all had light helmets on in case the Manufacturing Pod depressurized while they were inside. The helmets and oxygen couldn’t protect them from a full instant breach, but they’d be able to work through a hissing leak, even if severe. Doug was only in his NASA jumpsuit. “Did you go inside like that?” Mark asked.

“No, I just looked.” He shrugged. “Not much to see from the window.” Doug turned to Sally. “Chuck told me he checked out the Manufacturing Pod before he came on shift. He said he wasn’t sure about Gitty’s seal.”

“He said that after looking through the window?” Zeke asked.

“Yeah, I don’t know what he was talking about.” Doug grinned. “I’ll let you professionals to it. I’m going back to the control room.”

Mark watched Doug depart. “That was odd.”

“What are you thinking?” Sally asked.

“Why was he here?”

Zeke was already at the Manufacturing Pod hatch. “All three of us can go through the double door at the same time if we stand side by side.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Mark responded. The three lined up and Sally pushed the hatch button for the first door. They took a step into the lock between doors, waited for the door to close behind them, and then opened the inner Manufacturing Pod hatch.

The three stepped into the large quiet room. Lights were still on, a function of solar supplied power and multi-year reliable LED lights. Mark looked around at the equipment. There were large 3D printers, mini-mills, and racks of components. On the far side were regolith rocks and chemical separators they used to produce raw material. One thing was true. If they were to have any chance at all, they needed a well-run Manufacturing Pod, either here or in the cave.

“Mark you’ve got to see this,” Zeke said from the sealed crack.


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Mark looked and tried to register what Sally and Zeke pointed to. There was a heavy duty box below the Manufacturing Pod crack at floor level. From the center of the box protruded a wedge shaped piece of metal.

“This leak wasn’t an accident,” Sally said. Her voice was devoid of emotion. “Someone caused the leak that nearly killed Jim. Someone caused the leak that set us back weeks in manufacturing our moon buggy and silica magnesium bricks.”

“What?” Mark struggled to understand.

“It wasn’t Art Sledge,” Zeke added. “Art was a sealed up mummy by the time this happened.”

“Zeke give me your sealant,” Sally said as she crouched by the box. “I’m going to remove this.”

Zeke handed over the large tube. Sally opened the end, yanked the heavy-duty box away from the seal, and applied sealant to the area she removed the box from. “This should keep it sealed.”

“I’m going to inspect that seal from top to bottom with this combination infrared black light,” Zeke said.

“What’s that do?”

“It’ll illuminate cracks in Gitty’s

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seal.” Zeke moved the inspection light from the ceiling and moved it down to the floor. “She did a good job considering how fast she worked. I’m going to reinforce it.” Zeke took the sealant tube from Sally and layered overlapping sections of sealant onto the seam. He stepped back satisfied. “We can take our helmets off. This is stronger than a regular hull seal.”

Mark removed his helmet, took the box, and examined it. “This looks like a chisel.”

“A remote controlled spring loaded chisel,” Zeke said removing his helmet. “The seal was sabotaged.”

“Whomever did it, didn’t figure on Gitty.” Sally looked at the chisel. “This wasn’t meant to cause a leak, it was meant to cause a full on breach that would permanently ruin the Manufacturing Pod much like the med-bay.”

“Thank God for Gitty,” Mark said. He shuddered. “Yumi was right. We still haven’t overcome our disease in Moon Base Armstrong.”

“Disease?” Sally asked.

“Katsumi and Yumi believe we have people in our moon base so despairing over the loss of earth they want to finish humanity’s destruction.”

“They’ve nearly succeeded,” Zeke said.

“Doug or Chuck did this,” Mark said.

“Or someone else on the Manufacturing Pod crew. It was odd that only Jim was in here when the spring loaded chisel was triggered.”

“Did the recordings survive?” Sally asked.

“Let’s find out,” Zeke said. The two went to a terminal and Sally logged into her account.

“The remote controlled devices used to activate the beacons that caused the pod crash and used to trigger this spring loaded chisel could only have been made here in the Manufacturing Pod.” Mark stared at the box and looked at the sealed crack. “Only someone who knew about the previous Manufacturing Pod vulnerability at this seam could have done this.”

“We have a video of Gitty’s heroics,” Sally said.

Mark turned to the screen. “What about before that?”

Sally scanned backwards in time on the video to before the leak started. “We can barely see the device on the floor.” She found a segment that showed a flicker of movement. “I believe this is when the box was triggered.”

“What was going on then?” Mark asked.

Sally cleared her throat. “If you remember, that’s when I came to see you to talk about the cave floor collapse.”

Mark chuckled. “I’ll never forget that Sally.” He intentionally phrased the sentence with double meaning. “Chuck was on shift. Doug was in his quarters.”

“Who placed the box?” Zeke asked.

“I’ll reel it back.” Sally went back in a fast scan mode day after day. “Hmm… that box was there for some time. I wonder why no one noticed it.”

“Are you sure it’s there?” Mark asked. “That area isn’t well lit.”

Sally zoomed in on the bottom of the seal and saw a pixilation circle around the box. “Oh no — someone tampered with this video.”

“Who is committed to our destruction and has the skills to do this?” Mark asked.

“This isn’t a onetime emotional response,” Zeke said.

“What do you mean?”

“The pod crash, the quarters leak in Habitation Tube Two, Art’s suicide after seeing the culling plan, and now this remote triggered Manufacturing Pod seal leak… all of it was done with the purpose of destroying Moon Base Armstrong.” Zeke turned to Sally. “Is it possible to get a log of material use of the Manufacturing Pod?”

“Yes why?”

“We should be able to find out the inventory change of remote control boxes.”

“That’s right, all components have automated shelf inventory trackers. Our saboteur tampered with the video but they may have forgotten about the trackers.”

“We need to find out who did this.”

“I don’t know if we can find out who,” Sally said, “but I’m sure we can find out what.”

Zeke, Mark, and Sally huddled over the log report display of equipment. With the moon buggy and fuel cell construction, a significant amount of components were logged. They scanned row after row of components that the trackers indicated were drawn from inventory. “This is too detailed,” Zeke said.

“I’ll search on radio frequency controls — oscillators and transmitters.” Sally adjusted the search parameters.

“Whoa.” Zeke saw it first. “There were several remote transmitters removed from the Manufacturing Pod.”

“It’s worse than that,” Sally said. “There were also beacons and beacon emulators removed.”

“What’s that mean?” Mark asked.

“It means this isn’t the last of the sabotage. If I had to guess, I’d say someone is looking to crash another pod.”


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Days went by after the momentous discovery in the Manufacturing Pod. Mark’s suspicions swung from Chuck to Doug and then to someone else on the Manufacturing Pod crew. He discounted Japan Station’s suspicions of Thad but wondered if it could be someone other than Chuck or Doug.

Sally stayed in Mark’s quarters and he took consolation that the search to find the saboteur put both on a mission of something other than meager survival. Mark assigned Jim Staid to replace Art as Shift Supervisor with most of his overlap occurring with Doug.

Mark trusted Jim for two reasons. First, Jim was nearly killed by the sabotage. Second, and most important, Jim had Gitty or, perhaps a better way to say it, Gitty had Jim. He had something to live for, he had someone to live up to. Mark realized that, in the Moon Base Armstrong crew’s fight for survival, there was nothing more powerful than the partnership of love. There was nothing he could count on more as proof of trust than love. Mark had no doubt Jim could be trusted.

The only place to start the pod decent from orbit was the control room. Mark assigned Jim to the control room with a distinct purpose in mind. The assignment of Jim always paired someone Mark utterly trusted with someone he suspected.

Jim overlapped most with Doug and Sally overlapped most with Chuck. The conversation Mark and Sally had with Jim about guarding against sabotage was well received. It turned out he suspected sabotage ever since the pod crash and the director’s and ArmCon’s death.

Mark was expanding his inner circle of trust. He first could utterly rely on Sally, Zeke, Thad, Brexton, and Jim. When he discovered Thad and Tina Bennet were a couple he gladly added Tina to his inner circle. He never liked the cronyism he saw from time to time in the U.S. Air Force but, up here with their survival at stake, he needed people he could trust with his life.

Japan Station was a problem. Katsumi and Yumi wanted Doug and Chuck to be removed from any position where they could do harm. They needed Moon Base Armstrong as much as Moon Base Armstrong needed them but they hated how Mark approached the specter of further sabotage.

“If someone from Moon Base Armstrong wants to destroy your crew, a pod crash before we pressurize the cave would do it,” Yumi said on her private communications channel to Mark. The two stood outside the newly sealed cave entrance.

The work had two major projects left. One project consisted of connecting the plexiglass tube up the staircase to a person-sized load lock before the main cave hatch. The other project was to excavate a ramp two highway lanes wide for the moon buggy to transport equipment to the large load lock.

The interior of the cave had four times the space of Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station combined. Mark looked at the overlapping seals. They had the right material and the right seals in place. One thing about Japan Station — they perfected making silica magnesium construction walls.  He pointed to the overlapping connected walls. “We have everything we need to occupy this cave except air.” Mark heard Yumi laugh and was stunned at the uncharacteristic reaction.

“Your enemy, by crashing the supply pod, exposed the cave. And the cave will save us — as long as we remove the enemy.”

“I told you the safety actions we put in place.”

“You left two in positions of power who may wish to do harm. One of them, Charles Tully, attacked you.”

“How we handle this is important. Many people in Moon Base Armstrong are fighting despair over the loss of earth — but they’re also fighting despair over the culling plan. I can’t detain people for suspicion. I must know.”

“It’s a dire risk,” Yumi replied. “The despair you speak of is everywhere. Director Hayashi and I believe occupying the cave is the most critical step.”

Katsumi and Yumi kept to themselves the consequences of Japan Station’s crew despair. Mark could only glean from brief conversations like this one that it was nearly as big a problem for Japan Station as it was for Moon Base Armstrong. That despair must’ve been hidden from Habi and Jerry. “Captain Kaneko, we believe we should pressurize the cave before we land another supply pod.”

“Have you found a way to do that?”

“Yes. We can increase the electrical power to the electrode in our air reactor.”

“What will that do?”

“That extra electrical power will increase our oxygen supply by ten percent.”

“How will you get that extra air to the cave?”

“We’re manufacturing a hose to run directly from our air reactor into the cave.”

Yumi pointed to the nozzle at the top of the manufactured cave wall. “Very good. We have a one way valve on the other side of our intake nozzle.”

“That’s the thing,” Mark said. “The hose we manufactured is sized for the amount of air we’re going to transport. It’s about as big as a garden hose.”

“It will take a very long time to pressurize the cave.”

“Without a new air reactor — it’ll take approximately twenty-two days — over three week

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“Days, weeks — like those time intervals mean anything here.” Yumi and Japan Station also felt the loss of earth’s rhythms.

“Those time intervals are the only thing us earth-born people know. Maybe our children will come up with more suitable measures.” He pointed to the nozzle. “It could take less time if we only pressurize part of the cave. The point is to move equipment into the cave and get it pressurized without bringing down a supply pod… at least until we know for sure who sabotaged our base.”

“We can help,” Yumi said. “I’ll check with Director Hayashi, but I do believe we can add to the air supply from our reactor as well as some of the oxygen we reclaim from ice.”

“The cave will save us — that and love.” Mark was hardly aware he spoke his inner thoughts into the private communications channel with Yumi.

“Yes Major Martelli, you are right. It’s our feelings of connection that push back against despair.”

“How do you know that Yumi?”

“It is connection — love — that saved me as well.”

Mark was surprised by the intimate revelation. “You and Director Hayashi?”

“Yes, I am to have his child. I want this first moon-born child to come into life in the cave — not an artificial moon base.”

Mark digested this revelation with a mixture of awe and wonder. “Doctor Ben-Ami wondered if the one-sixth earth gravity would affect reproduction. You’re going to have the first lunar baby. Congratulations.”

“This is why I’m out here so much. We women spent so much time taking other roles that we almost lost our primary role — that of life giver.” She turned to Mark. “I knew about Director Collier’s culling plan and her breeding plan. I want you to know these plans were never accepted by Japan Station.”

“You mean they were never accepted by you and Director Hayashi.”

“Yes, that is what I mean.”

“Major Martelli…” Sally’s voice came over the Moon Base Armstrong channel with a tone of urgency. “We have a situation and I need your help.”


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Mark entered Moon Base Armstrong’s control room and was surprised to see that the only two on shift were Jim and Sally. He’d aligned Jim to be on shift with Doug and Sally to be on shift with Chuck. The idea was to ensure one of the two under suspicion were never left alone. There was a short overlap between the shifts for an information pass down. During that pass down all four would be present — that was the only time Sally and Jim were planned to be together.

“What’s going on?” Mark asked.

“Doug and Chuck were called by Zeke to check the seal on Habitation Tube One.”

“The iris seal that separates the Nexus from the part of the base destroyed in the pod crash? Is it showing a problem?”

“No, Jim arranged for Zeke to do that so we could check something here without them watching.”

Mark wasn’t used to cloak and dagger moves, least of all from Zeke and Jim. “Why?”

“Jim’s our encryption expert,” Sally said, “and Zeke found something disturbing he wanted hacked.”


Jim looked at Mark, his face ashen. “Either Doug or Chuck have created an encrypted program — an algorithm in the form of a coded daemon to control the next supply pod we bring down.”

Mark inhaled. The persistence and ingenuity of their death-dealing enemy was an unwanted surprise. “And where does this control program crash the pod into next, the Nexus?”

Sally looked at Jim and turned to Mark. “They plan to crash the next descending pod dead center on Japan Station.”

Mark tried to register the news. “Our enemy wants to attack our sister station?”

“Our enemy wants to wipe out what’s left of humanity,” Sally said.

This pronouncement hung in the air. Mark reeled from blow after blow and he knew Sally did the same. He knew the dark force of despair Zeke so feared was stalking them. It wasn’t a passive force. The dark despair was never passive. It was an active agent using any and all means to snuff out the last of humanity — by snuffing out all shoots of hope. “Does Zeke know?” Mark asked.

“He knows either Chuck or Doug — or both — are up to something. He arranged this time for us to find it,” Jim answered. “Should we arrest and detain Chuck and Doug?”

Mark struggled to find a path forward. “Sally, you’re getting on shift now, right?”

“Right. And so is Chuck when he gets back.”

“How good are you at psychological analysis?”

She shook her head. “Not my alternate specialty.”


“Not mine either. Zeke’s the polymath that thought to dig into the newly written programs.”

“Yes, Zeke’s the one,” Mark said. He turned to Sally. “I’ll put him on shift with you and Chuck. He’ll have the mission to get to the bottom of whether Chuck’s involved.” He pulled out his contactor and tapped out a message. “I’m sending Zeke a private message so he’ll know our plan.” He tapped and then returned his contactor to its carrier. “There — I’ll visit Doug and spend some quality time figuring out his motives.”

“Major Martelli,” Jim said, “are you sure you want to keep collecting information? You know Chuck sabotaged your air. You hit him so hard he was in the med-bay for six weeks with a broken jaw. If that’s not reason for revenge, I don’t know what is.”

“I hear you but the last time I thought I knew the culprit was after we saw Art Sledge’s email. That proved wrong.”

“It wasn’t wrong,” Jim said. “Art was involved but he had help. Chuck may not be the mastermind but do you really think there’s a scenario where he’s not involved?”

Mark nodded. “Yeah, I can come up with a scenario.”

“So can I,” Sally said. “I also battled the monster of despair. I still am. If you remember Art’s email, the thing that destroyed him wasn’t despair, it was in knowing the moon base’s official plans valued him the same as fertilizer. He’s gone not because he was afraid of discovery. Art’s gone because he felt insignificant and undervalued.”

“Yes,” Mark said. “Every one of us is precious. If Chuck isn’t the saboteur, we must save him. If Doug isn’t the saboteur, we must save him.”

“I doubt Japan Station’s leadership would agree,” Jim said. “Those guys are doing great work out there.”

“Do you plan to tell them what we just found?” Sally asked Mark.

“Yes, but after we’ve had a chance to vet Chuck and Doug.”

Jim stood. “Major Martelli I will support you to the hilt. You can count on me. But you’re risking all of humanity’s survival on your ability — and Zeke’s ability — to read minds. That’s a hell of a risk.”

“The risk will be worse if we act without knowing,” Mark said. “It’s possible Chuck’s involved. It’s possible Doug’s involved. It’s also possible someone in the Manufacturing Pod organization is involved. We could detain Chuck and Doug and give the real saboteur free reign. We have to know.”

“Mark’s right,” Sally said. “The last thing we want to do is motivate more Arts. We have to know.”

“You could help Jim,” Mark said. “Was there any telltale fingerprint in the encryption or the code of the algorithm that leads you to believe it’s one or the other?”

“Not that I could find but I’ll keep looking.”

Zeke, Doug, and Chuck entered the hangar. Both Chuck and Doug looked puzzled. Zeke looked worried.

“What’s going on?” Doug asked.

“I just got here,” Mark said. “The cave’s in good shape.”

“Are we bringing down the supply pod with the air reactor components on our shift?” Doug asked. “Jim’s qualified to place the beacons.”

Jim gave Mark a deadpan stare.

“No,” Mark replied. “We’re still doing diagnostics on the pod crash and I don’t want to bring another down until those are complete.”

Zeke cleared his throat. “Yes. I’m going to spend time here reviewing logs.”

“Didn’t you already do that?” Chuck asked.

“I’m going to go months back. All the way to the gamma ray burst,” Zeke replied. “Since the University Pod was destroyed, the only place left with these records is the control room.”

“I don’t see what that’s going to prove,” Chuck said, “but suit yourself.”

“We should have a quiet shift,” Sally said.

“I’ll leave you guys to it,” Doug said. “I’ve just about got Jim up to speed on Art’s duties.” He turned to Jim. “We’ll continue our lesson tomorrow. I’m turning in.”

“Doug,” Mark said. When Doug turned with an exasperated expression Mark wondered what person to person combat skills a civilian like Doug had. “I’d like to cover future plans with you. Can you spare a minute?”

Doug glared at Mark. “Sure Major Martelli. I’ll spare as much of my precious personal time as you need.”



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Doug’s quarters were austere in the extreme. Mark noted an absence of paper books, virtual reality rigs, and electronic picture screens. The one thing that was there, providing a constant stab at what was lost, was a meter by meter square framed portrait of planet earth before the gamma ray burst. Mark noted the detail on the picture was exquisite — the blue oceans, verdant land, and rich swirling atmospheric clouds were a sharp reminder of the prec

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ious lost world, their precious lost home.

“So you’re not bringing the supply pod down,” Doug said facing his sanitation cubby. “That’s going to extend our future plans quite a bit.”

“We have to be sure we don’t have another crash,” Mark said. “We wouldn’t survive a crash into the Nexus.”

Doug kept his back to Mark. He peeled his jumpsuit off and washed. “I’m not sure we survived the last pod crash. We’re hanging by a thread.”

“I wouldn’t want to think one of Moon Base Armstrong’s Shift Managers lost all hope.”

Doug pulled on a clean jumpsuit, turned, and faced Mark. “What gives you hope?”

“Our potential to survive. That’s a noble struggle.” Mark grinned. “The thing most gratifying about the pod crash is that it gave us a future. There was no way our moon bases would survive long term but the cave the crash uncovered? That cave’s been around since our ancestors were swinging on branches.”

“You think the cave is our salvation?”

“I know it. And we can pressurize it without bringing another pod down.”

“I saw your garden hose plan. We’re going to accelerate the loss of regolith oxides from the air reactor. We’ll have to recharge the reactor with tons of new moon rocks much sooner with your plan.” Doug smiled. “We never planned to operate with only one reactor.”

“You forget. Japan Station has a reactor as well.”

Doug’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t forget. This new partnership with Japan Station is unexpected.”

“No it’s not. We always planned on linking up Shackleton Crater between us.”

Doug stood and walked to the framed picture of earth. He pointed to the perfect rendition of the bright blue marble hanging in dark dead space bracketed by stars. “That made sense when we had governments back home to direct us. That all made sense when this irreplaceable earth was still around.” He sighed. “After the burst, Director Collier believed we had to be cautious so Japan Station wouldn’t take over.”

“She never told me that.”

“Maybe you didn’t know her as well as you thought. She had no intention of ceding Moon Base Armstrong crew’s autonomy to a foreign entity.”

“We’re all of the same entity now. We’re all part of the last of humanity.”

“Art didn’t think much of our plan to save humanity.”

“Culling was never my plan. That was never Japan Station’s plan.”

“So you say.” Doug stared at the impossibly beautiful picture of the living earth. “What is it about humanity that’s so worth saving?”

“Humanity itself. Every life is precious. Every breath, every thought, every record… it’s all for us to preserve and for us to savor in a new future.”

Doug turned to Mark. “You really think living on this barren rock in a cave is a meaningful purpose?”

“Yes. We should cling to each other and chart a future.”

“You don’t think we lost our future when the earth was destroyed?”

“We were put here for a reason. Not just to survive and mine minerals, but to colonize the moon. That reason hasn’t changed. Now we’re the last of humanity on a lifeboat called the moon.”

“Lifeboat Moon?” Doug sighed. “The problem with that description is those in a lifeboat always get rescued. There’s no rescue for us.”

“Colonists survived months and sometimes years without a visit from the mother country. We have what we have — our lives and our god-like minds.”

Doug looked at Mark with calm reserve. “God-like? Does that term mean anything anymore? Which gods would do this to all life on earth? Which of the gods would strand us like this?”

“Zeke reminded me that every religion had a legend of God wiping out all but a few of humanity in a flood.”

“Yes and there was the legend of Sodom and Gomorrah which held that people were so evil they all had to be wiped out.”

“Is that what you think?”

Doug nodded. “There was a lot of evil, no doubt. But there was a lot of greatness too. I was an environmentalist. If we believed in a diety, it was in a naturalist god — Mother Nature or the earth herself. But Nietzsche was proved right. If Mother Nature was god, god is dead.”

“Why did you come here?”

“I came up here to sear in my mind this harsh place so I would treasure the earth all the more when I got back. It was like the old saying that you can’t enjoy something without first being deprived of it.” He looked at the picture. “That deprivation was never supposed to be permanent.”

“Do you resent us for trying to survive?”

“I resent calling existence on this barren rock survival.”


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Sally didn’t like her task but Zeke and Mark insisted. She was no shrink. There wasn’t a sure way to tell what anyone thought or believed. She doubted Chuck was trying to destroy the moon base but she had no idea how to prove it. Zeke’s revelation that Japan Station was the next supply pod target chilled her to the core. She absorbed that mind-bending news as she listened to the conversation in progress.

“Hope is an ephemeral thing up here,” Chuck said. “You grasp a thread of hope and then you wonder what Houston would think and bam… it hits you in the solar plexus. Houston’s gone. The earth’s gone. We’re all alone.”

“We have 128 people left in Moon Base Armstrong,” Zeke replied. “That’s bigger than the group that signed the Mayflower Compact when they hit Plymouth Rock.”

Chuck nodded and turned to Sally. “What do you think of this?”

“Our chances?”

“No Zeke’s inane questions psychoanalyzing me.”

Sally started. If Chuck saw right through Zeke’s questions what chance did Mark have with Doug?  “What?”

“Are you in on it too?” Chuck snickered. “Look, we all had a modicum of intelligence to be picked for this crew. You guys are obviously fishing for something.”

Zeke glared at Chuck. “You knowingly sabotaged Mark’s air supply. You have to be more forthcoming.”

“Forthcoming? Mark broke my jaw over that and Sally got me to shake his hand afterwards. There’s nothing I’ve done in Moon Base Armstrong, good or bad, that you don’t know about.”

“What about the culling plan?” Sally asked.

“What about it?”

“When did you know?”

“When did I know the director designated some of us as fertilizer? When Art sent his email to the crew.”

“Not before?”

“No,” Chuck answered. “What are you getting at?”

“How did Art know about the plan?”

Chuck stared at the control room monitor for a long moment. “There’s only one way — Doug would’ve told him.”

“How did Doug get a copy?”

“He must’ve stole it.”

“We should check the logs,” Zeke said, “for file transfers. Mark said the post gamma ray burst plan file he got from the ArmCon’s quarters was encrypted. Only having the original would’ve given someone access. That type of copying could only be done here or in the University Pod. There’s no way this was done in the University Pod. It had to be here.”

“You still think I did this,” Chuck said. “You think I was the one that got Art to go over the edge?”

“Help me find the logs and get to the bottom of this.”

Sally stared at Zeke and Chuck. She understood the frayed dynamic of the crew. There were those clinging to hope and those who weren’t.

“You’re starting too far back,” Chuck said as he peered over Zeke’s shoulder.

“I’m starting with the logs right after the gamma ray burst. I’ll filter for file transfers.”

“There were thousands of file transfers since then.”

“I’ll filter for file transfers to external devices. That ought to narrow it down.”

Sally wanted to stop this madness. She wanted to rest, she wanted to sleep, and she wanted to… give herself utterly and totally to Mark. That was it. That was her thread of hope. She felt love for the man whom she pulled unconscious from the load lock weeks ago. She felt love for the man who conquered her. Well, conquered wasn’t the right word but it captured the idea.

When Mark took her it wasn’t like any of her other sexual experiences. It wasn’t for pleasure. It was pleasurable of course but it was something more. There was a purposeful yielding that she had always guarded against. She gave herself to his power and felt lifted to heights she’d never known. And afterwards, before the Manufacturing Pod leak interrupted their embrace, she lay with her head on Mark’s chest in a sublime contentment.

The two said little afterwards but what they did say spoke volumes. Sally whispered to Mark something she’d never said before. She said, ‘I’m yours.’ Those words were a blissful surrender to the moment and to the man. There was purpose, direction, and a path to the future in those simple words. Those two words closed off a path to every other man alive. That was the surrender. But the exclusivity was also empowering.

Was it supposed to be that way? She didn’t know and didn’t care. The exclusive love she felt — so contrary to the director’s breeding plan — defined a definite path and a definite future. She thought of a future not barren and alone but full with love, companionship, and children.

Maybe that was the whole basis for the social contract before birth control. The surrender was conditional on the highest commitment a couple could make — a commitment to raise a family together. That was the bright thread of hope, firm and strong. She saw a family with Mark. She turned to the control panel. As long as they found the saboteur.

“What’s that?” Chuck asked. He sat beside Zeke, hands on his knees, as Zeke worked at the terminal.


“That copy there.” Chuck pointed to the screen. “Four weeks after the gamma ray burst.”

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It’s the director’s daily brief,” Zeke said. “The ArmCon made a daily file transfer from the server for Director Collier.”

“But look at the detail. Embedded in the daily report was a file.”

“I’ll open the hidden file properties.” Zeke tapped the screen and then stopped. He frowned. “What the?”

“Two,” Chuck said. “That embedded file was copied to an external device twice. I don’t think that’s what the ArmCon had in mind.”

“Who?” Sally asked. “Who copied that particular daily report?”

“It was Doug,” Zeke answered. “He copied the daily but made two copies of this embedded file.”

“It was Doug,” Chuck said. “That makes sense.”

“Are you sure it was the post gamma ray burst plan that had the culling contingency?” Sally asked.

“I can check,” Zeke said. “Mark opened the encrypted version and would know what to look for. I’m going to call him.”

“Doug calls himself an environmentalist and maybe he was,” Chuck said, “but don’t forget why he was picked for this crew. He’s the best coder in Moon Base Armstrong.”

“I’m calling Mark,” Zeke said. “We have to be sure.”


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Mark entered the control room and assessed the group. He’d gotten nothing of substance from Doug. Mark and Doug played mental ping pong for over an hour. The most Mark got out of the discussion was that Doug hated it here. He had little reason for hope. Mark saw the three in the control room — Zeke, Sally, and Chuck — turn at his entrance.

“We found something,” Zeke said.

Mark came beside him. “Show me.”

“About four weeks ago the ArmCon’s daily report to the director had an embedded file. We discovered that Doug made two copies of this file for external devices.”

“Just now? We’re just now seeing this breach in protocol?” Mark balled a fist.

“It’s always the human element,” Chuck said. “It’s always about trust.”

“That’s right,” Sally said staring at Mark. “If someone you trust betrays you, all is lost.”

“This embedded file was extracted and encrypted only when the copies were made.” Zeke pointed to the file properties screen.

“Mark was the encryption password specific to the ArmCon?” Sally asked.

“Yes,” Mark answered. “I needed the ArmCon’s son Brexton to come up with it.”

“Really?” Chuck asked. “Was Brexton ever in the control room?”

Sally shook her head. “No. The only one with the access to do what you suggest was Doug.”

“Because you’re above suspicion, right?” Chuck asked.

“She is,” Mark answered. “We know an embedded report file was encrypted and copied here by Doug.”

“The file was created beforehand,” Chuck said. “Is there a way to get to the source computer to search?”

“We could check the ArmCon’s desk computer but, since he had the plan in a safe, I doubt we’d find it there,” Mark said. “It must’ve been created on the director’s computer.”

“Which is in the destroyed section of Habitation Tube One,” Sally said.

Mark bubbled in anger. “So, after the gamma ray burst, Doug decided we weren’t worth it. That son of a bitch, without telling anyone, decided to kill us all.”

“All we know is that he copied the file,” Chuck said, “and talked about it to Art.”

“We know more than that,” Sally said. “We know he kept it from the ArmCon and director. We know Doug was aware of the director’s and the ArmCon’s relationship.”

“Does Doug have the chops to code daemons and set up remote beacons that crash supply pods?” Mark asked.

“I think so,” Zeke said. “There are only a few in the moon base who could and Doug’s one of them.”

“So what do we do?” Chuck asked.

“We need to detain Doug,” Mark answered.

“And we better tell Japan Station about the changed guidance codes,” Zeke added.

“What changed codes?” Chuck asked.

“Someone has a remote that will send codes to the next supply pod we bring down to crash it on top of Japan Station.” Zeke said.

Mark watched Chuck’s expression with care. His wide eyes and slack jaw, by all appearances, showed he was shocked at the news. “And we don’t know where he placed the remotes.”

“You think Doug plans to crash a supply pod into Japan Station like what happened with the director’s quarters? Can’t you stop it?”

“We don’t know if we can stop it or not,” Zeke said. “That’s the problem of relying on human trust. All of the control room shift managers can destroy us.”

“That’s why you’re talking to me,” Chuck said. He snorted. “It’s bigger than that. Nearly everyone in this station has the ability to destroy us.”

“Anyone would have an easier time at destruction in the pure oxygen environment of the caves,” Mark said. “We must make trust our ally. We have to rely on each other. There’s no other way.”

“Japan Station as well?” Chuck asked.

“Yes. Between Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station we have 192 people. That’s all that’s left of humanity.” Mark stared at the ceiling. “We need to preserve all of us. We need to stop this destructive madness.”

“It’s not madness,” Zeke said. “It’s despair. It’s something only love can fight.”

“Detaining Doug isn’t a good idea,” Sally said.


“If he’s behind all of this that means he’s scary smart. The ‘I’m an environmentalist’ talk is just to throw us off. He’s got a master’s degree in computer science.”

“Isn’t that more reason?” Mark asked.

“You said he hid the remotes,” Chuck said.

“And he may have hidden a Trojan program in the control room that crashes any pod we bring down into Japan Station… or the Nexus.”

“We need Doug to confide in one of us,” Sally said. “We need him to trust one of us with his plans.”

“He’d never trust me,” Mark said. “And he and Jim are already at odds.”

“He may trust me,” Zeke said. “I need to convince him I empathize with his despair.”

“It won’t work,” Chuck said. “Everyone knows you’re paired off with Habi. He’d have to believe the person has lost all hope in the future of humanity.” He laughed. “There’s only one person he’d believe lost all hope — me.”

“That’s a bad idea,” Mark said.

“Maybe not,” Sally said. “With the new shift schedule, I’m on shift eleven hours with Chuck and then there’s our hour overlap for pass down with all four of us — Doug, Chuck, me, and Jim. All I have to do is get Jim to show me something important in the Manufacturing Pod to leave Chuck and Doug alone.”

Mark turned to Sally. “I didn’t say we couldn’t pair them up, I said it’s not a good idea.” He turned to Chuck. “What would you say to Doug to get him to trust you?”

“I’d tell Doug he was right. I should’ve let you die out there when I sabotaged your air. I’ll tell him I’ve got ideas to do that again but need help pulling it off.”

“You want to enlist his help to kill me?”

“It would start a conversation,” Zeke said.

“That’s not a conversation I’d like started.” Mark turned to Sally. “What do you think?”

“Chuck’s right,” Sally said. “The only way to get Doug to share something about his plans to crash a pod into Japan Station is to convince him others are willing to act.”

“Act against me!”

“He hates you,” Chuck said. “I can do this. I can get Doug to tell me everything.” He fixed Mark in a steady gaze. “The only thing we need for this to work is for you to trust me.”


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There was a lot about the plan to trick Doug that Mark didn’t like. First, Mark had to trust Chuck. That alone took some doing. It was one thing to trust that Chuck wouldn’t crash a pod or tamper with Mark’s air; it was an entirely different thing to count on him to win Doug’s confidence. Mark grudgingly agreed to this cockamamie plan because Zeke and Sally pressed the point that there was no other choice.

Jim didn’t like the plan either. After nearly suffocating in the Manufacturing Pod seam leak, he had a special animosity for Moon Base Armstrong’s saboteur. Jim proposed forcibly pounding the Trojan horse virus information out of Doug until Sally pointed out that Doug could commit suicide the same way as Art and then all would be lost. Jim, like Mark, acquiesced to the plan only after a Zeke and Sally full court press.

Another thing Mark didn’t like about the ‘Chuck will deceive Doug’ plan was telling Japan Station. He couldn’t see how they’d be happy about it. Mark couldn’t even see how they’d accept it. They suspected Chuck from the beginning. Trusting Chuck was out of the question.

Mark dreaded the task to tell Japan Station. He feared, above all else, creating an irreconcilable rift with the one group they needed to partner with to have any chance at survival. If the cordial partnership ever turned into a universal quid pro quo blackmail power play so prevalent on earth, all was lost.

Mark stood outside the impressively sealed cave, his stomach in knots, and watched Katsumi and Yumi approach. He requested this meeting and insisted it be in person — or at least as close to in person as they could get before they were all in the cave. A small distance Bluetooth discussion was the safest.

“This is impressive work,” Katsumi said as he came alongside Mark.

“Captain Kaneko did an outstanding job on sealing the cave,” Mark replied.

“And Major Martelli and his team did excellent work with the tube and the interior preparation,” Yumi added.

The joint complements only heightened Mark’s concern

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. He signaled through his helmet selector to ensure he had a private three-way conversation. When he saw confirmation of their private conversation he bluntly stated the most important fact. “Director Hayashi, Captain Kaneko — I must inform you that we’ve found evidence that our enemy plans to crash a supply pod into Japan Station.” Mark heard audible sucking inhales the moment he finished speaking.

“Are you certain you’ve contained the problem?” Katsumi asked.

That was the last question Mark wanted teed up first but there was no dodging the seriousness in Katsumi’s tone. “No. We found a software algorithm — a daemon — and know remotes are missing.”

“Have you removed the algorithm and has your search found the missing remotes?”

Again, the direct questions were disconcerting. There was an embedded presumption in the questions that carried a not-so-subtle threat. “We’ve removed the algorithm we found but are concerned there may be several Trojan horse viruses in our control system that will override controls and still crash the supply pod.”

“There is imminent danger to Japan Station. Have you arrested the guilty parties?”

“There’s also danger to Moon Base Armstrong. We found evidence the Nexus is also a target.”

“Please answer the director’s question,” Yumi insisted. “Have you arrested the guilty parties?”

“No. We know Shift Manager Douglas Graham is the primary leader of our enemies,” Mark said. “We don’t know if he has help. We don’t know if we can find his Trojan horse viruses — the daemons or the remotes. We’ve come up with a plan to get more information.”

“And what is this plan you’ve concocted? What is this delay in action while both our moon bases and the survival of the human race hangs in the balance?”

“We are going to have someone gain Doug’s trust. We are going to have someone gain his trust so Doug confides all his plans and we can defeat them.”

“Who is this someone?” Director Katsumi Hayashi’s voice dripped acid.

“Shift Supervisor Charles Tully. We have Shift Manager Sally Ride Henderson and newly appointed Shift Supervisor James Staid keeping a close eye on both Doug and Chuck. We believe the best chance we have — we both have — is for Doug to share his plans with Chuck. Once we know Doug’s plans and methods, we’ll be able to counteract them.”

“You’re trusting our future with someone you already know committed sabotage. How can that be your plan?”

“I’m also trusting my partner, Sally Ride Henderson. I’m also trusting Jim Staid.”

“We know little of James Staid other than he was working in the Manufacturing Pod.”

“He’s trustworthy because he too has a partner — Gitanjali Chatterjee. That’s the basis of our plan. Those with hope, those who fight the monster of despair have partners they rely on — much like the partnership you Director Hayashi have with Captain Kaneko.”

“You believe our relationship is not professional?”

“I believe the only way we survive is if we understand human relationships must also be personal. The only way we survive is if we trust and we love.”

“In Japan, we would get kicked out of JAXA space program if we spouted such naïve sentiment.”

“In the United States, we would get kicked out of NASA for saying that as well. But we know there is no JAXA and there is no NASA. There is no earth. Our loyalties can only be to those among us. Only then and only with love can we overcome our challenges and survive. I believe it has always been that way.”

“We must get people living in the cave as soon as possible,” Yumi said.

“What are you thinking Captain Kaneko?” Katsumi asked.

“Our best defense is to build a lunar cave community at the same time we isolate any who are taken by despair.”

“You agree with Major Martelli’s plan to place our lives in the hands of Charles Tully?”

“We are placing our lives in the hands of Major Martelli,” Yumi replied.

“I do not like this situation,” Katsumi said.

“Director, I do not like it either. But we in Japan Station also have those taken with despair. The discipline of our culture is fraying. We must reckon with the fact our exterior bases are vulnerable from dissenters in both Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station. We only populate the cave with those who believe in our future.”

“How long have you harbored such thoughts Captain Kaneko?”

Mark listened in rapt attention. It was rare to hear direct give and take conversation with any members of JAXA. They’d always presented a united front — particularly in English. This was something he’d never seen before. The moon’s new inhabitants were already changing, adapting, and evolving into something different from where they began. The gamma ray burst not only destroyed the earth, it also destroyed the social conventions that took several millennia to construct.

“I do not like his plan either Director,” Yumi said. “But Major Martelli is right. We must trust and we must unite those among us who do trust. The pod crash may have revealed our worst selves but it also revealed the cave. The cave will be our salvation.”

After a long pause, Director Katsumi Hayashi assented. “Let it be as you say. We’ll make the cave our home with what equipment we have. The supply pods stay in orbit.”

“Thank you,” Mark said. “I appreciate your trust.”

“It is only because we have no choice,” the director said. “And this risk is for humanity itself.”


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Work accelerated to make the lunar cave habitable. The division of labor between the two stations was arranged in a much quicker fashion than Mark could’ve imagined. After life-giving air, water was the prime ingredient the cave needed. Japan Station shunted a water pipe to the cave and Thad got Moon Base Armstrong’s water well working. All of the water on Moon Base Armstrong’s side of Shackleton Crater was routed straight to the cave. Water enabled the preparation inside the cave to proceed with speed.

Tina Bennett worked with Japan Station’s agriculture specialist to add rice to the bland mix of lettuce, potatoes, wheat, rapeseed, and soybeans. They used the caved-in portion of Cave Branch One as lunar mulch and leveled the crusted rock into rows. The addition of air from Japan Station got the caves up to 400 Torr within a week. They were a week away from the atmospheric earth pressure of 760 Torr.

Thad, Zeke, Habi and Jerry moved equipment they scavenged from the destroyed Habitation Tube One into the caves. Then they moved to the stored equipment.

“All equipment from Habitation Tube Three should be relocated here.” Zeke turned to Jerry. “Jim recommends we also gut the Manufacturing Pod and put everything in here. Do you agree?”

“I do,” Jerry said. “I love this sub-branch in Cave Branch Two that we’ve designated for manufacturing.” He pointed to the dark recesses. “But we need to finish our illumination strips.”

“It was a good idea to dedicate Cave Branch Two to the Moon Base Armstrong crew and Cave Branch Three to the Japan Station crew,” Habi said. “We have this large entrance and Cave Branch One as common areas.”

“We need more power,” Thad said. “We have enough stored solar panels and cable to put an array right above the mouth of the cave. We can get that going while we wait for the air reactor.”

Mark listened to the discussion on the open channel from his vantage point watching excavated moon dirt being leveled in Cave Branch One. He bounded a couple times, exited Cave Branch One, and came alongside Thad. Everyone wasn’t in on the plan to deceive Doug and that caused friction between the fast moving cave preparation and the slow moving installation of the requisite power and air. It was a puzzle to many that water supply was solved before air and electricity.

“Speak of the devil,” Thad said when Mark got close enough for him to see the insignia on his spacesuit. “When are we going to get the air reactor from the supply pod down here?”

“We’re going to get initial habitation underway without it,” Mark answered. “Both Japan Station and we agree that it’s best to get members of both crews safe in the cave before bringing down another pod.”

“Safe?” Thad asked. “You’re concerned about another pod crash?”

“Both Director Hayashi and me believe it’s better to get most of the crews in the cave first.”

Thad was silent a long moment. He tapped the corner of his helmet requesting private communications. When Mark opened the private channel Thad stated the obvious. “You believe someone may crash a pod.”

“It’s happened before.”

“So it wasn’t Art?”

“Art wasn’t alone in whatever he did.”

“Your plan’s to pile everyone in the cave? Mark, you realize how much vibration a pod crash causes. It was a pod crash that uncovered this cave.”

“I know. We’re still fighting what Zeke calls the demon of despair.”

“Major Martelli, am I your right hand man or not?”

“Thad, both you and Zeke are — along with Sally.”

“Then why haven’t you included me in these discussions?”

“I don’t know… I should’ve. Thad, I’ll tell you what’s going on but don’t react to it and don’t share it with Tina.”

“I won’t”

“Doug’s the one who sabotaged the pod. He’s also the one who made an unapproved copy of the director’s post gamma ray burst plan.”

“He’s the one that shared the culling idea with Art?”

“Yes. While you and your team were getting the water well working, Zeke, Sally, and I scoured the logs to find this out. We also found altered pod descent algorithms — daemons — one to crash a pod into Japan Station and one to crash a pod into

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the Nexus.”

“Damn! Then why’s Doug still operating as shift manager?”

“Because he’s a software coding expert and we believe he put a Trojan horse virus in the control room code.”

Thad whistled. “So the plan is to get safe in the cave before he can crash another pod.”

“There’s more and you’re not going to like it.”

“Tell me.”

“We’re trying to get him to trust Chuck enough to tell him about the virus and missing remotes.”

“Chuck? You trust Chuck above me or Zeke or Sally?”

“No. But Chuck is the only one Doug would trust.”

“Hey you two,” Zeke’s voice came through the shared channel. “We have a schedule to keep.”

Thad and Mark switched off their private channel. “I was just discussing our plans with Thad,” Mark said.

“Let’s get this cave running,” Thad said. He bounded into the large common area. “I’m going to see how Tina’s doing in the new Agriculture Branch.”


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Doug knew something was up. The work crews were moving at a near frantic pace to get the cave habitable. He also noted that, during the hour shift overlap, Sally and Jim would find an excuse to ‘check something’ and he’d be alone with Chuck. It happened nearly every shift change and Chuck would drop hints about how depressed he was. He would talk about his lost fiancé, Mia, the great state of Washington, and of how pointless the crew’s struggles were. But only when they were alone.

Doug was no fool. Whatever game Mark, Zeke, Sally, and Jim had planned for him; he wasn’t playing. There was only one game that meant anything, only one task, one holy mission — destroy the lunar bases and all of humanity once and for all.

“Solar array work crew is back,” Jim said as he looked at the hangar monitor. “I’ll make sure they get in okay.”

Doug watched Jim bound down to the hangar with disgust. That Dudley Do-Right is worse than Art by a mile,  he thought.

“Depressurizing load lock,” Jim called up.

Doug licked his lips. I could tweak the status reading and cause that whole team to get blown out into the crater.  It was possible but it would be a one shot deal. He could liberate five or six people but the moon bases would still struggle on for a time. He let the accurate reading stand. The go-to guy, Thad, came in with his team of four. They were all in energetic discussion of the day’s achievements — challenges overcome, decisions to forge ahead, and ultimate success. Doug hated them all.

The team disappeared into the Nexus and Jim returned to his seat next to Doug. One thing was certain — Jim wouldn’t be able to prevent Doug from executing malicious code. Doug surmised that Jim was to keep an eye on him but knew that was a fool’s errand. He owned the control panel software in a manner no one knew about. He had embedded code in embedded code and back doors that no one in Moon Base Armstrong had a prayer of removing. But it wasn’t enough. The cave preparation unsettled him.

No one here matters , his inner voice scolded. It was the beautiful blue-green earth that meant everything. Who are these miserable piss ants to survive when the core of all that was good of life itself was destroyed? All these self-important prima donnas prancing around like they matter. This must be stopped. 

“Three days,” Jim said as he reviewed the task sheet. “In three days we’ll have enough power and enough quarters to have crewmembers live in the cave.”

“Really?” Doug asked. “I thought it would take longer than that. It’s unwise to move crew into the cave before all is ready.”

“In many ways the cave is better than our moon bases,” Jim replied. “We’ll be at pressure and will have enough power to heat the place up. Our permanent home is almost ready.”

Our permanent home was destroyed , Doug mused to himself. The insufferable arrogance of these carbon-based ape-descended collection of firing neurons must be stopped. And I’m the one to do it.  Doug looked at the control panel and sighed. He didn’t always hate humanity.

There was a time he believed humanity was redeemable. Not at the ridiculous number of nine billion people of course. That was why, on earth, he secretly believed in the compulsory sterilization organizations and thought they should be dispersed to do their work on most of civilization. Doug read all of the anti-natalism — people should never procreate ever — books he could get his hands on. He didn’t wonder, he knew, that all human existence was suffering.

That’s why the computer scientist and hacker became an environmentalist. It wasn’t human life, it was the other life he relished. He populated his house with cats, dogs, and a veritable green house of plants. But even natural life was too messy and rife with suffering. Doug loved nature when it was static and predictable — but it wasn’t. So he cleared his house of pets and plants, posted Sophocles’ declaration ‘not to be born is, beyond all estimation, best’ on his wall, and dove deeper into computer programming and the dark web.

There was god-like power in the things he could do with code. The code he developed wasn’t just predictable, it was a contest of will and intelligence. He loved white hat hacking and he loved artificial intelligence driven control systems. It was his stunning expertise, borne of a focus few possessed, that caught the attention of NASA. Doug was asked to design a resilient robust control system for NASA’s long delayed moon base. He jumped at the chance. There were two big attractions to joining the Moon Base Armstrong crew.

The first was that he was writing code that controlled virtually everything in the new moon base. But it wasn’t just the code that was important. Doug was presented the opportunity to go to the most barren place possible, with the fewest humans, run a lonely shift and ply his craft.

He was the fly in the moon colony ointment long before the gamma ray burst. Doug placed back doors in various points in the control system he planned to use once back on earth. He hated the reach and the exuberant quest of the lunar base when there was so much suffering and injustice in the world. Who was NASA and JAXA and humanity itself to strive to spread out when wars, social injustice, and inequality racked the world?

Doug didn’t have a definite plan for the back doors, he just wanted them there for when he got back. It wasn’t a plan, it was an idea. He wanted to strike and annihilate the greatest human achievement the moment it hit its celebratory high. And then the gamma ray burst hit. All his disgust at the messiness of life on Mother Earth was forgotten, replaced by an overwhelming sense of loss.

When he secretly copied the director’s post gamma ray burst plan and saw the culling strategy, he knew what he had to do. The fact the director and ArmCon rank ordered the crew into a caste system of utility and secretly planned to use the least useful as fertilizer settled it. Suffering humanity, always of questionable value anyway, should be totally and utterly extinguished.

The pod crash into the director’s quarters was the first step. Doug didn’t plan on destroying Moon Base Armstrong all at once; the pod crash was meant to be a fatal blow that only manifested after a period of chaos. Chaos was his friend, the disorganizing principle that destroyed hope and let hackers like him run wild. The next pod crash had to be a killing blow to Japan Station.

“This is Major Martelli,” the intercom sounded. “All those on the first cave crew should get packed. We’ll move the first group in seventy-two hours.”

Doug grimaced. He hadn’t figured on Mark Martelli. He hadn’t figured on the pod crash uncovering caves. He hadn’t figured on Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station crews uniting. And he certainly didn’t figure on being watched around the clock with no plans for another pod descent. They’re on to me , he realized.

Sally and Chuck entered the hangar. “Shift change,” Sally announced. “Let’s start the pass down.”

“Time is spinning by fast,” Doug commented.

“In a good way,” Sally said. “Jim, can you come with me to look at the electrical cables in the Manufacturing Pod? Jerry said we need to start removing the high power cables for relocation to the caves. We should have enough power for lighting installed soon.”

“Sounds good,” Jim said. “Tina also mentioned we should position a ton of mulch from the Agriculture Pod into the hangar. That way they can move it into the cave when their work team comes on shift.”

“I saw that plan.” Sally turned to Doug. “We may be a bit longer than an hour. You got this pass down?”

“Sure, go ahead.” Doug’s eyes narrowed as for the fifth time in a row he was left alone with Chuck during the pass down. They’re definitely on to me. 

“What futile accomplishments did the crew do today?” Chuck asked.


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Doug wondered if he could use his knowledge to turn the tables. Of all the spy stories he loved to read, the ones he loved best were of the double agents — those who pretended to spy for one side while secretly working for the enemy all along. He wondered if he could use Chuck as that double agent. If Chuck cooperated willingly — or even unwilling now that he thought about it — he could still initiate the final destruction.

“The solar a

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rray and cave crews made great progress on my shift,” Doug said. “They plan to start occupying the cave in seventy-two hours.”

“I heard the pompous major on the intercom,” Chuck said. “Do you really think we have a chance in our asinine partnership with Japan Station?”

Doug shrugged. “Maybe. Hope springs eternal.”


Doug forced a laugh. “The military types like Mark and Sally as well as Director Hayashi and Captain Kaneko from Japan Station have to project a ‘never say die’ attitude. It’s hardwired into them.”

“Don’t you think it’s ridiculous?”

“Of course, but I have to admit that they’re making progress. I didn’t think the cave was a viable replacement for two moon bases. I didn’t think we could or even should get along with Japan Station. I didn’t think we’d find all that water. Maybe, just maybe, we do have a chance.”

Chuck’s face showed unmasked surprise. “I never thought you’d turn into an optimist.”

“Like I said, hope springs eternal.” He turned to Chuck. “But they’re making a mistake with the control systems in the caves.”

“What mistake? They’re installing the most basic reliable code with moon produced controllers. The idea is to wean ourselves from earth based technology as soon as possible.”

“The controllers are too simple. Layered controls with fuzzy logic artificial intelligence is the safest way to go.”

“That didn’t help us here,” Chuck said. “The recurring leaks and the pod crash were full blown emergencies the control system codes didn’t help.”

“Not true. The speed of the alarms, the iris seal on Habitation Tube One, and the isolation of Art’s quarters all were possible due to our control software.”

“There’s alarms in the cave.” Chuck snorted. “We really ought to come up with a better name for that cave.”

Doug chuckled. “First, there’s no central place for the alarms and there’s no base-wide communications in the cave. We’re already losing track of teams with our spotty communications. Second, didn’t you hear that Major Martelli is hosting a contest for the naming of our new cave base?”

“Doug, I can only process one thing at a time. Are you sure there’s not a central alarm station?”

“Positive. The moon produced controllers are standalone unnetworked units — like the old air-gap computers on earth. They provide for local warnings but no central alarms. Unless everyone pulls shift at each spot, there’s vulnerability all over the cave habitations.”

“How would you fix that?”

“With a networked central controller. We have plenty of extra computer network hardware here. The local controllers have short range Bluetooth communications. With a couple repeaters and a small central controller we could solve this problem.”

“That sounds good. Did you tell Mark about this?”

“Major Martelli is too focused on his relationships.”


Doug gave Chuck a quirky grin. “Yeah, the major is immersed in his relationship with Sally Ride Henderson. Didn’t you know that?”

Chuck started. “Yeah, I did.”

Doug wondered if that were a lie. “Major Martelli realizes he’s out of his league. He’s focused on handing control of our crew over to Japan Station’s Director Hayashi.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Believe it. That’s the reason for the rush to consolidate everyone in the cave.”

“That and the vulnerability of Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station.”

“Trust me, the cave is more vulnerable and, once we move a critical mass of equipment out of Moon Base Armstrong, we’ll be sitting ducks… unless we have some good central controllers installed over there.”

“What are you thinking?”

“I think you could help Moon Base Armstrong and Mark by helping get one of my controllers in the cave.”

“How would I manage that?”

“Tina’s agriculture controllers.”

“The agriculture controllers? I thought they’re just carbon dioxide and soil sensors with automated water delivery.”

“They are but they’re the perfect place to hide one of my boxes. We can steer control of everything here without anyone being the wiser. They’re hauling the farm environment controllers over with the shit-smelling piles of mulch. If you could get my advanced Bluetooth central controller into one of those boxes, we’ll be able to secure the cave.”

“I can’t figure you.”


“One moment you talk like all is lost and now you’re trying to save the cave from their mistakes.”

“I talk about all being lost because Major Martelli is clueless. You know that as well as I do.”

“That’s true.”

“We need to save the Moon Base Armstrong crew from control by Japan Station. The only way we do that is through central control in the caves. If we have that, we have leverage — power to call the shots.”

“I’ll help,” Chuck said. “Can you get one of these Bluetooth controller boxes built in a day?”

“I have one here,” Doug said. “I just built it yesterday.” He had it and several more like it for weeks. Now was the time to use his creations. He’d come up with the perfect plan. Doug didn’t need Chuck to believe him. He only needed Chuck to play his part. He pulled out a control box that was the size of a coffee mug.

“That’s the magic central controller that will give us control of the cave systems?”

“Nothing magic about it.” He handed it to Chuck. “All I need you to do is use the spare power cable on the environmental control unit on this mulch they’re bringing out. Every pile of mulch is so precious they keep it in heated hermetically sealed travelers.”

“That I’m glad about. Have you ever smelled the mulch? Half of it is our crew’s sewage — the stuff we flushed down the toilet over the last six months.”

“I know the mulch is sealed but on the back is a simple controller for the sensors and moisture. There’s plenty of room in there for this little guy. Just connect it until you see this little LED,” he pointed to the controller in his hand, “turn green and we’ll be in business.”

“I got it.” Chuck took Doug’s Bluetooth device. “I’ll get this done with the pile of mulch they bring in.”

“Good, now pocket that. I see from their locators they’re coming back to the hangar.”

“Thanks for trusting me,” Chuck said.

Doug didn’t reply as the large hatch doors that separated the Nexus from the hangar opened. Jim and Sally were each pushing wheeled dollies, one with stacked cables and one with a large box of mulch.

You’re going to win , Doug’s inner voice said, because you think on your feet and never lose focus.  He smiled. “It took you guys long enough.”


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Mark knew that either Doug or Chuck was playing him. Perhaps both were, he never fully forgave Chuck for unleashing his suffocation demon. Mark also knew they weren’t in on one salient fact — he had moved up the timetable for habitation of the cave by forty-eight hours.

“The power light was green,” Chuck said. “I hooked it up just as Doug wanted in case he checked. Either you or Tina need to take that Bluetooth controller out before bringing the mulch into the cave.”

Mark nodded. “Thanks Chuck. This is good work.”

“One more thing. Doug said you have a contest to name the cave. Is that right?”

“That’s right. I’m surprised you think naming’s important. Doug’s a tough enemy.”

“He is but I’m all over it. I’m sure Sally is as well when she’s on shift with him. The name for our cave is also important.”

“Do you have a suggestion?”

“Yes, we should call the cave Eden. Moon Base Eden.”

“You mean like the Garden of Eden?”

“Exactly. That’s what it’d be like. The beginning of everything.”

“We’ll put Eden in consideration. I’m not sure our Japanese partners would be happy with a Judeo-Christian concept like Eden.”

“It wasn’t a concept,” Chuck said. “It was a place.”

“It’ll be in consideration, I promise. And again, good work on identifying that Bluetooth controller Doug had you plant. We’ll take care of it.”

Chuck smiled. “That’s all I’ve got for today.”

“That’s enough, get some rest.” Mark watched as Chuck departed his quarters. The shift work was wearing both he and Sally thin. There was so much to talk about outside of the normal work shifts and he wondered if he and Sally would ever find a moment to simply enjoy each other’s company. That moment, if it came at all, would have to wait.

Mark pulled out his contactor and punched the small icon of Thad’s picture on his screen. “Is he gone?” Thad asked upon answering.

“He’s gone. Let’s go over tomorrow’s plan.” Mark wondered how long the crew would still use meaningless time-cycle terms like tomorrow.

“I’ll be right over.”

Thad and Mark hunched over a schematic diagram that showed a newly produced and routed air hose. “We’re sure this is leak tight?” Mark asked.

“It is. I had everyone thinking it was for water and we tested it that way. The seal stress for water is a lot more than air.”

“And it’s in position?”

“It is. I worked with Yumi on the installation. This is a good plan.” Thad nudged Mark. “You seem somewhere else. Did Chuck give you bad news?”

“Chuck put a Bluetooth central controller in the mulch environmental control box that’s staged in the hangar. Once that gets transported into the cave Doug could use it to manipulate the other control units there.”

“To hell with that, let’s get it out of there.”

“We will but the moment we do, Doug will know. The moment we remove that controller is the moment we’ll have to deal with Doug.”

“It’s a good thing we’re finishing the press

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urization of the cave with nitrogen tomorrow. That will throw a monkey wrench into Doug’s timing and buy us some installation buffer on static electricity. That was a hell of an idea Mark.”

“Yeah, that was one of my better ones. With the cave livable and the pods in orbit we’ve limited the sabotage points to Moon Base Armstrong, Japan Station, and the solar arrays.”

“And with the redundancy we get with Japan Station’s second array, it’s really only down to Moon Base Armstrong’s solar array.” He turned to Mark. “The only thing that could screw this up is if Doug figures out how to deorbit pods without us knowing.”

“There’s that and all this cave preparation has got to work. It has to come together without wasting our precious nitrogen, without overtaxing our limited electrical power, and without tipping Doug off.”

“Do you think Doug has any idea about Chuck?”

“He’s not stupid. I’ll bet he suspects something’s up.”

“I haven’t seen any sign of that in my work crew communications.”

“You wouldn’t.” Mark shook his head. “I hate this secret stuff. If I had my way, I’d sit Doug down and ask him why — why is he so hell-bent on destroying us, the last of humanity?”

“You’d go around and around on that topic. I came up here to live permanently so I never felt the same loss as everyone else. I felt it, don’t get me wrong, but I never lost faith in our lunar crew. At least half of the NASA and JAXA crew planned to go back to earth. They were counting the days with crossed out calendars as to how long they’d have to endure this. Doug was one of those guys. Those are the ones that get immersed in despair.”

“Those are the ones most susceptible to it, I agree, but everyone feels the loss. I lost my family and history and everything I grew up enjoying. Everyone did, even those who planned to stay. Japan Station feels it as well, maybe more so with their reverence for the Japanese archipelago. We have to acknowledge this loss for everyone. We have to grieve.”

“I agree but we also have to celebrate. We have to celebrate our survival and find joy in our humble moon base.” Thad grinned. “By the way, I heard about the cave naming contest.”

“Yes, we’re collecting proposals. Chuck thought we should name the cave Moon Base Eden.”

“Eden? That’s okay but I’ve got a better suggestion.”

“What’s that?”

“Moon Base Phoenix — the rebirth of human civilization.”

Mark laughed. “Not bad but don’t forget the crew of Japan Station gets a say as well. We’ll put Phoenix in the idea hopper.”

“Good,” Thad said. “I’m going to get a couple hours of shuteye. Do you want me to remove Doug’s sabotaged controller tomorrow?”

“No,” Mark replied. “I’ve got a different idea.”


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Doug looked at Sally with a mixture of admiration and regret. He knew she and Mark were a couple and he knew she had to die along with him. He knew within forty-eight hours, everyone would be dead. There was a measure of peace in that thought but also a measure of sorrow.

Human life, such as it was, wasn’t worth living but there was something noble in a futile quest. He wondered why humans, throughout all of recorded history, endured needless suffering. He wondered why the crews of Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station endured the necessary intense suffering the loss of earth caused. The permanence of that loss ensured it would continue, through generations if they foolishly clung to life that long. And suffering was evil, there could be no doubt of that.

What you’re doing is a holy task , Doug’s inner voice coached. There’s no point to this moon-based outpost of humanity. There’s no point except perpetual suffering which is the biggest evil of all.  Doug nodded to himself. It’s a good thing I’m clever as well as moral. 

He watched Sally inspect the dollies of power cables that were scavenged from the Manufacturing Pod. He smiled when she inspected the mulch container. Sally has to see the added controller Chuck put in place. Either she doesn’t recognize it or is intentionally ignoring it so as not to give the game away.  His smile widened. There was a chance the controller in the mulch container would work, there was a chance Chuck was on the level, but Doug wasn’t counting on it.

NASA always taught us to have a backup plan,  he thought. Well I do. I’m certainly not counting on Chuck being trustworthy.  Chuck was a mystery. Doug thought Chuck got the point when he heard of the sabotage of Mark’s air. After Chuck’s broken jaw, Doug was certain he could recruit him to his side. And then came the pod crash. The pod crash made him wonder. For some reason, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, Chuck went outside into the lunar vacuum with a precious seldom-used spacesuit to save Thad Rudzinski. That action could’ve been reflex or it could’ve been a cover of Chuck’s true inclination. Doug couldn’t be sure.

“We’re all set for the work teams,” Sally said as she bounded next to Doug. “Our cave preparation is going well, don’t you think?”

“It is,” Doug replied. Doug had doubts as to which side of the hope–despair pendulum Chuck landed, but of Sally, he had no doubt. Sally was a true believer. Her singlehanded efforts were the only reason Major Mark Martelli wasn’t fertilizer. “Is the crater top solar array operational?”

“It’s suppling power,” Sally replied, “but they’re still adding solar modules. These are the first actual use of moon manufactured solar panels.”

“That’s an impressive feat. How many solar panel modules are left to install?”

“The schedule calls for three but Habi mentioned we might add a fourth from Japan Station. When Jerry and Habi were at Japan Station for the technology transfer, they agreed on keeping the standard NASA-JAXA direct current power connector design for those 3D printed from lunar material. This solar array on the top of Shackleton Crater is a great validation of our interoperability.”

“It looks like the Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station crews are united into one big happy family.”

“I wouldn’t say that. We’ll get there but it’ll take living together in the cave for a while to smooth everything out.” She arched her eyebrows. “Did you hear about the naming contest for what we’re going to call the cave habitation?”

“Sure,” Doug said. “We need to come up with something better than cave habitation.”

Sally laughed. “Do you have any ideas?”

“Maybe we call it Moon Base Armstrong.”

“It has to be something different. We’ll be combining both crews and still using Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station for other purposes.”

Doug grunted. “Then no, I don’t have other ideas. I liked the honor we paid to Neil Armstrong with our NASA moon base. I’m not sure what to call the cave.”

“Chuck thought we should call it Moon Base Eden –from the bible’s Garden of Eden. I don’t think Japan Station or our multi-ethnic crew will go for that.”

“The Garden of Eden name is too hopeful. The bible holds that Eden was a paradise and it was Eve’s sin that condemned us all to a life of suffering.”

“Okay hotshot it was Adam and Eve’s sin.”

“Sure, but the point still stands. Eden was a place without suffering. Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise. That’s not the right name for the cave habitations.”

“What do you think of Moon Base Sumer?”

“Sumer? Why would you call it Sumer?”

“Because Sumer was the first human civilization on earth. They had writing, agriculture, and the first city state.”

“I thought Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley were older than Sumer.”

“No one ever figured that out. But what do you think? Moon Base Sumer — the beginning of our new civilization.”

“Throw it in for consideration,” Doug replied. If I have my way the only suitable names for the cave will be Moon Base Mausoleum or Moon Base Catacomb. 


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Mark had mentally gone back and forth on how best to handle the sabotage of the mulch container. He considered disconnecting the controller power but reconsidered. Doug would almost certainly attempt communications with his planted device the moment he had the chance. Once he discovered he couldn’t communicate with his device, he’d know he’d been made. Mark wanted to avoid giving Doug initiative.

Mark needed a full twenty-four hour day to get everything in place for cave habitation. After that time, the cave would be pressurized and they could isolate Doug and his destructive acts could be stopped. Mark needed to confront Doug but he needed the cave operational first. He needed one more day.

The sabotage of the mulch container with a malicious Bluetooth controller was the urgent problem. Mark sat on the edge of his bunk in his quarters and explained the problem in an old fashioned text message to Japan Station’s Captain Yumi Kaneko.

Yumi’s response was swift and comforting. Her text read: I’ll bring a solution. Bring the controller to me.

This was good. If Yumi had a solution, they didn’t need to tip Doug off. Mark didn’t want Doug to discover he’d be caught in his sabotage. He wanted to tell him in a face to face confrontation. Mark wanted to tell Doug with Thad, Jim, Brexton, and Zeke around so they could physically subdue Doug. From the point he publically identified Doug as the sabote

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ur the only acceptable course of action was detainment. This was a dangerous game, consisting of a delicate dance where timing was everything.

“Major Martelli,” Sally’s voice came over his quarter’s intercom, “the work teams will assemble in the hangar in ten minutes.”

Mark arose from his bunk and punched the intercom button. “Have you gotten morning status from Japan Station?” For the hundredth time Mark wondered how long they’d keep using earth conventions like the word morning.

“Director Hayashi is remaining in Japan Station but Captain Kaneko and her crew have already driven past the hangar. Since they cover quite a distance, they started earlier today.”

“Good. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Mark was pleased Yumi was following their plan to the letter. For the whole thing to work — for them to be able to use a precious nitrogen tank to finish the cave pressurization two days ahead of the published schedule — Yumi’s crew had to be in the cave working the air valves. Once they started the final pressurization process, things would move quickly.

Mark donned his equipment harness, clipped on the storage device with all his personal archives, and exited his quarters. In addition to pressurizing the cave, Mark wanted to get his cave quarters set up today.

And Mark needed to quell his burgeoning anxiety. In the pit of his stomach flurries of butterflies disabled sober thought and his apprehension waxed. He took a deep breath of precious air and tried to push from his mind the pounding consequence that the whole of humanity hung in the balance of what he directed.

The culling plan, the pod crash, and Art’s death were due to someone else. This cave pressurization plan and unification with the Japan Station crew was on him — utterly on Major Mark Martelli. One misstep, one wrong move, and he’d doom humanity to a forgotten flash of intelligence in an uncaring universe. The weight of all clouded his thoughts. He knew why he fought the demon of vacuum. The weight of that why crushed his calm.

Move , he told himself, I must move. They’re waiting for me.  Mark realized he was frozen in place, standing outside his quarters. A fine picture of a commander I make.  His pride thawed his fear and got him moving through the Nexus to the hatch of the hangar.

“There’s the major,” Thad said. He and Zeke stood side by side next to the dollies containing the bundled power cables and mulch container. Thad’s work team was already donning their spacesuits. “Japan Station is putting us to shame.”

“They’re still bugged we’re the ones that found the cave.” Mark was glad his voice sounded jocular. He hoped his expression masked his discomfort.

“Let’s get suited up.”

“Is everything still on schedule?” Doug asked from the control room?”

“On schedule?” Thad echoed. “We’re going to beat the schedule, just you wait and see.”

Mark would’ve preferred to display caution in front of Doug but Thad was hardwired with can-do ebullience. “We’ll maintain our timelines,” Mark said. He glanced at Sally who gave him an arched eyebrows gaze. “Quiet shift?”

“It was,” Sally replied. “No seam leaks or other emergencies. That’s been the first in a long time.”

“It’ll likely be the last quiet shift for a while,” Doug added. “Once the cave’s operational, I’m sure there’ll be a lot to smooth over.”

You’re counting on that, aren’t you Doug?  Mark forced a thin-lipped smile, nodded, and bounded into the hangar next to the rack of spacesuits. He suited up and noted he was the last of the team to flash green on the status board indicating a good spacesuit seal. “Let’s go.”


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Captain Yumi Kaneko waited for the Moon Base Armstrong work team at the mouth of the cave just outside the newly sealed plexiglass tube. She’s probably wondering what’s taking so long,  Mark thought. He drove the moon buggy on the ramp alongside the tube. Thad was beside him and he pulled a trailer that had two dollies, one with bundled cables and one with the mulch container.

Mark hoped Yumi understood his reasons for being late. He couldn’t tell her he was in the throes of a full blown anxiety attack that risked everything. Mark drove the buggy up a newly excavated ramp to the mouth of the cave. He slid out of his seat, selected the signaling light he saw from Yumi inside of his helmet, and opened the communications channel.

“We’re ready for the final pressurization,” Yumi said. “We also have our first twenty from the Japan Station crew standing by to be shuttled in.”

“Very good.” Mark couldn’t think of anything better to say. “Very good.”

“Is your team aware of the mulch container’s sabotage?” Yumi was direct and to the point.

“No, I didn’t want Shift Manager Douglas Graham to know we were on to him.”

“Please bring the mulch container next to the hatch. Tell your team I want to inspect it. I’ll shield its ability to transmit Bluetooth at that time.”

Mark noticed Yumi had a rolled up bundle on her equipment harness. He pointed. “With that?”

“Yes, this cloth is specialized to shield only the Bluetooth frequencies but allow others to pass.”

“You have cloth that acts like a radio frequency bandpass filter? Are you sure it works?”

“I’m positive. We perfected all these techniques at JAXA before we ever launched.”

Mark was puzzled. “Why?”

“We have our signals facing China Station fully shielded but our signals to Moon Base Armstrong open. We even shielded to allow us to communicate with JAXA and not Moon Base Armstrong if we thought NASA was passing information onto China.”

“You were that concerned about China Station?”

“We were. Our military intelligence decoded messages that indicated China intended to take over the moon. We believed they planned to take over Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station. We have other defense equipment that may be useful. We should discuss.”

“We should discuss, but let’s get the cave pressurized first.” Mark wondered why Yumi and Kaneko clung to earthbound prejudices.

“Agreed. After we get the cave operational, we can align on remaining challenges.”

“Let’s ensure today goes well.” Mark still used the word day — the length of time of an earth rotation for reference.

Mark and Yumi went to the trailer of the buggy. Thad waved as he rolled the dolly of cables onto the ramp. Mark waved back and he and Yumi went alongside the mulch container. “You know you can trust Captain Rudzinski,” Mark said over the private channel.

“I trust you Major Martelli. That’s enough for now.”

Mark looked about and noticed the work team fully engaged in both getting the cables into the lock and doing the final connection of the hose from the nitrogen tank. Good , he thought. We don’t want too much attention.  The delicate balance was working out. So far.

He crouched next to the mulch container and opened the control box. Yumi crouched alongside him, roll of Bluetooth RF shield cloth in hand. Mark pointed to the separate box with a single power connection and lit green LED light. Yumi laid a small device next to the box.

“What’s that?”

“A mock Bluetooth mulch controller. This will trick Shift Manager Graham into thinking his range is the problem.” Yumi picked up the box and her mock controller and completely wrapped both with the shield cloth. She placed it back in the mulch containers power and control box.

“I thought of shielding as well,” Mark said. “But I needed Shift Manager Graham to be able to communicate with his remote box.”

Yumi took a finger sized device and laid it next to Doug’s wrapped device. “This is an RF sensor. We’ll be able to tell when Shift Manager Graham communicates with his device.”

Mark was impressed by the extent of Japan Station’s signals security and shielding. He wanted to know more about it but there was work to do. They had a cave to pressurize, electric cables to install, and humanity to save. “Thank you Captain Kaneko. I am honored by your trust.” Mark thought that was an appropriate cultural expression and was taken aback at hearing Yumi chuckle over the communications signal.

“We had no choice. The cave is on your side of the crater.” Yumi laughed again.

Mark wondered if Sally would believe it when he told her about Yumi’s wit. Captain Kaneko’s sense of humor was welcome relief. “Let’s get this to Tina in the Agriculture Branch,” Mark said. “She’ll have everything needed to start the first hydroponic crop.”

“Yes, Agriculture Manager Christina Bennet is quite skilled. Director Hayashi and I are pleased she was able to include rice in her first crop.” Yumi turned to Mark. “Have you considered what to call this cave? Have you considered what to call our new home?”

“We’re holding a naming contest. We have the suggestions of Moon Base Eden — after the biblical Garden of Eden, Moon Base Phoenix — the rebirth of humanity, and Moon Base Sumer — for the first known human civilization.” He waited and absorbed Yumi’s silence. “But we know we need something that works for both our crews. Do you have any ideas?”

“Director Hayashi suggests the title: Moon Base Sosu — that is the Japanese word for beginning or inception.”

“That’s a good concept but my crew wouldn’t know the word Sosu. It’d be best if we come up with a name both crews admire.”

“Yes, I said as much to Director Hayashi.”

Mark wondered how long the JAXA convention of using titles rather than names would survive in the new united arrangement. “I’ll let the Moon Base Ar

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mstrong crew know about the Sosu idea.”

“Good. When will we be ready to complete the cave pressurization with nitrogen?”

“Three hours. I’ll get confirmation from Brexton Little — the ArmCon’s son — that Shift Manager Graham is off shift and asleep in his quarters.”

“Do you plan to confront him when he awakes?”

“Yes.” Mark planned to confront Doug with a group of his friends standing with him. “Your shielding cloth should confuse him. He’ll see his device and your mock controller but won’t be able to control anything in the cave. The pressurization two days ahead of schedule will disrupt his timetable.”

“We were wise to use simple moon manufactured controllers in the cave. Our control systems must be robust. The sophistication and interconnectedness of the NASA and JAXA designs is unneeded.”

“For the time being we’ll keep everything simple. We don’t know what else Shift Manager Graham planned. This cave is our insurance.”

“It’s wrong for so much evil to be brought about by just one person.”

“It wasn’t brought about by just one person. Our culling plan was motivation for Shift Lead Arthur Sledge’s suicide. We must show our crews that we’re all important, that we all matter.”

“When the cave is operational and we are united, we will be visibly in it together. Let’s switch to the work team communications so we can direct pressurization activities. Only a few know we’re pressurizing the cave today. This will be motivation for both of our crews.”

“Yes,” Mark said. As long as Doug doesn’t have any more tricks up his sleeve.  He and Yumi pulled the mulch container dolly down the buggy trailer ramp. Two of Tina’s work team members appeared and moved it into the cave.


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Doug looked at Arthur Sledge’s shift lead replacement Jim Staid with a measure of disgust. He was, like Sally Ride Henderson, a true believer. Doug could handle scoundrels and politicians. He could handle the Steady-Eddy who only wanted to do their job and go back to their quarters. He could handle those despairing of hope. But Doug had a problem with true believers.

Jim Staid had no idea if or how humanity would survive but that didn’t matter. He was upbeat, can-do, and perpetually optimistic. But worst of all, in spite of being one of the sole survivors of the most horrific and unimaginable tragedy to befall humanity, Jim Staid was immune to suffering. He enjoyed everything about this new life and the new leadership. Doug wanted to kill him. When he thought about it, Doug realized he would kill Jim along with everyone else. That provided a measure of relief.

“Jim, you should do your base walkthrough to check all the seal gauges.”

“Now?” Jim looked at the control room clock. “Aren’t the checks supposed to be done in an hour?”

“I’ve been doing Moon Base Armstrong’s Shift Management longer than anyone here but Sally. We need to adjust our procedures as the situation requires.”

“What’s changed with the situation?”

“We’ve ripped installed cables from the Manufacturing Pod — the one place we’ve had multiple leaks. That area is unmanned since the crew’s working the cave preparation.”

“Sure but wouldn’t we see the problem here first?”

“Maybe, maybe not. I want you to do a thorough check of the analog pressure gauges of all Pod hatches. Pay particular attention to the hatch of the Manufacturing Pod and the permanently sealed Habitation Tube One.”

“I’m on it,” Jim said. He bounded down to the hangar, then jumped in a long arc to the Nexus hatch.

“Be thorough and log each reading with a digital image from your contactor.”

“Will do.” Jim opened the hatch to the Nexus and disappeared.

Doug exhaled. I need to see if they found my present in the mulch controller.  He thought of surreptitiously checking with Jim present. He doubted Jim knew enough to figure out what he was doing. But Doug had underestimated Mark and he prided himself on not making the same mistake twice. He wasn’t about to underestimate the true believer Jim Staid.

Doug logged into his back door of the master control and communications system. He activated the point to point communications channel he’d used twice before — once to trigger his remote device in the director’s quarters during the pod descent and once to trigger the remote chisel that cracked the seam in the Manufacturing Pod.

He waited a moment and smiled. My device is working. It’s over there in the cave system and ready to turn every essential controller into a killing device.  Doug tapped in the command to poll the Bluetooth devices. He frowned when seeing that none were discovered. That can’t be right.  His point to point communications with the remotes were the complicated systems. For his remotes he encrypted signals that were in the background space radio frequencies. How could that work and not Bluetooth? Bluetooth was straightforward — he should be seeing something — at least he should see the mulch sensors.

He then saw a flashing indicator that his remote was communicating with a single Bluetooth controller. When the data displayed he saw his device was communicating with one mulch environmental controller. What’s going on here? Were those boobs so incompetent as to not place repeaters from cave branch to branch?  He checked the digital work logs and saw that repeaters were placed. Weren’t they checked?  He shook his head. Something was wrong. He should’ve had clear view of dozens of the cave controllers.

Doug heard the latch from the Nexus hatch turn and cleared his screens. Jim entered the hangar, secured the hatch behind him, and bounded up to the control room. “All secure,” Jim said. “I have the images here for the log. The seals in the Manufacturing Pod — my old work area — are holding better than when we were in there.”

“Of course,” Doug said. “All the equipment that used to be in the Manufacturing Pod vibrated those seals around the clock. Without the vibration, everything remains solid.”

“I can’t wait to get our manufacturing going in the cave. Moon Base Armstrong is getting emptier and emptier with all the equipment being moved to the cave.”

“It is,” Doug said. Moon Base Armstrong was getting empty of everything — except the crew. Doug was running out of time. If he wanted to strike the deathblow, his window to do it was down to three days. His cave device may or may not be working. I need to use my back up plan. I need to strike the moment I get off shift. 

Without knowing he had control of the caves, Doug’s only option was to destroy Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station before the cave was crewed. He had two days before pressurization but too much was going wrong. And they may be onto him. I need to act now.  He was thankful the software in Moon Base Armstrong’s control room was layers and layers of complexity. He had used his time on shift well since the gamma ray burst.

I need to create multiple emergencies that overwhelm Mark’s ability to respond. I need to overwhelm both Mark’s and Japan Station’s ability to respond.  He had the embedded algorithms to do that. Doug hoped for a near spiritual realization of the liberation from suffering he was providing. He’d hoped to take his time and use phased destruction. That would’ve been the most meaningful way to end humanity’s suffering. But the cave and the work with Japan Station were unexpected. They not only prevented phased destruction, they risked Doug’s ability to thoroughly extinguish the last excuse of humanity.

I must use my back door and launch my Armageddon protocol from my quarters tonight. An hour or two after I’m off shift , I need to strike. That will be best , his inner voice coached. It’s time to free everyone from their suffering. It’s time to free you from your suffering.  Doug snorted. I just wish I could see the expression on their faces , he thought, when all this goes down. It’s only a matter of hours.  


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Mark broke the seal of his helmet, removed it, and sucked in the new cave air. “Whew — that smells like gunpowder.” Others around him — Zeke, Habi, Thad, Tina, and Yumi — laughed. “But it’s air.” The new air was cool but not frigid. Mark looked at the cave interior and realized this was the first time anyone had ever seen the raw regolith without bulky spacesuits.

“It worked,” Thad said. “The air content’s about fifty-fifty — half oxygen and half nitrogen.”

“We believe we’ll become accustomed to the odor after a short time,” Yumi said.

Mark scanned the vast area. He bounded to a side wall, removed his glove, and felt it with his bare hand. The side of the cave felt like it consisted of bundled razor blades. “Careful. This will cut bare skin to ribbons.”

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Zeke said, “but we can start living in the cave right now.” He bounded beside Mark. “Let me show you what we’re doing to take care of that roughness.” Zeke led Mark to the back of the central cavern and pointed to a smooth place on the wall. Zeke put his bare hand on the wall. “Feel that.”

Mark followed suit and put his hand on the smooth section of wall. It felt rubbery with interlocking ridges. “Did you treat this with your spray?”

“Yes. Jerry and his

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team have just started producing it in the Manufacturing Area.”

Habi and Yumi came alongside. “We have Japan Station to thank for this compound,” Habi said.

“And we have Doctor Ben-Ami to thank for the sprayer,” Yumi said. “Our partnership is going well.”

“Major Martelli,” Habi said. “Jerry’s in the Manufacturing Area. I’d love to show you what we’re doing in there.”

“Already? We just pressurized these caverns.”

“We were able to start production with the added power.”

“Let’s go.” The group went into Cave Branch Two which was dedicated for the Moon Base Armstrong crew. Mark examined the results of the mapping work teams but hadn’t done exploratory work after the mishap of the falling floor in Cave Branch One weeks before. He remembered seeing the large recess in the leftmost branch on the map. The reality of their new Manufacturing Area stunned him. “This place must be three times larger than what you had in Moon Base Armstrong.”

Jerry met the team at the entrance. He laughed at Mark’s surprise. “This is a real manufacturing set up. What we had in Moon Base Armstrong was a setup for prototypes.” He pointed to three full lines of equipment that were capped by a large perpendicular row of electronic testers. “We’ve set these up for material processing, parts fabrication, and assembly. At the end we assemble the electronics and do the final quality checks. We’re targeting having our first soup to nuts lunar produced moon buggies in two weeks.”

Mark was captivated. “How did you get so far along before the pressurization?”

Jerry pointed to rows of spacesuit air tanks lined up at the entrance. “These are the first thing we’ve been making. We manufactured these canisters with 3D printing and filled them with air from a nozzle connection on Japan Station’s cave air inlets. These moon produced tanks enabled us to work fourteen hours straight.”

“And you needed food,” Tina said behind them. “I made sure when they got back to the moon base they got a day’s worth of hydroponic produced food to keep them going. Now that the cave is pressurized and we have plentiful water, I can start with a double of food production in the first month. We’ll triple it by month three and from there, it’ll be up to us as to how much extra we should make.”

“Agriculture Manager Christina Bennet’s work is most impressive,” Yumi said. “She was able to work with our team to incorporate rice into a modified hydroponic system.”

“I’d love to show you Major Martelli,” Tina said.

Mark turned and saw Tina’s expression of unadulterated pride. Thad stood next to her beaming. “Let’s check it out,” Mark said. The group exited the Manufacturing Area, bounded to the exit of Cave Branch Two and into the main area. “This is so large. It’s fantastic that we were able to get it pressurized so fast.”

“You’re idea to use one of your nitrogen tanks made today possible,” Yumi said. “We’ll be able to assemble the interior and have time to align on our anti-static protocols.”

Mark and the team bounded into Cave Branch One. He felt a rush of anxiety. This is where Sally and I nearly died due to the cave in. 

“As you can see,” Tina said. “We’ve graded the steep slope you and Sally discovered into steps and sealed the growing area.”


“Between the carbon dioxide, excrement based carbon fertilizer, and high humidity; we’ll have to be masked to work in there. It’s not much different than what we do in Moon Base Armstrong’s Agriculture Pod. We used Japan Station manufactured slabs similar to the ones that sealed the cave mouth and put windows on them. The mulch container you brought is up against the wall on the left.”

Mark peered inside and noted the bright lights and rows of hydroponically grown crops. In a place without order we impose it with straight lines,  he thought. In spite of everything to include a crewmember bent on destruction, the human survivors were carving out a new life.

The group went to the main area of the cave. Mark noted a large net on the far wall next to Cave Branch Three, next to Japan Station’s area. He pointed to it and turned to Yumi. “What’s that?”

“It is the RF shield we used to block our signals going to China Station. We didn’t need it for that purpose anymore so are using it to cover the rough wall surface until we produce enough of Doctor Ben-Ami’s soft treatment.”

The vestige of old national hatreds reminded Mark of the current individual hatred in Doug Graham that he’d have to deal with. There was no time like the present. He saw Yumi talking in an agitated voice into her headset and looked at his helmet. He hadn’t put his comms back on after removing it. Mark pulled the earpiece-microphone assembly out of his helmet and put it on. What he heard chilled him to the core.

“Mark come in!” Sally’s voice was on the edge of panic. “All three supply pods are signaling that they are descending.”


“We didn’t give the command. It must be Doug.”

“Mark this is Chuck. We are tracking the deorbits and see all three coming down at the worst places. One is coming down dead center on Japan Station, one is coming down on Moon Base Armstrong’s air reactor and solar array, and one is coming down dead center on the Nexus.”

“He must’ve found out we discovered him,” Sally’s voice came over the earpiece. “And Doug decided he couldn’t wait.”

“He somehow used relayed signals,” Chuck added. “I almost missed them. The earliest pod is going to crash into Moon Base Armstrong’s solar array in fifty-six minutes. The next pod hits Japan Station in sixty-four minutes and the last is due to hit the Nexus in seventy minutes.”


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Mark bounded next to Yumi who had received the same dire communications from Japan Station. He pointed to the netting on the wall. “Would that shield a beacon signal?”


“Director Kaneko, would that net shield a supply pod beacon signal?”

“Yes but why?”

“Do you have any of that RF shield netting left in Japan Station?”

“We do.”

“Cover as much of the ceiling of Japan Station as you can,” Mark said, “lock onto the pod coming down toward you, direct it to yaw ninety degrees, and light the thrusters.” Major Martelli’s military mind was in emergency response mode. After the pod crash, he’d mentally rehearsed over and again how he’d handle another sabotaged supply pod. He knew, if he could break the beacon lock, they could force the pods off target.

“I see,” Yumi said. “But the pod will crash.”

“We can get the supplies later, we just need to make sure they don’t crash into us.” Mark pointed to the net. “I need that for the Nexus.”

“Take it. I’ll communicate this approach to Director Hayashi for his approval.”

“Listen damnit! We only have time to execute. Do this now.”

Captain Kaneko sucked in a large breath of the new cave air. No one in JAXA or Moon Base Armstrong had ever talked to her in this way. “I understand.”

Mark bounded to the net next to Japan Station and pulled it off the wall. “Thad help me.”

Thad came alongside and assisted in bundling the net. “What are you going to do with this?”

“If we can break the signals the pods are using as a beacon, we can manually direct them away. This net is for the Nexus.”

“What about the air reactor and solar array?”

“That’s for you.”

“For me?”

“Load up a new air tank, take a moon buggy to the air reactor, and find the beacon that Doug must’ve planted. Destroy it so I can direct the pod away.”

“What if I can’t find it?”

“Thad we have no time for doubts. The beacon’s probably battery operated. Use your static charge thermal sensor. You have to find it or we’re finished.”

“On it.” Thad bounded toward the Manufacturing Area.

Mark put the bundled net under his arm. “Captain Kaneko, you got Japan Station?”

“Yes Major Martelli. We’re executing your plan.”

Jerry and Thad came out of the Manufacturing Area. Thad was fitting two air tanks to his suit. “Mark,” Jerry asked, “what do you need me to do?”

“Is the tube pressurized?”

“Not fully. We only put the nitrogen in the caves. The lowest pressure in a tube section is at 400 Torr.”

“Can people breathe in that low of pressure?”

“Not without conditioning. 400 Torr is about the pressure of the Mount Everest basecamp.”

Mark nodded. “Okay, we’ll need to get Moon Base Armstrong’s remaining crew in here. I’ll have them use their one and only emergency air mask from their quarters and evacuate through the tube. That’s another hundred people. Jerry, I want you to direct them the moment they come through the lock. We need to keep everyone calm and focused.”

“Will do.”

“Thad are you ready?”

“I am.”

“Let’s go.”

“Mark, take another air tank for your suit.” Thad extended it. “Just in case.”

Mark grabbed the tank and, carrying the RF net and tank, bounded with Thad to the lock. He attached the fresh air tank to his spacesuit, donned his helmet, and verified the seal. The communications channel to Thad was already open. “Let’s go. We’re on the clock.”

Thad and Mark went into the small lock, depressurized it, and then exited the as yet unnamed cave moon base. They went to the moon buggy. “You drive,” Mark said. “Drop me off at the entrance to Moon Base Armstrong and head to the air reactor and solar array.”

Thad hopped into the driver side of the moon buggy and drove alongside the plexiglass tube. Mark watched the tube as it whizzed by and reckoned that, as long as a person had heat and air, they co

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uld get through it.

“Here we are,” Thad said. He stopped the buggy.

Mark looked at the clock in his helmet display. “You’ll have thirty-five to forty minutes tops. You have to find and destroy that beacon. I’ll be in the control room and direct the pod away.”

“You know, even when the pod is directed away from our critical areas, this place is going to shake like hell when they crash.”

“Can’t be helped. We’ll deal with that after we avoid the direct hits. Find the beacon.” Mark jumped off the buggy with his bundled net and sprang for the entrance of Moon Base Armstrong. “Good luck Thad.”

“You too.” Thad drove off in the moon buggy toward the critical solar array and its powered air reactor.


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Sally opened the hatch and Mark entered Moon Base Armstrong hangar in a rush. He unhooked his helmet the moment the pressure equalized. “Sally and Chuck we’ve got to move fast.” Mark bounded up to the control room and looked at the status monitor.

“We can’t figure out how this happened,” Chuck said. “We gave no commands to the pods from here.”

“I know. It must have been Doug. I’m going to seal Doug in his quarters while we deal with this.” He turned to Sally. “The moment I turn this barrel key in Doug’s quarters I want you to sound the alarm. Every member of Moon Base Armstrong’s crew is to grab their emergency air and assemble in the hangar.”

Sally stared at Mark with wide eyes. “Are you kidding? We have no chance to avoid the pod crash?”

“We do but the crashes are going to rattle this fragile base. You have forty minutes to get a hundred people through the tubes and into the caves.”

Chuck gaped. “An evacuation is our only hope? There’s no way to stop the pods?”

Mark turned to Chuck. “We have one slim chance.” He handed Chuck the roll that looked like fine netting. “Get in there and pin this to the ceiling hangers of the Nexus. It’ll shield RF frequencies and we might be able to break the beacon lock to the pod.” As soon as I have control of a pod, I’ll yaw it ninety degrees and light the thrusters.”

“You’ll change the pod’s course by doing that but it’ll still crash,” Sally said. “I see why we have to evacuate.”

Chuck grabbed the net. “What about the pod heading toward the air reactor?”

“That’s top priority. Thad’s heading out there to find the beacon. Once he destroys it I’ll deflect that pod’s course.” Mark projected a confident tone that masked his misgivings.

“What if we see Doug?” Chuck asked.

“Let’s get in there. I want to seal Doug in his quarters so we limit his mischief.”

Mark led Sally and Chuck through the hatch and into the Nexus. All three bounded to the Habitation Tube Three hatch. “Doug’s quarters is in there,” Mark said. “I visited him a couple of days ago.” He toggled the switch for Habitation Tube Three’s double hatch and nothing happened.

“Doug may have intentionally sealed those in Habitation Tube Three,” Chuck said.

“The alarm will open it,” Mark said.

“I’m on it.” Sally bounded away from Habitation Tube Three and to the Nexus control panel. She flipped open a button shield and punched the red evacuation button. It was an odd thing — an evacuation button on their one and only moon base. NASA planned on a multi-base interconnected network. The evacuation button Sally pressed was one last vestige of that plan.

A klaxon alarm sounded throughout Moon Base Armstrong. “All Moon Base Armstrong crew,” Sally said over the intercom, “this is an emergency. Suit up, get your emergency air tank, and assemble in the Nexus. We’re doing a full evacuation. No exceptions!”

Mark watched through the hatch window as those in Habitation Tube Three exited their quarters. “This hatch is designed to be overridden from that side. They should be able to open the hatch so we can get them out.” He turned to Chuck. “Start stringing that net.”

The alarm did the trick. The double hatches for both Habitation Tube Two and Habitation Tube Three opened and streams of people — the bulk of Moon Base Armstrong’s crew — came into the Nexus. Sally directed them to assemble into lines three columns wide.

Mark ran into Habitation Tube Three and bounded to the end where Shift Manager, expert software coder, and potential destroyer of humanity Douglas Graham slept. There was no way he would’ve missed the klaxon alarms and Sally’s announcement but his hatch was closed.

Doug’s windows were set to opaque and Mark couldn’t be sure Doug was inside. Mark inserted the master barrel key into the identification panel of Doug’s quarters and turned it clockwise. The metallic sound of three inch pneumatic deadbolts engaging the lock told Mark the quarters were permanently sealed. He panted in realization that he had just sentenced to death someone he once called friend.

“What’s going on Major?” One of the last of the Habitation Tube Three crew said as he stopped in the hallway next to Mark.

“Pod crashes are about to shake this moon base and we’ll lose seal integrity in several places. The cave is stable and will save us.”

“What about Doug? Did you just seal his quarters?”

“Doug caused the crashes. Assemble in the Nexus and let me take care of this.”

The crewmember frowned and continued down the hall. When the double hatch to the Habitation Tube opened for the last crewmember Mark could clearly hear Sally lining everyone up for a roll call before departing. She was organized and decisive, no doubt about that.

It was only then that Mark noticed one of the opaque windows became clear and a shadow of a man filled the window frame. Major Mark Martelli turned and faced the saboteur that had caused all of post gamma ray burst tragedy — Douglas Graham.


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“Aren’t you going to invite me to the party?” Doug asked. He used the quarter’s intercom as if this were just a normal visit.

“Why Doug? Why are you trying to kill us?”

“Why not? Director Collier also had a plan to kill us. Mine’s much more dignified.”

“There’s no dignity in a suffocating death.”

“There’s no dignity in living like this. My actions will liberate all from this needless suffering and turn humanity into what it deserved all along — a forgotten blip in the history of the universe. It’ll be like our miserable species never existed.”

“That was never Director Collier’s plan. That was never Japan Station’s plan. We’re going to do whatever it takes to preserve humanity.”

“You’re too late. Fate decreed that the smartest among you — me — had a different idea and the means to carry it out.” He snorted. “I figured Chuck was plying me for information. What did you do to my remote?”

Mark almost blurted out that they shielded it from Bluetooth signals but stopped. Whatever Doug initiated with the supply pods, he did from his quarters. And he was the most clever coder and hacker left. “What remote?”

Doug laughed. It was a jocular laugh of someone playing cards who was surprised at the trump suit. “You wouldn’t have locked me in here unless you found it. There’s no place to run. The crash or even the vibration from the crashes will rupture this base. You’ll be gone in moments without air and power.”

Mark stared at his nemesis. He doesn’t know we pressurized the cave. He doesn’t know about the RF shielding.  Doug may be the smartest person in Moon Base Armstrong but he wasn’t all knowing. His lack of character made the permanent sealing of his quarters an act of justice. “Go to hell Doug. I’ve got work to do.”

“I can’t go to hell. I’m already there. So are you.” Doug’s voice came over the intercom as Mark bounded toward the Nexus hatch.

“That’s 108,” Sally said to the Moon Base Armstrong crew who were in three columns that filled the Nexus. “You all have two partners. Keep track of your partners for the evacuation. We’ll engage our emergency air when we get into the hangar. Shift Supervisor Jim Staid will lead the head of the columns through the pressurized tubes all the way to the cave. I’ll bring up the rear.” Sally saw Mark’s entrance into the Nexus and nodded. “We’ll call roll again once we get to the cave. Mark and Chuck will stay behind to finish the work here.”

“Are we sure we have to leave?” A crewmember asked. “Are we sure the cave is safe?”

“The cave is far more stable than Moon Base Armstrong,” Mark said. “It’ll be our new home.”

“Go ahead Jim,” Sally directed.

“Everybody follow me,” Jim said. “I’ll tell you when to engage your air.” He opened the hatch to the hangar and the three columns began to move out of the Nexus.

Mark looked at Chuck who had strung one side of the Nexus ceiling with RF shield netting. The bulk of the netting lay crumpled on the floor. Chuck was waiting for the crew to vacate. Mark glanced at the clock and broke into a sweat. We need more time. We need more time or Doug will succeed in killing us all.  


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Chuck scrambled behind the evacuating crew with his bundle of RF shield netting. Mark wondered if the assumption of a beacon signal was correct. The pods acted like they were vectoring to a signa

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l but, knowing Doug and his resolution to destroy, he couldn’t be sure.

“Give me that end of the net,” Mark said. “I’ll help you string it.” Mark grabbed an end opposite Chuck and together they pulled it across the large, recently evacuated Nexus. The netting bundled into a large tangle in the middle. “Dammit!” Mark went to the middle and pulled at a knot.

“No, the netting is caught from this end,” Chuck said. He went to the middle, pulled out a metal hook, and unraveled the knot. “I got this.”

“Good. I’ll see if Thad found the beacon for the air reactor and divert that pod first. Then I’ll divert the pod headed for the Nexus. I want to divert them as far away as possible — even if we lose the supplies.”

“Makes sense,” Chuck said as Mark bounded to the hangar hatch.

Mark entered the hangar and closed the Nexus hatch. He noted Sally and the last of the Moon Base Armstrong crew heading into the portion of the lock that separated the hangar from the plexiglass tube. Sally saw him. “We’re going in groups of nine,” she explained. “We’re down to two groups left. With the air transfers section to section, the plexiglass tube is at 500 Torr at this end and 700 Torr next to the cave. It’ll feel like climbing down a mountain to everyone.”

“Good.” The crew was getting to the cave but all of that work would be for nothing if they lost their air supply and main power. “I’m going to see if Thad found the beacon at the air reactor and solar array.” Mark bounded up to the control room and flicked to Thad’s communications channel. He flashed him a call signal.

“This is Captain Rudzinski,” Thad answered.

“Have you found the beacon?” Mark asked. He looked as the last group of nine entered the lock. Sally stopped at the hatch, waved to Mark, and put her oxygen mask on.

Mark waved back. “Good luck. I’ll see you at the end of this.” Mark yearned for that to be true. There was too much motion and too much urgency for a proper goodbye — for any goodbye at all. He loved that woman and his ridiculous wave was the only indication. Why didn’t I holler that I love her for all to hear?  But the moment passed.

“There’s no battery operated beacon here,” Thad said. “I’ve scoured every inch of this reactor and the solar array. Doug must’ve masked it and is using direct power.”

Mark looked at the trackers. The pod headed for the air reactor and solar array was only five minutes away. The destruction of that air and power alone would doom them. “Thad, shut the whole thing off. Turn off the main breaker. Shut off all power coming out of the solar array.”


“Shut the whole thing off and I’ll run the control room on batteries until we divert the pods.”

“The air reactor will stop and everyone will lose ventilation.”

“There’s no time and I have to get control of this pod now.”

“Will do.” Thad’s voice was clipped short by the sudden electrical relay clack.

The control room lights dimmed and then flicked on. The monitor screens remained lit. I hope this works!  Mark tapped in the override code and grabbed the control joystick. For a moment his memory flashed back to Creech Air Force Base in Nevada when he piloted drones. Then he was on a mission to destroy. Now, he was acting the savior. He exhaled in relief when he saw he had control of the pod headed for the Nexus.

The pod hadn’t lit its thrusters and accelerated like the one that wiped out the director’s quarters. Not yet. Mark yawed the pod ninety degrees as it deorbited in descent and lit the thrusters when it was a 170 kilometers away. He saw its distance increase to 220 kilometers. Good!  He cut the thrusters, yawed the pod 180 degrees — pointing straight down — and lit the thrusters a last time.

A dull impact thud and ripple of vibration told Mark the first pod was down. One down, two to go.  He glanced at the telemetry of the pod headed for Japan Station. Come on Katsumi — steer that away.  He smiled when he saw the indication of the pod yawing ninety degrees. They saw what I did and are using the same procedure.  There was nothing elegant about the procedure, but it was effective. Another dull thud and light ripple indicated the second pod was down. Two down, one to go. 

Mark tapped the override control commands for the third pod — the one descending toward the Nexus — and nothing happened. He flicked the intercom to talk to Chuck and realized it was disabled due to the main power being off. Mark looked at the monitor and saw that the pod was yawing on its own.

A flash of panic gripped him. There was no time. He stood and as he bounded to the Nexus to see what happened to Chuck saw something in the control room that caught his eye. He bounded back to the control room and scrambled to extract the device secured under the desk. It was the battery operated remote control pod that was used to direct the first pod to crash into the director’s quarters.

He looked at the monitor and realized he had a scant three minutes till the pod hit the Nexus. Mark grabbed his helmet, secured it in place, and pressurized his spacesuit. There’s no time. Move!  In the throes of desperate action, Mark moved on instinct. He had one move left and it was a long shot.

Mark tucked the battery powered beacon remote under his arm and bounded to the hangar. He opened the lock, entered, and counted the precious seconds as it depressurized. The moment the hatch to the outside flashed green, Mark opened it and bounded out onto the ledge. He could see the pod thrusters in the sky. He bounded three times, heart in throat, toward the solar array and away from Moon Base Armstrong. When he felt he was between the moon base and the solar array he turned on the beacon remote.

He saw the telltale green blinking on the beacon indicating a locked signal. Once this beacon spelled doom for Director Collier and ArmCon Little. Now, it was the last hope for what remained of Moon Base Armstrong.

Mark looked at the descending pod with a shudder. He assumed the quarterback’s stance he used in high school and launched the blinking beacon as far as he could in a line between the moon base and the solar array.

The pod thrusters stayed lit but Mark was sure he saw it change course and follow the remote beacon. In seconds, experienced solely as sensations rather than thought, the pod roared down on a twisting angling path, and crashed into the beacon that had landed a scant 200 meters from the moon base.


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The first two pods announced their impact with the moon by a dull thud. The third pod crash was a close explosive force that created a devastating seismic wave. The pod crash induced moonquake lifted the space-suited Major Mark Martelli a meter off the lunar surface. He landed face down in the moon dust only to be lifted and dropped again from the ringing force of the crash.

Mark felt as if he were on the end of a cracking whip, smacking again and again into the surface, gasping for air in helpless terror. There was nothing he could do. His thoughts came as flashes of fear. Would the plexiglass tube shatter with Sally and others in it? Would Thad be incapacitated and unable to turn the power on? Would the solar array and air reactor be so damaged by the seismic force as to be beyond repair? Would Japan Station survive this moonquake which was far beyond the first that induced leaks in both moon bases?

When his bouncing distance lessened to mere centimeters, Mark attempted to regain his feet. He managed to rise to a knee when he saw Thad.

“The tube looks intact,” Thad’s voice came through his helmet. He must have left his communications channel open.

“Is the power back on?”

“Not yet.”

Mark struggled to his feet. “Unless you see knocked over panels, turn the main bus power back on.”

“Working it.” Thad bounded toward the solar array.

Mark bounded once toward Thad. His thoughts, as the vibrating surface lessened, cleared. What the hell happened to Chuck and the netting?  He looked back toward Moon Base Armstrong’s entrance and the connected plexiglass tube. Both were invisible in the ink-black darkness of the Shackleton Crater shadow.

He sighed with intense relief when the entrance lights flickered and then lit with steady warm beams of illumination and civilization itself. The plexiglass tube remained. All of that bracing of the tube bottom with the new flexible silica magnesium sealing spray did the trick. He turned back toward the air reactor and saw Thad bound toward him and admired his ease of movement, even on the vibrating surface.

“Good job Thad. That was a near run thing.”

“The NASA dampeners on the solar array fixtures and air reactor saved us. Their bases shook like hell but the solar panel assemblies and the air reactor were undamaged.”

“That’s great news. Go and make sure everyone got through the plexiglass tube okay. I can see that this end is still standing.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to get Chuck. Something went wrong with the RF shielding in the Nexus. I had no time to find out what.”

Mark and Thad bounded toward Moon Base Armstrong’s entry. “Mark, I had my helmet video recording and may have caught it.”

“Caught what?”

“Your handheld launch of that beacon. That was one hell of a throw.”

“It was all I could think of. I hope to hell the plexiglass walkway held.” Mark and Thad bounded toward the entrance. Both settled on short jumps as the moon’s vibration shortened their bound landing st

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“I’ll check the walkway end to end from the outside. I still have enough air in my second suit tank. I need to see if Tina’s okay.”

“Go, I’ll check on what’s left of our moon base.”

“Is Doug gone?”

“He should be. I sealed him in his quarters.”

“Are you sure he couldn’t have disabled that lock from the inside?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he got out and stopped Chuck from spreading the RF shield netting.” The two arrived at the plexiglass connection to the isolated lock Sally and the 108 crew of Moon Base Armstrong used for their evacuation.

“Moon Base Armstrong’s probably at vacuum now,” Thad said. “There’s no way its seals handled that strong a quake. Come with me. We can check on the damage later.”

“Chuck’s still in there.”

“Mark, forget about Chuck. We have him and Doug isolated. They’re probably dead by now.”

“Thad, I can’t forget about Chuck. Everyone we’ve got left is a precious human we’ve got to save if we can.”

“Mark, I wouldn’t go back in there. Something went wrong and we’ve got the crew in the cave. We need to see what happened to Japan Station.”

“Before I face the future, I need to do what’s right — and that means trying to save Chuck.”

“Don’t be long. I’ll check the tube and be right back.”

“Make sure Sally’s fine too, okay?”

“Will do. Good luck.”

Mark went into the lock adjacent the plexiglass tube entrance. Thad bounded on the ledge next to the tube toward the cave. What happened in there to prevent the netting from working? We almost lost everything. 


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The hangar was quiet and, as near as Mark could tell, still pressurized. He left his spacesuit on and went to the Nexus hatch. He saw from the display next to the hatch that the pressure inside the Nexus had dropped to 440 Torr. Mark realized there must be significant leaks to cause that level of pressure drop from the nominal earth atmospheric setting of 760 Torr.

Mark worked two thumbscrews, lifted a panel, and pushed the button on the hatch to equalize the pressure between the hangar and the Nexus. This button was left over from when they were first assembling Moon Base Armstrong. Those hopeful times before the gamma ray burst seemed an eternity ago. The seal connections between the moon base’s sections had to be done at equal pressure and then tested with one side at vacuum.

As Mark heard the hissing of precious life giving air whoosh out of the hangar and into the Nexus, he pushed down a pang of his fear of suffocation. Maybe Thad was right and he should leave Doug and Chuck to whatever fate may have befallen them.

The gauge lit yellow, indicating equalized pressure but at below breathable threshold. Mark opened the hatch to the Nexus and tried to digest the view. The lights were on and the large area was nearly empty. In the corner Mark could see bundled netting and two figures frozen in what looked like a wrestling pose. That’s what happened. Doug got out of his quarters. 

Mark felt a surge of fury. After all the damage, Doug used his last acts and last breaths to stop the RF shielding of the Nexus. It was abominable for both the effort it required and the effect it intended. He bounded next to the two and saw both pulled the emergency air from the Nexus cubbies and had the clear masks over their mouths. Then he saw it.

A slight fog appeared on Chuck’s mask. He’s alive.  Mark pulled Chuck off the floor, disentangled the now useless netting from his legs, and held him under one arm. Chuck wasn’t the only one alive. Doug not only breathed, he was conscious. He lifted an arm toward Mark.

Mark paused and stared at the man who nearly destroyed everything. If all life was precious, Doug should be saved. He leaned forward and reached his arm toward Doug’s outstretched hand.

The alarm of air shortage signaled in Mark’s spacesuit helmet. In a rush Mark realized that, unlike Thad, he had only attached one spare tank to his suit and now that was gone. He only had a couple of minutes of air left — tops. He needed more. Hot rage surged through him as he stared at Doug. Die you worthless bastard! 

Again, similar to when he had no time with the pod descent, Mark acted on instinct. He had a glimmer of an idea, a hope, a prayer that he grasped. There was one and only one thing left that could save them. And it was only Chuck that he planned to save.

Mark bounded, with Chuck under his arm, to the Nexus hangar hatch. He went through it and saw his yellow air warning in his helmet turn red. Mark sucked in a large gulp of air and went into the hangar. He bounded, off balance due to having Chuck under one arm, to the lock hatch for the plexiglass tube. If Mark and Chuck were going to get enough air to make it to the cave, it had to come from the tube.

The control room lights were blinking warnings of depressurization and communications requests. They’d have to go unanswered, Mark had no time and only a breath of air. He set Chuck down in front of the hatch, swiveled the handle, and opened the lock. He went in and pulled Chuck inside. Mark sealed the hatch behind him and fought against his lungs involuntary convulsions for more air. I need to get to the second or third section. 

Mark clamored in a sideways scramble to the first of the nine tube sections, opened the person-wide lock at the first connection, and laboriously stood the unconscious Chuck up. He closed the hatch behind him, and opened the hatch to the second plexiglass section. He could hold his breath no more. Mark dropped to his knees, exhaled, and gasped. His spacesuit was out of air.

He fumbled with his helmet catch and, ignoring warnings, released his helmet. His helmet popped off and he crouched on the conditioned lunar floor gasping air that was as thin as at 5000 meters elevation, the height of Mount Everest’s base camp. Pinpoints of colored light swept his consciousness which narrowed to the instinct of self-preservation. The steam from Mark’s gasping breath froze when he exhaled. There was no way to acclimate himself to this low pressure. He panted on the edge of consciousness teetering between resigned sleep and effort. Sleep meant death. Mark thought of Sally.

She was the one thing, the one person, the one reach for love and future that prompted effort. Sally was a reason for living. She was the reason for living. He pictured her in front of him and opened his eyes. The tube was on a partially lit ledge that angled upward.

It was impossible. There was no way he could move through seven more sections in his near unconscious state. There was no way. Mark rested his forehead on his gloved hands. He was beaten.

When they find me , he thought, at least they should see I fought past the second plexiglass tube section. It might be impossible to make it the whole way but I can make it one more section.  Mark pulled a strap from his spacesuit and hooked it to a clip on the equipment harness Chuck wore. Mark faced the third tube section and viewed it through his narrow straw of consciousness. He began crawling. He felt the tug as the strap to Chuck grew taunt and he limited his moves to mere centimeters at a time. Just the next section. I’ll get into section three and they’ll know I fought the good fight. 

Mark crept forward in a rhythm of an inchworm and, through the fog of his diminished consciousness, was amazed when he reached the third section. He pulled himself up, opened the first hatch, pulled Chuck inside the lock and closed it. He nearly collapsed from the lightheadedness the effort took but managed to push the button for the hatch to the third section. The hatch opened and Mark, with Chuck, fell onto the conditioned bottom of the third tube section. He lay there a long moment.

He blinked his eyes and wondered if he were delirious. Mark didn’t know if he was out for a time but he felt well enough to creep toward section four. Again, pulling Chuck and crawling in inchworm-like increments, Mark traversed the third tube section.

He pulled himself up, opened the inner hatch, and got Chuck inside the lock. He closed the hatch behind him and opened the hatch to the fourth section. Mark was stunned he was able to step into the fourth section without collapsing. The pressure must be getting higher. I feel extra oxygen like sweet energy in my muscles and my mind. 

Mark clung to the idea of thicker air. If I keep moving, I can make it.  And with that thought and Sally’s image in his mind’s eye, Mark shuffled through the fourth section of the plexiglass tube and dragged Chuck with him.

The fifth section was filled with thicker air and the sixth was even better. Mark’s mind slowly cleared and the struggle, once so uncertain, became a holy quest — a reach for survival, love, and future.

“Mark!” Sally’s relief was apparent as she opened the hatch to the cave hangar. “You made it!”


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Warm lights and a crowd of faces greeted Mark’s open eyes as he lay on the cave floor. He took a deep breath of rich thick air, exhaled, and grinned. “I wondered if that was going to work.”

“It almost didn’t,” Thad said. “In all the excitement, I’d forgotten you only took one air tank for your suit. What you did was damn near impossible.”

“Did Chuck make

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“He will,” Sally said. She knelt beside him and kissed his cheek.

“You saved the one who nearly killed you,” Director Katsumi Hayashi said hovering over Mark. “That was an act of great honor.”

“We’re all precious,” Mark said. “Every human life should be guarded.” He felt a pang and, in his mind’s eye, saw Doug’s outstretched hand. Doug wasn’t a human life — he was a destroyer. No one ever needs to know about his outstretched hand — his last grasp at life.  Mark sat up and held his head in his hands. He felt as if overcoming a hangover. “I hate not having enough air. Suffocation is my demon and worst fear.”

“You slayed that demon,” Thad said. “I don’t think anyone else could have made it through that tube without a helmet.”

“I didn’t slay it,” Mark replied. “It’s still out there snarling and waiting.” He got to his feet.

“You must rest,” Katsumi said. “We are taking stock of all that’s happened.”

Mark’s awareness expanded to include the crowded cave hangar. He saw dozens of crew from Moon Base Armstrong and dozens who could only have come from Japan Station. He turned to Katsumi. “Did we get everyone out?”

“No,” Yumi said. She came alongside Katsumi. “The last pod crash caused a vacuum breach in our living quarters. Something strange happened and three of our crew acted against procedure.” She shook her head. “We lost three of our crew.”

Mark swallowed at this bitter news. He turned to Thad and Sally. “How about the Moon Base Armstrong crew?”

“Only Doug’s missing,” Sally replied.

“We were about to count you and Chuck as missing a moment ago,” Thad added. “It’s sure good to see you.”

“Is the power and air working?”

“It is but both Moon Base Armstrong and Japan Station have depressurized sections. We’re wasting some of our manufactured air that is still piped to those stations. We’ve isolated our air supply to the cave moon base.” Yumi was all business.

Mark nodded. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to get this cave in better shape.” He looked around the stark interior. “But since it’s still holding together now and we’ve got air, water, and power — we’re going to make it. We’re going to be all right.”

The image that pulled him through the suffocation horror in the plexiglass tube was no longer a dream. The image was a living breathing person right in front of him. He put a hand on Sally’s shoulder and pulled her toward him. Sally wrapped both arms around him and they kissed for all that was left of humanity to see. He felt her hug him in a vice grip of yearning and heard her sob. “I thought I lost you.”

“It was you,” Mark whispered to his love. “It was you that got me through the tube. It will always be you.” He leaned back and saw her tear stained face. It was the most welcome and most vulnerable thing he’d ever seen. “You’re crying.”

“So are you.”

They kissed again and clung to each other. Mark lost all sense of time. He lifted his head and saw the strength of humanity that Doug missed. He saw the thing that would secure their future even on this barren lunar rock.

Tina and Thad embraced in unabashed joy. Habi and Zeke, Gitty and Jim, Katsumi and Yumi — all clung to each other in an embrace of love. Even Chuck, flat on his back, was clinging to Carol — the one who nursed his broken jaw and escaped the med-bay depressurization. Mark’s smile widened. Of course. That’s what’ll get us through , he thought.

It was never a mystery and it was something that Doug and Art completely missed. Humanity had nothing but each other. For purpose, they only needed to love one another. The visceral human choice of love would ensure their survival.


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Major Mark Martelli and Director Katsumi Hayashi stood side by side and faced the lunar crew in the massive assembly area. There were smiles all around. It was six months since the last of the pods crashed into the moon. There were no more orbiting pods and the combined crew, 188 former NASA and JAXA moon base colonists, had been living together in the cave the first pod crash uncovered.

They decided to throw a ball — a celebratory dance honoring their survival. Some of the crew wore clothes newly produced from lunar material in garish colors of mauve and turquoise.

“I wouldn’t have believed this in a hundred years,” Katsumi said. “We are three months away from being wholly weaned from earth produced material.”

“It’s classic irony that Doug’s destructive actions are responsible for our self-sufficiency. No one, not Director Collier or the ArmCon, thought we could be self-sufficient less than a year after the gamma ray burst.” Mark was content in a stoic manner. “Moon Base Initio is truly the beginning of everything, not the end.”

“Should we tell them?” Katsumi asked.

“Yes, no more secrets.”

“This is a big one. Something else no one expected.”

“We should tell them all.”


“May I have everyone’s attention,” Mark said to the group. He toggled the lunar produced aluminum and magnesium composite microphone. “We have two very big announcements and then we’ll get to the celebration.”

The milling crew stopped and regarded their leaders. So much had happened so fast that all wanted to enjoy the celebratory intermission in the start of their conquest of the moon. They all wanted to dance and enjoy their precious earned moments of joy. But Mark and Katsumi had got them this far. The crew was anxious to celebrate but gave their leaders deference.

Mark flicked a remote button and a projected image filled one of the textured white assembly area walls. “This is an image of our remote station design. Tina and Thad put two of these stations together and are scheduled to be the first tenants. Please come up.”

Tina and Thad came to the front and stood alongside Mark and Katsumi. “As you can see this station has an ultraviolet light shielded transparent bubble facing the lit sun. Underneath the bubble are crops growing in the regolith and underneath the crops is a living area suitable for up to six people. It’s powered by these four solar panel assemblies, a small air reactor, and has a new model moon buggy in the driveway. All of it, every bit of it, was produced with lunar material.”

The group stared in rapt interest. There was a lot of rumor about Tina and Thad’s creation but this was the first most had seen of it. One person in the back whistled.

“Two of these remote stations have been built, they are cabled into Moon Base Initio, and we plan to stretch them out in an arc of expansion and exploration. It’s a model for what will become a lunar suburbia — without all the melancholy drama.”

There were chuckles at the suburbia comment. The image of the two domed outposts was tangible proof of their progress and resilience since the pod crashes.

“We’re going to turn our exploration north. For there’s something momentous Director Hayashi will share with you all.”

Katsumi came to the podium. He had a naturally stern expression that he tried to soften for the crew. “We never thought it possible but we’ve received a signal from China Station — the station on the moon’s equator.”

There were expressions of surprise in the assembly. China Station, long given up for dead, had reached out with a cryptic signal nearly a year after the gamma ray burst. “We only discovered this signal with our recently installed crater edge dish,” Katsumi said.

Mark realized Katsumi dissembled with how he worded that remark. The truth was Japan Station kept their radio frequency shields up after the gamma ray burst and only now had Moon Base Initio installed equipment able to receive their signal. No matter, it was a welcome puzzle — a welcome indication that the 188 crew of Moon Base Initio weren’t alone.

Mark looked at Katsumi and saw his hopeful expression. He inhaled. We need to put past animosities aside and unite humanity.  He believed that whatever was left of China Station needed Moon Base Initio. Mark was already making plans for a long range expedition to visit them. But that would wait.

“As Major Martelli indicated, we will expand our outposts north in as large a steps as we can to find our fellow travelers — to find the rest of humanity so we may chart our future together.”

Mark smiled at the last comment and led the assembly in raucous applause. He stood beside Katsumi and regarded the group’s joyous excitement. “Let the celebration begin!”

Sally and Mark clung to each other after the presentations and enjoyed the first Moon Base Initio dance. They rocked to classic earth pop music. Lunar produced music would take a while but that didn’t matter. The crew of the cave dwelling — jointly agreed to be named Moon Base Initio signifying the beginning of a new human adventure — reveled in the celebration.

Couples paired off across the dance floor, moved with steady beats, and laughed at their survival and success. “We really did it.” Mark beamed. “We really did it.”

“You did it Mark,” Sally said, staring at him with shining eyes. “You became the hero everyone needed. You became the hero I needed.”

“You’re pretty heroic yourself babe.” He leaned in and kissed her.

Sally cupped Mark’s face in her hands. “I’m going to have to put my heroics on hold and take a new role.”

“What role is that?”


Mark gaped wide-eyed. “Really?”

“Yes and I’m not the only one.”

“We need to tell Zeke his fears were misplaced. We reproduce just fine on the moon.”

“Zeke knows. Habi’s pregnant too. Once we all

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had a future to believe in, we began to create it.”

Mark hugged Sally tight. “All it takes is love.”

Sally giggled and swayed to the music. “Yes, all it takes is love.”

The two clung to each other as the rest of humanity in Moon Base Initio did the same. For all of the struggle, uncertainty, and misgivings; they were now charting a new human path. Mark felt tears well in his eyes and buried his face in Sally’s shoulder to mask his expression. He whispered the truth that saved them all. “All it takes is love.”

About the Author

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Luke Marusiak is the author of the Good Fight Series  historical fiction that follows five passionate characters who strive to make a difference from the turbulent 1960s to the turbulent 2010s. He also brought his passion for business to the Excellence in Business Leadership Series .

In his recent book, The Patent , Luke displayed his enthusiasm for technology in telling the tale of the struggle to control a patent with world changing potential.

In this book, Lifeboat Moon,  Luke spins a tale that asks the question, if humanity lost everything (earth, families, animals, trees…) would life still be worth living? Some on Moon Base Armstrong say yes and others disagree. What do you think?

Luke was raised in Western Pennsylvania. He served in the U.S. Army culminating with the 1st Infantry Division in Desert Storm. He worked in the Silicon Valley from the early 1990s working in semiconductors, hard drive media, and vacuum chamber systems in positions from process engineer to Chief Operating Officer and CEO. He draws on his family, friendships, and experiences for his writing. He currently resides in Washington with his wife.

For more information visit: www.lukemarusiak.com

Also by Luke Marusiak

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The Patent 

Excellence in Business Leadership Series

Foundations of Excellence 

Functions of Excellence 

Methods of Excellence 

The Good Fight Series

Marx & Ford 

Fear & Hope 

Loud & Clear 

Gold & Glory 


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Copyright © 2018 by Luke Marusiak.

Library of Congress Control Number: 1-6175003541

ISBN (print book): 9781973591641

ASIN (ebook): B078HVRRLZ

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Rev. date: 01/15/2018

To order additional copies of this book, contact:


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