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And on Tuesday there was a crisis.
President Mas Kilmar along with his Operations Manager and Public Relations Officer stared in disbelief at the large view screen. They had assembled hastily in this small conference room, Sarah, the PR Officer looked as if she had just come out of a shower, her black hair clung to her skull and her face. Her gray jumpsuit was damp. Mark, the Operations Manager had bags under his eyes. He reeked of bad scotch and flat sickly-sweet soda.
They contrasted sharply with the conference room. A beautiful circular table with seven chairs sat in the center of the dome-shaped room. It had a beautiful white marble and black obsidian design making it look like a crescent moon. The walls of the room were painted a deep blue and studded with small flecks of mica representing stars. The wealth of the colony was accurately represented in touches like this. It took money to lift such materials off of Earth and to mine it out of the lunar rock was even more expensive. Yet they could do it and were proud of it.
The face on the screen was distorted, stretched out, bloated. There was something wrong with the aspect ratio of the screen and Kilmar had yet to get anybody to fix it. With a bit of mental reconfiguration, the face would have been a handsome man in his forties just starting to go gray about the temples. The accent suggested he might be a subset of Americana Texicanus. It was a heavily calculated accent, designed to be persuasive and folksy. The man probably wasn’t Texan, but who could resist such a charming accent even with two layers of static in front of it and as many as twelve behind?
Half of the Lunar Government, could it appeared. The two officials stood equal with their president, grim faced, but shocked. The warning had come in very late. It hadn’t even been the computer that had spotted the small incoming Earth craft, but Tranquility City’s gardener who liked to do a bit of amateur astronomy.
“You don’t understand,” Kilmar said. “You can’t land here!”
The face kept smiling and said that yes it was going to land. “We have traveled many miles from home to reach the Holy Land. Will you find it in y’all’s hearts to let us land?”
“We don’t have the time to let you land,” Mark said, leaning around the president toward the small lens at the bottom of the screen. “It’s a mechanical problem. We have to set up a magnetic shield, prep the docking drills, prepare the staff, stimulate the G-diffusers. It can’t be done in less than an hour.”
“Perhaps, you can alter your course and orbit for a few --,” Kilmar said. The sweat on his dark skin looked like diamond beads in the neutral lighting of the room.
The silly putty-like figure on the screen cut him off. “We don’t have enough oxygen for that. We’re landing.”
“If you land now, with your current speed,” Sarah said trying to make her voice as calm as it could go, “you’re going to crash. Alter you course and you can land in a few hours.”
“God will provide,” the voice said.
“Then he will provide air,” Mark said.
“We’re going to land.”
“We have to discuss this,” Kilmar said. He waved his hand at the screen cutting the audio feed. “Well?” he asked looking at his two colleagues.
“If they crash, they’ll all be killed,” Sarah said.
“We can’t let them crash,” Mark said. “They might damage the city. I say we shoot them down.”
“We can’t shoot them down!” Sarah said. “How would it look to Earth if we did that?”
“They’re religious wack-jobs,” Mark said. “Why would Earth care?”
“I’ve been working night and day to fix our relations with the Americans and you want to fire on the first American craft that’s come our way in thirty years?” Sarah said. Her face flushed.
The face on the view screen watched them closely, trying to gleam information from their silent lips.
“Calm down, Sarah” Kilmar said.
“Look,” Mark said to Kilmar, “if they hit the city, which they might, that’s not only our death, or the death of our friends and families, but also the end of human civilization on the Moon. There would have to be a re-colonization effort. Those morons up there are threatening not only us, but all our history and all human endeavors.”
“We can’t let them do that,” Kilmar said.
“Ugh!” Sarah said, throwing her hands up in the air. “We can’t blow them out of the sky! Can’t we nudge them away or something?”
“With what?” Mark asked. “Anything we have that could move a ship at the speed they’re traveling would shatter it.”
“Okay,” Kilmar said after a few minutes of silence thinking. “I’ve made a decision. Audio up!”
The speakers crackled.
“Your ship has five minutes to alter course to a safe orbit or to turn around. If you do not take these highly recommended steps, we will fire on you.”
The face grimaced and said, “That’s not very Christian of you. God has sent us a challenge. We will be landing.”
“You’ll be destroyed!” Sarah said. “Don’t you understand that? I’m begging you to alter your course!”
“God will protect us.”
The screen went black.
The government hung its head, except Mark who was smiling.
“Well,” Mark said. “I’ll tell operations to warm up the neutron gun.”
“Mark,” Kilmar said, “Give them a full six minutes. Broadcast a warning every twenty seconds.”
“Of course,” Mark said.
He smiled again this time to himself, before walking briskly out of the room. There was a swagger in his walk that suggested he was on a mission of the utmost importance, but then he usually kept that gait and the other colonists could recognize him from a very long way off just by how he walked.
When the door slid shut, Sarah turned to the President.
“I can’t believe you’re going to let him fire on that ship,” she said.
“I can’t let them crash,” Kilmar said. “What would you do?”
“Send out the Schmitt and force them back.”
“We don’t have time to launch.”
“I can’t conceive of consigning people to death so easily,” she said, sitting down in one of the leather chairs that lined the circular conference room table. “Display please.”
A silver image appeared on the table’s surface, projected from somewhere in the room. It wavered like liquid.
“I had to do something,” Kilmar said in a small voice.
He went to one of the blue walls and pressed a button carefully hidden in the wall to keep it from interrupting the painting. The wall thinned and grew transparent. Beyond was a gray landscape with mountains in the far distance. Stars shown brightly in the sky. Constant, with no hint of a flicker, there were millions of them stretching up into Sagittarius where the beating blackhole heart of the Milky Way rested.
Sarah only glanced at this before going back to watching the city’s computer track the small spacecraft. She saw Mark enter his authorization and the weapon pathways open up. She watched the neutron pulse activate and saw Mark start broadcasting the automated warning every twenty seconds to the craft. Eventually, those broadcasts ran out and she watched the last twenty seconds countdown, saw the flare of energy in the neutron coils, and watched as the Earth craft fill up with neutron soup until it became a small point of energy on the display’s grid. The computer commented on detecting a burst of electromagnetic radiation and she heard Kilmar say, “It’s pretty,” as the ship lit up the lunar sky in reds and blues.
This was just the start of the troubles that week.
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