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Sarah Yelm was furious.
She had to write the press release five times before she could kill the sarcastic tone that kept creeping in at the edges. Eventually, she had to opt for a completely detached tone.
At 2:00 LST a small junk from Earth approached Tranquility City requesting to land. Since not enough time had been given for proper docking the ship was ordered to orbit until docking procedures could be finished. The junk refused to alter course. Its angle and speed suggested an impact with the city. After ignoring numerous warnings to turn around, the craft was destroyed. It is believed to have come from a radical cult calling itself the United Christian Lunar Church.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” Sarah said, tapping SEND with a trembling finger. The display informed her that Earth would receive the report in several seconds.
Her wet hair was now tangled from running her hands through it so many times. As a little girl she had been a bundle of nerves with dozens of tics, phobias, and manic actions. One of these had been scratching at her scalp until it bleed. As she got older these tics vanished, but when stressed she her hands couldn’t keep away from her hair.
“What’s the problem?” Essica said from the bed.
The apartment wasn’t spacious, none of the apartments in the city were, but its charm came not in size but in content. Sarah had spent, over ten years, a hefty 20,000 lunari on acquiring real paper hardcopy books: actual bound things with embossed and glossy covers and printed text. She could get one or two books every few shipments from Earth. Arriving in bubble wrap and manila envelopes, the address line reading simply “The Moon”, these treasures came in at such a consistent rate that the dock workers became confused on weeks when she didn’t receive anything. She’d constructed a maze of bookshelves inside her apartment with her computer and bed at the center. A system of jury-rigged LED lamp-bars on the top of each shelf gave the apartment a comforting close atmosphere. She had the largest collection of books on the Moon. That included the Lunar Library, because they only kept material in data sticks. By her bed she’d put in a Persian Rug, a real Persian Rug, bought off the internet for more figures than she could easily count, but that was only because she had to pay a seller in Turkey to ship it to Europe so that it could be fired into space.
Essica, the Treasurer, Sarah’s junior by nearly ten years (Sarah just turned thirty), lay on the bed holding an unopened book on plant biology. Young, but not pretty, the girl was boyish and had no form or curves at all. Her skin was splotchy, a case of bad acne that had only cleared up in the last couple of years. Her hair was flat blonde, malt colored. Her overall impression was cheap deodorant, short showers, exercise, musk, simple clothing, progressive rock, rich parents, boyish upbringing, calculators, red pencils and study binders, late arrivals, and bad breakouts. She could calculate numbers faster than the city computer. An intellectual fireball around numbers, she had been in charge of the treasury for two years being the youngest appointee to office in the Moon’s short, but eventful history.
“How could he just order the deaths of those people like that?” Sarah said. “There were families on that ship.”
“It was either them or us,” Essica said. “Hell, not even that. It was either us or neither of… Either us or none of us? Us or nobody? Something of that sort.” She bobbed her head at every ne and no.
“I still think we could have done something else. Maybe set off an explosion in front of them? A warning shot? Would that work?”
“To scare them?”
“Or push them away.”
“Nope, it would not have worked. They’d go BOOM! Or be cooked if you used the neutron gun.”
Seeing Sarah’s face, Essica stopped mid-sentence.
“It really does bother you, doesn’t it?”
“The problem,” Sarah said, standing up, “is that the president just killed fifty Earthlings on behalf of all of us.”
She walked over to one of the bookshelves and pulled out a giant book with a gold-embossed title Ethics. She flipped a few pages and stared at the chapter headings. This particular book came from Canada. Not that the author was Canadian, but American, and America would not ship to the Moon.
“I’ve been trying my best to keep us from becoming the Cuba of the Solar System,” Sarah said, shoving the book back, “and nobody else seems to understand that. When I talk to the American Ambassador tomorrow what am I going to tell him? ‘Sorry about all those Americans we killed.’ I keep telling Mas that we can’t ignore any country that can launch rockets, but he’s not listening. Do I have to spell it out for them? And Mark! He enjoyed shooting that ship down. I saw it in his eyes!”
“Sarah!” Essica said, sitting up. “Calm down. It will be fine.”
“Fine? Those people are dead!”
“Oh, okay” Essica said shrugging. She flopped back onto the bed. Her hazel eyes roamed lazily. “I think we should get some soda.”
“I don’t want soda,” Sarah said.
“Something to get your mind off this,” Essica said. “We could go to the park, watch a movie, harass that cute boy who works in Operations.”
“I don’t want to go to Operations,” Sarah said.
Essica bounded off the bed in one smooth motion.
“I want to go to the park. Come on.”
“No, I’m going to surf the internet and see if I can’t gage the American’s reaction to this.”
“Bleeeh!” Essica said, to the ceiling. Snapping her head back to Sarah, she said, “Take my advice, either google cats and stay googled or come with me and walk around the statue and commune with the universe.” This last bit was followed by an expressive arm gesture that was clearly meant to encompass everything
Sarah shook her head and said, “I suppose you’re right.”
Armstrong Park sat in the middle of Tranquility City. The rest of the city had been built around it. It was the original dome. Each dome or “module” had six connection points to which other modules could be attached. In each case these points were tubes that had once been airlocks designed to eventually hook up with other domes. In this way the colony could continue to grow indefinitely.
The park had originally been an old style “habitation module”, a cross between a green house and a residency module. The forerunner of the apartment modules, it had been designed to produce both food and give shelter. As more domes were added, the original dome fell out of use until it was converted into a park.
About the size of a city block, the dome’s ceiling was transparent as well as a good section of its walls. The floor was Earth soil and bluegrass except for a winding foot path made of white stone. In the center was a small installation, the Lunar History exhibit, detailing the landings, colonization, and war for independence. Above this stood a bronze Neil Armstrong posing gallantly with his helmet under one arm, his foot planted on a moon rock, and his other arm stretched out. The statue was orientated to the first Apollo landing site, so that if you could walk through walls and had a space suit, you could follow the finger to the American flag at the site.
(The flag was a bit of controversy. The lunar population was divided almost evenly on whether to remove the flag and replace it with the lunar one, or to leave it as a historical marker.)
A very nice park. Its soft sense of majesty, yet loneliness was epitomized by the poem above the module’s entrance:
I set up my little table
Dinner for two on the mare
You'll not be coming
But I'll keep the stove running
As the stars rotate overhead
Even during the day, the park was completely quiet, but at night, especially this late, the place was infinitely quiet. Free of people, too large to hear the magnetic hum that all the domes carried in their walls, there was nothing to distract from the starscape or that soft majesty that stretched forever in every direction. It was space.
“There’s Orion,” Essica said to Sarah, who was still trudging through her funk. “And over there is Mars. Jupiter will be up soon, but I don’t know if we will be able to see it. It might pass too far east,” Essica said.
Sarah said, “This place is always really quiet.”
“Isn’t it great!” Essica said. “Listen! HALLO!”
HALLO came back, but eerily distorted with a vibrato reverb that smacked back into them, pricking their ears and delivering chills.
“Why does it do that?”
“It’s the shape of the dome,” Essica said. “And the material. I think anyway. Audio… Acoustics ain’t-- aren’t my thing.”
Essica threw herself down on the grass. Sarah reluctantly sat down and began to pick at the grass.
“It takes approximately 30,000 gallons of water to keep the grass green everyday,” Essica said. “Each gallon of water takes 12 lunari to produce. Add that to the energy for the lights and the magnetic field protecting us from the deadly radiation of space, it costs approximately 36,542 lunari a day to keep this dome running. Given that we have over fifty domes in total each with an average lunari consumption of 542, plus utilities, the entire city takes around 63,642 lunari to run everyday. If we were to run twenty Tranquility Cities for seventeen years, we would not even approach a fraction of the money that the United States spends everyday to fund its military.”
“So, you’re saying they could crush us like a bug.”
“Completely! But here’s the thing, it takes us only four lunari to send something to Earth but nearly our entire budget to send something to from Earth to us. Why do you think your books are so expensive? You are paying for their rocket fuel!”
“Strange that some representative electrons can buy rocket fuel. How do they know that I’m not just making up the money? What if I were keeping my lunari in my pocket or something?” Sarah pulled out a small silver piece of metal from one of her pockets. It had a crescent stamped on it. This was a example coin. Several had been minted, mostly as souvenirs for Earthlings and gifts for diplomats. All the real lunar money was digital.
“You can’t make up money. That’s my job,” Essica said. “And it’s what I essentially do. I calculate the value of our money every year and make sure that’s what’s in our accounts. With the Treasury acting as a bank, I can delete or add money as needed.”
“So… where does the value come from?”
Essica shrugged. “Not my job. Ask the manufactures. We make stuff, Earth buys it, I add that ‘money’ to the Treasury as a completely different number. Basically, ‘money’ is a derivative value off of that ‘master’ number.”
“You lost me,” Sarah said, looking up at the dome’s ceiling. The stars didn’t twinkle, they gave off a cold steady light. There were a least a million that could be seen.
The voice jarred both of them.
Two figures were approaching quickly from the entrance. Essica muttered something deprecating and pejorative under her breath as the couple approached.
“Mrs. Hamp, Mr. Yee,” Essica said squinting up at them.
“Jenifer! David!” Sarah said, smiling. “How are you?”
“Fine,” the woman said. Tall, spindly, with short blonde hair, she was well-dressed, which on the Moon meant her jump suit had blue highlights on the arms and around the waist. The blue highlights followed into her hair. Two lines of blue ran up from the hair tips to the crown of her head.
The boy she was with was seventeen and looked two years younger. Pretty rather than manly, slight and non-threatening. Unable to grow a full mustache, he had a small touch of dark fuzz on his lip. He helped with shipping paperwork at the factory and though he hated getting his hands dirty, he was well-liked.
“You’re in the grass,” Jenifer Hamp said. “You’ll stain your jump suit.”
“Probably,” Essica said.
“What are you doing out this late?” Sarah asked. “I just got off of work, but you….”
David laughed. “We met in the hall. You want to go to the garden with us?”
Jenifer looked like she’d rather die than go anywhere with Essica.
“No thanks,” said Essica. “I was going to go back to my room in a few minutes. After the earthrise. It should be a perfect half crescent. Africa will be up.” She pointed to where the Earth would rise.
David squinted. “What? Your eyes would have to be a hundred times more powerful than mine to see Africa from between those hills.”
“It will be full next week,” Essica said. “And after that, there will be a lunar eclipse. We’ll be able to watch our shadow pass across…”
“Boring astronomy stuff,” Jenifer said. “I can never keep track. But nice talking to you. David, how about ice-cream? I bet Elaine still has some left.”
“Ice-cream!” the boy exclaimed. “I could eat it all day.”
“Bye,” Sarah said as the two walked off toward the cafeteria module.
“Say hi to your husband for me!” Essica called after them.
“Don’t worry,” Jenifer called back.
Essica rolled her eyes for Sarah’s benefit.
“What was that about?” Sarah asked. “Don’t you usually get along with Jen?”
Essica laughed. Ignoring the question, she pointed at the dome and began to count the stars.
“There’s Sirius, there’s Adhara, there’s Wezen, there’s Murzim, there’s Aludra….”
And the silence and the stars closed in cutting the breath short with the vastness of it all. Sarah shifted herself to a more comfortable position and the two women took shallow breaths side by side as the lunar sky rolled by them.
☾ O ☽