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4.

The lunar day was twenty-seven terrestrial days. Unlike Earth the day/night cycle was artificially maintained with “leap days” to keep the week somewhat in sync with the blue planet. The LED light bars that lined nearly every hallway and large room cycled every 28 hours. During the day these cast a soft yellow glow into ever corner and curve of the city, during the night they dimmed to a soft unobtrusive blue glow. They changed slowly to approximate natural light cycles and to mimic human circadian rhythms. Earthlings often had trouble adjusting to the extra seleno-hours, but when anybody raised on the Moon visited the Earth, they found those hours sorely missed. When the first modules were placed, the colony tried to keep an Earth day, but it was found that the clock would de-synch very quickly, a product of math and Relativity. Eventually, the “lunar cycle” was adopted as being more practical.

This late the hallways were silent except for the slow, steady, and near constant magnetic hum that filled the entire city. The outside of every dome generated a small magnetic field to keep radiation and cosmic rays from penetrating the city. Sometimes strong solar storms would light the domes up with multicolored incandescent hues.

Nobody walked the corridors, nobody saw the nanomachines’ work as the day’s grease and the perspiration of a hundred human beings was atomized, leaving the walls shining. It was downtime for mankind.

The day cycle would start in less than an hour, but for now the entire city slept except for Operations.

There were forty-five LCD flat screens in this small, circular command center plus ten holographic cuboid-displays, and a high resolution model of the city on a central dais. The map looked holographic, but it really was billions of nanomachines that gave the model a claylike texture and could be interacted with physically. Mark Michaelson’s staff choked the in-between spaces. Walking around, checking the displays, punching in numbers, reading readouts, they were reminiscent of videos of insect colonies.

The display Mark himself was sitting at said that an airlock, AL4, of the southern egress module, was malfunctioning again. The problem was something to do with the magnetic seal, the computer said, and while no air was escaping, there was a build up of dust in the module.

LUNAR REGOLITH DETECTED.

Moon dust.

Polarized, sticky, abrasive, dangerous, cancerous, moon dust. Lunar regolith. Mark stared at the display for nearly an hour while Operations bustled around him. The Hub, as it was called, was never quiet or still or inactive. Manned twenty-four eight by at least twenty people, there was always something going on, even in these quiet times before the city cycled up to the workday.

“I knew it!” Mark said. He turned to his staff, all of who had frozen. “Moon dust! Find out who used module fifty-four’s airlocks last.”

Jonathan Hamp, the burly, muscled, barrel-chested com-officer stood up from behind his station.

“Sir, that module has been closed since last month when the mag-locks failed. We fixed the problem, but you kept it closed.”

“For good reason; it's failed again," he paused then said, "Do you know what moon dust can do?”

“Mr. Michaelson, sir,” Jonathan said. “You tell us every week.”

“It gets into the machines, destroying their servos. It’s extremely abrasive,” Mark said as if Jonathan had never spoken. “Our primary export is fine-tuned machines, just a single grain of dust could destroy weeks of labor. It corrodes our electronics, fouls up the pipes, it causes cancer, it--.”

“For God sakes,” Jonathan said. “Everyday it’s moon dust this, moon dust that. We’re on the Moon! It’s covered in dust! And your father died from smoking forty packs a day, not from freck’n moon dust!”

Silence. Not even the computers dared to make a noise. No bleeps, no bloops, only silence as everybody waited for Mark to speak.

“Well,” Mark said. “You can end your shift early. Wish I could be so lucky. But talk to me tomorrow about transferring to Maintenance.”

Jonathan shook, he looked like he’d like to jump over his station and strike Mark square in the jaw, but instead he squared his shoulders and said, “Yes sir.”

The entire staff watched him leave.

“Back to work,” Mark said. “Somebody take communications in case Earth or Mars calls. And contact Maintenance to get that bloody maglock fixed.”

Sarah and Essica were walking back toward their apartment module and had gotten as far as M32-AL2, a garden module where fruit and vegetables hung above in a fine mist that constantly spread out from the walls of the dome. Something was very wrong with the gravity about halfway up the dome. The water droplets floated as if they were in microgravity. If a droplet floated down to about eight feet above the ground it fell to the floor as if suddenly pulled down where it would then run into gutters lining the walls.

“I don’t want to go in there. I’ll get wet,” Sarah said. “Can’t we go around?”

“That’d be a five minute detour,” Essica said. “I’m so tried I don’t care.”

“I think I fell asleep on the grass,” Sarah said. “I’m really damn tired.”

“Through the water then!”

They began to brave the chilly rainfall, and would have made it all the way if they weren’t greeted enthusiastically from the hall behind them. A lanky red-head, hailed them down and met them in the middle of the dome. He didn’t give a damn about the damp. He grinned ear to ear and said,

“Hi. Essica and Sarah.”

“Ho boy,” Essica said, trying to focus her sleep-deprived eyes. “Ryan. You’re up early.”

“Early? It’s five. I have to get these plants ready. Harvest time. As absurd as that is out here,” he made a gesture to indicate all of the Moon and most of space.

“Where’s your dad?” Sarah asked.

“Sick,” Ryan said. “The flu, I think. He probably caught it from that British guy who was visiting last week.”

“You mean the space tourist?” Sarah asked.

“Yeah, him. How else could the flu get out here?” he asked, again gesturing to the surroundings. This was a very common gesture. So common, that said space tourist had noted in his blog the strange lunar habit of indicating vast amounts of space with wild arm flailing.

“There are over thirteen thousand Earth bacterium species that have been isolated on the Moon,” Essica began. “One third of those can cause illness if they get inside the human body. Two of these can be deadly.”

“ESSICA JENNERS, SARAH YELM, REPORT TO THE MEETING ROOM.”

Everybody jumped. The voice had come from the very walls of the dome. Precipitating out with the water.

“It’s the emergency…. uh, channel?” Ryan said.

“Crap!” Sarah said. “Do you suppose the Americans are attacking?”

“What?” Ryan asked, startled.

“Don’t be stupid,” Essica said. “It’s something else. Come on.”

They left Ryan standing in the mist. He only stayed for five or so seconds before going to the dome’s wall and pulling up a holographic display (it wavered in the near constant drizzle) connected to the internet, where he read about that night’s early mishap with the spacecraft.

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