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Authors: Jack McDevitt

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BOOK: Moonfall
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Despite all the travel, he felt fresh. It helped that the two space stations and Moonbase operated on EDT, the eastern
U.S. time zone, corresponding with the time zone in which both the Lunar Transport Authority and Moonbase International maintained their corporate headquarters.

Officially, Moonbase did not yet exist. It had been up and functioning in one form or another for seven years, or maybe eight, depending on where you wanted to begin counting. But today it would be formally declared operational. That was why Charlie Haskell had come to the Moon.

Journalists were waiting as he emerged into the passenger lounge. They recorded his handshakes with Evelyn Hampton, the chief executive officer of Moonbase International; shouted a few election questions; and wondered why the president hadn’t come. Was it because the president wasn’t running for a second term and wanted to give Charlie a leg up on other potential nominees?

Charlie pointed out that no head of state was present, that Moonbase was a commercial venture, and that he was on hand because it might be his last chance to get free transportation to the Moon. (The latter remark was a reference to the fact that few expected Charlie to get his party’s nomination during the summer.) “But,” he added, adopting a serious tone, “the United States is the major stockholder in this venture, and space has always been the special preserve of the vice president. Goes all the way back to Lyndon Johnson.”

The truth was that the president didn’t like Charlie very much, that Charlie had been on the ticket four years before only because he could deliver New England. From Washington, Moonbase looked like an investment boondoggle, and Henry Kolladner had no wish to be associated with it, even if he had taken himself out of the running. “He knew how much this program meant to me,” Charlie continued, bending the truth substantially, “so he asked me to represent him. I’m delighted to be here.” He turned and beamed at Evelyn Hampton, who nodded modestly.

Behind the gaggle of reporters, a window looked out over the regolith. The land was flat and gray and flowed out to a very close horizon.
TR would have loved it
, he thought.

Teddy Roosevelt was Charlie’s role model. Tough. Unbending when he thought he was right. Scrupulously honest. Fascinated by the world around him. What would the old Rough Rider not have given to have been able to gaze across that landscape?

Hampton showed him to his quarters while four Secret Service agents accompanied them. The agents were unhappy that they’d been unable to clear the regular occupants out of the area prior to Charlie’s arrival. But there wasn’t much space yet at Moonbase, and it simply wasn’t possible to move out whole wings of people and put them somewhere else. Furthermore, Charlie had pointed out to the senior agent, they don’t allow wackos on the Moon.

Evelyn Hampton was a startlingly attractive Senegalese who spoke precise English with a trace of an Oxford accent. She had luminous dark eyes and an imperious manner that left no doubt among her subordinates that she was in charge. “We’re delighted you could come, Mr. Vice President,” she told him, standing at the threshold to his quarters. “We hope your stay with us will be satisfactory.” Her eyes momentarily seemed to promise something more. “Your people have my number,” she said. “Please let me know if I can be of assistance.”

“I will,” Charlie said. He was a bachelor, and the one real regret he had about his political success was the media attention that made it so difficult to lead anything approaching a normal life.

She wore the formal version of a Moonbase uniform, white blouse, navy jacket, slacks, and neckerchief. A pocket bullion was stitched with her name and the Moonbase logo, the Armstrong Memorial. “We’re having a celebratory luncheon
after the ceremony,” she said. “We hope you can fit it into your schedule.”

“Of course,” said Charlie. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

His apartment was located in Grissom Country, the section reserved for senior personnel and visiting VIPs. It was more spacious than Charlie had expected: He had two reasonably large rooms plus bath and kitchenette, with a desk, a compact conference table, a couple of occasional chairs, a bookcase (which someone had thoughtfully filled with current novels and histories), and a coffee table. One wall held a universal window through which he could see the lunar surface. Or, if he preferred, Tequendama Falls in Colombia, Mount Bromo in Indonesia, or the limestone hills of Kweilin. If he was feeling homesick, various views across Cape Cod were available. The push of a button brought a bed out of the wall.

Someone had thoughtfully left two Moonbase uniforms on his sofa, one dress uniform, one jumpsuit, and a jacket. The uniform would look good on camera, so he decided he’d wear it to the dedication.

Despite the fact that there was water ice on the Moon, its extraction was still expensive and difficult. Consequently, water was scarce. It was available, but a large sign invited him to substitute the ultrasonic scrubber for the shower. Moonbase personnel had a meager allotment to use as each one chose. Charlie knew that he could run as much water as he liked and no one would complain. But someone would unquestionably leak it to the media. He smiled at his own pun. He climbed out of his clothes, stepped into the stall, drew the curtain, and selected
ULTRASONIC
. The sensation was not at all unpleasant. A thousand tiny fingers poked and probed, loosening dirt and dried perspiration. He wiped down with a damp cloth.

Afterward he dressed, and accompanied by a staff assistant and his team of agents, went out sight-seeing. Main Plaza, the heart of Moonbase, would not be officially open until after the
ceremony. But some of the shops were already doing business.

Main Plaza consisted of a vast dome approximately fifteen stories high and a half-mile long. A canyon five levels deep cut a zigzag through the center of the plaza, housing living quarters and work areas. The ground level was remarkably green: Lawns and parks and patches of forest rolled out in a slight uphill grade toward the perimeter.

Down the length of the structure, four massive columns supported the overhead. These were regularly spaced, two on either side of the administration building, which anchored the center of the plaza. Shops and restaurants were located in strategic areas, and an orchestral shell dominated one of the parks. Charlie gazed up at the roof, where luminescent panels produced a remarkably good approximation of sunlight.

The air was sweet and clean and smelled of spring. He strolled its walkways, rode the elevators and trams, got his picture taken by half the people at Moonbase, signed autographs, shook hands with everyone, and generally scared the devil out of his agents.

There was a lot more to see: the reservoir, the communication center, the space transportation office, the departments of management and technical services, the solar power assemblies, an automated solar cell factory, the research labs. He wanted to visit everything, but he wanted to do it at leisure.

He had some difficulty adjusting to the one-sixth g, even with the weighted boots supplied by his hosts. But he was pleased to see that his agents also fell over themselves periodically. The lone staff assistant, Rick Hailey, was the only one who seemed to adapt easily, a circumstance that irritated the agents. There was an old joke about a football game between the Secret Service and the White House staff: Ten minutes after the agents left the field, the staff scored.

But Rick, who was his campaign manager, seemed born to low gravity. He’d gotten around L1 as if he’d lived there all his
life. Now he was showing the same agility on the Moon. When Charlie commented, Rick laughed it off. “Public relations means never having to touch ground,” he said.

Then he recommended they cut the stroll short to sit down in a café and talk about the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

It was an election year, and consequently the political overtones of every act were intensified. Especially when you were behind. Charlie was not yet forty, too young to be taken seriously as presidential timber. His lack of a mate offended the family values people, who’d become a major force in American politics. Furthermore, he’d been given little of substance to do in the Kolladner administration, and the president had not always hidden his own preference for “older, wiser heads.”

“After you’re finished with your remarks,” Rick said earnestly, “the media people are going to want to talk politics. Don’t get sucked into it. Moonbase is a special place. Above politics. Talk about the stars, Charlie. Where we’re going. Opening up the future. That sort of thing. Everything else is trivial.”

There was this about Rick: He was the only purely political appointment Charlie had ever made who was worth a damn. His full name was Richard Daley Hailey and he was the son of a particularly well connected Chicago alderman. He’d started as a speechwriter back in Illinois, had developed a natural talent for orchestrating campaigns, and was credited with the uphill victory of Mike Crest in the last Illinois gubernatorial.

He knew what made Charlie look good, what the voters wanted, what the hot-button issues were. (Voters always assume that politicians simply avoid talking about things that are important. Sometimes that’s true. But more often, the pols just don’t know themselves. In the rarefied air of the nation’s capital, it’s often hard to figure out what drives people who have to make trips to supermarkets.)

While they talked, sipping coffee and munching mooncakes (yeast disguised as chocolate baked goods), Charlie glanced up at a wallscreen. An exotic forest moved beneath the camera eye. A ringed planet floated in the background, and a river sparkled in blue-tinged light as it vanished into thick purple trees. “You’re right, Rick,” he said. “Absolutely. Place like this, politics just looks ugly.”

Rick stared at him across the lip of his cup. “But you have to remember, it’s all bullcrap,” the campaign manager said. “The action’s downstairs, in D.C. Always will be, during our lifetimes, and that’s all that counts. But I think if we handle this right we can take a long step toward securing the nomination.” He finished off the last of his cake. “This isn’t bad,” he said.

It wasn’t. The cake was very close to real chocolate.

Charlie looked back up at the screen. The camera eye had raced out over open water, and a second world, silver and misty, was rising out of the sea. And it wasn’t bullcrap. Of all the places Charlie had visited in an extraordinarily well traveled life, none had ever struck him with the sheer emotional force that had come with looking down out of the shuttle at the cluster of brave lights blinking near the center of Alphonsus Crater, the home of Moonbase. Some had come here and described a religious experience, a sense of the power and majesty of the creator. Charlie had felt instead uncompromising neutrality, timelessness, an infinite indifference to everything human. It was a place for which he was not psychologically designed. The rock-hard void, the absence of living things, the extreme temperatures, drove home the fact that he was an interloper.

This plain had looked the same when the first protozoans began swimming in terrestrial oceans. It was bathed in the soft light of the unmoving home world. There had been a time when one could have stood on the regolith and seen that same world in that same place in the sky, the land masses all
crowded together in a single supercontinent. He remembered having read the name of the supercontinent once, but he couldn’t remember what it was.
Godwannaland
. Something like that.

He would never have come here on his own initiative. He’d seen all the visuals, artists’ impressions, holograms, and the rest of it. He thought he understood how it would be. How it would feel. The ten-year-old Charlie who’d collected dinosaurs and built model starships had gotten lost somewhere. But he’d come back with a vengeance, and now the vice president absorbed the moonscape, took it into his soul, and understood he was living through an experience he would remember all his life.

He’d read extensively about the Moon in preparation for this trip, hoping to find something to insert in the remarks that his campaign manager would prepare. Rick got nervous when Charlie did that. He was heavily armed with examples of well-meaning public servants whose presidential ambitions had foundered on the rocks of an impromptu comment. Still, Rick was only a political advisor. A hired gun. Trained to weigh everything against polls, public reaction, party ramifications. Like most of the other hired guns, he was decent enough, and would be honest with whoever happened to be paying him; but his perspective was limited to thinking about what was needed to win elections. Nothing else mattered.

Teddy Roosevelt would not have liked it.

The decision to establish a permanent presence on the Moon had been championed almost a dozen years ago by President Andrew Y. Culpepper, who convinced the taxpayers, united the industrial nations behind the effort, and sold the idea to a reluctant Congress.
There are those
, he’d said,
who would tell us that we can’t afford to establish a permanent presence on the Moon. They are the descendants of Isabella’s advisors, who thought Europe could not afford to open up the Atlantic
. Those words were
engraved on a plaque mounted in the center of Main Plaza.

Culpepper had not lived to see his dream realized. But today the shadow of a total eclipse was moving across North America. And when the shadow reached Culpepper’s small Ohio hometown, at about twelve-thirty eastern daylight time (which was also Moonbase time), Charlie would cut the symbolic ribbon at the front door of Main Plaza and declare Moonbase operational.

Growth had been slow at first. But interest in lunar manufacturing capabilities was on the rise, and the Lunar Transport Authority was up and running. As accommodations became available, people and laboratories were moved out of temporary shelters and installed within the permanent facility. The base consisted of the central complex of administrative and residence areas, several scattered research sites, and mining and industrial operations concentrated for the most part near Alphonsus. An extensive system of electric-powered cable cars, called trolleys, would eventually connect the various units. There were even plans to construct a trolley link with the automated observatory on Farside.

BOOK: Moonfall
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