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Authors: Jack McDevitt

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A plaque commemorating the captain was mounted in the auditorium. In addition, the five ferries that carried passengers between L1 and Skyport were named for the individual crewmembers.

When Charlie entered, a wallscreen was keeping track of
the scene in Clifton, Ohio, where the high school band was lined up on the stage of a gymnasium. Concurrently with the lunar ceremony, the institution was being renamed the Andrew Y. Culpepper Memorial High School. The gym was crowded with students, and the band was playing an old tune, “Moon Over Miami.” Well, it wasn’t Miami, but Charlie imagined nobody cared about details. At Moonbase, some six hundred people, constituting visitors and virtually the entire population of the station not then on duty, had crowded into the auditorium.

Evelyn Hampton’s technicians had erected a temporary platform and set out a row of chairs across it. A pair of double doors off to one side led out into Main Plaza, and a wide silver ribbon had been draped across these. The double doors were being treated symbolically on this occasion as the front entrance to Moonbase. The platform was decked with white, green, and blue bunting, the colors of Moonbase International. Flags of all (or almost all) the world’s nations were mounted on the walls. A range of VIPs from international commerce, various governments, and the entertainment and academic worlds were seated on the platform. Prominent among these was Slade Elliott, known to millions of TV viewers as Captain Pierce on the immensely popular
Arcturus Run
. A recent poll had shown that Elliott had better name recognition than the president of the United States.

Evelyn saw Charlie and joined him. “Well, Mr. Vice President,” she asked congenially. “Are you ready to do the honors? This is an historic moment. What you say here today, people will be quoting a thousand years from now.”

“Thanks,” said Charlie. “I really needed a little more pressure.” He glanced toward the pool of journalists, many of whom he recognized. Rick had insisted that there was no more important skill for a politician than to remember the first names of the reporters. It was a habit Charlie had taken time to
acquire. “Where are the TV cameras?” he asked.

She pointed to the far end of the auditorium, where a cluster of black lenses jutted out of the rear wall. Other cameras were concealed on either side of the platform.

Evelyn introduced him to the other guests, and Charlie was surprised when Elliott asked him to autograph a program.

Then it was time to proceed. His seat was located immediately to the right of the lectern, the place of honor secured by the fact that the U.S. government was Moonbase International’s biggest shareholder. An attractive young woman in a Moonbase jumpsuit caught Evelyn’s eye and held up both hands twice, fingers spread, signifying twenty seconds. Evelyn went to the lectern. The crowd grew quiet.

A display suspended from the ceiling acted as a monitor, and she glanced up to check her appearance.
She looked pretty good for a CEO
, Charlie thought.

A red lamp blinked on at the far end of the auditorium, which meant they were using the rear camera. The young woman did a silent countdown, and when she reached zero, Evelyn leaned forward and welcomed everyone, the entire world, to Moonbase. “Before we go any farther,” she said, “I’d like to introduce our nondenominational chaplain, the Reverend Mark Pinnacle.”

Pinnacle looked frail and ill at ease. He came forward clutching a sheet of paper, thanked Evelyn, put the paper on the lectern, and in a shaky voice began to read. He asked the blessings of the Almighty on this great effort and thanked him for past favors. One of the VIPs near Charlie whispered that if the chaplain hoped for results, he ought to speak up.

Pinnacle never got away from his monotone, but fortunately, he had the good sense to keep his remarks short. With obvious relief, he turned the program back to Evelyn.

She introduced several of the notables, each of whom spoke for a couple of minutes, with perhaps the most exhila
rating moment coming when Slade Elliott strode to the microphone accompanied by the rousing strains of the theme from
Arcturus Run
. Slade contented himself with delivering a tag line from the show: “Borders exist only in the mind.”

Charlie, the principal speaker, was of course last. His name was met with polite applause. “Thank you,” he said. He glanced back at Elliott and then looked at the cameras. “I want to thank you for inviting me. This is an hour I’ll never forget. And I suspect it’s one the human race will never forget.”

Two Secret Service agents were seated unobtrusively, in Moonbase jumpsuits, in the front row. Sam Anderson, who headed the unit, and his lone female agent, Isabel Heyman, watched the wings. Rick Hailey, on the aisle, studied him intently. He would be keeping score, of course.

“Moonbase is the future,” continued Charlie. “We’re taking our first tentative steps away from the home world, and you folks are showing the way.” Rick nodded, urging him on.

Charlie looked into the cameras, speaking past the gathered “lunies,” addressing himself rather to the voters back home, and maybe to the vast audience beyond American shores. “Moonbase is expensive. We’ve lost people to get here, and we’ll lose others before we’re done. We’ve spent a lot of our national treasure. And sometimes we wonder whether the investment is worth it. Why are we here at all?

“The simple truth is that the planet has become too small. Not for our populations, but for our dreams. We have a rendezvous with the stars. The seeds are already sown. They were sown when the first men and women looked up at the constellations. And they will come to flower in the fountains of the Moon.

“Today people still visit the site of the Apollo landing, where they can see Neil Armstrong’s footprints.” Charlie looked down at his audience and knew he had them. “Our distant descendants will visit Moonbase,” he said, “or its equiva
lent in their age, and they will see the marks that we have made, you and I, and they will know that we too were here.” He allowed his emotions to show. “We’ve come to believe that we have a cosmic heritage. We’ve come to the Moon. Within a few weeks, we’ll launch the
Percival Lowell
for Mars.

“Slade Elliott and his alter ego, Captain Tobias Pierce, are absolutely correct:
Borders exist only in the mind
.”

He lifted his right hand to salute his audience, turned from the lectern, waited for Evelyn to join him, and started across the platform. A small ramp led to ground level. An aide appeared beside the beribboned door with a pair of golden shears.

Charlie reached the ramp but decided instead to leap from the platform, forgetting he was at one-sixth g. Despite the weighted boats, he would have sailed out into space and ended in the front seats had Evelyn not seen it coming. She grabbed his jacket and pulled him back.

“Careful,” she whispered.

Charlie, grateful to have been saved from a clumsy fall in front of a couple of billion viewers, thanked her. “I owe you a drink,” he said.

“At least,” she smiled.

The guests flanked him and the aide gave the shears to Evelyn, who passed them to Charlie. Two others held the ribbon for him. “On this eighth day of April,” he said, “in the two-thousand and twenty-fourth year of our era, and the two hundred and forty-eighth of the independence of the United States, in the name of the United Nations, I declare this facility, Moonbase, to be operational.”

He cut the ribbon. An electric motor in the wall hummed and the doors opened. Beyond, Main Plaza lay in darkness. But a spotlight mounted atop the administration building blinked on, highlighting a park, a cluster of elms, some benches, and a pool. Then the overhead solar panels brightened, and daylight came to the parks and shops and restaurants and overhead walkways.

Applause began. At first it was restrained and polite. Almost perfunctory. But someone cheered, and it built and became a crescendo and went on and on and on.

NEWSNET
. 12:30
P.M.
UPDATE
(Click for details.)

BUDDHA’S BIRTHDAY CELEBRATED BY ADHERENTS WORLDWIDE

DID NASA CONSIDER ALL-WOMAN CREW FOR MARS?

Leaked Report: Best Way To Ensure Psychological Stability

Deny Politics Influenced Current Assignments

TRANSGLOBAL GETS CHICKEN LITTLE PRIZE FOR WHITE PLAGUE COVERAGE

Falsely Reported That Zambesi Virus Is Airborne

“Scared Wits Out Of Millions”

34th Annual Award By National Anxiety Center

Baseball:

AARON BROKE RUTH CAREER HR MARK 50 YEARS AGO TODAY

Hit 715th Against LA Dodgers In Atlanta

Aaron’s Total of 755 Still Unsurpassed

TOKYO FERRY CAPSIZES

Hundreds Feared Lost

Eyewitnesses Say Boat Was Overcrowded

TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE TODAY

Sky Spectacular Visible Across Much of U.S.

VATICAN DENIES POPE SERIOUSLY ILL

Innocent “Exhausted But Fit”

MOONBASE OPENS TODAY; VP PRESIDES OVER CEREMONIES

Beaver Meadow Observatory, North Java, New York. 12:38
P.M.

Wesley Feinberg had twice won the Nobel Prize for his work in calculating the age of the universe and for establishing the relation between gravity and quantum effects. He was also director of Harvard’s AstroLab in central Massachusetts. He was respected by his peers, treated like a minor deity by the graduate students, and granted every perk by the institution, which was delighted to have him. The latest perk: temporary assignment to the Beaver Meadow Observatory in North Java, New York, which was in the path of the eclipse.

Feinberg was happy to go. And not only because of the celestial event. He was a bachelor, a man who’d devoted his life to astronomy and discovered it wasn’t quite enough. The trip to Beaver Meadow got him out of the apartment he’d grown to detest, and threw him in with a new group of people. The reality of his existence puzzled him. He’d accomplished everything he’d ever wanted, had gone well beyond what he’d thought possible. Yet he sensed that something round and dark had moved across the essence of his own existence, blocking off the light.

Beaver Meadow wasn’t a big facility. It had only three telescopes, the largest being a forty-five-inch Clayton-Braustein reflector, which would relay images onto an eighteen-foot wallscreen. The observatory had reserved a prime-location computer for him, overlooking the wallscreen. The director, Perry Hoxon, asked whether he required anything else.

Hoxon was a busy and innocuous little man. Feinberg explained he was not working on a specific project. In fact, he would have been content to sit quietly outside on one of the benches in the adjoining park, and simply enjoy the eclipse. But yes, he was certainly grateful for the prime location. (He would in fact have been irritated had it not been offered.)

Now, as the event unfolded, he wondered whether he shouldn’t have gone outside and watched from the parking
lot. Several hundred people had crowded into the facility. Kids were laughing, babies crying, and there was a minimum level of conversation that did not subside even during the final moments before totality. Feinberg had seen the phenomenon before, an utter lack of respect for what was happening, people who had dropped by the observatory on the way to a supermarket. Then the last of the light ran off the screen. Bright spikes and beads flashed into existence, haloing the dark disk. The diamond ring effect. A few people cheered, as if someone were about to score a touchdown. He sighed and concentrated on the event, shutting out the rest of the world. How unlikely, and how fortunate, that Sun and Moon were the same apparent size! No other world in the solar system could experience an event even remotely like this. If
he
, Wesley M. Feinberg, had been designing the system, this was exactly the sort of spectacular effect he would have wanted to create for the one intelligent species among the worlds. And he wasn’t sure he’d have thought of it.

A noise in the auditorium recalled him to the present. The voice was male, filled with impatience: “
I’ll wait in the car
.” How dull and unimaginative the general population was.

“Professor Feinberg?”

He looked away from the screen. One of the observatory’s interns, a very young man who seemed intimidated in his presence, held out a piece of paper. “Sorry to disturb you, Professor. This just came for you.”

He took it, nodded, pushed it unread into his pocket, and went back to the eclipse. The solar corona was magnificent: Plumes and streamers a million miles long blazed out of the darkened disk. The spectacle rose and fell with mathematical precision, a cosmic symphony in light and power. He watched, hearing now only his own heartbeat, willing himself closer, trying to grasp the enormity of what he was seeing.

“Professor. I think there’s some urgency.” A new voice this time. Hoxon. At first Feinberg wasn’t sure what the man was talking about. Then he remembered the message. He fished it out of his pocket.

It was from the Orbital Lab:

WES
,

ANOMALOUS OBJECT REPORTED BY ST. LOUIS AREA OBSERVER. PLEASE VERIFY
.

At the bottom of the page, in a box, there was a set of coordinates. The object was square in the middle of Pisces.

“I’ll be back,” he told Hoxon. He wanted to be out in the eclipse anyhow, away from the crowd, away from the auditorium. He wanted to wrap himself in the event, taste it, draw it into his soul.

He buttoned his sweater and hurried quickly across the parquet floor and out into the parking lot. It was unseasonably cold, and he pushed his hands into his pockets. The observatory was located in a nature center. The walkways and lawns were deserted. Feinberg picked out Van Maanen’s Star, looked to its left, and saw a light that shouldn’t be there. He cackled and pumped his right arm in the air with pure pleasure.

BOOK: Moonfall
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