Logbook #74

AS12-48-7043
AS12-48-7043

Xu continued staring at the image on the screen. Their hill top telescope, designed to look at far-away stars and planets, was instead imaging the Earth’s surface while it slide slowly past. Now, the image showed an island. And a massive grey smear that was spreading from the island. As if a great, dirty tear was sliding down the cheek of a cherubic child. But it wasn’t a tear. It was the effects from the volcano. The volcano on the island. The volcano that had erupted overnight in a cataclysmic eruption. An eruption exceeding that of Krakatoa in 1883. An eruption that was causing a great deal of concern to the global authorities. An eruption that was as magnificent to watch from the Moon as it was terrifying to comprehend.

Behind Xu, Desai saw the image and let out a soft low whistle of awe and concern. “How big is that thing?” he asked.

Xu didn’t take her eyes away. “It’s about 500km long,” she answered, “and growing.”

“Wow,” replied Desai, “that must have been some explosion.”

“Actually, it’s still exploding,” responded Xu “and it may not be stopping any time soon. The volcano continues to spew lava. Still interacting with the ocean. Still growing and shrinking as if there’s a massive series of lava channels linked to the surface. Each taking turns to erupt. Go quiet. Be dormant for a brief moment. Then, erupt again.

This is a live shot from our telescope. If you stare long enough you’ll see a prick of light at the apex of the cloud. It’s a tiny flash to us. But it’s a violent, massive release of energy to anyone unfortunate enough to be within viewing distance on the Earth’s surface. Here on the Moon, we happen to have the best vantage point of anybody.”

“What do the volcanologists have to say about that thing?”

“They’re still coming to a consensus. No one expected to see that volcano erupt in their lifetime. Given what they’ve seen so far, the initial estimates are that it’s as least as large as the Krakatoa event.”

“Wow again. That old one went global. It caused one of coldest and hungriest years on record. Could this one do the same?”

“That’s one of the fears. If enough ash gets high enough then the Earth’s climate will experience one heck of a change.”

Xu turned away from the screen and squarely faced Desai.

“Do you know what this means for you and I?” she asked.

“Not much.”

“I hope you’re right. But it may mean that the Earth will experience a few years of extreme food shortage. And if they`re hungry down there then you can be sure that they won’t be sending much in the way of food up to us. We may end up being just as hungry as they are. Or worse, we may be forced to return to Earth if no resupply vessels are launched.”

“Return to a planet that’s self-destructing? And a planet that’s covered with billions of underfed humans? I don’t think so. I’d rather stay right here. On this boring, desolate chunk of rock called the Moon. At least this chunk of rock doesn’t keep rebuilding its surface in some sort of dervish dance of tectonic plates.”

Xu softened her stance a bit. She had to lead by example and this was going to be a very significant example.

“When the time comes, we’ll make a decision. Together. Let’s just hope that we make the best decision for our species as well as for ourselves.”

Desai was half listening to Xu. The other half of Desai was thinking feverishly about the possible opportunities and risks that this posed to his plan to manage the Earth’s food supply. If his genetic strains were cold-hardy then he could do alright. Better than alright actually. However, if his plants were heat seekers, and he knew that some were such as the recently developed varietals for South Africa, then he might be having a bigger challenge.

He walked away from the wall-screen that Xu was staring at and he started parsing his varieties in his head. As he wisely had planned, his copyrighted seeds covered most of the common agricultural conditions on Earth. He wasn’t worried about having appropriate strains. What he was worrying about though was whether he could and should begin mass producing the cold-hardened ones. He sat down at a terminal and started contacting his team back on Earth.

Logbook #73

Yutu, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Emil L.

Jean laughed at Valentina’s image on the computer screen. Her lips had contorted. The screen showed a large false smile on one side of her nose and a harsh, foul grimace on the other side. Her eyebrows strove to match the emotions of her lips but they seemed to have their own desires. They were wiggling all-over like caterpillars dancing on hot tarmac.

Both Jean and Valentina were trying to show the other what they thought of the food they had during their forced convalescence. Of course Valentina had all the luxuries that Max could bring to bear while Jean had portions of regular, rehydrated lunar fare. Neither was complaining though. They’d long ago matured away from that rut. Rather, they were simply sharing the comradery of long ago, close times and enjoying the chance to make a few new ones.

“That’s too precious.” chortled Jean through his fanciful face mixed full of mirth, merriment and moroseness. “I’m starting to think that you might actually dislike bed rest.”

“Me dislike bed rest!” Valentina gasped in fake alarm. “There’s never been a better place from which to appreciate the wonders of the world. There are enough live webcams that I can view just about any boardwalk. And if I hack into the feed from TESS then I can get a live feed view of other worlds. What’s there not to like with looking through a porthole to life anywhere.”

At the sound of the name TESS, Desai rotated around on his work stool and piped in.

“Is that our strong-armed saviour back on Earth who’s keeping all the Board members in check?” he enquired of Jean and to the back of Jean’s screen.

“Well hi again big, strong and handsome.” replied Valentina on recognizing the voice. “How’s your sorghum crop doing this year?”

Valentina always referred to sorghum even though she knew that Desai seemed to have his fingers in all parts of the food chain on Earth. If it wasn’t farmland then it was fertilizer. If it wasn’t either of these then it was a crop, frequently sorghum. Apparently Desai’s firm had recently developed a genetic variation of sorghum that made it somewhat salt intolerant. In this, it could become competitive with rice for many of the southern Asian and Oceania countries. But more importantly, it could bring productive agriculture back to regions that had been irrigated for so long that the land had become salt-infertile. The Euphrates river was just one example of an over-irrigated region. She had always thought that Desai tried to do too much by continuing his passion for the food industry while exploiting the resources on the Moon. But so far he seemed to show significant success with both. There was nothing about him for which she could find fault.

“Well you know life up here” he warmly smiled at her. “There’s a laugh a minute with the troop of comedians living around the corner. And the neighbours keep partying late into every night. But those people downstairs. Them! They should never have bought their daughter that set of bongo drums. Every night there’s sounds like an army of African warriors getting ready to invade. We’re not sure if we should duck undercover or just turn the television up louder. As for the crops, we’re just waiting to make a world-wide statement.”

Desai chuckled in amusement at his own jesting and conniving. His impromptu speech served dual purposes. It kept Valentina’s smile on her face; an image that he had always thought was one of the most beautiful he knew. And, the message held coded information for one of his Earth teams. Moments earlier he had texted them to record the message and replay it to obtain his instructions.

By using the words as he did, he was instructing the team, based in Africa, to begin night time operations. Their goal was to raise public attention on the plight of selective groups of small agrarian communities. He had identified these as groups that were still nearly self-sufficient in their local food production. His team would broadcast how these groups were almost starving and desperately needed international assistance; whether true or most likely not. Then, his administrative team would swing into action. Being the saviour of the day, they would introduce his exotic global brands. Food stuff that was way more addictive than it was nutritious. They’d have the villages hooked within weeks much the same as North Americans were hooked on soda pop and chips.

Once the locals became dependent upon his brands then his manufacturers would play with the global supply. They’d vary the amount of addictive material. Add more and more communities to his delivery schedules. Then he’d play with them at his capricious whim. Until he decided play time was over. Desai, the leader, loved the idea of being the marionettist.

The fact that he brought this on during a chat with Valentina made this duplicity that much more enjoyable. He didn’t really understand why he got such a thrill with mixed emotions. The love and respect he held for this woman played against his readiness to use and control her to get his way. And he wouldn’t ask anyone to explain the pleasure of this. Not ever. He smiled inwardly and turned around back to his desk to continue working on his own computer terminal.

Valentina returned her attention to Jean asking, “So do you expect to be keeping all your hair?”

“I don’t know.” he laughed. “My dosimeter didn’t read too high. Apparently I just got the dosage equivalent to flying around the world a few times in a passenger jet. Even this slight ‘sunburn’ that I have should quickly diminish. Actually, there’s very little reason for me to stay in bed. I think that for the most part it’s so oncologists on Earth can try to detect the onset of over-active cell growth. If it wasn’t for Xu being our over-protective mother hen that she’s always been then I’m sure that I’d be up and moving around. Anyway, only another 12 hours of bed rest and I think Zara and I will be hiking through the foothills again”

Valentina laughed. She knew that Jean and Zara had bonded a bit closer with each other than with the others. She could only imagine what their hiking would come to.

A slight shadow then covered her face. She turned away from the screen.

“Oh. Hi Max.” she called out.

She turned back to Jean. “Got to go.” she said. “I’ll contact you tomorrow.”

The connection closed and Jean leaned back against the pillow; daydreaming about the pleasantries that could lie in store.

Logbook #72

AS11-39-5743

Xu looked about her. Seeing all the concerned eyes focused down upon her. And not being able to provide the beseeched for words of assurance. She felt their fear. She felt her own fear. And there was nothing that anyone could do but wait.

The four of them were huddled inside the Haven. An audible ticking sounded from the sensor on the wall like the sound made by a Geiger counter. Its frequency indicated the strength of the solar flare that was searing the surface of the Moon. Today the Haven, though little more than a scrape in the ground, was proving its worth. The internal sensors indicated that the radiation levels within the Haven remained nearly at background. But those for the outdoors were ticking away. Sometimes madly. Usually very strongly.

Though the SOHO prediction service had roused them from their sleep barely an hour ago, it had given them enough time to don their egress suits, drive to the Haven and step into its solid enclosure. Its comforting solid regolith walls and ceiling reassured them as they took the descent and sealed the door shut behind the. As protocol dictated, they kept their egress suits on even though the chamber was hermetically enclosed. That is, it reassured the four of them who had made it to the Haven before the flare struck.

Jean was not with them. And his absence is what caused Xu the greatest fear. Jean had been strolling at the extremes of their survey area when the alarm had sounded. Through relays, Jean had heard it nearly immediately and had quickly determined that he didn’t have the time to get to the Haven. Or even to the Hab with its few places of appreciable protection. Instead, Jean had elected to crawl into a nearby crevasse. From calculating the incident angle of the flare, he’d determined that there would likely be no direct path from the Sun into the crevasse. Except for a brief moment when the Sun was directly overhead, the crevasse was in perpetual darkness. However, no one knew how much radiation would bounce or curve into the crevasse. Jean would be the first to find out.

And because of the flare, Xu had no way of contacting Jean. She couldn’t use the comms to reach him as the flare made all of their above-ground network inoperable. She couldn’t use the lunar orbiting satellites to view him as they were in safe mode to protect against the radiation.

For the four of them, their whole world had shrunk to a very small space that had little more than the basic necessities to keep them alive. And it wasn’t a guaranty of a long life. From first donning the egress suits, they had 2 hours of air and water. Stored within the Haven were extra containers of compressed air and of potable water. These would could them alive for another 8 hours. At least it would keep the four of them alive for well beyond the expected duration of the flare.

But Jean had only about an hour remaining of supplies in his egress suit. All of them in the Haven knew the limited supply. None of them knew when the flare would subside. It should be less than half an hour. It shouldn’t cause Jean’s dosimeter to record excessive radiation. But no one knew for sure.

Xu talked into their local, direct microphone. It allowed the four in the Hab to talk without using the dysfunctional surface system.

“Yes” she began “this has been one of the strongest flares we’ve ever experienced. But we did get sufficient notice. And we’re here. Safe.”

“We also know that Jean is safe.” she casually lied. “He’s got himself a little downtime where he can listen to his podcasts and not worry about work for a while. Let’s figure out how to celebrate when this is over and he’s returned to us together in the Hab” she ended. All the while stifling the onset of the cracking of her voice that would display all to clearly the worry that enshrouded her.

Logbook #71

AS17-147-22498
AS17-147-22498

Jean looked again in the mirror. When he looked slightly down the overhead lighting cast strong shadows on his face. If he looked up, all the shadows disappeared and his face looked puffy as if something inside was trying to get out. When he looked up he also saw his nascent goatee, a sprinkling of hair about his mouth and building into a barb on his chin. By adding it he had hoped that his face would look less puffy and more Earth-like. What he hadn’t hoped to see or wanted to see were the very noticeable grey hairs. And a few white ones too. The mirror didn’t lie!

“Hey Xu” he called. “What do you think of older men?”

“That depends” she answered. “Are they short, sweet and cuddly like you? Or are they full of tough machismo and have no ability to think of others like this loser on the Net?”

Jean wasn’t certain he wanted to explore this choice but with trepidation he continued. “Well I’m trying this new look. As I’m sure you’ve noticed. But what I’ve noticed is that my facial hair isn’t all dark. Before, when I went camping for a few weeks and ‘forgot’ to shave then I’d return home with a face covered in a luxurious, black, barbed blanket. So here I am trying to look like I did on Earth and all I’m seeing is age. Do they let old guys stay on the Moon? Do you guys still like me now that I’m old?”

Xu turned around. Completely ignoring the text-war she was having with the Lunar Colony Fund director, she began “Jean, you are the most solid, complete man that I’ve ever come across. If your hair grew out with a tinge of white or even blue or whichever colour I wouldn’t respect you less. Your humour, your stalwart comradery, your warmth as a human continue to attract me to you. As it does for everyone else here in the Hab. Don’t you go worrying about silly little thing like natural aging. You just keep getting and better with it”

Jean smiled and he felt his shoulders lighten. “You are really amazing Xu. You know exactly what to say and when to say it. That makes you the best in my books.” he happily responded. “Today your optimism has won the battle.”

He paused. “But what about tomorrow? And the next day? And twenty years from now? Can we gracefully age here on the Moon? Or do we become grumpy old demented seniors waiting to become plant fertilizer? I just have this feeling that that I’m missing so much being on this old grey world called the Moon. I’m not sure I want my child to grow up without ever being touched by his dad. I don’t want to get old on a foreign rock”

Xu took a big breath in. She knew questions like this were bound to come up. During the pre-flight sociology exams they had seen them and answered them to the best of their abilities. But life was a lot different between when you were answering abstract questions and when you were living the moments.

“I’d say that age doesn’t really change the person.” she began. “As we become adults then it’s life’s experiences that shape our character. It’s how we deal with challenges, how we deal with success, how we respond to failure that defines us. The colour of our hair or the shape of our head doesn’t. This is true no matter what world you live upon. Have faith in yourself together with faith in us, your colleagues, your lovers. We truly do love each other as it’s so necessary in such a hostile place. Don’t you worry about what people on Earth are thinking about how you look. Don’t worry about mindless banter wasting bandwidth on the Net. Just, please, stay the way you are. Because we need you just that way.”

She walked over to where Jean was standing by the mirror and put her arms around him. She pulled him in as tight as she possibly could and held him. Neither said anything more. Reveling in the moment. Slightly anxious about the next. And neither wanting to consider years down the road.