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 #69

AS11-40-5912
AS11-40-5912

Le chapitre 69

Desai was alone with his thoughts as he traipsed around their sintered pathway. He recalled during the morning how Xu had volunteered him to again do the boundary stroll. He was as adamant as she that the colonists continue to exercise their existence on the south pole. To wave the flag as it were. But really there weren’t any potential interlopers. After all there was no one else on the Moon and no one was likely to invade. The Moon just didn’t have the resource potential as some of the embattled places on Earth had. However when he voiced his opinion Xu had quickly turned around and faced him. Then in a very determined, low voice she re-iterated her wishes in a way that no one could mistake.

“Go,” she demanded.

He acquiesced. But from this Desai wondered to himself, “Does she know?”

He thought again of his machinations, his weaving of a vicarious, steel-like net about Valentina. He singularly smiled to himself when recalling his success at getting her returned to Earth. Then smiled again with the memory of having her elected to the board of the Lunar Colony Fund. All was going as he had planned. But then he saw Valentina building up a great deal of support. And her objectives weren’t matching his. He had tried to dissuade her. But from a distance of hundreds of thousands of kilometres, he wasn’t having much success. He had tried to change things up.

As he replayed the events he stumbled on a hidden depression on the pathway. Their sintering had failed and he dutifully marked the location for later repair.
Zara’s voice piped up into his comms, probably from his accelerometers’ alarms flashing on her screen.

“How’s the scenery?” she joked, “Sounds like you found a nasty.”

“Yah. Nothing to worry about. Just a discontinuity in the pathway. I’ve marked it for maintenance,” he offered.

“Ok. Fine. If you need any help don’t hesitate and we’ll send out Woof to escort you back,” she laughed.

She knew as well as everyone else that Desai held a special contempt for Woof and that he’d never ask it for help.

“We’ll see you after lunchtime,” she finished and signed off.

Desair trudged on. There was a little less jump to his step as his mind played between his memories and his dislike of the mechanical dog. He remembered the time, not that long ago, when he had made the decision to slow up Valentina. He figured that if he could keep her moribund for a while then her support would lessen and her objectives would fade away. He had envisioned a broken leg at worst. But he hadn’t made his intentions clear enough when he directed his staff over the comms.

“Dammed those open comms!” he exclaimed internally. And he absentmindedly kicked at the dog that was nowhere in sight.

When news had arrived that Valentina had been in a car accident and had narrowly escaped with her life he had been almost physically sick. He had managed to hide his feelings from the other colonists. But just barely. Even now as he walked the pathway his eyes conjured up the image of Valentina lying in a hospital bed. And he felt ill all over again.

Nevertheless he wasn’t going to waste this opportunity now that it had happened. With both Valentina and Max temporarily out of the picture he could push his own agenda. He was calling for Moon-polar orbiting satellites with video capability. These were being argued as both a safety feature for the colonists outdoors and as a redundancy for communications. Of course Max wanted to expand the structures while Valentina wanted to increase their risk tolerance. Yet Desai still felt a general, bone-chilling unease whenever he thought of the activities at the north pole. He wanted this orbiting, Moon constellation so as to keep a much closer eye on their northerly neighbour.

He had been acting on this unease with his Earth based group of investigators. They had started to reveal a little of what was behind that northerly endeavour. The northern installation was funded by a group of industrialists and financiers. Their riches allowed them to get payloads launched with very little inspection. Yes they had a few failures as with the rover stuck on a dirt pile. But also their infrastructure had made a great impact upon the relatively smooth northern plain. Berms, pathways, shelters, solar collectors. The lot! But he still wasn’t clear on their purpose. Their design. Their goal. And he didn’t want to learn by surprise. He didn’t like surprises.

Logbook #63

AS17-145-22177
AS17-145-22177

Le chapitre 63

Desai kept working his tongue around his teeth trying to prise free the last of the ‘cricket burger’ sandwich he had for lunch. He wondered if it was their little wings that kept getting stuck. At the same time his hands moved on the computer mouse so that the on-screen cursor lined up with the white square showing on the display; a bit like an old Atari video game. He boxed in the square and paused the camera’s scanning routine. Then he slowly zoomed in to see the quarry he had been chasing at the Moon’s north pole.

Laughter erupted from Desai’s mouth and he called to Aditya “Hey get a load of this!”

Waving energetically he enticed Aditya to break from his toxicological scans.

Aditya shuffled over to Desai’s work station and responded “I see a still box with moving wheels. So what?”

“So what!? Is that all you see? ” said Desai with glee. “That box is a rover. A robot from the northern development. And it’s been in the same place for days. It’s failed!” he chortled again. “Do you know what this means?” continued Desai.

“No idea at all” replied Aditya who couldn’t see anything humorous about a stuck robot.

“Simple” Desai went on. “It’s again proven that humans are the best explorers on Earth, on the Moon or anywhere.”

“Why is that?” responded Aditya somewhat cautiously.

“It’s obvious. You’ve got to see why.” exhorted Desai. “Humans don’t get stuck. If we can’t go over an obstacle then we go around. Getting stuck is not in our genes. However, here is something stuck. What you see is hundreds of millions of dollars of machine doing absolutely nothing. And with no way of improving its lot. It’s well and truly stuck”

“But it’s only a machine” pondered Aditya. “Yes it was costly. But its cost is much less than that of a human life. With that one robot stuck then the owner can simply send another one in a few years. Or sooner if they have insurance. However, if a human gets stuck and perishes then there’s no replacement.”

“What do you mean no replacement?” queried Desai. “There are billions of little hominoids running around the Earth. Just like we did. Now think. I’m sure that a good many of them are seeking to deliberately harm others. If they are successful then there are a few less hominoids. And apparently no one’s worried enough to stop the harming. So obviously this lack of worry indicates that there are replacement hominoids a-plenty. Even if one or two had a mishap on the Moon’s surface we could rely upon many, many others wanting to fill in the gap.”

“Somehow I don’t think that so many people share your views on the value of human life” conjectured Aditya. “Yes, people accept that they will occasionally cause grievous harm to each other. Yet they do not accept a callous indifference to the loss of human life in the way you trivialized the end of the robot. Perhaps we should be more considerate of the robot’s existence. And in that we way we could more appreciate the fullness of a human life”

“That’s just down right sappy.” Desai said with a grin. “How could a robot teach humans anything about being human. We invented them. They didn’t invent us. Next you’re going to tell me to start treating our own roving robot with at least the dignity of a dog.”

“Well now that you mention it…” apologized Aditya.