Logbook #84

Jean worked through all the containers from the supply ship. There was a match between them and the manifest. Yet something felt wrong. As if the presents at a birthday party were all boxes with very little on the inside. There was enough food, water and fuel. But compared to previous shipments, there was very little in the way of scientific equipment. And almost nothing that would expand their infrastructure.

“Say Xu, were we expecting another path sinterer?” he asked over the intercom.

“Maybe in another shipment” she replied.

“Does this mean that we’re not going to build a path to the new landing site beside the horticulture bulb?”

“Something like that. Priorities have been changed. We’re going to focus upon strengthening our existing capability rather than enlarging the infrastructure. Seems that the maintenance factor has gotten too high. So unless you like spending all day, every day fixing robots then we need to get that factor down.”

Jean didn’t like the sound of that. He wasn’t one to question authority. Actually he seldom paid much attention to authority. He just liked doing his stuff. Give him a list and he’d happily whistle the day away while completing everything on that list. And so far everyone’s been very happy with his work. And his workload didn’t seem to have grown. He wondered what Xu was driving at.

“OK” he continued. “But once the horticulture bulb gets into production it’s going to take a lot more effort to get the food from it and the waste to it.”

He knew that. Everyone else knew it as well. The idea of fresh produce had been on everyone’s mind for quite some time. The idea of a fresh salad every two weeks had made them almost giddy. And Aditya had an almost dreamy look in his eyes when told he’d have to go inside the bulb regularly to make sure the plants were content. Aditya had even contemplated piping in music to improve the mood and thus improve the growing conditions. The sintered pathway was to be a simple addition. First the pathway was going to be smoothed out. Then, as needed, the route would get conditioned by the sinterer to ensure a safe, solid pathway for both humans and machines. The capability and benefit had been shown many times before. It was dawning upon Jean that maybe something had changed.

Maybe there was a redirection from the Lunar Colony Fund’s board. Maybe they were indeed going to put more emphasis upon shoring up their existing infra structure. But the contents of the manifest and the somewhat vague response from Xu had gotten him thinking.

“Xu” he started, “what’s the chance that the sinterer will be on the next supply ship?”

A pause ensued. Quite an unusual event from Xu.

“Perhaps” she began. “The board has been rethinking the focus of the colony. And of us. They seems to think that the support from Earth may not be sufficient to make us sustainable in the short term. They’re balancing cost, effort and value. The cost of acquiring capability; the effort to use and maintain the capability; and the value of that capability. In short, they’re wanting to start seeing some return on their investment up here.”

It was Jean’s turn to pause. He was, in a sense, dumbfounded. Xu’s statement implied that the colony would have to start paying its way. They’d have to generate a product of some sort and sell it to the terrans. This went against all their initial plans. The Moon was pretty much a wasteland when compared to the Earth. There was nothing really marketable. Even the super-rich don’t think it much of a tourist destination. After all, they couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t swim, couldn’t ski, and couldn’t sunbathe. Jean was lost as to what could possibly be sold.

Slowly he queried “And how much of a return are they demanding?”

“It’s a good question. Apparently there’s a strong groundswell demanding the ending of capricious efforts so that the challenges on Earth can be completely addressed.”

Jean let this sink in. All the colonists had been through the theory. They had all accepted that there was no solution to fix all of humankind’s problems. No global panacea. They believed that the lunar colony was to provide that most precious of all human commodities. Hope. Hope in the future. Hope that humanity did have a future even after all they’d done to the Earth. Jean wondered what had changed.

Luna 9

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 #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.

 

Logbook #66

AS15-85-11373
AS15-85-11373

Le chapitre 66

Jean slumped deeper into the metal chair, pushed the controls to return the computer monitor to the old black and white sitcom then turned to give Zara a look bordering on mischief but slightly leaning toward general mayhem.

“Your name should have been Alice” he said to Zara with a smile that only Jackie Gleason could comprehend.

“Why” Zara innocently responded while stowing her air suit onto the rack.

“To the Moon Alice. To the Moon” was all that Jean breathed as if he were reciting a biblical quote of the deepest meaning. Yet his smile then extended a bit further back past his ears and seemed to wrap completely around his head.

“I still don’t get it” replied Zara. “Is it a plumber joke or something?”

“Or something” Jean answered without dropping any hint. “Let’s just power up the Haven’s human ergonomics. I rather like the stucco ceiling effect with countryside windows and a faux shag rug. OK with you?”

Zara paused for a moment. Collecting her thoughts she responded, “I think that sounds somewhat 60’s-ish. Isn’t that a bit before your time? As long as we wake up with no walls, a floor that resembles the outback and one side showing the gentle rise of Ayers rock then I’m happy.”

Zara strode past Jean to start the accounting of the stored supplies.

“I don’t know why Xu wants us to do this every time. It’s not like there are thieves in the neighbourhood. We’re actually missing neighbours of any sort. And as for rodents, there’s not even been the hint of a mouse” she joked.

Still she took her electronic notepad out and verified each package and each box. If there was any dust then even that would not have moved. But the air filtration system kept the air as clean as any biocontainment facility.

“Say have you ever thought that the mission specialists were Mormons or something? Like why this exact amount of food? No more. No less” she continued. “There’s this little gremlin inside of me that’s speaking. It says,”just report one little box is missing. Just one!” and I know that if I were to do that then Xu would have us searching every nook and cranny. Non-stop. No prospecting. No eating. No anything until that box is found. Or the error on the checklist discovered. Still, I can see that gremlin sitting on my shoulder.”

Jean laughed. “Maybe I’m the one that should be sitting on your shoulder. Then I would be as mischievous as any gremlin that you ever knew” he proclaimed with all the false bravado he could muster.

It was Zara’s turn to laugh. “Not so fast my little gigolo.

That wasn’t the only reason I requested you to join me in the Haven.”

“What?” questioned Jean “I’m hurt.” He added a disco ball effect to the room’s walls and began playing the old hits from Saturday Night Fever.

“I packed my special white suit for this overnight rendezvous and now you get ol’ Cold as Ice. Seems somewhat foreign to my views on seduction.”

Jean stood and in his best soprano he belted out “You’re as cold as ice and you’re willing to sacrifice our love” which of course brought laughter and tears onto Zara’s face.

Perhaps it was the contrast between Jean’s singing and the team’s unofficial anthem “Stayin’ Alive” playing in the background. But in any case Zara dropped the account checklist on top of the counter. Did her best Sandra Dee strut over to Jean and wrapped her arms warmly around his waist.

“Let’s change up that song and bring on a little Sinatra” she whispered in his ear. “I think it’s time we closed that feed to mission control and used this Haven the way it was meant to be used.”

Jean could feel his body warm to the embrace of Zara. The thoughts of him being a father were far away as the lights dimmed and the communications channel stopped its incessant blur of white noise. He was looking forward to a little entertainment that no TV show had ever envisioned when he was growing up.