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.