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 #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 #67

AS17-133-20233
AS17-133-20233

Le chapitre 67

Xu watched over Aditya’s shoulder while he contemplated his next move on the Pachisi board. His home group in Calcutta regularly convened a tournament which Aditya loved to attend. At least virtually attend. His friends had grown accustomed to the delayed information flow and would comfortably pause after each crucial move so that Aditya could absorb the significance, hear the participants speculate and then provide his own jaded commentary. As fascinating as he found it, Xu didn’t. She watched perplexed while the four players incited each other to make grandiose moves. Then each usually proceeded to do something quite different. The whole event was contrary to her internal mantra of harmony and cohesion.

She sighed then left Aditya to his devices and walked back over to the wall screen. Aptly named, this back-lit computer screen covered a rectangle about 2 metres high by 3 metres across. It was power hungry so they used it only for particular needs. Her present need was to prepare for tomorrow’s semi-annual residents’ meeting. They got quite a thrill when using the term resident and it had stuck. She keyed in the map server so the Moon’s surface terrain appeared as a series of finely detailed height contours. She toggled various overlays produced from years of optical data taken by orbiting satellites. She looked for views with the Sun at such an angle that shadows detailed the terrain without obscuring too much. It didn’t take much time to find appropriate selections; she had been mentally preparing for this presentation for quite some time.

She smoothly and gracefully spun around and again used her keyboard to raise a second map. This time the map was presented as a 3 dimensional holograph. Given that they were at the Moon’s south pole, and that the Moon was much smaller than Earth, then the holograph was extremely useful for distance perception. A perception that couldn’t be easily shown on the wall screen.

She synchronized the two displays and began toggling various overlays. One had all the structures; their infrastructure at the south pole, the old Apollo, Luna and Chang’e hardware and the ever-expanding, mysterious facility up on the north pole. With another keystroke she included the transportation and communication networks. Her last keystokes brought up a coded hatching of where they had assayed for minerals together with the relevant results. This view sharply brought up the challenges that were facing them as the map should scant markings of valuable results.

According to the displays there was precious little mineral wealth that was readily available on the nearby surface. They also knew from their digging at the Haven that, at least at that spot, there wasn’t much of interest just below the surface either. While this had been expected the lack of immediate rewards gnawed at her comfort.

Sure there were ice comets flying about the solar system that had as much water as the Indian Ocean on Earth. But that meant little to them here on the Moon. They had also been hoping for a mineral deposit much like that of the Sudbury basin in Ontario. Yet their pickaxes had not prised even a hint of a vein out of the regolith or subsurface. Unconsciously her shoulders drooped.

“Have you got some nice videos to go with those maps” spoke Aditya from across the Hab. “If we’re going to plan our family’s vacation then at least we should have an idea of what we might see when we get there.”

At the sound of his voice Xu’s shoulders happily went back into place and she let her moment of doubt fade into the grey of the display.

“I’ve heard a desire to go to Waterworld this year” she laughed “complete with towels, suntan lotion and rubber ducks.”

Aditya laughed with her. “I was hoping for something like that. Will it be for a while? Last year’s adventure at the Rocket Land amusement park seemed to be over far too quickly” he implored.

Logbook #64

AS17-145-22166
AS17-145-22166

Le chapitre 64

Xu closed the live stream with the Lunar Colony Fund’s board of directors and gave out a loud, heavy sigh. Isolation and solitude allowed for these brief vents of discord. Her mind slowly digested the news. Funding was holding its own. The supply vessels would continue. The five colonists could continue with developing humanity’s toehold upon another world. But there was no expectation of any largess. The Terrans continued their circumspection. Their preference led to short-term investments in banks and holding companies rather than supporting development in space. Even with its incredible opportunities and fantastic risks.

“So much for life on Earth” she spoke aloud to herself.
Xu switched her comms to internal dialogue mode and gave Zara a simple “Hello”.

“Well hello to you too my sweet governess” soothed Zara using her best back country twang.

She knew that Xu only initiated contact when her internal gyros went unstable so to speak. This suited Zara. She could expertly read the veins of rocks and she could read the moods and ambiances of her friends. And she had known that Xu would be at the board meeting while she was outside circling the base of Mont Lemaitre as she was now doing. She had expected this call.

Xu let out a soft laugh. The honorific of governess meant absolutely nothing to either of them other than to say that Zara was listening completely.

Xu continued “Well as everyone expected the board meeting was all bureaucratic machinations. Again!”

“Nothing more and nothing less than keeping their chairs warm I bet.” agreed Zara.

Xu continued “The Earth still has such incredible potential; a world full of resources, people more than ready and able to assist and the promise of boundless wealth. And what’s on people’s mind?”

Zara simply replied “Cricket?”

Xu laughed again. A little longer. A little harder. Mostly sports bored her. But that particular one seemed an insomniac’s dream come true. “Actually they may have been better employed selling cucumber sandwiches at a test match than holding the meeting. Every month the same thing. The same stories. Never enough of this. Barely enough of that. Have to learn to do without. ‘Without what?’ I once innocently asked. I thought everything we’ve got is already critical to our survival. It’s not like we’re living a life of luxury here. And the Black. The Black is always there” she ended.

They all had come to calling the vast emptiness of the Moon’s skies as the Black. When at first the sight of the stars captured their gaze and drew their eyes up now all of them just saw black. No clouds. No wind in the face. No rain. No sunrises. No sunsets. Just Black. The Sun was more a point source of harsh light. Other stars were just capricious temptresses. Teasing the watchers. Summoning them in laughter. Mirthful in knowing they couldn’t be attained. It was as if an ominous hand pressed upon the colonists’ shoulders dimming their optimism, shadowing their joy.

“Maybe the board’s gotten too indulgent in their roles. Let’s show them what it’s like. Which one would you like to swap places with?” asked Zara.

Xu was silent over the comms for a few moments. Names and faces flowed across her mind. Revenge, spite, education all good reasons to change places. But it was a trite thought. One that she had long ago forgone. Even before the training on Earth she had decided to go to the Moon to stay. She would not give up this life for anything. And sometimes, like now, she needed to be reminded of this.

“Thanks. That’s a good question” she answered to Zara. “But I’ll happily leave that to Valentina. She already has her place on the board and she’s doing more there than I ever could.” Xu’s spirit lifted. As it usually did after talking with Zara. The essence of simplicity and charm from their Australian colleague could even turn the radiowaves to sincerity.

Xu changed the topic, happy to return to their local exigencies. “What’s the base of the mount look like? Is there any chance of veins of high mineral concentrations?”

Xu knew just enough geology to ask the right questions. Usually.

Zara returned her focus to the rock masses thrusting in oddly twisted ways. This area was no result of volcanism as occurred on Earth. The Moon was lifeless in all intent. A large accumulation of debris. Dust, pebbles, rocks. Gathered from a belt circling the Earth. Punctuated with the occasional fierce strike of an asteroid. She was standing at the shock interface between an outgoing pressure wave caused by an impact and a robust wall woven through the Moon’s crust as created at some time during inception.

Zara’s perspective of time often got out of whack when she was inspecting the Moon’s surface. Billions of years, millions, eons, hours, seconds; they all meant so little.

“Well it’s still grey” she answered. “Hard to say if there’s anything of interest. Maybe the probe’s magnetic reading was caused by some nearby mascon. I’m going to take a few more samples and bring them back for analysis.”

“I’m looking forward to having something that we can actually serve to the Terrans on a plate” replied Xu. “Hopefully you’ll have a few shards that might be the first forkful. I look forward to seeing you back in the Hab.”

Xu completely closed the connection and let herself relax. She closed her eyes and reached out with her inner sense and felt the nearby presence of her four companions. She smiled. This connection was more real to her than any radiowaves.