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 #83

Zara relaxed and let her mind float out to meet the stars overhead. It was night time on the Moon’s surface and the Sun’s glare didn’t obstruct or confuse. Her eyes reached up. Darting from one constellation to the next. Skipping from one asterism to the next. Her mind remembering nights spent lying in the backyard with her mother. Learning about stars. The real lessons of fusion reactors and powerful bursts of radiation. Learning from her about the basic elements. Atoms. And that stars and people all came from the same stuff. Coming from something that might have had a beginning. Creating substance out of raw energy. Transfiguring to the current time. Perhaps a linear transformation. Perhaps transforming but with all moments in time and space connected by strings. And her mind floated further into possibilities.

She loved thinking of the possibilities. Perhaps one day, people could visit another star. Maybe only as a consciousness in a machine. An arrangement of bits and bytes that somehow represented a person. Or at least a person at a certain moment in time. A person as defined by a collection of characteristics of strings. Strings that had given substance to a personality. Which at a particular instant people would have duplicated exactly. And then installed into mechanical memory. Then that installation had been encoded and put into flight. To fly to another star. Perhaps one just above her right now. Funny thing how stars seemed a bit boring when they didn’t twinkle.

She though it also odd that her interest in rocks had brought her to the Moon. Maybe it had come from watching many years ago vintage footage of Harrison Schmitt as he danced around the lunar regolith. Maybe it was his exultations on finding so many varieties of rocks. Colours. Shapes. Textures. So much to look at. So much to measure. So much to ponder. For instance, was the Moon just great chunks of the Earth’s outer shell that had been blasted off? During some primordial collision? Which then coalesced into this great chunk of rock that she called home. But it had been rocks that caught her interest. Rocks as clues to powers far grander than hers. Of any person. Powers that could toss around masses such as Ayers rock. Slide continents up and over. Smooth the exterior of a planet. Make a planet livable. Give it a protective magnetic mantle. Or not. As she considered when comparing the Moon to the Earth.

A slight tremor vibrated through her body. These were common events on the Moon. The Moon may be dead when compared to the Earth. Yet it was anything but still. It seemed to enjoy a cacophony of vibrations. All low amplitude. Usually short duration. Some with a small period. Others that seemed to be resonating with the ages of galaxies.

Galaxies. “They were a wonder,” she thought. They were something that could be measured. Could be identified and put into a box. A classification. An ellipse. A wheel. A sombrero. But why couldn’t you classify what’s between the galaxies. If dark matter was supposedly so prevalent then it should be out there. It should have characteristics. Would it have its own collection of strings to define its existence? And would humans ever learn how to identify and measure those characteristics.

Zara felt her breathing slow. Her muscles relaxed. She began entering a pleasant meditative state. At which time the intercom crackled and Xu’s voice entered her ears.

“Time to get back to rock picking” Xu gently said. Xu knew that Zara had an almost emotional attachment to rocks. And the Moon. And the stars. And Xu knew she had to pull Zara back into reality slowly. As sometimes dreams were the only reality.


Logbook #79

Xu’s fingers collected together and gently pressed upon the Enter key on the keyboard. She saw the screen go dark. Her chat session had ended. As with the other colonists, she had the ability to hold private communications with anyone on the Moon or on the Earth. Her latest just ended. It had been with the secretariat of a group of investment bankers. The conversation had been dire. All about profits smaller than forecast and losses greater than expected. But the conversation hadn’t been directed at their adventure on the Moon. The chat topic had been a general overview of the Earth’s economy.

In her mind, she repeated many of the verbal expressions she had heard. She tasted the nuances. Rolled syllables and stressed accents when repeating words spoken as the speaker had. From it, she didn’t sense any pretence or menace. Neither was there a sensation of a threat or warning. Yet the thrust of the conversation was obvious. The Earth’s economy was continuing to deflate. It was steadily marching toward the end of the service economy. The service economy had replaced the production economy. The production economy had replaced the simple barter economy. However, nothing was replacing the service economy. The best that the secretariat hoped for was a long period of nil inflation. It would be a period having very little demand for production, construction or invention. From it, Xu conferred that the conversation’s overall message was to aim for steady state, a need to keep things moribund.

On the positive side, she accepted that the lunar colony existed within the continuum. As such she expected the secretariat to continue supporting it. On the negative side she knew that any requests by the Lunar Colony Fund to speed up construction or enlarge work scope would likely be met with a very quick refusal. Further, it was possible that a risk once realised would overwhelm the perceived resources and put an end to their lunar dreams.

While much of this perception of the economy was not new, the chat left her with a heightened sense of unease.

“Zara,” she enquired “remind me, why are we doing this?”

Zara looked down and then up with a look of confusion on her face. “We’re doing this to improve the process for extracting water from the surface rocks.” she replied.

“No, not why are we doing this chemical analysis. Look at the bigger picture. Why are we trying to live on the Moon? Our bodies were made for living on Earth. There they’d grow free and easy. They’re adapted to the gravity, to the air, to the ecosystem. Yet here on the Moon we are imprisoned within a metal tube. Nothing is either free or easy. Nothing is natural about our existence.” she paused.

“You certainly start big conversations in a quick way” Zara said. “Let me try to answer. I find when looking at the bigger picture that I have to look from a reference much grander than myself. It’s not about me sitting at this table. It’s not about us living in the Hab. It is about humanity making its first step off of Earth. It’s a trial. If we can survive then we can consider the limits of the universe as being the limits to humankind’s opportunity. If we can’t survive then the human race accepts that while we live on Earth freely and easily, the Earth is our prison. A prison that won’t let us ever leave.”

“That’s an interesting and yet very appropriate perspective for us here on the Moon. We represent the very limits of humanity. Not only do we determine if the human race is capable of surviving off planet Earth, we also determine if the human race has the desire. What is the limit to humanity’s desires? Do we want to live forever? Do we want to travel the stars? Can you even identify a desire for all of humanity?” Xu had many questions.

“I like where you’re going with this. What a great question. How do we identify humanity’s desires? Sure we understand personal desire personal. Individually, we want to be safe, we want to live in comfort, we want progeny. Where do we want to go as a group? Does the group have the same desires? And should we only direct our efforts to these desires? I must admit, my personal desire has been instrumental in getting me onto the Moon. I’ve just accepted that having people on the Moon is the logical next step so I haven’t really thought about why. Should we be concerned?”

“No. There’s nothing really to worry about. I just finished a chat with a person who seemed that today was OK but that tomorrow, at best, would be no different. As if humanity on Earth was settling down. Whatever that means. If people on Earth decide that the status quo is good enough then they could very likely define desires to minimize change. This could be in conflict with our situation on the Moon as here we’re all about change. Personally, I’m hoping that humanity continues to see the value in pushing frontiers.”


Logbook #74


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.