The following is a few chapters from a fictional account of the start of a lunar colony taken from the middle of my space opera, Multiplarity.
The omniphage mentioned below is a drug that can repair any damage to a body including the genetic breakdown from old age. It is a true fountain-of-youth treatment with all the troubles that effective immortality implies.
He stared at the bleak landscape and muttered to himself. “Dust. Nothing but dust. I hate dust.”
“What’s that, hon?” His wife’s voice was gentle over his shoulder. She put a plate of eggs and toast on the table and leaned over to see what had his attention outside their trailer.
He gave her a wan smile and a quick kiss. “Ah, nuthin’. I’m just bitchin’ about this damn desert.”
As Cheryl got her own plate, he asked about the kids.
“Charlie has been doing really good on his geometry and general science lessons, but I’m having a hard time getting him to focus on history. Wendy is going to be a pretty good writer, but I’m worried about her math skills. They’re both well above normal on reading speed and comprehension.” She took a bite of her breakfast, then asked, “What about you, Buster? How’s the project?”
He finished chewing a mouthful to delay. “It’s almost done. I’ve had to let most of the crew go and we’re getting final sign off on the entire site sometime in the next week or so. After that…” He shrugged.
“Still no other job offers?”
“Nope.” He waved out the window. “You’ve noticed that even though only a few of us are still employed, nobody has left the camp yet? There’s no place to go. There are no more large construction projects scheduled since the riots and any rebuilding jobs are going to cheap, local labor.”
She took his hand and tried to be positive. “Well, I’m not going to worry too much right now. We’ve been pretty careful and there’s some cash in the bank. Where do you want to go when we’re done, here?”
“No place. This trailer is paid for and I’ve managed to talk the company into lettin’ anyone on the team remain on this land, rent-free for the next year. That’s all they will allow us to find new positions. The problem is that nobody is hirin’ and since all the riots, the big cities are just shells. Everyone that could has settled where they can farm and grow their own food. The few city folk that don’t know any better or can’t afford to move, are dependent on rapidly-dwindling emergency food supplies. We’re safer out here in this damn desert and we are close to the power from the hydro plant we just finished, but we can’t grow anythin’ in this damn dust.”
He parked next to the project trailer and paid no attention to the black Suburban in front.
“There you are!” It was the government project manager. “Come here, Buster. There’s somebody you want to meet.”
“Mr. Simmons, this is Charles Mathias. Buster, I invited this fellow to meet you. He has a proposition.”
They shook hands and the PM told them to go ahead and use the conference room. Then, he escaped to some other meeting.
“So, Mr. Simmons, what can I do for you?”
“Call me John.”
“Okay John and please call me Buster. Most everyone around here does.” He leaned back in the chair, glanced at his watch and decided to get this over with. “What is it that you’re selling?”
“A fresh chance for you, your family and some of your team.” Before Buster could ask, he continued. “I know that this project is almost over and you’re going to be available. I represent a group that has a very large, long-term project already started and we’re in need of people like you and many of the folks on your present team. We’re prepared to offer you a chance at a new life.”
“I’m not sure I follow. How about some details, like what kind of project, where, and what sort of timeframe?”
“You’ve heard that we have a base on the moon, right?”
“Well, it has finally grown past the research station stage and we’re engaged in a series of massive construction projects.”
Buster held up his hand. “Whoa there, mister. I’m way too old to be spending months at a time ramrodding some rocket base on the moon. And I’m also not going to leave my wife to finish raising our kids while I’m away for months or years at a time. Forget it!” He started to get up.
“Wait a minute. I think you misunderstand. We don’t just have some small base up there. We’re now at the stage where we are going to start colonization with entire families. If you take this job, your wife and kids are going along too. And there are some great fringe benefits…”
“Take my family? To the moon? Now I know you’re nuts. Things are cramped enough in our trailer, but at least they can go outside to play soccer or go hiking. I’ve been in a submarine before and if I told them we were going to be living in a pressurized tube, sleeping in bunks and no soccer field, I’d have a riot on my hands.”
John smiled and continued. “I think you have the wrong idea of what stage the colony is at. We let the media think it’s just a bunch of inflatable tubes on the lunar surface, but right now, I can offer your family a three bedroom, two bath apartment that is easily twice the size of your current trailer. Not only that, but we have an amphitheater, park and playground area that is more than ten acres of open space.”
Buster’s eyes narrowed. “That doesn’t sound like any of the news reports I’ve seen. How many people do you have up there and just how big is it?”
“All the information we give to the media is at least a couple of years old. We aren’t quite ready for the land rush, just yet. That’s where you come in.”
“That’s all very interesting, but I still don’t think I’m ready to go blasting into space with my whole family. Hell! I’m forty seven years old and doubt I could even pass the physical.”
Buster tapped on his tablet computer and turned it around to show Buster a slide show. “Take a look at these images that were taken in the past month or so. I mentioned fringe benefits, how old would you say I am?”
Buster watched images of a tropical garden with overhanging tomato vines and other vegetables slide by. His eyes skipped for a second to give a quick evaluation of John. “You look like you’re about twenty five or twenty six, why?”
“Actually, I celebrated my eighty fourth birthday a couple of months ago. One of the benefits is totally free health care for the entire family. Once you’re part of the team, every member of the family gets a full physical. If there are any major problems or if you’re feeling the effects of age, we offer free Omniphage treatments. The same applies in case of any injury. If you’re hurt and we can keep you alive long enough for a shot of the ‘Phage, then you’ll be up and at ’em inside a few days.”
The slide show had switched to images of tall, wide tunnels with people walking and standing in them. Then, the photos showed what looked like a modern, luxury apartment.
“Why do you want me? I’m no rocket scientist. My degree is in mechanical engineering and it’s about twenty five years old.”
John waved his hand dismissively. “That’s why we want you. We have rocket scientists, astronomers, physicists, chemists, and space pilots out the ass. The colony has reached the point where we need people with construction and heavy equipment experience. Riggers for long-line work, and bridge builders. The next stage is going to be massive and you and your team’s experience is going to be critical.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask… What is this next stage?”
John leaned forward, picked up the tablet and selected another image. “This is a photo of a crater and some mountains on the south pole of the moon. See that large crater?” He pointed it out.
“That crater is more than one hundred and sixty five miles wide.” He zoomed in to a smaller crater near the edge. “This crater is about fifteen miles wide. Our current colony is working its way around the edge of the smaller crater right now. We’ve got about a mile of tunnels so far and more than a hundred apartments ready to move in.”
“That sounds more like a job for miners than riggers and bridge builders.”
“That is only part of the project and our existing teams have the tunneling operations well in hand. What we want you for is a wee bit larger.” He selected another image that showed a spider-web of lines criss-crossing the crater. “We’re going to build an airtight dome over the entire crater.”
Buster stared at the next few artist sketches, showing the frame work growing and getting covered.
“Excuse me, but I think I heard you say that crater is about fifteen miles wide?”
“Nope. We have plenty of reason to think it is not only possible, but a requirement. Keep in mind the moon only has one sixth the gravity of the Earth.”
“But even so, how thick would steel cables have to be to support a roof? And what would the roof be made of?”
“We’re making all the materials on-site. The cables are a type of braided carbon fiber that is much stronger than steel and less than a third the mass. Also remember the moon has no appreciable atmosphere. Once the crater is sealed, we’re going to pressurize it to about one Earth atmosphere. Spread that under a dome that size and there is a lot of additional support”
“But fifteen miles. That is mind-boggling.”
“Don’t worry, Buster. We’re going to do it.” He stood up. “Keep that tablet for show-and-tell. I’m going to be here for the next couple of days. Then, you’ll be able to reach me at this email address.” He handed him a card. “Don’t take too long to make up your mind. If you don’t take it, I’ll find somebody else. We need a team in place in the next six months.”
“The moon? You did say the moon, didn’t you?” Cheryl repeated slowly while shaking her head.
He nodded while she stared at her husband in disbelief.
“As if things aren’t bad enough here, you want to send us to live in some underground tunnel on the
“At least give me a chance to show you why I’m considering it.”
Her voice reflected her sense of trepidation. “Okay.”
He showed her the images and gave her the same spiel Mr. Simmons had given him. Then, he went further. “Right now, there is no way to produce any serious food in this damn desert. The only places that are hiring folks like us are some of the inner cities that are trying to rebuild after the riots. They are paying pennies on the dollar. As you well know, they are also a very dangerous place to bring up kids. Not one of the governments have any money to spend on major projects like this hydroelectric plant we just finished. One of the reasons they want people like us, is that families tend to give you stability. They already have a small school and a group of kids up there. It’s not in the news yet, but the first baby has already been born on the moon. They are building a new society and we can not only be a part of that, but we can help to shape it.”
“You sound as if you’re already sold on the idea. But what about the kids? Do you think they will want to leave their friends and their school?”
He shrugged. “We’ve been living in this damn dust bowl of a desert for the last five years and I’ve heard both of them griping about it almost as much as I have. Not only that, but the contract is not just for us, but for any other families I want to bring in as part of the team. They have places for two dozen of us right now and as soon as the new batch of apartments are ready, they will have room for another couple of dozen. They fully expect to hire more than two hundred construction people within the next couple of years.”
“What happens when that crater job is finished?”
He got a wistful expression. “I asked that too. You know what he said?”
She looked suspicious.
“They expect all the heavy rigging and construction work on this job to last for at least another six to seven years. After that, they plan another, almost identical job in a nearby crater. He says we should have work as long as we wish. And, we’ll be able to take regular vacations to freshen up.”
“Vacations? Where, for Pete’s sake? This is the moon we’re talking about.”
He showed her some of the recreation areas we’re going to be working on. She was reminded of luxury resorts in some of those old travel magazines.
Her arms were folded under her breasts. He reached out and put his arms over her shoulders and pulled her close. “I really think this will be a good move for us.”
She just stood there for a moment, then put her arms around him and whispered in his ear. “You know you’re a damn lunatic, don’t you?”
They didn’t tell the kids right away. Instead, he spoke with the rest of his team. Five others decided they had had enough of the desert and no job prospects and signed on. They organized a group meeting with a big-screen projector and all the kids. There were some panic moments, but when they youngsters, ranging in age from six to seventeen, realized they wouldn’t be alone, but all their friends were going with them, the complaints dropped to a muttered rumble. They did stare at the rugged plastic box with the multiple snaps around the lid.
“What’s that for?” Asked a fourteen year old Charlie Mathias.
John Simmons released the snaps and opened the lid. “This is what you can take with you. It holds approximately one cubic meter and is rated to hold up to one hundred kilos. That is your personal weight and space limit. There are only a few restrictions. Nothing living can ship in it and that includes plants. Also no aerosol or other pressurized containers. Nothing in the form of explosives. This includes firearms. We have many folks in the colony that can teach various self-defense arts if you wish to learn. I have a list for each of you that recommends things that are in very short supply. It is highly recommended that you pay attention to it.
One of the teenagers held up his hand. “What sort of things are the rarest?”
“Fine wines, good coffee, and good tea. We grow lots of wonderful vegetables and fruits, but so far, we don’t have the room for tea and coffee plants. That will have to wait until the larger dome is finished. Also, fine wood products are very rare because wood is so heavy and bulky. We are going to start our own lumber industry when the larger domes are ready, but it will probably be thirty to fifty years before we see any lunar wood products at all.”
Wendy couldn’t believe she had to cut back on her wardrobe. At sixteen, clothing and her own gothic lolita style meant everything. She held up her hand. “What about clothing? What’s it like up there?”
He folded his arms and held one finger up to the side of his face, as if trying to recall something.
“You’re Wendy Mathias, right?”
“I think your mom told me that you do a bit of sewing and are into costume design.”
She nodded again.
“Well, we’re putting together a theater group and there is a budget for raw fabric, thread, and sewing machine needles. I would highly recommend you have your sewing machines serviced, order some spare parts that might wear out and pack it along with some of your favorite garb. The one thing we don’t have a lot of is shoe stores. So, a few different styles might be a good idea. You can leave the old sneakers or running shoes home though. We provide more than a dozen styles of basic work shoes as part of your housing allowance.”
Charlie Mathias held up his hand. “What about my table top gaming figures, books and video game console?” Several other kids nodded in agreement and started muttering.
John held up his hand. “Please keep it down and I’ll answer your question.” He continued. “First off, let me say I like to build models, too. And my apartment has a bunch of them. I would not recommend taking any of your models or books with you, though.”
A bunch of the kids and a couple of the adults looked shocked at this.
“There are two reasons for this. Number one, all the gaming books, magazines, and support manuals are available in electronic format and if we don’t have one of them on our servers, we can get it within a day or so. The second thing is that we have dozens of small-scale fabricators that can build just about any design you can think of using local materials. That saves us from shipping all that weight up from Earth. Just for example, I like to build model airplanes. There are more than a dozen in my apartment. They are all made from plastic kits that I ordered from one of our fabricators. I assembled and painted them myself as my idea of relaxation. I have friends that are table top gamers and they have made entire armies of small figures that they assemble, paint and then use in their games. There’s no need to waste your valuable cargo space. Just be sure to check the recommended packing list.”
Another hand went up in the back “I haven’t been able to afford a new computer. How am I supposed to see this list you keep talking about?”
John pulled a tablet from his vest pocket and held it up. “Part of your hiring bonus is that everybody will get one of these slates. They are a brand new design and employ an extremely broad-band quantum connection that will let you access both the public web here on Earth and the lunar net. It has a great deal of information as well as the recommended packing list.” He paused and smiled conspiratorially. “And it is also a full video phone with unlimited minutes.”
That announcement was greeted with a great many nods and smiles.
The moon! Wow! Charlie thought to himself. Talk about living a science fiction dream. His mom and dad had just broken the news to some of their grandparents and cautioned them not to spread the word to their friends just yet. But wow!
The fourteen-year-old stood out behind their trailer, staring at the full moon, just clearing the horizon in the distance while the brilliant colors of a desert sunset lit more than half the sky.
“Hey Charlie!” The voice belonged to Jimmy Tsu. “Have you heard?” Jimmy skidded his mountain bike to a stop.
Charlie only glanced at his friend, then went back to staring at the moon. “Yeah. I heard all right. Let me guess, your family took the job offer, too.”
“Yeah. Man, can you believe it? We’re going to the moon.” He leaned forward, arms folded on the handlebars and stared at the moon with his friend for a moment. Then, in a conspiratorial whisper,
“Wonder how many cute moon chicks we’re gonna meet?”
Charlie shook his head. “You’ve been watching way too many of them old movies.” He paused for a second. “But then again, with Omniphage, who knows? Maybe we will meet some really hot moon
His sister heard their conversation while looking out of the trailer window. She shook her head. “Boys.” She muttered to herself.
“What’s that, dear?” Her mom asked from the other side of the kitchen.
“Charlie and Jimmy seem really excited about this move. I’m glad somebody is.”
“Oh, you’re going to love it. Think of all the fantastic things we’re going to see and experience that most people only dream about.”
“Yeah. And one of those experiences might be getting blown up with some rocket failure, or freezing to death when the power fails, or feeling all the air get sucked out of our lungs…”
“Oh stop it!” Her mom was exasperated. “Why are you trying to be so bleak about it? There are hundreds of people already up there and we’re going to be fine. You might just take a tip from the boys you were grousing about.”
With an incredulous look, she stared at her mother. “A tip from them? What are you talking about?”
Her mother grinned conspiratorially. “You are probably going to meet some really handsome, intelligent, and oh-so-sexy young man up there.”
Wendy just rolled her eyes and banged her forehead on the table.
If you’d like to learn more about how things got so bad and how it goes for Wendy and the gang, here’s the link to Multiplarity.
My next post will be an essay based on current research as to how we might develop off-Earth colonies.
As always, comments and questions are welcomed.