April 4, 2075 10:30 p.m. GST
Lunar Orbit Approach
“I am sorry to interrupt, sir, but can I speak with you outside, please?”
Evan stood up from the conference table and excused himself. The young man who had just interrupted his meeting led him out into the hallway.
“How can I help you?” Evan asked.
“Dr. Feldman, I am Jakob Nielsen from the U.S. Embassy. I am sorry to pull you away, but I need you to come with me immediately.”
“What is the problem, have I done something wrong?”
“No, sir. There has been an accident…a plane crash. One of your corporate jets went down in the Pacific.”
“Oh, my God! Is everyone okay?”
“No sir, I am afraid not. There is a search and rescue team on-site now, but they haven’t found any survivors.”
Evan’s heart pounded so hard that he could barely hear what the man said next.
“Sir, I need you to come with me now. There is a car waiting downstairs.”
Evan suddenly felt lightheaded, and he stumbled backward into the wall. Jacob caught him under his arms and held him up against the wall.
“Chr…Christina?” Evan stammered out his wife’s name. The tears welled up in his eyes and rolled down his face.
Jacob steadied Evan and eased him off the wall. “I’m very sorry, sir.”
“Nooo!” Evan sobbed. “It’s not possible.”
“Please, Dr. Feldman, not here. Let me take you someplace more private.”
“Christina!” Evan screamed as his knees gave out, almost taking Jacob down with him.
“Are you alright?” Chen asked from across the aisle.
Evan opened his eyes. The hallway in Hong Kong was gone, replaced by the white and blue interior of the shuttle. He had been dreaming.
“I’m fine, I was just dreaming.” He wiped his wet cheeks with the back of his hand.
“That sounded more like a nightmare to me…you called out Christina’s name.”
“Yeah, it was the day she died. That’s the first time I’ve dreamed since…” Evan fumbled for the words. “…since you brought me back.”
“Is everything okay up there?” Yin called from behind him.
“Yes, I am fine, thank you. Just a bad dream,” Evan called back.
Chen rotated his pod so he could get a better look at Evan.
“That’s a good sign,” he said. “Dreams mean that your brain is processing memories normally.”
“Great,” Evan said sarcastically. “I can think of a bunch of other things that I would rather dream about.”
“Not all memories are equal,” Chen said as he rotated his pod back to its rearward-facing position. “It’s not surprising that such a traumatic event is one of your strongest memories. I am sure that your brain allocated a great many neurons to it.”
Evan turned off the music playing in his ears and adjusted his pod to a more upright position.
“Evan?” Chen called across the aisle.
“I’m sorry. I know that was hard for you. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”
Evan gave him a slight smile. “Thanks, Chen, I appreciate that. I’ll be fine.”
A door slid open at the rear of the cabin. Evan watched as a platform carrying Elise and Talia descended slowly toward him. It stopped next to him, and Elise asked if he needed anything. He said he was fine and explained that he had been dreaming.
“Yeah, I noticed your heart rate spike for a few minutes,” Talia said. “Are you sure I can’t get you anything?”
“You’re watching my heart rate?” Evan asked.
Elise nodded. “Yes, your suit monitors your vital signs, and it notifies us when anything abnormal occurs.”
“Are you experiencing a headache?” Talia asked as she reached into the food and beverage cart.
“Yeah, and it’s getting worse. I figured it would go away once I got some rest.”
Chen rotated his pod again to face Evan.
“How long?” he asked.
“Since I woke up,” Evan replied.
“Here, take this.” Talia handed him a small pink pill and a pouch of water. “It’s a mild analgesic and endorphin booster.”
Evan swilled the pill with a gulp of water before handing her back the half-empty pouch. “Thank you.”
A warm smile spread across Talia’s face. “You’re welcome.”
“Do either of you need anything?” Elise asked Yin and Chen. “We are about to start our final deceleration into orbit, so now is your last chance.”
“No, thank you,” Yin and Chen said in unison.
“Okay. We should be on the ground in about thirty minutes.”
The platform continued to the front of the ship and Evan watched as Elise and Talia settled into their pods.
“Please keep an eye on those headaches, Evan,” Chen said. “You need to tell me if they get worse, or if you experience any disorientation or hallucinations. Those may be symptoms of a problem with your engramic transfer, and we need to jump on it right away if that happens.”
Evan nodded. “What would you do if that happens?”
“Well, it depends on where we are and what equipment we have available.”
“Is it fatal?”
“Not usually. It just means that your brain is struggling to assimilate all your memories, and it may need a little help. Everything usually sorts itself out after a few days.”
“What happens if it doesn’t?”
Chen paused for a second to consider his answer. “Let’s cross that bridge when we get there. I oversaw the transfer personally, and I am confident that you aren’t going to have any problems.”
“If you say so.”
“But, please let me know immediately if you have any symptoms. There is no sense taking any chances.”
Evan smirked. “No worries, Doc, I will let you know the minute I feel like I am going crazy.”
Captain Bauer’s voice echoed in Evan’s headrest. “Attention, please. We are about to start our final deceleration into Lunar orbit. We’ve been cleared to land and will be making a rapid descent to slide in front of a cargo freighter coming in from the Belt.”
Evan assumed correctly that “the Belt” referred to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The captain continued. “For those of you that haven’t done this before, we land backwards. Your pods are going to stay as they are until we are on the Lunar surface.”
“You should get a glimpse of the Tycho mines and Clavius Base as we de-orbit,” the captain resumed after a short pause. “And, you should have some pretty good views of Casatus City as we make our final approach to Klaproth.”
Another short pause. “There may be a few bumps here and there as we adjust our landing vector and rate of descent, but nothing as severe as what you experienced during launch. Otherwise, just sit back and enjoy the ride, and we will have you down shortly.”
Elise’s voice came over the sound system seconds after the captain finished.
“Our trip is just about over, and we’d like to thank you all for your cooperation and patience. You were a fantastic group and we look forward to serving you on a future flight. The current time is 22:35 GST, and we should be down in just about twenty minutes. There’s a short tow to the airlock after touchdown, so please remain in your pod until the craft comes to a complete stop.”
She drew in a breath before continuing.
“Please exit your pods slowly—lunar gravity is just one-sixth that of Earth. We recommend that you take a few minutes to acclimate yourself before you go bounding down the ramp. And we strongly encourage you to take advantage of the handrails that run the entire length of the gangway. Thank you again for flying with us today, and welcome to Luna.”
A few seconds after Elise stopped talking, the ship’s SABRE engines sprang to life. Evan felt his pod shake slightly as they added their thrust to that of the Hellfires to slow the craft. Their speed had dropped below 20,000 kilometers per hour and was falling quickly. Evan’s holodisplay showed their position a little south of the equator and just crossing the boundary between the light and dark sides of the moon.
An “Area of Interest” message flashed on the screen as it automatically zoomed in on the Sea of Tranquility. Soft music began playing as a male voice narrated a description of the Apollo 11 landing. A montage of old video clips and images appeared next to indicators of where they were taken on the lunar surface.
This happened several more times as the shuttle continued its descent. There was the Apollo 16 landing in the Descartes Highlands, the Chinese research stations at Kepler and Letronne craters, and the helium-3 mine in Grimaldi Crater. As the craft rocketed toward the far side of Luna, the automated narrator highlighted the Mare Orientale basin and the large mining consortium that operated there…followed minutes later by descriptions of various research stations and mining outposts, including the Mendeleev Deep Space Telescope.
The Mendeleev radio telescope was an array of telescopes spread over nearly 320 kilometers of crater floor on the far side of Luna. Construction on the facility began in 2033, just two years after the first colonists landed on Luna. It took nearly five years to complete. The narrator noted that the Mendeleev telescope had accumulated more information on deep space than all other Earth and space-based telescopes combined.
The space above the facility was restricted to preserve its unobstructed view of the universe. Evan noted that their current track was taking them 800 kilometers south of the crater. The plot on the display showed that they would make a large arc around the southern pole before descending into the Klaproth Spaceport. As they approached the pole, a magnified view of the Cabeus Research Station appeared on Evan’s holodisplay.
The narrator explained that Cabeus Crater was the site of the first lunar colony, having served as home to the two dozen intrepid men and woman who volunteered for the first mission in 2031. They had selected that site because of an abundance of water, in the form of ice, trapped beneath the crater’s surface. Early life for the colonists had been difficult because of the extreme cold and lack of sunlight on the crater floor. For power and heat, they relied entirely on two prototype helium-3 fusion reactors, which proved to be difficult to maintain and operate. The colonists also learned the hard way that extracting helium-3 was not as easy as they first thought.
They decided to relocate the colony to the Casatus Crater, some 300 kilometers to the north. Unlike Cabeus, Casatus offered a large, relatively flat area that received significant sunlight throughout most of the lunar year. There was water under Casatus, but it was nowhere near as abundant as at Cabeus. And it was nearly a mile below the surface, which made extraction and processing far more difficult. Transporting the abundant water of Cabeus to the more hospitable Casatus—first with tankers and later an underground aqueduct—solved the problem.
Evan heard the Hellfire engines cut off as the ship made its final turn toward Klaproth. A few seconds later, Elise’s voice echoed over the sound system.
“Attention, please. We’ve been cleared to land. Your pods will rotate forward once we are on the ground, but please remember to remain seated until we have stopped moving and the airlock is sealed. Don’t forget to retrieve your helmets and other personal belongs from the under-pod storage compartment on your way out. Thank you again for flying with us today, and may the solar wind be ever at your back.”
Evan watched his display intently as they descended into Klaproth. The part of Casatus that he could see consisted of one large dome surrounded by six smaller domes. The large dome was about a kilometer-and-a-half in diameter and over ninety meters high at its peak. According to the narrator, Casatus was home to 35,263 colonists, of which nearly half had been born on Luna. They were largely self-sufficient food and energy-wise, but they still imported most of their manufactured goods from Earth and Mars.
Luna was the hub of a robust trade network between Earth and the colonies; its location made it the ideal trans-shipment point for goods and materials. Like Mars, the lunar colony had an independent democratic government that was organized like a typical Earth corporation—with an elected board of directors and a president who served as chairman of the board. Together, they provided direction and oversaw the colony’s day-to-day operations.
A public referendum decided non-routine issues, with anyone over the age of twenty years able to vote. The president and board members stood for election every twelve years on an alternating basis, which meant that either the president or half the board was up for election every four years—with no term limits. The current president, Andrea Renee Duchon, was in her twelfth year and up for re-election in November.
Evan heard a loud roar from the SABRE engines and felt the shuttle’s forward motion slow considerably. The craft was now at 3,000 meters above the surface and descending at ten meters per second. The visual display switched to Klaproth Station, which consisted of another dome surrounded by a dozen well-lit, circular landing pads.
About half of the pads were occupied—two by ships similar to the one he was in, and four by larger ships that he guessed to be cargo transport ships, due to their boxy shapes. His ship was headed toward an empty pad on the northeast side of the dome.
The SABREs roared again as the craft descended below 1,000 meters, and Evan watched intently as their descent rate dropped to five meters per second. He switched his display to a rearward view so he could watch the thrusters fire. He adjusted the viewpoint to just under the nose of the ship, looking toward the rear. From this vantage, he could see the thrusters mounted along the bottom of the craft, the four SABRE engines on the wings, and the spaceport just ahead.
He watched with rapt attention as the thrusters and engines lit up in seemingly random patterns. The ship coasted gently toward the landing pad, where a six-wheeled vehicle sat off to one side. They were just meters above the lunar surface, and Evan could see grains of sand and small rocks being tossed around by the ship’s downward thrust. A few seconds later, they floated across the landing pad threshold. Evan again adjusted his display, allowing him to look rearward from a point at the top of the fuselage in between the craft’s V-shaped tail.
They were now over the landing pad.
The SABREs roared one last time to bleed off the rest of their forward motion. The underbelly thrusters fired as the ship floated lazily down onto the center of the pad. He switched his view to the nose of the craft just as the thrusters went quiet.
“Wow!” he said out loud.
“Yeah, wow,” Yin said, “I never tire of seeing that.”
The passenger pods rotated forward, and Yin was once again behind Evan.
Evan watched as the six-wheeled vehicle rolled up to the front of the ship and attached itself to the forward landing gear. Once connected, it hauled them across the pad toward the terminal. It took several minutes to get them off the pad and aligned with the airlock. As soon as they stopped moving, Elise and the other flight attendants got out of their pods and moved toward the forward hatch. Evan noticed that they took slow, steady steps to minimize bouncing in the low gravity. Several minutes passed while the flight crew secured the main hatch and opened the airlock.
Elise’s voice sounded over the intercom. “Please be careful when exiting your pods and watch your step. You will bounce if you step too hard. And it will hurt if you bang your head against the ceiling, so please proceed slowly and carefully.”
There was another short pause.
“And please let us know if you need help with your belongings or exiting the craft.”
Elise stayed by the hatch, but Talia and Anika moved down the aisle in case anyone needed help. Evan removed his restraints and slowly stood. He felt light-headed and had to wait a few seconds to regain his balance. Yin and Chen leapt from their seats and gathered their things from the storage bins beneath their pods. They had done this before.
Chen offered Evan his arm, Yin grabbed Evan’s helmet from under his pod, and the three of them drifted toward the front of the ship together.
Anika and Talia smiled as they walked past, and Elise gave one last, “Thank you,” as they entered the airlock.
The door slid shut as soon as they were inside the airlock. An obnoxiously loud hiss emanated from somewhere behind them as the pressure equalized. The airlock walls, floor, and ceiling glowed with a faint bluish-purple hue.
“Decontamination,” Chen said, sensing Evan’s puzzlement.
A few seconds went by before the lights turned white and the opposite door slid open. Evan could see a long, well-lit hallway leading away from the ship.
Chen urged Evan forward. “There’s a changing room just ahead. We’ll want to get out of these suits before we meet our contact in the main terminal.”
The three ambled down the hallway as Evan adjusted to the low gravity environment. Chen was no longer holding his arm, but Yin walked a few steps behind, just in case.
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