Just finishing their final year at Tranquility University a group of friends decides they'd rather pool their resources and talents to go asteroid prospecting instead of looking for normal, boring jobs. Even once they manage to secure financing, the challenges only build, and their journey will to take them a lot farther than the Belt. Individually and together, they'll find pursuing a dream is a lot harder than having one.
Publisher: Cyborg Bunny Press
In Scott’s experience, most people who lived on the Moon had things to remind them of Earth. Even fourth and fifth generation Lunies kept something that showed some tiny bit of life of the world their ancestors left behind. Nearly every home or residence had at least one wall screen that mimicked a window showing some still image, or even a long video loop, of a life-filled scene. Jungles, forests, mountains, the open sea or sky. It didn’t take much to keep the mental connection alive that somewhere out there was a green planet, filled with life. That you could turn on an external view and see that green planet at any time didn’t seem to enter anyone’s thoughts. As far as he could tell, no one on the Moon looked at the sky if their job didn’t take them to the surface.READ MORE
His wall, however, showed that surface as seen through one of the thousands of cameras scattered around the exterior of Tranquility City. In three or four days, the curtain of advancing night would appear, but for now there was only brilliant regolith and a small cluster of boulders in the distance. Stark and beautiful, first sight of that landscape took his breath away every morning. He couldn’t imagine anywhere else that could put such variety into grey, but he had started to imagine living somewhere else again.
He just wasn’t sure he was ready to move on.
A door slid open behind him, but he didn’t turn around right away. “Morning, Sean. Anyone else back there?”
“Hnh. Nah, just me this morning. Missed you at the party last night, old man.”
Safe enough turn around then. Wearing a pair of striped pajama bottoms, Sean leaned against the doorway with a bath towel draped over his shoulders, dirty blond hair sticking up in at least a dozen different directions. Scott smiled as his roommate of four years yawned wide enough to park a hopper. “I was there, just left early. Too old to keep up with you kids anymore.”
“Yeah, sure. We’ll buy you a walker for your next birthday.” Another yawn, not quite as exaggerated. “You be here when I get out of the shower?”
Scott shook his head. “No. I’m going for a walk in the park. Back in a while. Coffee’s on.”
“Cool.” Sean turned for the bathroom. “Thanks, Dad.”
The nickname’s jab didn’t stop him from reaching the main door.
Tranquility City didn’t suffer from a lack of green spaces. The first settlement had devoted almost a quarter of its volume to hydroponics as much to get away from freeze dried rations as for oxygen renewal. Hydroponics grew with the colony, now providing fresh fruits, vegetables, and air to a quarter of a million people, as well as seedlings for shipboard gardeners.
Armstrong Park came much later.
Half a ton of soil cost more to bring up from Earth than anyone wanted to think about. But half a kilo of soil and six months composting and culturing bacteria meant half a ton of equipment the colony couldn’t yet manufacture on its own instead. Seeds were a lot cheaper.
Grass and flowers came quickly, but it took years for the bushes and a couple of decades for the trees. These days, the hollowed out cavern was full of green things. Some of the maples scraped the roof reaching for the artificial lighting. Three or four birch trees came close.
Scott came to the Park at least once a week. Of all the parks in the city—and there were seventeen now of various sizes on different levels—Armstrong was his favourite. Maybe because it was the first one, the oldest—he’d found a growing respect for old things in the past couple of years—but mostly because of the pond next to the memorial.
Tranquility City, or the small colony that would eventually become Tranquility City, was deliberately excavated with the first main entrance only a quarter kilometer from the Apollo 11 landing site. The original centre of the park sat directly underneath the remains and a holographic projection showed the lander on a platform in the park’s centre. Every year, a few hundred people took the short walk across the surface to see the real thing—Scott had been twice in his four years on the Moon—but probably hundreds of people every day stopped beside the projection and some significant number of those read the famous words on the bronze plaque next to the hologram. “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind. 20 July 1969.”
He never failed to read the inscription, but his real destination was the small pond next to the projection. Once, a year ago, he’d heard some tourist from Earth point out the flowers and tenth pieces floating in the water to his partner. How like the indoor parks back home.
But Scott had figured out the secret early in his student days. The pond held a special place in the Lunie collective unconscious, and one could be found in nearly every park. For a society where water conservation and reclamation was a necessary obsession—yes, you could harvest hydrogen from the regolith and crack a little rock for the oxygen, but that took more energy—a freestanding pond could only be a societal treasure. And if low value coins or flowers found their way into the water, they weren’t wishes or desires, but dreams and memories.
Scott stood half a metre from the edge of the pond, staring into the water. Only five or six flowers and a single plastic coin floated on the surface. One of the pond’s semi-regular cleanings must have been scheduled that morning. Memories and dreams. There weren’t many of either yet to clutter the view. By noon the next day, flowers would cover a third of the round three-metre surface, making something between a rainbow and a kaleidoscope.
Crouching down, he put a hand to the water, letting the two Impatiens blossoms slide from his palm. With the tiny bit of momentum offered by the weak lunar gravity, they drifted a few centimeters before some stronger artificial current caught them, pulling them into deeper water. He watched them split apart, the red blossom doubling back to drift almost close enough to touch while the pink one took a curved path to the centre of the pond.
Staying in the crouch, he closed his eyes for a long moment, keeping his balance with the fingers of his right hand touching the grass. When he opened them again, he stood without looking for the blossoms. They’d both drifted beyond his reach. What else did he need to know?
“Hey man.” Jeans and a t-shirt, Sean stretched out on one of the two long couches, bare feet hanging over one arm. He’d put up a projection of some old monster movie Scott almost recognized from his childhood. He registered it was one of those minority of movies with actual actors in it and stood behind his roommate watching the movie until the unfolding plot brought the movie’s title up to the front of his brain. Psirens. Not exactly original, even at the time.
“Pause.” Sean tilted his head back. “All greened up now?”
A quick breath escaped through his nose and he flopped onto the other couch. “I guess. Why?”
Sean shrugged. “You don’t usually take three hours on your little hikes.”
“I—” Three hours was a long walk. A normal lunar gait could take you around Armstrong Park in half an hour. What had he been doing for three? “I must have lost track of time.”
Still looking at him, Sean shrugged again. “Sure.” He turned back to the screen. “Sunday, eh. Pizza’s ordered. Beer and stuff in the froster. Unpause.”
“Poker or study group?” Scott dropped onto the other couch.
Gunshots on the screen. The camera whirled to catch the falling bodies but missed the monster. Sean didn’t look back over. “Uh, exams in a week, remember?”
“Right.” Scott leaned back, closed his eyes, and smiled. “Poker it is then.” A weak joke that deserved the lack of response it got.
Arriving promptly at 1800, about ten minutes ahead of the pizza, Birgite and Thanh more or less floated into the apartment, leaving shoes and sweaters in their wake, put away or hung up in the blink of an eye, though the sweaters took a long time to settle.
Birgite smiled and bestowed brief hugs before dropping her long frame onto the couch, blonde hair coming almost to rest before she pulled a tablet from her thigh pocket, but Scott missed whatever expression she might have been wearing, eyes glued to Thanh as she stepped into Sean’s arms. She went up on her toes as he hunched over so the two could share a long kiss of greeting, much longer than any hello between friends should take. With a quick head shake to break out of the shock, Scott turned to meet Birgite’s relaxed half smile and raised an eyebrow. She shrugged one shoulder and looked down at her tablet.
The two broke the kiss and looked at their friends with the sloppy grins of a new relationship. Scott sighed. “Well, at least some of the events of the past several days are starting to make sense.”
Wafik and Jane arrive almost together and just after the pizza. Dinner took place across the entire living area, couches, chairs, and the table in the tiny kitchen. When the last of the pizza disappeared, Scott passed out fresh drinks and gathered up the empty bulbs of beer and micro-carbonated power juice. Everything went into the recycler. Today’s dishes might be tomorrow’s bed sheets. Or solar panels.
Tablets and optical projectors appeared as if by magic and everyone settled into comfortable positions.
“Before we get too deep into the books, I have news.” Birgite brushed her hair back over her shoulder with one hand and set her computer in her lap for the moment. “I didn’t share during dinner as it may not have quite the same significance as other recent revelations, and I wanted to leave a little breathing space.” She smiled at Thanh and Sean. He blushed, but she just smiled and pressed closer, leaning against him without quite being in his lap. “But it is of some importance to me or, rather, my dear mother.” She cleared her throat. “My cousin Emil and his wife have just had a baby girl. I am, once again, thirty-second in line for the throne.” Her right hand made a wide sweeping motion as she bowed over her left.
“Congratulations, I think.” Scott had to smile at the almost melodramatic avoidance of responsibility. Beyond any doubt, Birgite the Computational Physicist could handle anything thrown at her, but the desire to flee any obligations set on her by being a member of Scandinavian nobility, titled or not, had driven her to go to university on another planet. The Danish paparazzi had apparently chosen not to follow. Scott supposed he could visualize her as the Queen of a small country, but not a happy one. She’d do her best in the more or less figurehead position, but she’d be miserable for some reason she’d never shared. He suspected the lack of freedom that would come with the position.
Raising his eyebrows, Wafik didn’t modulate his voice at all. “I wish the peace-loving people of Denmark nothing ill and hope all members of its Royal Family enjoy long and happy lives.” A smile spread across his face, but his voice didn’t change. “Yet I think I would find great entertainment in seeing you ascend the throne.”
Laughs rolled around the small apartment. Birgite shook her head, smiling. “That event could only mark the beginning of a long series of diplomatic disasters. And I’d never get rid of my mother. She’d immediately attempt to style herself the Queen Mother, mourning clothes and all.”
Wafik’s head pulled back, his face looking a little stricken. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize your father was deceased.”
More laughter and more conversation. Eventually readers, tablets, and even one paper book, found their way back into everyone’s hands and various types of studying began. But the length of time any given student can focus on schoolwork is inversely proportional to the number of other people studying in the room. Comments on textbook stupidities spark short distracting conversations which quickly get longer than the bits of work in between, until someone asks the inevitable question. Inevitable when the set of exams you’re studying for is your last and the economic outlook isn’t nearly so rosy as when you started school and didn’t care.
“Anyone have any more job offers yet?” Jane looked around. “I mean other than Dad.”
Scott had three so far, all from lunar mining corporations, and over the past week had been engaged in an ultra long distance interview with the Chief Engineer on the Solarian Corporation ore processing ship Hephaestus. It would probably take another week to finish and the HR interview at the company’s office here in the city had gone well. He wasn’t sure he wanted to spend two years on a processing ship but staying on the Moon didn’t seem right either.
Wafik nodded. “Conditional on graduation, of course, Selcom offered me a six month contract this afternoon, but it does not begin until early July.”
“Two months of waiting for a job that lasts for six.” Jane’s eyebrows raised a bit. “Doesn’t really seem fair.”
Setting his computer down on the table, Wafik brushed the hibernate key. “I am considering it. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for other opportunities.”
“Jeez.” Sean wrapped both arms around Thanh, pulling her close and making it impossible for her to continue reading. “Do we have to be so adult? Could we maybe talk about something else?”
An elbow jabbed into his ribs as Thanh rolled her eyes. “Fear of facing up to reality. My parents are hoping I’ll come to work for them. Actively encouraging it at every opportunity, and I mean every opportunity. One conversation without pressure would be nice.” She sighed. “I don’t know, though.”
Scott broke the seal on a bulb of power juice. The smell that trickled up to his nostrils made his mouth water. He didn’t know if he was addicted to the caffeine, the taurine, or the taste, but he tried to limit himself to one or two bulbs a day. Any more and he had trouble sleeping. Wafik saved him from asking the question and he took a quarter of the bulb in his first gulp, swishing it around before swallowing.
“What do they want you to do?”
“Work in the office.” She made a face. “At least for the first year or two. The first ‘Nguyen Mining Corporation Mobile Refinement Facility’—” Scott felt the quotes she put around the phrase— “will launch in a little more than a year. Shake down and testing for a few months after that. If I still want to go ‘traipsing around the solar system’ at that point, they’ll happily let me go on their ship with several hundred other people.”
“But that isn’t what you want.” Wafik glanced down at his tablet and brushed a finger across the screen to restore the backlight. He’d picked up the hint as well as Scott did.
“No, it isn’t.” She hesitated. Promise you won’t laugh.” Her eyes speared Wafik in place. A negative answer would take everyone’s mood in the same direction and he knew it without being glared at.
“Of course not.”
Thanh looked around. “All of you.” Everyone present agreed they’d absolutely take her seriously, even Sean after Thanh’s elbow jabbed him in the ribs a second time when he tried to make a joke of it. But even when she’d secured universal agreement, no words followed.
Birgite didn’t let her best friend’s silence go on for long. “Thanh, what do you want to do?” She asked the question innocently, as if she didn’t already know the answer.
Heaving a sigh, she looked around the room, making eye contact with everyone. She bit her lip and let it go again after a few seconds. “I want to stand somewhere no one has ever stood before.”
A chill rippled up Scott’s spine as Thanh cracked open the tomb of a dream he’d buried a long time ago. He tried to put a palm over the shaft of light. “There are plenty of ways to do that. Luna and Mars are both well mapped but sparsely populated. It’s easy to find some little cranny no one has been to. Rent a shuttle or a hopper. Voilà.”
She laughed. “It’s not the same and you know it.” But her eyes narrowed and the return gaze almost rocked him back. You do know it. She blew the dust from the sarcophagus and pushed at the lid. “Anyone can rent a ride for a day trip to go out and look around, but no one goes exploring just for the sake of exploring, just to see what’s there. It’s all about economics, profit, and the bottom line. That’s not what I want.”
Suddenly the mistress of the dramatic pause, Thanh made eye contact with everyone except Sean. No one bit, so she broke the silence herself this time. “I want to go asteroid prospecting.”
In among the large corporations, hundreds of small independent prospecting ships skittered through the Belt, investigating and tagging little bits of rock and filing claims with the Outer System Resource Authority. To Scott’s mind, probably not an easy life, although one that offered an awful lot of freedom, and he knew Thanh’s parents had started out that way. Could be scary though, since profit depended on what you found, and ships weren’t cheap or everyone would be doing it. But the idea rattled around in his stomach trying to find purchase.
No one said anything for a long time then almost everyone tried to speak at once. Thanh shushed them all. “Yes, I’m absolutely serious and no I’m not just a little rich girl trying to escape mommy and daddy for a while.” She elbowed Sean again as if he’d voiced the thought out loud. “I don’t expect to get rich on my own, but I half grew up on a prospecting ship so I think I have a better grasp of things than most people who try it. It’s not about making money, anyway. Whatever money might come out of it will just help facilitate the dream. It’s just a matter of finding the right crew to go with me.”
The silence lasted a lot longer this time.
Birgite finally broke it. “I’m not as surprised at the idea as you seem to think we should be. It’s almost an obvious choice for you. But are you saying what I think you’re saying?” She looked around. “We—”
Smiling wide, Thanh’s head bobbed up and down. “Between the six of us, I’m pretty sure we’ve got all of the skill sets we need, even if it’s mostly theoretical.”
“And none of the experience.” Wafik kept his face expressionless, staring at the woman snuggled up to his best friend. He cleared his throat and nodded for her to continue. “Apologies.”
“Not quite none.” She glanced at Scott. “I mean, sure there’ll be a certain amount of learn as we go, but that’s true of any job. We’re a pretty eclectic group in a lot of ways, we all get along well, and we’re all pretty smart. I’ve got a little background and we’ve all got a lot of theoretical in the right areas locked up in our heads. We could do this.”
A five-way conversation rippled through the room. Voices rose and fell and it verged on becoming an argument three or four times. It might be a great idea and they might be able to do it, but wait a second, just how crazy are we, anyway? It went on for at least ten minutes before Sean raised his voice to cut through the din.
“Hold on!” Immediate quiet and everyone turned to look at Sean. “I’d like to hear from the voice of reason. What about it, Dad?”
Four heads swiveled to match Sean’s gaze and Scott felt suddenly self conscious under the weight of eyes and a nickname no one seemed to realize he hated. He pushed away the age and baggage, and the shock at Sean being interested in the voice of reason, and tried to consider the question while they waited.
If he let himself be honest, his heart had jumped into the air when he realized where Thanh had been going with the idea. It would be a fantastic adventure. Sure, a lot of work and some of it damned hard, but that didn’t sour the adventure for him. When his heart came back down, it took a side step and jumped from a cliff. Of the group of them lying around the small living room two hundred metres under the lunar surface, he was the only one with age enough to be scared of trying something so involved on their own.
Enough seconds drifted by to fill a minute. He took a deep breath. “I’d like… to finish this conversation after exams are over.” He held up a hand to stop the collective intake of breath. “Not a cop out. Thanh is right. We can cobble together the skills and learn what we don’t know. Experience is a factor, but it’s not the only factor. Yes we get along, but can we stand to only be around each other for the year or two it takes to see if we can make it work?” Trying to avoid the question of Sean and Thanh, Scott picked up a bulb of beer and broke the seal, taking a quick swallow. “For the record, though, I love the idea.” He drained the bulb, realizing halfway through the first swallow that he believed it.COLLAPSE