Men on the Moon
rating: +13+x

"Do you ever wish all this was a little bit more… I dunno, exciting?"

Carter and Prasetya's control center sat high on a lunar scarp overlooking the southern outskirts of Site-019. The cramped space was dominated by wall-high bubble windows and a chattering, humming bank of mildly obsolete computer equipment, half-buried under the personal accretions left by long years of work in the same place. A slightly off-center "Authority Protection Division" stencil was painted on one of the few patches of bare wall.

It took a few seconds for Prasetya to drag himself away from his amber-glowing console. He tapped a few keys, and glanced up at Carter.

"Exciting how, exactly?"

Carter collected his thoughts, staring out at the familiar sight of two dozen titanic domes- each more than a hundred meters across-protruding from the lunar regolith. The space around them was scorched and blasted, packed flat by, he guessed, whatever process had buried them in the first place. The sun was low in the sky still, but the landscape was lit by the constant dim glow of Earth.

He wasn't so much concerned with the domes, as he was with the static field generators that kept them dust-free, and the extensive network of lasers that protected them from asteroids.

"You've been here what, five years? Six?"

Prasetya appeared to be doing a quick round of mental arithmetic.

"Six years, four months, give or take a week. On Site Oh-Ninteen, at least. Exciting how?"

"So for six years you've been sitting in this office shooting down asteroids."

"You've been here long enough to know it's not just that."

"Fine, mostly shooting down asteroids. There's also the wildly exciting job of taking a buggy out do do perimeter patrols- where of course there's never anything to guard against. Or maybe you could test-fire a new laser unit into a rock- but that's not much different than shooting down asteroids."

"I'm not quite sure what you're getting at here, Carter."

"When your day is up- you and Jessica, what do you do, usually?"

"What my wife and I do behind closed doors is none of your business," Prasetya replied, the faintest hint of a grin on his face.

"No- you know what I mean. On an average day. You've finished the day here at Protection, she's done doing whatever it is Research does day-to-day with Beta-level anomalies, you take the tram back from your respective wings of Site Oh-Nineteen, meet up in Quarters Wing and then what?"

"Hmm-mm. Well, Thursdays we meet up for euchre with some friends- you really should come along some day. Bring that chick, whatsername along. Some days we stay in, maybe watch a movie, cook if we've saved enough ration tokens for something special. We exercise a lot together- more than the fitness requirement, anyways. Jessica's always been careful about her figure."

"And?"

"And what? Some days we might go out for a drink, or to see a show if the Theatrical Society is putting on something interesting at Méliès'. Someone in Containment started a jazz trio that's not half bad… I still don't see your point."

Carter sighed, briefly interrupted by the console in front of him. He thumbed a few well-worn buttons, scrolled absently down a line of figures and then entered a few commands.

"Radar self-test at Zone Four is reading a fault in low-level detection again. Should I log it?"

"Did it while you were out on lunch. U&IIB says they'll get to it tomorrow afternoon. Apparently Are-Pee-Cee Four-One- whatever, you know, the Moon Rabbit- well, it threw a tantrum again, knocked out most of the power to Gamma-level containment late last night."

"Shit. They got it contained?"

"We're all still alive, aren't we?"

One of the radar arrays pinged. Carter panned an indicator aross its monitor, flipped a safety toggle and held down a switch for a few seconds. Several dozen kilometers away, a tiny asteroid on a possible collision course with one of the huge hemispherical tanks flared white-hot and then silently melted into dust as a tiny percentage of Site-019's laser defense grid output was directed against it.

"So you sit in your office blasting rocks all day, then come home to your loving wife and the highlight of your week is euchre, or maybe a few drinks and a jazz trio set up by some bored structural engineers. Where's the romance? Where's the drama? Not in your marriage I mean."

Prasetya nodded.

"You're feeling the space blues. A little bit of interplanetary ennui, hmm?"

"I mean, I guess. When I'm back Earthside I tell people I'm a security guard for a fuel storage facility and that it pays the big bucks, and it's kind of the truth, but- but even the fact that I live nine months of the year on the goddamn moon isn't that exciting anymore."

He waved a hand out at the silent domes spread out before them.

"Like, I know that the helium-three in there is the main fuel supply for the Site's reactor, and I know without us half the Lunar containment grid would go dead… but they never do anything! There's never any damned adventure! They're just fuel tanks! Where are the moon-quakes? Where are the Gamma-level containment breaches where we have to fight off monsters with ray-guns? Where, god dammit, where are the green-skinned space babes?"

Prasetya stared at him dispassionately.

"Well, you do operate one of the largest weaponized laser systems ever constructed by humanity."

"Yeah, sure. A couple dozen big lenses strapped to what are basically glorified webcams isn't my idea of ray-guns."

"And there is a green-skinned space babe in the Beta containment wing, you know. Jessica could introduce you."

"Wh- that doesn't count! It just looks like a babe to attract prey! It's barely even sapient!"

"Just your type, then."

"Awww, screw you."

There was several minutes of silence. Prasetya ran through the command sequence that would degauss the fuel tanks, and a corresponding array of lights flickered outside. As the senior guard on the fuel depot, his console had much more command authority- Carter still didn't know what Prasetya was typing on there half the time.

"It does get to you Carter. I understand. People sign on to the AEDF thinking they'll be the next Captain Kirk, and it just doesn't work that way. The frontier days are over. My advice would be… well, don't let it get you down. The work we do may not be exciting, but it's vital for the survival of everyone on this cold, barren little rock. Take some comfort in that."


Out on the lunar surface the next day, the sun was almost blindingly bright.

"Jesus Goddamn Christ," Carter huffed into his throat microphone, the tinny speakers of his spacesuit crackling in his ears. "The Containment people are gonna be pissed."

Prasetya, if he could hear him, did not respond- he was on the line back to the Site operations center.

"Yes sir. Yes, the repair was filed for this afternoon. Rock came in right in the blind spot. No sir. I think we've been a victim of a rare coincidence, but nothing more. Understood. No, it all checks out. The, uh… the fuel vessel in question is intact. That's right. Thank you sir. Prasetya out."

The rock had come screaming in at a shallow angle, tearing a huge gouge out of the side of helium-3 tank number thirteen. The dome looked rather like a squashed eyeball, with a jagged horizontal slit pupil carved low into its dusty bulk.

"Thank god it didn't leak, huh?"

Prasetya glanced at him, turning his entire body to do it. The suits were comfortable enough for long-term work on the lunar surface, but they were not agile.

"These tanks are triple-walled, remember? This is just the outer layer. Anyways, Ops says that the containment guys have checked the tunnels underneath, no serious structural damage. We got lucky. Let's just hope that there aren't any more rocks coming on that same angle, huh?"

He turned back to the rover, bouncing in the short, controlled hops that became second nature to any resident of Site-019. Carter took one last glance at the tank, and a strange flash of colour caught his eye.

He approached the edge of the crack, thumbing on his suit lamps. He peered into the stark shadows of the dusty space between the outer and secondary hulls of the helium-3 tank.

Emblazoned across the secondary hull was an image of a stylized shield with three inward-pointing arrows, and the legend "AEDFS CONQUEROR, NGS-013."

"What in the goddamn?"


"Prasetya! You're not going to believe this-"

It was the next morning. The maintenance team had come and gone, replacing the faulty radar unit and patching the hole in the tank in a flurry of spacewalk activity. Prasetya and Carter were once again at their stations.

"What, did you finally meet a green-skinned space babe who suited your tastes?"

Carter blinked, trying to catch up with Prasetya's deadpan delivery.

"No! About the tank! I did some reading on the designation- Conqueror was one of the old null-gravity ships they built back in the nineteen-tens. They were huge! Actually gigantic. And I mean this was before the AEDF- long before- but they had almost three dozen of them in service."

"Mmm-hm."

"Just these giant, overengineered things- mass doesn't matter if your engine runs by altering gravity in an area, right? But apparently back then they weren't really able to pick up all the crazy hard radiation-"

"Mmm-hm."

"-that the gravity generators put off, right, so crews just started dying left and right, and when they realized what was wrong, they just up and scrapped the whole fleet. What a tragedy, huh?"

"Mmm."

"What I want to know is, how did a hull plate from an old Authority spaceship end up part of one of our helium tanks?"

Prasetya stared at him for a long moment, underlit by the amber glow of the display screens. It occurred to Carter that he had no idea how old his taciturn partner actually was- there were deep lines around his eyes that belied the youthfulness of the rest of his face. His console beeped- maintenance crews requesting remote sealing of the service tunnels below the tanks. Carter was so distracted in awaiting Prasetya's reply that he didn't register that the service tunnels- which normally bustled with activity- were completely empty.

"Recycling," Rasetya intoned, as if that was the end of that.

"What?"

"It's expensive to get mass into orbit, even with null-gravity engines. Why scrap a spacecraft when you can re-use it for something else? Or just leave it up there, waiting for the right time?"

Carter frowned. Something had occured to him.

"What gets to me is that- well, the AEDF was founded in fifty-five, right? So why would parts of a ship from fourty years earlier have AEDF markings on th-"

An alarm he had never heard before began to whine softly, and Prasetya's screen lit up with line upon line of text.

"Hold that thought, Carter. I'm sending you a command sequence. Will you kindly unlock the docking clamps from bays eleven, twelve and thirteen?"

"Docking clamps? What's going on?"

His screen was showing a readout he had never seen before- confirming indeed that his console was requesting permission for an input. He tapped out 11, 12 and 13 then hit ENTER.

"The question you should really have asked," Prasetya said, with a faint smile on his face, "Day one, you should have asked it- is why would we keep all our precious fuel supplies out here on the surface?"

A shock ran through the exposed guard post as a faint cloud of lunar dust rose from the ground around fuel tanks 11, 12 and 13. The tops of the domes quivered, then slowly began to fold back into the ground like three gigantic pairs of eyelids, exposing the secondary hulls inside.

Carter became aware of a faint vibration in the metal flooring beneath him- a rising throb, like ancient machinery springing back to life. The secondary hulls of the fuel tanks were slowly, inexorably, rising.

Prasetya leaned forward into the microphone built into the top of his console.

"AEDFS Conqueror, AEDFS Walküre, AEDFS Admiral Togo, we read you as clear of your moorings. You may power engines to full and depart when ready. Good luck. Site Oh-Nineteen out."

Outside, three gigantic vessels slowly hauled themselves free of the Lunar soil. They were slab-sided, ungainly things- huge lozenges of scarred and patched plate steel, bristling with lumpy sensor and weapons emplacements. Maneuvring thrusters easily the size of the main engine of the shuttle that had brought Carter to the moon puffed lazily, their exhaust sparkling in the harsh lunar sunlight.

As they rose higher, the lower hulls of the ships came into view- the lozenge shape tapering down into a fine, needle-like point. There were no breaks in the hull- no obvious spots for main engines, but there was a sort of heat haze- except that was impossible. There was no atmosphere on the Moon- and yet the space around what could only be the vessels' null-gravity engines rippled and bent, torn by unnatural energies. With unlikely grace, the three ships hovered for a few tense seconds over Site-019. Carter had just enough time to see the colourful AEDF emblems painted on their scorched gunmetal hulls before they vanished skyward in a flicker of impossible motion.

"What in the- wh-"

Prasetya stood up, stretching.

"Apparently someone from Blue Book found something out near the orbit of Neptune and is making all kinds of fuss, so Command decided a show of force might be in order. I told you our work was vital."

Carter was speechless. Prasetya's faint smile widened infinitesimally.

"What, you think they just brought you on to guard fuel tanks? Come on. It's lunch time anyways. I'll buy you a drink."

Far above them, three ships of the line of the Authority Extraterrestrial Defence Force- overengineered, obsolete, and more heavily armed than anything Mankind had ever put into orbit before or since- soared towards the outer Solar System on invisible wings.

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