Monday, November 12, 2007

Shoemaker Station

Shoemaker Station is a piece I started and occasionally get back to. Keep an eye on the publish date and time to see if it's been updated. I'll try to remember to update that as I make changes, but no promises about it being obvious what I change.

There are two things you can never forget while living here; one is the cold, the other is the longing. Of course, the cold is the thing you notice first, and you notice it the most. It permeates everything to the point that even a hot cup of tea seems to have an aspect of cold. While you notice it on the ride out, you kind of write it off as a temporary thing; one facet of a trip that seems to have discomfort built in. After you arrive, you begin to realize that being cold is just a way of life out here.

The longing takes a while to get its hooks into you, but once they’re in, the pain runs deep. Every time you go outside, or even pass by a skyview port, you feel it. And, of course, the downside psychologists that helped design this place were sure that we’d want to look outside a lot, so they put skyviews in wherever they’d fit. Sometimes you forget to look away when passing one and there she is, the Great Mother looking down at you, beckoning you with warmth, calling you home to her open arms of green and blue and brown and white. Whiplash snaps your head down, your eyes glued to the floor while you go on your way, fighting back the turbid rush of angst, anguish and despair. And when the battle is over, all you’re left with is the longing. And the cold, the ever-enduring cold."

-- from Reeve McCoy's blog.
The early days of being on Luna weren’t nearly so bad. There was excitement in the air, at least wherever there was air. Everyone was bustling around, constantly building things. And there was so much to build. Everyone thought of himself as a cowboy, nailing up some part of a giant homestead, carving civilization out of living rock with nothing but his wits and a few hand tools brought from home. Reality is slightly different, but history will likely show the margin was close.

Serenity Station, named for its location on the Mare Serenitatis and not the state of mind of its crew, was the job shack for construction of Shoemaker. Serenity, unlike Rome, was built in one day, in one of the most incredible fits of organized chaos in the history of the human race. A total of six cans, the nickname for the refitted big orange heavy lifter external tanks, were landed in frames on the mare, the large plains on the moon that early astronomers thought were seas. A bulldozer, landed earlier, pulled them all in to a tidy little row in the bottom of a crater, side by side like tuna on a fishawk’s table. They were coupled together with prefitted airlocks, two between each, to create one giant habitat. Access tubes were erected at each end, and the whole thing was buried like a tomb under three meters of regolith, the powder fine soil of the lunar surface, protecting the occupants from solar and cosmic radiation.

Eighteen people are stationed at Serenity, men and women from five countries, each of them an expert in their field. Each person also has a high level of skill in at least two other areas, creating system redundancy even in the people. With 136 square meters per floor, two floors per can, there is plenty of room to spread out, even with all the space dedicated to construction-related gear. One can, the common area, has only one floor, but the ceiling is five and a half meters up, giving way to some much-needed headroom. Early on, a game was made of trying to jump up and touch the ceiling. This went on until Robinson, an athlete in his college days, cracked his head on the ceiling, passed out and crashed to the floor. Even in seventeen percent gravity, a five meter fall hurts. Station Commander Flores put an immediate halt to “such foolishness.” Later he admitted that he’d tried three times to make the jump and never once got close.

The human race has a lot of experience constructing cities. One thing that had never been tried, though, is building one from the inside. On the moon, not only is there no air to breathe, but a little bit of sun, with no atmosphere to buffer it, can be the end of you. So people spend as much time as possible indoors. Forays outside, difficult at best when considering getting in and out of a space suit, are as few and far between as people can make them. Better to send robotic golems or teleoperated waldoes to do the work; better to stay safe and cozy at your workstation, never far from help, well within reach of a samovar full of tea.

One of the more interesting jobs during the construction phase, when you considered its place in the whole scheme, was running the tube maker. Somewhere upstream in the process, regolith is scooped up like so many cubic meters of powdered sugar, run through a separator and fed into a mill. One of the products of the mill is a fine wire made of a mostly-aluminum alloy and the basic construction material on Luna. The tube maker carefully winds the wire around a sliding hoop, welding each pass to the previous one, slowly creating construction tubes for use around the station. Running the thing is a slow and monotonous job of mainly babysitting the machinery, leaving plenty of time for reading or contemplating one’s navel. But it’s also interesting because it’s one of the few jobs where you can watch something being created, seemingly from nothing, that is an obvious part of station construction. Tubes are used everywhere, from habitat shells to cookpots. When pressure is your friend, “round keeps you ‘round,” as they say.

Even more interesting than watching the tube maker was watching Jeanie Holm operate it. It wasn’t for her beauty, which took a trained eye to see, nor for any particular grace in doing the job, though that she didn’t lack. The thing that drew people to watch her was the personality that she found and reacted to in that machine. “Tuber! You piece of crap, quit with the attitude. I get enough grief from the rest of the crew here, I don’t need you talkin’ down to me, too.” Jeanie’s accent, American Southern, started to peek out when she was upset about something, which was often by most standards. The odd thing was that “Tuber,” a name given the machine by Jeanie and adopted by everyone in the station, had no voice input or response mechanism. In short, it was deaf and mute. Jeanie blithely ignored this small piece if information, preferring to yell at the machine the way she did her stationmates, which was loud. Interestingly enough, the machine somehow seemed cowed by the experience.


Spinning, Jeanie held up a halting hand. “Don’t ‘Jeanie’ me, Reeve. You stay out of this.”

“I just wanted to know if you were getting hungry. What’s he doing to you now?”

"He's got an attitude today. Every time I make an adjustment, something else goes out of whack. What time is it?"

"It's almost thirteen. I'm hungry, let's go eat."

Later, in the relative quiet of the canteen, Jeanie seemed to settle down. "So, what's this I hear about reconfiguring the power system?" she asked. "What's wrong with the way it's laid out now?"

Reeve McCoy, the station's power systems engineer, paused for a moment before answering. "Well, that's an interesting question. It seems that we're getting new panels on the tower; some new, more efficient cell type that increases efficiency by twenty percent or so."

"Okay, so we're getting more power. Why? We've got plenty. And why does more input require a retrofit of the distribution hubs? They were overbuilt to begin with.  I suppose it's some politico's boondoggle, spending unnecessary money."

"More good questions. I wish I had actual answers, but all I'm doing is following orders from Planning. One thing I can tell you, though, is that they want new taps, one off of each hub. And they're big ones; big enough to power a duplicate of Serenity."

* * *

Two days later, Reeve's phone rang. Jeanie's ID was on the display. "Heya, sweetie, what's up?"

"Well..." she said, sounding tentative. That was entirely out of character for Jeanie. "The strangest thing just showed up in the order list for Tuber."

There was a pause long enough for Reeve to realize that he was supposed to ask a question. He went with the obvious. "Uh... What's the order for?"

"Three G-type air lock kits. Can you believe it?"

Another pause. "Um... No...?" Reeve asked, knowing he was lost. "Aren't they doing some construction at L-5? Some sort of hab expansion or something? I know I saw it on the forum."

"Reeve, you idiot!" She didn't really mean it, he knew, but there was enough of an edge to her voice that it cut anyway. "I said these were G-type airlock kits. Doesn't that sound strange to you?"

Getting exasperated with the situation, but knowing how these discussions could escalate, he went for the soft approach. "Jeanie, did I ever mention to you that I was an electrical engineer?"

He could hear the distinctive clank of a bulkhead door opening and closing, footsteps, and heavy breathing on the other end of the phone. In Lunar gravity, movement on foot happened in slow motion as muscles designed for six times the gravity struggled against deep-seated memory regarding moving balance. Once you got the hang of it, you could cover a lot of ground in short order, especially indoors where you didn't have the burden of twenty kilos of space suit to deal with. The door to Reeve's space slid open, and there was Jeanie, looking flushed. Reeve put down the phone. Without a word, she thrust a slate into his hands. By its battered frame and broken corner, he knew it was hers. A design document for an airlock was on the screen. "See? G-Type. G is for gravity. Unless there's something I really don't know about the L-5 station, there ain't no gravity up there."

"So, then, what are the airlocks for?"

"That's what bothers me," she said. "I don't know. Everyone on this station has been involved in every space-based hab design since we launched. No one knows this stuff better than we do, living it every day. And it has to be a hab, otherwise you don't need airlocks. So, what are they up to?"

The following day, with Jeanie in tow, Reeve made an attempt at casual conversation with Commander Flores. "Good morning, Paolo. How are those arsonists treating you?"

A knowing smile crossed Flores' face. Not to be baited, he said, "Good morning, Reeve. Yes, the Botafogo are doing well this year. They've only lost one game, to Flamengo, and won handily last Saturday. Oh, and I'm sure you're aware that they absolutely crushed your American 'soccer' team when they played last month. Oh, yes, I believe you owe me dinner for that." As Flores looked at Jeanie, hovering furtively behind Reeve, his smile faded. "What's going on?"

Reeve, with an exasperated glare at Jeanie, abandoned his stealthy approach. "We were wondering what you could tell us about the super-secret hab being built."

Jeanie and Reeve stared at the commander. It was as if he was working through a conversation in his head, and Reeve was fairly sure he knew how it was going. Paolo Flores hadn't been assigned as station commander of Serenity because he drew some short straw in a lottery. In fact, though Flores himself had little to do with it, the selection process was an arduous one with many casualties along the way. In the end, one of the qualifications that got him the job was his ability to understand people, a rare trait among his ESA and NASA contemporaries, particularly for someone with his technical background. "What I can tell you, unfortunately, is not all I know. For now, suffice to say that a data center is being constructed in a secure location near here. That's all I can say now, but I can assure you it's the truth. Please, though, keep this to yourselves. No one on this station is by any means stupid, but most are content to focus on what they're doing so they can finish and go home. You two seem to have... curiosity." He looked as if he was going to say more, then thought better of it. "Enjoy your day, people. News will be forthcoming when the time is right. For now, paperwork beckons my attention."

Back home, Reeve McCoy liked to walk when he had thinking to do. The tougher the problem, the further he'd walk. Once, while in high school, fretting over troubles with a girl, he'd walked for ten hours straight, stopping only once for a light meal at a food cart. His pace was steady when he was deep in thought, and he later estimated that he walked over thirty miles that day. After his third year of college, when he needed to decide for sure which way his education and career were going to go, he put on a backpack and started to walk the Pacific Crest Trail. Starting at the Mexican border in May, five months and over 2600 miles later, he arrived at the Canadian border, cold, wet and exhausted, but ready to meet the next phase of his life.

Living on the moon, going for a walk to be alone was a little more difficult than putting on a good hat and a windbreaker and heading out onto the streets of your neighborhood. If one wanted to go out and about, they were accompanied by the bulk of a spacesuit and the constant chatter of Mission Control in their ears. Still, the harsh Lunar landscape provided at least some familiarity with his Desert Southwest upbringing, and McCoy was in good enough shape that the suit, with all its trappings, was little burden. Advances in life support systems provided twelve hours of operation under modest exertion, though almost no one ended up staying out over three or four hours at a time.

Filing a plan with Mission Control was a requirement for anyone going outside. Reeve filed one of his well-known "survey plans" that the people at Control not-so-secretly referred to as "navel survey missions." Ninety minutes out, ninety minutes back, with a thirty minute margin for error left just enough time to clean and stow his suit, shower and get dressed before the cafeteria opened for early dinner. Jaques Benoit was assigned to early dinner duty this week, and, as the son of moderately well known French chef Claude Benoit, Jaques had cooking skills that were the envy of the station. Reeve couldn't cook stone soup without a recipe, but knew how to appreciate a good plate of food. And, as the station botanist working on Lunar agriculture, Benoit cooked with fresh herbs he carefully cultivated in his lab.

Unlike many of his walks, which were for no other purpose than getting out of the job shack and away from his station mates, this excursion was just what it said: a survey mission. Planning had asked for two taps, one each from the power distribution pylons for their new "data center." Neither Reeve nor Jeanie were convinced that the new hab's true purpose was to house some sort of computer array, but for the time being, that's what they had to go on. His plan for the day was to figure out where the building site was, hoping the location would provide some clue to solving the mystery.

Luckily, standard engineering principles in the Lunar environment were very predictable. Resources were constrained everywhere, putting severe limits on design. Studying the requirements for the taps, Reeve noticed that the north pylon tap was to be installed in the E panel of the six sided tower, while the south pylon tap was to be installed in the F panel. Presuming both taps were supplying the same location, that put the construction site somewhere to the west of Shoemaker. Practical estimates could be made regarding the angle of departure from the pylons for the power lines, and application of a little basic trigonometry told Reeve right where to put his survey pole to start his search. Heading due west from the north pylon, he figured he could make up to 20 kilometers in his allotted 90 minutes at a steady march. He hoped he'd come across something long before that, as he'd never been further out than eight kilometers on foot, and hardly any past that in a buggy. A few of the station crew had been forty or more kilometers out in a buggy looking for good mining spots, but all of that had been to the south and the east onto the mare where the land was fairly flat. And once a team had gone out to the Linne-G crater, around fifty klicks northeast, but upon finding it was nothing more than an impact crater with particularly steep walls, they quickly lost interest. Due west was the edge of the Montes Caucasus, which separate this section of Mare Serentatis from the vast Mare Imbrium. The mountains were nothing compared to Mt. Hadley or Mt. Bradley in the Apenninus range just to the south, but they were formidable in their own right, particularly to someone on foot.

Reeve picked his spot and set up his survey pole. Aiming it in what he thought was the most likely direction given the landscape, he turned the laser on in "guideline" mode. With no atmosphere to diffuse it, the laser line painted on the ground would extend much further than Reeve could hope to walk in his allotted time. The pole was around a meter and a half tall, and the laser threw a beam from straight down to around eighty degrees; not quite enough to make the line tangential to the moon's surface, but plenty to create a guideline to go as far as most engineering projects would need it.

He started his march. Well, march probably wasn't the right word for it. The weight of the space suit wasn't much in the Lunar gravity, but the mass was something to contend with. Indoors, one could move with long, loping strides. Outdoors, in full regalia, moving over long distances was accomplished with a sort of running skip. The movement was much more practiced and refined than what the Apollo astronauts used in their EVA forays, but the idea was the same.

Thirty klicks along his guideline away from Serenity Station, and half an hour past his turnaround point, Reeve McCoy found himself standing in the middle of a barren plain of powdery Lunar soil. Peering along the track of the laser beam, he saw nothing of significance before it terminated in the foothills of the mountain range another thirty kilometers away. He pressed a button on his wrist to put his suit computer into command mode. Using touch commands on the small arm-mounted display was impractical while wearing the large gloves of a spacesuit, so gesture-based commands were used. Sensor wires in the right-hand glove determined hand and finger position, so operating the suit computer was done with a rudimentary version of sign language. It was awkward at times, particularly when two people were trying to work together. Using a computer and carrying on a conversation in a natural way was difficult.

Reeve called up the view from his helmet camera and used the zoom to fly along the guideline. It ended at a boulder about six meters in diameter some significant fraction of the remaining distance to the foothills. Doing a slow pan to the left, he found nothing. Returning his view to the boulder and panning right, he spotted something about fifteen degrees north. He ran the camera out to the fullest extent of its zoom and studied the object, a difficult task because, even with image stabilization, every twitch of his body made the image on the screen jiggle wildly.

"McCoy!" Flores' voice boomed in his ears, startling him enough that he nearly fell over. Reeve had turned the radio down to a dwindle to avoid the radio chatter. Flores must have used the suit's remote control to turn it back up.

"What the hell?!? I mean... yes? Sir?"

"Don't 'yes sir' me, McCoy. What in God's creation are you doing out there?"


"Bullshit. You're way outside our normal operating radius. Get your ass back in here, and do it now."

Bullshit? Reeve couldn't ever remember the level headed Flores losing his temper. Finding the mystery object again with his camera, Reeve snapped a picture for later study and turned back toward the station. "On my way back, sir."

By the time he got back, early dinner was over. So much for the promise of culinary delights. Late dinner started two hours after early dinner, giving those in Mission Control and anyone else who couldn't make it to the earlier meal due to work responsibilities the chance to eat. Jeanie was on cooking duty, meaning that the meal was entirely uninspired. No one complained, though. The standing tradition was that anyone who complained was invited to show they could do better. Since most of the egghead staff of the station struggled to make anything more complicated than boxed mac and cheese, everyone just smiled and said, "thank you," followed shortly by, "please pass the salt."

Three days later, night arrived. A brief twilight period made everything outdoors look strange and gloomy for a few hours, and then the world was plunged into a darkness that would last two weeks. Large stadium lights were used to work by for the two weeks that the sun was behind the earth, lighting the yard with what seemed to be a pale glow when compared to the full power of the sun that was present for the previous two weeks. The lights could be seen from downside, giving Serenity Station the nickname "the jewel," because of the way they seemed to sparkle when seen through the planet's atmosphere. During the first week of the new moon, "the jewel" seemed to hang right between the points of the crescent.

Jeanie had decided that Tuber needed to be taken down for maintenance and general cleaning, which was a long and painful process and was best done during the night period when there wasn't enough power budget to run the hungry machine anyway. The planners had opted for only one tube maker due to budget constraints and space planning issues, and it was necessary to keep it clean and well-maintained. No one wanted bad tubes.

It had been dark for a week when Reeve answered his door to find a bedraggled looking Jeanie staring back at him. She had a nasty looking scratch on one cheek, a smudge of dirt on the other, and her short hair was sticking out at odd angles from her head. She gave him a weak smile as he did his best to contain his laughter. "Excuse me, sir," she said in a dramatic Cockney accent, "could you spare a crust of bread?"

He stepped aside and let her in. "So, how is the cleaning going?"

"It's done. There was a bunch of crap built up on the main capstan, causing the tensioner to constantly work overtime trying to keep the feed rate right. Whatever it was kept clogging the birdsmouth, too, and created some carbon buildup on the weld head. I tore that down, replaced the anode track, cleaned the birdsmouth with solvent, and put the whole mess back together. I'll run a systems check on it in the morning, but it should be ready to run when the sun comes up again."

Reeve gave her his best sympathetic look. "Well, on behalf of all the people on this station who rely on your tubes, I thank you for your hard work." Grinning, he added, "Now, do you need a hug?"

She laughed and gave him a shove. "Get away from me, you weirdo. What I need is a drink. Do you have any left?"

Alcohol was a rare commodity on the station. Reeve occasionally used a significant fraction of his precious personal cargo allotment on the resupply drone to have a bottle of booze flown up. Considering the high cost per kilogram to launch something out of Earth's gravity well, he figured each bottle cost around six thousand Euros by the time it got to his door, notwithstanding the original price of the bottle. A few hundred Euros for a good Speyside Scotch was nothing compared to the delivery charge, which, luckily, was being borne by his employers.

He thumbed the fingerprint pad on his locker and pulled out a bottle. Producing two glasses from a cabinet, he filled them with water from the chiller to cool them off. Pouring out all but a few drops of water from each glass, he poured the glowing amber whiskey in its place. Offering one to Jeanie and holding his own glass up, he said, "Here's to smooth walled tubes."

Gently bumping her glass against his, she said, "Here's to machinery that works the way it's supposed to." A slow smile spread across her face as she sipped her drink. "Wow, that's good stuff. It's almost a shame how smooth it goes down." After a pause, she suddenly looked startled. "Oh! I didn't tell you! I got a req in today for just over a hundred thousand meters of ten mil aluminum cable, glass wrapped."

Reeve gave a low whistle. "Well, there's our power transmission line. That's a lot of wire. Do you have the feedstock?"

"Yeah, but the problem is Arachne will never be able to spin that much out in one go. As is, I'm going to spend the next week tearing her down for service ahead of schedule, just to make sure she's in as good a shape as she can be to get started." Arachne was the machine used to spin wire into cable. It was also capable of "overbraiding" a fiberglass insulation layer around the cable so it could be used for conducting electricity without someone getting electrocuted. The silica glass was made from local resources like the wire. A thin sheath of aluminum around the whole thing protected the glass casing from abrasions, and ensured that handling was safe.

Reeve sat down on the couch, gesturing for Jeanie to join him. Sipping on his drink, he fiddled with his tablet until he found the image of the mystery object he found on his walk. Sending to the screen on the wall so they could both examine it, he passed the controller to Jeanie. "Can you refine that image any? I'm no good with those tools."

She looked at him searchingly. "Those tools, huh?"

Reeve sighed, knowing where she was going. "Jeanie, you may never believe me when I say this, but not everything I say is a sexual innuendo." He did his best to appear sincere, though it probably looked more stern. After a moment she returned to the task at hand, allowing Reeve to relax his much-needed defensive posture. He hadn't meant to imply anything, but now she had him thinking...

Jeanie fiddled with the tablet, calling up editing tools and arranging them on the display. Reeve watched as she entered cryptic commands, adjusting the image with each one. He had a rudimentary knowledge of the toolkits, mostly garnered from making presentations in college. But when it came to images, Jeanie was an expert. Her photography skills approached professional level, and she was adept enough with the latest editing tools that her images were widely published. She brought the bleak, nearly colorless lunar landscape to life. Most people back on Earth saw the moon through Jeanie Holm's eyes.

As her fingers danced on the tablet, the image on the wall screen twisted and turned, occasionally blinking out and coming back changed. After a time, she put the zoom box around a section of the image so that the portion she chose filled the screen. Turning to Reeve, she said, "Well, there you are. That's as good as I can get."

As they both stared at the "mystery object," it finally dawned on Reeve what he was looking at. "It's a survey pole. It's heavily modified, but it's a survey marking pole, I'm certain."

"But why does it look like that?" Jeanie asked. "What's that thing in the middle? And what's that big box off to the side?"

"RTG. Though why they'd need juice like that for a survey pole is beyond me. See? There's the power cable."

"Know what bothers me?" Jeanie asked. Reeve looked at her. Not waiting for him to answer, she continued, "How did the thing get there?"

"I suppose they drove it out there. Could have run out there sometime after…"

"So where are the tire tracks?" He was used to her interruptions. Among her other qualities, Jeanie was impatient. "It's not like there's been a wind storm to wipe away the evidence of their passing."

Reeve stared. "Nightime landing, then? It's not like we would have heard them. And if no one was looking that direction when the lander came in, we wouldn't have seen any rocket flare."

"Okay, that could be. But then where are the footprints? What did they do, set down the lander, reach out the door and drop this thing without ever setting foot in the dust?"

As if on cue, they both sipped their drinks. Poking at the tablet, Jeanie made the image on the wall screen disappear. "We don't have enough info, Reeve. We need better pictures."

"Well, it's not like I had a lot of choice," Reeve said defensively. "Flores was all over my ass. I'm half surprised he didn't suspend my walking privileges."

"That would have brought attention to the situation. People around here don't have enough to talk about. Give them a little something, they'll make a mountain out of it." She turned and stretched out on the sofa, putting her head in Reeve's lap. "So, how do we convince Paolo to let us go out there and investigate?"

"That's not likely to happen. I'm not even sure I'd want to ask." The low gravity made Jeanie's head light in his lap, but her warmth was beaming through his coverall like [ metaphor ]. Reeve squirmed, a little uncomfortable. A knowing smile flitted across Jeanie's lips, but passed quickly. The two of them had been occasional lovers who never let their affair get in the way of their friendship. No matter their relationship, though, Reeve McCoy was a gentleman. Taking a deep breath, he settled his instinctual responses to her closeness. There would be time for that later. He took the tablet from Jeanie and used it to put the wall screen in television mode. Finding his favorite news feed, he selected the current events stream. Tossing back the last of his Scotch, he said, "I was thinking of watching a movie, but you seem kind of bushed."

She handed him her glass. "Yeah, I'm beat. I need a shower, maybe two." She frowned suddenly, as if considering something. "I'm staying here tonight. Can I use your toothbrush?"

Reeve chuckled. She hadn't asked, just assuming that staying in his cabin was okay. Not that it wasn't, but he somehow still felt invaded. On the other hand, a warm body to cuddle up against would be nice. He was never able to get really warm at night, even with the extra blankets and the heat in his room on high. The cold on Luna was a constant reminder that humans didn't belong here. "Go right ahead," he told Jeanie. "Just don't flatten out the bristles. It's my last one until mail call, and that's almost two weeks."

Jeanie headed for the common shower room at the end of the hallway. Serenity's first and second cans dedicated one floor each to private living space. Jeanie's cabin was in can one, Reeve's in can two. Each of the living space floors were identical, save for whatever furniture rearranging had been done by the occupants. Each cabin was large enough for two people to live in for extended periods of time, so that in the event one can was compromised, everyone could be housed in the remaining cabins. Redundancy was everywhere. Luckily, it meant that, in normal circumstances, everyone had plenty of space to stretch out and all the privacy they wanted. Unless, of course, they wanted to relieve themselves or shower, both of which were done in common restrooms.

Reeve busied himself with tidying up and turning the sofa into a bed. He listened to the news as he went. EU parliamentary elections were coming up, and the campaigns were getting messy. The U.S. presidential election was nearly two years away, but the first candidates were busy declaring their intent to run. The governor of New Mexico had a strong PR team working for him, and was taking an early lead in the polls. It would be interesting to see how long that lasted. In other news, some actor Reeve had never heard of was set to marry some pop music "legend" that he had also never heard of. And an amateur astronomer was getting his fifteen minutes of fame for discovering that the orbit of some comet or other was different than the pros had calculated it to be.

Reeve had gotten into bed and drifted off to sleep before Jeanie returned. When she did, she crawled in next to him and snuggled up against him. As he put his arm around her waist, she said, "Thanks for lettin' me stay tonight, Sugar. I didn't feel like being alone."

Reeve grunted. "I didn't know there was any 'letting' about it. You seemed to decide without me." He kissed the back of her head. Within a minute, she was softly snoring. Reeve smiled as he drifted back to sleep. He wasn't sure just how to define how he felt about Jeanie, but he sure liked having her around. Well, he thought, some things just don't have to be defined.

Reeve didn’t see much of Jeanie over the next week as she threw herself into the teardown and deep cleaning of Arachne. Reeve, for his part, spent the last few days of darkness getting ready to inflate Shoemaker’s big greenhouse. The pilot greenhouse seemed to be faring well, and everyone was excited to finally have a large space to walk around in without the burden of a spacesuit. However dedicated they all were to their work, eight months trapped indoors started to wear on the psyches of even the most hardened homebodies.
Jacques had started growing nitrogen-fixing cover crops, like vetch and clover, immediately after the trial greenhouse had been inflated. With two weeks of daylight at a time and all the nutrients they could eat, the plants grew like mad. Jacques carefully nurtured them through their entire rapid growth cycle, turning them into compost as quickly as possible. Shortly after the large greenhouse went up, he expected to have enough viable soil to create a thin layer over the entire floor. He planned to create a natural carpet of step-friendly ground cover, both for its aesthetic value and as a way to help maintain the humidity level. Serenity’s atmosphere was thin and dry, which was fine by Reeve, as it reminded him of home. But many, particularly Jacques, who was raised in the verdant Loire Valley, found it off-putting.
Inflation day came, and everyone found time in their busy schedules to lend a hand. Jeanie set up several video cameras around the site, and Nate Robinson interviewed Commander Flores for the news feeds back home. With an estimated half a billion people watching, either live or through viral clips that would infect the net over the next few days, everyone was trying to do everything exactly right. There was no better way to invite trouble.
Carbon dioxide, plentiful anywhere there are humans, had been collected for the entire time the base was in operation. Luna, even though it has no atmosphere of note, is rich with oxygen trapped in compound form in the soil. Unlike the orbital stations, there is no need to scrub the carbon out of the CO2 to make oxygen to breathe. Indeed, the oxygen was a byproduct of the lunar material refinement, making it plentiful. Carbon, on the other hand, has to be entirely imported. Luckily, humans spew carbon-bearing compounds wherever they go.
The scrubbers pulled the CO2 out of the station’s atmosphere, but instead of tearing it apart, they stored it and injected fresh oxygen, mined from the soil, in its place. When it came time to inflate the greenhouse, the standard station atmospheric mix would be blended with the stored CO2, creating an environment particularly favorable to the plants that would be growing there.
As everyone watched, Jacques Benoit and Karl Strauss, the station’s atmospheric engineer, unpacked the case containing the greenhouse. Carefully, they unfolded the fabric structure, re-inspecting the neatly-raked ground as they went, making doubly sure no razor sharp rock fragments were lying in wait to puncture the tent.
Hoses were connected to ports on the tent’s vestibule section. This section held all the hard components of the greenhouse, including atmospheric management equipment, water processing, the airlock, and anything else it took to operate a greenhouse on the moon. Karl opened the safety valves on the pressure tanks, checked the mechanical gauges against the indicators on his telemetry display, and gave the go-ahead to proceed. As the evaporator heated up, warming the liquefied nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide up above their respective boiling points, gasses started to flow and the fabric started to come to life.
Radio chatter was almost non-existent by the time the tent was half inflated, with everyone lost in their own private dreams about lying on a bed of grass in the warm sunshine. The partially reflective fabric of the tent would allow enough sun through to mimic summer noon in the tropics on Earth. Every twelve hours, an electronic shade would darken for three hours and allow the plants to rest. During the two week dark period, banks of sun-mimicking lights would take over the cycle.
With everyone lost in thought, no one noticed the problem until it became an emergency. A hose coupling failed connecting the CO2 tank to the evaporator…
[... working on more ...]

Appendix: Characters
Serenity Crew (18):
• Reeve McCoy: Narrator
• Paolo Flores: Station Commander
• Robinson: An athlete in his college days, cracked his head on Common Area ceiling in Serenity.
• Jeanie Holm: Interesting machine operator. Reeve McCoy's occasional lover. Pro-grade photographer.
• Jaques Benoit, station botanist, is son of French chef Claude Benoit, and a good cook in his own right.


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