Thunder Moon Tussle: a Near Future Science Fiction Novel by Torn MacAlester

A Near Future Science Fiction Novel

A Near Future Sci­ence Fic­tion Nov­el by Torn MacAlester

Fabulae Lunae 1

Thunder Moon Tussle

 

Nils Carmike’s dream was to live on the Moon. He seized the chance to become a smug­gler on the Moon, leav­ing behind his astro­naut career, ex-wife, and post-Yel­low­stone dis­as­ter Earth. Life was going great until the seduc­tive and demand­ing Moon Deputy Miller arrived. She was hot today, cold tomor­row, and every day on Nils’s back. Out­ma­neu­vered and in over his head, Nils grants her a favor that leads to dan­ger. Can they work togeth­er and focus on the only thing that mat­ters? Or will they for­get Rule #1?

From Torn’s Timeline of Events: Golf and Outgassing; a Science Fiction Short Story

A science fiction short story by Torn MacAlester

From Torn’s time­line of events, Golf and Out­gassing is a sci­ence fic­tion short sto­ry deal­ing with the first mis­sion return­ing to the Moon after many years:

 

Golf and Out­gassing: A Sci­ence Fic­tion Short Story

 

 

Available Now

 

Fabulae Lunae 1

Thunder Moon Tussle

The Lunadyne Incident: A Short Story by Torn MacAlester

Diamonds: A New Vignette by Torn MacAlester

Nils depart­ed Con­rad Lunar Sta­tion, dri­ving his pres­sur­ized crawler. He imag­ined the sta­tion would become the hub of lunar activ­i­ty asso­ci­at­ed with the Luna­dyne Cor­po­ra­tion. His hab wasn’t far off, allow­ing him to be away from the cen­ter of activ­i­ty and on his own. The whole point of his being here had been to build up the Moon. He knew Luna­dyne was an excel­lent group to be asso­ci­at­ed with, but he didn’t work for the com­pa­ny. He was an independent–one of the first.

The crawler was the cen­ter of his life on the Moon. He knew it was nec­es­sary for trans­porta­tion and work. Nils knew that with­out the crawler, it would lim­it him to Con­rad Sta­tion and the com­pa­ny would either con­script him for work or send him back to Earth. Nei­ther of which appealed to him. He planned to do free­lance activ­i­ties. Before he arrived, Nils knew there would always be some­one on Earth that need­ed a pair of hands on the Moon. The crawler enabled him to trav­el and offer his skills wher­ev­er they were required.

As he drove, he con­sid­ered the list of jobs that had arrived through his bro­ker. Using the bro­ker had been a last-minute con­sid­er­a­tion. He want­ed to han­dle it him­self, but con­nec­tions to enough peo­ple would prove impos­si­ble on the Moon’s sur­face. The bro­ker would send a list, Nils would review it and select a job, nego­ti­ate a price, and pay ten per­cent as a fee. He’d worked through the last list, enabling him to make a down pay­ment on the deliv­ery of supplies.

Scan­ning the list while the crawler auto­mat­i­cal­ly drove the path toward his habi­tat, Nils noticed one that he real­ized he need­ed to avoid tak­ing. Some­one want­ed to hire him to look for dia­monds on the rim of Coper­ni­cus Crater. He knew that was impos­si­ble. The geol­o­gy for the Moon was all wrong to form dia­mond. There wasn’t a suf­fi­cient source of car­bon on the life­less Moon. Know­ing the answer before­hand, he did­n’t want to spend a sig­nif­i­cant amount of mon­ey on con­duct­ing the sur­vey. He called the bro­ker­age firm.

“This is Nils Carmike,” he said once he reached the voice of a human oper­a­tor. “I need to review one of the poten­tial clients that is on my list.”

“Is there a prob­lem with the price of the job, Mis­ter Carmike?” asked the Bro­ker in her smooth voice after the two sec­ond delay to Earth. “We estab­lished the prices based upon the work instruc­tions that you pro­vid­ed to us.”

“Regard­less, the price is out­ra­geous for this job. Obvi­ous­ly, some­one has deceived the indi­vid­ual who made the request at this out­ra­geous price. There are no dia­monds on the Moon, oth­er than the once we brought with us.”

“That’s a shame, Mis­ter Carmike. We have no process­es to deal with this kind of discrepancy.”

“Tell you what,” said Nils. “We need to fix this, or I will end my con­tract with your firm. Because of my rep­u­ta­tion, I can­not exploit some­one’s lack of knowl­edge about the Moon on purpose.”

“Hold on a moment, Mis­ter Carmike. I will arrange for you to dis­cuss this with the client.”

 

*****

“What is wrong with dia­monds?” asked the man, called Herald.

Nils could tell that he was elder­ly but did not know how old.

“Sir, you don’t know me,” said Nils. “But I’ve been work­ing on the Moon already more than any­one and been study­ing it far longer. Believe me when I say that the Moon doesn’t have diamonds.”

“I’m afraid that my nephew insists that this is correct.”

“If I may, how much did the min­er­al rights to the area cost you?”

“I think it was about three mil­lion,” said Her­ald. “I’ll have to look at my accounts to get the exact amount.”

“Did you get the rights because the sell­er insist­ed there were diamonds?”

“Yeah, I’m no fool. I wouldn’t have got rights with­out a sample.”

“You have raw dia­monds that they claim came from the Moon?” asked Nils.

“Yes. I have them in a bag­gy in the draw­er. One sec­ond, let me get them.”

“Okay,”

“Yeah,” said Har­ald. “I have them here.”

“Can you describe them to me?”

“They are lit­tle rocks, most­ly clear.”

“Are there any inclu­sions that are col­ored?” asked Nils.

“I see some col­or. What was that word you said?”

“Inclu­sion. It means that it’s buried inside the crystal.”

“I can’t real­ly tell,” Her­ald said. “Some look on the surface.”

“What col­or are the stones?”

“Most­ly gray, maybe slight­ly green.”

“Her­ald, I can tell you that these rocks might not be dia­monds. I would get them test­ed. The cost of the sur­vey means it will take me a day to com­plete. That cost cov­ers all the expens­es of me being on the Moon for that day.”

“Okay.”

“That means that cov­ers the cost of ship­ping all the water I drink, the food I eat, and even the air I breathe. That is a round­about way of say­ing my ser­vices are expen­sive. I’d like you to have your sam­ples checked first. If your sam­ples are legit­i­mate­ly dia­monds and the exam­in­ers will ver­i­fy that they are not from the Earth, then I’ll go out to your site and look for diamonds.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes Harold, I fear that they have duped you and I don’t want to add to your finan­cial bur­den to prove that to you by tak­ing a day at your site and find­ing noth­ing. I would call your local police as well and report the fraud. You can give them my number.”

Nils closed the con­nec­tion after reas­sur­ing the man that the sit­u­a­tion was seri­ous. Even though the mon­ey would have been easy, he knew some­one oth­er than him might take it. He hoped Harold would take his advice and ver­i­fy those diamonds.

Cycle 3: A New Story by Torn MacAlester

From his Texas Office, Nils fell into the rou­tine since they land­ed the remote-con­trol crawler on the lunar sur­face. For about two weeks, he’d work near­ly four­teen-hour days. Then once the sun had set on the land­ing site, he’d spend the next two weeks relax­ing and work­ing only a cou­ple of hours a day. He’d been through two full cycles, await­ing the sun­rise on the third cycle, start­ing in two days when the sun ris­es on the land­ing site.

He grabbed the cof­fee from the con­ve­nience store across the street from the office. Even though he only planned to spend two hours in the office, he felt it would be a long day. He real­ized he need­ed more time to pre­pare the site at Mare Frig­oris for land­ings and start build­ing the road to the North Pole before he could go to the Moon. Based on their timetable after the acci­dent, Orbit­dyne won’t be able to send humans to the Moon until next year at the ear­li­est. Mean­while, Nils pre­pared every­thing with auto­mat­ed rovers and a remote-con­trolled crawler. There was four months.

Once in the office, Nils dialed the ven­dor wait­ing for the tele­con­fer­ence to start between him and the KG vendor.

“Nils,” said Zia Hill, the woman who appeared on the screen. “I hope the Texas sum­mer hasn’t total­ly wiped you out.” Zia was the flight direc­tor for the KG launch ser­vices in Savanah. She was the tech­ni­cal face of the com­pa­ny and pro­vid­ed Nils a pow­er­ful lev­el of con­fi­dence in KG’s abil­i­ties. Zia nev­er sug­ar-coat­ed an issue, but she didn’t dwell on triv­i­al­i­ties that meant noth­ing to the over­all operation.

“Hi Zia,” said Nils. “It cooled off overnight, so it’s been quite pleas­ant this morning.”

“That’s good. Geor­gia sum­mer hasn’t been too bad here either.”

“What’s the status?”

“We’ve got your pay­loads secure. Your part­ner is over­see­ing the final lock­down of the fair­ing. We expect to com­plete the stack tomorrow.”

“How is Milt?” asked Nils, won­der­ing about his busi­ness part­ner, Milt John­son. Milt had been most­ly absent from the office dur­ing the past two months since land­ing on the Moon. He left Nils in charge of the dai­ly oper­a­tions of the Moon land­ings while he dealt with fund­ing and tech­ni­cal issues across the coun­try. “I haven’t spo­ken to him since last week’s telecon.”

“You know Milt—always on the move. We spoke just enough this morn­ing that he could ver­i­fy the crates and the rovers. Then he was off to anoth­er meeting.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“No,” said Zia. “But I didn’t ask.”

“Okay, that’s fine. I was just won­der­ing. What do you have for me?”

“We’ve com­plet­ed the tra­jec­to­ries. We’ll land sun­rise plus 27 hours at the land­ing site at Frig­oris. The lan­der will need to be unloaded so we can launch it back into lunar orbit in five days.”

“That doesn’t give me much time,” said Nils. “That’s a lot of car­go on this run.”

“We can’t do any­thing about it. The agency has anoth­er pay­load that they want deliv­ered to Shack­le­ton by the sev­en­teenth of the month. They are very insis­tent and spend a lot to make it hap­pen. Offloaded or not, we launch five days after landing.”

“I got it. We’ll get her unloaded.”

“On anoth­er note, I have the pre­lim­i­nary time of land­ing based upon cur­rent esti­mat­ed launch time,” said Zia. “I’ll send that out with the morn­ing report.”

“Are we going to increase the pace of the meet­ings after launch?”

“We can pro­vide you with a twice dai­ly brief­ing, but it will offer lit­tle more than our twice a week briefing.”

“Okay, we’ll for­get that for now,” said Nils, real­iz­ing the extra expense wouldn’t be jus­ti­fied. In fact, delays asso­ci­at­ed with Orbitdyne’s acci­dent had seri­ous­ly com­pro­mised their ven­ture. Since Milt had han­dled most of the fund­ing side, all Nils did was to wor­ry about it and keep oper­a­tions going. But there had been this per­sis­tent nag­ging in his mind that he was over­look­ing something.

 

*****

 

Nils drove out of Richard­son and head­ed to his apart­ment in Dal­las. He was plan­ning to take every­thing and put it in stor­age months ago as he felt he’d already head­ed to the Moon. Now, the land­lord sought him to sign anoth­er six-month lease. It was damn incon­ve­nient. He had to han­dle a dozen things, includ­ing get­ting ready for his own voy­age to the Moon. The neces­si­ties of Earth­bound life just nev­er seemed to make sense to him. He planned to leave, so tying him­self finan­cial­ly or oth­er­wise seemed non sequitur.

He con­tin­ued dri­ving, head­ing toward the apart­ment office. And he got caught in anoth­er traf­fic sig­nal. It turned out unfor­tu­nate, but the sig­nals weren’t in sync dur­ing that time of day. In fact, he knew bet­ter than to try going home this time of day. It would take close to an hour to make a twen­ty-minute dri­ve. As he came to the stop, his phone rang. He touched the but­ton on his earpiece.

“Yup,” he said.

“Hi, this is Milt,” said his part­ner. “We’ve got a problem.”

“We always have prob­lems. What kind do we have today?”

“Luna­corp wants to have a look at oper­a­tions. Luna­corp wants to inspect our oper­a­tions because of our delay. I promised their audi­tor a chance to look at operations.”

“When did you make this promise?” asked Nils, fear­ing the answer.

“Day after tomorrow.”

“Shit. That’s absolute­ly the worst day.”

“We can’t do any­thing about it. They think we are not using their invest­ment effec­tive­ly,” said Milt. “You will need to prove it.”

 

*****

 

“This is going to be dif­fi­cult,” said Nils. “But you are wel­come to watch.”

“That is what I am here for,” said the auditor.

“The sun came up a few hours ago, and I am wait­ing until the ambi­ent tem­per­a­ture reach­es about freez­ing before I turn the heater on with the solar power.”

“Why wait?”

“I don’t want too large of tem­per­a­ture gra­di­ents across the elec­tron­ics as things warm up,” explained Nils.

“Tem­per­a­ture gra­di­ents? I don’t understand.”

“Large changes in tem­per­a­ture over short dis­tances between com­po­nents. That cre­ates a sit­u­a­tion where it’s pos­si­ble to crack wires or com­po­nents because they expand uneven­ly. If it breaks, its dead until Milt and I get up there to fix it.”

“Assum­ing you can,” said the auditor.

“Yup, assum­ing we can.”

“You seem to have built a lot of your oper­a­tion off of assumptions.”

“Not as many as you would think,” said Nils, real­iz­ing that the audi­tor was pok­ing at their busi­ness plan.

“How so?”

“Well, I build my plans based on set­ting pri­or­i­ties. Those pri­or­i­ties are often to deal with an assump­tion that anoth­er piece of the con­struc­tion depends upon.”

“Like you are work­ing so hard on the solar arrays the past two months?” asked the auditor.

“Exact­ly. With­out pow­er, we are help­less to do much. Part of that pow­er has to keep us alive dur­ing the long lunar nights. The first cycle pre­sent­ed the major chal­lenge of pro­vid­ing enough pow­er to keep the crawler alive through the lunar night. He set up solar pan­els and con­nect­ed them to a bat­tery pack, using as lit­tle pow­er as possible.”

That first two-week lunar night had been frus­trat­ing. Nils couldn’t help the feel­ing of screw­ing up and leav­ing a dead rover on the Moon’s sur­face. The crawler had enough pow­er, even more than he expect­ed, when it came back to life after sun­rise. To dou­ble the usable ener­gy on site, he spent the next lunar day build­ing a sec­ond pow­er station.

“By doing this,” Nils con­tin­ued. “We can bring AR1 and AR2 to Frig­oris tomor­row on the third cycle’s car­go run after we set­tle at base camp for a bit.”

“Oh,” said the audi­tor. “That means you are too busy for this audit.”

“Yup. You could not have arrived at a worse time.”

“I’m sor­ry, but this is essen­tial to Lunacorp.”

“Some­one has said that,” said Nils. “If Luna­corp wants a scape­goat for the delay, it’s Orbit­dyne. Their fly­er has been out of ser­vice because of their acci­dent. What I am doing is keep­ing us on some kind of sched­ule despite the delay in their sys­tem. Go back and tell Luna­corp what­ev­er you want to tell them, but I’m real­ly too busy to feed them a report because they are scared.”

“If that’s the way you feel.”

“Feel­ing has noth­ing to do with it. Those are the facts.”

“Well, I can say one thing,” said the audi­tor. “If you’re the one work­ing on it, it’s like­ly going to suc­ceed. How­ev­er, I can say that you and your part­ner gave Luna­corp a line of shit a half mil­lion kilo­me­ters long. This plan is about a like­ly to suc­ceed as putting a cork in Yellowstone.”

“Get out.”

“Have a good day.”

 

*****

 

Nils answered the phone.

“What the hell did you do?” asked Milt.

“What do you mean?”

“You know full well what I mean. That could lead to Luna­corp can­cel­ing the con­tract. We’re build­ing the road for them, remember?”

“No,” said Nils. “We’re build­ing it for our­selves, they are a facilitator.”

“How in the hell can’t you sep­a­rate the two in your head?”

“If they can’t stay the hell out of the way of the work, then they are of no use to us. When that audi­tor start­ed dig­ging yes­ter­day for me to jus­ti­fy what I was doing. He admit­ted I didn’t have time for it, but when he per­sist­ed. I laid it on the line. The facts were that his mere pres­ence was putting the Luna­corp invest­ment at risk.”

“Did you say it in those words?” asked Milt.

“No.”

“Then you might have as well said nothing.”

“What the hell do you mean?” asked Nils.

“Exact­ly what I’ve been say­ing. You put the whole thing at risk over a few hours of your time.”

“No. They jeop­ar­dized every­thing by tak­ing away my work time. I could have done it in two weeks, but you didn’t both­er con­sult­ing with me.”

“I—,” start­ed Milt.

“The sched­ule is too tight dur­ing the lunar day to allow for that kind of non­sense. You should know bet­ter. It’s what we spent years train­ing for max­i­miz­ing our use of favor­able time.”

“But—”

“With you not here help­ing me dur­ing the day­time, I’m left with try­ing to work six­teen to twen­ty-hour shifts on my own to keep the activ­i­ty going,” said Nils. “With­out you tak­ing the oth­er shifts, it puts us against the wall.”

“We need to keep the investors happy.”

“Yes, but not at the expense of the work.”

“Okay,” said Milt. “I’ll see what I can do about rescheduling.”

“Do it. Once the sun sets at Frig­oris, I can chat with the audi­tor for two weeks. I bare­ly have enough to do as it is.”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“Now,” said Nils. “About my oth­er concern…”

“You mean I can’t con­tribute because of all the investor meetings?”

“Yup. What are you going to do about it?”

“Noth­ing,” said Milt. “But before you get pissed off, let me explain.”

“Sure.”

“I expect that dur­ing the bet­ter part of the next year, we’re going to be on the Moon. The investors and Luna­corp need to get a good sense of me before we put a screen and a quar­ter mil­lion miles between us. They need a sense of trust to keep us mov­ing with­out me being here to hold their hand. Luna­corp is going to be tough enough, but we need to keep our con­struc­tion com­pa­ny investors hap­py. And I’ve got to get into a meet­ing with them in the next five min­utes so we can get this issue to blow over.”

“Okay, we’ll talk more lat­er,” said Nils. Switch­ing off the phone, he won­dered why he still felt that Milt was feed­ing him a line of bull.

 

Cycle 3 is a short sto­ry based on the char­ac­ters and events of Thun­der Moon Tus­sle by Torn MacAlester.  It occurs right after the events pre­sent­ed in Chap­ter 18.

Thun­der Moon Tus­sle is avail­able on Kin­dle and Paper­back at  amazon.com

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