Ormskirk Writers' & Literary Society - OWLS - was established in 1963 by Dora Doyle to promote local writers. Founder member Ron Bartholomew contributed to the Waverly Encyclopaedias and was widely published in Practical Mechanics Magazine. A successful playwright, he opened his house to us for weekly meetings and served us with tea and home made cakes for many years. As Otis lifts Chief Engineer he also designed the press button control boxes used in lifts to this day. ALT="Ormskirk Writers' & Literary Society">

Monday, 7 December 2009

Going Back (The Moon Can't Wait)

This an extract from the opening of my new novella, Going Back (The Moon Can't Wait) which is available in the anthology The Moon Can't Wait available from Lulu.Com, £9.95, from 7th December 2009.
The anthology is a collection of 35 short stories of romance, comedy and the occasional murder. The novella is a mystery thriller, set on the Moon in the near future. It commemorates the 1969 Apollo Moon landings and coincides with the Copenhagen Treaty on Climate Change

Friday 1200 Zulu
“We’ve lost contact with South Pole Base.”
This was big news. I could only speculate why Mission Director Lavrov was telling me first – if I was the first.
“Who’s this ‘we’?”
“Both us and Mission Control on Earth. All radio and data contact, telemetry, complete works became silent at 0900 Zulu, Friday.”
“The Sat links?”
“Both Sat links to us and direct feeds to Earth. Whole show went off at once. No warning, no prior emergency, nothing. Just like somebody pulled plug on entire base.”
“What does Mission Control say?”
“Somebody’s got to get ass down there and find out what’s happened.” I don’t know why, but I always find it amusing when Russians try to use American slang. Especially when agitated. “Assuming worst, till we know better.”
“When do we go?”
“We can’t prep a sub-orbital flight in under four weeks – ”
“Four weeks?” I was surprised. “Why the delay?”
“The Selena is undergoing routine overhaul and maintenance. Right now she’s lying around in Engineering Bay in about three thousand pieces.”
“Why is the car always in the shop just when you need it?” I said. Perhaps my levity was out of place. Certainly, Lavrov scowled at me.
“So we are sending team in one of the Marathons,” he added, somehow coping with his bad mood – at least he was regaining his fluency in English – “along with trailer carrying supplies for every kind of eventuality. That’s another reason for going by lunar surface route – bigger load.”
“But the surface trip from here to South Base is over five thousand kilometres – and that’s not counting the detours around craters. Especially as you get nearer – it’s, what?  –– like a thousand kilometres of Himalayas.”
“It’s been done before – and that was before rougher sections were bulldozed to make causeways and cuttings,” said Lavrov. “About the same as crossing the Sahara, end to end.” His expression had not improved any, so it still didn’t sound like some kind of picnic he was suggesting. “You can average 40 kilometres an hour which means 140 hours to get there – about six Earth days. Which is just as well as it’s only seven Earth days till Lunar night on the Earth side.”
“So who’s going on this jolly jaunt?” I asked. It was a safe bet I already knew one person who would be going. John Patterson. Me.
“Jim Sellars, Dr Li, Fran├žoise Lagrange from medical and Ajali Ndege. Then there are two newcomers. Dr Ahmed Zubaydi and his assistant, Ibrahim Rashid.”
Newcomers indeed – I recognised their names from a recent passenger manifest, but knew nothing else. “Who are they?”
“They came in on the last trip from South Base before the Selena went for her overhaul.”
“What are their specialities?”
“Apart from having visited South Base and seen how it was just days ago?” Lavrov picked up and glanced at a slim folder for several seconds like he had never read it before. “Dr Zubaydi was expert in geological survey – oil prospecting, I gather – before he joined our team.” A pause. “Rashid is – ah – his right-hand man… been with him for years. Deputy-Directory Kennedy at South will have done a more thorough debriefing, seeing as they were joining his staff. They are visiting North just to get to know whole operation.”
“And who else?”
“And your good self, of course.” He still didn’t stop scowling.
“Why just seven of us?”
His scowl worsened, if that were possible. “If nothing serious has happened, there will be plenty of people there who can take care of themselves.”
“And if it is serious?”
“You won’t need more than seven of you.”
He filled me in on a few other details for my own speciality. “One last thing,” Lavrov added. “Keep in touch with us here at North Pole Base, every six hours. You know the protocol.”
I nodded. I knew the protocol. “Anything else?”
“Get back in one piece.”
I’d kind of planned that already.

Friday 1600 Zulu
Let me introduce you to a Marathon. It’s one hell of a bit of kit. It has twelve wheels, six in the forward tractor unit and six in the so-called trailer which was attached to the tractor by a fully sealed gimballed mid-section, like a flexible bus, although it could be jettisoned in an emergency, such as sliding down a crater wall and the like. It was unfair to call it a trailer, as drive went to all of its six wheels, just like the forward unit, which in turn wasn’t really a tractor in that it didn’t pull anything. In fact, each wheel has its own drive motor which could be cross-linked to any other wheel in case any motor failed. It could carry up to sixteen people, suitably equipped, though, on this occasion the rear unit would be full of stores with no passenger space. The whole thing weighed twelve thousand kilos on Earth, or just two thousand on the Moon. All of them were nick-named the “recreational vehicle” or “RV” by everyone that used them, both at North Pole Base where I normally spent my time, and at South Pole Base. There were five on the Moon in all with at least two stationed at each base and the fifth as a kind of spare. Each one cost one point eight billion dollars. Some RV.
The reason for always having at least two at each base was for contingency. Contingency and redundancy. When you live on the Moon you never adopt the mode of thought, “What if something goes wrong?” It’s always: “When things go wrong, I can do so-and-so.” There’s always a back-up, a spare, of everything from a spanner to a spacesuit. The only exceptions at all were the Selenas – the sub-orbital spacecraft – and the Atlases, the Earth-Moon shuttle/cargo craft – it simply wasn’t feasible to have duplicates of these hugely expensive transporters at both bases – we shared one a piece at each base with at least one either on Earth and one en route – four in all – and this was thought sufficient. That had worked out well, I couldn’t help thinking, considering the current circumstances, but then no-one had anticipated a whole base simply shutting down like a blown-out candle. As for our Selena, giving it regular and thorough maintenance was our way of covering our asses. That had worked out well, too, again given the same considerations. I can be quite cynical when I put my mind to it.
Considering what was about to happen, I was probably justified.

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