Lunacidal

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Lunacidal Copyright Š 2015 by Pete Martin All rights reserved. No part of this story (e-book) may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or book reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidences are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Edited by Terry Wright Cover Art by Terry Wright ISBN: 978-1-944045-03-6


~1~

By Pete Martin -1“Main engines, start.� The horrendous vibration surprised rookie astronaut William Peake. He wanted to be anywhere but in this spaceship, much too late now, as the explosions beneath him rattled his bones and shook his nerves. He clenched his teeth. It seemed that every organ in his body jacked in different directions at once. This was his first time going up and he had to fight to keep panic at bay. The cabin creaked and groaned as the service tunnels fell away and the blast from below lifted The Boone from its launch pad. As the Gforces increased and his belly gained weight, he squeezed his restraint straps. Sweat dribbled down his neck and inside his jumpsuit. He turned to see how Bosun was doing in the seat next to him. The Lieutenant held both arms up, palms forward, as if urging their carriage to speed up, and grinning with delight like a kid on a rollercoaster ride. The thunderous white noise blanked out any chance of conversation, but the sensation of acceleration made William feel like a castaway from earth who would never return. After two minutes of


~2~

climbing, he felt the primary rockets detach and a surge of power as the secondary boosters kicked in. In three more minutes, they would be free of earth’s gravity and could unbuckle their restraints. Bosun cheered. “Piece of cake. Let’s go again.” William did not share in Bosun’s enthusiasm. “No thanks, Bosun. I don’t think I’m built for this much excitement.” After all, he was a botanist, mostly, and trained in navigation. The Boone was on course, heading for the moon at escape velocity. *** By the time they were unstrapped and exploring weightlessness, Bosun was doing summersaults in the service bay. William felt the subtle changes taking place in his brain, belly and bowels: headache, vertigo, nausea and the sensation of floating. Only after hours of practice in the famed Vomit Comet had he learned to fight the sensation of falling and the instinct to flail his arms and kick his legs in panic. The tight confines of the ship caused him to bump into the walls and support struts as he learned to control his floating body. Bosun’s joy was relentless. “Here we are, Willy Boy, lost in space, heroes for hire. I’ve brought some M&M’s. Let’s celebrate.” As he tore open the small bag it split down the side, and the colorful chocolate candies flew out like sparks from a firework. “Oh, shit.” “Lieutenant Bosun, you are a disgrace.” The anger in the voice


~3~

coming from the intercom was obvious. Commander James Secord was not amused. “Get that contamination collected immediately. I want every M&M accounted for. If we have a malfunction due to your incompetence, Lieutenant, you will be charged with gross misconduct.” “Don’t worry, Cap. We’ll take care of it.” William sprung into action, catching the candies and stuffing them into the pockets of his jumpsuit. He gritted his teeth with determination but enjoyed the challenge enormously, all the while knowing the Commander was watching from the bridge. After a thorough search, “Job done, sir,” William announced. He turned over his collected M&M’s to Bosun, who floated toward the lab where he’d confirm they’d found all the wayward candies. *** Later, Commander Secord came down from the bridge and installed himself at the galley table. His six-foot-four-inch frame looked uncomfortable in the confined space. He had to duck his head to avoid the curve of the ceiling. His forehead bore a deep frown beneath his cropped red hair, and he knocked his fists together in frustration. Already seated with Bosun, William secured his feet into the polypropylene straps that were riveted to the floor. Though he felt upright, as normal, he knew the spacecraft was spinning in slow motion as it bulleted through the blackness of space. Secord glanced at William then glared at Bosun. “If you hadn’t


~4~

seen space duty before, and if I hadn’t known your father, you wouldn’t be out here now, Lieutenant. You’re a fuckup.” “It was an accident, sir.” “How do you know you’ve accounted for all the candies?” “According to the weights and measures log, each M&M weighs point eight-eight-four grams.” Bosun stated these facts like some kind of know-it-all. “The weight of the M&M bag’s contents is one-point-sixnine ounces. Do the calculation...that’s fifty-four candies. We found fifty...and I think we ate the rest.” William whispered, “What do you mean we?” The Commander pointed at them both. “Fletcher’s going to hear about this. My bet is you both get fired.” “Me?” William protested. “Bosun spilled the candy.” Bosun scowled at Commander Secord. “You can tell old man Fletcher to take this job and shove it.” “I don’t know what your beef with Fletcher is all about, but you better not have any more stupid stunts stuck up your sleeves...or I’ll have your bars.” Bosun showed his hands, palms up, and grinned. “I’ve got nothing, sir.” Secord slammed his fists on the table and lifted slowly away from his seat. “This is my last mission. I want it to be a success. Because of your stunt, the probability of success has gone down by twenty points.” The Commander floated away toward the bridge.


~5~

William sighed. “Way to go, fuckup.” Bosun sneered at William. “Forget those who think they can smell failure. From one man’s failure comes another man’s profit. I’m going to buy shares in this venture. A twenty-point drop in value means I can buy low and sell high...really cash in when this mission is over. My money is waiting in a special account until shares in the company dive. Then I’ll buy them up at bargain basement prices and wait for the rebound. Just so you know, they always rebound. I know the stock market, so don’t say a word to anyone.” “So that was no accident.” “It was an accident. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.” “Jesus, Bosun, this trip is speculative at best, not to mention risky and expensive. What if we don’t find enough water on the moon to supply future missions to Mars? What’ll that do to your big investment plan?” “You let me worry about that.” Bosun excused himself. William went about his checklist tasks: test plant growth in space and feed four people successfully. The last job was most worrying. He pushed seed packets into the soil within the terrariums and turned on the heating, the lights, and the moisture controls. Satisfied, he hoped the seeds would sprout. By the time Bosun returned, William had checked off all the boxes on the checklist. Simone floated through from the bridge toward William. “Chow


~6~

time.” Her one-piece pilot’s suit showed off her lithe body. She had tied her long blond hair in a ponytail, and her perfect Barbie-doll face glowed. William blinked. During training, he had kept an eye on her progress, always choosing the exercise machine closest to her and always sure that she was far too good for him. She grabbed a strut above her head and threw herself into the galley, floated toward the table, and gracefully landed on her seat. William followed her, though with much less finesse. She strapped her feet in and turned to look at him. “I hope the Commander isn’t too tough on you,” she whispered. He arched a brow. “I didn’t know you cared.” “Don’t be silly. Of course I do.” His heart fluttered in surprise, but before he could respond by saying something stupid, Bosun blew in, followed by Commander Secord. “All course corrections complete and effective,” Secord reported. “We’re on target.” He pulled himself into his seat, selected a food packet from the dispenser, and glared at Bosun who’d landed across the table from him. “These packets are supposed to be indestructible, Lieutenant, so don’t rip them open. I don’t want any mush floating around in this cabin.” “Roger that, Cap.” Bosun was the first to plug in his mouthpiece and begin sucking out the glop. It had the texture of grits with a taste of


~7~

sun-dried tomatoes and cayenne chili. “Hungry, Bosun?” Simone asked him as his eyes flicked over the other packets of puree. “Hard work always makes me hungry,” he said between slurps. William looked at Simone and they exchanged a knowing glance. Bosun was worthless. Before chow, he had used the time to wash up and change clothes while William had prepared the food-grow and completed Bosun’s chores for him. Simone motioned to the viewport where the receding Florida peninsula lay half shrouded under clouds. “I’d love to go there someday.” “Yeah, Tampa, home of the Buccaneers. I’ll show you around...if you like.” “Love to,” she cooed. Bosun snorted. “Why don’t you two get a room?” Simone grinned at Bosun and decided to goad him. “Does that make you jealous, huh, me and William?” He lifted his eyebrows at her and smiled wickedly. “You’ll be glad you’ve got me on board, being the weaker sex, and all. Willy Boy doesn’t have the right stuff.” “We’ll see about that.” Simone bit her lip in a sexy way and flashed bright eyes at William. He didn’t know what to say, and Bosun had said enough. Silence overcame them. William sucked his food tube and wondered what it


~8~

would be like if he and Simone ever did get a room. The Commander broke into the calm. “Plant growth in zero gravity, how are the results looking, boys, interesting for our investors?” Bosun seemed unaware of the question, as he was preoccupied with changing his food packet. William answered, “I’ll transmit the data for our clients and copy a confirmation of receipt from Experispace to your inbox.” Commander Secord nodded at William as a gesture of thanks and then pulled a sour face. “I hate this mushy chili.” After gulping down a packet of orange juice, Simone spiraled from her place at the table and zoomed off toward night quarters. William marveled at her awareness in space, her effortless grace, and her confidence. The other two men remained seated at the table, gawked at her backside, then glanced at one another, exchanging frowns. They didn’t dare lay a hand on her, sexual harassment in the workplace, and all. Commander Secord’s expression turned serious. “I’m not sure this mission is going to be profitable. With the market flagging, we need to find enough water to boost Experispace’s stock value.” The hair on William’s neck prickled. He’d found dabbling in the stock market hard to comprehend, but Bosun fully realized this venture was a highly lucrative investment. Why wouldn’t it be? It appeared he was manipulating events in his favor. William was sure Bosun was doing something illegal, but he didn’t seem worried by anything that


~9~

Secord said. -2Back on earth, tires squealed as a black limousine halted outside the Experispace hangar #12. The men and women inside took notice. “He’s here,” someone rasped. All faces turned toward Chief Financial Officer Raymond Steeple who had his head down, sweat dripping into his eyes as he read the report coming in on his tablet. EXPE share price plummets twenty points after mishap aboard The Boone. He glanced around at the puzzled faces of his fellow board members and invited investors. Anxious and angry shareholders were undoubtedly ringing his phone off the hook back in his office. He’d deal with them after this meeting...if he still had a job. “Anything wrong?” a woman wearing a tight red dress and white gloves asked. “No. Fine. Let’s get ready.” He and his charges took their places in a reception line beside the huge hanger door. A videographer stood off to the side, camera on his shoulder. Motors whined and chains rattled as the door rose. Florida sunshine flooded in, and as the opening reached six feet high, the limo lurched forward like a coyote ducking under a fence and stopped in front


~10~

of the group. Steeple clenched his teeth as he watched the driver unfold his lanky frame from the car seat. Augustus Fletcher, CEO of Experispace, waited for his six-footeight chauffeur to open the rear passenger door. As the hanger door rattled closed behind him, Fletcher slowly stepped out of the car. His tall driver made him look shorter than five-foot-six, but his pudgy frame looked distinguished in a hand-tailored suit and patent leather shoes. Only one pair of eyes met his gaze as he walked up to Steeple and shook his hand. “Are we all set now?” “Yes, sir.” “Very well.” Fletcher paced in front of the group. “I want to thank you all for coming. As you know, The Boone is on its way to the moon. The importance of this mission cannot be understated. My CFO, Mister Steeple here, and I wish to convince you that our goals are not reckless and without merit. When we’re finished here, we hope you’ll open your checkbooks and invest heavily while the opportunity is ripe.” “Water on the moon?” a sharply dressed man barked. The nametag on his lapel read: B. Douglass – Warren and Baker Investment Group. “Highly speculative, don’t you think?” “Impossible,” another high-roller put in. “Yes. You all would think that.” Fletcher put his hands in his pockets in order to appear relaxed and unconcerned about their skepticism. “But we at Experispace think outside the box.” He turned to


~11~

Steeple. “Lead the way.” Steeple led the group through a side door that opened up to an auditorium. The videographer followed closely behind, recording their progress for the shareholders’ annual report. Everyone found seats, front and center stage. A curved cinematic screen filled the entire back wall. Fletcher stood at a podium to the left of the screen. “Let’s begin the presentation.” Large panels, like vertical blinds, turned slowly across the windows. Ceiling lights flickered off and plunged the room into total darkness. A murmur rippled through the group. Rousing strains of orchestral music filled the room. In a flash of white light, the screen lit up with a montage of rocket launches over the ages, from black and white V2s headed toward London, to Saturn V blasting Apollo skyward, and the space shuttle’s majestic rise from the launch pad as the music reached a crescendo and the floor vibrated from the rumble of solid rocket boosters. A round of applause thundered throughout the auditorium. Over the background image of planets orbiting the sun, the narrative began. “Since man has ventured beyond this planet, water and fuel have been the most difficult obstacles to long-distance space travel. Apollo missions and space shuttle flights required relatively small tanks of oxygen and hydrogen to produce enough water and electricity to supply the needs of the crew.”


~12~

The screen changed to a montage of satellites and deep space probes, sunshine glistening off their broad solar panels. “We can power a Mars-bound craft, same as any satellite, but to supply enough water for a three-year Mars mission and a crew of four, sufficient sized tanks of oxygen and hydrogen would be too heavy to lift off much less reach escape velocity.” Water dripped from a faucet on screen. “The same is true of water. At eight pounds per gallon, a fully stocked Mars spacecraft would never get off the ground.” A dramatic image of a full moon brightened the room. “Long distance space travel depends on finding water outside the confines of earth’s gravity. Experispace has had great challenges to overcome, and now we have met those challenges head-on. We propose that there is water on the moon and we intend to find it.” The music exploded in drums and trumpets. Fletcher, standing beside the podium, saw the moon’s brightness reflect off lines of doubt on everyone’s faces. It always started this way: first disbelief, then doubt, then realization that anything was possible. They’d be writing checks in no time. The music subsided and the scene changed to a mosaic of comets photographed through telescopes. “Comets,” the narrative continued. “Experispace astronomers theorize that sometime over the past four billion years, either during the formation of our solar system or shortly thereafter, the mathematical


~13~

probability is highly in favor of a close encounter between a comet and the moon. As a comet’s tail is comprised of water ice, any contact with the moon would have showered the surface with ice, now long buried in the dust. Because no such comet exists today, the astronomers further theorize that the moon’s gravity deflected the comet’s path directly into the sun.” A brilliant sun, filtered in red, threw solar flares in high arcs over the corona. Drums thumped and violins thrummed then faded with the sun’s image, quickly replaced by the moon’s tranquility. “With one-sixth of the earth’s gravity, the moon’s escape velocity is much slower, thus indigenous water ice stored in a transport vessel can be easily launched into orbit where the MarsLander will dock with it and then commence its journey to the red planet.” The floor shook as sub-woofer rumblings gave way to a thunderous climax that introduced a full-blown Experispace logo. As the screen faded to black and the music ended, spontaneous applause broke out. Ceiling lights flickered on. The mood in the lecture room was buoyant. Laughter and chatter broke out as the huge panels turned to let in bright sunlight. Questions flew through the air. “Isn’t that theory a bit farfetched?” “There’s water on Mars. Why bring our own?” “How do you propose to find ice on the moon?” Fletcher took his position behind the podium. “Gentlemen, ladies,


~14~

let me say this. Yes, the theory is farfetched, same as Galileo’s theory that the earth really orbited the sun and Columbus’s theory that the earth was round, not flat. History has proved that farfetched theories have merit. Yes, we know there’s water ice on Mars, but finding it, harvesting it, and making it potable are not sure bets. We can’t count on using it, so we must bring our own.” “Makes sense to me,” someone muttered. “And we have a machine capable of finding ice on the moon,” Fletcher assured them, “even if it’s buried under a mile of dust.” “What kind of machine?” “Can we see it?” “I want to see the MarsLander.” Steeple stood and addressed Fletcher. “Now?” he asked with a nervous smile. Fletcher nodded. Before long, these investors will be throwing money at Experispace. “Please follow me,” Steeple said. “We’ll answer your questions as we proceed.” The videographer followed the group into a side room where Steeple handed the investors brand new hard hats, boots, and safety jackets. Fletcher donned his own well-worn gear. Steeple led the jabbering throng through several double-doors to the assembly area entrance.


~15~

Fletcher followed behind the tour. They stopped at a lumberous looking machine, knobby wheels like an army truck, the bulky body of a trash truck, quadruple spotlights for eyes, and appendages all around it, tucked in like a dead spider’s legs. The videographer slipped in for a close-up. “This is the Bowser,” Steeple said with a ring of pride in his voice. “The sister-ship of this model is currently en route to the moon.” “Why is it called a Bowser?” the red-dressed woman asked. “A bowser is a vehicle that carries liquids, and bowser is another word for dog. A dog sniffs the ground, follows a trail, and finds things with its nose. This machine sniffs for water with ground-penetrating radar sensors. It can also collect samples of that water.” She pursed her lips as if satisfied with the answer. Fletcher took the opportunity to explain the machine’s history. He stepped to the front. “It’s the brainchild of Colonel Lance Bosun, a brilliant flight engineer and veteran of seven missions for Experispace.” Steeple brought up Colonel Bosun’s picture on his tablet and showed it around. While the investors gawked at the image, Fletcher had his own recollections of the man who would have ruined Experispace with his accusations of reckless endangerment, which he’d planned to go public with...just before his untimely death. “He’s not with us anymore,” Steeple said. “Retired?” an investor asked.


~16~

“Died,” Fletcher said, struggling to keep satisfaction from his tone. “Spacesuit accident,” Steeple added. “Sorry,” someone said. Fletcher grumped. The whistleblower got what was coming to him. “It might interest you to know that his son has gone along on this moon mission. Nobody is more familiar with the Bowser, and our money is riding on his success...” Even though he’s a fuckup, Fletcher finished to himself. M&M’s? Goddamn it. The stock value of Experispace was in enough trouble without his stupid stunts. What’s he trying to do, ruin the company? Like father like son... “The Bowser must be expensive,” the sharp investor from Warren and Baker commented. “Why do you have two of them?” Steeple turned off his tablet screen. “They have a short useable lifespan in space. Solar radiation wreaks havoc on its electronics. Colonel Bosun never got the shielding right—” “And I won’t authorize the expense to reengineer the hardware,” Fletcher interjected. “As you’re about to see, the company’s money is tied up elsewhere.” He shot a do-it glance to Steeple, the signal to proceed. “This way, folks, for the grand finale.” He showed everyone the way back into the hanger where the chauffeur leaned against the limo’s front fender while swiping his cell phone screen. He snapped to attention. Fletcher dismissed him as Steeple led the group to a twenty-foot-


~17~

high wall that partitioned off the largest part of the hanger. He punched a security code into the console. The wall groaned and squealed as it slowly parted in the middle. Open-mouthed and dumbfounded, the investors gaped at the sight revealed before them. The videographer lowered his camera and stared in amazement. The MarsLander looked magnificent, a triumph of design, engineering, and aesthetics. It stretched four hundred feet down the hanger, and its antenna-laden fly-bridge nearly touched the rafters. The woman in red gasped. “It must’ve cost a fortune.” “It did,” Steeple replied. “Twenty-percent of our revenues go to insuring all our spacecraft with Lloyd’s of London and US Aviation Underwriters.” “We’re covered for total-loss only,” Fletcher stated matter-offactly. “Damaged recoveries are on us.” “No

fender-benders,”

Steeple

added.

“Without

insurance,

stockholders won’t invest and we can’t operate.” “So if we buy in,” the Warren and Baker man said, “our investments are safe?” “Perfectly.” Fletcher had them right where he wanted them. He strode around the base of the support structure, admiring the teardrop-shaped bridge up front, the long neck of folded solar panels that shrouded passageways leading to inner chambers, the bandoleer effect of external tanks at mid-ship, and the outrigger-mounted propulsion


~18~

engines for steerage in space and landing and liftoff on Mars. The shell appeared free of any joins or imperfections and gleamed the color of nineteenth century bronze that absorbed reflections in the same manner it would absorb solar radiation. MarsLander would ride into space on the nose of booster rockets ten-times more powerful than the Saturn V. Fletcher knew everything about this spacecraft. He’d planned every system down to the finest detail, considered every hazard a Mars mission would confront: dust that would grind the soles off a man’s boots, temperatures that would freeze a banana hard as steel, and Martian dust storms that would clog up every machine and shelter. The equipment could extract oxygen from carbon dioxide, food would grow in terrariums, and the crew would train to survive the psychological stress of prolonged isolation. He had all but one goddamned thing covered: water. “This, my friends, is the future of space travel. But first we must find water ice on the moon.” To find out what happens next, go to www.twbpress.com/lunacidal.html where you’ll find the links to purchase this 18,200 word e-book from TWB Press, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and other fine online booksellers


About the Author

Born in 1954 in Scunthorpe, a steel town in the North of England, Pete Martin was educated at Scunthorpe Grammar School where he achieved Cambridge GCE ‘O’ levels in English Language and English Literature. He progressed through the hydraulics industry to become the managing director of a £500K per annum, three centre business. His working life had absorbed his waking hours, but since retirement, he’s got the time to express his creative side through writing and making music. Pete moved to Hull, a City port, eighteen years ago and now lives with his adorable partner, Vicky.


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