May 12, 2085
Botanica was a medium-sized crater, recently sealed to hold an atmosphere of oxygen baked from lunar rock and nitrogen imported from Aeros asteroid. It was less than a kilometer across, and situated four klicks northwest of Heinlein station, five hundred klicks from the lunar South Pole.
Only in the last five months had the crater merited any special attention. In the beginning had come the standard exploration and mining teams, searching for He3 concentrations and fossil ice, but in the end Botanica was no more interesting than a thousand other craters of similar size, and nothing came of the initial efforts.
Its current condition would mock that first impression. The crater housed a dome now, the rock surfaces sealed, the weight of its water shield exquisitely calculated to balance the atmospheric pressure within and strength of the crust beneath.
At any given time a hundred men worked that dome, outside and inside and deep down. Lava tubes burrowed beneath Botanica, and drills had brushed pockets of fossil ice. On a day not too distant, hordes of tourists would walk and climb these modularly constructed halls and walls. Such a structure had never existed anywhere in the solar system, and despite a Luny’s typically blasé seen-it-all-before attitude, the most recent modifications caused them to buzz with speculation. What were they? What did it all mean?
For days now, one man on the construction and painting crew had walked the hundred giant bubble-rooms that now filled the dome, spraying paint fixative along the connecting corridors. He was a tall, dark, thin fellow, with high cheekbones that cried out for tribal scars. Christened Douglas Frost, he had been born under another, more exotic name. Frost was currently three months from the end of a two-year lunar rotation.
So many times had Frost refilled his tank on his back that he’d stopped really looking at what he was lacquering. Today, for some reason, he’d begun observing more carefully, and soon his curiosity was piqued.
A political animal, during his lunar sojourn Frost had watched the Earthfeed for news of national and international power-jostling. The last six months had actually brought some of this electoral excitement to the moon, and he had watched with pleasure, enjoying the debates and friendly arguments, playing them over and over in his mind. Independence for Luna and the Belt? Or continued subservience to the national and corporate interests that had financed the original installations? They were a gaggle of privileged fools, pondering the stars while billions on Earth remained locked in eternal servitude.
Douglas Frost kept his opinions to himself. Lunar money was excellent, and his brother Thomas was the only friend he needed here. Beer-fueled political bull sessions were popular among these fools, but not for the Brothers Frost.
But something about this raised area had punched through his other thoughts, pulled at him, whispered urgently that there was something here, something elusive to the casual observer.
He was so busy staring at the frieze before him, that he never saw Hal Tessier drifting up behind him.
“So, Doug,” Hal began. Even as he studied the lacquered wall, its gleaming wet sheen began to dull. Doug thought the man a pompous ass, whether debating politics or playing chess. “You’re just about finished with your two-year. High marks across the board. Know McCauley over in Fabrication?”
Indeed he did. “Sure.”
“Well, Toby authorized me to make you and your brother an offer to come back in a year. Interested?”
Doug hid his smile, pretending to be surprised.
Tessier was a short, forceless man with thinning brown hair and a gut that would have sagged like mud under Earth gravity. Doug wondered if his supervisor had rigged his compulsory PT points. In theory, everyone took their exercise time seriously. In reality, there was a gap between the official tally and the actual amount of healthy physical stress.
Weak muscles, brittle bones … some of these makaku were never going home.
“You know? If you’d asked me last month, I might have said no. But…” Doug shrugged.
“But?” Hal asked.
“It grows on you, doesn’t it?”
“Sure does,” Hal nodded. “I feel like I’m part of something … I don’t know. The future? Does that make sense? This is about more than just us, you know?”
Moving down the hall, looking more carefully at the images so recently sealed, Doug was splitting his attention between Hal and a visceral sense of excitement, something that he had not experienced in far too long. Life in Heinlein base was unbelievably involving, but this new possibility was something else.
“I do,” he replied.
“Look,” Hal said. “There are a lot of people who’d like to come up here, but you two have the experience, the skills, and you can handle close spaces just great. What do you think?”
Doug tore his eyes away from … glossy creatures that looked like a cross between a merman and a centipede. Strange. Very alien. But … somehow familiar. Hadn’t he seen this before, somewhere?
“Is the first month back as hard as they say?”
“First six weeks on Earth are murder. How are your points?” Hal sucked his gut in as he said it, as if suddenly aware that he was asking questions he himself would prefer not to answer.
“Hundred a week minimum, straight up. Bone density’s great. DPA has me at 105 percent of normal.” Dual Photon Absorptiometry, the standard measuring technique in medical. “Upper body strength 10 percent greater than when I left New York, lower body about 2 percent greater. Top two percentile on all counts.”
Hal blinked, impressed. “Watch your joints, though. Listen. When you make a decision, let me know, and we’ll put you on the schedule.”
Hal walked away. Despite his ample gut, he moved with a sort of springy bounce-step virtually impossible to train out of the Earth-born.
Doug chuckled, dropped his safety mask back into place, and continued spraying. He’d worked on several different aspects of this new construction job. This included working with prefab structures dropped from orbit, and extruding lunar aluminum there at the surface. All had had their challenges and rewards.
None was even remotely as rewarding as this new, incredible possibility.
* * *
After his shift, Doug spent an hour researching his suspicions. Then Doug took the Heinlein tram, closed his eyes and leaned back against the seat as it zipped to the main crater under its reflective awning. Eighteen months ago, he and Thomas had actually welded panels in the cooling tunnel. Trapped in eternal lunar night, the rails easily maintained the frigid temperatures required for superconductivity.
During the four-minute ride, he thought about the Beehive. Some wag had christened the dome “Beehive” after they’d started honeycombing it with Liquid Wall bubbles. They’d had no clue of its eventual usage. Then, when Cowles Industries applied for special tourist licenses, sponsored a major expansion of the guest lodging facilities, and implemented special-purpose construction similar to buildings already standing on a few very special locations on Earth …
Cowles Industries. Tourism. Modular construction, similar to that used at a certain California tourist attraction.
Rumors leaked out. Immediately, Cowles stock rose by 17 percent.
Doug was so deep in his thoughts that he barely noticed his car sighing to a halt. The pressure seals hissed as the doors opened, and Doug was in one of the connecting nodes spaced around Heinlein’s rim. From here, he could take a tram about the rim, or simply Moonwalk. He Moonwalked, bouncing through the springy, athletic strides that challenged balance and got the heart pumping.
A rover teleoperator named Willis Chan cycled up next to him, puffing as he pedaled with arms and legs. “Dougie!” he cawed. “We need a fourth for squash. Up for a few backflips?”
Normally, the idea of an hour or two of pinwheeling athleticism appealed to Doug. His body was flexible and enduring, with a hunter’s coiled strength. He enjoyed taking Willis’ money. Not today. He could barely wrench his focus away from his private thoughts to make time for a polite answer. “Thank you, but no thank you. Job things.”
Willis nodded and wove off, huffing through the traffic, working the arm and leg pedals of his bike until sweat-blossoms darkened his armpits. Then he was gone around the rim’s gentle curve.
* * *
Workers lived in a variety of housing, some on the surface, some far beneath the regolith. Many craters were linked by subterranean shuttles. Give Heinlein another ten years and the dome would sit atop a thriving underground city.
But all the living spaces were resistant to the basic lunar problems: seismic instability, solar radiation, thermal fluctuation, and meteoroids.
Doug rode the elevator down and then Moonwalked the next stretch, bouncing through the halls on the balls of his feet. Excitement bubbled up inside him like jolly lava.
The door marked Suite Five slid open. Doug stepped into an antechamber just wide enough for three people to stand abreast. The door slid closed behind him. The inner door opened, and suddenly the air swirled with fecal dust and animal stench. Doug kerchewed! and swung his hand as a feathery football-sized projectile sailed toward his face. The Rhode Island Red flapped its coppery wings and looped through the air with an aplomb beyond Earthly poultry’s wildest dreams.
Suite Five was one of Heinlein’s seven farms. D...