Luna, chapter 1

The month-long lunar day made it hard to get enough sleep sometimes, but the heavy window coverings helped block out the sunlight. Most of the residents at the Lunar Geological Survey Colony held fast to the customary 24-hour cycle, but Lex preferred an extended 30-hour day. She also preferred not to be called Alexia.

Most of the scientists on Luna worked in mine-shaft-like tunnels, extracting and testing the composition on the rocks below the surface of the moon. They were fascinated by stones and dirt in a way that perplexed Lex. Happily, she was not involved in that aspect of life on the moon.

Lex was a botanist. Her passion was firmly rooted in all things agriculture. Her job here was to figure out what types of plant, edible and non-edible alike, would thrive here at LGSC. It was not the first colony built on the moon, but so far it was the largest. The earlier colonies were more experimental in nature, populated with engineers, doctors, and volunteers, whose only purpose was to live and breathe and be studied for negative side effects of living on the moon. That was nearly a decade ago now. These days, those earlier colonies were being realigned for use as dormitories. The powers-that-be thought that the moon would be a great place to build a university to start teaching the next generation of space explorers. And if there was going to be a whole college full of faculty and students, the colonies were going to have to be a little more self-sufficient. That meant growing their own food, which is where Lex fit in.

She figured the idea was okay enough. At the very least, it meant a kick-ass opportunity for a motivated young botanist. Not only was the money exceptional, but the view was to die for.

Meals were served three times a day in the galley, but the kitchen stayed open around the clock to accommodate those who had trouble following the customary sleep schedule. There were certain teams that worked set schedules, working one of two “daytime” shifts. There were others, like Lex, who set their own schedules. Since there was no “clocking in” on the moon, their work was evaluated by the level of success they achieved and not the hours logged.

Tonight the moon was in its first quarter, meaning that Luna, the nickname the rock boys used for LGSC, was just past sunrise and had a couple of weeks left of sunlight. It was past midnight, Houston time, and most people were deep asleep, resting up for another exciting day of dust-gathering and rock-poking.

Lex was just waking up. She found it nearly impossible to sleep with the sun shining in around the edges of her window shade. She slept less during the lunar day, but made up for it on the flip side. She was well-rested from the last two weeks of night. She stretched and rose from her bed, ready for the another productive day of green-thumbing. She raised the blinds to let in the sun’s rays and marveled once again at the view of Earth from her quarters. Looking down from so far away, Lex mused that she had made it all the way to the moon but had still never seen New Zealand from closer than a quarter-million miles away.

There was nobody in the dark corridor and only one other person in the galley. Jay Wilson was the colony’s lone engineer. His duties ranged from keeping the tunnels safe for working, making sure the colony stayed air-tight and livable, and for fixing anything that broke down around the place. These responsibilities kept Jay plenty busy, but he, too, worked his own schedule.

Lex’s mag-boots kept her from bouncing down the hallways in the moon’s limited gravity. In the halls, there was carpeting to muffle the sound of her clomping feet. In the galley, however, carpet was ill-advised, so she did her best to thump along as softly as possible to avoid waking anyone. When she entered, Jay did not look up, but greeted her nonetheless. He knew, as everyone else, that they two of them were often the only ones up at this hour.

“Morning, Lex,” said Jay through his hand. He seemed to be deep in thought, holding his head up with a loose fist which mostly covered his mouth.

“Hey there, Jay. Need anything from the kitchen?” she asked. His reply was little more than a mumble, and she grinned as she passed through the eating area into the large kitchen for breakfast. She grabbed some coffee, which Jay had been thoughtful enough to brew, and picked up a couple of muffins. At the table, she plopped a muffin next to his clipboard and settled into a seat across the table from him.

“Anything exciting?” she asked, indicating his work.

“Hmm, no, not so much.” He leaned back and rubbed his face with one hand while he picked up the muffin with the other. Jay was a stout man in his late fifties and wore glasses with heavy black frames. His glasses were now laying next to his coffee, and he was studying his tablet without them. Lex stifled a giggle as his teeth sank halfway through the muffin and the paper cup it was baked in.

Grinning, she said, “Trying to increase your fiber?”

“Nobody likes a wise-ass,” he said with a sour look, as he wiped crumbs from his heavy stubble. His great mouth opened in a massive yawn, and that’s when Lex noticed the dark circles under his eyes.

Her humor was replaced with concern as she noticed how haggard he was. “You alright, old man?”

“Oh, I’m fine. Don’t you worry about me, Alexia.”

Lex,” she said, but grinned. If he was feeling good enough to pick on her, he was okay. “So what’s up? Gravity toilets acting up again?”

“I wish. This is from the Far Side colony,” and he tapped the tablet in front of him. “Their water reclamation system is on the fritz. Jenkins and Hobbes down there can’t seem to get a handle on it on their own. Their notes are unintelligible and I am really, really not looking forward to Roving over there to help them out. Those lazy bastards. If they would do their daily maintenance like they’re supposed to, this shit wouldn’t happen.”

Lex stayed quiet as she ate her breakfast. Stanley and Mike, or Jenkins and Hobbes, as Jay called them, were good guys. She knew them from orientation, a weeks-long process that everyone had to endure before making the jump to the moon. But she knew better than to argue with her comrade. He was in a sour mood, and she did not want to make him any worse.

“In my day, you didn’t get rewarded for kissing up to your superiors and you weren’t granted favor for being a playboy. Those two young hot shots are was is wrong with the world and the reason it’s going to hell. It’s guys like those that are the reason we had to start looking to the skies for habitable landscape in the first place. Now they’re screwing up what we have up here, too. Good-for-nothings.”

“When do you plan to head over?” She didn’t mind letting him vent, but refused to encourage his bad-mouthing anyone. She knew better than anyone how hard those two men had worked to get here, and they were anything but lazy. But saying so would do nothing for the older engineer’s mood, so she said nothing on the topic.

“I’ll probably try to get over there after lunch,” he said, he said with a sigh. Lunch could be four hours away or six, depending on how his morning inspections went.

“Give me a call when you’re ready. I’ll head over with you. I want to take some specimens over and see how they do on that side. I’m not sure yet how much impact there is from the reflected light of Earth, and I’d like to grow a few things over there to compare.”

“That sounds like a good plan, my dear,” he said, “but are you sure they’ll fare as well with someone else tending them? You’re a natural, you know, and no one at Far Side has your touch.”

She grinned at the compliment. He wasn’t one to hand those out freely, and she thought not to make a big deal of it, for fear of it being the last she heard from him.

“These particular plants require little attention, and I can set up an automated feeding and watering system so that no one needs to bother with them. And I think it’s time I started making weekly rounds anyway. All the colonies are going to need a hydroponics lab eventually. I may as well start surveying for the best locations at each colony. Maybe you could help with that part?” She cocked an eyebrow at him and grinned, hoping to charm him into agreeing without too much persuasion. It didn’t have to be him that helped, any of the engineers at any of the other colonies would be sufficient, but she felt like Jay needed a little excitement. She was starting to see some signs of boredom in his attitude. He had lost the passion he had had for life on the moon when she first met him eight months ago. He had been there less than a year himself at the time, and still ogled like a kid at the sight of their distant Terran home. Now he just seemed tired all the time and had little passion for anything that he couldn’t consume.

He stared at his tablet for a few moments, then fixed his gaze on her. “Missy, I think that might be just the thing I need. But wipe that damn grin off your face. You didn’t con me into anything with that pretty smile of yours. This is purely a good business idea. This place can survive without me for a day each week while we run around. And you’re right. It is time to start getting everyone ready for the next phase of habitation up here on the old girl. You know, those idiots on the surface are going to start sending up more and more people to start building and expanding on those colonies whether we’re ready for them or not. It’s best we start getting ready.  I’ll give you a holler before I roll out. Don’t make me wait on you.”

Lex gave him a mock salute and rose from the table. She bussed their breakfast and slipped out of the galley without another word, smiling the whole time.

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