Beyond the landscape of pulverized gray rock, I watched our shadow move across the earth like a great roving eye. On the surface, the survivors would watch in terror, fearing another End Times, as the noon-day sun, eternally shrouded behind the veil of volcanic winter, was slowly consumed by cosmic darkness. Then, as if releasing a long held breath, a burst of coronal light, illuminating us from behind, our god-like halo beaming down in smug condescension on the poor and meek.
I refocused my eyes, seeing my reflection in the plate-glass, a man older than his years despite the regimented exercise dictated by the government. The doctors called it “lunar progeria”, not that it was a disease to be fought or cured, but merely a label for the condition native to all of us. Man was not built for life on the moon. I felt like a fish, happy at home in the abyss under a mile thick column of water, only to be hoisted to conditions its body could not understand. Faced with such extremes, the fish would surely die, and our soft mammalian bodies were no different.
I trailed a finger over the wrinkles in my hands and face, tracing the outlines of my early demise, humanity’s new normal: dead at thirty-five.
The door behind me slid open, and I turned away from the old man’s reflection to face the Secretary General’s secretary, a handsome youth of fourteen, with a full beard and dreadlocks tied in a pony tail.
“He’s ready,” the aide said, his bass voice outperforming my baritone.
I nodded, gathered my paperwork from the waiting room desk, straightened my tie, and followed the youth through a long, undecorated hallway, our boot heels echoing as if in a cavern. At the terminal end, the door sighed open, and I took in the Secretary General’s office for the first time.
It was clear the room was modeled after the Oval Office I had seen so often in old movies saved during the Departure. Paintings, no doubt originals, hung from the walls, each paired with a plaque noting title and artist. A pair of leather sofas, worn with cracks from long use, flanked a glass table near the entrance. On the other side of the room, the Secretary General sat at an ancient computer, furiously typing some important memo.
“Give me a moment,” she said without looking away. “Make yourself comfortable.”
The aide turned, nodded, and left without a word. I listened to the furious clacking of the keyboard for a few moments before walking to a nearby painting large enough to occupy much of the nine-foot wall. The Garden of Earthly Delights. I studied the three panels with careful scrutiny, going from heaven, to earth, and then to hell. What a simple time we once lived in, to think the course of human events could only diverge into simple if-then scenarios. Was the moon, a cold, barren crater-poked rock floating in an ether of empty space heaven? Was the earth, scarred with the greatest mass extinction event since the K-T boundary, hell?
“Sorry about that,” the Secretary General said as she stood.
“Don’t mention it,” I assured her, looking away from the earth panel. She crossed the desk to shake my hand.
“It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Dr. Anderson.”
“Call me Fred.”
She smiled the condescending smile ubiquitous to politicians and guided me to the sofas before moving to the oaken wet bar to pour each of us a drink of the hideous brew laughably called “earthshine”. We toasted the colony’s health then drank, swirling the colorless liquid in our mouths, savoring the battery acid taste, glad to be tasting anything at all.
At last, she spoke.
“Why do you think you’re here, Dr. Anderson?”
“I assume it’s to do with the elevator, and call me Fred. We haven’t perfected it yet, but we’re close to developing a nano-carbon polymer similar to Kevlar that can act as a tether. Once that is in place, we can get off the surface at a fraction of the fuel cost.”
“That is encouraging,” the Secretary General said. I watched as she swirled the earthshine in her glass, letting the ice cubes clink against the sides, giving me the distinct impression that discussing the repairs to the space elevator was not why I had been summoned.
Reading my thoughts, she leaned forward conspiratorially, looking up at me with elbows on knees, as if imparting a secret.
“Are you aware of the resource shortage?”
Of course I was, and I admitted as much. Those of us in the scientific circles found it manifest in the loss of funds, projects dying after months of planning and research, progressive ideas swallowed up in a quagmire of red tape and bean counting. If a project did not show a measurable return on resource investment, it died. Simple as that.
Naturally, I said none of this to the Secretary General.
“Whatever you think about bureaucracy, it is good at one thing – tracking. We know where every resource is going, how every liter of water is used, how long the rooms stay occupied and the lights on. We know when you sleep, how long you spend at work, and who you spend your time with, all for the sake of resources. Resources we desperately need.”
With a sigh, she drained the remainder of her drink and placed it on the table, ice cubes clinking in an empty container. She ran a wrinkled hand through dirty blond hair flecked with gray, a sign that advanced aging affected some more than others.
“Are you cutting our funding?”
“Yes,” she said. “And no. Except for power, we don’t have anything. Materials are being used up faster than they can be replaced, and recycling isn’t the same as replacing. We’re okay on the basics, power, water, food, oxygen, but that’s all. In essence, we’ve reached the colony’s carrying capacity. We are at a perfect balance, and chaos theory tells us there is no such thing as true equilibrium.” She pointed a bony finger at my chest, a look of hard determination in her eyes.
“That’s where you come in,” she went on. “We need you to go to earth, establish a new colony, and report back to us…before the colony collapses.”