tagNovels and NovellasBattle for the Known Unknown Ch. 24

Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 24

bybradley_stoke©

Chapter Twenty Four
The Moon - 3751 C.E.



"It's just not fair," said the overweight man who was hovering above the ground beside Paul. "I've lived on the Moon all my life. Every year for well over a century, I've applied for a visa to visit Earth. I've entered competitions. I've applied for special permits. I've offered an obscene amount of money. And then someone like you—who comes from the fucking Kuiper Belt, from an anarchist colony no one's ever heard of—gets to go to Earth after no more than a single month. It doesn't make sense."

Paul could see that his drinking companion was genuinely aggrieved, but he couldn't think of a suitable reply. He couldn't very well explain that the reason he was able to go to Earth was because he was on a secret mission. It would no longer be a secret if he told anyone.

"Er..." he began uncertainly.

"We're historians," said Beatrice who was standing at the bar next to Paul. "We're doing research on the Byzantine Empire."

"The fucking what?" asked the man with a sneer. "The bisons? What the fuck do you need to go to Earth to study bisons for? They've got bisons everywhere. And mammoths, dodos, passenger pigeons and elasmosaurs. Every once extinct animal you can think of that left a bit of DNA behind has been resurrected somewhere or other."

"The Byzantine Empire," said Beatrice. "The Eastern Roman Empire. The Greek Orthodox Church."

"Sounds like bollocks to me," said the man dismissively. "I was born here on the Moon. I've lived and worked here all my life. The only times I've been extralunar were holidays in Earth's orbit and once to Venus. And that was fucking expensive. All my life there's been this big blue ball in the sky and I've never once been able to go there. And you two—a scruff bag and a dolly bird—you call yourselves bison historians and you get there with no fucking trouble."

"What do you know about Byzantine history?" asked a tall woman who was sitting just to beside the irate lunar citizen.

"Um..." said Paul who wanted to confess that there wasn't a lot, but as always it was Beatrice who rescued the situation.

"What do you want to know?" she asked.

Paul had no doubt that whatever awkward question Beatrice was asked she'd have an answer. How did his wife get to be so knowledgeable? Mind you, it was she who'd chosen this cover story so he guessed she must know something about this ancient terrestrial empire.

"Well, for a start," asked the woman who was not only tall but at over two and a half metres excessively so, "what do you expect to find about the Byzantines by going to Earth that you couldn't research elsewhere?"

"If we knew that," said Beatrice, "we wouldn't need to go there."

Paul was getting increasingly frustrated by his having to vacation on the Moon despite having had many years to wonder what it would be like to look up in the sky and see the famous blue planet. But it was one thing to see the Earth. It would be another thing altogether to visit. All visitors to Earth had to endure a wait on the Moon whose length was determined by the visitor's status and the relative importance of the visit. It was obvious that it wasn't status or merit that had got Paul on the fast track. Not a single person he'd met on the Moon who'd discovered that he was imminently Earthbound failed to express surprise that it was someone like him who'd been given such preference.

Only a fixed number of people were permitted to enter or leave Earth on any one day and this was strictly determined by the environmental impact of space flight. The strict ration of people permitted on Earth entailed a wait whose duration was dependent on there being someone who was scheduled to leave the planet. Inevitably there were often unexpected delays when a visitor to Earth might try to prolong their stay by hiding. Sometimes such a fugitive might remain lost for years while they were being hunted down, but they were usually located fairly promptly and then penalised appropriately. The cost of such a recovery mission always had to be covered. The regulations regarding Earth's visitor quotas were so strict that even the President of Saturn had once been delayed entry for a day or so. However, Paul and Beatrice had a date and time of departure to Earth arranged for them and all they had to do was wait.

Everywhere the couple went they were accompanied by the relatively discreet presence of three or four security guards. Like many Lunar citizens they were above average height and often above average body mass. The Moon's low gravity was a big issue for anyone who lived on its surface. Health warnings were displayed everywhere either to encourage people to exercise or to advertise treatments for muscle waste, obesity and other low gravity ills. Paul continued to find that even the simplest activities could be peculiarly awkward. Even going to the toilet was an ordeal. It took forever for Paul's urine to leave his body and finally track a path through the air to the toilet bowl where it then slowly trickled away.

It was fortunate that there was so much to see on the Moon. It was as much a vertical world as it was horizontal. A journey through one the huge cities could be as far in a vertical direction to a different level as it was laterally across the surface. Every location was referenced by a set of three numbers that indicated not only its horizontal axis but also its depth below the surface. Paul and Beatrice dragged their unprotesting but clearly long-suffering security guards across the many cities of the Moon and once there to its many different levels.

They went to the zoo in Dziewulski City which housed a collection of genetically modified farm and domestic animals that had been designed and bred in the early days of lunar colonisation. It was accompanied by a museum that showed the somewhat distressing consequence of applying similar methods of genetic modification to humans. Descendants of these peculiar people could still be found on the Moon for whom space travel was more or less impossible. They were well adapted for living on the Moon but not for anywhere else.

The couple also attended cultural events such as opera, theatre and ballet in the capital of Mons Huygens where the various venues were unusually close to the lunar surface. It was even possible to stroll out of the Philip Glass Opera House and look directly up at the sky where Earth was in half-profile and various large space cruisers were hovering by. Ballet dancing in low gravity required especially ingenious choreography. When a ballerina was thrown across the stage it might take ten seconds or more for her to complete her flight by which time she was well able to adjust her graceful arrival to whatever motif was required by the music.

Paul and Beatrice travelled by shuttle to the Moon's core where the most remarkable feature was the affect of gravity at a location where all directions were both vertically up and down. There wasn't much to do when they got there and the actual journey was rather boring although Beatrice professed to be fascinated by the geological evidence of early volcanism.

The most relaxing aspect of the Moon as far as Paul was concerned, after his fraught voyage across the Solar System, was that there were no further assassination attempts while he was there. Or, at least, none that he was aware of. This was something he discussed with one of the security guards that accompanied the couple when he and Beatrice were visiting one of the Moon's many subterranean parks. Paul was watching a pair of horses prance about on the lawn with more agility than they ever could on Earth gravity, while Beatrice wandered into a botanic garden that was famous for its cultivation of low gravity plants. This didn't interest Paul, so he wandered idly over to where the security guards were sitting on a bench by the side of the lake and broke all conventions of discretion by directly addressing Juan, one of the guards, and remarked on how few assassination attempts there'd been.

"It's true that no one's blown up any more walkways or women's toilets," the guard said, "but we still have to maintain the highest level of vigilance."

"Have there been any attempts that you've managed to thwart?" Paul wondered.

"Such as, for instance, sir...?"

"Have you caught anyone carrying explosives or a laser rifle or anything like that?"

"No, sir," said Juan. "I don't think that would be possible on the Moon. There are very strict laws regarding the ownership of lethal weapons. Anything like that would be spotted very easily."

"So, what are you looking out for?"

"You don't need anything as obvious as a bomb or a gun to kill someone, sir," said Mandy, another of the guards. "It doesn't take much ingenuity to improvise a tool for murder. Some people are strong enough to use nothing more than their bare hands. We just watch out for suspicious behaviour."

"Have you apprehended anyone who's behaved suspiciously?"

"Naturally, sir," said Juan, "but we've not come across conclusive proof of murderous intent. Behaving suspiciously isn't a crime."

"So, nothing?" said Paul who was actually rather disappointed.

"There have been some quite suspicious events, sir," said Mandy. "There was a suicide bomber who chose to blow himself up outside your hotel. This was when you were due to return after a tour of the palace complex at Terra Pruinæ but, thankfully, you decided to stay overnight and come the following day."

"Any explanation as to why?"

"There was no suicide note and no apparent motive, sir."

"Anything else?"

"As I say, nothing conclusive, sir," said Juan. "There are some other peculiar incidents that we're investigating. There was a woman who chose to jump off a tall building less than a kilometre from where you were walking at the time in Maupertuis. There was a tram that came off its tracks only a few minutes before you were due to cross the road. There was a case of food-poisoning in a restaurant where you were due to dine, before you decided to go somewhere else at the last moment. It's possible that there's a pattern, sir, but on a satellite of several billion people crowded so close together you can never be sure."

"I guess not," said Paul, who was still slightly disappointed.

The Moon was the first place Paul had visited since he'd left Godwin where he could vanish into the crowd. And what a crowd it was! The Moon wholly deserved its reputation for high population density. Because so many mouths needed to be fed, a high proportion of the Moon's tourist attractions were there for entirely practical purposes. These included vast agricultural vats, extensive underground lakes, gigantic atmosphere generators and truly colossal power stations.

The Moon's original colonists were drawn by the many opportunities that were offered to industry and commerce on a satellite where concern for the environment was no restraint. Such an innocent attitude was impossible now that there were so many centuries of Lunar history to preserve, but the result of these early carefree days were not only many magnificent monuments but also many salutary warnings. There were not only the grotesque animals and plants that were the outcome of countless experiments in genetic modification to adapt to the Moon's low gravity and lack of atmosphere. There was the hollow shell of a nuclear fusion power station that had exploded in spectacular style and which provided a fireworks display that was clearly visible in the night sky to its Earthbound shareholders. There was also the antimatter power station that was now nothing more than a big round hole in what had once been Mare Humorum. There were the collapsed towers that were intended to facilitate space travel by the implementation of space elevators, but had fallen victim to unexpected but quite critical design flaws.

The tourist attractions didn't only consist of monuments to the folly of human industry and entrepreneurism. There were also sites of ancient battles that were all that was left of the several wars fought between the Lunar colonies of Earth's many nations. The most spectacular of these was the nuclear wasteland in the Vallis Bouvard where the warring fragments of the short-lived United States of America slugged it out to the great advantage of the Chinese, Indian and Brazilian Lunar Colonies who'd remained neutral in the dispute but took ownership of what was left behind. This was a reminder of a chapter in human history where the usual theatre for unresolved and irresolvable conflict was the Moon, before Mars and the Asteroid Belt became its more natural home.

It was inconceivable that any nation would fight a war over the Moon nowadays. It was an economic dwarf that managed to generate only about as much income as was required to support its teeming billions. In any case, the Moon was no longer an independent nation or even a league of nations. Its affairs were now managed by the Interplanetary Union and its political institutions were not so much independent as ineffectual.

Paul gazed at the Earth on the horizon with one arm round Beatrice and a tall cocktail glass grasped in his free hand. The couple were on the balcony of their luxury hotel that afforded them the rare privilege of a view over the Moon's surface. In every direction towards the very edge of the Mare Australe stretched the glistening reflections off the glass domes under which most Lunar citizens lived and laboured. Only a few tall buildings, like the Southern Cross Hotel, towered above the surface. These were hermetically sealed from the dark nothingness of Lunar space. Above their heads and over the Moon's surface cruised vehicles of all sizes along straight traffic lines that didn't deviate for hundreds of kilometres.

"I never thought I'd get so bored of being on the Moon," said Paul.

"It's only because you're so keen to land on Earth, sweetest," said Beatrice. "There are plenty of things to do on the Moon."

"I think I can live without seeing another sublunar mine, another graveyard to the hundreds of thousands who died in some ancient war, or another museum of Lunar geology or Lunar arts or Lunar exploration," said Paul sulkily. "We've travelled so far and at such great cost and all we've discovered is one huge amusement park."

Beatrice kissed her lover on the cheek and ran her arms down his naked body to gently squeeze his still damp penis.

"Do you think it'll be any different on Earth?" she asked.

"I certainly hope so," said Paul. "After all, they say that whoever's tired of Earth is tired of life."

"Well, let's hope you're right," said Beatrice. "But it's actually the Moon with which the saying is most famously associated. And originally it was used about London by a dictionary-writer. But you're not tired of life, are you dear?"

Paul smiled. "Not with you by my side," he said, still dumbstruck by his good fortune to have such a beautiful wife.

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