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Moonbase, Episode 10: A World Apart, Part 10

By Samuel O'Slaine

Storytelling is an art. It is the art of entertaining an audience by creating a narrative. We’ve decided to try an experiment with this upcoming serial, and that is to include the readership in the narrative process. We’ll be telling a story as a serial; we encourage suggestions that we can include in later episodes of the story, and we’ll try to incorporate these if that is possible.

With one exception, the story is aiming for plausible, without supernatural or magical interventions. We’ll not be including impossible suggestions, and we can’t guarantee inclusion of the implausible. Still, we’ll do our best.

The serial will be written on a two-week cycle. Episode 1 is here. Episode 2 is here. Episode 3 is here. Episode 4 is here. Episode 5 is here. Episode 6 is here. Episode 7 is here. Episode 8 is here. Episode 9 is here.

We’ll take note of the suggestions in the first week after publication, and write the next part incorporating those suggestions in the second.

Put simply: you’ve a week to get your suggestions into the comment section.


A World Apart, Part 10.

John took a deep breath and began to write. He had learned, long ago on his first tour of duty, that when one was confused, writing a report could clarify matters considerably.

At the very least, it could simplify what he knew, what he didn't know, and what he needed to know. Somehow, having it all down on paper - and in such a way that he was explaining it to a superior officer - helped him think.

From: John Masters, Moonbase Security Officer

To: ....

John frowned. He'd leave that blank. The obvious thing to do would be to address it to the Old Man, but he couldn't address it to anyone on the Base, if anyone could be a suspect. Then again, it wasn't as if this would be an issue - this wasn't really intended to go to Sumner at all; it was primarily a device to help John think. Yet maybe it should go to their superiors on Earth, if anyone at all.

That, however, could open up another can of worms. It wasn't as if all was fine in the Concert of Nations and the funding and command of the entire mission was - well, 'complicated' would be an understatement. Likely to become yet more complicated if they couldn't excavate the cavorite - "Success has a thousand fathers; failure is an orphan."


Situation: Unlawful killing of Uwe Fochs, Metallurgist, German delegation.

Summary: Fochs discovered absent on Thursday 15th of this month; search of all areas of Moonbase failed to find him. Further search of external environs of Moonbase along with Miss Edith Walker discovered body of Fochs at location... (he hurriedly jotted down the location) ... without moon suit. Cause of death undetermined. Suicide ruled out for obvious reasons (John didn't think he had to explain how impossible it would be for the moonsuit to get up and walk back to the Base on its own, implying a second individual had to be required).

Detail: ...

John came to a halt. There were too many details that needed to be put down simultaneously. As well as additional notes he really wanted taken into account. Such as the need to ensure the Rule of Three couldn't be so easily violated in future. Or the ease by which someone checking your suit could casually turn off the air supply. He recalled Edith's airy comment that she'd turned off John's air supply on his suit and turned it on again - all without him knowing. He suppressed a shudder at how easily Edith could have encompassed his death.

He turned back to the report.

Detail: Location of the death is indicated by the location of the corpse. It would be implausible for the killer to drag the body very far after causing Foch's death; it is assumed that the killing occurred close to the location of the corpse (see attachment for diagram)

He made a mental note to sketch out a diagram and attach it to the report - even if he never sent it to anyone.

Time of death is less known. Fochs was present at a meeting on the 13th of this month and his absence was noted on the 15th. There is a 50 hour period in which the killing could have been carried out.

Cause of death was either suffocation or carbon dioxide poisoning; the body had no wounds or signs of trauma. The killer will have turned off either the air supply, the oxygen mixer for the air supply, or the carbon dioxide scrubber - possibly more than one simultaneously. From experience, I would first assume carbon dioxide poisoning as that is all-but-undetectable to the inexperienced victim.

He paused to reflect on whether or not there could ever be an experienced victim of carbon dioxide poisoning and how uncommon they would be. In fact, had he not had experience of service on one of His Majesty's submarines, he'd never have known about it. A moment's further thought and he dismissed whether or not he could limit his investigation to submarine veterans - not only was he one of the very few such veterans, virtually any scientist could have known about carbon dioxide poisoning, especially when it was noted as a danger to all on the expedition.

The traditional investigative path of exploring Means, Motive, and Opportunity has run into some issues. The Means is fairly clear, I believe, as laid out above. Opportunity, in this case, is extremely hard to limit. Over the two day period, almost every member of the Moonbase could have been involved. This leaves us with Motive, which can be very subjective to discern. It is, however, axiomatic that every killing has a purpose and not just to provide a corpse, so there will be some motivation, whether it be personal, professional, or national.

The victim was known to be a philanderer, which opens up the possibilities for personal motivations.

John briefly wondered whether he should, indeed, provide a Venn diagram of the relationships that Edith had described to him, before dismissing it as frivolous.

National motivations are also hard to limit, with the international pressures on Earth and the near-collapse of the Concert of Nations in the recent Copenhagen Conference, or, indeed, the intra-national issues in Great Britain (with the Irish problems) and in Germany (with the Bavaria-Prussia issues), as well as the now-notoriously long-running internal issues in Austria-Hungary - all of which nations have representatives here. Even the...

He trailed off. He was getting nowhere fast. Maybe a change of focus would help. He decided to see how the cavorite mole was coming along.

John had worried that the loss of Fochs could have limited the abilities of the design team - as the top metallurgist on the Moonbase, Fochs' skills would have been extremely useful at this point. However, when he'd flicked through the personnel folders of all of the expedition members in his attempt to divine possible motives, he'd quickly seen the level of cross-field expertise shown by the hand-picked expedition members. Gregg, for example, was also a skilled metallurgist, even if not to Fochs' level. Pietr had dabbled in geology for several years. Hercule had been a biologist before becoming an astronomer, and there had to be some story behind that. Lawrence had worked in construction prior to becoming a mathematician, which had been helpful during the assembly of the base, even if it had surprised John. That was merely the tip of the iceberg.

As he walked purposely towards the laboratory section, he could hear raised voices ahead of him. He quickened his step, but soon realised they were raised in excitement rather than anger.

"So rotating the cavorite sensor at the front, linking it to the onboard clock, and feeding the electrical impulse coming out from the sensor into the voltage comparator here will mean..." Gregg was practically waving his hands as he spoke.

Pietr interrupted. "...That the mole will home in on the cavorite signal! Of course! It doesn't matter where in three dimensions the signal will be, the very act of reducing the differences in the signal will mean that the mole will end up directly facing it at all times. Brilliant!"

"Thank you," murmured Josephine, almost too softly for John to overhear.

"And then when the total signal from the cavorite sensor passes this threshold, we can conclude that the mole has arrived in the deposit and therefore it switches this relay here, and the rock - well, hopefully, cavorite - gets channeled into the hopper rather than past the mole." Gregg continued. He noticed John standing in the doorway.

"Ah, Lieutenant Masters," he said. Gregg was one of the few people on the Moonbase to insist on calling John by his naval rank. "We have all but solved the problem! All we need to do now is work out how to retrieve our mole."

John furrowed his brow. "I had rather assumed you'd have it simply retrace its steps."

"An obvious plan, but with certain issues," said Pietr, in a condescending tone. "If the strength of the cavorite signal waxes and wanes due to the amount and type of rock between the sensor on the mole and the deposit, the mole could follow a rather random course. How, exactly, would we get it to reciprocate its course? It wouldn't be following a cavorite signal to do so."

"We know how to get it to stop 'eating' the cavorite and start its return journey," added Gregg. "The storage chamber is to be divided in two by a plate attached to springs. As the rock enters the chamber, it pushes the plate - in a sense, shouldering it aside. When the spring is sufficiently compressed, it triggers another signal, stopping the 'eating' and starting the return to the surface. There is an alternate mode of return, triggered when the clock runs down to a certain level, so we can, at least, retrieve the mole if the mission is failed, and try again. But how should it navigate back?"

"Gravity," said Josephine.

"Could you expand on that, Miss Loiseau?" asked Gregg.

Josephine sighed again. "It is Dr Loiseau. But the system is simple - a bubble sensor. Even here, on the Moon, we have some gravity and a bubble will always find the high point in a glass. Intelligent men such as yourselves should be able to see how to proceed from there."

They all started to sketch furiously. John wished his own problem could be solved as rapidly.

"Indeed, it can work," pronounced Gregg, at last. "It does imply that the mole will surface at a location different to where it was launched. It should be fairly close to vertically above the deposit, but this could be a reasonably wide range."

"A radio beacon," suggested Pietr.

Gregg nodded. "Given the number of electrical devices and sensors we are placing within this creation, should we not have one to indicate success or failure?

"You don't need it," said John. "You said that the signal from the cavorite varies by the quantity and type of rock between the sensor and the deposit.

"Yes, indeed," said Gregg. "Which indicates that the deposit, being at such a depth, must be greater and purer than we'd initially thought."

John smiled. "When the mole returns to the surface, our own sensors will then pick up the cavorite within it, and do so at a far greater intensity than before. If it succeeds, you won't even need the radio beacon to be triggered - the cavorite sensors will lead us straight to it."

As he spoke, he realised something. The change in direction of his thoughts had indeed triggered his mind in different directions. The scientists with alternative skills - he could ask Hercule Tarrode what was yet known about decomposition of bodies in vacuum. Closing down that wide window of Opportunity might yet be possible.

Another thought struck him, brought out by his report. The Old Man was American, and thus assumed to be 'above' the European politics that could cause issues, but all Americans, in John's experience, seemed to insist on specifics of family origin. Feldberg was a Bavarian name. Fochs had been Prussian.



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