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Moonbase: Episode 2 - A World Apart, Part 2

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. 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.


Episode 2: A World Apart, Part 2

Uwe Fuchs wasn’t on the moon base. Commander John Masters had checked the whole of the base, and there was no sign of the German metallurgist. He had spoken with Edith, and got her to keep a corridor door open in the hub while John checked the area thoroughly. That ensured that the exit door to the area couldn’t be opened, and he could check every corner of the area. If he was hidden, he was extremely well hidden.

Edith had checked the women’s area, and found nothing.

The problem was, no moon-suits were missing, which meant that he couldn’t be outside either.

It was a conundrum. Still, if Fuchs had gone outside, any footprints would be visible. There was dust from rock that had crumbled from the changes of temperature, and there was no wind or rain to erase any disturbance of the dust.

It was a cast-iron rule that the Old Man had introduced. No-one goes out on their own. People go out in groups of three, minimum. He said that if anyone got into trouble, there would be one person who could remain with the casualty, and one who could return to the base to get assistance. There was also the option, if the circumstances were right, for two people to carry or support an injured third person. Three people minimum to go out. That was the rule.

The Old Man had wanted to make it a rule that the women wouldn't be allowed to go outside. He thought it was too dangerous for them. Unfortunately, the suits had been made for an earlier roster of the team, and two of the suits had been made for two very small men. The roster had changed, women were included, and the two small men lost their places, but the suits remained the same. These suits now didn't fit any of the men, and only some of the women could use them, so the Old Man had found he had to relax the rule.

Yves wanted to take measurements a mile from the base, so they could get a better fix on the location of the cavorite deposit, and Edith was one of the trained medical people on the base. The three of them got into moon-suits. It was an awkward and painstaking procedure, but it had to be, because the outside was lethal and unforgiving of the slightest mistake.

First, you remove all ornaments. Wrist watches, rings, pens; anything that could snag and damage the moon-suit. The moon-suit is the only barrier between you and death on the surface, and for all the efforts at making it strong, it’s still a fragile piece of rubberised fabric that can get damaged too easily.

Then you put on the under-suit. This is a one-piece cotton garment that is like a combined under-shirt and under-trousers. There’s extra padding in the area between the legs, which often raises a query in those unfamiliar with the situation. The explanation is simple, but embarrassing to everyone. Once you are outside, you can’t remove the moon-suit, and one is often outside for several hours.

There’s also the small matter that water is vitally precious here, and they had to preserve every drop. Fluid left outside is useless; brought back, it is recovered and reused.

Then there is the outer suit, like a deep-sea diver’s outfit. Trousers, jacket, and helmet, with locking systems at waist and neck to ensure the suit was air-tight. Each element is put on, the connections checked, and then everyone checked each other’s connections. Everything is checked first, no matter how urgent the need to go out. The checks are always carried out.

It may sound strange, but they all tended to think of vacuum as a poisonous gas. They needed to keep this vacuum out, and it somehow made it easier to think of vacuum as a gas trying to leak in. Once the trousers and jacket were on, they then fastened the equipment. The helmet was left until last. They had a little mnemonic.

A is for air. Are the air cannisters full? Are the feed lines clear and working? Does the air flow smoothly into the helmet?

B is for batteries. Without power, death follows. They check that the batteries are full, that the connections are good and that they deliver power.

C is for communication. It’s not possible to talk to anyone when outside without a radio. No air, no sound waves. It’s that simple. One could shout for help or shout a warning as much as they liked, without a radio, no-one would hear.

In point of fact, that’s not quite true. It is possible to talk to someone outside. It’s not really practical, but it can be done. You go right next to someone, and gently touch the face-plate of the helmets together. Then, if you shout, the air inside your helmet causes your face-plate to vibrate; this causes their face plate to vibrate, and the air inside their helmet vibrated in response, and they could hear what you said.

It was strange to be able to shout and have the most private conversation possible in the world, where there was no possibility of anyone ever overhearing you. It physically isn’t possible to be overheard.

Provided you haven’t got your radio set to transmit.

That was how John’s discreet attempts to court Edith on an earlier moon walk had become public knowledge. He should have known from his time on submarines that there are no secrets in a closed environment. Fortunately, Edith had remembered not to have her radio on, so her reply remained private. It didn’t stop everyone asking, but her side of the discussion remained private.

D is for Dead-Reckoning. There’s no magnetic field, so there’s no compass. The horizon is much closer than on Earth. The terrain hasn’t been properly mapped. The only base is underground, and you can lose sight of its location very quickly. Getting lost was a risk. It was important to make a careful note of landmarks, so that steps could be retraced.

E is for Exhalation. You can feed oxygen into the moon-suit, but getting rid of the used air needs careful feed lines. All the moisture has to be recovered. Expelling the used air to the outside risks vacuum getting in, and its wasteful. The exhalation lines lead to a storage tank, and these had to be checked.

It reminded John of his childhood, when he had to recite the Kings of England to Nanny in order to win a sweet as a treat after the spoonful of revolting cod liver oil. Nanny had always said cod liver oil was good for the brain, and he'd grown up thinking that cod must be very brainy animals. It was a routine, but they always checked everything before going outside. Then they checked each other. Then, and only then, did they move to the first airlock. An airtight door. Obviously one that pulls inward to open. That way, the air pressure inside the base keeps it shut.

Of course, it takes a long time to open the door. The air pressure in the base was kept at 10psi. That means that a door six feet by two feet is held shut by well over seven tons of air pressure, and pressure has to be equalised before the door can be opened. Pressure equalisation was done by opening a flap in the door. It is easily patched if anything goes wrong with the flap, but it takes twenty minutes for the air lock to pressurise.

The air lock was made as small as possible, to keep air losses as low as possible. It’s just big enough for three people. Once the pressure is equalised, the inner door is opened, and everyone goes inside the airlock. The door is shut, and then a pump takes most of the air back into the base.

Generally, it is at this point that people find they want to sit down. Obviously, it isn’t possible to sit down while wearing a moon-suit, and patience is required inside the airlock. Twenty minutes pumping air out, and then waiting until the pump stopped, and then check that the inner door was properly shut.

The outer door couldn’t be opened if the inner door isn’t properly shut and air-tight. It physically wasn’t possible. However, just because something wasn’t possible, everyone still checked. Keeping vacuum out of the base was essential to survival.

Finally, they were able to step outside. John went outside first. It wasn’t a chivalrous thing. It was his job. He was responsible for security, and this was the biggest danger on the base. Yves wanted to go about a mile to one side to take his readings.

Walking in the low gravity of the moon is awkward inside the base. It’s easy to bounce your head against the ceiling. Outside, that’s not the danger. It’s easy to take a leap. That’s where the danger lies. The moon-suit is all that stands between you and death. A stumble, a slip, a tear, and that’s goodnight. Walking outside is a painfully slow business. People don’t run, they don’t jump, and they try to avoid the bouncing walk that comes with the low gravity.

John took the lead. That was partly because he was the most familiar with operating outside, and best able to find the safest route; it was also partly because he wanted to check for footprints, just in case Uwe had come outside. He couldn’t think how he might have done so with no moon-suits missing, and it would have been insanely crazy to come outside on your own, but it was something that had to be checked.

Nothing that he could see. Several tracks from previous trips outside, but nothing that was obviously new. John didn’t expect to see anything, but it was a mystery. He decided that he preferred his mysteries to be inside books.

The base had been built into the side of one of the craters. It was thought that the floor of the crater itself would be flat. It looks flat from a quarter of a million miles away.

Appearances can be deceptive. Little ridges, wrinkle crevasses, loose rocks; all of these made the safest distance between two points anything but a straight line. That was inconvenient. What was dangerous was the loose ground. A stumble could be fatal, so people had to make sure their footing was secure. Take a step, and ensure that it was firm on the ground before taking the next. It made for slow progress, but a fall could easily be fatal.

All of this made movement very slow. One day, if they got the cavorite, they would be able to build a larger base, a proper city. That was in the future, though. John expected that it would probably be long after his time.

Yves dropped his box of instruments. Luckily, he didn’t try to grab them. John had lectured people not to try and grab things outside, and Yves had obviously listened. Things fell slowly, so unless they were fragile, they wouldn’t break. People were more likely to break the object by grabbing it too tight than by it hitting the ground. What was more, trying to grab something could cause someone to overbalance and fall.

Yves decided to check the equipment there. While he checked, John looked around, to see if there were any signs of the missing Uwe. Nothing.

Yves decided that we were far enough away to get something from the reading. While he did that, Edith and John took bearings of three landmarks. They zeroed the pointer on the entrance to the base and checked the angles from that to three different markers around the crater wall.

These measurements would enable them to plot where they stood, and that would give them the start point for Yves’ measurement. All the scientists had said only two bearings were needed to locate a position. It was astonishing how they argued about this with a Naval officer, as though only a scientist could understand basic trigonometry. He’d insisted on three bearings, and when they came out in the first days, he’d got them to take bearings and find out why.

Now they were arguing about ways to make bearings accurate enough that only two were needed. Give a scientist a problem, and they’ll not notice anything else.



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