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.
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 3: A World Apart, Part 3
At John’s insistence, they had taken another set of readings, this time closer to the source, in a direct line. They knew the distance between the two readings, and they could estimate how much stronger the closer reading was, which would give us an estimated distance.
Edith and Yves wanted to return to the Base at this point, but John wanted to take one more set of readings; closer to the source along the bearing from the base. John knew people would laugh at him for his belt and braces and spare belt approach, but the fewer trips outside they needed to make, the fewer chances there were of an accident occurring. The chances of an accident were greatest going out and coming back in, so minimising those minimised the chance of accidents.
There was another reason. The view was incredible. John always felt that seeing the Earth hanging in the sky was inspiring. He could see the clouds, the seas, and land, fragile and beautiful. It’s a myth that the Great Wall of China can be seen. It can’t.
You couldn’t see national borders. You could make out clouds and sea and land; broad patches of colour, but no detail. John looked at the view. If only the leaders of the different countries could see the Earth from this vantage point, they would get a different perspective. The squabbles and disagreements at the Concert of Nations seemed so petty. Did it really matter whether Alsace was part of Germany or France? Did it matter if it was Austria-Hungary or Austria and Hungary?
John snorted. Maybe Edith’s idealism was starting to rub off on him. He’d always done his duty, but seeing the Earth as a small orb was changing his perspective. The constant sabre-rattling of Earth politicians seemed so insignificant here. You couldn’t see the Balkans or Morocco, and you couldn’t see why anyone would worry who was in charge there.
John had realised that it’s also a myth that you can’t see the stars. It’s true they’re not visible when the Sun and Earth are flooding the sky with light, but he had found a way to work around that. He found a spot in the shade from both, waited for half-an-hour while his eyes adjusted, and then he could see them. The stars were not very bright, because there’s still a lot of backlight, but he could see a few, and they seemed so much sharper than on Earth. He was rather hoping that the next Moon Base will be on the dark side, where astronomy will be amazing.
Then they made our way back to the Base. Re-entering was as tiresome a process as leaving. They took care in removing the moon-suit, because any sort of tear would render it useless. They put each piece away carefully, ensuring there are no creases or folds. The next stage was to ensure that the battery is hooked up to recharge, then do a final check of the moon-suit, and only then re-enter the base.
Edith went to the lab, to ensure that the bearings were plotted accurately. John had to continue the search for Uwe. He couldn’t have gone out. There were no new footprints when they had left, and they can’t be hidden. The only way Uwe could have been outside was if someone was with him, and the people who had gone out with him would have noticed him not coming back.
If Uwe wasn’t outside, then he had to be inside. John and Edith had searched before, without success, but they had to have missed him, somehow.
Any search had to be carried out methodically. It was no use rushing here and there, and missing areas as a result. If he was in hiding, then there would be signs. Moisture from his breath, and other signs. If he was hiding, it had to be in a small space. Someone would have seen him if he had scurried from space to space.
While he suspected that the food store was the most likely area, he decided to start with the admin area. That way he would get all the arguments out of the way first.
First of all, he called on the base commander, the Old Man. The Americans put up most of the money, so the person who nominally ran the base was an American. Fortunately, not one of those colourful characters from the West, nor one of those caricatures from the Deep South. They’d chosen a lawyer from Harvard, for some unaccountable reason. Sumner J. Feldberg. That was the most exotic thing about him.
He had taken delegation to an art-form, claiming that his role was to ensure that the right tasks were given to the right people, and that his role was to coordinate rather than lead. It always looked as though he had little work to do, but John was aware that without that coordination, things would run a lot less smoothly than they did. He told the Old Man about how Uwe Fochs seemed to be missing.
“That’s not possible,” he said, with a frown.
John had to agree with that assessment. “Apparently, it’s not impossible, but be blowed if I can work it out.”
“Look into it, John. Solve it, and find Fochs. Don’t cause any disturbance; the scientists need to concentrate on their task.”
That was easier said than done. John had already looked around all the obvious places. He was in none of them. That meant that Uwe was hiding somewhere, for some reason.
A thought came to him. “Or had been hidden.”
If Uwe had been in one place for well over a day, and that was the last time anyone had seen him, then there would be a smell by now. Therefore, the first place to check had to be where a smell wouldn’t be noticed. That meant the recycling area.
Everything came here, eventually. All the waste was collected, and brought here. The smell here would swamp any other smell. There were plants, to help remove carbon dioxide, and to recover waste. They started with dust without any nutrients, and grew those small salad-type plants. As they added waste material, the moon dust became more like soil.
But the smell was dreadful.
John began to check the seed lockers, and he wondered how they might solve the water problem. Was Edith’s idea, about catching an ice asteroid, viable? Most importantly, would they find the cavorite? Without that, they were all dead.
He looked out from the seed locker, and noticed a set of feet waiting for him outside. He emerged from the locker. Hercule Tarrode was waiting for him to emerge, fussy fingers drumming against his leg.
“Commander Masters, have you noticed that this area feels colder than other areas?”
John sighed. “Dr Tarrode, this area is exactly the same temperature as all the other areas. Check the temperatures. There is no climate to cause any changes.”
“That I know, but it is still colder here. I have a theory. It is haunted.”
John glowered. “Don’t be ridiculous. How can it be haunted? Even if haunting were a thing, which it isn’t, you would need a ghost, which don’t exist, to do it. If there were a ghost, which don’t exist, it would be from a dead person, because you don’t have ghosts of living people. The nearest dead person is over a quarter of a million miles away, and I really don’t think a ghost would come all that way just to haunt us, when any unfinished purpose that it was being kept around for was there and we are here. There’s no dead person, so there’s no ghost, which don’t exist anyway, and any ghost wouldn’t be here anyway. It’s nonsense. Complete nonsense.” He was trying to keep his voice calm.
“You are a sceptic, then? You do not believe in communication with the dead?”
“Even if it were possible, which it isn’t, it would involve shouting very loudly from here.”
Hercule chuckled, one of those annoying laughs. “Edith was right. She said you would be emotional. Women’s intuition. She has very strong psychic powers.”
John glared. “If it was anything, it was that she pays attention to what people say.” He did have a nagging concern, though. He’d said that there couldn’t be a haunting without a ghost, and that there couldn’t be without a dead person.
What if Uwe Fochs was dead?