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Moonbase: Episode 4 - A World Apart, Part 4

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.

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 4 - A World Apart, Part 4

John Masters had to consider the possibility that Fochs was dead. His absence, and the failure to find a body in the Base rather implied that either the body was on the surface of the Moon, or else it had been deliberately hidden somewhere in the Base.

If it had been hidden, then someone had hidden it. If that were the case, then that implied murder, and it was worrying to think that there was a murderer on board. It would be so easy to kill someone here. The Moon could be used to do most of the work.

The prospect of a murderer on the Base worried him, almost as much as he was worried about the failure of the scientists to determine the location of the cavorite.

If Fochs had left the Base and died on the Moon’s surface, then he had either gone out alone, or whoever had gone with him knew. If he had gone out alone, then he was either rash and very foolish, or he had been suicidal. Fochs had never seemed rash. He had seemed quiet and thoughtful. He didn’t really say anything about topics he wasn’t an expert in, and when he did speak, it was after careful thought and using precise phrasing. He didn’t seem to be the sort to act rashly or commit suicide. John could imagine Fochs committing murder, probably a carefully planned poisoning, but not suicide.

He decided to see how well the scientists were getting on with determining the location of the cavorite.

Not well, to judge by the noise and the talking. John took a closer look, and saw that they were arguing over a model that they had made. It was a sand-table map of the area around the base. The argument seemed to be over two sticks. John asked what the issue was.

“The measurement from the base gives us a direction of 320 and a range of two miles. That would place the cavorite here.” Hercule Tarrode pointed a finger to a spot on the map, and laid down one of the sticks along the direction indicated. There was a black mark on the stick at a length which related to the two-mile distance.

Hercule took up the other stick. “This is the measurement from where we took our readings. A direction of 260 and a range of 2 miles. From the point we took the measurement, that would place the cavorite here.” He laid the stick down, and indicated a second point, just over half a mile from the first.

“The cavorite looks to be in two locations.”

John shook his head. This was such a basic mistake. He picked the two sticks, leaving the end of each at the measuring points, and raising the other end upwards until the two marks coincided. “That’s where the cavorite is,” he said.

“Half a mile up in the air?” someone asked, incredulously. John decided the scientists weren't very bright.

The scientists then had a discussion about how one couldn’t talk about things being up in the air, as there wasn’t air on the Moon. John found it rather annoying. Eventually, he was able to get a word in edgeways.

“Below the surface,” he said.

The scientists looked at the map, and then Hercule said: “Half a mile below the surface.”

Everyone was silent for a moment.

“Half a mile underground,” someone said.

There was another long silence. “That’s too deep for us to reach.”

John could sense the edge of panic starting to creep in. He had to do something to stop that, and he had to do it quickly.

“That’s a problem to solve. Isn’t that what scientists do? Solve puzzles?”

“But the walls of any drill hole will collapse. We’ve no way of shoring up the walls.”

“And we’ve no way of making sure the drill stays going in the right direction.”

“We’ve no way of pulling the drill out if it breaks.”

“We don’t have the material to build a drill that long.”

“At that length, we’re bound to have breakages. The torsion arm would be too great.”

“We’ve no idea about the rock structure beneath the surface.”

John nodded approvingly. “Aren’t these all technical problems? Aren’t technical problems the sort of thing you’re good at solving?” With that, he left them to start solving the problem. They just needed to be motivated to start. He would ask Edith to keep an eye on their progress, to keep them on track.

Of course, that meant that he would have to have regular discussions with her. There were very few opportunities for private discussions, and this would provide him with the opportunity.

Meanwhile, he had to investigate the disappearance of Fochs. He had two problems. He had to find out if Fochs was actually dead, and if so, who was involved. He tried to remember what he knew about detective novels. He remembered the adage: Means, Motive, and Opportunity. He also remembered something he’d discussed back on Earth with an American writer. “Murder is committed for a reason, not just to provide a corpse.”

What did he know about Uwe Fochs? He was a German metallurgist. John remembered him as one of those people who were an expert in their own field, and considered themselves an expert in areas outside their own field. Fochs had lectured John about the evils of political systems that allow those lacking in reason to vote. It was an irritating habit of his, but not enough for murder.

He tended to order people around, especially people in support roles. John also knew that Edith avoided him where possible. She didn’t say why, but John had noticed her unease around Fochs. According to Peter Pauls, another German scientist, Fochs was notorious for his philandering with female employees. That wasn’t a problem on the Base, because of the complete lack of privacy.

John made a note that he needed to see if Fochs had given any offence to any of the ladies on the base.

Fochs was German. While that didn’t matter among the scientists, it was an issue with the administrators. They all had their eye on national advantage. John wasn’t sure what possible advantage could be gained, but he had to keep an open mind. Germany and France were on unfriendly terms, as were Germany and Russia.

Fochs was a respected metallurgist. All the scientists here were at or near the top of their specialism. John wondered if professional rivalry might be a possible motive. Fochs was the only metallurgist. John had long worried about the fact that there was so little cover for any specialist who might have got ill.

Then there was the obvious issue that they were in a race against time, and that eliminating those people not essential would extend the time that they had. That thought was a major concern, because it begged the question: “Who’s next?”

There might be personal issues. John tried to remember if Fochs had upset anyone. He was from Prussia, from a wealthy, traditional family. He didn’t like anything that disturbed the status quo. Edith had said that was because the status quo suited him very well, and he’d never had to struggle for anything in his life.

Opportunity. That was going to depend on when he had been killed.

He needed to narrow down the time when Fochs had disappeared. If Fochs wasn’t inside the base, then he had to be outside. If Fochs’ body was outside, then he had to have got outside. To get outside, he would have needed a moon-suit. There were no moon-suits missing, so if he had gone outside and his body was outside, then his moon-suit had been brought back in. That meant John needed to check them. Maybe that would tell him something.

John realised that he was now assuming that Fochs had been murdered. He couldn’t think of any other explanation. There seemed no chance that he was still alive. If he had died outside, then he had either gone out alone, or with someone. If he had gone out alone, then there would be a moon-suit missing. There wasn’t. If he had gone out with someone, that person would have seen that Fochs hadn’t returned. If he was in the Base and dead, then he had to have been hidden by someone. People don’t hide themselves after they’ve died. If he wasn’t dead, then he would be in hiding, but he wasn’t in any of the obvious hiding places.

As for Means, well, he would need to see the body to have any idea.



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