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Moonbase, Episode 9: A World Apart, Part 9

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.

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 9.

“What are these?” John asked. He knew that the easiest way to get information from a scientist was to ask for an explanation.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t always the case that they gave an explanation that could be understood by anyone outside their field. As far as he could tell, the round sleeves were designed to be fitted around the drill shaft, containing cavorite, with the intention of using the gravity-opaqueing material to prevent the sides of the shaft from collapsing.

He could see a couple of problems with the scheme. “Do we have enough material to make a drill shaft that long?”

The proponents of the scheme explained, in some detail, how – since it would only be needed the once – the design margins could be trimmed to just get the length.

“I see. And where will we get the cavorite for the sleeves?”

John had a moment of satisfaction at having pointed out the obvious to the scientists. The trouble was, not being able to reach the cavorite would be fatal to everyone. “It will be worth working on for next time,” he said, to keep up morale. “What is this all about?” he asked, pointing to the other design. “Le taupe? A mole?”

Pietr nodded. “It is a thought that came to me. There are two problems, and this solves both. We don’t have enough material to make a drill shaft long enough. This doesn’t need a drill shaft. There’s a problem with the drill hole collapsing. This doesn’t use a hole.”

“Then how on earth does it get to the cavorite? Not on Earth, but you know what I mean.”

“It just pushes the dirt behind it, like a mole. There’s no hole to collapse. When it reaches the cavorite, it switches to pushing the rock into a storage chamber. When that’s full, it digs its way back to the surface. No hole to collapse, no shaft material required.”

“But,” John said, trying to follow the reasoning. “How, that is …”

“There are still problems, as you’ve thought of,” said Pietr. “Those I am working on. How do we direct it to the right spot? How do we know when it has reached the cavorite, and switch to digging into the storage chamber? How do we know when the storage chamber is full?”

“What’s the solution?” John asked.

“That we don’t yet know. In theory, this could work, but the ghosts are in the details.”

Then John realised everyone was looking at him. They were expecting him to make a decision. “The problems with the mole won’t solve themselves,” he said. Any design that required cavorite wasn’t going to work until they actually had cavorite. Although that might be useful once the Mole had got something to work with.

“Once we’ve got some cavorite, we’ll be able to make the drill work. Since time is running out, the drill needs to be ready as soon as the Mole comes back with the cavorite. Are you able to make both?” John knew that phrasing it as a challenge would encourage them.

Gregg nodded, looking at his drill design. “I shall need assistance with some of the calculations. Miss Loiseau, could you assist me as a calculating Analytical Engine?”

“My name is Dr Loiseau, Mr Francis,” Josephine said with a sigh. “It is work that is necessary, so I shall do it, but I am not flattered to be compared to a cold, calculating machine.”

John ignored the by-play. “Pietr, how long before your mole will be ready?”

“I shall see that it is ready before the drill.”

There was nothing more that he could do here, so it was time to update the Old Man, Sumner J. Feldberg. John explained about finding the body of Uwe Fochs outside, with the moon-suit removed.

Sumner frowned, and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth in thought. “That probably means an unlawful killing,” he said.

John waited for him to continue, but he didn’t.

“That seems likely, unless Fochs somehow carried his moon-suit back after he was dead. People will be worrying. We need to explain, Sir.”

“I’m not sure about that. We don’t know anything much yet.”

“And everyone knows even less, and they’ll start speculating.”

“Who is aware of the situation?”

John thought. “There’s you and myself. Edith is aware. I suspect that most of the ladies have noticed his absence. Fochs was something of an annoyance to most of the ladies. Possibly those men courting ladies here will have been made aware of Fochs’ absence. The killer might also be aware.”

Feldberg snorted. “I suspected that having women on the base would prove to be a distraction. Will it help if I issue an instruction that there is to be no fraternisation?”

“I rather suspect it might be difficult to enforce. Shouldn’t we concentrate on finding the killer?”

“It’s going to be difficult. He’ll know that we know, and will be lying low.”

“You could be right. It’s unlikely he’ll strike again, unless he wants to eliminate any investigation. You will continue to investigate,” Feldberg said

“It depends on why he killed. Maybe there’s a motivation at work here that would require further killings.” John thought. He was fairly confident he knew the how.

“That’s unlikely. His philandering has stopped.”

John was puzzled why Feldberg had focussed in on that particular motive. “It could be something else. Some personal motive, such as stealing an idea; some long-term grudge from Earth; an attempt to reduce the use of water and give us longer to get the cavorite; there could be a lot of motives.”

John was surprised to notice a reaction from Feldberg when he mentioned a long-term grudge from Earth. That was a puzzle. Feldberg was American, and Fochs had been German. It was hard to imagine a grudge between them. If Feldberg had been French, that could be understood, especially as Fochs was from Berlin, and Prussian. Perhaps there was a family history. Feldberg was a European name.

A suspicion started to creep over John. Feldberg’s attitude to keeping the issue secret could be explained if he were involved. John realised he was going to have to consider everyone as potential suspects. Intellectually, he had known this, but he now realised it on a deeper level.

He knew the method by which the murder was carried out. He’d tried to carry it out, and he’d found that it took a degree of dexterity in the fingers to perform. It had to be someone confident enough to return to the base alone. It had to be someone prepared to take a chance on not being spotted. Anyone seeing someone returning alone would ask questions. Someone who could keep their emotions hidden, because they must be aware that any search would look closely at everyone. They would probably want to keep an eye on the investigation, however discreet the investigation might be.

He tried to think who he had been seeing more of than before. Hercule Tarrode sprang to mind. He’d been running into him. Maybe he had just been noticing him more. Did Tarrode have the other skills? Maybe. Perhaps Edith had noticed something. He would ask her.

Then a cold fist gripped his heart. He had to consider everyone as a possible suspect until he could positively rule them out.

That included Edith.



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