This One Time, 39

This one time I looked up and saw the Earth hanging in the sky, right above the horizon, backlit by the sun, which had set a week or more ago. It was a rare opportunity to get out the telescope and see what I could of earth’s night-side lights, the aurora australis, the light-shows above storms in the south Atlantic….

Here in the lunar night, my suit was tuned to use body heat to power the electronics and help me shed just enough of the excess to keep me comfortable. I had about thirty hours of compressed oxygen, maybe a little more than half that in the CO2 scrubbers — plenty to cover my shift out here, already mostly over, plus a few hours of contemplation and personal observation of home. Invisible to me, Earth’s magnetic tail fanned out, blown back by the solar breeze and inflating like a parachute. The equipment I was checking out and cleaning was mapping the magnetic lines by following streams of protons as they spiraled in toward Earth’s poles, lit and perturbed in their travels by the lightning in storms below that the infall was, as it settled in, fueling.

I turned with my back to Earth and, as my eyes adjusted, the stars began to appear. Even with occulted earthshine lighting the lunar landscape, painting the gray with stained-glass blue shadows, I was able to see the Milky Way and make out the galactic core without blocking my view of the twilit ground. It never gets less magnificent. I captured a multishot with the full-range array — way overkill for a holiday snap. But that’s the gullet that will eventually devour us. The drain we will eventually spiral down.

Turning back around, dead center in my view of Earth was the huge mess over the eruption of Tristan da Cunha — a slow and steady and steadily worsening mess that was filling the skies with enough abrasive crap to have shut down the last three supply runs, in addition to grounding almost all of the planes on the planet. Over the course of the past two years, the ice caps had grown enough that we could tell from here. Just from the change in albedo. Volcanic gases are greenhouse fuel, though, so when all that crap settles out, assuming Tristan ever settles down, Earth will be a little more screwed without increasing the capacity of the carbon sinks.

It was gonna be a while until the next bus home. Or mail call, for that matter.

It was slow going converting dead moon to biomass, and we were doing well to not be sawing off our own legs and eating them already. Water we could make. We had a lot of really expensive metals just lying around in heaps, fantastic overkill for the printers to make us whatever shapes we needed. Silica and ceramics up to our eyeballs. Every scrap of carbon we found, we reburned and fed to the algae tanks. The salps ate it up, fat and happy.

I never thought I would miss plastic. Aerogels were fun but way too strange, even to someone living on the moon. Vacugels were even more fun. We could make big boats from them to sail the skies of Earth, anchor the bases of the elevators to the stars with neutrally buoyant masses miles above where the planes fly. Normally. When Tristan settles down.

And home. There was home, right up there. I could nearly take a running jump from here and get there in a month or so. Just swim the deeps. She would draw me to herself with open arms. It was heartbreaking.

This was the moment I got the message from base that funds were too tight to send us another bus. Too long without planes shut down too much trade, started a slow cascade that caused too much damage. We were officially out of reach. For years. Maybe two. Maybe a decade. Maybe never again.

Maintenance was my secondary. My primary was chaplain/counselor. Time to button up everything out here and head back to where I was needed.

For however long we were going to last.


February 8, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


Leave a Reply