When history professor and former FBI profiler, Carolyn Masters took a position at Armstrong University on the moon, she thought she had left the past behind her. However, she isn’t on the moon long before she is called in to join Michael Cheravik, a rough and occasionally obnoxious former Dallas homicide detective, to investigate the death of Juan McAlister, astromechanics professor and lunar independence activist.
As the investigation progresses, they find that they must not only solve the murder, but stop a terrorist plot against earth, and maybe exorcise the demons of their past.
The death of Juan McAlister made news on two planets, an orbiting space habitat and, of course, the moon. His death did not make news because he was a celebrity, a politician or a captain of industry. No, the death of Professor Juan McAlister, late of Armstrong University, made the news simply because he was a murder victim — the first murder victim on the moon in over seventy-five years of human habitation on that barren rock trapped in Earth’s orbit. On the earth, they were shocked and fascinated. On the moon, we were shocked and embarrassed. We thought indignities such as murder only happened on our flawed mother planet. They never happened in our more civilized community. Today, every vid-screen in the solar system told us we were wrong.
I was not watching the news. I stood where I swore I would never stand again – at a crime scene staring at a dead body. This dead body was different. All those others were bodies of strangers. This dead body was that of a colleague, a sometime adversary and a friend.
I was twenty years and 384,000 kilometers away from the Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico; yet, here I stood scanning my friend’s office trying once again to do the unthinkable: think like a killer.
I came to the moon to move forward, but my advance turned into retreat, and my paradise, purgatory.
Nine Months Earlier… Rising above the New Mexico desert, a silvery globe of fabric billowed in the breeze above the lunar shuttle. It was a beautiful sight, a hopeful sight, a disturbing sight.
I sat in the café at Las Cruces Spaceport drinking jasmine tea and nibbling cookies. The orientation coordinator told us to fast twelve hours before lift, but my stomach was growling, and I doubted a few cookies would hurt.
I took out my handheld and snapped a 2-D of the shuttle. As a child, whenever our family went on vacation, we took photos of the vehicle we used. It was traditional. I tapped the screen to call up those vacation pictures.
Dad stood next to his new 2063 Pontiac Bonneville Grand Prix. It was the first “drive-by-wire” car he owned. Regardless of the improved safety, he just could not bring himself to let go of the steering wheel. He never bought another new car.
I tapped the controls to slide show. I saw myself grow up and Mom and Dad grow old. The vehicles changed. I paused at a picture of a blue Buick parked in front of a store . I forgot about that trip.. How could I forget our last family vacation?.
Dad took the picture just a few miles from where I sat. We stopped at the spaceport and took the tour.”Someday” I said to Dad.”Someday, I’ll go to the moon.”
“I’m sure you will,” he said.”But me I’m keeping my feet on the ground.”
Just an hour or so outside of Albuquerque, we hit a rainstorm. On the New Mexico desert, they hit without warning. Clear blue skies one moment, a monsoon the next. The rain fell so hard the windshield heaters could not evaporate the drops fast enough.
We pulled into this little roadside travel center, bought souvenir salt and pepper shakers, drank pecan milkshakes and ate bad tuna sandwiches. Two sheriff’s deputies sat down across the counter. They talked about searching for a lost child. The rain cleared, but we bought another round of tuna sandwiches to hear the rest of the story. It was possibly my happiest travel moment.
Now, I sat fingering a ticket to the moon, as big as a book reader, bearing the bright silver holo-seal of the Lunar Council paid for by the Earth Consortium for the Development of Space.
I laid the ticket on the table and took another sip of tea. Why was I here? At fifty-five years old, I should be planning the second half of my life. I should be settling down and enjoying the security of a full professorship at a respected university. Instead, I was sitting in a spaceport ready to throw away everything I built over the past two decades. Twenty years ago, I boarded a transcontinental flight to escape the horrors of the present by studying the past. Did I always resolve crises geographically? Was that why I listened when John called?
John Nimbue was my dean at U.C. Merced before he became the founding president of a new university in Armstrong City, the largest of the three major lunar settlements. His call came soon after Mother’s death.
“Carolyn, I’ll get right to the point,” John said in his clipped style that served him well as an administrator used to dealing with long-winded academics. “I want you here. What will it take to drag you away from San Francisco Bay to the Sea of Tranquility?”
Six months ago, I would have declined his offer without question. I planned the rest of my life years ago. My chaotic, dangerous youth gave way to orderly maturity. I would take early retirement at age seventy, teach part-time as professor emeritus for a few years, finish writing my “definitive” book on twentieth century foundations of modern popular culture, listen to old music, watch old vids, read old books, in short revisit old friends before moving on to the last great adventure.
Great plans, but plans change. Usually, that change sneaks up on you. It gradually integrates itself into your life, and you forget that the change was not part of the original plan. Occasionally, though, change rushes in like the release of the bulls at Pamplona, and it is all you can do to run ahead of it. May 2099 found me tired of running.
I plodded through the last two semesters, barely able to coax myself out of bed in the morning to go to class. I lost the spark that energized me every time I stood in front of a class. Why?
The easy answer was my mother’s death the previous year. My Dad’s passing, ten years before, was difficult, but I still had Mom. She needed me, and, as clichéd as it sounds, I needed to be needed. Being single, no children, no siblings and no close friends, her death marked the first time in my life I felt alone in the world.
Though blind, Mother lived independently. After Dad died, I took care of her business, provided transportation and companionship. Our relationship deepened during those years. Then a couple of years before her death she lost her independence to a stroke. I know what you are thinking. Nobody has strokes anymore. All she had to do was take her daily dose of Conradium and she would have been free of cardio-vascular disease. That is true – for most people. Mother, though, was that one in ten thousand immune to its effects. She died young at eighty-five.
My counselor said that explanation was too simplistic. Grief is dramatic and complicated, but how one handles grief, stems from the person and not the event. She tried to probe deeper. She failed. This history professor has a psych degree. I knew her tricks and evaded self-knowledge expertly. However, I cannot escape the irony that my destination is the only source of Conradium in the solar system. Indeed, that Conradium made this trip possible.
Staring out the window at the vehicle that would take me away from Earth, I had yet to identify the source of the general malaise enveloping me like that foam shock absorber during acceleration to escape velocity.
Escape velocity. What an oddly appropriate term. I desperately wanted to escape something, but I did not know what?
This is ridiculous, dwelling on the whys. It is no longer about why, but where? I tapped my music player. The black album cover with the prism splitting a single beam of light appeared on the screen and hundred-year-old popular music pulsed through the ear buds. I enjoyed Pink Floyd, but only for a few moments.
“The moon doesn’t have a dark side, you know.” I jumped and looked around seeing a tall man with a black hair beginning to grey at the temples and a closely trimmed beard. I swung around so fast, I knocked over my tea.
“Wha-What ?” I patted my skirt with a napkin.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Your music,” he said quickly handing me more napkins and tapping the cover display on my music player.
“I mean, the moon keeps one side toward the earth at all times, but during its orbit every part of the moon gets some sunlight,” he explained still feeding me napkins.”We just think it’s dark, because we can’t see it. Five hundred years after Copernicus we still think that Earth is the center of the universe.”
“I guess so.” I looked around for a place to stash the wet napkins.”But then I doubt Pink Floyd majored in lunar science.”
This is outrageous. Who is this guy? Does he not know enough to leave people alone in a spaceport? This is not part of the accepted script. He is rewriting the drama with an intrusive improvisation. And he drew me into it. It was unconscionable!
The nanocleaners in the fabric activated by the patting dissolved the stain, but I was still annoyed and shocked. I have Pink Floyd and my thoughts to keep me company. Who does he think he is pulling me out of my reverie of self-explorationwith such an out of context remark?
I calmed down a bit. I looked him over. He did not seem deranged or homicidal. Just annoying. He stood about twometers tall and wore a well-tailored grey suit with a bright pink tie, a look which makes a comeback every decade or so.
He shot out his hand.”Erik Gundersen,” he said, sitting down without invitation.”Interplanetary Art Merchant. Sounds impressive until you realize it’s only two planets, a space station and a moon where I do business. Okay, I also did some work with the Hilton Space Hotel, but you can hardly call that a planet. I live on the moon, though. Collins Township. I see you’re going to the moon. Thought you might like an expert tour guide.”
I took his hand cautiously, and he continued.”I know, I know, you are thinking, who is this guy? Walking right up to you and starting a conversation.”
He got that right. I lived in San Francisco for sixteen years. One of the things you learn in the city is that you do not talk to strangers. My annoyance started to abate. It was unlikely this gregarious art dealer would attack me in the middle of a busy spaceport. I had to admit it was lonely sitting all alone with no one to see me off. I would be boarding a space shuttle to the moon in a few minutes. I might as well stir up my adventurous spirit by breaking with one of my earthbound habits born of urban paranoia.
“It was a bit…surprising to have a total stranger talk to me out of the blue.”
“Well, you’ll have to get used to that if you’re going to live on the moon. It’s like any small town filled with chatty, friendly and nosey people. I’m one of them. Well, at least this year. Who knows, next year maybe O’Neill station or Mars Colony. Hey, they might even be able to use an art gallery on Io when the mining colony opens next year. But if it makes you feel safer, think about it as enlightened self-interest on my part. You’ll be living on the moon. I sell art on the moon. Making friends is good business.”
“How do you know, I am going to live on the moon?” He was annoying, but also intriguing.”I might just be going for a visit.”
“With a one-way ticket? That particular holo they put on the tickets of émigrés. It makes it easier for customs people at Armstrong Spaceport.
Though still annoyed, against my better judgment, I was beginning to like this gregarious vagabond. He reminded me of another place and time. I grew up in a small lumber town where you stopped and chatted with people all the time. Back then, I might have started a conversation in a coffee shop. Not anymore. What happened to that woman? Had she gotten lost in the big city unable to find her way home?
“I am not sure about Io. They are building the colony on pontoons. I can see the paintings falling off the wall with each wave.” I tried to sound as casual as him although the tremor in my voice was far from casual.
“Hey, someone who actually keeps up with the news. Most people can tell you intimate details of the latest holo sensation, but have to think to give you the name of the Earth Economic Community president.”
“You could say it is part of my job.” I was unsure how much personal information to share. But, he had not attacked me yet, and it would be nice to know someone on the moon before I got there. Besides, I might be able to get a good deal on some paintings.”I am a history professor. Today’s news is tomorrow’s history. My name is Carolyn Masters. I will be teaching at Armstrong University on the moon.”
“So, you’ll be working with that Nimbue character. He wanted me to find some East African tribal art last year. Seems a bit stuffy. But I made a nice commission on that job.”
He was right about John. John is a nice guy, but boring. Then again, people say the same thing about me.
“John is very proud of his African heritage. He was my dean for six years, before he moved to Armstrong.”
“Small world, or maybe I should say small solar system. So, you’re going to teach at the university. Since everyone multi-tasks on the moon, what are you teaching other than history?” Erik asked.
As I talked to him, I could feel those urban years melt away. I was back in Arcata sitting in the Uniontown Café, chatting with the folks around the counter, and eating the best hamburger on the West Coast. He might simply be building goodwill for his gallery. If so, it was working.
“I will be teaching English, psychology and history. I have doctorates in English and history and a Masters in psychology.” I was afraid this sounded conceited, but it was the truth.
“Wow! That’s some resume. I see why they want you. I’m the anomaly on the moon. No big brain. Just an ordinary guy who recognizes fine art and figures out the cheapest way of getting it off earth. This year, though, I’m looking into developing the local markets. New artists on O’Neill are doing some good work, and I hear Armstrong U. will have an art department, so we may be developing a whole new school of ‘off-world’ art. I want to give these new artists a venue for their art as well. Who knows, maybe in five years, I’ll be selling lunar art on Earth.”
“Makes you wonder how art will transform over time” I said. This was one of my favorite speculations. How does history and culture affect art? “How can low-gravity or high-vacuum environments be used to create different sculptural forms or pigments for paints? What about art displays in zero-G where you hang pictures and sculpture on nothing and people swim around them viewing them from all sides. Does the experience of living in a low-G environment or knowing that your life depends totally on air scrubbers and a hermetically sealed environment affect the themes and emotions of the art?”
“Hey, maybe on the pontoon communities of Io, mobiles will make a come back,” Erik seemed to be enjoying the conversation as well. Despite my previous misgivings, I was too.. We sipped our drinks and watched the shuttle doors open. The gangway descended to the ground. Uniformed flight attendants walked across the tarmac followed by small, motorized suitcases.
“So, where will you be staying on O’Neill?” Erik asked.
“How do you know I’ll be stopping at the O’Neill Space Habitat?” I began to think that in addition to being an art dealer Erik Gundersen was a psychic. And, I do not believe in psychics.
“Everyone stops there. Very few go directly to the moon. Direct transport to the moon takes almost two days in zero-G. Not many people can take that other than veteran spacers, freight haulers and traders. So, most of us go to O’Neill. Rest up a bit and then go on. Life’s a bit slower off-Earth. O’Neill is a great place to visit. The first habitat in space, a 7.5 kilometer tube turning in the dark at L5, the point of equilibrium between the gravitational forces of the earth and the moon. The eighth wonder of the world and the first wonder off the world. Also, there’s the Skyway, little Everest, zero-G acrobatics, and just opened, DisneySpace.”
“You sound like the travel brochure,” I said.
“I wrote the brochure.”
I guess I looked skeptical.
“I mean it. I worked for the O’Neill tourist bureau and wrote the copy for their first travel brochure,” Erik said it with a touch of pride, but for an instant, I also saw a touch of sadness.“Anyway, what hotel did you choose?”
“I didn’t choose it. The school just booked me into the Lagrange Hilton. I understand it is located in the Low-G sector.”
“They were smart to book you there. You have to learn to get around in low-G eventually. You may as well start now. The Lagrange is half-G, that’s three times the gravity on the moon, but you can begin to learn some of the walking skills. We have a five-day layover until the lunar shuttle arrives. You should try a zero-G workout at the High Frontier Spa. Turning somersaults in mid-air is amazing.”
“Shuttle Flight 745 departing for O’Neill Space Habitat is now boarding at Gate Seventeen.” The disembodied voice repeated this message in five other languages including a floor vibration code for deaf passengers.
I took a deep breath and stood up slowly. The last string tying me to this world snapped over a year ago. Still, Earth had been my home for more than half a century. Would I ever say the same for the moon?
I followed a bit behind Erik. No one came to see me off. I had colleagues not friends. Kathleen, my office mate for ten years, might have come, but she had a conference this week. It was better this way. Hugging friends with tears streaming down their faces would simply add one last heartbreak to all the others.
In the forgetfulness of grief, I reminded myself to call mother when I got to O’Neill only to remember that her days of worrying about her daughter were over.
As I walked toward the moon and away from the earth, a single tear trickled down my face. Dark clouds appeared in the desert skies over New Mexico. Rain pounded down. I ran toward the shuttle, but only time would tell if I was running toward something or away from it.
Terri Main teaches communication at Reedley College in Reedley California. She sold her first piece of writing when she was 18 and a freshman in college. She lives in Reedley as a “committed single” with three cats. She has written magazine articles, video scripts, websites, short stories and even a radio drama. Her nonwriting interests include classical music, theology and reading.
Dark Side of the Moon is available from Barnes Noble and Amazon in both ebook and print formats. It is also available from the publisher at http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore2/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=42&category_id=7&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=1