First on the Moon!
by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald
Beatrice lay back on her bed and looked at the starscape painted on her bedroom ceiling. Two days into the latest educational hiatus and already she and Regina had run out of things to do. The hiatus was supposed to be used for processing and incorporating the facts they’d learned during the previous study unit, but she wasn’t sure how they were supposed to process and incorporate a history unit on the 20th and 21st centuries. Everything had been so messy back then.
The stars over her bed glowed in the dark. In daylight, they looked like pale yellow dots. Beatrice’s mother had put them up when Beatrice was in pre-school and in love with the night sky. Her mother had offered to take them down and replace them with something more grown-up, now that Beatrice was halfway through her transition to an independent living educational module, but Beatrice didn’t want to let them go.
She looked at the long-tailed comets and the ringed planets and the big painted moon with the blotches and shadows on it like a face looking back at her.
“Wouldn’t it have been great if people really had gone to the moon?” she said.
“Back in the old days?” Regina asked. She was sitting in the chair by the window, looking out over the Sperry Transwarp, where the gleaming silver transit pods drifted up into the stratosphere like bubbles rising in a glass. “Mmm-hmm. It would have been neat.”
The painted moon over Beatrice’s head looked sad. She closed her eyes. “Why do you suppose they never did? We know they wanted to.”
“Not enough tech,” Regina said. “I’ve got more computer power in my implant than the entire world had in … in ….”
“People didn’t interface back then,” Regina said. “They had to compare data by voice and hardcopy. So pulling off the hoax was easy.”
“My grandmother talked about how disappointed everyone was when the truth came out,” Beatrice said, “after the USA collapsed and the archives came open. It was all there, she said–the actors; the sets; the out-takes; they even kept the blooper reel for the moon walk. Armstrong missed his marks all the time and they had to reshoot. When she told me about it, she cried.”
“Nobody likes finding out that they were fooled,” Regina said.
“If the flag and the footprints really were on the moon, though, that would prove that people went there after all. Wouldn’t it be something if the crazy debunkers turned out to be right all along and the moon landing wasn’t a hoax?”
“It would be something, all right,” Regina said. “Do you want some cocoa?”
“No. I think I want to go to the moon. The old-timers need a hand.”
An hour later, Beatrice was pulling up flat-picture documentation of the moon hoax from the history banks, and pages of dissenting texts by people who still thought it had been real, and projecting them all into the studyspace above her bed. “There’s enough information in here to build a moon ship,” she said to Regina, “if I can just collate it all properly.”
“Someone is going to notice if you build a hundred and ten point six meter rocket in your back yard,” Regina said. “The sky-eyes, if no one else. They’ll ask questions.”
“So I won’t build a rocket,” Beatrice said. “That’s antique tech anyway.”
“You mean we won’t build a rocket. Did you really think I’d let you go to the moon by yourself?”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Beatrice said. “But you should probably go home now. I’ll see you tomorrow at school.”
For the next several weeks Beatrice studied the problem in her spare time, taking care not to leave too many tracks in the databases–not that anyone cared about ancient history, but you couldn’t be too careful. At the end of the month the two friends met in Beatrice’s room after supper to finalize the next stage of their plan.
“I can get my mom’s cold fusion generator out of the garage,” Regina said. “She was going to donate it to charity after we upgraded, but she never got around to it.”
“So long as it can hook up to my printer, we’re good,” Beatrice said. “I still have the wide-carriage model that I got back when I went to camp. As soon as I have everything I need to match the records, we’ll be ready to start.”
“How’s that coming?”
“That’s the good part–there aren’t a lot of records to match. The blueprints for the Saturn V rocket–supposedly lost. The blueprints for the Lunar Rover–conveniently gone. The blueprints for the Lunar Excursion Module–never saved. The original tapes of the telemetry–can’t be found. The original television transmissions–suspiciously vanished. We can do anything and no one will be able to prove that it’s wrong.”
“This,” said Regina, “is going to be fun.”
“I hope so.” Beatrice said, frowning. “But there’s still the Van Allen Belts–one of the things that stopped them from trying with people centuries ago. Hard radiation. Lots of it.”
Regina wrinkled her nose in distaste. “We certainly don’t want that.”
“I suppose we’ll just have to get creative.”
“The last time you got creative,” Regina said, “I wound up with the palm of my right hand copper-plated and I couldn’t let anyone see it for a month. What do you have in mind?”
“I’ll let you know,” Beatrice said. “I haven’t gotten creative yet. Do you suppose there’s anywhere we could get about fifteen tonnes of iron?”
“It’ll work better if it isn’t.”
“Well, then, I know just the place.” Regina paused and looked thoughtful. “We’ll need to use the heavy lifter.”
“I can borrow it and say we’re going treasure-fishing.”
“All right, when do we start?” Regina asked.
“We have the long hiatus coming up at the end of next month. I’ll tell my mother I’m going camping with you.”
“And I’ll tell my folks I’m going camping with you,” Regina said. “That’ll give us three weeks clear.”
“And you know what? We really will be going camping. Only we’re going to be doing it on the moon.”
“You’re building a republic of lies,” Regina said.
“Not a republic, a kingdom of lies!”
“No, a kingdom is too small. An empire!”
“I shall wear an emperor’s crown while we’re on the moon.”
“I’ll add it to the packing list,” Regina said.
At the end of the month, on a cold November morning, the two girls stood at Beatrice’s back door.
“I’ve got my sleeping bag,” Regina said. “So that’s one less thing we’ll have to fabricate en route.”
“Right. And I have the printer and the replicator in place. All the references are pre-set and loaded.”
“Are we absolutely sure we don’t want to just forget this stuff and stay home?” Regina said. “This is our last chance.”
Beatrice opened the door and looked down the path toward the garden. “No,” she said. “We’re going to the moon.”
They walked out through the dawn light. Mist washed around the trees. They came to a clearing just out of sight of the house where the surrounding trees masked a roughly pyramidal block of black iron, its material salvaged from an ancient landfill. The girls approached the looming iron shape, roughly three times their height and wide in proportion, and Beatrice opened a door on its side. They entered the pyramid and swung the door closed behind them.
The interior of the pyramid was roughly hollowed out. The hand-me-down fusion rig was strapped onto one slanting wall, Beatrice’s 3-D printer onto a second, and a heavy-duty replicator onto a third. Beatrice had bought the replicator at a thrift shop; even used, it had cost most of her birthday money.
“The start could be a little nasty,” she said to Regina. “We probably want to lie down. On something soft.”
“Right.” Regina unrolled her sleeping bag and lay on it. She could see the time-tick on the side of the replicator from her place on the deck. “Fusion is on-line.”
“I’m using my mom’s laser for first boost,” Beatrice said. “That way we’re drawing off house current and can save some of our reaction mass for later.”
“Good thinking. And is this–”
A huge weight seemed to press both girls down against the floor. Regina found it hard to speak.
“Yes. Even though–the math–is so–simple–I could–do it–in my head.”
The heavy-duty laser that had been partially buried in the lawn was shooting up at the base of the pyramid, boiling off iron and creating its own rocket engine, boosting them into space.
“We’re–really–doing it!” gasped Beatrice in delight.
The acceleration slowed. Smaller lasers mounted to the outside base of the pyramid took over from the ground unit and continued to boil off mass as the fusion unit hummed.
“I never did ask you how we’re going to get through the Van Allen Belts,” Regina said.
“Combination of things,” Beatrice replied. “First thing is, we’ll be going really fast. Around eleven point two kilometers per second. So we’ll get through them in a hurry. Second thing: The walls of this capsule are thick. I mean really thick. There’s nothing like mass for slowing down radiation. And the third thing is–” she flipped a switch on the replicator so that a glass of chocolate milk appeared “–we have an ion shield-field. To deflect stuff.” She drank her chocolate milk.
“You think of everything,” Regina said.
“Well, I hope so. Now, would you like to boost at one-gee half way, then decelerate at one-gee ’til we get there, or just coast? Zero-gee, but takes us longer.”
“How much longer?”
“About three days.”
“Three days, but . . . zero-gee! And that’ll give us more mass to play with when we get to the end of the trip.” Regina busied herself with having the replicator make tiny lenses to allow them to look outside.
“We don’t really have to worry about mass,” Beatrice reminded her. “The moon is a pretty good source of mass all on its own.”
“We can use the time to make space suits,” Regina said. “We’ll need them to go for a walk once we get there.”
“Then that’s settled,” Beatrice said. “Now–did you happen to bring a deck of cards?”
“I’ll get one,” Regina said, and turned again to the replicator. “Hmmm . . . if we’re going zero-gee, better make them magnetic.”
Three hands of ‘All Fours’ and eight hours later, when Regina floated out of her sleeping bag, she saw that Beatrice had been awake before her and was mapping out the lunar fields where they’d need to set up. She’d also upgraded the interior of their rocket ship so that the walls of the cabin were invisible, replaced by a real-time image of outer space from their location. The sun was bright, though filtered down to make it possible to look at. Earth was a disk far behind them; the moon was larger than she’d ever seen it.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Beatrice sang. “I have something special for breakfast.”
“I found the formulae for what the old-time astronauts really ate and drank.” She pulled out a sphere with a nipple on one side and let it drift across the interior of their ship.
Regina caught it and took a sip. She made a face. “What is this stuff?”
“It’s called ‘Tang.’ And look! I have some Astronaut Ice Cream!”
Regina took a bite. “It isn’t cold. It’s nasty.”
“No kidding,” said Beatrice. “But that’s what the astronauts lived on.”
“So why are we eating it?”
“For the authentic experience,” Beatrice said. “Now get over here so I can measure you for an authentic space suit.”
Unfortunately, when Beatrice tried to print out the stretchy aluminized garment and its bubble helmet, the printer jammed. After running through all the trouble-shooting steps and consulting the manuals, the answer kept coming back “Device faulty; return to manufacturer for refund.”
“This isn’t going to be any fun if we don’t get it going,” Beatrice said, frowning. “It worked fine back home.”
“Do you see where it’s jamming?”
Beatrice poked at the printer with her index finger. “Here, where the print-head is supposed to–”
“I know what’s wrong,” Regina said. “This thing wasn’t designed to work in zero-gee–so how about putting some spin on the cabin? Centripetal force should do the job.”
“You’re a genius!”
“You’re not so bad yourself,” Regina said. “Can we use the boost-lasers to get us going?”
It turned out that they could. The two girls slowly settled to the walls of the cabin as the spin came up. The projected view of the outside stars whirled around them.
“I’m going to get sick if that doesn’t stop,” Beatrice said, and adjusted the view so that the starscape didn’t move in relation to where they were standing. They switched the printer to an orientation parallel to one of the walls that was now a floor, and turned it on. This time the self-check came back green, and silvery fabric started pouring out of the discharge slot.
“Great,” Beatrice said. “Now we have to get busy. Two space suits–and, I think, a nice control panel so we can stay steady and on-target.”
“Good plan. I’ll build an airlock for us, so we can go outside and set up the site.”
They settled back to eat some real food from the replicator while the printer constructed the parts they needed. Soon Regina was fitting the airlock over the outside door. After that, there was nothing to do but watch the projected stars and gaze in awestruck wonder at the beauty of space as their capsule drove on toward the moon.
By the third day the pale bulk of the moon filled most of the view forward. “We’re almost there,” Beatrice said. “I’ve got the coordinates of, what did they call it. . . ?”
“Tranquility Base.” Regina had been studying.
“Right. When we get there, we’ll move the printer onto the surface and build the part of the Lunar Module they said got left behind. We can take the spin off the cabin before we go down. Nothing to print before we get there.”
They touched down on the surface just after lunar sunrise. Beatrice piloted them down, using tiny bursts from the lasers against the pyramid’s bottom plate to get them into position. “Woo!” Regina said when they settled with a barely-felt bump onto the moon. “Want to go exploring?”
“It’s about time.” Beatrice pulled on her tight aluminum space suit and settled the tiny oxygen-and-cooling unit onto her back before picking up her bubble helmet. “Regina! You really did bring an emperor’s crown.”
“Told you I would.”
The gold crown was firmly glued to the top of Beatrice’s transparent glass sphere. Then Beatrice looked down at the delicate boots on her feet. “What about our footprints? If anyone ever finds those it’ll ruin the joke.”
“Not to fear,” Regina said. “While you were asleep I printed these.” She pulled out a pair of pogo-sticks from inside her sleeping bag where she’d hidden them. The bottom of each pole had a foot cast in the shape of the famous footprint-on-the-moon pictures from the discredited history files. “We can get around on these.”
“Well, what are we waiting for?” said Beatrice. She unstrapped the printer from the wall–the low gravity made it easy to carry despite its bulk, even though its mass remained the same.
“We’re going to have to touch our helmets together to talk,” she said, just before sealing the glass globe over her head. “Someone on earth might hear if we use a radio. Now let’s go!”
They entered the airlock and sealed it behind them, then pumped out the air to match the vacuum outside. The surface of the moon felt crunchy under their feet. Regina mounted her pogo-stick first, while Beatrice strapped the printer to an extended rod above where she wanted it to print the LEM. Regina hopped up and down in place until Beatrice could join her, then pointed to a rock some distance off.
Beatrice nodded and laughed, and they were off, racing across the lunar plain. With each hop they were going at least ten meters forward, and an equal distance up into the black, star-filled sky. The full earth hung on the horizon, the sun just rising on the other side, leaving long parallel shadows on the surface. They came to rest at the rock, and touched helmets.
“Here’s one giant leap for womankind!” Beatrice said, then jumped on her pogo-stick and shot straight up, twice as far as her earlier leaps. When she came back down, and the gyro in the pogo-stick had damped out the vibrations, she pointed to their pyramid, and made little jumping signs with her fingers.
When they got back, Regina arranged an electrostatic generator to gather mass to go into the replicator, scooping up tiny amounts of moon dust from a wide area and guiding it into the hopper. Beatrice set the replicator to produce the viscous ink that the printer required to turn out its full-size print. Once that was going, and the first parts of the circles that would be the LEM’s landing pads were laid down, the two girls resumed their bounding races across the lunar surface until they were giddy with exhaustion. Then they returned to their cabin for a picnic lunch, a shower, and a brief nap.
“This exploration thing is tiring,” Beatrice said, yawning. “But fun.”
“You had a good idea, wanting to do this,” Regina told her. “Say…if someone else comes up here someday and finds this place, if they try to check it….”
“Not to worry.” Beatrice yawned again. “I’ve set the printer to put the right mix of isotopes into the insulation on the wiring in the LEM–so anyone trying to do radio-carbon dating will think that it was manufactured in the 1960s.”
“Good thinking,” said Regina, and they both fell asleep.
An earth-day later the sun was higher above the lunar horizon and the LEM base was complete. Regina and Beatrice took their three-D reference overlays and set out to make sure that everything in the historical photographs was in the right place to match their setup.
“Almost forgot about the flag,” said Beatrice. “Good thing I remembered in time–someone finding this would notice if it was missing.”
They quickly printed a flag on a pole and planted it in the right position relative to the lander.
The last thing Beatrice and Regina did before leaving the moon was hop on top of the LEM and look over the scene.
“It’s amazing,” Regina said, touching Beatrice’s helmet with hers. “It looks so real. Even I believe it.”
Beatrice just laughed.
Liftoff was uneventful, and this time they didn’t need to set the cabin to rotating, since they wouldn’t need to print anything on the way back. The black and silver sky was beautiful; the full earth ahead, the moon shrinking behind.
The morning before they were scheduled to land back on earth, the two were floating in the center of the cabin, the universe all around them.
“What do you want to do next?” Regina asked.
“Make the rest of the moon missions, I think,” Beatrice said. “I want to go whipping all over the lunar surface in a moon buggy. And then–”
“Then I want to go to Mars. If we boost there at one gee the whole trip it’ll take us about four days each way.”
“I want to put a Nazi tank up there–trust me, it’ll be easy. There really are blueprints for Nazi tanks.”
“That’s because there really were Nazi tanks,” Regina said.
“Why do you have to be such a realist?” Beatrice asked, shaking her head in mock sadness. “Imagine the look of surprise on people’s faces!”
“If anyone ever sees it.”
“If they don’t, it’ll be our private joke. Then, maybe next summer, we can go all the way out to Europa and print a cathedral there.”
“Only if I get to put a Louis Quinze bedroom suite in it,” Regina said.
“Anything you like. We should have fun while we can–we probably won’t have time to do any more exploring after we transition to independent living. It’ll be work, work, work, all the time.”
Just then an alarm whurrped.
“Oh no!” Beatrice said, as she examined a readout on the control panel she’d printed on the trip out. “We can’t make a safe landing back on earth.”
“See what it says? We mass forty-nine point eight nine five two kilograms too much! The on-board lasers won’t support us.”
“No! We don’t have mom’s heavy-duty laser to hold us up this time. A tenth of a gram over and we crash and die!”
“If our tolerances are that close we’re going to die anyway. What happened to redundant systems and margins of safety?”
“Those are so old fashioned. Next you’re going to ask about circuit-breakers.” Beatrice paused. “Regina, what do you mass?”
“Forty-nine point eight nine five two kilos. Why?”
“There’s nothing for it. You’re my best friend, and I love you, but to save the mission I’m going to have to throw you out the airlock.”
Regina looked at her in shocked silence for a moment. “That’s mighty cold,” she said at last. She saw Beatrice’s mouth start to quirk up in the corners. “Say, wait a minute….”
Beatrice couldn’t help herself; she burst out laughing. “Had you going there. The inner airlock door also masses forty-nine point eight nine five two kilos. And when we’re down on earth we won’t need an airlock.”
They started the ship spinning again, long enough to print out a forty-five centimeter drop-forged wrench to undo the bolts on the inner airlock door, then put on their space suits, roped themselves to the inside, and unbolted the door. Opening the outer door was a struggle against air pressure, but at last it came undone and they pushed the inner door out as the cabin’s air rushed past them. Then they closed the outer door and set the replicator to produce breathable atmosphere. Beatrice checked the control panel. “The air we lost massed ninety-seven point six one three one kilos,” she said, “so we have that margin of safety you wanted.” They settled down to play cards for the rest of the trip.
Landing was just like on the moon, with the lasers boiling iron off the bottom plate, a slower and more painstaking process than the takeoff had been, or the landing on the moon, due to earth’s higher gravity. They came down, making a soft landing not too far from Beatrice’s house, and set the ground-based construction unit to disassembling the pyramid. They put on their earth clothes, Regina picked up her sleeping bag and fusion generator, Beatrice got the printer and replicator onto a handling flat–they were a lot more unwieldy under earth’s gravity–and the two girls walked back up the path to Beatrice’s home.
“Did you have a good time?” Beatrice’s mother asked as they came in.
“It was okay,” Beatrice said.
“I used to enjoy camping,” her mother said. “At least, that’s what I told everyone. By the way, do you know anything about the extension cord and laser being left in the garden?”
Beatrice looked sheepish. “That was for a science project. Sorry.”
“Next time be more careful,” her mother said. “And what’s that on your head?”
“An imperial crown,” Beatrice said. “It’s a souvenir.”