© Copyright 2021
Astronaut Major Felicia Romero closed and locked her space-safe Pelican Pack suitcase then pulled it from its Velcro attachment on the table in her personal niche in the Lunar space station orbiting the Moon. It came away with the usual ripping sound. She re-directed her tug to aim the suitcase at the doorway of the Habitat section. It floated away from her.
She tipped her bootees to pull them away from the Velcro mat in front of the table and with her toes pushed herself after the suitcase. She arrived at the doorway an instant before the suitcase, grabbed the edge of the door jamb, grabbed the handle of the suitcase, and propelled herself and it gently through the corridor to the doorway into the shuttle launch bay.
As she entered Astronaut Major Joseph Cotton glanced at her as he stood before the control computer on a pedestal which held the computer at waist height. The tall thin Black man said, “Hi, Felicia. Your chariot awaits, all right and tight. You all prepped to go down?”
The question was not idle. It was a standard reminder that you emptied your bowels and bladder before you donned a space suit. The suit attached itself to your intimate parts and let you relieve yourself if you really had to. No one enjoyed doing so, however, so they took steps to ensure they did not need to.
“Yeah. Let me at the console a moment, OK?”
He stepped aside with the usual ripping sound as he repositioned himself on the Velcro mat.
Felicia parked her suitcase in the air beside the console. It revolved slowly on two axes in the zero gravity of the space station. It drifted away but very slowly; much practice made the astronauts very good at operating in zero-g.
She looked at the screen of the control console, examining the diagnostics running on the space shuttle she’d be piloting of the three attached to the station. Everything was as it should be. This was as expected. After all, Joseph had already done this check. But every pilot checked and double-checked the complex vehicles they flew. Their lives depended upon the machines working perfectly.
While she did that Joseph stowed her suitcase securely inside the space shuttle Felicia would be flying.
Done with her checks Felicia floated over to the four space suits held upright with their backs to a wall of the launch bay. She made sure every square inch of the spacesuit lining she wore fit her perfectly smoothly; wrinkles could become uncomfortable inside a space suit. Then she crawled into the suit, partly opened up to allow entry into it. She wiggled her butt to make it easy for the suit to attach itself to her crotch, grimacing as it did so.
She ran through the diagnostics displayed on readouts on her two arms. The suit was full with all consumables, its batteries fully charged, and all systems were functioning as they should. Then she pulled herself away from the wall and did various stretches to make sure it twisted and bent properly. Lastly she put on her helmet and checked that it too was working as to should. That included the video camera attached to the top of her helmet. She started it running.
By then Joseph was back inside the bay and standing at the console on its pedestal. He had been monitoring her checks. When done they looked at each other and nodded. They held their gaze a moment longer then tapped their chests over their hearts. They had been lovers years ago and still were very dear to each other.
Then Felicia turned to enter her space shuttle. She was ready to descend to the Moon.
Just inside the shuttle was the airlock which would enable entrance to the craft from vacuum and exit into vacuum. Felicia carefully inspected it before closing the door to the Habitat and ensuring it locked closed.
Then she looked to her right. The door there was into the cargo section at the rear of the shuttle. In several racks on each side of an aisle were secured cases containing cargo to deliver to Luna City, her destination on the Moon, including the Penguin Pack that Joseph had carried into the shuttle for her. Every item, including her suitcase, had been positioned to ensure the center of mass was in the physical center of the shuttle.
She closed and locked the cargo bay door. Currently the cargo volume had air but it could also do its job while without air.
Lastly she entered the passenger part of the shuttle, closing and locking the door into the airlock.
The inside of the space shuttle was similar to that of any aerospace craft. It had a tube-like body and an aisle inside it leading from the airlock to the cockpit in the front of the craft. On each side of the aisle was a row of seats, one seat on each side for a total of ten. Those on the shuttle were oversized as its passengers would all be wearing spacesuits. On the wall instead of windows were connections to each passenger’s spacesuit for power, communication, and air. The air connection was redundant as the interior had air. UNLESS the hull was pierced by an ultra-rare meteoroid.
Felicia pushed herself toward the cockpit. So good was her aim that she did not have to touch even one of the red handholds atop each seat.
Inside the cockpit she closed the door to the passenger area and ensured the seal between the two compartments was good. Floating to rest on the left of the two pilot’s seats she strapped herself in and connected her suit to the power, comm, and air connections beside her seat.
She touched a button on the dashboard in front of her. It opened a channel with the control consoles throughout the Lunar space station.
“Major Felicia Romero is in the pilot’s seat in Lunar Shuttle 21. I am establishing control and will begin running diagnostics.”
“Roger that, Major Romero. Lunar Gateway space station monitors continue to show that your vehicle is in nominal condition.”
“Thank you, Lunar Gateway.”
Felicia looked at the computer console built into the dashboard in front of her. It showed a menu of choices. She chose the Take Command option and repeated her identification, adding her Space Force ID number.
“Lunar Space Shuttle 21 acknowledges that you have taken control, Captain Romero.” The Space Force followed the naval tradition of addressing every commander of a space vehicle Captain without regarding their rank. A Space Force captain aboard a vessel who was not commanding it was called Cap LastName to ensure no one mistook the one and only Captain.
“Thank you, Shuttle 21. I see from your diagnostics that you are in optimal condition.”
The artificial intelligence that was the brain of the shuttle sounded as if it meant it. This was an illusion. It was not a general AI that had emotions and consciousness and an education similar to that of an adult human. It was a special-purpose AI which knew everything a spaceship needed to know and little else. It communicated with shuttle officers and passengers through a computer screen but also, when people were operating in air, verbally, as now.
Felicia watched on the computer console as the AI’s self diagnostics cycled through its list. All but two items showed green checkmarks. Those checkmarks were colored lime, indicating not quite perfect conditions. Felicia examined the values. The problems were innocuous; they showed that the air in the shuttle was a trifle less humid and warm than the Dylexion Corporation’s shuttle designers recommended for human health.
She paid special attention to the diagnostics for the “warm fusion” generator. It turned the quanta of empty space into matter and antimatter and produced energy when they annihilated each other, a process which many physicists argued was impossible.
She also paid special attention to the other impossible technology: the space drive, invented by Space Force officer Colonel Jane Kuznetsov.
She was ready to depart the Lunar space station. She looked through the ultra-hard Glassene windows at the Moon’s surface some 59,600 km or 37,000 miles “below” the station. It showed the familiar dark and light grey sphere. Near the center of the image was her destination, invisible to her eyes, almost exactly on the equator. It had been selected years ago because of the huge reservoir of water ice a mere kilometer below the Moon’s surface.
“Gateway Space Station, Moon Shuttle 21 departing.”
“Roger Shuttle 21 departing. Be safe, Captain Romero.”
“Thanks. You too, Gateway.”
Felicia added, “Shuttle 21, detach from Gateway.”
“Shuttle 21 to detach from Gateway Orbital Space Station. Please confirm.”
“Make it so,” she said, echoing a favorite character on a TV show about space exploration when she was a kid.
There was a distant Thunk! The shuttle shuddered ever so slightly.
Felicia nudged the yoke in front of her, no different from those of the many aircraft that she had piloted over the last several years. Out of one window she saw the edge of the solar panel slide backward out of view. It provided supplemental and backup power to the warm-fusion reactor of Gateway. She was on the move.
“Shuttle 21, prepare to descend to Luna City One. Minimal power usage.”
“Shuttle 21 ready to descend to Luna City One at minimal power.”
“Executing descent. Estimated time of arrival four hours, thirty-two minutes approximate.”
The image of the Moon pivoted from its apparent position in front of the shuttle to appear below. Felicia’s seat back pushed ever so slightly against her back as the Kuznetsov space-jet propulsion system began to slow the shuttle’s velocity in orbit. The deceleration lasted 73 mintutes, then cut off. Shuttle 21 was now spiraling in toward the Moon.
For the next four and a half hours Felicia was in communication with Luna City, ghosting through it in virtual reality mode. When the city disappeared over the horizon as the shuttle traveled above the Moon’s far side a series of communication satellites kept the information flowing to her.
This remote inspection was more to fight boredom than from necessity; Felicia had done this several times in the previous weeks.
Finally the shuttle completed its trip around the Moon and was just a few miles away from Luna City. There was not much to see as almost the entire city was under the surface inside a shallow crater. After construction by smart robots from prefabricated parts it had been covered by a layer of bricks made from Moon dirt. That way it was protected from vacuum, radiation, meteoroid strikes, and huge differences in temperature.
Felicia watched carefully as the AI powered on the space-jet again to lower the shuttle to a height of few dozen feet and a speed of a few feet per second. On the bottom of the shuttle a Kuznetsov projector came on to cause the landing pad to become magnetic. The ski landing gear had the same polarity as the pad and, like magnetic fields repulsing like fields, the shuttle slowed to a halt a few feet above the pad.
The AI let the skis slowly lose their magnetism and the shuttle settled, rocking ever so slightly as it settled on the pad. Felicia had arrived on the Moon.
She triggered the last part of the landing. The pad began to slowly sink below the Moon’s surface. At thirty feet the pad settled to rest in a recess atop the roof of Luna City.
Felicia lifted the shuttle a couple of feet and floated it aside and into the bay awaiting it. At this the pad began to rise toward its usual place on the surface of the Moon.
A waiting accordion tunnel rolled to nest against the side of the shuttle. When its seal with the shuttle was firm Felicia triggered the shuttle’s airlock door to open into the tunnel. The tunnel was pressurized so now people could exit into Luna City without cycling through the airlock.
Felicia set the shuttle’s power to Rest mode and got up from her seat to open the door into the passenger section. She walked through the section, opened the door to the airlock then the door into the cargo section. There she removed the suitcase that Joseph had stowed for her and a second suitcase that she had stowed the night before.
Setting them on the floor of the air lock she closed the door to the cargo section, opened the door to the accordion tunnel, and pulled them through the airlock and into the tunnel and from there into Luna City proper.
Just inside the city she placed a hand on a plate just inside and said, “Luna City, this is Major Felicia Romero. Please authenticate my identity.”
A few seconds passed then the city’s AI replied, “Major Romero, you have been identified by your voice and handprint. Welcome to Luna City.”
“Thank you, Luna City. I now take command of Luna City. Please send transport robots into the shuttle to unload all the items in the cargo area. Each has labels on them identifying their destination.”
With that exchange Felicia became the Mayor of the city. She could now begin the job she had been sent down to the city to do.
She took a deep breath and said to herself, “Now, take your time, Felicia. Be here now. Appreciate the Now.”
It was not the first time she’d given herself such a command. As far back as she could remember she’d been a driven person. In lower school, high school, the Air Force Academy, the drive had been unfocused: just get to the end, graduate, usually with the highest honors.
Then the focus had sharpened: to be a pilot, work in the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, fly everywhere in the world. Always she’d been driven to master yet another aircraft, small, large, special-purpose, whatever. After each milestone she’d given herself permission to ease up, to just enjoy herself.
At the same time she’d been working for a Masters in architectural engineering, then for a Specialization in space structural engineering. This had led naturally to becoming an astronaut pilot and transference to the Space Force.
When the national push to put people in space ebbed the mandate to build a Moon base morphed into building a Moon city but with robots rather than humans. Much safer and cheaper, especially when the timeline was stretched to make more strategic use of the increasingly limited money the government was willing to spend.
Finally the Moon city project was taken over by a multibillion-dollar conglomerate of some of Earth’s biggest hotel chains. Under it the City was completed.
Now Felicia had a two-part job. Live in the city, enjoy all its amenities, and make notes of improvements to be made. Manage the city, exercise all management functions, and make notes of improvements to be made there.
“And most importantly,” she told herself yet again, “to SLOW DOWN and enjoy yourself.”
Felicia saluted, replied, “Yes, MA’AM!”
Deliberately, taking her time, Felicia began to walk. Looking around, she switched on her HelpMate to record her thoughts. She’d named the Mate after a childhood friend, Constance Khan.
“Connie. This corridor could use some artwork. These walls are BO-O-Oring.”
© Copyright 2021