172 hours on the moon, p.1
172 Hours on the Moon, p.1Johan Harstad
Published by Hachette Digital
Copyright © 2008 CAPPELEN DAMM AS
English translation copyright © by Tara F. Chace
This translation has been published with the financial support of NORLA.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
The NASA “Return to the Moon” artwork is intended to represent a fictional and futuristic organization and is in no way intended to imply any endorsement by or affiliation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Pages v, 13, 120, 157, 242, 248, 320, 330, 341, 353: NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org
Page 34: Ryan McVay/Getty Images; © Getty Images
Pages 51, 52, 89, 123, 341: © LACKTR
Pages 107, 113: © John Erik Riley
Pages 191, 192, 280: © Rodeo Architects
Page 259: ESA – European Space Agency
Page 276: The Ohio State University Radio Observatory
The photograph on page 259 is an artist’s impression. The size of the debris is exaggerated as compared to Earth.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
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PART 1—THE EARTH
NEW YORK CITY
PART 2—THE SKY
SEA OF TRANQUILITY
PART 3: AFTERWARD
THE DISTANT ONES
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PROLOGUE: FEBRUARY 2010
“Gentlemen, it’s time,” Dr. said, eyeing the seven men in suits seated around the large conference table. They were some of the most powerful people in the country, together in the largest meeting room at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was nearing eleven o’clock at night.
They would have to make a decision soon.
“So, what’s it going to be, then?” Dr. asked impatiently.
The cigarette smoke in the room was thick and impenetrable, making the atmosphere even gloomier. All rules forbidding smoking in government offices had fallen by the wayside as nerves came to a head.
“Well,” one of the seven began, chewing on his pencil, “it’s an incred ibly risky proposition. You must know that. Is it really worth it?”
“People had already completely lost interest in the moon missions before the last launch in 1972,” another one said. “Why do you think they’d be on board with us going back?”
“It could be done,” a third said. “We could tell them there’s a good chance of finding large amounts of tantalum seventy-three at the moon’s south pole.”
The room was suddenly buzzing, the tension starting to crescendo.
“You don’t want to go back to the south pole, trust me.”
“Of course not.”
“It’ll kill you.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“If you ask me, I say leave the whole place alone.”
“Gentlemen,” Dr. interrupted, “do you have any idea how important a discovery tantalum seventy-three would be? Most current technology is dependent on this material. People would be throwing money at us.”
“So we’re going up there to search for natural resources? I thought —” one of the other men said.
Dr. interrupted him again. “No, we’re not.”
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff cleared his throat. “Let me put the cards on the table for you, gentlemen. We are not going to the south pole of the moon, and whether or not tantalum seventy-three is found on the moon is completely immaterial.”
Confusion spread through the room.
“I presume some of you are familiar with Project Horizon?” he continued.
The man who had spoken first asked, “You mean the research done in the late fifties? The plans to build a military base on the moon? I thought that was scrapped.”
Dr. shook his head. “The base isn’t military.” He looked at the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “It’s just a research station. Isn’t that right?”
The chairman didn’t answer. He gave the man a friendly look. “It’s called DARLAH 2. It was constructed in the seventies under the name Operation DP7.”
“But why … in the world … why haven’t any of us heard of it before?”
“All information concerning DARLAH 2 was classified top secret until just recently. For security reasons.” He paused for a second, pondering whether or not he ought to say any more.
Dr. beat him to it, explaining, “DARLAH 2 was built from 1974 to 1976. But the base is in the Sea of Tranquility, where, as you know, Armstrong and Aldrin originally landed in sixty-nine. None of the other landings occurred there.”
“Why was it built?” one of the men who had been quiet up until that point asked.
“We found something,” Dr. replied.
“Could you elaborate?”
“We don’t know what it is. The plan was to continue our studies and station personnel on the moon, but as you already know, after 1976 we lost most of our funding. And as I hinted, finances weren’t the only reason the moon program was terminated. The truth is that … what we found up there is not the type of discovery for which one receives money for further research. We would have been asked to leave it alone. So we pretended it never existed … and, anyway, the signal disappeared.”
“Until it showed up again last fall,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs added.
“The signal? It? What the hell is it?” one of the confused men exclaimed. Dr. looked at the man who had spoken, then leaned over and pulled something out of his briefcase. He set a folder on the table and pulled out a four-by-six photo.
“This picture was taken on the moon by Apollo 15’s James Irwin. The astronaut in the photo is David R. Scott.”
“But … who’s the other person in the background?” one of the men asked.
“We don’t know.”
“You don’t know? What the hell is going on here?”
“There’s a proper time for everything, gentlemen. All the information you’re asking for will be made available once we’ve unanim
“Unused? Are you trying to say that no one has ever stayed at this base before?” one of the astronauts in the room asked. “What about the people who built it?”
“They were never inside. The modules were assembled on the surface by machines, not by people.”
One of the men already on board with the plan stood up, smiling confidently: “We’ll say we’ve spent forty years testing it, making sure it works perfectly.”
“And does it?” someone else asked.
“In principle, yes,” replied the man, whose smile wasn’t quite so confident anymore.
“In principle isn’t good enough, is it?”
“It’ll have to do. We have to go back within a decade, before someone else gets there first.”
Several of the men present still seemed skeptical, if not stunned.
“But who are you going to send up there? What are they going to do?”
“The first expedition will accomplish three simple things. One: They’ll test the base and make sure it’s working the way it’s supposed to. Two: They’ll research the possibility of mining rare Earth metals that will give the United States a huge advantage in the technology manufacturing market. And three — this is the most important of all, gentlemen — they will attract media attention, which will consequently secure sufficient financial support to continue our research and … get rid of any potential … problems.”
“Problems like what?” someone asked.
Dr. held his hand up in front of him as if to stop the words. “As I said, we’ll get to that. The idea is to turn the whole thing into a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first manned mission to land on the moon. We’ll build new, improved versions of the classic Apollo program rockets from the sixties and seventies. That’s guaranteed to make people feel nostalgic.”
“But no one under the age of forty-five even remembers those Apollo missions.”
Dr. waited a long time before speaking. He was a very intelligent man, and having to explain every detail to these ludicrous excuses for public figures was grating on his nerves. Fortunately, he had played this conversation out in his head many times, and he had an answer for anything they might ask, including the perfect idea for getting the entire world interested in a new mission. “Gentlemen, what if we send some teenagers up there?”
No one responded. They all just sat there, waiting, assuming he was joking.
But he wasn’t.
“You want to send kids? Why in the world would you want to put kids on the moon?” someone asked.
Dr. smiled patronizingly and replied, “If we select three young people, teenagers, who get to accompany the astronauts, we’ll get a whole new generation excited about space exploration. It will be nothing less than a global sensation.”
“But … just a minute ago you were telling us there’s something … unknown up there. And none of you seem able to say what it really is or what potential consequences we’re facing. And you want to send untrained, innocent teenagers up there as, what, guinea pigs?”
“The benefits outweigh the risks,” Dr. replied. “The probability of anything happening is small in the specific area of operation, and the astronauts will have the opportunity to set up important equipment and perform the necessary studies. For the sake of simplicity, I think it’s best to look at this as two missions in one. The first — our part — is to research the potential mining of tantalum seventy-three —”
“I thought you said we would not actually look for tantalum at all?”
“We won’t.” Then he went on. “The second part will be the teenagers’ mission, which will be little effort for them. The media attention will be automatic. They’ll portray this as a glamorous space version of a trip to Disneyland. And, best of all, my preliminary inquiries indicate that some major corporate sponsorship is almost guaranteed, which will likely provide the money we need for a second mission.”
“There’ll be a second mission as well?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“You want kids to go on the second one as well?”
Dr. held up two thick envelopes marked TOP SECRET. “Teenagers on the moon, gentlemen, is the solution we’ve been looking for. The door opener.”
“But how will you decide who gets to go?”
Dr. smiled again, even more slyly, and replied, “We’ll hold a lottery.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Mia Nomeland said, giving her parents an unenthusiastic look. “No way.”
“But Mia, honey. It’s an amazing opportunity, don’t you think?”
Her parents were sitting side by side on the sofa, as if glued together, with the ad they had clipped out of the newspaper lying on the coffee table in front of them. Every last corner of the world had already had a chance to see some version of it. The campaign had been running for weeks on TV, the radio, the Internet, and in the papers, and the name NASA was on its way to becoming as well known around the globe as Coca-Cola or McDonald’s.
“An opportunity for what? To make a fool of myself?”
“Won’t you even consider it?” her mother tried. “The deadline isn’t for a month, you know.”
“No! I don’t want to consider it. There’s nothing for me to do up there. There’s something for me to do absolutely everywhere except on the moon.”
“If it were me, I would have applied on the spot,” her mother said.
“Well, I’m sure my friends and I are all very glad that you’re not me.”
“Fine, sorry. It’s just that I … I don’t care. Is that so hard for you to understand? You guys are always telling me that the world is full of opportunities and that you have to choose some and let others pass you by. And that there are enough opportunities to last a lifetime and then some. Right, Dad?”
Her dad mumbled some sort of response and looked the other way.
Her mother sighed. “I’ll leave the ad over here on the piano for a while, in case you change your mind.”
It’s always like this, Mia thought, leaving the living room. They’re not listening. They’re just waiting for me to finish talking.
Mia went up to her room in the attic and started practicing. When it came to her music, she never slacked off. She’d been playing the guitar for two years, and for a year and a half she’d been a vocalist in the band Rogue Squadron, a name with a nod to the seventies appropriate for a punk band that sort of sounded like something from another era, maybe 1982. Or 1984. Even though she didn’t always care about getting every last little bit of her homework done, she made sure she knew her music history better than anyone.
Her latest discovery was the Talking Heads, a band she had slowly but surely fallen in love with. Or, rather, that she was doing her best to fall in love with, because she could tell it was good. She still struggled a little when she listened for a long time. And she wasn’t quite sure if the music was post-punk or rock or just pop, and that made the whole thing even more complicated. But it had such a cold, electronic eighties sound, she knew it would be a perfect fit for her if she could just get into the music.
She kept practicing her guitar for an hour and wrote a draft for a new song that worked off a riff she’d stolen from songs she was totally sure no one had heard. It would be okay to show up with that at her band’s rehearsal tomorrow. After she’d played through it five times and was pretty sure she remembered the chords, she set her guitar down, plugged her headphones into the stereo, and pressed play. Music from the band she had decided to start liking filled her ears. She lay back on the bed and closed her eyes.
“What are you listening to, Mia?” he
“Talking Heads,” she answered.
“You know they were really popular when I was young.”
Mia gave him a look but didn’t respond.
“You know, it’s an amazing opportunity, Mia, the moon. I — we — just want what’s best for you. You know that.”
She groaned but tried to smile at him anyway. “Dad, please. Just drop it, okay?”
But he wouldn’t drop it.
“And for your band, have you given that any thought? Don’t you guys want to be famous? I don’t think it would hurt Rough Squadron in terms of publicity if the vocalist were a world-famous astronaut.”
“Rogue Squadron,” she corrected.
“Anyway,” he replied, “you know what I mean.” And then he left, shutting her door carefully behind him.
Mia lay down on her bed again. Was there something to what he said? No, there wasn’t. She was a musician, after all. Not some astronaut wannabe. She turned her music on again, and vocalist David Byrne sang: “I don’t know what you expect staring into the TV set. Fighting fire with fire.”
It was almost May, but the air was still chilly in Norway. The trees lining the avenue were naked and lifeless with the exception of a couple of leaves here and there, which had opened too early. Two weeks had passed since Mia’s parents had suggested their silly idea to her.
Now she was standing outside school, scraping her boots back and forth over the ground as she waited for Silje to come back from the bathroom. Lunch break would be over soon, and around her other students were scurrying back into the building for fear they’d be late. But Mia was not in any hurry. The teachers always came to class a few minutes late anyway. They sat up there in the teachers’ lounge eating dry Ritz crackers and drinking bitter coffee while they trash-talked individual students.
Mia felt her school was the kind of place where the teachers, with a few decent exceptions, should have gone into pretty much any profession other than teaching. Janitorial work, for example. Or tending graveyards. Something where they didn’t need to interact with living people. Most of them had just barely squeaked through their teaching programs about a hundred years earlier. They had almost infinite power here, and they did their best to remind the students of that every chance they got — because they all knew that this authority disappeared like dew in the sunlight the second they left school grounds and headed out into the real world, where they were forced to interact with people their own age.
172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad / Horror / Science Fiction / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes