There was some unhappy muttering from around the room and the General replaced the aerial view with a satellite map image.
“Now from a terrestrial standpoint, this is a barren wasteland, totally unsuited for human habitation. It is actually quite hospitable when compared with the lunar surface. So with the permission and full cooperation of the Russian government, we are going to use it as a test bed for our lunar colony. Starting in a couple of months, we are going to be air-dropping the exact same payloads we would use to establish an off-Earth colony. Then, our assembly teams will don our next generation spacesuits and we will land them next to the supply drops. It will be up to them to live in these suits and build a warm, sealed, comfortable base. I say 'sealed' because we are going to treat this as if it were the real thing. We will not use arctic air, we will use air we ship there. Same goes for water, foodstuffs, etc. Questions?”
A hand was raised a few rows back. “What about environmental impact?”
“As I mentioned, the island is a bit more than thirteen hundred square kilometers. The current human population is less than four hundred hardy souls. At our peak of operations, we are going to be using less than twenty square kilometers in the center and expect to have minimal impact. Considering the overall importance of our project, we're not concerned with displacing a few penguins.”
Someone interrupted. “There are no penguins in the arctic. Only some species of puffins. This would indicate there has been no environmental impact study.”
General Hawthorn stared in disbelief for a moment before responding. “We are talking about the entire human race here. Puffins, penguins, or god damn arctic aardvarks are totally irrelevant.”
Her Dad looked grim. “Yeah. Your uncle, his wife and their three kids are living in the trailer down on the corner lot and have been working on our place and other farms in the area for the last two months. The insurance agency he was working at, the car dealership she was working at, and their home were all torched in the riots. They were lucky to get out with their skins intact. A good quarter of the town is still a burnt wasteland. FEMA sent some people, but checks have been slow coming and when they do, the banks want to hold them until the feds actually send them the money. It seems that Uncle Sam's checks have been bouncing recently.”
Elizabeth continued. “Just last week, your Dad had to chase some fools off at gunpoint. They showed up at the Miller's place a few day's later, when only the women folk were home. Old man Miller and his two sons were working on the other side of the farm. When they got home, they found all three women dead on the back porch and the place had been set on fire. It started to rain hard and that put out the fire before it spread too far. It didn't matter though. The place had been gutted of any useful food, medicines or weapons.” She took a long drink from the mug before going on. “They followed the tracks down the road and found a car in the ditch with four drunks in it. It was full of stuff from their place.”
“What happened then, Mom?”
“They got them out of the car and held them at gunpoint while Mr. Miller tried to get 911 on his cell phone. When he said he couldn't get through, his youngest boy, Tom just said “Gee, that's too bad.” And shot all four of the bastards.”
They were all quiet for a moment before old man Veski picked up the events. “They came by afterwards and told us what happened. Me and your uncle followed them with our backhoe and dug graves in the edge of the woodlot. We let them get cleaned up and fed and they spent the night. The next morning, a couple of officers came by. It seems like someone had reported the car in the ditch and the four bodies. We told them what had happened and they said they were sorry, but they couldn't have vigilante justice like that and would have to arrest the Miller boys. About that point, we all pulled weapons and told them that if they were stupid enough to try, a lot more people would die. And that since they had proven they were tits-on-a-boar-hog useless for protection out here, they better mind things a little closer to their own homes. They weren't really that dumb, thanked your mother for the coffee and left. We passed the word to the rest of the farms and nobody has seen a town cop since. We've actually setup our own citizen watch patrol using our old CB radios and there are at least two people on a random patrol between the five farms between US 30, our place, and the firehouse a couple of miles over. So far, it appears to be working. None of us goes unarmed now.”
The couple stopped the lunar buggy near the ill-defined edge of the crater, unstrapped what at first glance looked like a couple of snow boards from the roof rack, and joined a small group of space-suited figures.
About a dozen of them traded greetings before getting down to business. Martin Childers started it off.
“Okay. I understand Terry did this run alone, last week?”
Terry answered. “Yeah. It starts pretty easy for the first couple of clicks.” He pointed at an angle down the inner slope of the crater. “Once you get near that hard outcropping, there's a smooth and almost level ledge below it. Past that, we have a fast, steep run between those two small hills. It rises gently right before you get to the plateau.”
Everyone nodded understanding and Terry continued. “There is a cable car already spiked into the plateau and it can bring us all back here.” He pointed to the small tower behind them with an almost invisible pair of cables leading downward.
The Lunatic Dust Ski Team all had at least a couple of year's experience and carefully checked each other's equipment before hopping onto their boards and sliding down the slope. They cut wide, slow swaths in the virgin dust, only occasionally crossing the marks left from the previous run.
Sarah loved dust skiing. It was a form of slow-motion poetry. Their boards were very similar to the snow boards used at earthly ski resorts, but coupled with one-sixth gravity and the fine powder of the ubiquitous lunar dust, everything happened a bit slower. True, the dust was highly abrasive, but rather than the fiberglass of their Earth counterparts, the lunar boards were stainless steel and good for many runs before being recycled.
Martin was behind her. He always said it was his favorite spot when skiing because he got to watch her body swaying as she slid over the rolling terrain.
This time, the Childers' were about two thirds of the way back when they completed the first and easiest part of the run. Everyone was feeling loose as they followed the shadow of the ancient outcropping, to the almost-level ledge. This was where they would drop into the same path as the leaders, in order to line up for the much steeper and faster zig-zag through a boulder field.
Susan had tucked down, knees bent and focusing on the trail ahead when she noticed a shadow move. It wasn't supposed to move!
She glanced up and saw various geysers of dust erupting at the corners of the giant rock. Shocked, she realized the entire face of the outcrop was breaking off and sliding down, onto them.
“Martin!” She screamed. “Look out! The rock is...”
“I see it! Go! Don't stop. We can outrun it.”
Susan glanced over her shoulder and realized her husband was much closer and almost parallel with her. Much farther back, she saw two of the team turn hard and take the dangerous option of heading straight down the crater side. If they didn't hit a hidden rock, they might be okay. She didn't see any of the others before she had to bring her attention back to her own run.
The ledge they were on ended just a few meters ahead and the trail dove sharply down, between two large boulders and then into the zig-zag. It was in clear sunlight and easy to follow for skiers with their skill level. Then, it got dark. Very dark. As the giant rock face started to tumble downslope, it kicked up a huge cloud of dust that obscured the run. Without atmosphere, the lunar shadows were inky black.
They made it between the first two boulders before all light went away. By instinct, Susan flipped on her lights, but could only see perhaps a dozen meters ahead. She heard Martin's harsh breath in the radio and set herself up for the next turn. The dust cloud enveloped both of them.
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