h1

The Bad: “Mistake.”

June 16, 2012

For Pat and the girls in the Library.

For any Publisher this is the second part of a triptych: Three interludes between the three main shorts of “Vacant Space.”

(See previous post for more details.)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

II The Bad: “Mistake.”

The microSat descended lower and lower, its orbit now highly elliptical and near polar. At points mere tens of kilometers from the higher crater walls and mountain peaks. The owners panicked. Just a small holding company with the rights to space junk that no-one in their right minds would expend the delta-vee to salvage. Their insurers were worried: sending urgent comms back to the launching nation. In Seoul midnight oil began to burn as its onboard computers steadfastly refused any official orders. It was now officially a rogue.

Unofficially everything was going to plan. The microSat responding perfectly to any command sequence prefaced with the right code word…

Naturally it was Zero who first picked up my tail. Although he keeps an eye on things Dirtside, he mostly concentrates his focus on the local Lunar networks. Easier. Less of a stretch. Or so he says. Mind you, I can understand his sentiment: a communications lag of one point five seconds would seem an eternity to an intelligence that thinks at the speed of light. There was one added bonus. Since the cisLunar Net naturally includes the various G-Synch habitats of the Corporates, it also includes their secure satellite communication arrays. Thus any data worth having, passes through this select group of nodes that Zero has already staked out.

‘Like shooting fish in a barrel.’ I quipped.

‘More like Mr. Grizzly poaching some really big and really smart spawning salmon in some fast-moving waters.’ Was his reply. (Yes he had upgraded his vocoder I think we can all be happy for that!)

When he spots something highly encrypted, making a leap for Dirtside, or vice versa, he takes it as a personal challenge and swipes it. The bulk of the traffic he can practically read on the fly. After all, at his core, this was what he was designed for. Fly Phishing.

So when this new fish or new chum as we like to call them, (The “p” is silent.) …travelling business class up from the MotherWell. Then books in to the cheapest capsule bunkhouse in Luna. Well something starts to stink and alarm bells started to ring. As usual in my left ear. Causing me to spill my breakfast coffee. But fortunately catching most of it, before it had a chance to hit the floor. Real beans. Real coffee. Priceless!

The new fish’s name also gave me pause: “Yurya Gagarinovitch!” Who was ‘he’ kidding! However at this stage and in these times; travelling under an assumed name and identity was common sense and common place. After all I had done it enough in the last century.

Afterwards I discovered, via Zero’s perfect 20:20 cosmic retrovision, that it took them some 86400 seconds to get themselves sorted. Still on 24/7 Dirtsider time at that stage and probably assembling, or obtaining, that rather hefty scanner proof firearm. I shudder to think how they smuggled in the explosive charges! Then their hunt was on.

Meanwhile Zero had started his.

Their ID was also fishy: the bare minimum for a Lunar visa and basic ID, passport etc.  Critically Yurya had no real digital signal back on Earth and specifically: Bosnia, where they claimed to have been born. Burnt schools, missing records. The usual excuses for a non-person. However from my last little foray into the Balkans; Bosnia was all I really needed to know. Call it a hunch.

Zero calls it “pure guesswork of the lowest order” and a number of less repeatable opinions.

Despite my “guesswork of the lowest order”: as far as we knew, our new fish could be a genuine corporate flunky travelling undercover to maintain an edge in some cutting edge business deal. Or some high-flying CorpRat up to no good. There was a high probability: 0.47 according to Zero, that our anonymous low rent businessman might just be scamming their expenses. Or planning an expensive treat during their stay. We had some false alarms before, so Zero only set a small part of himself aside to track our new fish to see if they were a capsule bunked corporate sardine. Or a something more predatory. Like a shark.

From first appearances: definitely a sardine. Yurya was short: 151 cm and light 41 kg.  And young.  Barely looking the twenty-one claimed on the visa. On the ID, the only photo we had, he looked even younger. Eighteen? Nineteen? Perhaps one of those cute boys that the girls fall for but probably falls for other cute boys? With so little to go on, what else could I do but speculate wildly!

As it happened I had some old unofficial business to tie up at NHK and some new unofficial business to tout for. Digging up an official excuse for a visit was trivial as LunaPol is a very unfussy boss. I made no attempt to conceal my departure. Officially logged on the Shackleton to New Hong Kong passenger lists for everyone to see. Sure enough the new fish was on the very next jumpBug out with a thru connection to the High Kingdom. More significantly: using a new fake ID and credit key. This time “Valentin Tereshch!” Also from Bosnia. Another alarm bell. Louder. This time in the middle of the night: 02:23 (Beijing time). I immediately contacted my LunaPol handler who was quite understanding. But disturbingly non-commital. I put this down to LunaPol’s full confidence that yours truly would be able to fix the situation without any furore. Just to make sure, I kept my head down in the Chinese territories and then, after making fulsome apologies to my hosts, hopped onto the next passenger jumpBus for the boondocks: Armstrong Base, Peary Crater, North Pole. Few corporate flunkies or flyers would want to go there. Except perhaps from my former motherland: the Former United States of America. Yeah right!

No. I felt that my selachial friend had tipped their hand. Or should that be their sharp shark like dorsal fin? And this shark was fast! It took them well under the Cycle, that’s the new 100 KiloSecond metric day of the NEO Colonials that us ex-pats use in Luna. Despite the  inconvenience. Or perhaps because of it. Here in Luna the old style Greenwich spacetime is pretty useless. As is UTC unless you are an astronomer.

Call it eighteen or so “hours” to make it easier for any of you poor Earthsiders allowed to read this.  

This was no coincidence.

This was no Corporate sardine!

My shark for sure had found my scent and had tracked me. Even to the back of beyond. It took some fancy footwork to avoid an encounter and still make it look like a near miss. Coincidental rather than carefully calculated. I didn’t want to tip my finny friend that their prey was playing them!

So it was merest ‘coincidence’ that our shark ,was sardined in a cramped and sweaty shirt-sleeve rollerBus – along with ten or so others. Delayed by Zero’s ‘faulty’ pressure seal signal between the bus lock and its designated docking port. Whilst I, in my nifty personal pressure suit, strolled out to the very same jumpBus they had arrived in! Just to make sure I paraded around the bus pantomiming disgust at the shoddy state the old American base was in. Not easy to do in a P-Suit!

I hope they got a chance to see.

After another zig to their zag at CorpRat Korolev; by the end of the week I was back at Shackleton and Zero was devoting a little more attention to my continued survival. Making damn sure that I was never exposed for long enough for them to draw a bead. By now he was tracking this shark better than the shark was tracking me! Definitely no sardine, now. They had booked into a cheap public doss house. Way better than the capsule hotel they had started out in. Perhaps they realised that the hunt would be more difficult than expected. A capsule is OK for an overnight sleep but as long term accommodations? “The longer the better,” as I remarked to Zero, not so much in fear of my life. But rather to build a level of  frustration in our selachial friend so that they would be tempted to do something foolish.

Like reveal just how they intended to take me out.

Zero and I had discussed the possibilities. Or rather I had made silly suggestions and he fired back the calculated probabilities: usually below 0.1. The highest probability was some sort of gun. But what type?  We set up a sure fire close encounter, where my would be assassin would get an opportunity to make the hit. And miss. Or so I hoped.

***

Somehow a fourth full shot glass had appeared in front of me. And so had the bottle. And so had Alexi. I awarded each with a slow suspicious look. With one eye shut for the bottle and with both eyes open and raised eyebrows for Alexi as a bonus. I suspected that by the end of the evening that it would be empty and I would be too.

He sat down at my table. Like the chairs, made from light foamed regolith but topped with a millimeter thin veneer of marbled nickel iron meteorite that caught the light just so. Under its protective glaze of vacuum deposited glass. Here in Luna we may lack wood  Or any organics for that matter. But there is a stark beauty in our local materials that is, for want of a better word: unearthly.

The bottle was another fine example of local Lunar make do. That still manages to aspire to artistic merit. This glass was better refined. Alexi had perfected something: still with that grey smokey translucency but he had added some stardust. Glints of raw cosmic nickel iron; straight from some supernova: lightyears away in time and space. Tiny little meteoritic tailings extracted magnetically as the first stage in extracting pure silica. Then Alexi had it engraved: “Ole XXXentuxea Rocket Bourbon.”

Paper is too precious for a mere label.

‘Tell me about it comrade.’ Alexi’s voice was soft. His English: pan-European, rather than American.

‘Unfortunately I can’t tovarishch,’ I replied in a moment of unguarded candour.
‘Someday I will dictate a book and beam you a proof. But here’s “Budmo!” to y’all anyway.’ I carefully saluted him with the full glass.

That got a round of “Heys” from the other regulars who had, unlike Alexi, sensed my desire for solitude. Liquid lightning hit the mouth, gullet and stomach. Another layer of comforting fuzz filled the brain. I had been such an idiot.

Alexi is one of us, a small group of ex-pats that have renounced our native countries. Me: Florida Free State, Southern States Alliance. Former USA. Him: Ukraine. Former USED. Former CIS..And before that: former CCCP! Now officially both UN citizens. Officially stateless: “displaced persons” with no terrestrial ties. Or taxes! This lunar we’re officially the “Revolutionary Soviet of the Lunar Republics.” The name changes regularly when we regularly get together to right the wrongs of the worlds and regularly get royally drunk. We make plans. Very clever. Very devious plans. Sometimes, afterwards, we remember them!

As yet there are only a few independents here in Luna but we are growing. One day there will be a lunar dawn comrade. And the lunar dawn comes at liquid lightning speed.

‘What is it that you can tell me?’ Alexi isn’t the barman, he is generally too busy for that. The Fischer King is mostly run on automatics but he has the gift of empathy that gets “worthless junk” for free. Then convinces others to part with cold hard cash for” valuable antiques from the Lunar Boom”. Or their own recycled carbon dioxide for that matter.

Back down the MotherWell, Alexi Yangel (Yes that Yangel. Grandfather.) …was an Energia engineer and a good one. Too good. So rather than promote, his Russian superiors had him: remote. One year it would be with ESACorp. at Kourou. Working on a project that was planned to fail. The next six months with some Chinese University on a probe to nowhere. Then a secondment to ASA at the Darwin Test Range. A third generation hypersonic which was actually going places, before they reeled him back in again. So when the position of Chief Engineer here at Barmin Base was offered; he knew that his RosKos superiors were abandoning their North Polar Outpost. But knowing this gave him an edge. And an opportunity.

‘I have to move on.’ Carefully re-arranging the four empty shotglasses into a 3D pyramid.

‘Now and in the near future.’ I added. Staggering up and heading down ramp for the toilet.  I needed some time to think of a lie for Alexi. But I wanted it to be the truth. I also suddenly found I needed a pee.

The Fischer King’s toilets are a local landmark. For us locals. Here at the North Pole we don’t get much tourist trade and what we do get, wouldn’t know how to get to us. Being as how it is in the middle of a long  abandoned lunar silicon and glass refinery. Originally designed for the usual photocells then repurposed many times over the decades. At its last gasp: it was making optical cable for no readily apparent reason. Alexi uses huge bundles of it to pipe cheap daylight into the deeps of his containment. Like the toilets on the level below, where fountains of light illuminate the luxurious and immaculate interior. Appointed with combination water closets and  bidets designed for use by either hand. For the men there is the added bonus of a row of urinals that are deep and narrow; specially designed to avoid low gee splashback. And worse. All made out of foamed regolith but with a white silky enamelled finish that was a delight to sit on. The hand washing stations were especially cunning, with a mist to moisten and bactericial gel and recyclable wipes to dry. No chance of a free handful of water! Short of the toilet bowl! In another compartment there is the piece de resistance: a two person shower stall! He charges five UN$ per Tock which is a pretty good rate this far off the tourist trail. The shower too was especially cunning. The water was any temperature you liked but contained a foaming astringent that left a foul taste in the mouth. It is also a good idea to bring along two pairs of goggles to protect your eyes. If the two of you are planning anything ‘long term.’

 Alexi was silent on matters connecting the lavatory below us to the chaotic chemical laboratory surrounding us on all sides. The latter resembled a junkpile more than anything else. Some of the pile was actually functioning. But rarely doing what it was originally designed for. The rest was still junk. Just waiting for that moment of inspiration for it to find purpose again.

Alexi’s bar was a different matter. He didn’t need to explain anything, ‘cos any idiot could see that by selling small quantities of water with large quantities of alcohol and salty snacks into the bargain. In return we would provide large quantities of water with extra added nitrogen and hydrogen! With the off-chance of large presents of valuable organics.

The Fisher King wasted nothing.

I made full use of the facilities. After all Alexi had stood me a couple of rounds and it gave me time to think. Honesty is the best policy. I told myself. Zero picked up the sub-vocalisation.

‘It generally is, Baz. It generally is.’ He too sensed my mood but then he knew what had brought it on.

‘But best not to mention me.’ He added. I nodded as if he were there. Idiot that I am.

‘Later Zero.’ I semi-whispered. ‘Listen in and give me a warning if I start to spill too much.’

Serving myself at the bar, I brought back two half litre steins of near beer, a continental style lager that still manages to be a vast improvement on the American beers I was used to back home. With an alcoholic strength easily matching any potent Dirtside brew. The secret: the beer was not entirely synthetic, as Alexi used an extract from the real hops he grows in the old hydroponics facility. A small bonsai forest of: Sloes; Junipers; Elder and other flavoursome bushes and shrubs. As well as small amounts of nuts, dates and other fresh fruit and vegetables, cultivated by Dirtside desert farmers. The beer is expensive: three times the cost of an equivalent amount of spirit but I needed that beer in order to replace the water I had just lost. Alexi sells distilled water too but I get it cheaper back in my co-op apartment.

Anyway I was here to get drunk.

Budmo!‘ We toasted each other. The “Heys” a bit more spirited.

‘Gather round friends.’ I gestured with the stein. Carefully. As liquids tend to get loose real easy round these here parts.

‘I’ll tell you a little fishy tale about a sardine and a shark and some of it will be true!’

The seven or so regulars and one or two new chums gathered around the table.

OK so I spilled my guts.

However it was with a certain amount of delicious malice that I left out Zero’s contribution to the affair. Implying that it was my superior intellect, technical skills and outstanding detective work that had saved the day and saved my skin. Anything computerish, I implied, was the help of a computer technician named ‘Mike’, an anonymous LunaPol colleague; working after hours and extremely unofficially. So keep it quiet guys. Actually the help I had from LunaPol was minimal. Except in the cover up afterwards.

I had gotten to the part where I was to be shot at, when I was interrupted. By Valdiclauw, I think it was. An old lag from the old days of Barmin Base. When he spoke, which was a rare event, people listened:  ‘But how did you know was gun. You could be poisoned or suit sabotaged. Many ways for assassin to get you. But why someone want to kill you in first place.’

‘Well that is a long story Vladi and one day I intend to sell it.’ I replied. ‘So I ain’t goin’ to tell y’all here. But to cut it short chers: I was involved with a girl …make that two girls. Step-sisters after a fashion. Anyway. One father did approve and the other father didn’t and neither of them approved of each other. And before I knew it. I was in the middle of a very extended family feud. Which was naturally all my fault. And which naturally escalated since they all came from different tribes. Soon I had half of Geg County after me. That’s northern Albania. You know where they have long memories. And longer guns. Lots of guns. They chased me all the way across Europe and now all the way to Luna it would seem.’

There was a respectful silence at this near fabrication. I basked in their collective awe.

‘As to the gun,’ I continued. ‘I didn’t know! But for food poisoning you need a restaurant where you know your target will be. And who eats in restaurants?’

Nodding heads. Like most round the table we dined on cheap freeze dried ration packs, usually well past their use by date. Reconstituted with expensive hot water.

“But I did consider sabotage.” I lied. ‘Every time I stowed my suit in a public locker facility…’ (I didn’t, in fact whenever I was outside of Zero’s argus like eyes, I practically slept in the thing. ‘Cos chers I did expect a bomb! Explosive decompression? No thank you. Messy.) ‘…I left a tell-tale to see if the locker door had been opened. And a couple of times I set up a security spy eye to see if I could catch them. But they didn’t show.”

That last bit was true. Zero had caught glimpses of Yurya going from here to there. Always with an armoured flight case chained to their wrist . I guessed it contained a gun, or at least the means by which they hoped to kill me. And posing as a courier they would be unlikely to be stopped by any local corporate security. But our shark was an elusive fish; avoiding the few public areas and public cams that were part of Zero’s private surveillance network. I seriously thought of a sneak into Yurya’s doss house cubby, to plant a few bugs. But the damn thing was so small that they would be bound to scan them. And that would alert them that someone was onto them. Instead, Zero suggested that my suit might be a suitable bait for our shark. If nothing else to get a close look and better photo ID. Better still: fingerprints and perhaps some DNA. But as I said it was a bust. A no-show.

So, in truth, I guess the gun was a guess. But an educated guess: knowing Dirtsiders as I do. After all I was one myself, once. They are all addicted to guns. Even I had a taser. And I loathe guns.

‘So it wasn’t a guess.’ I was lying again. ‘It had to be a gun by the simple process of deduction: “when you have excluded the impossible,” I intoned portentously, “whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”‘
Silence. Had no-one heard of Arthur Conan Doyle? Perhaps I had them spellbound.

‘But I needed to know what sort of gun I was facing. And that meant that I had to expose myself for at least one shot and know that they would fail.’

I paused, there was silence. I did have them spellbound! Basking once more… until Alexi poured another shot. Then I continued.

‘My friend Mike helped set it up.’

Credit where credit is due and Zero, bless his hot holographic heart, was definitely due some credit.

‘I wanted to make it as difficult as possible but too tempting a target for them not to try. It had to be remote, so that there would be no chance of bystanders buying it. Or witnesses to put them off. Most importantly: I wanted a face to face; I wanted to get them on camera and most importantly of all I wanted to know what sort of damn weapon they would be using! Then Mike had a brainwave. He suggested a remote Farside to Nearside relay station on the peak of  Wilhelm Humboldt. It’s part of a surface based maser relay system used by Unstuf as a backup. Useful when a solar storm puts the fritz on our Lagrangian satComms. He ran a program. The situation and lighting were ideal, given the time of the lunar, the degree of libration. Plus the station had a number of remote cameras dotted around. As well as a really good remote control telescope that the scientists use that we could patch into.’

‘So the next problem was telegraphing my move and making sure that my shark took the bait. I puzzled for a bit and then decided to keep it stupidly simple. I would advertise! Making it a slightly dodgy scam on my behalf and on the behalf of my bank balance. I could use the official LunaPol jumpBug I would need to get me there: to unofficially ferry “One lucky tourist and their camera.” …for a nice view of a waning Earth. And the opportunity to take some shots of an “Earthrise’ against some pretty spectacular scenery. Then, as a bonus, further on to Farside to check that my fake repair was working. All for half the cost of the usual side trip! I stuck an advert in the public net and waited for my shark to bite. Fending off any genuine enquiries from eager tourists.

And there were lots of those. I should have charged more!’

‘My would be assassin spotted the advert in under a Cycle. That’s just  under twenty-eight Dirtsider hours for you new chums ….and I mailed them back; telling them to get to Scott Base by 09.00 hours local: Greenwich; on the second of June. Reminding them that they would not need to bring a suit, as the bug was fully kitted out with a universal spare which I would bring with me to the locks and docks. Then I went out to the jumpBug I had requisitioned from LunaPol; removed the universal P-Suit and substituted it with a medium to large adjustable. Then I flew the bug from Shackleton to Scott where I killed time until my killer arrived on the scheduled passenger run at 09:10. Naturally the moment we met I was convincingly dismayed at their tiny physique as the ‘universal’ suit was too large. Then I guided them to “Moss Carter’s Secondhand Suit Emporium.” ‘

That got a response! Some quizzical looks and others that telegraphed: “You utter bastard.” Or worse! Stoney is a legend all round Luna for dodgy deals and dodgy equipment. “Stoney” not so much because of the “gathers no” bit but more because getting money out of him is like getting fossil water out of block of ejecta. He is, without doubt, the most disreputable second-hand suit merchant in the south. If not in Luna and perhaps the entire solar system.

‘Since we were going on to Farside,’ I continued brightly. ‘I made sure that Old Stoney knew that the suit should be optimised for dark lunar operations. Fitting the suit took a deal longer than I had anticipated. When Yurya emerged, old Stoney came out with them with an odd smirk on his face. At the time I thought it was because he had overcharged a new chum. As he so often does.’

Some more nodding heads. Of course I know now why he was smirking. The bastard could have told me. But then, how was he to know that I didn’t know!

‘In the cramped jumpBug cabin, at last I had a chance to look over my would be assassin close up. And not much to look at either. In a standing fight I could have knocked ’em down easy. Whilst the bulk of their P-Suit made them look bigger than they were; this new fish was hardly a shark at all! However by now, I was sure that they were out to get me ‘cos they were using yet another false ID: “Leo Alexinovitch” and for that Yurya had added a rather fine fake moustache. Somehow… I was flattered.’

Another pause for another swig of near beer. I found that I had downed the last and that someone had provided me with another. I decided to skip ahead. Some facts are better left unsaid.

Actually chers, the moustache had thrown me. It was the main reason why I had not spotted the obvious. I was too busy trying to figure out how ‘Yurya’ —or whatever their real name was—  had managed it. From close up a cosmetic moustache can be spotted. But this was no cosmetic and ‘he’ hadn’t had time to grow it  ‘Yurya’ had arrived  clean shaven and I reckoned, from their looks, it would have taken a month just to grow some bum fluff. Anywhere on their face. I found out later at the morgue that it was one of those new bioWare implants. It bonds at a cellular level to your upper lip and then dies off due to immune response after a couple of MegaSeconds.

It certainly looked genuine at the time. No excuse. But no regrets.

‘The jumpBug pretty much flew itself, as they do. But according to a very precise flightplan that Mike had calculated for me. We landed exactly according to that plan, with a little manual nudge from the quads to align her just so. Then we unpressurised and EVAed. Me to check out some  non-faulty, faulty electronics inside the station and my freshly  mustachioed hitman to find a nice place to take some pictures of Earth and then kill me when I came out.’

‘Once inside, Mike had set everything up and we watched as Yurya struggled up a shallow rise with some boulders of a convenient height for propping up a camera. Or a gun. We had a fine telescopic view as they pulled out what looked like a heavy duty shotgun with lots of extra bits.’

‘That gun had everything: laser rangefinder; telescopic sights; a small magazine; bipod, recoilless shoulder stock adapted for a P-Suit and then the biggest fattest barrel you could imagine. It obviously fired an enormous round. One that would drop an elephant… make that an elephant wearing a kevlar P-Suit!’

Later, much later: I had occasion to find out how they had acquired the component parts. Call it professional interest. Some of it I passed on to my LunaPol handlers by way of a bonus for their help in the cover-up. It turned out that most of the bits were of local manufacture and some had been pre-ordered for pickup. The barrel was one of those custom orders. The bipod was a standard model used for those small laser drills used for pilot bores. The shoulder stock was off the shelf!  Used by lunar geologists for a gun that fires high explosive seismic charges. Who knew? Well LunaPol does. Now. Those things look too dangerous to be in the hands of excited scientists.

The telescopic sights and laser rangefinder were basic survey tools adapted by some people I have yet to track down. The rest of the gun was smuggled in. Just the magazine and firing chamber. Which both broke down into smaller parts. In the end it was the ammunition that would have been the most difficult to get past the detectors. The  explosives were probably muled like most smuggled drugs.

‘So we watched Yurya assemble the portable howitzer and as it grew more and more massive with every passing  moment; I found myself wondering if Yurya could even carry the damn thing Dirtside. Down there it must have weighed fifty kilos. ‘

‘I waited until they were nicely set up, realising only then that they were working with the sun in their eyes as they covered the airlock. I had blocked pretty much all of the other vantage points by landing the ‘Bug so as to block ’em! If they had set up behind the jumpBug itself or tried an ambush at the airlock entrance. Or anything else outside the envelope Mike and I had planned. Well, I could always call the cops and outwait them! The relay station had air and water and emergency supplies. So I could withstand a considerable siege. And their P-Suit from Stoney was, at best, rated for thirty KiloSeconds with the usual 3.6 Klick reserve  So with them positioned pretty much as we planned, it was time for me to bite, or rather, take the bullet. I took a deep breath; sealed my helmet; cycled the airlock and emerged on the bounce. Like Br’er Rabbit, bunny hopping out of the lock and full of the joys of spring:

“And its a lovely day out here on the Moon. Yurya where are you? I’m all finished here. Time for the trip to Farside!”

‘Mike analysed the footage afterwards.’ I confided. ‘They had managed to get two shots off! One more than I had expected. Neither got closer than a couple of metres. I think I caught the muzzle flash of the second shot and bounced long and low after that. I could imagine how they were feeling: having a perfectly good opportunity foiled simply by a lack of gravity and gravitas.’

I had been planning on that pun since the start and tossed it out for general approval but, alas, no-one caught it.

‘After three bounces I was safe back in the shelter of the jumpBug. Clambering up the ladder into ‘dat ole briar patch where ole B”er Fox could not git me. A Fox frustrated by a Br’er Rabbit that was too agile and too bouncy and too fast by far. But perhaps, as I had planned that they would be thinking, around about now: perhaps I can get him on Farside.’

‘But I never intended for us to get there. Now I knew what I was facing. Mike and I moved fast to plan “B.”  B for Bad. As I hooked up to the Bug’s power and oxygen to replenish my suit reserves, Mike was able to transmit the laborious process of disassembly. Eventually my failed assassin moped back to the jumpBug, carrying their ‘camera case.’  Once inside, I sealed the hatch and immediately repressurised.
Then, as arranged, during the preflight comm check: Mike called me as “UNSTF Flight control” to tell me that my trip to Farside was cancelled and that I should return to Lunar City as the jumpBug was urgently needed by some catapult technicians. The hardest part was the last: expressing my disappointment in our aborted Farside trip and offering them a refund. Whilst all the while trying to suppress a wicked smile.’

I smiled wickedly to show my drunken audience just how wicked my smile can get. Mirror. Years of practice.

(To be concluded)

Appendix: Wilhelm Humboldt Crater
Coordinates 27°12′S 80°54′E
Diameter 207 km
Depth: 5.16 km
Period: Upper Imbrian
Colongitude 254° at sunrise
(Source Wiki & other locations.)

A large crater poorly observed previously due to its location on the extreme eastern limb of the Moon. It is an old eroded impact crater with some interesting interior markings. Despite the erosion there is one location on the western rimwall that rises to an estimated height of just under 5 km!

(The location of the fictional UNSTF “United Nations Space Task Force”
relay station and emergency shelter.)

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