Frank was strapped into his seat; he was one of the lucky ones. The trip was a way out, a way off this planet, out of the country that had abandoned him. Everything from the past was going to be forgotten, which was good for him. He would either spend ten years in a cell or five years on the moon. The moon was a sure bet. There wasn’t going to be any worrying about dropping the soap or getting shanked in his sleep. Not only that, but his family would be getting paid, paid well.
What could be better? He had always wanted to go into space, now he had gotten a free trip, all expenses paid from the government. Twenty years ago, it was just a pipe dream, going into space. Now, it was the lesser of two evils.
Even though these trips had been happening for the past six months without problems, he was nervous. He remembered all the disasters that had happened in the early years; he was a teen in 1999 so the really early problems were before him. He was still too young to remember the Challenger, but he had watched the videos. Then, there was the Columbia disaster, which he did remember.
Sweat was starting to form on Frank’s brow. He looked over to the officers that were in the shuttle with him. One was smiling, a small comfort, but welcome nonetheless. The other was stony as always.
“Don’t worry Frank,” Officer Steel said. “There is nothing to worry about, it’s just a quick trip, then you are free to do your services for the good of mankind.”
Then, the engine started to rumble and Frank’s breath became rapid.
The pilot was seasoned, he had flown twenty shuttles to the moon by now and never had any problems.
Frank wouldn’t be the first convicted person on the moon. That was how the government was doing it; they would give the option to go to prison or to go to the moon and work on building civilization for future use. Granted it was dangerous, but no more dangerous than being in prison. In fact, the likelihood of being fatally harmed was much slimmer on the moon. There was never anyone who had murdered someone allowed to go, which brought down the man-made death to nil, at least in terms of people murdering each other. There will always be accidents; that was just a way of life and it didn’t matter what rock a person was on, they couldn’t avoid it.
The countdown started. Frank closed his eyes and the memories started to project on the back of his eyelids. It was not his proudest moment; there were just no other options that he could think of, and his family was starving. It was a bad time for the country; it still is. There is still more unemployment than there was since the great recession. Frank never thought they had truly gotten out of that era. The government would say that they had, but it seemed like inflated numbers and lies.
It was different from the days he remembered as a child. Maybe that was because he was young, but there were some major differences that he couldn’t have overlooked as a young boy. The biggest of all was that the US didn’t have a president anymore. The leader was elected for life. For the past five years, the same man was in office, and he would still be in office when he returned.
The shuttle started to shake as it was propelled off the ground. Even though Frank could see out a window, he didn’t want to. The speed of the shuttle was far greater than he wanted to experience. It wasn’t long until they were passing the atmosphere. Then and only then, did Frank feel it safe to open his eyes.
Officer Steel was unbuckling his harness, the other officer was already floating around the shuttle. The fear Frank was feeling had turned into enthusiasm. "It would be like flying," he thought.
Once his trembling hands found the release for his harness, he pushed off the chair gently, the same amount of force he would use to get up from a chair, but instead of getting to his feet, he floated towards the ceiling of the shuttle.
He floated around for hours, a smile plastered on his face. Steel came to him a few times to try and talk, but the happiness Frank was feeling was too strong to be interrupted by anything. He only wished his children could be here with him. For the first time in his life, he felt like he had achieved something worthwhile.
Dinner wasn’t as good as it may have been in prison. Not only that, but the pilot had turned on the gravity, so he wasn’t able to have the joy of eating floating orbs of food, which may have been wise of the captain. He said if they would just float around, everyone would start getting sick, and start to lose reality with how life was on a planet.
There had to be some downsides to choosing space instead of prison. Besides the food and no longer being about to float around, not being able to see his family every day was going to be hard. It would make it slightly easier if he was able to talk to them, but that wasn’t an option until the first three months were over, and then he would only be able to call them once a month.
Officer Walters came into the room, the small amount of chatter halted as soon as he walked in. Steel was nice for the most part, so long as he was treated with respect, but Walters had a reputation of being a rather hard fellow to get along with.
“You shouldn’t be here, Mr. Radds,” he said to Frank.
The eyes of the others went from one man to the other. Frank was happy there weren't more than six people on the shuttle, however, all six people were now in the room.
“What do you mean, sir?” Frank asked.
“You have been convicted. You should be in a cell, not given the opportunity of a lifetime. There are much more qualified people who should be going to do this mission. What was it that you were? Oh, right. A garbage man. There isn’t much use for that on the moon, wouldn’t you say so?”
Frank didn’t say anything. He stood and left the room. As he passed Walters, he noticed the slick smirk on his face.
The next morning Frank was happy to see that Walters wasn’t in the mess hall as he went to get his breakfast, Steel was though. Franks sat near him and they started talking. It was good to have someone that didn’t look down on him as if he was worth less than the grime on the bottom of his shoe.
“Don’t worry about Walters. He is just upset that he has to go back,” Steel said with a wink.
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll be free of him shortly. How long is this trip again?” Frank started eating once he finished his question.
“Three days, seven hours and fifteen minutes. Hey Frank, why did you do it? You have a family and had a life. There must have been a way to get money that wouldn’t have put you in this situation. Assault with a deadly weapon and robbing a group of people at a mall. How much did you think you would get?”
Frank could swear he heard sympathy in Steel’s voice.
“I didn’t have much of a choice, I was the only person who was making money in my household. The wife couldn’t work, not with the baby. Even if she could, we wouldn’t be able to afford a babysitter. I was only able to make enough to keep us from starving. Then, I lost my job. The money was gone quicker than I thought it would have been.”
There wasn’t much more of a motive than that, and Frank didn’t think there needed to be any more of a reason than that. He did what he did because he felt he had to, that was what he wanted to tell Steel. He just couldn’t bring himself to be so rude to the man. He was the only one that gave him the time of day on this shuttle. He hoped that once he got to the moon, it would be different.
Steel could see that the conversation was upsetting Frank so he changed the subject.
“This is a very special mission you’re on, in the next ten years the government projects that we will have an atmosphere around the moon. It will make it easier to work there. That is where you come in, it will be your job to work with the scientist to make this atmosphere. You will also be building houses for people to live in when they start coming, and they will be coming in waves, you know. There is so much money to be had on the moon, I may even retire and go to the moon to make some good money for once.”
Frank believed him. There was a lot of money to be made there: mining, construction, technologies, agricultural prospects and more. Each of these things will be needed once people start to come to the moon. It was the escape that people needed for years, now it was just starting to become a reality. It made him feel like a pioneer from early America or better yet, an explorer from Spain or England.
“I think that I will like it on the moon. It would be better if I could see my family or at least talk to them when I get there. Let them know that I am safe.” Frank waited, his eyes fixed on Steel.
“You know I can’t do that Frank,” Steel said as he lowered his eyes to the table.
“Just one phone call. Please, that is all I want. I just want them to know I am safe. To hear their voices once more.”
“They will know you are safe by the checks they will be receiving.”
He knew this. There was no point in trying to get a call, he could now see that there was no way he would be able to get that from his guards. Ten years would be a long time away from his family. Steel was his only chance at getting an early call, and it was clear that he wouldn’t disobey his orders. Even if he would, it would take longer than two days to get him to agree with it. It was also nice to have someone to talk to, and Frank felt if he impinged too much, that person would clam up. So it was easier to just drop the subject.
It was a good idea for him to do so because Walters came into the room shortly after.
“I thought I told you that you weren’t welcome to eat with us?” he said once he saw Frank.
“Leave him alone, Rodger,” Steel came to his defense.
Walters only stood near the door waiting for Frank to leave. He had made it clear that he wouldn’t sit until Frank was out of the room. Frank didn’t want to cause any trouble, but he also didn’t feel like he had to leave.
“Come on now, get out. You have no reason to be in here.”
“Actually, I do. This is where we eat, and if you just have a look, you will see that I am eating.”
Frank gripped his fork harder than he should have. It was the only thing that was helping him to control his anger at the moment.
“This is where people come to eat. So, what are you doing here?” A small glint of joy was in Walters’s eyes.
Frank had to swallow his rage. Biting his cheek, he rose. Walters had a smile; he was waiting for Frank to crack, to hit him. That would be a bad idea and Frank knew it. First, Walters was much larger than him. Second, it would only add to the time that he would be incarcerated and would earn him a trip back to earth. It didn’t matter what rock you were on, assaulting an officer was a crime.
He didn’t slam his fist on the table, though he wanted to. He only stood, cleaned his plate and left after bidding farewell to Steel. Walters tried to stand in his way, just one more way to push him to the breaking point. Frank wouldn’t allow this man to win. He was just like the bullies that his children had to deal with at school. He would have to deal with him how he taught his children to handle bullies. Ignore them until they left him alone unless they laid a finger on them; that would be a different story. He taught his children just as his dad had taught him, don’t hit first, but if someone hits you, you better make sure that they know not to do it again.
But in this case, he wouldn’t be able to do that. If Walters decided to hit him, he would have to attack a different way. He would have to go to the supervisors with a complaint. If that didn’t work, then it would have to keep going up the line until someone would listen, even if he had to take it all the way to the press, which would love a story like that.
“Excuse me,” Frank said, staring at his feet.
Walters didn’t move out of the way, he just broadened his chest. Frank had to look up at the big man.
“I said excuse me. If you don’t want me here, please get out of my way.”
Walters smiled. He knew that Frank was getting frustrated with him and that was his game. Walters leaned on the door frame.
“Come on, Rodger, get the hell out of the way,” Steel said. It was only then the big man moved.
Frank stayed in his room for most of the day. He needed to calm down, but no matter how hard he tried, his mind would just go back to Walters. There was no reason for him to be so nasty. He was just a power-hungry cop, a pig. Now, it made sense why the gangsters used to call cops pigs. If most of them were like Walters, it was easy to hate them.
He would have stayed in his room all day if it wasn’t for his stomach, which was starting to hurt from lack of nourishment. It was time to grab something to eat. There was no clock on the shuttle, time was irrelevant in space. Hunger, however, wasn’t.
When he got to the mess hall, Walters was talking to Steel about something. Once the door opened, the chatter stopped. Walters’s look of jolliness turned stone hard at seeing Frank.
“Frank, we need to talk,” Walters said to him.
Steel moved over on the bench so Frank could have a seat. Whatever Walters wanted to talk to Frank about, Frank knew it wasn’t going to be good.
“What do you want to talk about, sir?” Frank asked.
“I want to tell you about the aliens.”
“Come on, Rodger,” Steel said.
“He has a right to know,” Walters said with a smile.
Frank grabbed some food and took a seat opposite Walters. He felt safer near Steel.
“What is this about aliens?” Frank asked.
Despite the feeling that this was some kind of trap, Frank was interested. He always believed that life on other planets could be real, but there was no way life could be on the moon. As far as he knew there was no way life could sustain on a desolate rock.
“Well, there have been some incidents on the moon. A few people have gone missing, the first two just seemed to vanish, but the third, the third is interesting. The third had a witness see him get taken by something, something with long tentacles that pulled him into a shadow. The man chased after him, but he found nothing. No body. No bones. No blood. No monster. Nothing.”
“Come on, Rodger, you're scaring him.”
Frank wasn’t scared, he didn’t feel much of anything, in fact. This was just another torment that Walters was subjecting him to.
“Besides, that man who saw that was unstable. He was known to be a little crazy before he was taken to the moon, and to have the sun shining all day and night must not have helped that. I think that man had just wandered off and got lost, or maybe the witness had killed him and hid the body. I wouldn’t doubt that.”
That was a strange turn of events. Frank didn’t know that something like that had happened. His eyes widened as Steel told his side of the story. It made sense that the courts wouldn’t tell that to a person who would be deciding on either going to the moon or to prison. They wanted people to go to the moon, it saved them from sending people who may be considered more valuable.
“Most likely, he just walked off and got lost, though,” Steel said.
Frank wasn’t sure about that. The way that Walters was telling it, the man was killed by someone or something; Walters was pushing for Frank to believe that it was a something. Steel seemed like he was trying to cover something up.
It was the first time that Frank felt that Steel wasn’t being honest with him. Something had happened on the moon; that was true. It hadn’t been told on Earth, and maybe it never would be, but something did happen on that rock.
The shuttle landed on the surface on the moon. It was nothing like what Frank had thought it would be like; he was thinking that the houses would already be built. Nice big houses, houses that could hold a family with room to spare, but all he was able to see was ten glass bubbles. Some of them had some green in them, a few had some small houses. Well, small at least compared to the one in the center of the bubble city.
This bubble was huge, about five stories tall and the width of a football field. Inside of this bubble was a building that almost scraped the top of the bubble.
“That’s the town hall,” Steel said, “or at least, it is as close to one that you will need here. That is where the research labs are. Everything that is happening on the moon is being planned and developed there. Let’s go introduce you to the scientists. They are going to be in charge of you here, so it may not be a bad idea to get on their good side.”
Steel slapped him on the back and gave him a wide grin. Walters wasn’t around them at the moment. As soon as they got off the shuttle, he started for the big bubble, leaving everyone else behind. Frank was sure that he was able to hear what Steel was saying to him, the radios in the helmets were connected to everyone from the shuttle. This would be the last time his conversations weren’t being listened to by everyone else on the moon. In the years to come, every time Frank was wearing his helmet, everyone would be able to hear what he was saying.
Once they were inside of the artificial atmosphere, Frank took off his helmet. Everyone inside of the area was wearing clothing that they would have worn on earth, which was another thing that Frank didn’t expect. For some reason, he thought everyone would be in silver jumpsuits. Maybe it was because he always saw people dressed like that in movies.
“This is Steve Holland,” Walters said to Frank. He was already out of his space suit. Steve was a skinny man with thick glasses; fire-red hair covered the sides and back of his head, the top was nothing but a reflective surface.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Steve said. “You will find that you made a much better choice by coming here than going to prison. We are a lot more… laid back here.”
His voice was deep and strong, but he spoke with an uncertainty that made everything he said awkward.
“Thomas will show you to your um… your um… housing.”
Thomas wasn’t around when Steve said that. Frank assumed that it was the other person in the room who was more interested in something under a microscope than anything else that was happening. Steve took the officers away and started to speak in a hushed voice.
It didn’t matter how quiet Steve was speaking, Frank was still able to hear him. There was some things that he couldn’t understand, but for the most part, it was clear. It wasn’t until Steve leaned in to the officers, that Frank had become interested in what was being said.
“We found something,” Frank had to strain to hear Steve. But he was sure that’s what the scientist had said.
“What, like a new mineral or something?” Walters didn’t try to lower his voice.
“No. This one is alive…”
“You must be Mr. Radds,” the mousy man with the microscope said, “I’m Thomas Stone, but you can call me Tom.”
“Please call me Frank. It’s nice to meet you, Tom.”
“It’s nice to meet you too. I’m truly happy you’d decided to come here and help all of humankind. By the time your sentence is over, we should have more than enough accomplished to have people living here. It is very possible that you may even see your family here before you have completed your time with us. If that happens you will be given a full pardon.”
Frank’s heart fluttered at hearing those words. Tom seemed like he would be the person to talk to about getting his phone call. All he would need to do is get on his good side and anything would be possible with this man.
They started to walk around the bubbles, each time they passed one, Tom would tell what it was. The agricultural bubble had plants growing inside, but they were hard to see because of the steam that had formed on the side of the glass. The rest were supplies or housing, nothing too extreme. A few of the housing bubbles even had little gardens growing inside.
When they had arrived at Frank's housing bubble, number seven, he was excited to see what life on the moon would be like. Excitement quickly turned to disappointment once he walked into the house. It was crude, made from the same gray rocks that littered the moon and looked as if it would fall in at any moment.
With all the talking about what was going to be happening here and what had already happened, he had forgotten to ask Tom about his phone call. He also wanted to ask about the life they found, but it was probably better that he hadn’t.
Steel and Walters had walked into his bubble an hour later.
“Frank, we will be coming back in a few months with rations. Is there anything we can do for you before we leave?” Steel asked.
Walters just looked at the house Frank was living in.
“You know maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to have you go to the moon. These living conditions aren’t any better than in prison,” Walters said with a grin.
Frank agreed with Walters for the first time on this trip. The conditions weren’t good. It wasn’t as if he had expected a five-star resort but this was far less then what he had expected. Still, it wouldn’t be bad. If what Tom had said was true, they were going to be working on the housing in the next month, then maybe he would have a much better home.
“We brought things that will be needed for the work. If you need anything, just talk to Steve; he is in charge around here. I’ll talk to your wife and tell her you made it safely. If there are any messages she has for you, I’ll pass them onto Steve. Take care of yourself, Frank.”
Steel shook his hand. Walters nodded, if it could even be called a nod. The millimeter movement of his head wasn’t any kind of acknowledgment, more like he felt he had to do something.
Three weeks later
Walters and Steel landed without any problems. They had come back much sooner than they would have liked to. Mostly, they only went to the moon once every three months. Now, it had only been three weeks since they left. It wasn’t even three weeks home, Walters was good for reminding Steel about that. The entire trip had been nothing more than him complaining about having to come back so soon. Steel didn’t even disagree with him. Why couldn’t they find someone else to go this time?
Communication had been lost since the second week they had been back home, so it was up to them to make sure everything was as it should be, to make sure that no one had gone crazy and started killing others. Hopefully, it was just an equipment malfunction. That being the case, they would be headed back home the same day.
However, they quickly found that wasn’t the case. The big bubble had a huge hole broken in the side of it, the vacuum of space would have sucked all the breathable air out of there within seconds.
“What the hell happened here?” Steel asked.
“It’s not surprising. That’s what happens when you send the scum of the Earth to live in an area together. Just look at the prisons and you could see that all day. The paper pushers don’t understand that, and they most likely never will. They are too scared to get a good look at the undesirables.”
They walked into the bubble. They used the door even though they could have walked through the hole without any trouble. All the equipment that had once been in pristine condition was now a rubbish heap; papers were scattered across the floor, motionless and dead. It wasn’t until they saw Steve lying dead, that they realized the problem they had walked into.
His skin wasn’t the normal pale chalky color of the dead, no, it was slightly purple with a light green film on it. A darker, thick slime oozed from his mouth, nose, and ears.
A new vegetation had started to grow on the desks and sides of the dome. It was the only thing that was able to grow, some kind of mushroom. Green with purple circles and an opening on the top of it that looked somewhat like a mouth. Steel found a pencil and prodded the fungi. It let out a pfff noise and a faint green mist was shot into the air, suspended in time and space.
A rustling caused them to look up, Frank was sitting behind a desk on the floor. His spacesuit was on, he was hugging his knees.
“What happened here?” Steel asked.
Even Walters didn’t have anything nasty to say, he was too surprised to think of anything nasty.
“Tell us what happened, son,” Walters said.
“Please get me out of here. Take me to prison. I would much rather spend my time there than spend another minute here.”
The officers obliged. Leading him to the shuttle, they walked briskly, ever aware of their surroundings. Once they were in the safety on the shuttle, they started to push Frank to tell them what had happened, but he didn’t want to talk about it, not until he was off the moon.
It took forty-five minutes to get back to the shuttle orbiting the moon. All three of the men didn’t say a word the entire time. Walters and Steel were just thinking about what they had seen. Frank too, was thinking about what he saw, but it was more of a nightmarish reflection than the other two.
The shuttle reached their ride home and they were taken aboard. The three men climbed out and took off their suits, and the pilot changed their course for home.
“What happened, Frank?” Walters asked in the most consoling voice he could muster.
“That thing they found, whatever it was, killed them. The spores are toxic, and if that wasn’t bad enough, whoever inhaled them was in a kind of trance, or under a spell, or something. They would act differently. Never talking, they never talked if the spores got inside them. But the things they would do…”
Steel rubbed the man’s back. “It’s okay Frank. We’re going home now.”
“I think I was one of the first to notice that something was wrong, but by that time, it was too late. Most everyone had already been infected. I did the only thing I could think of: I broke the dome. The things seemed to grow faster in the atmosphere. I figured if I broke it, it would make them die… or at the very least stunt their growth. They didn’t grow any bigger, which was good, but they still spread. Spread quickly.
“The people who were affected would attack others. They became violent. Anyone or anything that got in their way would be destroyed. I broke the dome and killed one man by breaking the glass in his helmet.”
Frank couldn’t hold it in any longer, he started to bawl. Once he started, it took a long time for him to stop. When he finally got himself somewhat composed, he continued with his story.
“I knew that it had to be something on the moon, something that was otherworldly. But a mushroom didn’t seem like something that could be so deadly, and that noise it made when it sent out that poison cloud. Pfff. Pfff. I heard it for three days after I broke the glass until it finally stopped. It just wanted to kill anything else that could still be alive.
“The people that got the spores in them would start to have their veins pop out. It took about two days for that to happen. Three for them to start turning purple. On the fourth day they would die and have this slime ooze from them. God, I hope I never have to hear that sound again. It’s the sound of death.”
The officers didn’t want to push him anymore. They knew he had been through enough. With a big meal and a nice warm drink, they sent him to bed.
“What do you think of his story, Walters?”
“I don’t know, I saw Steve laying on the ground. He looked like what Frank described. I also saw the cells they found out there; it could be true. The cells looked green, but almost everything looks green under a microscope.”
“Yeah, it does seem a little far-fetched though,” Steel said. “All those people dead because some cells grew better in an environment that’s more like Earth’s than the moon's. Where would they have come from?”
“I don’t know. But you did see one for yourself, even poked it with a pencil.”
The two men stopped talking and looked at one another. As if thinking the same thought, they pushed up from the table and ran towards their suits. There hanging on the wall was Steel’s suit. A slight green film formed on the right hand. They moved closer to it and saw a small bulb had formed in the middle of the green dust.
Very carefully, Steel moved the glove to get a better look. It was green, with tiny purple dots on it. He looked at Walters. He didn’t say anything for a few minutes but Walters had been thinking the same thing.
“We should have left these in the shuttle. We should have…”
Steel’s thought was interrupted by a soft pfff.