July Writing Challenge Day 2 – Ashes on the Moon

Hey all. Not much to say at the moment. Kinda brain fried from writing today. I will think about doing a reflection/self criticism write up on this later tonight, but I might not get around to it. Still, 2000 words is 2000 words. Day 2 is in the bag.

Ashes on the Moon
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2001

It came as a surprise to most first time visitors to the Moon that one of the first permanent structures built on her surface was a mausoleum. Most people, if they thought about it at all, assumed it must have been the foundations for one of the first colonial hab-blocks around the sea of tranquility, or perhaps a small religious shrine hidden in the shadow an secluded crater. And, of course, some of the more cynical visitors were sure that it had been a brothel, or at the very least a tiny casino. But the truth was that, just before the first great wave of colonization really kicked off, the first building on the moon was a small, domed structure made from lightweight plas-crete blocks built for the sole purpose of storing and displaying human remains. Due to weight restrictions these remains were invariably urns, lavishly decorated and hermetically sealed, full of human ashes.

None of this was surprising, or even new, to Myra Kage as she stowed her personal data link in her slender briefcase, secured the case below her seat, and fastened her safety harness. She barely felt it slide into place, and a brief inspection told her that it wouldn’t even wrinkle her blouse, but she had faith that if something happened during the shuttle’s decent it would hold firm. One of the benefits of first class was that you were just as safe as in coach, you just didn’t notice it.

Myra glanced up at the figure seated across from her and sighed. He was slumped in his chair, dark glasses over his eyes, fast asleep. At a casual glance he was could be no more than twenty five or thirty, with a full head of auburn hair the same color as hers and a uniform tanned glow to his unblemished skin, but she knew him well enough to see through the facade. The hair was thick, but it was too thick, especially in the front. Patches individual strands were clearly of greater width, and must have been artificially introduced. Quite recently, too, judging by the look. The polymers coating the artificial follicles would eventual break down, but until then they would reflect too much light, giving them what had been come to be called the “Barbie Sheen”. His skin, too, was slightly wrong. The signs of regular face lifts was present, and the orange tint to his tan hinted at possible melanin injections.

But these inconsistencies were minor, only really noticeable in close quarters, and even so, one would have to be as familiar with her brother as Myra was to know that his true age was some twenty years greater than his physical appearance suggested. She had, over the years, had a few touch ups herself, but instead of a full on assault on the ravages of time she had gone for a more elegant decline into middle age.

“Gabriel,” she said, prodding the slumbering figure with her foot. He grunted and shifted his weight a little in the chair, but otherwise gave no indication he heard her. She sighed again and prodded him harder. “Gabriel!”

He woke with a snort, knocking his glasses askew as he jerked to stop himself from falling out of the chair. The glasses hung in the air beside him for a while before floating gently into the empty seat beside him.

“Wha…?” he began, blinking in harsh fluorescent cabin lights.

“We’re about to land,” Myra explained. She pulled a hairpin from her hair and repositioned it, snaring a few strands that had been floating loosely in front of her and clamping them back in place. “Sit up and fasten your harness.”

“Why? Who are you, Mom?” He asked, grabbing his glasses and slumping down in the chair again. It was amazing to Myra how petulant her brother could sound even after all these years.

“Because,” she said with strained patience “if something were to happen and you were hurt, I would be inconsolable. And,” a hint of sarcasm entered her tone, “dear Brother, I would be out a considerable deal of money.”

Gabriel half grunted, half laughed, but sat up and did as he was told. Myra relaxed and turned her attention to the view port on her left. Their destination was on the sunward side of the Moon this time of month, and below her the pocked surface spiraled slowly as the shuttle aligned itself for it’s final approach. A minute later the edge of the dome surrounding the colony of New Providence slid into view.

It was a monumental structure, almost twenty five miles wide and 4,500 feet tall. It was comprised of more than a million plates of high strength S-Glass, each one 3 feet thick and coated in a layer of high tensile polymer that would hold the plates together if they suffered any damage short of total pulverizing force. To top it off, the whole thing was covered by a slender grid which housed millions of sensors that monitored everything from surface temperature to added weight of dust particles kicked up by increased human traffic. If any of the plates were even marginally damaged, robotic arms would detach from the grid and set to work stabilizing the plates until a response crew could be dispatched to make repairs or replacements. These were just the first line of defense against the harsh realities of life in space, and word had it that a significant fraction of the city’s infrastructure had been allocated to computer banks to provide the processing power necessary for the dome’s automated functions.

Myra barely had enough time to register the web work of side tunnels and mini domes that had spread out from New Providence over the decades before the sunlight caught the facets of the dome and momentarily blinded her. The view port’s window automatically dimmed a moment later, but the view had already been ruined. She spent the remaining few minutes of descent running through a mental checklist of the itinerary for their stay on the Moon. There was a lot to do, but most of it would have to wait.

The shuttle touched down with a gentle bump and there were a few more minutes of waiting as a small, six wheeled vehicle pulled up to the nose. After a brief exchange between pilot and driver, the rover successfully coupled itself to the shuttle and began to taxi it through one of the dome’s main airlocks. Once pressure had been equalized and external atmosphere registered at dome norm, the pilot gave the all clear for people to move about the cabin. Myra retrieved her briefcase from below her seat and pulled out her data link. She flipped through the notifications that had accumulated during the ten minute decent. There was one document required her authorization, two notices about personnel changes that she chose to ignore, a copy of a presentation she would be giving later that week to the board of directors for her to okay, and confirmation that their car would be waiting for them outside the terminal.

Oh, and a message from her father.

That was most unusual. Almost unprecedented. Most communication from her father either came through a series of subordinates, or, in the rare case of personal matters, through her mother. Even her yearly birthday message was usually forwarded through his secretary. But this…well it would have been amazing if she didn’t already know what it was going to be about. As it was, the only emotion she could summon was agitation. She opened it anyway, knowing he would know if it had been read or not, and knowing he would be angrier than usual if it hadn’t been. Inside was exactly what she expected. Just two sentences and a cold, businesslike signature.

“Myra, make sure you get your brother to the mausoleum. First thing.

-Hyram Kage, CEO Kage Enterprises”

She pressed the delete button harder than she needed to and shoved the data link roughly into the briefcase. The man was so infuriating. He somehow managed to treat her as though she were as useless as Gabriel and yet still expected her to behave with a responsibility he would have never asked of his only son. She stood up, glaring at Gabriel as she did. He, too, had his data link out, but judging by the expression on his face, eyes squinted, tongue sticking out at an angle, she had a feeling that he was not being productive. A miniature explosion sounded from the link’s speakers and she knew she was right. She grabbed him by the color and heaved. He wasn’t a thin man, but in the reduced gravity of the Moon she nearly banged his head on the roof of the cabin.

“Whoa! Hey!” he cried, almost dropping his data link. “Gah! You got me killed!”

“I don’t care,” Myra snapped. “Let’s go.”

Gabriel mumbled as Myra manhandled him down the aisle and out the shuttle’s hatch. As they reached the bottom of a flight of stairs Myra produced a pair of passports for inspection. The man at the terminal took his time inspecting the documents. He spent a long time comparing Gabriel’s photo to his physical appearance, noting the recent modifications with a practiced eye. Gabriel cocked an eyebrow in an amazing impression of their father, and the man relented in his suspicions. While the paperwork was being sorted, turned and had a quiet discussion with a second attendant. Within moments a smartly dressed man in horn rimmed glasses appeared at her side. He was carrying a small, black box in one hand and a commercial grade data link in the other. Myra grabbed her brother’s wrist and pressed his thumb on the small indentation just below the data link’s screen. A moment passed, a bright, mechanical tone chimed and a small light blinked green. The man handed Myra the box, which she juggled into the same hand as her briefcase, and then Myra steered them through the rest of the terminal, keeping on hand on Gabriel’s shoulder at all times. When they reached the car, Myra shoved him in just as soon as the driver opened the door.

“Hey, what about our bags?” Gabriel whined as Myra joined him. “I wanted to change before I hit the tables.”

“I have arranged for our luggage to be sent to the hotel in our absence.” Myra said coolly. “I felt it prudent to attend to other matters before you begin your….festivities.”

As the car made it’s way through the streets of New Providence, Myra took a moment to quiet her nerves. This trip to the Moon had been hastily planned, but even so it had somehow managed to fill up so fast. Which was a shame, since New Providence was, for most people, one of the ideal vacation getaways anywhere among the inner planets. Gazing out the window, lips pursed in frustration, Myra was once more reminded of the colony’s affectionate nickname: Moon Vegas.

There was a reason that cynics thought that the first building on the moon must have been a casino, and that was because it was a well known fact that New Providence was home to more square feet of casino gaming floor than any other city, colony, or station in the solar system. When the first great wave of human space colonization was at it’s peak, every rocket leaving Earth’s gravity well was primarily funded by corporations. Each brick of plascrete, every mile of fiber optic cable, every circuit board in every environment regulation system, all of it, was paid for by corporate dollars. In the end, governments ceded most of the property and mineral rights straight back to those corporations.

No one really knows who first had the idea. Probably if you looked hard enough you could sift through the layers of bureaucracy and find a document where someone’s name would be listed in some prominent way as to suggest credit for building the first casino.

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