The American flag on the moon with astronaut Buzz Aldrin
Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon. Photo by NASA.

Story Notes: Moon Base One

Author’s Note
Here’s another idea that my friend Andrew and I drafted over video chat. We envisioned it as a short story, but it may lend itself better to a TV mini-series. It unfortunately lacks a proper ending.

Moon Base One is the first (and only) lunar base on the Earth’s moon. Initially a military installation, it is now a demilitarized defense base made up of personnel from various countries. The base was established roughly a decade ago to keep Earth’s skies safe. Six towers across the moon’s surface allow it to pinpoint and destroy space debris before it becomes a problem. While most debris burns up in the atmosphere, much of it remains in orbit posing a threat to incoming or outgoing space vessels.

Now run by a collection of civilians and former military personnel, the base still performs its core function but has expanded to receive and process ore from deep space mining vessels. This recent shift in operations has necessitated a more robust HR presence to ensure fair working conditions, process benefit claims, and ensure that morale remains high. Working in space can have an effect on the psyche, so mental health support is a major focus.

Our story opens with the arrival of a UN ambassador and a two-person news crew to document what should be a routine tour of the base’s operations. The ambassador has plans to sway the base director toward further expansion—not merely mining but commercial development beginning with tourism and ultimately colonization. The director has no personal interest in devoting the base’s limited resources to such a pursuit, but the decision may not be hers alone to make. A coalition of corporations on Earth could force the issue through political wrangling.

Our protagonist is an HR grunt who values the peace, quiet, and predictability of life on the moon. Seven months into his job, he keeps tabs on the physical and emotional state of the workers. His duties involve such mundane tasks as scheduling the vending machines to be restocked and investigating worker complaints in a timely manner. Complaints about unsafe working conditions and/or faulty equipment are especially important, as they could impact the base’s mission to safeguard Earth’s atmosphere.

The protagonist inspects the six towers and the ore refineries in-person every week, so he has a rapport with many of the workers. He likes his job apart from his boss, the HR director, who is a buffoon with a crippling fear of being left out of important decisions. The HR director talks a lot but does very little, delegating most of his work to our protagonist.

The news crew includes a journalist who is looking for a juicy story despite this trip having all the makings of a dull puff piece. She references a lot of rumors when interviewing the ambassador, HR director, and other personnel, which puts them on the defensive. Our protagonist perceives her as a muckraker, someone who wants to expose any hint of corruption—an admirable quality, but one that could cost innocent folks their jobs in lieu of allegations. Despite this, he admires her tenacity. The fact that she could upset his way of life is both terrifying and alluring.

During his pitch to the base director, the ambassador outlines a vision for the base to expand. Our protagonist is ordered to attend the meeting with scarcely any time to prepare for it. The HR director drops a folder with spreadsheets and data into our protagonist’s lap. He warns him not to say anything unless asked and to stay on message. Unprepared and out of his element, our protagonist struggles to relay any useful facts or figures. He also unwittingly aids the reporter beforehand by giving her video/audio access to the meeting, which is supposed to be restricted.

The ambassador’s pitch tanks badly with the base director. The director resents the coalition on Earth applying pressure to commercialize the base further; she insists that the Earth’s security should remain the base’s highest priority. She regrets having allowed the addition of the ore refineries, as they divert considerable power from the towers. Power disruptions have been an ongoing issue for months.

Tone deaf, the ambassador counters, “Before man reached for the stars, he set his sights—and later his boots—on the moon. The first lunar landing launched the human spirit into space! We learned then that nothing was impossible. Today, the moon is an indelible part of our history. It was our gateway to the final frontier, and it remains a beacon of hope for anyone who has ever dared to dream. On Earth, all eyes look to the moon.”

And then the power goes out. When it comes back online, we learn that one of the six towers defending Earth’s skies has been affected. This is not an issue by itself, but the timing is terrible. Our protagonist is tasked with distracting the journalist, who smells a story taking shape, but not before the HR director shows up and berates him for failing to perform in the meeting.

Afterward, our protagonist takes the journalist on a tour of the facility while the base director returns to her duties, putting the ambassador’s visit on ice. The ambassador retires to his quarters, frustrated but determined to achieve his overarching goal. He makes contact with the coalition on Earth, telling them to proceed with plan B. What is plan B?

While touring, our protagonist and the journalist discuss the challenges of moon base life. She pokes and prods, trying to understand his reasons for working off-planet doing grunt work when his education and experience could afford him a better job. They visit the tower where the outage has occurred, learning that the tower’s backup power cells have gone missing. Were they stolen?

Digging deeper reveals that the replacement backup cells were never ordered despite our protagonist having filed a report weeks ago. Another power outage results in the second tower going offline. Now they have a real problem, as this creates a blind spot in the remaining towers’ ability to pinpoint harmful space debris.

Worried, our protagonist takes the journalist back to the central compound. A meteor shower begins. It’s beautiful but unsettling; as they walk through transparent corridors, they discuss the potential devastation that a single shower could cause if it made its way to the moon base. The meteor showers can be predicted well in advance, just like the weather on Earth, so our protagonist assures the journalist that they are in no danger. The remaining towers can handle it, and the base has its own failsafes for debris impact.

The journalist asks who has access to such vital “weather forecast” info, noting that the timing of the towers going offline is suspicious. Our protagonist resents the implication that anyone on base could be guilty of sabotage—he and the rest of the base personnel were thoroughly vetted.

The journalist asks, “What about the lunatics? The folks who can’t hack it in space?”

He assures her again that measures are in place to monitor mental health in all employees and staff members, including himself. Also, “lunatics” is a derogatory word that they don’t use on base. She apologizes for upsetting him but clearly has no issue with the word.

“Technically, everyone here is a lunatic,” she continues.

“Technicalities rarely make anyone feel better.”

“Is that your job, making people feel better? Do feelings trump facts?” She’s trolling him now.

“Human relations depend on being considerate of others, even when there’s no personal gain involved. Feelings are something people have. I don’t expect you to understand that.”

“Wow. Now who’s being rude?”

Their conversation ends and they continue in silence, watching bits of meteor explode against the stars. The five towers are functioning well enough for now.

Further plot points:

  • A repair ship is launched to address damage to one of the towers; the reporter insists on being aboard; still acting as a babysitter, out protagonist accompanies her
  • While repairs are underway, an explosion goes off in the central ore processing area; the ambassador’s quarters are caught in the blast, along with the primary docking bay; the base goes into immediate lockdown
  • In order to return to base, the repair ship carrying our protagonist and the journalist must use a service hatch located on the moon base’s surface; they must don spacesuits and “moonwalk” to the hatch, which is ordinarily used by maintenance droids
  • During their “moonwalk,” our protagonist and the reporter must move quickly before they are caught in the meteorite shower, which has changed from its predicted course; the “weather forecast” must have been falsified
  • Reaching the hatch, our team of two can’t get it open; the crew aboard the repair ship tries to reroute a maintenance droid to their position; with its mechanized arms and cutting lasers, the droid should be able to help them gain entry
  • A meteorite strikes the repair ship, destroying it and killing the remaining technicians; the impact launches dust and debris toward our protagonist and the reporter; they have to dig themselves out of the debris and avoid puncturing their suits; also, their oxygen is limited
  • During lockdown, accusations fly in all directions: the story itself positions the ambassador as a villainous character until he’s affected by the explosion; he wouldn’t put himself in harm’s way, would he? Perhaps his coalition wants to make a statement and doesn’t care if he’s collateral damage
  • The journalist’s motives are also suspect—would she be willing to kill for a good story? Either she or her cameraman could have planted explosives; they had sufficient access during the tour
  • What about the HR director? Although set to retire soon, he may be hoping for a bigger payout due to the explosion; his absence from the ambassador’s meeting is grounds for suspicion
  • Lastly, our protagonist himself is put under the microscope—no one knows the moon base better, and he has free reign of the entire base
  • After the dust settles and the crisis passes, the journalist and the protagonist are talking, staring out into space at the big blue orb known as Earth; he’s out of a job; she doesn’t have a story (yet); maybe they can work together?

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