Land Claim

by joetwo

Rodrigo De  Silva was nervous, but he tried not to show it.  Instead he tried to think back through the last couple of weeks, seeing if could remember if any of his most recent infractions had been serious enough to warrant this, being summoned to the Director of Conrad City, the third largest settlement on the Moon. Maybe it was the chili powder in the environment suit prank he played on Julian O’Connell down in waste processing. Or maybe it was the smelly cheese he placed in the air duct of the security administration. He couldn’t think of anything else, at least anything else anybody knew about.

“Sit down Rodrigo.” the Director said. Rodrigo, tried to read his face, but there was very little to go on, maybe the thinly veiled threats he had received over his “Unprofessional” actions had finally gotten to him and he was going to be denied more surface time, or, even worse, forced back to Earth with the months of physiotherapy that would entail. He suppressed a shudder and was so engrossed in thinking the worst that he almost missed the next words the Director said. “I’d like to start by making myself absolutely clear that what I am going to say is not to leave these walls. Do you understand me?”

That was unusual. Old Iron Bulkheads had made himself something of a reputation of punishing his subordinates in the most public way possible. Keeping things quiet was most certainly not his style. Maybe Rodrigo wasn’t there to be punished The Director went on “Have you heard of the Nathan MacIver?”

“Yeah I have.” Said Rodrigo, “The Trash King.”

The Director’s face froze for a second in a disapproving frown. “Mr De Silva.” He cautioned “I’m not sure that such disrespectful epithets are appropriate for a man who has made a sizable fortune extracting valuable materials from the waste of three centuries. Are you?”

“No Director.” Rodrigo apologized, “Not appropriate at all. Why did you mention Mr MacIver?”

“Because he is coming here. In one weeks time. And he wants a ride to a predetermined location approx 1000 clicks to the West. We were thinking that you could do that job. Can we trust you to handle it?”

“Yeah! Sure.” Rodrigo said uneasily “But why not just post it on the regular notice board. Why the secrecy?”

“Well.” The Director inhaled deeply, “This is not your average trip. RecycloCorp, MacIver’s company has made no announcements and he himself claims that it is for “Personal Reasons””

“I take it you don’t buy it.” Rodrigo said, probing.

“Not in the least. From what I’ve read MacIver would go to the toilet in the morning without factoring it into his business plan. If he’s coming to the Moon it must be for some purpose.”

“Could it be mining?” Rodrigo asked “I mean some of the tech that RecycloCorp has must be good for getting useful things from Moon dust as well as ancient circuit boards. Can’t it?”

The Director let a thin smile cross his face. “That’s what we think too. There have been a couple of anomalous sweeps by Chinese probes in the area. We think it’s possible they found something MacIver figures he can mine profitably. All he needs is to visit the site in person and set a claim.”

“Won’t that be a good thing?” Rodrigo said, “More mines means more work for all of us. Right?”

“At the start, yes.” The Director explained “To get them set up we can expect an uptake in work. But this new mine will be a couple of days journey from here even if they bother to build a road or rail system. It will be simpler and cheaper to build their own mass driver and spaceport.”

Rodrigo thought about that for a second. “Jesus!”

“Exactly, they’ll be competition for half our business. We could lose all exploratory contracts from here to Farside.”

“God!” Rodrigo was having trouble digesting the implications, hundreds of people, whole families, depended on Conrad’s role as a supply depot and transit point, a new site so close would be a disaster. “What can we do?”

“So far all we have is suspicions.” The Director said calmly “Not enough to plan for. We need to know more. That is where you come in.”

“Me?”

“Yes. You. As you drive him out as he asked. I want you to question him, watch him and report everything that you see back to us. I can’t stress this enough, be diligent, the future of all of us may be at stake.”

It was a long week to wait but Rodrigo managed to fill practically all of it worrying about everyone around him and somehow managing not to tell anyone why he seemed so on edge. Finally though the day was nigh. A fresh bunch of arrivals was coming down from LLO1 and all of the rover jockeys, including himself had gathered around an information screen to see who was coming and where they needed to go. There was an brief silence and the list of names appeared on the screen. He found that the “Random” selector had placed his name with none other than Nathan MacIvor.

“Man! I know that name.” said Chen Xonghe, a younger driver, “That’s the Trash King. You’ve got the Trash King Rodrigo. He’s bound to tip well.”

For a harbinger of doom, Nathan MacIvor did not live up to expectations in person. Rodrigo had seen hundreds of photos of him on the InfoNet but the most recent must have been at least ten years old. He was already past the hump of middle age, with graying hair and pronounced paunch around his midriff. This placed him in contrast to the youthful graduate students and wiry rich adventurers he usually. He also appeared much more personable in person as they chatted in the brief intervals between the medical checkups and certification courses needed to go outside. In all, they were liable to take approximately two standard Earth days which non-coincidentally would be the length of time it would take to get used to moving about in the lower gravity. Though amiable, the conversations had little in the way of content, only confirming the destination,  some 50KM north East of the Lichtenburg crater and reiterating previous warnings about an ominous plastic crate liberally plastered with explosive warnings which had arrived by drone courier three days before him.

Since the crate, a tailored spacesuit, and a small personal bag of clothes and toiletries were all that MacIvor was bringing with him, Rodrigo spent most of the rest of his two days resting, being grilled repeatedly by the Director and his minions for every last utterance by MacIvor and avoiding the bar so that wouldn’t get drunk and spill the beans on the terrible fate that awaited all of them.

For all the terrible foreboding that Rodrigo has filled himself with about this journey, it’s beginning was jarringly anticlimactic. He and MacIvor simply put on their space suits, walked the fifty something meters from the airlock to their assigned rover walked entered it, did a thirty minute pre-check and then started the rover moving. Rodrigo had little else to do until they reached their destination.

Although called “drivers”, Rodrigo and his ilk were more accurately a mixture of engineer, steward, waiter and occasional porter. Their job, more than anything was to make sure that their paying charges didn’t do anything stupid and get themselves killed. Although they were capable of driving the rovers in case of emergency it was the general wisdom that the automatic systems did a far better job then they ever could.

Leaving the parking garage, the rover swung around in a northerly direction and set off in a northerly direction along a path that had been well marked with both tire tracks and marker posts placed every twenty meters. It was still early morning and so both the Sun and Earth were behind them not dazzling them will highlighting the markers and terrain nicely. On the flat, well trodden path, the rover could keep up a brisk 40 to 50 kilometers per hour which means that they would cover the planned 700km on the path in less than an Earth day. After that, they had to make their own path which depending on the terrain would limit them to between 5 and 15 kilometers an hour, still in less than three days they were expected to reach their target and with an absolute maximum stay of one day scheduled, they expected to be back in Conrad by Lunar early afternoon. An ideal mission.

Since MacIvor was traveling light and only with Rodrigo, they were assigned one of the smaller rovers with little in the way of modifications save a special blast directing harness in case something should happen to the crate securely bound to it. The rest of the rover consisted of three sections, a small control center at the front. A dining cum living/sleeping area in the center and a laboratory with the main airlock at the back. This kind of rover could fit six easily for two it was practically palatial. But not big enough for Rodrigo.

He spent the first two hours out of Conrad checking an rechecking every possible system on the rover then filling every piece of paperwork  he could think of that he had outstanding. Finally, when he couldn’t hold it off any longer he stood up from the front console and walked back into the living space. While Rodrigo couldn’t see anyone, muffled noises from behind a closed sleeping pod showed that MacIvor was in there, probably using the communications system. Relaxing a little, Rodrigo, made himself a coffee in the kitchen cubicle. The first sip told him that something was different, this actually tasted like coffee, not the flavored regolith he was used to. He double checked the supply cupboard and found to his delight that this was the real stuff, very expensive.

“Could you put on one for me too please?” Rodrigo was startled by the noise and turned to see MacIvor’s head sticking out of the pod. “Sorry if I surprised you. I figured you had found out the special supplies I had arranged for our little trip.”

Rodrigo looked again at the supply cupboard, the containers were all in Italian and probably cost a months wages just to ship. “You..You arranged all this?”

MacIvor laughed just because I’m a quarter million miles from home doesn’t mean that I have to slum it. Sure it added a fair bit to the ultimate price but like my Great Grandad always said, a little bit extra will help you get the job get done easier.” he nodded at Rodrigo, “Or those who work for you.”

Rodrigo was aghast, as he took out another, capsule out he leafed through the rest to confirm they were all the same brand. ‘insane’ he thought. He did the math. There was at least enough for a month there and they were only planning to be gone for a week. What was the plan for the rest. He’d have to send a sneaky message to Jake in shipping. This coffee was better than gold in the Lunar black market, they could make a killing.

Rodrigo had to force himself from planning his future commerce empire in his head. He was there for a purpose, to ascertain a potential threat to Conrad City, everything else had to wait. He steeled himself and asked his first seemingly innocuous question “So Mr MacIvor, have you ever been in Space before?”

“Oh Goodness.” Said MacIvor, cradling the mug of coffee Rodrigo had handed to him “Nathan.. Please. No I can’t say I have been in Space before. Well, not really. I did one of those suborbital flight as part of a stag night back when I was in college, it was a hell of a rush but compared to this..” he pointed at a window to the rear, where the Earth was visible, “That was nothing. Still I can’t say that I haven’t been dreaming about this for as long as I’ve been alive. Listen to my Great Grandad telling me about all the wonderful things that existed above the sky.”

Rodrigo felt a sense of déjà vu. There wasn’t a man alive in Conrad or anywhere on the Moon who hadn’t been a bit of a dreamer as a kid. It was almost a requirement. So far, thought Rodrigo, MacIvor did not seem in the least like the threat he had been made out to be.

Two more hours of uneventful travel brought another welcome surprise. Preparing the lunch Rodrigo, found to his delight that gone were imitation of the standard rations and instead there was a wide selection of gourmet dishes, especially prepared by MacIvor’s favourite chefs and packaged by the top food science company planet-side. “Not quite like back home.” said MacIvor between bites of butter-fried lemon sole, “but definitely better than what you had before.” Rodrigo, running the numbers on how much each bite of his lasagna cost, couldn’t help but nod.

Post lunch, as they both sat digesting what, at least to Rodrigo, had been the best meal he had eaten in well, forever, MacIvor regaled Rodrigo with more tales of his Great Grandfather. He’d been a bit of Space Nerd, books on astronomy and rocketry littering his rural home, taking a young Nathan stargazing well into his twelfth decade. Space had been a lifetime ambition for the old man, sadly unrealized. “He went into medicine instead.” MacIvor said quietly, “Parents insisted, better money. Not that he was any kind of slouch in it, he helped a lot of people in his time.” At that, Rodrigo felt urge to lift his cup, sadly only filled with water from the dispenser, and made a toast to ‘missed chances’. MacIvor looked genuinely moved.

The rest of the journey turned out generally like those first few hours, the coffee and food were consistently excellent and Rodrigo felt his mercenary urges lighten only to be replaced by a solid conviction that everyone had the right to eat that well. MacIvor had also brought a memory storage filled with classic Sci-Fi movies, another legacy of the now legendary great grandfather. It was such a diverse collection of the strangest and worse B-movies that even a seasoned space-hound like Rodrigo has seen them all. They spent a couple of hours laughing their heads off at the worse twentieth century cinema had to offer.

Troubled by his mission and the conflicting feelings that MacIvor had engendered, Rodrigo finally gathered the courage to ask him. “Nathan, I always thought you had a reputation as some kind of hard nosed businessman. But spending time with you, talking with you, you can’t seem further than that. What are you like? Really?”

MacIvor  put down his coffee, thought for a second and said “Do you know what I wanted to be growing up? An astronaut, I wanted to be one right up until I washed out of the astronautics program at university. Then I knew I could never be one. So I went into environmental technology instead. I found a niche that no one else had exploited. I turned that niche into a company worth billions. It was hard work, but I always had to work hard, I had to work hard to keep a roof over my head, then I had to work to keep my employees working, then just because I had always been working. I did it. But I never loved it. This!” He gestured around the cabin and to the Earth out the window, “This I love. I’d have done this for nothing. I’m paying you a fortune for the chance.”

Rodrigo nodded and thanked MacIvor for his candor. He also made a mental note not to ask anymore questions so directly. Sure, he’d watch and report back, but only what he saw, what MacIvor said by his own will. If was really setting up a mine on the Moon, Rodrigo was not entirely sure MacIvor would be the worst to do it. He seemed like a believer, better than the pen pushers back on Earth. And if the food was half as good in his canteen as it was here, he’d be sold.

Two and a half days came and went and a mild buzzing announced that they were approaching the target site. Both went into the control room and Rodrigo took control of the helm to direct the rover to rest at a site of MacIvor’s choosing.

There was a hectic couple of minutes while MacIvor rushed to put on his spacesuit as quickly as possible and Rodrigo fixed every potentially life ending mistake he had made in the process. The man was practically shaking with excitement as the airlock cycled and Rodrigo had to remind him to control his breathing save he pass out from the pressure change.

They both stepped out and surveyed the site they had traveled so far to reach. In the mid-morning sun it looked almost exactly like every other square meter of Moon they had passed on there way there. To his untrained eye Rodrigo could not see any of the tell tale formations that belied mineral deposits but that did not mean that there was nothing was there.

“Nathan!” Rodrigo called over the radio, “I’m going to open the crate now.” As MacIvor made his way around the rover, savoring every sight, Rodrigo gingerly broke the seals on the crate and made a silent prayer to the universe that the explosives inside wouldn’t decide that then was a good time to explode.

He could feel the latches click through the gloves on his suit and flipped open the crate. It was not what he had been expecting. Right on top was a tripod but it was not for surveying equipment but rather for a video camera, just like the one that was there beside it, a commercial camera, very high-end, built for use in vacuum, with a radio receiver rather than a microphone. Beneath then were ten plastic foil cylinders at the end of long sticks, they did not look like any seismic charges that Rodrigo had ever seen before but that wasn’t entirely damning.

“Okay! Rodrigo.” MacIvor had come up behind him, “Could you set up the tripod and camera which I place these.” He then reached in and grabbed a hand full of the stakes. Rodrigo couldn’t suppress a flinch as two of the heads collided violently in MacIvors hand. But there was no explosion, he seemed entirely comfortable with them.

As Rodrigo set up the tripod and attached the camera to the top, MacIvor walked out about twenty meters and pushed one of the stakes into the ground. Then he shifted about eight meters to the right and pushed in another. Then out another ten meters. Then back. and five more to the right. He made another trip to the crate and took the rest and continued along the same. Seemingly at random or at least with no discernible pattern.

While that was going on Rodrigo got the camera working and informed MacIvor. “Great!” he replied “Can you make sure all of these are in the shot? Do I need to move any of them?” A bewildered Rodrigo replied in the negative.

MacIvor made another trip to the crate and removed two more items, one was a series of sheets of metallic paper, made for the vacuum, and the other looked like a remote detonator. Rodrigo grew interested at that, an emotion that quickly turned to horror as MacIvor got to within three meters of the first stake and casually pressed the button.

The plastic foil ripped apart releasing a plastic pink mass that quickly expanded into the form of a flamingo. Rodrigo took his eye away from the camera to confirm that that was indeed a plastic flamingo, sitting there, on the surface of the moon. He made to ask something but MacIvor had already made his way to the next which expanded into a sign saying “Keep off the grass”

Rodrigo watched unbelieving as MacIvor made is way through the stakes making up a final total of four pink flamingos, three sheep, another sign saying thanks for visiting and a coconut palm. MacIvor then positioned himself in front of the camera with this motley ensemble behind him and began to read from the metal sheets.

“One hundred and seventy years ago Angus James MacIvor purchases via online sale a one acre site on the moon in this exact location. On this day, I, Nathan William MacIvor, his great grandson and heir, do hereby take formal possession of this property in the name of my dearly departed grandfather and the rest of his family.”

MacIvor kept speaking for a while more while a confused Rodrigo watched through the camera screen. This is what Nathan MacIvor’s great plan had been. This is what had scared him and Conrad City’s leadership half to death. Rodrigo couldn’t believe it. He knew the Director wouldn’t believe it either.

But at least there was the video. If only he could get a copy. He should ask Nathan after this is done. He’d probably give me one Rodrigo thought, looking at the flamingos standing in the lunar dust, he seems pretty cool.

 

 

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