1 Routine

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[Note for non-British readers – Tony writes using UK English spelling, punctuation and grammar.]

The dust returned to the surface as if in slow motion. I'd kicked a cloud into the air as I turned towards the Earth which hung in the sky like a Christmas bauble.

The blue and white marbling was extraordinary. I lifted my gloved hand and covered the entire disk with my padded thumb.

With a single digit, I'd hidden all but twenty human beings in existence. Assuming my thumb was hiding the location of the ISS, perhaps I'd hidden those eight people too, leaving just the twelve of us on the surface of the moon, including the four in the Chinese habitat.

'Can you straighten it, Mark?' a voice called, intruding into my isolation.

'Two seconds, Roy,' I replied. I straightened the theodolite target pole, lining up the marks on the two gauges. 'Okay.'

I held the pole still and looked across at Roy. Between us was a one-kilometre crater named Timocharis Delta, one of the craters on the fringe of Mare Imbrium. We'd discovered it was relatively new, only a few thousand years old. A previous visit had indicated a magnetic core. Whatever had created Timocharis Delta must have been composed of iron. That wasn't unusual but warranted this closer examination.

In the distance I could see the wall of the main Timocharis crater, over thirty kilometres wide.

Behind Roy, a kilometre away from me, stood the six-wheel moon-buggy, our home during this six-day expedition. Ten kilometres to the west, Moonbase One awaited our return the day after tomorrow. We'd been carrying out surveys of craters east of Moonbase and were now on the homeward arm of the loop.

Back on Earth, our work on the moon's surface had initially been on the news almost every day but was now rarely mentioned. Real science wasn't as exciting as political scandals or soap stars' affairs. Very few of the general public would even know our names.

'Got that, Mark. Give me a few minutes to pack up and I'll drive around and collect you.'

'Roger that.'

That gave me at least thirty minutes to absorb the amazing location. Me, Mark Noble, standing on the surface of the moon, following in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong, metaphorically if not actually. The Apollo 11 landing site was, of course, an internationally protected area. No one was allowed to come within two hundred metres of it, owing to its historical significance.

I walked ten metres down the slight slope of the outer ring of the crater and turned to watch Roy. I could just make him out, walking towards the buggy. I leaned on the target device. It took little effort to stand on the moon, but there was a tendency to lean forward due to the mass of the backpack. Leaning on the target tripod helped my balance.

'Moonbase, I'm opening the access hatch.' Roy stood on the ladder and swung open the one-metre circular hatch towards the rear of the buggy. His tiny white figure filled the black hole in the buggy for a moment, then he pulled the hatch back into position.

I continued eastwards so that he could collect me en route to our planned overnight camping location.

'I'm in the buggy. Stowing the equipment and sealing the hatch, Moonbase.'

'Copy that, Roy,' came the tinny female response.

I plodded eastwards, kicking up dust with each step. 'Moonbase, Mark here. Surprisingly deep dust to the east of Timocharis Delta. At least ten centimetres here. Can't walk without kicking it up.'

'Acknowledge that, Mark,' said Crystal from Moonbase.

'On my way,' said Roy.

'Copy that,' said Crystal.

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