“Man on the Moon” by Elaine Midcoh
Sasha Venditti hopped-skipped in her spacesuit just like the guide taught the group that morning. Two people on the tour, a teenage boy and an old woman, had already fallen at least once, but Sasha took to Moon hopping like a newborn calf takes to its mother’s teat, all natural, knowing what to do. She had saved nine years for this vacation, deciding that owning a home by age 35 was less important than getting to the Moon by age 35. And this excursion, the Alan Shepard’s Golf Ball Scavenger Hunt, had cost her at least five months’ salary, but, God, it was worth it.
“Don’t forget to look up,” the guide’s voice sounded in her ear. A full Earth hung in the lunar sky. If my smile gets bigger I’ll crack my helmet, she thought. At home right now she’d probably be reviewing a business merger deal or advising some self-important client on a hostile takeover. But instead I’m one of the .003 percenters who’ve walked on the Moon.
I’ll find Shepard’s golf ball. It wasn’t the glory she wanted, but the prize. Anyone who found one of the two golf balls that Alan Shepard famously hit during his Apollo 14 Moon mission was promised a free, all-expenses paid return vacation. And no staying in her little windowless berth, either. The finder would get a seven day stay in one of Fra Mauro Luna Resort’s best rooms, one that actually had a double bed and a window. The fact that no one had recovered either golf ball in the twelve years the resort had been opened did not deter her.
She had just hopped-skipped to the near edge of a small crater, certain she had spotted a ball, only to find yet another round lunar rock, when the tour guide’s voice sounded again in her ear.
“Ms. Venditti. Sasha Venditti. Please wave your arms.” Sasha turned around. She knew she was slightly away from the rest of the group, but didn’t think she had gone so far off that the tour guide would call her back. She spotted him standing on the roof of the rover-bus that had brought them out. She waved at him. He opened his arms wide then brought them to his chest. It was the signal he made them all memorize that morning: “Come to me.”
What the hell? She bit her lip, glanced around her one more time, just in case one of Shepard’s balls was close by, then hopped-skipped back to the rover-bus. As she reached the tour guide, she noticed a small rover approaching over a rise.
She started to ask the guide what was happening, but he waved his arms and put one finger against his helmet. Sasha’s heart jumped. She and the other tourists were all on the same radio frequency. He doesn’t want them to hear. The other rover pulled up about twenty feet away from them. The guide gestured her toward it.
The other rover had only four seats, two in front and two in back. The driver pointed to the back passenger seat. When she sat down, the driver got out, gently pushed on her shoulder so that she would lean forward and made an adjustment in the back of her space suit. That’s where most of the controls for the resort’s tourist space suits were located, out of reach from potential idiots who might be tempted to play with the buttons and dials. Sasha assumed the driver was switching her radio channel so that they could communicate, but instead of talking with her, he handed her a tablet with a thick protective covering, then got back in the driver’s seat. As they took off, obviously heading back to the resort dome, she heard a slightly tinny, but still familiar voice in her helmet.
“Sasha, are you there?”
The tablet’s view screen came alive and there was the smiling bearded face of Zander Henrikson, her boss, interrupting her vacation. Damn. As he spoke, the audio came faster than the visual, with a micro-second of lag time, making Zander look like he was starring in a poorly dubbed foreign film.
Do not curse out the boss. “Yes, I’m here.” She couldn’t believe Zander was calling. The cost of phoning the Moon was, well, astronomical. Whatever this was had to involve one of their “concierge” clients, the super wealthy big shots, for whom, if they contacted the firm and said they needed someone to eat their garbage, the firm would send an attorney to munch on their trash.
Zander didn’t waste any time. “Sasha, we need you to help out Andrin Lamar.”
Sasha frowned. Andrin Lamar was one of the firm’s six billionaire clients, the founder and president of a world-wide mass communications network. Zander and the other partners typically wouldn’t let any of the firm’s staff lawyers, even a senior attorney like her, near Lamar. The partners always handled his work themselves. She tried to keep the frustration out of her voice. “Zander, I’m on the Moon. I don’t have access to files. I’ve never handled any of his work. I don’t see how I can help with anything.”
“We’re not asking you to help Lamar, Sr. We want you to help Andrin Lamar, Jr., his son, nickname, A.J. He’s on the Moon, staying at your resort, and he’s in trouble.”
Sasha thought a moment. She had noticed a loud guy, with a bellowing laugh and the beginning of a beer belly, in the resort dome’s dining room and thought he seemed familiar. She realized he had to be Lamar’s son, albeit a younger and slimmer version. He was travelling with a bunch of other college-age kids, all laughing, shouting and somewhat obnoxious, butting the breakfast buffet line and storm trooping up and down the stairs. “What kind of trouble?”
Zander’s smile disappeared. “They say he killed a guy.”
Sasha’s eyebrows shot up. Her driver made the final turn back to the resort dome. Within minutes they would enter the airlock and then she would—what? “I’m not a criminal defense lawyer. I haven’t read a criminal case since law school. What am I supposed to do?”
Zander grimaced. “Whatever you can. The next transport to the Moon is in ten days. It’s booked up, but we’re trying to clear a seat for a top defense lawyer. Until then, you’re on your own.”
The screen went dead. Zander didn’t even say goodbye.
The grinning, joking technicians who had helped Sasha and the other tourists put on their suits earlier in the morning were not the ones who greeted her in the airlock. Instead, she was handed off to a tall, fit, clean-shaven man, just a little older than herself, probably in his early 40’s judging by the hint of gray in his hair, and he was not smiling at all. He was wearing the standard resort-logo jacket, but unlike most of the staff, he wore a collared, button-down shirt, rather than the usual polo. Though he lifted off her helmet and eased her out of the space suit with smooth movements, Sasha couldn’t help but notice the glaring eyes and clenched teeth. He was like a well-trained dog told to heel by its owner, but wanting nothing more than to rip apart a nearby squirrel.
“You’re Sasha Venditti?” She nodded.
“And you’re really an attorney?”
“Yes,” she said.
He shook his head. “The bastard actually traveled to outer space with his lawyer.”
She wanted to say, He didn’t travel with me. I’m on vacation! But her nine years with one of the world’s biggest international law firms broke through instead. “By ‘bastard’ I assume you mean my client, Mr. Lamar?”
“That’s exactly who I meant.”
She gave him her toughest lawyer I’m gonna whip your ass look and said, “So we know who I am, and we know who he is—who are you?”
He stiffened. “Gil Territt. I’m the Operations Manager for Luna Resorts. That means I’m in charge of the day to day operations. When everything is working fine, when the division chiefs can handle their areas, then I have an easy day. But if the toilets don’t flush and the maintenance crew can’t fix them, then that’s my problem. And if a bastard tourist murders one of my workers, then that’s my problem too.”
Oh God. A worker? No wonder he’s pissed. “Mr. Territt—Gil, if I may– I’m sorry for your loss. I didn’t know the victim was one of your employees. In fact, I don’t know anything about this case. Why do you think Andrin Lamar killed your employee?”
He stared at her and pursed his lips. Then he let go with a long exhalation. “Because, Ms. Venditti—Sasha—we have it on video.”
Gil offered to walk Sasha back to her berth so that she could change out of her excursion blue and white tight-fitting jumper, but Sasha declined. Wearing the excursion jumper was proof solid that she had left the dome and actually walked on the Moon, something she wanted to be reminded of, now that her damn boss Zander had called her to work. She momentarily thought about not putting on the specially weighted shoes that provided a more normal Earth gait while in the resort dome. God, she wanted to hop-skip some more in the low gravity, even if it was in the dome, but Gil’s grim face indicated he wouldn’t appreciate that indulgence.
Gil’s office was on the dome’s third level, about midway up the dome. His office was a bit chillier than the dome floor where almost all the tourist amenities were located. She wondered if the lower temp was a deliberate choice for Gil or had something to do with the dome mechanics. But the cold didn’t matter. Sasha couldn’t stop staring. The office was set against the transparent dome wall itself, giving a spectacular view of the lunar surface. For the first time Gil smiled. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Sasha nodded. “I paid a good part of my salary to be here. You get paid to be here. I wonder which one of us made the better career choice.”
Gil’s smile faded. “Normally, I’d say me. But not today. Do you want to see the video?”
Sasha tore her eyes from the view. “Yes. But first, where’s my client?”
“We locked him in a storage room in the mess—that’s the kitchen. We don’t have a jail. Do you want to talk to him before you watch the video? ”
“No. Let’s watch it now.”
“Okay. I’ll explain what you’re seeing.”
Sasha shook her head. “No. Let me watch it without any explanations or commentary. No offense, but I don’t want to be influenced by you. I want to see whatever it is ‘as is,’ get my own interpretation.”
Gil set her up at his desk in front of his large screen computer monitor. “Just click on this when you want it to start,” he said. Then he sat on a chair on the other side of the desk.
Throwing up was not one of Sasha’s planned vacation activities, though as the contents of her stomach traveled up her throat she did wonder how far they might travel in the Moon’s lower gravity. It was a more pleasant thought and a needed diversion from the video. A video of the first murder on the Moon, she thought.
“Here,” Gil said, pushing a small garbage can toward her. “If you’re going to lose it, do it in there. I don’t need your muck in my office.”
Sasha, afraid to open her mouth, nodded her thanks. She closed her eyes, swallowed twice and willed her stomach to stop flip-flopping. After a few minutes she handed the garbage can back to Gil.
“Thanks, but I’m okay.” She hesitated a moment. Time to be a lawyer. “I’d like to ask you a few questions. Your employee . . .” she began.
Gil gritted his teeth. “Ernesto Montaldo, one of our best tour guides. He’s been with us for four years. He was twenty-eight. A great guy, a really great guy.”
“Again, my condolences. There’s something I don’t understand. The dome is near the Apollo 14 site, but that looked like . . .”
“The Apollo 11 landing site. Tranquility base.” Gil finished.
“But why were they there? How did they even get there? It must be miles from here. And Apollo 11 is the first off-world World Heritage Site—it’s not supposed to be disturbed. No one wants tourist footprints near Neil Armstrong’s, right? So why were they there?”
Gil sighed. “Apollo 11 is 1,252 kilometers from here, that’s about 775 miles. And yes, there aren’t any excursions to Apollo 11, not officially. But operating the dome is expensive. This place is an experiment. You know that. We charge big money, but we’re barely profitable. What we are is prestige, something rich tourists brag about to their friends and big companies brag about to their stockholders. ‘Our company is a prime investor in the Fra Mauro Luna Resort,’ they like to say. So when a billionaire investor—or his son—wants to visit the Apollo 11 site . . .”
“You take them.”
She shook her head. To be a billionaire. She thought about the video, rewinding it in her mind. A.J. Lamar gets to visit a place closed to practically everyone else and the idiot decides to steal a relic. And when the tour guide, Ernesto, tries to stop him, Lamar uses the plaque—the actual honest-to-God- “Here Men from the Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon . . .” plaque—and smashes Ernesto’s faceplate. Why did I have to see that part of the video? Why did I have to see Ernesto’s face when the plate cracked, why did I have to see . . . Sasha closed her eyes, but the playback of Ernesto’s last moments of life wouldn’t erase from her brain, the ice forming on his lips and nose, and the fear, oh God, the fear in his eyes. And now I’m Lamar’s lawyer.
Sasha opened her eyes. I am his lawyer. “Gil, how is it that we have this video, such a detailed video?”
Gil shrugged. “People want souvenirs. The rover that took them was equipped with three video recorders and both Ernesto and Lamar had multiple recorders attached to their suits. Typically, after an excursion, we take all of the videos and edit them to create a keepsake of the trip. This time it’s a keepsake of a murder.”
“And how did Lamar get back here—I mean, with Ernesto dead, how could he even find his way?”
Gil’s fists clenched. “He called for help on the radio. He said there had been an ‘accident,’ that Ernesto was hurt. We actually mounted a rescue mission for that piece of scum.”
When Gil walked her through the kitchen’s large food prep area, down the hallway to the storage room where Lamar was being held, she noticed three burly resort employees standing guard outside the locked door.
She glanced at Gil. “Seriously? You need three people to make sure he doesn’t escape?”
“No, I need three people to make sure no one breaks in and kills him. Ernesto was popular among us Moonatics.”
She stopped. “Us what?”
Gil sighed. “Moonatics. It’s what we call ourselves, those of us who choose to live here. We’re Moonatics.”
She said, “Nice. Ernesto was a Moonatic too?”
“Very much so. Ernesto came from Dubaquai—you know it?”
Sasha nodded. Dubaquai was a small island nation famous only for its misery: earthquakes, cyclones, limited resources, high crime rate, corrupt government and extreme poverty. It was a basket-case country, so bad that most international aid agencies had given up on it, unable to operate because of government theft of goods and demand for bribes.
“Ernesto clawed his way out of there. He started in the ocean cruise industry, working in laundry—that’s one of the worst jobs. Along the way he taught himself a few languages and worked himself up to assistant Maître d' at various ships’ restaurants. Then he applied with us. He loved it here. He was our only employee who refused to take the free trip back home every year for his vacation.
Gil unlocked the storage room door and held it open for her. “Knock on it when you want to leave,” he said. She went inside and Gil closed the door behind her, followed by a loud click of the lock.
A.J. Lamar sat on a padded bridge chair tucked into a corner, next to heavy metal shelving attached to the wall. The shelves themselves were filled with hundreds of gigantic sealed packets of food. Lamar’s right wrist was handcuffed above his head to a shelf holding a multitude of vegetable packets, from asparagus to carrots to potatoes to zucchini. Sasha thought the room should smell of food, but it had the same sterile air smell as most of the dome. Lamar was wearing a carbon copy of Sasha’s blue and white excursion jumper, which reminded her of the pure, unadulterated joy she had felt just hours earlier. She restrained herself from slugging him. Lamar peered up at her with watery eyes. She thought he’d been crying. Was it for himself or Ernesto? She hoped it was, at least, for both of them.
“Are you really my lawyer?” he asked. “I have to pee.”
Ninety minutes later Sasha was back at her berth. She had exchanged her excursion jumper for a plush NASA-themed bathrobe that she had bought especially for this vacation. On her small table was the uneaten, still simmering, half portion of a beef stew hot meal she had bought at the dome’s convenience store. It didn’t taste good, but her room smelled great, almost like an oven was cooking. Lying in bed she went over the notes in her tablet. Lamar had sworn he hadn’t intended to kill Ernesto. “It was all just a joke, really.”
He’d told his friends he was going to the Apollo 11 landing site and they hadn’t believed him. So they’d dared him to bring something back from the site to prove it. ‘Bring the plaque,’ they’d said.
“I wasn’t stealing it,” he’d told Sasha. “I would have given it back.” But when Lamar reached over the chain link fence and picked up the plaque, Ernesto ordered him to put it down and tried to grab it from him.
“I didn’t mean to break his helmet. Honest. I just wanted to push him away.”
“So why did you hit his faceplate three times?” she had asked.
Lamar had glared at her for just a second, then he’d shrugged. “He shouldn’t have tried to order me around. I’m the customer. He was an employee. My dad helped build this place. The guide had no right to tell me no.”
Sasha reviewed her notes again and shook her head. This is why I didn’t go into criminal law . . . .But whether he was an uncaring, self-entitled ass, or a dumb kid pulling a stupid stunt, Lamar was, for certain, her damn client and she had to defend him. Could the ‘innocent college prank gone wrong’ defense actually work? She doubted it. Lamar had struck Ernesto’s faceplate three times before it cracked and the viciousness of the attack itself, so perfectly caught in multiple angles on the video, would sink him. Lamar was going to spend a lot of time, maybe twenty years, maybe life in jail, and there was little she could do about it.
Sasha jerked upright in the bed. But there isn’t a jail here. She bit her lip, one finger tapping against her cheek. Can it be this simple? In seventy-five minutes she was scheduled for a teleconference with Zander and some of the other partners in her firm. Maybe now she’d have something to tell them.
She put her tablet on her lap and clicked on the link to the resort’s Internet. It wasn’t live, of course. Though the resort did broadcast current TV shows, news and sporting events on their internal television system, granting guests access to the live Internet was simply too expensive. So every month the resort downloaded major segments of the Internet and cached it. But Sasha didn’t care. The info she needed would be there.
Four hours later Sasha sat in Gil’s office. Gil was leaning against the transparent dome wall, staring out toward the lunar surface and the dark sky above. The string of profanities pouring from his mouth had stopped, replaced by silence. Finally, he turned back to her.
“Are you certain?” he asked.
She nodded. “I am. It might be different if Ernesto had been from some other country, you know, like Norway or England. But Dubaquai . . .”
Gil glared at her. “You have to tell them,” he said.
Sasha’s eyebrows rose. “Tell who?”
“My staff. Ernesto’s friends. His fiancée. Oh, I didn’t mention that to you, did I? Ernesto was engaged to be married. Her name’s Lily. She’s a med-tech at the infirmary.”
Sasha stood up. “The only person I have to tell is A.J. Lamar.”
Gil walked up to her, his face inches from hers. “You do have to tell them. They all know about Ernesto’s death and they all know we have the bastard who killed him. You’re the one who came up with this, so you get to explain it. Unless it’s not true.”
“It’s true,” she said. “And I will tell them.”
Sasha had deliberately not brought any of her work clothing with her to the Moon, so the best “professional” outfit she could come up with was a long-sleeved white buttoned down shirt with black jeans. The staff cafeteria was not nearly as fancy as the dining room for guests. It had plain rectangular tables, no linen tablecloths, and the chairs were the same make as the padded bridge chair Lamar had been sitting on when she met with him. Sasha and Gil were on a slightly raised small stage toward the front of the cafeteria, also sitting on bridge chairs. At home, sitting on that sort of chair would make her back ache, but the Moon’s lower gravity took care of that problem.
Sasha thought there were at least forty people in the room and Gil had told her that her remarks would be broadcast to the rest of the staff-only areas. The soft chatter in the room suddenly hushed. Three women entered and walked toward the front table which had been left vacant. In the middle was a young woman with swollen eyes, a tissue clutched in her hand, her friends offering support by her side. The fiancée. Oh God.
Once the three women sat down, Gil stood and took a few steps forward. He began with a moment of silence for Ernesto. For Sasha, that silence was filled by the thudding of her heart.
Gil addressed the crowd. “You all know what’s happened and how it happened. And you know that we have in our custody the man who killed Ernesto. As for next steps . . .” Gil paused, squeezing his eyes shut. He didn’t speak for several seconds. Sasha watched as people in the audience shifted in their seats, glancing at each other and back at Gil.
Finally, a pony-tailed man in the middle of the room yelled, “What is it, Gil? Spit it out.”
Gil opened his eyes. Then he gestured toward Sasha. “This is Sasha Venditti. She’s here on a one week tour. Back home she’s an attorney with an international law firm, supposedly one of the best. She’s going to talk to you.”
As a few in the room softly clapped, Sasha’s eyes widened. Gil didn’t tell them I’m Lamar’s lawyer. When she stood up, Gil headed back to his own chair.
“Why didn’t you tell them Lamar’s my client?” she whispered.
“I’m the only one who knows,” he whispered back. “I didn’t want them throwing chairs at you.” Then he sat down and Sasha was standing alone on the stage.
She took three steps forward. She had been prepared for hostility, not polite attention. The ‘toughest lawyer in the room’ tone she had planned to use was suddenly no longer appropriate. Damn Gil. She licked her lips.
“Hello,” she said. “Here’s the situation. There’s been a homicide on the Moon—an alleged homicide, one that has to be proven in court. But there’s no place to have a trial, except for maybe one country, and they’ll probably refuse.”
Stay calm, nice even voice. “The Fra Mauro Luna Resort was built by an international business consortium, with dozens of different companies as investors, but with no countries involved. It’s not like the Shenzhou Base constructed by China or the Collins Moon orbiting station built by the U.S.A. Let’s say there was a murder at the Shenzhou Base—then China would have jurisdiction and could put the suspect on trial. But who has jurisdiction here, at the resort dome? Nobody. There’s no government entity up here, no government employees, no system of laws at all. In fact, about the only authority to do anything is expressed in the tourist user agreement—something similar to what’s in your workers’ contracts. Here’s what it says.”
Sasha read from her tablet. “‘The Fra Mauro Luna Resort reserves the right to expel any guest for disruptive behavior, as determined by the appropriate Fra Mauro Luna Resort representative.’” Sasha looked up. “That would be Gil.” She continued reading, “‘Any guest determined to have committed a disruptive act will be confined to his/her/their berth until such time as he/she/them can be placed on the next available transport back to Earth.’”
Sasha lowered her tablet and scanned the room. No one was throwing chairs yet.
The pony-tailed man who had yelled to Gil earlier stood up. “But, like, when he gets back to Earth, then there’s a trial, right?”
Sasha shook her head. “No. Let me explain it. Here’s how a country might get jurisdiction over this case. Like I said, if Fra Mauro was some government project, then it’d be easy—that government would have jurisdiction. But that’s not the case. If the transports to Fra Mauro had been on a government’s own transport ship then—maybe—that government might claim jurisdiction. But the transports are private, owned by another international business consortium, ‘Space Skyways.’ It’d be a stretch, but a country might even claim jurisdiction if the transport took off from their country. But Space Skyways built their launch pad on their own man-made island in the middle of international waters, just so they could avoid government regulations. Let me be clear, there is no government authority up here.”
“What about Interpol, can’t they do something?” the pony-tailed man asked.
Sasha shook her head again. “Interpol—that’s the International Criminal Police Organization—is an agreement between nations, about two hundred countries now. The Fra Mauro Lunar Resort is private. It’s on the Moon. No country has jurisdiction here, so neither does Interpol. And the World Court in The Hague—that’s the International Court of Justice—doesn’t have jurisdiction either. Its authority comes from the United Nations and they can hear cases involving member nations. That’s ‘nations,’ not the Moon. In fact, one of the only things the U.N. does say about the Moon is in the ‘Outer Space Treaty of 1967,’ and that specifically says no country can claim sovereignty over the Moon.”
Now there were rumblings in the room and they were getting louder. Sasha glanced over at Gil. His lips were a tight line, but he nodded to her. Then the room suddenly went silent. Ernesto’s fiancée, Lily, had stood up. The tissue she had been using was clenched in her fist and there were no tears now. Her voice rang out clear and loud.
“You said there was no place to have a trial, except for one country—which one?”
Sasha swallowed. “What I said was that there might be one country, but that they would probably refuse.”
“Which one?” Lily repeated.
“It would be Dubaquai, Ernesto’s home nation. Since the crime occurred against one of their citizens they might claim jurisdiction, the way the United States sometimes claims jurisdiction when its citizens are victims of international terrorism.”
A man stood up in the back of the room. “So send him to Dubaquai,” he yelled. Within seconds others stood too. They began what was almost a yell-chant, “Send him to Dubaquai, send him to Dubaquai!” Sasha stopped herself from taking a step back. Thank God Gil hadn’t revealed that she was Lamar’s lawyer. Then Gil was standing at her side. He motioned for quiet with his hands.
Gil said, “Dubaquai probably won’t work. The killer—” He glanced at Sasha. “The suspect has a father of influence and Dubaquai . . . Dubaquai is known for its corruption. Sasha believes, and I agree, that, in all likelihood, the father will pay off Dubaquai officials to ensure that they don’t bring charges against his son.”
Lily said. “Are you saying that there’s nothing we can do, that there’s no justice for Ernesto? Is that what you’re saying?”
Gil didn’t answer and turned to Sasha. Sasha studied the crowd. There was Lily with her clenched fist—what had Gil said? She was a med-tech. And the pony-tailed man was standing with his arms folded in front of his chest. From the oil and grease marks on his shirt Sasha thought he must be a mechanic. One of the burly men who had guarded Lamar was standing in the back. His face was taut, like he had just received a bad medical report. Sasha recognized a cafeteria worker too.
These people weren’t astronauts, the so-called ‘best of the best’ of humanity. And they weren’t wealthy space tourists either. They’re just regular folks, Sasha thought, but they’re special too. What did Kennedy say in that speech? ‘We choose the Moon.’ The Fra Mauro Luna Resort workers were ordinary, but they had chosen the Moon, just like when early man chose to take the first steps out of Africa, or when the ancestors of the Polynesians chose to paddle into open water to find new homes.
Sasha took a deep breath. Don’t say it. “Will there be justice for Ernesto? Probably not.” Don’t say it. But she did. “At least, not on Earth.”
Gil stared at her, eyes wide.
Do not walk away. But she did. “I’m going to my berth,” Sasha said and she left the room.
Sasha was lying on her bed, still in the same clothes, when her doorbell buzzed. She peered at the clock on the wall. Only one hour, thirty-seven minutes had passed. That quick? She opened the door. Gil’s face had no expression and he was standing so straight that Sasha thought he must have strapped a board to his back.
“Lamar escaped,” he said, without really looking at her.
“Did he? He got out of his handcuffs, managed to unlock the door and made it past your three guards?” Gil didn’t respond.
Sasha reached for his arm. “Get in here.” Gil sank into the only chair in her tiny berth, head down, with hands clasped on his lap. Sasha sat on the bed.
She said, “Was there a trial? Or the semblance of a trial?”
He raised his head. “Not a real trial, but we talked and had a vote.”
“Okay. And then what happened?”
Gill swallowed twice. “Then we took Lamar to the airlock, shoved him inside and opened the outer door.”
She blinked, but managed to keep her face frozen. Her heart pounded hard against her chest. Did I really believe they’d keep Lamar locked up in a kitchen storage room for twenty years? Did I?
Gil sighed. “Sasha, we need a lawyer.”
My fault. All my fault. She patted Gil on the knee. “You’ve got one.”
Sasha spent the next several hours trying to come up with something—anything—that might serve as a defense. There was no chance of avoiding a trial. A.J. Lamar had been a citizen of two nations, both with democratic governments that maintained a mostly honest justice system. Once the news hit of what happened, probably both countries would claim the right to hold the criminal trials. And once the workers were threatened with imprisonment, some would surely talk. She didn’t know which of the “Moonatics”—or how many—would eventually be charged with Lamar’s killing, but Gil was certain to be among them.
She took a walk in the dome’s promenade, filled with the cheap souvenir stores, the classier gift shops and space art galleries, and food kiosks selling everything from ‘lunar dogs’ to the traditional astronaut ice cream to ‘milky way shakes.’ There were two playgrounds for the kids. One hundred actual living plants lined the walkways. The giant “Moon” Ferris wheel stood in the promenade’s center, going up so high that when you reached the top you could almost touch the dome ceiling. The violin notes of one of the strolling musicians reached her ears. He was playing the old song, “Take Me to the Moon,” a resort favorite.
She shook her head. The tourists were gobbling food, clapping, pointing, holding hands, smiling, laughing, with no clue that a murder—no, two murders, had happened here. The workers had their smiles too, frozen, just part of the job. But whenever one made eye contact with her the smile would momentarily fade. Often there would be a slight nod before the worker would look away. I have to come up with something. But what?
At 0800 Lunar time, Sasha found herself back in Gil’s office. Gil had set up his computer monitor on his small conference table. How he had gotten a real oak table to the Moon was a mystery, but she liked the warm feel of the wood under her hands. The table could seat five people, but only she and Gil were in the room.
“Ready?” Gil asked. She nodded. She’d come up with a plan, but wasn’t sure at all if it would work.
A moment later Zander’s face appeared on the computer screen. Her boss did not bother with a greeting. “I’m connecting Mr. Lamar now,” Zander said.
Within seconds Andrin Lamar, Sr. joined the video conference. He had a fat face and graying hair. What A.J. Lamar might have looked like in a few decades. His eyes were red rimmed and his lips were turned so much downward that it appeared unnatural, an extended grimace that would be a plastic surgeon’s nightmare.
“Who killed A.J.? Who killed my son?” he said. “I want him. I want anyone involved. I’ll make sure they rot in hell.”
Sasha felt Gil jerk in his seat beside her. She didn’t blame him. Though technologically impossible, it seemed like Lamar’s jabbing finger would burst through the computer screen and poke them both in the eye.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. Lamar. I had the opportunity to meet with A.J. He struck me as being a nice boy.” Gil glanced at her, but thankfully said nothing. Sasha had warned him to stay quiet.
Zander said, “Rest assured, Mr. Lamar. We’ll get to the bottom of this. Sasha, until we can get our own investigators up there, I want you to head the investigation and—“
“We need to think about that, Zander” she said. Zander pursed his lips at her interruption.
“Go on,” he said.
She continued, “Mr. Lamar, I presume Zander has told you everything that happened? I don’t mean about A.J.’s death, but about what happened before that—about what he did?”
Mr. Lamar said, “A.J. was young. He got excited, that’s all. It was an accident.”
Sasha nodded. “He was sorry about it too, quite remorseful.” Gil sat stone-faced beside her, but the downward curl of Mr. Lamar’s lips loosened a bit.
“Really?” he asked.
“Yes.” Sasha leaned forward. “But you know what, Mr. Lamar? If we bring investigators up here and insist on a trial for those who killed A.J.—if we can even identify them—then the whole world will know why he was killed. No one will remember the names of those responsible for A.J.’s death. But everyone will remember Andrin Lamar, Jr., your son, your namesake, as the first man to commit murder on the Moon. Generations from now, when all of us are long forgotten, your son will still be remembered as the biblical Caan of outer space. Do we want that?”
Mr. Lamar stared so long that Sasha wondered if the screen had frozen. But then Mr. Lamar bit his lip. “No,” he said.
“What do you have in mind, Sasha?” Zander asked.
Sasha leaned back. “I think this is what happened. I think A.J. arranged for a private tour—not of the Apollo 11 site, because that’s not allowed.” She glanced at Gil who looked straight ahead.
“No,” she said. “It was the Fra Mauro landing site, the one for Apollo 14. And I think what happened is that Ernesto—that was the tour guide’s name, Mr. Lamar—I think Ernesto had a stroke perhaps, or an aneurysm. But when Ernesto collapsed, young A.J. thought Ernesto’s suit wasn’t working, that he wasn’t getting air. We know that because that’s what he said on the radio when he called for help”
She leaned forward again. “Mr. Lamar, did A.J. ever do any scuba diving?”
Mr. Lamar blinked several times. “No.”
“Well, he must have been reading up on it, because your son tried to share his own air with Ernesto, just like scuba divers do. Poor A.J. He probably thought that air could be transferred between space suits in an emergency—and it can be—but it’s a complicated process and A.J, was never trained. He didn’t know how to do it. Still, he couldn’t just stand by and watch Ernesto die. He had to try. By the time the rescue party reached them they were both dead, Ernesto from natural causes and A.J. from loss of air. A.J. died because he risked his own life to help someone else.” She leaned back. “That’s what I think happened.”
Gil’s mouth hung slightly open, while Zander sat, arms folded across his chest, with a miniscule smile emerging on his face. But Sasha was only interested in Mr. Lamar’s reaction.
Mr. Lamar looked away at something off screen. Sasha thought it might be a photo of A.J. as a child, in better days when all was innocence. Or maybe it was a photo of the Lamar Company headquarters. Finally Mr. Lamar turned back to the screen.
“My son died a hero?”
Sasha said, “A brave hero.”
Mr. Lamar nodded. “All right,” he said. “All right.”
“So,” Sasha said, “there’ll be no investigators sent up here, no investigation at all . . . and no retribution against anyone.” She glanced at Gil. “Everyone up here keeps their job, so long as everyone keeps their mouth shut. No one gets arrested, no one gets charged.”
Mr. Lamar nodded again. “Agreed. And my son died a hero.”
As soon as the call ended Sasha collapsed deep in her chair. Despite the office’s cold temperature she felt perspiration drip down the back of her neck. Her left foot was jiggling so much she wondered if she could stop it, but then decided it felt good. As for Gil, he looked like he had just run a marathon backwards.
He reached over and grabbed her hand. “I can’t believe it,” he said.
“We got lucky—this time.” She straightened. “Gil, this can never happen again.”
He sat up too. “It won’t. I’ve already got people working on a jail. A real one.”
Gil said. “Sasha, we need a lawyer. Someone to help write new laws for us. Someone to help us deal with the folks back home. We’ll be negotiating new worker contracts in a few months. Normally I would negotiate for us, but maybe you could help. And we need help when there are disputes here. Sometimes, some of the ‘Moonatics’ . . . well, they get into disagreements.” He laughed. “Right now, we’ve got two former roommates cursing each other out every day over who gets their old coffeepot. I can’t even list them for the same shift anymore. So who gets the coffeepot, Sasha? How do we decide that?”
Gil stood. “I can’t pay you much, but I’ll give you an impressive title. Deputy Operations Manager, Chief Legal Counsel, whatever you want. And your berth won’t be much either, but I’ll make sure it’s a single and that you get a window.” He gestured toward the transparent dome wall. “You’ll never have a view like this back home. You’ll never see the stars the way you see them here. And you’ll still be able to go back home once a year, visit with your family, friends. Will you think about it?”
Sasha smiled. A chance to create a new legal system from the beginning, to take the best of the best Earth laws and codes, and make them into something better—a chance to be a pioneer.
She said. “I’ll do it on two conditions. First, we stop using the term ‘Moonatics.’ I’ll not work on anything called the Moonatic Laws. We need a name more distinguished, like Moonians or lunarians. The Lunarian Legal Code. That sounds good.”
Gil sat down by her side. “Done. What’s your other condition?”
“I get to go on the next Shepard Golf Ball Scavenger Hunt excursion. It wasn’t fair that mine was interrupted.”
She expected Gil to laugh and agree. Instead he rose, went to his file cabinet and withdrew from the bottom drawer a flat object wrapped in a blanket.
He brought it to her and said, “How about a different excursion?” He took the blanket off.
Sasha jumped up. “Is that the real thing?”
“No, but that ass A.J. Lamar thought it was. The real one is attached to the ladder that Armstrong used when he climbed down to take his ‘one small step for a man.’ We can’t let anyone near the real plaque because it’s too close to Armstrong’s footprints. But everyone who goes to the Apollo 11 site always wants to see it. So we put this replica on the perimeter of the landing site, right on the inside of the chain-link fence.”
Gil shook his head. “The bastard—oh, excuse me—I mean the ‘hero’ didn’t know the difference. He snuck it onto the rover while we were dealing with Ernesto’s body. I have to take it back. You can come with me if you’d like.”
My God, I get to go to the Apollo 11 landing site. She ran her fingers over the raised letters. “HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON JULY 1969, A.D. WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND”
She said, “You know, I don’t think man really made it to the Moon in July, 1969.”
Gil frowned. “Oh hell. Please don’t tell me you’re one of those who believes the lunar landings were faked.”
Sasha laughed. “No. What I mean is, look at the wording: ‘first set foot upon.’ That’s just passing by, isn’t it, not really being here.”
She sighed. “But maybe man finally made it to the Moon this week. Think about it, Gil. We had a murder, mob justice and a cover-up. That’s proof of man on the Moon.”
Gil took her hand. “No, Sasha. Proof of man on the Moon is going to be in the laws that you write.”
She stared at him for a moment. “Maybe. But someone’s going to have to enforce those laws. How does ‘Sheriff Gil’ sound?”
Gil blanched, but quickly recovered. “Necessary. But someone else is going to have to apply those laws and figure out how they should work. Don’t you agree . . . Judge?”
Sasha’s eyes widened, but she nodded. “I do.”
The two leaned against the transparent dome wall and peered out over the Moon’s surface, what an Apollo astronaut had once called “magnificent desolation.” But it wasn’t desolate for them. The Lunarians were home.
Copyright © 2022 by Elaine Midcoh
Elaine Midcoh (a pseudonym) is a retired criminal justice/law professor. Her story, “The Battle of Donasi,” was published in Writers of the Future, Volume 37. Another of her stories will appear in the upcoming anthology, Compelling Science Fiction. She’s thrilled that “Man on the Moon” won this year’s Baen Award.