When I was little, my mum read me a nursery rhyme about the moon. The only thing about it that I remember is that it referred to the moon as being made of "green cheese", and I was so confused. The bright light in the sky was neither green nor was it made from cheese, near as I could tell with my toy telescope and five year old intellect. When I asked her about it, she laughed. "Oh, Bobby," she said, ruffling my black hair affectionately.
"In olden days, people made up stories to explain the inexplicable...they thought the moon looked like a wheel of "green", or unripened, cheese, so the nickname stuck. Same with the shadows and craters looking something like a face - the "man in the moon"." I loved that my mum took the time to explain stuff to me like that. It made it even harder when she died from the San Diego flu in 2034. Dad had disappeared, so I became a ward of the state, drifting from one place to another. I never got close to any of the people I lived with, and I tried to stay out of big trouble and get along, but I got into fights frequently and started my petty criminal record when I was fourteen and stole a bottle of wine, which I sold to a neighbor for three credits so I could go to a movie.
Since that rainy February day, which incidentally was just a month after my mum passed, I've always been skeptical of authority. Mind you, I mostly obeyed, simply because it was the easy route and I was lazy. But I also had a self destructive streak, so I would boost something opportune, trade it for what I wanted, and repeat until I got caught and went up again. That was how I became a member of the "Lunar Mission Volunteer Force".
The LMVF was a pet project of the president, who had wealthy friends who were pushing for it before she even got elected, and since the Reform Now party had swept the last two elections, she had the Congressional backing to rubber-stamp all of her schemes.
The Force was a very simple concept. Once a basic core of the chronically recitivistic (career criminals), were selected and trained as lunar workers, only one person a year after the first five years would be allowed to return to Earth. .
In other words, the LMVF was a jail that no one could ever escape from, but if you served your time quietly, you could earn an early release.
That way, security and discipline were able to be maintained by the tiny correctional security force at Lunar One...if you acted out, you lost your chance to rotate Earthward for another five years. It was also a source of cheap labor for the minerals and ores found in abundance up there.
When I heard that my number had been drawn, I panicked. I hate to fly, am terrified of heights, and I utterly distrust technology, the government, Big Business and the correctional system, all of which had failed not only me personally, but everyone I had ever met. They existed only to serve the rich and powerful...poor slobs like me were just used for greasing the cogs; utterly disposable. It's not a comfortable feeling to realize that.
When I got my notification, I was looking at the want ads online and eating an overpriced grilled soy cheese sandwich and watery soup at the River City Eatery. It was a real dive, but fairly clean...it was said you never saw a roach there because they all died from eating the food...but they accepted Correctional Bucks®, they were across the street from the courthouse and my parole officer, and they had free WiFi. I was filling out an application for Walmart when my phone buzzed with the alert. I never finished the application or my lunch...just ran out of there like my ass was on fire and my hair was catching. My parole officer had told me that I was in danger of a violation unless I found a job, but I really hadn't realized it was imminent. I'm not good at keeping track of time, content to just drift along, and my p.o. had pointed out to me that I had been out of work for almost a month... two weeks ago. Oops.
So, I ran out of the restaurant, caught a bus home to the "supervised living facility", which at the moment had been left unsupervised (budget cuts), threw my meager belongings into a couple of shopping totes and told the Voca-Pass® at the door that I needed to do laundry. It let me out and I started running. I didn't stop until I got on the crosstown train headed to the south side and sat down, gasping on one of the hard SaniPlast© seats. My scheme was to get to RiverSide, walk across the bridge, and hitch hike down to the Mexican border, 150 miles away, with fifteen dollars, no food and no water. In July...
They found me passed out in the scant shade of a cactus about ten miles out.
So now, here I was. My shopping bags of clothes and stuff had been replaced with a duffle bag and augmented with the addition of three jumpsuits, sturdy work boots and an assortment of tutorial vids stored in a micro pad. I was expected to watch the vids, take comprehensiveness assessments (quizzes) and then "participate in hands-on training sessions".
I threw myself into the training, at first just as a distraction from being terrified, but I became interested in spite of the constant undercurrent of terror.
The training was in everything from hydroponics and other farming techniques to the mining of the rich store of minerals beneath the lunar crust on the dark side of the moon. I had always liked science in school, but had drifted into the service industry because I was disqualified from the Free Universal Educational Fund because of my "academic and disciplinary history". Nobody in a restaurant kitchen cared whether or not you were a petty thief or threw drunken punches at cops so long as you showed up for your shift and did the job and tried to get along with the other workers. We were a mixed group of guys, all stuck in shitty low paying jobs because of various legal issues. I learned gutter Spanish, Jamaican patois, how to pick a lock, and how to make a bong out of a potato. I taught guys how to best bypass the security cameras at the Quicky Mart and how to get the magnetic ink cartridges off high end clothing without their bursting open. Such was my education up til now.
But the world of the lunar station opened up a vast treasure of educational opportunities, and I gobbled up the information, blowing through the packets and begging for more. I was given a couple of aptitude tests...I found out that I had a gift for chemistry, anything mechanical, and animal husbandry. In short, I would excel as a farmer, but I could work in the repair division, mining, sewage treatment or transportation. I was surprised...I had never thought I would be good at anything.
The trip was uneventful. My first assignment was the mines. I wasn't claustrophobic, so it didn't bother me to go down the narrow shafts into the tunnels. I was there a year, and mostly enjoyed it, to be honest. I liked locating and extracting the ore...it was like digging for buried treasure. The one thing that I never got used to was the fact that there were no bugs or fossils...that always seemed weird to me.
After the mines, I rotated through the maintenance and transportation divisions and wound up in the farming division.
Because of the expense of shipping food and other supplies to the moon, we produced a lot of our own necessities. Food was one.
I loved the farming division. I was there for the last two years, growing food for the workers as well as the livestock. Animals were necessary, because although there were synthetic meats available, there were issues with it growing properly in the lunar station, maybe a gravity issue. Whatever the reason, synthmeat always decomposed at a certain stage of development and wound up an inedible sludge. Much as I hated the slaughterhouses, I loved working with the animals. And being able to get real dairy and real meat was huge. My first meal on the station was a hamburger, baked potato with sour cream, and a salad. One bite and I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
I got called into the warden's office one day and was told that I was eligible for Earthside rotation. They would even set me up with a job. I thought about it, looking out at the blue swirled planet. I thought about the men I lived and worked with on the station. I thought about my job. I thought about the people who had given me a home when I was a kid. I thought about the smell of grass after a rain shower, and the feel of the wind. I thought about all that I had learned, what I had lost and what was gained. I thought about the new calf I had delivered the other day.
I turned to the warden.
"I think I'll pass my turn on to someone else who wants it. It's not like I have anything to get back to."
And I walked back down to the barn and started to clean the stall where the calf snuggled with its mother and stood there and cried.