Our Christmas Special this year is a little tale of realistic sci-fi, set just a few years from now. An astronaut is being interrogated about the events that took place in a space station around the Moon: The Gateway. Playing the characters are Chris and Alfredo, with a cameo from the ever-wonderful Katy Evans.
Main Image Credit: NASA
Script for the audiodrama:
Hello Lieutenant Pavese, I’m Major Johnson and I am going to conduct the last of these interviews. Whenever the recorder is on, it means we are on record. The agency has already evaluated most of the situations from the station records, but it would be amiss if we didn’t also check with you as a single witness of the events. [Loud Click] Can you take us through the events that led to the incident?
Can we not call it an incident please?
It is just the formal term we are using. I do understand your anger about it.
I don’t think you do. Not really. Anger doesn’t cover it. But let me go through all of it from the very beginning of the worst day of my life. That morning started badly. I was furious. This was my last half an hour of solitude before my colleagues arrived back at the Gateway, from the surface of the freaking moon. I’m sure you know what our dear space agency said about the Gateway at launch! Humanity’s orbital space station around the Moon. The launchpad to the Solar System! Can’t fault them for the PR. It’s the anchor point to lunar exploration; at least in theory. We are still just doing short trips to the Moon’s surface and then back up. Safe, well planned, and with no uncertainties. Not the stuff for the history books, but it’s good science and it’s a start for further exploration. My colleagues have been down there for a whole lunar day, but I was not allowed to be there.
And why is that? Just for the record, I know the story…
Well,my participation in the mission was suddenly deemed too political. You see I’d brought a rainbow flag to plant and leave upon the surface as a display of solidarity for the queer community, for freedom: Love Wins To The Moon And Back! A harmless message, I thought. Not even very political as many would think of it as the baseline of gay activism. I was wrong. Suddenly it became an international scandal, with many wishing for my early demise. Abandoned on the Moon. Thrown-out of an airlock. How to get rid of me and what I represent became a matter of discussion among politicians, journalists, and trolls worldwide.
There were 25,000 retweets to a rightwing agitator calling me “The embarrassment of the whole space program.”
Even the space billionaires joked about how it would be better for me to not come back and maybe they can launch a mission to that effect. How lovely. They would totally have the resources to fire a missile at me and make it look like an accident.
Can we go off record?
Thanks. Thoughts of guillotines crossed my mind. Rusty guillotines. Sorry but you asked for an honest window into my state of mind. Back on record if you so please.
Given everything, “the powers that be” deemed it better to bench me in order to “avoid controversy”, so I had to wait onboard while Paula and Marcus were down there driving around and collecting rocks. Sure it’s easy and doesn’t sound like much fun, but they’re on the goddamn Moon!
There was nothing much to do that morning apart from waiting for them to come back. So I bounced around the cabin, which wasn’t much bigger than a studio flat. Don’t think of it as a sci-fi space station. The place is tiny. Not as fancy nor as large as the International Space Station but its three modules were enough for a sojourn like this. And while small but it felt like the future. Compact but fully automated. One day something like this could be around Mars. And yet I was so mad that this future I dreamt for so long is tarred with the bigotry of the past.
Anger is what I felt. How could I not? I wasn’t planning to be a pivotal chapter in human space exploration but I had hoped to be treated like more than a shameful and embarrassing footnote. But nevertheless, I tried to distract myself. Not successfully. I felt too bored, too restless. On top of that, being on the far side of the Moon I was out of satellite reach, I couldn’t even get my limited bandwidth connection to the internet. Not that I was allowed to post anyway, following the fallout of the last few weeks.
I was alone with nothing but my own thoughts to keep me company, and boy, with friends like those, who needs enemies? I remember my mind was racing, oscillating between all the possibilities awaiting me back home. ‘Have I lost my chance to make a real contribution to lunar exploration? Was my gesture not what the community needed? Oh god, will I be fired? Maybe it won’t be too bad. Maybe I’ll be elevated and recognized as a martyr, right? I was wronged after all!’ Ugh. Me, me, me.
I hated that narrative and I’m a fool to have even considered it. Personal glory is inevitable when you’re one of the few people doing something. I really wanted to do something. But it was something for my community. I wanted to scream queer rights from the heavens! I wanted to show them that not even the sky is the limit. But maybe I was too arrogant, too selfish. I’d announced my plan for the flag too early, and then put Paula and Marcus in a difficult situation. When mission control decided not to send me down to the surface, they had refused to go down as well. Their gesture was immensely touching, but I had to talk them into continuing the mission to go down there.
Yes, the agency was aware of the possibility of a strike and that you were the one that actually brokered the continuation of the mission. And pretty much everyone on the planet knew where your colleagues stood. The agency was very concerned about the future repercussions.
I wish I hadn’t stopped them.
Of course, who wouldn’t in your position.
Anyway, I was alternating feeling angry with feeling terrible. I felt selfish like I’d disappointed my community by not fighting the official decision, that I’d just accepted the notion it was better to be quiet and not make a fuss just so I could save my career. It’s the Moon. The Moon! Was it a mistake? Was I hurting my career and the cause too? How often does anyone get an opportunity like this, let alone anyone like me?
They had been on the moon for fourteen days now, sending me updates and telling me how boring it was. Bastards… I love them so much! They were the perfect poster child for the agency. An astronaut couple. Beautiful, brilliant, and charismatic.
I was getting antsy waiting for them to get back to the station, I re-read their messages. Rocks, more rocks. Some jokes about them being the first humans to have sex on the Moon. Bastards again! And the last one, the “surprise.”
“Hey darling! We set up the ascension vehicle to take a snapshot 60 meters in the air when we leave. Well, not “air”, but you know what I mean. It should automatically go right to your inbox, since we’re going to be pretty busy with maneuvers. Why can’t it pilot itself? See you in a few hours!”
Longingly, I looked out of the window, just as the nearside of the moon was coming into view. I couldn’t wait to talk to them. I hadn’t even got a videocall from them since the day before. I did wonder if they were ok. I would say I had a bad feeling, but the truth is that solitude wasn’t good for me: I needed to talk to people. Everything was too much. My chest tightened, and I didn’t even attempt to fight off tears.
All of this is clearly registered on the record. But thank you for putting it in context. I do understand it’s not easy.
Shortly after the computer interrupted my train of thought. “The ascension vehicle is on route to the Gateway. All parameters nominal. T – 5 minutes to contact. The onboard crew signals that everything is ok.” And then another beep told me I had a private message, titled “Share the Shit out of this!”
I opened the image and immediately began to cry, and laugh, and cry some more. In large meters-long letters, carved into the soft lunar soil read the words “Queer Rights Now”. Well, that was definitely not on the list of things we weren’t allowed to do on the Moon! My crew had made history, and I was mesmerized by that image. Nothing could’ve torn me away, I was staring at that picture through tear-blurred vision, trembling with euphoria.
And then I saw it. I blinked, unable to comprehend the sight right next to those historic words. There were two clumps on the ground. They looked like people. They couldn’t be. They must be rocks. A trick of the light, of course. I zoomed in frantically, praying to the gods I don’t believe in that I was wrong. My hands shook as I stared at the screen, unable to breathe. Two bodies lay motionless in a crumpled heap on the lunar surface. My mates. My crew.
Please take your time.
I’m ok. And I can’t take my time no, and couldn’t then. The computer chimed “The ascension vehicle is on route to the Gateway. All parameters nominal. T – 1 minute to contact. The onboard crew signals that everything is ok.”
Somebody had killed my friends. And took their spacecraft and now was coming for me. I didn’t know if it was fear, sorrow, or rage that spurred me in automatic motions, but I was moving. Whoever was coming, whatever was coming, surely wasn’t good.. I had to get out of there. I had no weapons, I was defenseless.
A voice in my head told me that knowledge was all I had. I knew the station better than them. I must know it better. They must have prepared for sure, but living here is another thing. It was a home invasion, and I knew my home. I didn’t need to stop them, I just needed to save myself.
All the systems were still under my control. I couldn’t stop them docking and coming on board, but they won’t access the rest. I practiced this. Well, not this. But if the station was in danger from some space rock or another satellite, I could just go to the Earth return craft and weather the danger.
I did it quickly. I locked myself in and put the Gateway on safety mode. One by one, each system turned off. The whole station was dark. Then the lunar module had docked. I waited. I sent the email with the picture back to ground control, quietly typing the dire situation I found myself in, barely daring to breathe.
I watched on the camera feed as the latch of the lunar module opened and two people flew out. Wearing all black, knives in hand, they glided silently across the station looking for me.
They looked almost uncertain. Unsure about where to go next. They were not expecting this. Good. I had saved myself some time at least.
I saw them moving towards the console, trying to turn it on. “No chance fuckers, this is my ship.” They were getting concerned. Ground control told me that they had seen everything and I had permission to abandon ship. They also mentioned that I could count on allies out there.
I was surprised to hear it. But that douchebag of a queerphobic billionaire was in lunar orbit too. He asked permission to rendezvous with the Gateway shortly after on the far side of the Moon.
Investigator: I guess you know by now that his company claims that the two were stowaways. Did you suspect he was involved?
Yes, I have seen their reports and the grainy video footage. But I couldn’t know for sure and I didn’t want to take a risk. I was going to fly home by myself. I saw them going to the console and take control of the station. I sent a message to NASA as we moved behind the Moon, to tell them of my plan.
Yes, I have read it.
So I’m there ready to separate from of the station when I felt an acceleration. They clearly didn’t know how to manouver it. I was pushed against the walls of the vehicle and I barely had time to reach my control panel to get free. And then I see it. The Gateway ramming into the spacecraft faster than a bullet, breaking its hull, as fuel, flames, and debris spread in the low lunar orbit. A grim firework display on the far side of the Moon.
I watched the tragic spectacle unfolding for longer than I should. What a senseless tragedy. I thought of Paula and Marcus. I set the course for Earth. And cried.
Thank you for revisiting the tragic incident once again. I am so sorry for your loss. I believe I have everything I have now, but I could discuss something with you completely off the record?
Well, I had to go through all the computer records of your ship and everything that had been downloaded before the collision. Everything is in order but it looks like a file was deleted, based on related files that had been activated, I can speculate, but it looked like it was an order to execute a rendezvous maneuver at full speed into the billionaire spacecraft. Very peculiar, I thought if it had been coming from your computer.
But I then discovered that the copy was corrupted and saw that the command originated from the space station. The stowaways set up to destroy the spacecraft. Understanding their motivation is beyond my paygrade.
But I do thank you sincerely for the service you’re done to humanity. And I hope to see you on the Moon.
Thank you, inspector.