Battle Luna – Snippet 16
Under the Hill
Michael Z. Williamson
Engineer Andre Crawford skipped down the corridor, using the best gait for fast travel on the Moon. He always felt like a kid back in South Chicago when he did. It was fast, though, in the low G.
He reached Control, the pressure doors closed for security, not due to atmosphere worries. The scanner recognized both him and his ID and opened the staggered doors in turn.
Luna Central Operations sounded as if it should be an exotic place. It was even jokingly referred to as “Main Mission,” which someone had dredged out of the depths of old sci-fi and had to be explained. More often, it was dubbed the “Ops Module” or just “Control.”
It wasn’t nearly as roomy as a TV show would have it, though. The space was about as tight as a warship or TOC. People had room to walk, barely, and consoles with minimal spare space. Polarized screens and noise-canceling shrouds made it work, and expensive gear was cheaper than making more space.
He knew why he had been called. The UN landing at Hadley was only a precursor to the one that just landed here.
The good news was the element trying for Hadley Dome had been stopped.
Luna Village might not be so lucky. The UN force was throwing more of its troops and assets at the main habitat, probably hoping for both visibility and intimidation. Three ships had landed just over the ridge, giving them limited concealment and cover. Satellite imagery caught a bare glimpse of the craft, one of them with an ArctiTrak debarking, before the satellite feed had gone dead. It wasn’t clear yet if the controls had been compromised or the satellite destroyed.
ArctiTraks worked well on the lunar surface. From that landing site they could reach the main lock in an hour.
As he stepped inside, he noticed Control was almost silent, which meant crew were furiously busy. Also, he realized all the uniforms were Lunar Operations only, no Kosmolock, Boeing, TRW contractors.
Across the round facility, he spotted Colonel Zeiss next to Steve Coffman, the senior commo tech, and usually roving, not sitting a console as he was now. Zeiss was the only military person present. The entire staff present were very select, and many were on their alternate shifts.
Andre made his way over and nodded a greeting. Zeiss made a half salute, half wave. Commo Tech Coffman just glanced and flicked his eyes.
Andre took in the display. It showed bandwidths, frequencies, strength and quality, as well as interference.
The Lunar Village primary commo was still active, but there was very strong local jamming, presumably from the UN landers or the command craft in orbit.
Coffman said, “I can probably burn a signal through if we have to. But who would we call?”
At least Lunar Village had resources. Whatever the Moon had as far as materials and power, this was the place for it. It was also very secure. The habitat was only partially domed, being built into a tunnel through the crater rim with structure protruding out each side.
Still, the encroaching force had professionally built weapons which, while not ideal for the Moon, were purpose designed.
On the Loony side, there were several hastily-constructed boobytraps and a bunch of improvised materials from the warehouse, under the command of Andre Crawford. Crawford apparently had the mission because he was both one of the senior engineers, and a veteran of the US Army.
He’d supervised construction of the traps the two days previous, as soon as it was known there were UN ships inbound. Now he’d have to put them to use.
“You realize I never saw combat, only did support, right?” he said to Zeiss.
Colonel Zeiss, Bundeswehr (Retired) said, “You understand military ops, military engineering, and our equipment. That makes you the right man.”
He inhaled and tensed. “Fair enough, and I agree. I just want you to understand I was never actually faced with killing anyone. And no matter how peaceful we try to be, that’s a possibility here, when things get stressed and ugly.”
Zeiss nodded. “You know that. That’s why you’re in charge of it.”
Andre sighed. Even on the Moon, human beings could find a reason and a way to go to war.
He’d need some good support. He thought for a moment and spoke.
“I want Malakhar, Morton, Rojas and Godin.”
Zeiss said, “They’re all here. They’re yours.”
“Thanks. Patch me through, please, Mr Coffman?”
Coffman nodded and said, “Sure thing.” He pinged their phones and had all four on a split screen he swiveled to Andre.
“Hey, guys, it’s on. Meet me at the Ops Room off the main lock.”
They all agreed, looking nervous or sober or both, and he gestured for Coffman to kill the channel.
He turned and asked, “Colonel, can you clear the regular personnel out of there fast?”
Zeiss replied, “We already did. We said it was a pending solar storm, everyone to move inside and forego regular duties. They’ll shortly realize that wasn’t true, but I hope a lot of them will enjoy the down time. It’s not as if everyone couldn’t use some.”
“True that. What orders do you have? For me?”
“Hold them as long as you can. Minimize casualties. Deny knowledge of anything. Refer them to us, and we will not be responding. Shrug and sound without clue. Stall for every second you can before acting, and between. You’ll have to wear them down by attrition, though daylight may help. Their timing is based on the find, not on the environment. Use the minimum force necessary, but if you have to, do whatever you need to stop them entering.”
Taking all that in, he replied, “I don’t want to provoke them into escalating.”
Zeiss said, “Exactly. Be as measured as possible. That’s why I chose you.”
“Thanks.” I guess, he thought. “I better move fast.”
He turned and left. The doors closed behind him, followed by a supplemental air curtain. The Moon was buttoning up.
On the track outside, there was a Quad waiting for him.
He climbed on, flipped the power, and rode the designated path toward the main lock.
He reflected that the complete dearth of anything lethal, even a few handguns the police could have used, was possibly a planned move on the part of the Ueys. Or, it may have just been media-inspired paranoia over explosive decompression, even though it would take a lot more than a pistol, or even a rifle, to puncture the outside hull, and holes in the regolith of the inner habitat were pointless, even if possible. Meteorites whacked the structure regularly, often no even scratching the metal. Only twice had they made a pinhole.
The police had stun batons, which were rarely needed, granted, but would be singularly ineffective against actual gunfire. Nor would they do anything through a vacuum suit.
There were a handful of anti-armor rockets, intended for blowing protruding rock faces down. Inside though, those were suicidally dangerous.
Fighting here came down to either poking holes in people, hitting them hard, or, if they were in vacuum, damaging their breathing equipment or containment. That additional factor was something the Loonies worried about constantly, and the Ueys might not have thought about.
Under the Hill, spaces maintained pressure protocol but the main passage did not. The air curtains were kept open, but could be dropped automatically, from any control station, or individually if needed. The Quad Track paralleled the walkway, which was empty due to Zeiss’s stand down order. Unusually empty. Normally there were dozens of people moving through it with carts, dollies, walking to jobs, rolling Quads. He had the only Quad and he counted eight people during the trip, three of them Security. That was definitely going to arouse suspicions and couldn’t be maintained long.
It took only a couple of minutes to reach the main lock. It was uncommon to see the large screen noting LOCK SECTION CLOSED. Even more so to see it devoid of anyone working even if it was. He parked the Quad, leapt off, and stepped into the Lock Operations Room, which everyone knew as the Hut.
Possibly on Earth a gate control might still romantically be thought of as a hut. Here it was just a hole bored in the regolith, with power conduits and lights, a bare sheet titanium floor with some imported static mats, and desks and chairs. As with everywhere up here, one brought their own fliptop computer, plugged in, and used software and access codes to build a work center. The conduits ran to the main trunk, out to the airlocks, up to the surface antennas, and all had standard plug connectors spaced along them. There was a wire fence separating the Hut from the Support Cage that held tools, suits, parts and incoming supplies that would get sorted and dispensed. Further back the passage was the main Supply Cage that took all the palletized resources.