The space elevator vibrated like an angry rattlesnake throughout the 240,000 mile trip from Earth to Lunaland, the moon sphere. At a constant 1G acceleration and then deceleration, and reaching a top speed of 138,000 mph at the midway point, the trip took 3.5 hours. My fingers were white from clutching the arm rests, and my head hurt from the shaking. I was the only one going up; most were fleeing Lunaland for Earth. There’d be room for only a fraction of them, not that that would save them. The moon sphere, which circled the Earth like the other celestial spheres, had begun shaking just this morning. As the chief engineer for celestial mechanics, it was my job to figure out why.
“Are we there yet, Boss?” asked Plato, my fingercomp. For the hundredth time.
“Yes, finally.” The floor shook as I stumbled out the elevator door and into the heaving nightmare that was Lunaland breaking apart.
Ever since man had colonized the celestial spheres hypothesized by the original Plato and other ancient Greeks, and later verified by Galileo, there had been no shortage of living space. With a radius of a little over 240,000 miles, the moon sphere was 700 billion square miles in area, 3500 times the surface of the Earth. We’ll probably never know who created them. Made of a seemingly indestructible material that defied analysis, but with openings to the outer surface, they had served our solar system well for 4.6 billion years, with different spheres carrying the moon, planets, sun, and stars in their celestial dances about the Earth. Until now.
The ground shook like a ship in a gale as we fought our way to the control center.
“This is not what I signed up for,” I said, my hands shaking like the ground.
“You can save us, Boss!” Plato said. “You’re the best!”
I had my doubts as the ground ahead shook and split, slamming me against a wall. I jumped the growing abyss at a full sprint, spraining an ankle on the far side.
“Nice jump, Boss!” said Plato.
On Earth, we worry about silly little earthquakes, the shaking of perhaps a few thousand square miles. Now imagine a Lunaland earthquake. That’s why so many of my predecessors warned against settling the moon sphere without further study. Ha! With Earth overpopulated, the exodus to settle the new frontier practically stampeded over those poor engineers. That was long ago, and a trillion people now inhabit the moon sphere. Soon we planned to colonize the next one, the Mercury sphere.
Finally I limped into the control center, made by the original creators. It was probably the only structure on the sphere that was earthquake-proof. Or is that Lunalandquake-proof? Is that even a word?
Long ago we’d deciphered the language of the creators. The controls were clearly marked, but it was too dangerous to test them so we’d left them alone. Now we needed to figure out how to stop the destruction. We didn’t even know the cause.
News reports said that billions had died as buildings collapsed all over Lunaland. But I was more worried about the sphere itself. If that broke, and the shards and the moon fell, that would be the end of humanity, both on Lunaland and Earth. And the shaking was getting worse. Tiny cracks were developing all over, like the canals of Mars that Percival Lowell thought he saw. But these were real.
There was no obvious “stop destruction” button. I took charge of the resident technical staff as we tried to figure out what to do.
That’s when the entrance to the lower level opened up. We didn’t even know there was a lower level, but there it was, perhaps opening automatically in response to the widespread destruction. I was the first one down the stairs into the small lower room.
There were few controls there. It seemed more a library, with several reading screens. Perhaps, with time, we could research and solve the problem. We had to.
A framed certificate decorated the wall. I held Plato up to translate. Then we just stared at it, for nothing else really mattered.
It seems that human nature is universal for intelligent beings, even the super-intelligent ones that created these gigantic spheres. The page was full of complicated language, but the gist was simple. It was a 4.6 billion-year warranty.
“That’s the age of the solar system, Boss!” Plato said. “What’s going to happen to us?”
That’s when the moon sphere broke. And the shards, the moon, and Plato and I came tumbling down.
Larry Hodges, of Germantown, MD, is an active member of SFWA with over 60 short story sales, over 2/3 of them since summer 2008. He’s a graduate of the six-week 2006 Odyssey Writers’ Workshop, the 2007 Orson Scott Card Literary Boot Camp, and the 2008 Taos Toolbox Writers’ Workshop. He’s a full-time writer with six books and over 1300 published articles in over 130 different publications. He’s also a member of the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame (Google it!), and once beat someone while using an ice cube as a racket. Visit him at www.larryhodges.org.