Excerpt for The Facility by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Facility

The Facility

Written by Phillip N. Hancock, Sr.

Spoiler alert:

This book is a continuation of the book “Moon Trip” and reading Moon Trip first might be advantageous, however, this story is complete in itself.

Text copyright @ 2016 Phillip N. Hancock, Sr.

Smashwords Edition License Notes

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Note: All cover artwork is a combination of free photo art combined with the authors use of computer programs and no copyrights were violated.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Before You Go

Chapter 1

Ten Years Later

Paul checked his watch and grabbed his topcoat as he exited the black motor car, a hackney carriage, that was so England. He waited as the driver also exited, went around to the back and retrieved his small valise from the boot of the vehicle. He took the small traveling case and then handed the driver the correct amount of currency. The total included the fare and a tip for the driver. Paul then watched as the driver reentered the right side of the idling auto. Once seated, the driver turned on the lighted taxi globe sitting atop the black vehicle, indicating that he was once again for hire. The driver then placed the motor car in gear and headed toward the arrival area of Stonehenge, a short distance away, to perhaps pick up a return fare for travel to the Amesbury Air Terminal.

The trip from the Amesbury, now an international air terminal, took no more than fifteen minutes and left Paul standing at Stonehenge in front of the Arrival entrance sign that beckoned him toward the waiting and departures areas. The actual Stonehenge could not be seen from this vantage point due to the newly constructed building that surrounded it. This structure is most unusual due to the fact that no metal was used in its fabrication. Lessons learned during the early days of testing the travel, to and from Stonehenge, taught scientist what would happen if metal was around the transport area.

No metal, however, did not stop engineers from finding a way to make the arena surrounding Stonehenge look like any air terminal you might find anywhere in the world. Parking structures were built in the surrounding area far enough away that no restrictions were imposed on their construction. The use of shuttle buses moved personnel to and from the parking garages and the terminal. Paul watched as one of these buses stopped a short distance from him. Once it became stationary, the bus seemed to bow as the air shocks lower the bus to sidewalk level. This lowering made exiting and loading much easier on all passengers.

Paul, his thoughts still on the terminal surrounding Stonehenge, absentmindedly watched as small groups of people exited the bus and surprisingly his eyes were drawn to one of the departing passengers. Her physique and stature was unmistakably and her hair was just too unique, putting these things together, it could only be one person. Although her back was toward Paul the whole time, he, without a doubt, recognized Kari Lipkens as she came off the bus. She was involved in conversation with some of the other passengers. Paul waited a moment not wanting to interrupt her. As the small group ended their discussion and turned to enter the terminal, he called to her.

“Hey Locks, Locks. Where are you going?” Paul spoke loud enough for her to hear but not so loud as to alarm.

Kari Lipkens turned when she heard her nickname spoken, a surprised look came over her face. “What, Oh my goodness, Hey DW, Oh sorry, I mean Commander.” She smiled and slightly blushed as she hurriedly approached Paul.

“DW is just fine, I have retired from the military now, you know, a regular civilian of sorts.” Paul said as he shook her hand and then gave her a most welcome bear hug. “Wow, it has been five years now since I saw you, you look great, just great.” Paul’s eyes moistened as he looked at Kari while continuing to hold her hand. His thoughts returning to those monumental events of 10 years ago,

“Oh thanks Paul, it’s good to see you and you look great also. How many times I have thought about you and our adventures together.” Kari said as she pretended not to notice Paul’s eyes watering or the tear that had escaped from her own eye and was slowly making its way down her cheek. “What brings you here or are you like me, just out here celebrating the ten year anniversary of our first trip back to the moon using this transporter thing.” She asked.

“Ten years, yes, I too thought this was a major milestone and surely it deserved my recognition of that fact. So I packed up my traveling case and just now arrived by taxi. I was standing here wondering if any of the crew felt the same way I did and, low and behold, you step off that bus.” Paul said as he shook his head in a kind of wonder of appreciation for her presence.

“No doubt in my mind of how the rest of the crew feels and I am sure the same thoughts we are having are racing through their minds as we speak.” Kari said reassuring Paul of his crew’s solidarity on their previous mission. “Who knows they may show up while we are here. Hey, you want to go get some coffee, they have a Starbucks inside the terminal?” She saw Paul questioning look, “Hey, it was in the folder I was given on the bus.” Kari said as she showed Paul the small pamphlet that was filled with information on the structure surrounding Stonehenge. It showed all the small outlet stores and it showed the actual location of the transport area itself.

“Good idea, I missed breakfast and was wondering if there would be something to eat when I got out here.” Paul replied.

“I know that Starbucks normally have Scones and some breakfast muffins of a sort that are quite good. I am sure you will find something you like in there, come on.” Kari said as she, continuing to hold Paul’s hand, led him inside the terminal.

The first thing they saw, after entering, was signs that directed personnel. Tourist and visitors should follow the yellow lines and moon travelers should follow the green lines. There was a separate line, this one was blue, for any personnel that might only be shopping or eating. Kari and Paul followed the blue line and soon saw the green Starbucks sign along the outside curve inside the structure. Once at the counter, Paul ordered a tall black coffee and a lemon scone while Kari requested a mocha concoction that he did not recognize and would not remember. Paul did not frequent Starbucks and was a bit shy in ordering or allowing people to know that he was not exactly up to speed on this.

“What name, sir?” The attendant asked.

“Ah, just black coffee for me, I’m not sure what Kari ordered.” Paul said.

“No, no, what I mean is, whose name should we call when your order is ready?” The young man smiled as he asked.

Paul slowly nodded his head as he replied. “Paul, just call Paul. I guess you can tell I am a little new at this.”

“Paul, I got it thanks.” Came the reply as the young man wrote Paul on the side of both the cups he had picked up.

When their orders were ready they found a table and sat, Paul sipping the hot brew as soon as he was seated. He then took a small bite of the scone followed by another sip of coffee. “Hey, this scone is really good.” He said.

“You are not a frequent visitor of Starbucks, are you?” Kari asked.

“You noticed, huh? It is true I am not, however, I must say the coffee is rich and this lemon scone is very tasty. Maybe I will have to become a more frequent visitor.” Paul said and then took another bite of the scone.

For the next hour they talked about the progresses that had been made both on the space station and in conjunction with the transporter. Kari had somehow kept track of the number and status of people who had gotten permission and traveled to the Facility on the moon. She never said exactly why, however, she did admit it was just something she wanted to track.

“I am amazed at the number of franchises that applied for a permit to travel to the moon. I am also amazed at the numbers that were granted.” She stated. “I believe a lot of them were for undetermined lengths of stay, like you know, permanent.” She hesitated a moment and then looked at Paul and in all sincerity asked. “Is it possible that what you had envisioned before we left the Facility has now become a fact?”

Paul took his time replying. He actually did not feel very comfortable with this new position that NASA had asked him to fill. It was a new area in a new arena and the boundaries were not well defined beyond the point of human safety. He remembered his thoughts about the invasion of fast foods and hotels/motels around the perimeter of the Facility. The fact that the majority of his thoughts or fears had already been realized did not sit well either. Explaining this now to Kari would be the first test on seeing how NASA personnel would respond to this his new job.

“Well, you see I…” Paul stopped in the middle and turned to look at the customer who had ordered so loud.

“I’ll take a Caramel Monkey in an Auto and hey, shoot that little booger, ah, shoot him twice.” Kurt George stated and then said. “Make that order for Jungleman.”

Paul rose and started toward Kurt. Kari had also stood but remained at the table. As Paul approached, Karl Sweet stepped out from behind Kurt George and smiled while pointing at Paul.

“What is going on here, oh man, how are you guys?” Paul said as he shook each person’s hand. “Wow, it is good to see you, Jungleman, Sugar, please, join us will you? Locks is here or, don’t tell me, you already knew that?” Paul asked as he smiled and turned toward Kari before turning back to the new arrivals.

“You got us.” Sweet said.

“Ok, ok, so where is Doormat and Yuel, hiding at a Chucky Cheese or something?” Paul asked as he scanned the area.

“Let's have some coffee and catch up a little. Yuel will join us momentarily, he’s in the little boys room. You really look good, Paul. Whatever you’re doing, it is working and you look ready for any assigned mission.” George said.

They did join in and the conversation was not only filled with info from NASA but with personal information that brought all up to date on their personal lives. It was now time for Paul to bring them up to date on what he was doing now and why he was here at Stonehenge.

“Did you guys come to celebrate 10 years of operation or are you guys going up to the moon?” Paul asked when the verbal banter slowed down. “I must confess that I am not just here for a 10 year celebration. I’m going back. Up there, you know, the moon. I’m on my way to the moon in conjunction with my new assignment.” Paul said as he pointed toward the sky with his right hand.

“Lucky you, you get to go back.” Sweet said, then looking around at the other two continued. “Well to tell you the truth, we knew you were on your way back to the moon and that you’re expecting to meet your new team here.”

“Hey Commander.” Samuel (Yuel) Washington said as he approached the group and while shaking Paul’s hand continued. “Sorry about being late, must have been something I ate on the way.”

As Samuel was getting seated, Kurt George stood then reached into his briefcase and pulled out a sheaf of papers, which he handed to Paul. “We wanted to be here to scrutinize your new team. We don’t want you to get a bum crew. After all, you already had the best crew possible. We would not like it if you got short changed this time.” Jungleman said as he released the papers.

“These, these personnel are my newly assigned crew?” Paul said as he read the orders. “I think they screwed up. I expected someone with some previous knowledge of what we are to do. A rookie outfit run by a rookie with rookie personnel.” He could no longer hide his smile and looked at each in turn and said. “Welcome aboard, it’s good to be working together again. I am sure these new task could never be anywhere near as difficult as our previous ones.”

“Although I have been warned about volunteering, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work together again.” Sweet said as he again shook Paul’s hand.

“Us too.” Was echoed by Kari, Samuel and Kurt as they too shook Paul’s hand in turn. All were beaming and felt at home again with their trusted friends.

“Doormat is not here or at a pizza place but will be joining us later at the Facility. At present he is at the international space station on this his final tour. He just had to ride the new capsule one time. He said he wanted to get an idea of what the difference is between this and the shuttle. As you know he was much too young for the Mercury or Apollo programs and he thought the current set up might give him an idea of what those trips were like. He went as the ship’s commander with a crew of 2, and he took three tourists along.” Kurt told Paul.

Another hour of verbal intercourse and the crew was ready for transport to the Facility. Paul, now out of the dumps about people’s perception of this his new job, was more than ready to get started. This crew of his had such a positive effect on him. There was no way he could doubt their new mission now, not with the support given by these, his close friends, his old crew, his new crew.

Chapter 2

Paul’s Return and Reflection

Paul and crew follow the appropriate corridors and the green lines placed for travelers to the Facility. At the entrance to the transport area, there was a security person that insured everyone was who they said they were. All travelers were required to be in the computer, on file with the proper eye scan, DNA and fingerprints. Each person would be verified before he or she could enter or be allowed anywhere near the transport area.

Things were serious here and no levity was expected or permitted. The security person was just a spectator, secured behind bulletproof glass, and had no contact with the travelers. Each traveler would enter this small booth completely isolated. Once inside there were only two exits. One of the exits led to his/her being retained, maybe even arrested, and the other lead to the transport area.

All security checks were accomplished without any human interference. It was just the traveler and the computer inputs, which included a swab of the person’s mouth. All task were accomplished with a touch screen and tools and/or instruments appearing extending out from the surrounding enclosure at the appropriate time. While these personal screening activities were proceeding other unseen sequences were also in progress. Ultrasounds and metallic scans were just a few of the items that were not viewable by the traveler.

Documents were already on hand and none had to be turned in. Once a person had been scanned and verified, a portal would open and allow that person through to the waiting area for transport.

Paul went through the scan first and was soon allowed into the waiting area. He took a seat and waited for the rest of his crew. One by one they entered and took seats once again joking around with each other. These actions would alleviate some of the anxiety the crew felt. Being torn apart and then put back together, 282,000 miles away, by some alien technology would have been more comforting if someone knew how it actually worked. Of course this wasn’t the first time for any of them to travel this way and it wasn’t the first time that they had undertaken something unknown or dangerous.

Their turn came and they were ushered into the transport area. It was surprising, there was nothing here to indicate the purpose or ability of this area. The surrounding stones and the clear area in the center were unchanged except for some circles marked in the turf. There were no controls or knobs or equipment present. The operator was equipped with only a two way radio and mike. The operator asked, "You guys ready to ride the White Light?"

“Ride what?" Paul asked.

"Are you ready to go?" the operator then asked.

"Do we need to do anything special, or should we just stand here?” Paul asked as the operator showed them where to stand in preparation for their transfer to the Facility.

“No, nothing special. Just make sure all of you stay within the circle outlined on the floor.” The operator said as he pointed at the large circle that encompassed the crew. “You will be here and then you will be there. The sensation only last for a moment and then things will be normal again.” Smiling in turn at each crewmember he continued. “I have done this transfer many times myself and find no lasting ill effects.”

“That’s very comforting. Well, I guess we are ready if you are?” Paul said as he surveyed his crew for any sign of hesitation.

The earthbound operator keyed his transmitter and relayed the readiness of the current travelers to the controller at the Facility. He then watched as the rings fell and the flash of light occurred. The circled space was no longer occupied by anyone.

As the operator said, they were there and now they were here. The first thing Paul noticed was that the Facility had changed and some of its personnel were different. The original crew had long gone except for a few whom had continued to volunteer for extended tours. These controllers, now on duty at the Facility, were new to Paul and the crew. They were, however, efficient and courteous to their new arrivals.

Paul and crew hesitated for only a moment then stepped a short distance away from the transporter as requested by the operator. Almost in unison they stopped simply gawking as they looked around. They had simply forgotten how large the Facility was and they again stood in awe at its size. Looking straight across to the other side was no longer possible due to the offices and partitions that had been set up on the floor of the Facility. Even though it seemed crowded the silence was one of the things they noticed first. Second, looking up simply took their breath away. It was a long way to the opening that stretched across from wall to wall at the top of the Facility. The opening was dark black littered with a dusting of visible stars and planets, somewhat dimmed and hampered by the lighting of the Facility, but still a spectacular view.

The approach of their escort was not realized and she, in turn, did not intrude on their observation. It was a few moments before Sweet tugged on Paul’s shirt. This was after he realized that someone had approached and waited a short distance from the group. Once Paul had pulled his attention away from the Facility she spoke. “Hi, I am Astero, I will be your escort and preliminary greeter.” She said as she extended her hand toward Paul.

“Astero, that’s an unusual name, I am Paul Wilhelm.” Paul said as he took her hand and accepted her greeting.

“Yes it is, I changed it when I got this position at the Facility. It used to be Ester Roelin Smith. My mom always shouted “EsterRow” so it wasn’t much of an adjustment to Astero. Almost sounds the same doesn’t it?” Astero said as she smiled at the small group. “And, you are?” She said as she indicated Kari.

“Sorry, Kari Lipkens, Kari is fine.” Kari said, while trying to recover from the mouth gaping stunned gawking she was party too. She too took and shook Astero’s hand.

“Call her Locks and you will have it correct and I am called Sugar.” Karl Sweet said as he took Astero hand in greeting. “Karl Sweet for proper, that is with a K.”

“I am Curt George, Curt with a C that is.”

“That is actually the Jungleman, George of the jungle.” Sweet informed her.

“Ok, Locks, Sugar and Jungleman, I got it. Now last but not least?” She said as she pointed at Samuel Washington.

“That one is called Yuel, like the greeting at Christmas, Mr. Samuel Washington in person.” Sweet said short cutting any reply from Yuel. Samuel, not letting Sweet’s comments bother him, took Astero’s small hand and kissed it lightly as he bowed. “My pleasure.” Was all he said as he again rose and released Astero’s hand.

Astero retracted her hand seemingly guarding the area that had been lightly kissed by Samuel. A slight blush came to her cheeks as she shyly smiled.

Paul waited until his crew and their comments and antics were finished before he again addressed Astero. “Ok, we are all here, that is except for Matthew, so what is next?”

“Quarters and a tour of dining facilities before I release you for the rest of the day.” Astero responded. “Your official start will be tomorrow bright and early. We are on earth time, Eastern Standard, for your information and chronometer settings. Breakfast at zero seven hundred main dining facility. Oh and we are on twenty four hour clock or military time.” Astero said as she indicated her watch. “Ready, ok, let's go this way.” She then led the way away from the transporter area and into the heart of the Facility.

The air was fresh and gave the breathers the scent of being deep in the wooded area of some secluded forest. It was exhilarating and caused each to breathe a little deeper than normal.

As they proceeded, Paul took note of the conditions and layout of the Facility. He noted that each section was partitioned off as normal offices, including doors and windows, and this seemed to separate the different expertise. Inside of each partitioned section were cubicles and most were inhabited by busy occupants. The ceilings were, of course, non-existent and the view upward was unobstructed and reached into the black void of space. This view actually created more than hampered thought and tended to remind each of where they were and what their task primarily dealt with. With this unprecedented atmosphere it was easy to stay on track, whatever that track might be.

The dining facility was familiar and resembled most military mess halls in its simplicity. The serving line, however was different, it was buffet style but covered the full spectrum of dish selections, all that one could imagine. It reminded one of the buffets that were present at most Las Vegas Casinos, well, in the number of available entrees that is.

The appearance and aromas of the prepared food was just too much. Paul turned and stopped. “Astero, is it possible that we delay the visit to our sleeping area?”

“You have somewhere else you need to go?” Astero asked.

“Go, no, stay. Stay right here and have lunch, right guys?”

“My mouth has been watering since I entered this area and I thought you would never ask.” Karl said and received nods from Samuel and Kari.

“Sure, no, that’s fine. There is no time table and our route can be altered as necessary.”

“Would you join us, well, if that is possible and you are hungry?”

“Possible, yeah, you bet, I too am hungry. Come on let’s grab a tray and get started.” Astero said as she headed toward the table that held the trays and plates. The others followed suit and soon found themselves seated and enjoying the delicious meal.

The chatter from the surrounding tables was spirited and upbeat. This of course was expected, personnel here on the moon were all volunteers. They came from many different fields and here on the moon their expertise was all channeled in one direction. That direction was solving the mysteries of the Facility.

When the meal was finished, Astero led the crew to their quarters. Once there, she released them on their own reminding all of their reporting time tomorrow.

They all said good night to Astero and she left. Karl Sweet then said, “I think we should do a little investigating on our own. I’ll bet there is a local bar or watering hole somewhere on this new station of ours and it is our job, no, it is our duty to find it.”

“As usual Sugar, you are right on target.” Samuel said as he gave Sweet a high five.

“You two beat all I have ever seen. We’ve been here almost three hours and this is the best you can come up with?” Kari said as she just shook her head as if in disbelief. “Ok, I’m ready, let’s do it.” She added smiling.

“I could sure use some R & R myself. Go ahead Sweet, lead the way.” Paul said.

It took no time at all to find it. First person they asked actually stopped what he was doing and showed them the way but declined the invitation to join them for a drink.

“I’ll have to take a rain check on that, if that is ok with you guys?”

“Please, any time. We owe you one.” Samuel said as he left.

Standing right outside the pub the silence of the Facility was still noticeable but when Kari opened the door a familiar comfortable buzz drew their attention inside.

“Sounds right to me.” Sweet said and went in while Kari held the door. The rest followed right on his heels.

The waitress took their order and went to get the drinks.

“Hey Paul, I think she has a thang for you.” Sweet said and the other two nodded their agreement.

“Yeah right. But, you know, she seems familiar somehow. How is that possible?” Paul hesitantly asked out loud even though it was a rhetorical question.

They discussed work, personal items, hobbies and anything else that came up that dealt with the lives of those at their table. Many of the patrons of the bar came over and asked if they were new to the Facility. Introductions and greetings were almost a constant interruption as guest came and went from the bar. Some recognized Paul and some knew them from some previous assignment.

It reminded Kari of a family reunion. Uncles she had never met were suddenly close relatives and cousins, she knew when she was a child, they all recalled adventures that she had almost forgotten. Laughter was the main course on this ship of camaraderie and good beer was the river that they navigated on.

“You seem familiar, but I can’t place you. Your name tag, ‘Terra Firma’, that can’t be real.” Paul asked the waitress as she delivered their fourth round of drinks.

“We did meet once, just once.” Terra Firma said as she gave her smile to the entire table.

The smile and the way she turned her head caused a memory to flood back into Paul’s thoughts.

“Wait a minute, you worked at, uh, the Officer’s Club at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Your name wasn’t Terra Firma, it was…. Terri, it was Terri and you showed me to the table where a friend and his family were having dinner.” Paul said as he smiled back at her.

“I don’t believe it, we met for just a few minutes, how could you remember that after more than ten years?”

“It’s a gift and sometimes it’s a curse.” Paul said as he stood and offered Terra his hand. “Your memory is also quite good, you remembered once meeting me.”

“Remember you? You’re kidding? One of the highlights of my meager existence, you bet I remember. Paul Wilhelm, astronaut and commander of the space shuttle Atlantis.”

“Maybe so, but my mission on that particular evening could not be accomplished without your assistance, and here you are again helping us complete our current mission.” As Paul shook his head he continued. “Don’t sell yourself short, remember where you are. You are living and working here on the moon, a place where billions of people, living on earth, will never even visit, much less live.” Paul paused but wasn’t finished. “And, pardon my curiosity, what is with the name change? Earlier we were with Astero and she had also changed her name.

“You are absolutely correct and I remind myself of that every day. I am happy to be here and proud of my accomplishments. That is why you see me smiling all the time, well that and they pay me, they pay me a lot.” She gave it just a moment before she answered his last question. “The name change, just something we girls decided to do to emphasize our location. Got to run, other customers you know?”

“I knew it, I knew she had a thang for you, and you remembering her, oh man, you’re in the driver’s seat.” Sweet said as he clapped his hands.

“I told you sometimes it’s a curse. My wife, you remember my wife, has always cautioned me about doing what I just did. It leaves the impression that a chance meeting has had a more than normal impact on me.”

The rest of the evening was uneventful as one at a time the crew left and made their way to their sleeping quarters. Tomorrow would come too early.

Chapter 3

Touring the Facility

As expected, the morning came fast but they were all well rested. The lower gravity made sleeping much easier on the body and when they woke, they could not wait to get started. Breakfast was also as expected, delicious and the choices were unlimited. Sweet had trouble deciding whether to eat a regular breakfast or order something from the grill. Both were readily available. After finally deciding he joined the others at their table. His tray was laden with an almost standard ensemble of breakfast items. All that delay deciding went for naught as he simply used the buffet line, just like the rest of the crew.

Discussion focused on the path this first day would take. Paul was sure that most of the day would be spent getting acquainted with the Facility and its changes. This would be their home and it will be extremely important in their stay here. The surface and the actual job that they were assigned would be there when they were ready.

They finished their breakfast and placed their used dinnerware in the appropriate place for automated cleaning. Almost as if cued, Astero appeared to escort them.

“Did you sleep well?” Astero asked as she acknowledged each with her smile.

“We sure did, this lower gravity is a God send.” Samuel said. “I don’t think I moved at all last night and hey, I’m the guy that usually tosses and turns.”

“Great, that is good to hear, some have trouble with the low gravity for the first few nights. Now, if you will please follow me.” she said as she turned and led the way out of the dining area. “We will go see the boss.”

As they followed her through the maze of offices they could hear bits and pieces of conversations but not enough to give them a clue of the task progressing inside the many cubicles. They finally entered the only office that was completely enclosed, including the ceiling.

Anthony Petrochellie was seated behind his desk busy writing. When Astero knocked on the open door of his office, he abandon the computer keyboard rose and came around his desk to greet the newcomers.

“Paul, good to see you, I’ve been expecting you. How have you been?” Tony took Paul’s hand in both of his and welcomed him.

“Fine, Tony, I’m just fine. Good to see you too.”

“How is Jill, she still doing that news anchor thing?”

“She’s great and yes, she is still the anchor and having the time of her life with it. I don't know what she would do if she wasn’t. She is so busy that sometimes I don’t think she misses me at all.”

“I’m sure that isn’t true, every time I had a chance to talk to her, it was talk about you that dominated the conversation.” Tony then turned to the others and continued. “Jungleman, Yuel, good to see you guys and welcome aboard again.” He said as he shook hands with each. “Locks, you’re more beautiful than ever, how do you do it?” No hand shake this time, it was a hug that Locks gave him. He then turned to Karl Sweet. “Sugar, man, it's good to see you too.” Avoiding his out stretched hand, Sweet stepped up and gave Tony a hug too. Everyone laughed at the unexpected move by Sweet. Tony was surprised but hold heartily returned Sweet’s hug. “I have to remember to expect the unexpected from you.” Tony said.

Tony motioned Paul and crew to chairs and as they took seats, Tony returned to his desk and took up his role as boss again. “Well Paul, I know you have your orders so how can I help?”

“Our job, as you know, is all about Rim City and the security and safety of that area. The Facility will be our base of operation, our hub to the surface so to speak. Living here and using your area for transport to the rim and back and, sometimes when necessary, back to the Earth, should be more than enough for us to complete our mission.” Paul paused then continued, “The crew and I will fan out on the surface and try to shotgun the inspection of this, one and only, lunar city. The quicker we can do this the safer it will be for these already living on the moon and for those future inhabitants. I don’t know how you feel about things but we are using technology and equipment that we can’t replace or fix if it breaks. This fact bothers me greatly.” Paul shook his head as he finished speaking.

“You’ve evidently read my mind. I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. How long can we expect things to go before we see some degradation in this alien equipment we are using. If it deteriorates and becomes unusable we are in deep trouble.” Tony said as he agreed with Paul.

“How much have we learned during these ten years of occupation?” Paul asked.

“Tons, we’ve learned tons of things, but then again not enough. We have a partial vocabulary of the language used and of course we have the remote control figured out. Well, let's say, at least ninety percent sure of all the controls on it. We also have full use of the visual equipment and can see historic logs made by those past inhabitants.” Tony paused and took a deep breath. “We know what provides the breathable atmosphere but we still don’t know what the substance is or why it works. We do know that it cycles the air, removes the excess carbon dioxide and returns it fresh and fragrant throughout the Facility. Sure, we’ve made numerous breakthroughs and solved mysteries we never thought possible but these are overshadowed by the things we don’t know. Some of these things we don’t know we are using daily and we are totally dependent on them. This is what worries me the most.” Finished, Tony’s body language did reflect concern for these things.

“This Facility is one heck of a responsibility and we hope we can take some of that worry off your mind with what we will accomplish. Let us get out of your hair now and get on with our job. If there is anything we can do for you, just lets us know and we’ll take care of it. Thanks for your time, and again Tony, it’s really good to see you.” Paul said and shook Tony’s hand, both rising from their chairs.

The others followed suit saying their temporary goodbye and shaking Tony’s hand as they left, Astero leading the way.

In general the floor of the Facility resembled the layout of any large office that used cubicles to separate task. This was true only if you didn’t look up. These cubicles circled the floor of the Facility but only intruded a short distance toward the center of the large circular complex.

The center, used for transportation, was kept open and dominated at least three-quarters of the total floor space of the Facility. It was a busy area. Constant departures and arrivals to and from the surface kept the place hopping. The one thing Paul had predicted or pictured in his mind, ten years ago, actually turned out but with minor differences. The trips from the floor of the Facility to the surface in the ‘Hummer Limos’ he had pictured did not come to pass. In its place were multiple, generic, six seater, clear Plexiglas, bubbled conveyance vehicles. These numbered vehicles were used to move from the floor of the Facility to the airlocks of Rim City. As the crew watched one of the vehicles lifted from the floor and slowly ascended. A small boy, one of the passengers, waved at them from the vehicle as it slowly rose. Some of the crew smiled and waved back, a simple reflex action.

“Excuse me a moment.” Paul said as he left the crew and headed toward one of the cubicles a short distance away. As he entered he spoke. “Pardon me madam, I seem to have loss my way.”

Seuni Takao turned and faced Paul. Her mouth opened to speak but the words never came out. She closed her mouth and then smiled. “Paul Wilhelm, wow, good to see you, we have been expecting you. Come here you.” She laid the small glass object she carried on the nearby desk came over and gave Paul a big hug and kissed him on one cheek and then the other.

Paul returned the hug and gaves her a warm smile. “Good to see you too Seuni and I see you are still at it. You must have this place all figured out by now, right?”

“Yeah sure, piece of cake, I know everything about it.” She said sarcastically. “Actually, I have discovered so much, but unfortunately, each discovery seems to leave the idea that there is an endless road of things yet to find.” She turned and picked up the small glass like object. “You recognize this.”

“No, should I?”

“Not really, but you saw it before as a part of something.”

“The remote control, is that a part of the remote control?”

“Yep, it's one of 5 pieces. On the backside of the control was an indentation. I inserted a small metal probe into that indentation and the control started to separate. The dividing area between each piece became cool molten liquid and each separate piece moved away from the other pieces. The liquid material stretched and narrowed to pin points then parted. Once separate, each piece squared up and became solid again.” She held the piece up. “Like this and they, each, still work as before.”

Paul accepted the small glass like object that she then offered. “Amazing, it looks and feels solid as if it was always a single piece.” Paul said as he turned the small unit over and over then gave it back to Seuni. “I can see you have made huge progress in your work, but how about you? Are you doing ok? Being up here this long and all?”

“Actually I am really good. I was surprised, even with the reduced gravity here, when I went back to earth I did fine and didn’t seem to have lost any muscle mass. I took the jogging trail I usually take and my route time was well within reason.”

“Well you look fit and happy, I’m glad things are going well.” Paul turned a little and asked. “The rest of my crew is here, want to come and say hi?”

“You bet. Are they all here?” Seuni said as she looked around and beyond Paul, as if looking for someone special.

“Yep, well almost all, all except Matt. He is up at the space station, trying out the new delivery system. He wanted to experience that feeling the Apollo Astronaut had in those early mission riding in a capsule on top of all that firepower.”

“I understand that, he and I talked about how he had admired those early astronauts and the courage it took to just climb in those capsules.” Seuni replied.

Paul led the way out toward where the crew and Astero waited, still watching the arrival and departure of the small bubble vehicles. From this distance it reminded Paul of a childhood toy. That bottle of liquid bubble soap and that small plastic circle that was dipped in the soap then blown on. The bubbles would then float around. Some would go up and some would go down. Paul smiled as he thought about how similar this scene looked.

Everyone took turns and greeted Seuni warmly when they saw her. When Sweet asked Paul what he was grinning about he told them about the similarity of the current scene to that childhood bubble toy. They all agreed the scene did resemble using that toy.

Continuing their tour, they ran into several of the individuals who had been with them on the Facility discovery mission. It wasn’t surprising how many original crewmembers had stayed here to continue the work in conjunction with that discovery. Tony knew this and put the word out. When Paul and crew arrive at the bar in the evening all of those members of the original crew were gathered to make the new arrivals feel at home. The camaraderie and general conversation made it a great but a very late evening.

Chapter 4

Rim City

Early morning found Paul, Astero and crew waiting their turn for a ride to the surface in one of the small bubble vehicles.

“Mr. Wilhelm, this way please.” The load master motioned for Paul and crew to follow him. “I am Sean and I will see to your loading and transport to Rim City. Have any of you taken this ride before?”

“I have.” Astero said as she raised her hand.

Paul looked at his crew and received a negative reply which he relayed to Sean.

“Ok, Astero, yeah I know you have,” Sean began. “but for those others this is how it works and it’s all automatic. Once you are comfortably on board, the bubble top will close and seal. The Facility will then control the lift to the surface. Small air powered jets will direct your car into the main air lock of the city. The air lock will be depressurized and then open on your approach. Once you’re inside, the air lock will close, pressurize and when the atmosphere reaches normal, your car will open. Now, once your vehicle is open, please exit and go in through the entrance that says Rim City Center. Ok, any questions?”

“Well, we were hoping to spread out and go to different parts of the city. Can we do that?” Paul asked.

“Not a problem. The easiest way is taking the tram once you are inside. It does the full circle of the city with stops, too numerous to mention. There is a tram along every ten minutes.”

“I, uh, thought we would go directly from here to different areas.”

“Well you could, there are two other air locks available but they are designated emergency use only. I could set that up if necessary but, you would have to go in separate cars.”

“Hmmm…,no, no I don’t think so, that won't be necessary. We will take the tour as is.” Paul replied.

The small vehicle glided up and stopped a short distance from the crew. Once stationary the bubble raised straight up about four inches and then, clam shell like, opened tilting back out of the way. Sean instructed them to step over the sides and seat themselves. Once seated the bubble closed then lowered and sealed all six safely inside.

As the vehicle glided toward the center of the Facility, Sweet turned to Samuel and asked. “Worrying about this little flight?”

“Yeah, sure.” Yuel replied.


“A little.”

“First time?”

“No, I’ve been nervous before.” Then both he and Sweet had a good laugh over the lines from ‘Airplane the Movie’.

Kari smiled and shook her head at the antics of her crewmates and added. “You two are certifiable.”

“Guaranteed.” They replied.

Once their car reached the center there was a gentle tug and the floor of the Facility fell away as the small vehicle rose. The only sound came from Astero. She could barely control herself as she said. “I love this part.” She pointed up, as the opening that had seemed much smaller from the floor of the Facility, appeared to be expanding or moving away on all sides. Several minutes later the crew felt and heard a faint buzz as the craft passed up through the layer membrane that held the atmosphere in. How this layer held the breathable air in and let solid object pass through was still one of the unsolved mysteries of the moon based Facility.

The small vessel skimmed the surface of the layer as its air jets pushed it toward the air lock. The crew was quiet as they took in the panoramic city. That impressive ring of, Plexiglas enclosed buildings, gave the opening a bowl appearance and actually emphasized the distance across the gaping chasm. The clear bubble of the little car allowed an unobstructed view of Rim City, and the crew took full advantage as they turned in their seats and scanned the complete circle. The city stood at three stories above the moon’s surface and the city’s top was level all the way around. The width of the ring, holding the buildings that circled that opening, appeared to be about one full block wide. The neon signs, facing out toward the middle of the opening of the Facility, were bright and they advertised the businesses found within. There were no individual buildings, like luxury hotels that reached towering heights, as Paul had imagined. The control of breathable air had determined the actual design and construction, so the look of the city was not as he had envisioned, however, there was no doubt, it was a city.

Their attention was returned to their location when the airlock’s opened doors passed by the sides of their car and the small vehicle bumped to a stop inside that air lock. There was no noise until the air lock’s doors closed and the area was sealed and pressurization began. Moments later a contact made up with a noticeable click and the bubble top lifted and opened. The crew, more than a little anxious, scrambled out and headed out into the breezeway that led to the city center. It was designated ‘City Center’, not because it was in the middle of the city, that middle was out in the center of the opening that allowed access to the Facility. It was simply because it was the arrival and departure area, all who came and went, to or from Rim City, must venture here first. City Center was located on the middle floor of the structure and small stairways, up and down, were nearby.

Feeling and looking like tourist, they all stopped just inside. Looking up and down the passageway, they gawked and pointed with mouths open, as they absorbed the panoramic view. Both sides of the breezeway were lined with shops, dining facilities and hotels. They curved out of sight both ways in a surrounding circle that filled all three stories of the structure. Small store signs extended out into the breezeway to attract customers. Shoppers and residents leisurely strolled up and down the curving sidewalks that fronted the shops and businesses on both sides. In between and in the middle of the two sidewalks was a train or tram track, that followed the sidewalk, curving out of sight on both sides and, evidently, completely circling Rim City.

Paul, all ready at work, had begun to make notes on the procedures used in the lift and docking of the small vehicles. As he and the crew meandered toward the tram station he continued, occasionally stopping and writing down a comment on something he had noticed.

There were multiple shops located around the tram station. As expected the ‘Starbucks’ coffee shop was readily accessible. Paul directed his crew to one of the tables that surrounded the island that held the coffee machines. As they seated themselves a Starbucks waitress responded to take their orders. Now that Paul was no longer a rookie at Starbucks he knew just what to order. He waited for his crew to finish with their complicated, multi-worded, seemingly endless configuration of how they required their individual beverages, then he ordered, “Coffee black tall, please.” is all he said. He then smiled at the crew as they shook their heads at his simplicity in ordering.

“I’ll bet you order vanilla at Baskin Robbins.” Sweet said. And all nodded in agreement.

Once their coffees were delivered, Paul opened his briefcase and removed five manila folders that held several sheets of paper. He handed one to each of the crew. “Each of you will have a different area and your folder will identify your particular section. All the shops in your area will be looked at, inside and out. Inside your folders, you will also find a technical order that explains the criteria of your task. Right now we are only doing the first step. In essence, the first step is to note how things are run and how things get done. Once you have gone through your area and feel you have a handle on each shop’s operation, we will get together again.” Paul looked at each member as he continued. “Do not note any of your own suggestions or ideas at this time, just note how they routinely get things accomplished. Take your time and we will get together in three days to look at our results. There is a reservation in your name in one of the accommodation in your area. I suggest you go there first and get settled in before beginning your inspections.”

Paul could see that the crew had some concerns about their job as did he. “Ok, I know, this is new to all of us, we are all rookies, but we can do this. You each have a communication device and if you have a question you can reach me any time. Relax you will do fine, have some fun with this.”

They finished their coffee then, after a short wait, boarded the tram. Surprisingly the tram was not unusual and resembled most rapid transit system vehicles. It was power by electricity and was extremely quiet. As they made the circle, one by one, each got off at their assigned area, saying, “See you in three days.” Soon it was just Paul and Astero riding quietly until Paul’s stop.

“What are your plans now, Astero.”

“I will have lunch here and then head back down to the Facility. I have some other guest coming in this afternoon. I will see you when you guys get back down, ok?”

“You bet, that’s fine. Hey Astero, thanks, you are great and we all really appreciate your assistance during our arrival.”

“My pleasure, I love this place and I love my job.” Astero waved through the window as the tram pulled out heading back toward city center.

Paul gave her a salute and then turned and headed for his assigned accommodation.

Chapter 5

Making Breathable Air

Two years at the Facility had been most rewarding. The findings were endless and each new discovery was dissected, inspected, protected, selected, injected but then sometimes rejected, because its purpose was still unknown. Probably the most rewarding find at the Facility was the source and delivery of fresh breathable air. There were no pumps or fans running, as far as could be told, however, there was a movement of air although slight.

The intake to the air exchange area was found by Bobbi Larson now called Little Orbit or just Orbit. She had transported to the Facility for research on its ability to communicate without the apparent use of antennas or parabolic dishes. Young yes, the youngest ever recruited by NASA. Her high school paper on “Interstellar Communication”, “Problem Avoidance” had got the attention of NASA and she was made a part of the original team that made the discovery of The Facility possible. She now knew, most discoveries are made by accident, this too was the case here. Dropping a sheet of scratch paper from her folder was the actual catalyst. As it fell, it was pulled against the apparent solid wall and stayed there for a few moments then it was pushed away by some unknown force. Bobbi thought that this action was very unusual so she tried it again with the same results.

Ishmel Mohamed, who was the pilot of Lunar 4 during the first probe into the Facility, had remained there at the Facility. For the past two years he has been studying the Facility’s ability to maintain fresh breathable air throughout the complex. He was environmentally responsible for the original mission and was assigned as the engineer for this entire structure. After Bobbi’s accidental experience with the sheet of paper, he was contacted. He arrived after only a short wait.

“What you got here, Orbit?” Ishmel said as he stood watching Bobbi as she demoed the sheet of paper again. He thought it was most curious on how the wall attracted the sheet of paper and then shortly pushed it away. “Hmmm, there must be a, ah, sort of, utility room and vents somewhere in back of this wall.”

Orbit watched as Ishmel got down on his knees and starred closely at the wall. The lower he got down the different the wall looked. Lying down on his back and looking up at the wall revealed the presence of horizontal slats that made that portion of the wall somewhat see through. He could actual see into the interior to some extent. Standing back up the wall again looked solid. He ran his hand down the wall and it was smooth to the bottom, no slats apparent visually or by touch.

“Wow, I tried almost everything to find the source of fresh air and I find it now by laying down on the job.” He slowly shook his head as he continued. “I feel like such a failure, taking this long to find any evidence of a ventilation system.” He lay down again on the floor and looking left and right, he realized that these horizontal venting strips curved and seemed to go around the entire wall of the Facility.

Little Orbit looked on and her faced showed her amusement. Although recently arrived at the Facility she was amazed at how many things had been found when least expected and by means that were not their intended. “Sometimes the current results are worth more than our past progress or what you might refer to as failures.” Orbit offered.

“How true, how true. I tried everything, I pushed, I knocked, everything but a swift kick at the walls. Wasn’t it Sherlock Holmes that said, “When all other evidential fact have been eliminated, whatever remains however unlikely, must be the answer.” Well he said something like that anyway.” Ishmel said as he again pushed and prodded along the wall, high and low. Then, more out of frustration than anything else, he gently kicked, more like a toe tap, the curving inside wall of the Facility.

It opened, about a seven foot tall, six foot wide section of wall simply disappeared and the interior was revealed. Ishmel, as if expecting this and without hesitation, walked right in and stood there, looking around. The area was vast and curved out of sight on both sides. Judging the height of the interior was difficult due to lack of anything to compare it to. About three meters from the entrance wall were some large rectangular racks. They were filled with a bright pink cotton candy looking substance. These racks followed the curve of the interior and continued around in both directions. The curves of the walls prevented a view to the end of these racks, that is, if they indeed ended. Maybe, like the horizontal venting strips, they circled the entire Facility.

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