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Moonseed

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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The receiving lab had been built at the height of the Cold War Apollo era, when funds flowed relatively freely, and everyone worried that there might be bugs in the Moon rocks, that would devastate the world. But the Moon rocks had turned out to be the deadest things ever seen.

She could see Henry at the far end of the room.

He was obviously busy, organizing the packaging of some precious rock or other. He was clustered around a stainless steel workbench with three or four techs, all of them in their white bunny suits, like a conference of surgeons.

She drifted to the front of the lab, and waited until Henry came free.

At the front of the room was a glass wall, beyond which was a viewing gallery, dimly lit.

And here there were three big rocks on display. Each of them was maybe the size of a grapefruit, sawn in half.

These were Moon rocks, she knew.

She’d been with Henry long enough to pick up, however reluctantly, a little geology. The rock on the left was obviously a basalt – a kind of lava – a dark grey structure shot through with vesicles. The rock on the right was a breccia, its structure compound like a granite, big shapeless blobs of different materials. Breccias were the result of violent events, which smashed up rocks and welded them back together again. On Earth they usually formed in river environments. But these lunar rocks had been shoved together by an ancient meteorite impact which pulverized some part of the Moon. Even that impact was more than three billion years ago, older than almost all rocks on Earth. And the centre rock, perhaps the most nondescript, was all of four and a half billion years old.

‘… Treat that with respect, Geena; it cost forty billion bucks.’

It was Henry, of course, his fleshy nose like a bird’s beak, his black hair an unruly tangle that wouldn’t stay put under his NASA-regulation trilby.

Geena said, ‘I thought I ought to –’

He talked fast. ‘What? Come say goodbye? Gee, thanks. You want to see 86047? That’s the rock I’m taking to Edinburgh. Or rather, it is taking me. The only piece of lunar bedrock you’re likely to see. What an honour. And the centrepiece of what’s left of my career.’ He eyed her. ‘Maybe you’d like to stomp it, like you stomped my balls.’

She stepped back, until her butt came up against the display case of Moon rocks. She hadn’t expected so much anger; it was like an explosion in her face.

‘Change the record, Henry. You aren’t good at bitterness.’

‘You think I’m giving you a hard time?’

‘I don’t deserve it.’

‘Like hell. You shafted the Shoemakers. We were going to the South Pole,’ Henry said. ‘A place your Man-in-Space heroes had never dared think about. Great science, and two probes for two hundred million bucks apiece. Christ, do you know how much we could have learned?’

‘I know, Henry.’

‘Do you? Listen to me – there’s water at the South Pole. Not just the bathtub full that Prospector found, but a whole frozen ocean of it, laid down by the comets, in great dusty layers, carbon dioxide too, maybe enough to flood the whole damn Moon –’

‘I know, Henry. And your fancy probes would have performed the deep core sampling that would have proved it. You told me a dozen, a hundred times. You told everybody else. Maybe –’

‘Maybe what?’

Maybe if you didn’t shoot your mouth off so much, to me and the NASA managers and on the TV chat shows and in the tabloid papers and in the goddamn JSC staff canteen, you’d exert a little more influence. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened to you.

Suddenly, she felt weary of all this. ‘You do blame me, don’t you?’

‘Hell, yes. If you hadn’t come out publicly and backed shutting down Shoemaker …’

‘It wouldn’t have made a difference. Don’t you get it? It’s all about money and politics and power and rivalry between the NASA centres, Henry. It’s a game, that you never figured out.’

He thought about that. ‘So what game were you playing? If it made no difference what you said, why say anything at all?’

‘I was trying to advance my career. What else?’

‘At my expense?’

‘Look, Henry, it could be worse. You got your lunar bedrock, haven’t you? The most important unanalysed Apollo sample left, so they tell me.’

‘86047? It’s a piece of shit.’

‘How can you say that? It’s bedrock.’

‘But that asshole Jays Malone didn’t do his documentation right. I don’t have the context.’

She knew enough geology to understand him. The geologists had been complaining about the astronauts’ performance on the Moon since 1969. Without its context – knowing exactly where a sample had come from, how it was positioned, all the rest – a rock’s value was hugely diminished, for a geologist. Maybe that was why they fobbed off Henry with it.

He was still talking.

‘… And I have to go to Edinburgh to work on it. The only place that would have me.’

‘Come on, Henry.’

‘Where the hell is Scotland anyhow?’ He waved an arm vaguely. ‘Some Scandinavian country, thataway somewhere.’

‘You need a change, Henry. A career break. Face it. All this bitterness –’

‘The thing of it is, we’ll never know. Don’t you get it yet, Geena? We’ll never know, about the South Pole ice. Not in my working lifetime. That’s what is killing me.’

She tried to focus, to stay sympathetic, but her attention drifted.

She’d heard this before, too.

Was this the definition of the end of a relationship? When you’ve heard everything the other person has to say – not once, but many times?

She started to think ahead to her appointments later in the day.

Henry had, she realized guiltily, stopped talking.

He turned, and walked back to his work.

The Shoemaker had been Henry’s project, the centrepiece of his career. It had actually got further than most. Two prototype landers had been built for real, by the Jet Propulsion laboratory out in Pasadena. Now, as far as she knew, they were being put in storage, or maybe cannibalised for other missions …

For the Shoemaker program had been canned. The manned program – delays to the Space Station, cancellations by the cash-strapped Russians – had taken too much out of NASA’s budget.

It had always been thus, Geena knew. A single Shuttle launch, of whatever value, cost as much as both Henry’s unmanned science missions put together.

The project on 86047 was no sop, though. The mother rock was being broken up and sent around the world to top geophysics labs for independent analysis. Edinburgh was just such a lab. They’d done the same, for instance, with the famous meteorite from Mars which had looked as if it held life traces; Edinburgh had got a piece of that too.

And Henry was being sent along with the rock. There was valuable work to be done here, genuine research. But …

But she’d been with him long enough to understand how he felt.

The cancellation of Shoemaker was like the cancellation of his whole career; it meant he wasn’t likely to meet the long-term objectives he had set himself, like all scientists, objectives which underlay his choice of particular projects.

Digging aimlessly into 86047 was, by comparison, no consolation.

The visitors were still here. A tech opened a cylindrical case inside a glove box, and pulled out a Moon rock: small, fist-sized, nondescript, sawn in half. Geena could see the vertical burns of the saw. The visitor had his picture taken with it, his grinning face outside the glass, the rock held by a black-gloved hand inside the glass, the camera angled so as to avoid the flash’s reflection from the glass.

And in the sterile light of the lab, the ancient rocks from the Moon – many of them older by a billion years than any rock that had survived on Earth – sat, wizened and lumpy and wilfully irregular, like resentful old men in a rest home.

3

Monica Beus was with Alfred Synge, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

She emerged from the dark crater into the blinding light of the sun. She pulled on her sunglasses and checked her floppy hat. She’d snapped Alfred’s head off when he showed up with this big hat for her. For the sun, he said. But he was right, of course; the chemotherapy had left her so bald her scalp would fry like an egg, and she was too damned stubborn, naturally, to wear a wig.

So be it. She wore the damn hat, and forgave Alfred for his residual love for her.

Breathing hard from the climb, she clambered on top of an old gun emplacement with a bunch of other tourists and studied the view.
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