The Truth, From a Lie of Convenience
Marianne Summers scanned her image in the third cueing holotank, ensuring her displayed 3D image looked presentable. In the one-sixth gravity of the Moon, she didn’t need to tease her hair to give it any lift, but she did adjust her breasts, pulling them together to emphasize her cleavage. It was a trick every female newscaster knew, and she might as well take advantage of the forgiving gravity in Luna City and the gift it gave to her forty-five-year old body. This ceremony she was covering might only be a one-time gig to pay the bills, but she wasn’t taking any chances. Anyone could be watching, and this job might lead to more work―or even a permanent position for a news blog or network vlog.
The reminder beeped in her headset and the director’s voice came over the network channel. “Okay, everyone. Look sharp. Tommy, are you ready?”
“I’m ready,” Tommy Rubner answered over the director’s channel.
Something in his voice didn’t seem right. Marianne hoped he was already outside in the airlock as he had rehearsed, waiting for his cue to approach the ruins, say his prepared speech and lay the ceremonial wreath at the memorial marker. She keyed his private channel on her headset and said, “Tommy, it’s Marianne. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it’s just . . . five years, you know.”
“I know. That’s why we’re all here. Don’t worry. You’ll honor her memory just fine.”
He didn’t sound any better. Marianne wanted to speak with him further, but the reminder in her headset beeped again, and she had to trust that he would come through.
She removed her headset and switched her attention to the blond anchorwoman’s 3D figure in the main holotank as she waited for her cue. Even on Earth, the newscaster’s breasts were perky and showed ample cleavage. Marianne didn’t want to be jealous, but young women were taking over the news business, even though they were inexperienced. A pretty face and a young body went further than skill and experience did nowadays.
The blond anchor said, “And continuing our live coverage from Luna City on the Moon, we have Marianne Summers.” The main holotank shimmered as Marianne’s image from the cueing tank transferred there.
“This is Marianne Summers with the fifth annual wreath laying ceremony honoring the victims of Habitat Fourteen here in Luna City.
“Five years ago, radicals claiming to be fighting for Luna City’s independence from Earth barricaded almost six thousand Luna City citizens into Habitat Fourteen and demanded political sovereignty. When negotiations stalled, they destroyed Habitat Fourteen, themselves and those unfortunate hostages. Here’s footage from that tragic day.”
The main holotank image shifted to a two-D image of a semicircular, off-white dome framed in the center of a gray moonscape. At the zenith of the dome, a red beacon blinked at regular intervals.
As the image displayed, Marianne narrated, “Negotiations came to a standstill the night of May 9, 2062. Negotiators expected to try again the next morning. That attempt never took place.” After a second of stillness on the video, the dome exploded in slow-motioned silence.
Marianne had seen the same video hundreds of times in the last five years. She watched as every seam in the geodesic half-dome split and the humid air inside vaporized into flashes of terrifying mist.
Twisting triangular panels spun like choreographed dancers in the silence. Fifteen seconds into the video she saw the famous severed arm, bent at the elbow like an obscene boomerang, spin toward the camera and finally disappear out of frame―the same arm that conspiracy theorists always pointed out shouldn’t be bent like that.
The image changed to a slow pan around the face of a woman in a Luna City uniform. Marianne said, “Councilwoman Susan P. Rubner was one of the victims of that tragedy. Her husband, Thomas Rubner, is with us today and will lay the wreath at this year’s memorial service.”
The main holotank changed to a live, 3D shot of the ruins of Habitat Fourteen. Although construction robots could have rebuilt the habitat dome in only six months, the Luna City Republic never repaired Habitat Fourteen. Moon-dust based concrete was cheap to manufacture, and the material to grow the polymer-based windows was easy enough to transport to the Moon. However, the Luna City Government insisted it wanted to keep the site unaltered―as a memorial to the first act of off-Earth terrorism.
“Cue Tommy,” Marianne heard the director order over the network’s private channel. A figure in a white pressure suit came into view and skipped across the Moon’s surface to the ruins. The director called for a zoom in, and the figure grew large in the main holotank. Thomas Rubner’s face was recognizable behind the helmet’s polycarbonate face shield as the camera operator did an excellent job of keeping it framed through his awkward hop-skip across the Moon.
“He’s not carrying the wreath,” the camera operator said on the director’s channel.
Marianne looked at the cueing tank and saw Tommy, empty handed. She suspected that was why Tommy had sounded so strange. He seemed calm during the rehearsals this past week and was probably nervous now because he forgot the only prop he needed for the memorial service.
Marianne stared at the share meter, which held steady at twenty-two percent. She suspected that nobody on Earth had yet noticed that the wreath-layer had forgotten to bring a wreath to lay.
The director swore. “All right,” she said, “keep the shot from the number two holotank. I want his face only. Bobby, get somebody suited up and get that wreath out to him.”
The assistant director, Bobby, answered, “I don’t know if any of the union guys are still around. Today is a lunar holiday.”
“Find one. I don’t care what you have to pay him.”
“Why is he just standing there?” Chang, one of the camera operators, asked.
“He’s probably realized he’s screwed up,” the director said. “Everything is going to be fine. Just get him that wreath.”
“No,” Marianne said. “He’s supposed to brush dust off the plaque? He’s forgotten what he’s supposed to do.”
Marianne keyed Tommy’s personal channel again. “It’s Marianne. Are you all right?”
“Are you sure? Do you remember what to do?”
“Yes. I remember.”
“Nobody can do this with the same emotional impact that you can. You’ve lost someone special. Viewers on Earth want to see that emotion. Can you do it?”
“Yeah. I’m ready.” He sounded calm, and Marianne relaxed a bit.
The director asked, “Where’s the union guy with the wreath?”
“The wreath isn’t in the suit-up room,” Bobby answered.
Marianne saw her career dissolve in front of her. She had to figure out a way to rescue this disaster. The share meter ticked down to twenty percent as the main holotank featured the motionless, speechless face of Thomas Rubner.
Marianne sighed in relief when Tommy began speaking.
“Five years ago, terrorists took control of Habitat Fourteen and demanded sovereign territory upon the Moon. I don’t know of anyone who sat through those tense days that didn’t worry and pray for the hostages. I did my share of both. My wife, Susan, was one of those five thousand, eight hundred and eighty being held captive. Everyone on Earth, in the space stations and on the Moon has seen the horrific end of that day.
“I’m standing here in the center of the ruins of Habitat Fourteen.” The scene on the main holotank changed to an overhead view of the ruined half-dome. “It’s been preserved here as a reminder. But, as a reminder of what? A reminder to be eternally vigilant. A reminder of human courage in the worst of times. A reminder to never give up in the face of adversity. That’s what we’ve been told by the Luna City Government.
“Tonight, five years after that catastrophic event, I would be honored to recognize the valiant Luna City administrators, who tried so hard to avoid this disaster. If any of what I just said were true.”
“What does that mean?” the director asked over the network’s channel.
“I don’t know,” Marianne said.
“I recently learned that Luna City officials rescued some of the hostages and destroyed Habitat Fourteen themselves. All to increase their political power in this formerly apolitical city.”
Oh, my God, Marianne thought. Tommy doesn’t believe that crazy conspiracy theory, does he?
Tommy’s face in the holotank looked remarkably calm. “This rumor has been circulating for years. And, like most of you, I dismissed it as paranoid nonsense at first. Luna City politicians wouldn’t destroy billions of dollars worth of equipment and murder thousands of innocent people just to wrestle power from Earth. It sounds ridiculous.
“But, look at the effects of those actions five years ago. The Moon is now a political entity in and of itself. It’s called the “Lunar Republic.” Isn’t that exactly what the terrorists wanted?
“But, that’s not what really convinced me. After last year’s ceremony, I was walking along the hub in Luna City. That was the day I saw my wife, who supposedly died in the Habitat Fourteen explosion five years ago.
“So, I volunteered to lay the wreath this year. But, I want to speak with my wife, Susan P. Rubner, first.”
Marianne glanced at the share meter. It read seventy-four percent. A seventy-four share represented at least five billion people on Earth tuning in to this broadcast. Five billion people tuning into this story, and she was in the middle of it.
A moment later, several Luna City Security officers burst into the broadcast booth, ordering everyone to put their hands up. As the officers unceremoniously shoved Marianne and the rest of the network staff out the door, she caught a quick glance at the main holotank. There was nothing there but static. The uplink to Earth was shut down.
As security locked the door behind them, Marianne’s visor chirped. She fished it out of her backpack and slid it on.
“Hey, what’s happening?” It was Roy Hinkley’s avatar. He was the producer of the memorial show and had hired Marianne to travel to the Moon to cover it personally. Nobody else wanted to travel all the way to the Moon for a memorial piece, but she had bills to pay. He continued, “We’re getting nothing but static from you guys.”
“LCS just threw us out of the booth. Thomas Rubner started spouting that wacky Luna City conspiracy theory. Weren’t you watching?”
“I was . . . preoccupied,” Roy said. “Hang on . . .” She watched as Roy’s avatar stared at her. She suspected that he was reviewing the video and pushed away her anger that he couldn’t be bothered to watch the live broadcast.
After a moment, Roy whistled. “Susan Rubner’s husband is a nutcase.”
“I should have realized something was wrong. He was acting strange all week. Then, when he went out the airlock, he wasn’t carrying the wreath.”
“That conspiracy theory is ridiculous. He can’t possibly believe it. I need you to get back on the air. Immediately.”
“I’m working on it.” She took off her visor just as three Luna City officials, escorted by more security, tramped down the hall, shoved past the network crew and stomped into the control room. Scowls and creased brows punctuated each of their faces. Marianne shouted a couple of questions to them as they stomped past, but they didn’t answer.
She put on her headset and keyed Tommy’s personal channel. He was speaking. “So you think you can silence me too? Keep me from telling the truth?”
She pressed the record button to capture the conversation.
Another voice answered back. It sounded like Captain Gerald Hail of Luna City Security. “Don’t be so melodramatic, Mr. Rubner. You are, of course, welcome to your personal beliefs, no matter now unbelievable they are. However, I can’t let you usurp our memorial service to espouse them.”
Tommy said, “Then it wouldn’t hurt for the people―”
Captain Hail interrupted, “You left the wreath in the airlock door jamb? Is this how you honor the victims that died here?”
Tommy’s laugh crackled in her headset. “I guess you won’t be able to leave the city that way. You’ll have to go the long way around.”
“Maybe my men will take their time. How much air do you have left, Mr. Rubner? My guess is not a lot, considering how much you’ve been running your mouth.”
Marianne wondered if LCS might leave him out there until his air ran out. This story was developing into something stranger than she had expected. Her pulse quickened.
Captain Hail said, “Nothing more to say? Yeah, it’s probably better if you ration your air.”
Tommy yelled, “I have plenty to say! About how a group of power-hungry bureaucrats murdered thousands of people just so they can wrestle power from the Earth Consortium. How they blamed it on fanatics and terrorists. How the newly formed Lunar Republic raised taxes and formed its own goon squad to hide the truth. How the goon leader is prohibiting free speech right now. Yeah, I have a lot to say.”
Marianne willed Tommy to be quiet. Surely, he didn’t believe the conspiracy theory that had sprung up on blogs and vlogs after the tragedy happened. No proof of a conspiracy had ever been discovered, but that didn’t stop some people from holding on to those crazy ideas. During the week of rehearsals, Tommy had never struck her as one of those nuts.
Captain Hail said, “Your thinking is off, Mr. Rubner. The cause was the terrorist act. The effect was the Lunar Republic. Cause and effect. The Republic was formed after the explosion. Not the other way around.”
“Yeah, terrorists smuggled twenty-five kilos of E-1 explosive past Earth customs, onto a Moon transport, past Luna City customs and across the whole base all the way to Habitat Fourteen. Hmmmm, I wonder why they didn’t choose an easier target. Like the shuttle area itself, the Luna City council hub or the utilities spur.”
Marianne had never thought about why the terrorists had chosen Habitat Fourteen. It was true that the terrorists would have had to transport the explosives past customs and throughout Luna City―probably over seven kilometers and past vital areas―just to get it to Habitat Fourteen. It was on the opposite side of the base from the shuttle area and customs inspection facilities.
She groaned. Now she was starting to see the conspiracy take form, too. “Not you too,” she whispered to herself.
Captain Hail asked, “Who is on this channel?”
Marianne swore. She had hoped to record more of this conversation before breaking in to ask questions.
“This is Marianne Summers,” she said carefully. “I’m the reporter for LNS and would like to ask Mr. Rubner a few questions. You said―”
“Clear this channel immediately!” Captain Hail said.
“―you saw a woman who you claim is your dead―”
“We are in the middle of a situation, here!” Captain Hail yelled. “Clear this channel now!”
“Tommy, you say you saw your dead wife. Would you care―”
Two Luna City Security officers burst out of the control room door and demanded she give them her headset.
“No,” she answered back. “I’m a member of the free press.”
They pointed their weapons at her and one of them ordered, “Give me the headset, ma’am.”
She had been on the muzzle side of weapons several times in her career, but the needlegun that the guard pointed at her terrified her more than any others did. Their electromagnetic coils fired half-inch diameter polycarbonate flechettes that were often coated with sleeping agents―or sometimes poisons. The flechettes wouldn’t rupture a pressure wall or window if they struck one. It was a perfect weapon for a space station and a lunar outpost.
She carefully disconnected her headset and handed it to the officer. The other officers collected everyone else’s headsets and disappeared back inside the control room.
She swore when she realized she hadn’t downloaded the headset recording to her personal visor before it was confiscated. Without confirmation, any legitimate story was dead.
She grabbed Chang and asked him to follow her with his camera. She ran past the control room to the hallway where a series of oversize, triangular windows overlooked the ruins of Habitat Fourteen. In the distance, she could see a lone figure standing near the plaque.
“Can you zoom in on him?” she asked Chang.
“Sure.” Chang raised the camera and began filming.
Marianne watched as Tommy continued to stand there. She wished she knew what he and Captain Hail were saying.
As she watched, she thought about the Luna City conspiracy. She had covered the conspiracy side of it for one of the tabloids she had a contract with at the time, but she never believed any of it herself. The most popular scenario was that the current Lunar Republic had purposely destroyed Habitat Fourteen and that the terrorist angle was merely a cover story. There had been no terrorist acts since the explosion in 2062 but even that was spun two ways. Conspiracy theorists claimed that the Republic had gotten what it wanted and didn’t need to resort to further violence. The new Lunar Republic claimed that was because of the increased security that its police force wielded independent from Earth.
She and Chang watched for about ten minutes until three people in steel-gray spacesuits hopped into view and headed in Tommy’s direction. The suits belonged to Luna City Security. The three people surrounded Tommy and inched closer. Tommy spun in place, then hopped-ran between two of them. The closest man cut him off as he attempted a one-sixth-G leap to avoid them. They caught him by the waist and hauled him in as the third security man helped secure him. Then, they escorted Tommy back to the airlock.
One of the officers picked up the wreath, carried it over to the plaque and set it down gently before returning to the airlock with the other officers and Tommy.