End of an Era

The sun was only a few degrees above the horizon, but that’s as high as it ever got. And though the unfiltered sunlight was intense, it always felt like nighttime at the moon’s southern pole. With no atmosphere to diffuse the incoming light the contrast between daylight and shadow was stark. It always looked like an interstate at 2:30 a.m.; a gray path beneath the street lamps being swallowed up by the darkness. But Aspen liked the open road, and she was a night owl anyway, so the moon suited her just fine.

A second glaring light, in opposition to the sun, marked the end of an era.

Most people saw it as a new dawn, but Aspen was less enthused. The new light source was the retrorocket fire of a private space capsule. The first moon tourists.

Over the last decade Shackleton had gone from the name of the crater that held the base camp to the name of the fledgling city that had grown there. Aspen had been standing with her back to it, but now she turned and took it all in. Colorful pulsing LEDs made the little skyline look like an art school student’s ironic mashup of 2001 and Tron. Shackleton was 80% private interest now. Science had taken a back seat to projected earnings-per-share, and soon, she worried, her specialized skillset would no longer be desired here. They’d send her packing.

Aspen turned her back again on the camp and sat on the regolith, drawing up her knees and wrapping her arms around them—a posture she was aware could only be accomplished in the private suit she was outfitted with; the NASA-issued version hadn’t near the articulation—and looked upon the Earth. She tried to burn the image into her memory; it might not be long until she had to pay for this view, and she wouldn’t be able to afford it.

The capsule’s rockets cut off as the vessel stabilized on the pad, and the sun reclaimed its place as the only significant light source on the expanse of unmolested moonscape before her. There was still work to do, and Aspen loved her work, but there was plenty of O2 in the tank. She could look for just a minute longer.

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