Lunar Descent

Lunar Descent

4.2 5
by Allen Steele
     
 

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The former head of a lunar mining operation returns to the moon and is immediately sucked into a dangerous morass of labor troubles, lies, larceny, and corporate wrongdoing in this wildly entertaining science fiction thrill ride

There is big trouble on the moon. The blue-collar working stiffs of Descartes Station, who mine the surface for minerals andSee more details below

Overview

The former head of a lunar mining operation returns to the moon and is immediately sucked into a dangerous morass of labor troubles, lies, larceny, and corporate wrongdoing in this wildly entertaining science fiction thrill ride

There is big trouble on the moon. The blue-collar working stiffs of Descartes Station, who mine the surface for minerals and the North Pole for water, have become increasingly dissatisfied with Skycorp’s general disregard for its employees’ well-being. Following the most recent spate of layoffs, the labor strike grumblings have only grown louder, so the company is sending former base administrator and recovering alcoholic Lester Riddell back into the fold in an attempt to boost morale and output alike.
 
The truth, however, becomes shockingly apparent to Riddell almost immediately upon his return. Not only has he been unceremoniously dumped into a muddled mess of larceny, piracy, and corporate malfeasance, it appears that Skycorp is purposely setting him up to fail—which could spell finis for Descartes Station and every trash-talking, pot-smoking, porn-loving Vacuum Sucker and Moondog who toils there. But as the Skycorp suits are about to discover, they’ve just made the biggest mistake of their corporate lives—because Lester Riddell is nobody’s fall guy.
 
Three-time Hugo Award winner Allen Steele has seen the near future, and it isn’t pretty—it’s noisy, dirty, dangerous, and chaotic. Thrilling, wildly inventive, delightfully profane, and totally outrageous, Lunar Descent is one hell of rocket ride, with a master of science fiction at the helm.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Steele's (one title/pk Clarke County, Space ) new tale glimpses the doingspk on an industrialized moon, circa 2024. Descartes Station is a lunar factory responsible for producing oxygen and other elements for parent company Skycorp's more lucrative projects. Lester Riddell, former administrator of the base and a recovering alcoholic, has been recalled to boost the station's morale as well as its output. Unfortunately, the base's staffers--known as ``moondogs''--are a recalcitrant bunch. Steele fills his hard SF novel with a rogue's gallery of caricatures and stereotypes, including a humorless head of security, a scientist who worked as a high-fashion model and a crooked hacker with a heart of gold. Though most of the novel is devoted to mood pieces about life on the moon and frat-boy high jinks, Steele sketches a slim plot line concerning the attempts of Uchu-Hiko, an evil Japanese space corporation, to buy control of the station. Despite their differences, the moondogs rally together, organizing a strike and standing up to their management. The ending is as predictable as Steele's jokes and forced slapstick humor: a tired exercise in low lunar gravity. (Oct.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781453274798
Publisher:
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Publication date:
05/19/2015
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
328
Sales rank:
556,843
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

Lunar Descent


By Allen Steele

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1991 Allen Steele
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-7479-8


CHAPTER 1

The Diversion of Spam-Can S31CO18


The next incident of piracy began early Friday morning-May 17, 2024, to be exact, just a few hours before sunrise. An appropriate time for vile acts by unspeakable men.

"Fast Eddie" Delany leaned over the railing of a catwalk high above the floor of Bay Four of Skycorp's Orbiter Processing Center and watched as the bridge crane just below his feet lowered a cargo pallet into the payload bay of the Skycorp shuttle Jesco von Puttkamer. He absently reached into a breast pocket of his work vest and pulled out a stick of Wrigley's spearmint as the big crane cranked and whined and beeped, the ruckus barely heard through the ear protectors clamped over his balding head. Seventy feet below, at the bottom of the vast pit formed by the tiered work platforms surrounding the shuttle, two other cargo loaders standing in the open bay of the Boeing S-202B "Humpback" reached up to grasp the leading edges of the massive pallet and gently guide it down. Fast Eddie curled the stick of chewing gum into his mouth and slid back the right sleeve of his cotton shirt to check his watch. Almost 0300. Time to get things rolling here....

He looked down again to make sure the pallet was going into the stub-winged shuttle without a hitch. One of the grunts in the Puttkamer's bay glanced up at him and quickly gave him the O.K. sign with a free hand. Eddie returned the gesture, then stood up from the railing and began walking down the catwalk toward the top platform of the big hangar. Up here in the rafters, he could peer above the corrugated sheet-metal walls dividing the hangar, into the bays where the other shuttles were going through the post-landing and prelaunch turnaround cycle.

In the far distance to his left the red-striped vertical stabilizer of an older ship, the Boeing S-201A Willy Ley, could be seen between the levels of the rear swing-away platform; the old boat had come home Saturday afternoon, and from what he had heard from the Bay Two techs during his last coffee break, its electronics were giving out almost faster than they could find and repair the faults, and whole sections of the multilayer thermal protection tiles on the lower fuselage were all but shot to shit. Somebody would have to soon make up their minds whether to keep Willy operational or decommission it for cannibalization and eventual donation of the hull to some museum. Damn shame if they took it off the flight line; the Willy Ley had a lot of history behind it. To his immediate right he could see the smaller, blue-and-green striped fuselage of the Orbital Services spaceplane Deke Slayton over in Bay Five, leased from Skycorp until Orbital Services fixed the damage suffered by its own OPC hangar, on the other side of Merritt Island, from the violent tropical storm which blew over Florida's northeast coast two weeks ago. The mini-shuttle was ready to be towed to the Vehicle Assembly Building for mating with a booster, as soon as the two almost-rival companies got the paperwork out of the way and NASA found a window in the Cape's crowded launch schedule. Fast Eddie grimaced and shook his head as he glanced away from the OS-32 shuttle. All dressed up and no place to go, aren't you, Little Deke?

But it was Bay Three, immediately to his left between the Puttkamer and the Ley, which demanded his attention. As Fast Eddie reached the stairway leading down from the work platforms to the hangar floor, he paused to rub imaginary dust from his right eye while he furtively studied the floor of Bay Three. From here he could see the blunt nose of the Boeing S-202B Sally Ride protruding through the forward tiers. Like the Puttkamer, the Ride was a second-and-a-half generation shuttle; raised payload bay on the top aft fuselage, no vertical stabilizer, long delta wings with tip fins, advanced avionics designed for quick turnaround at the Cape. In the trench underneath the fuselage he could see jumpsuited technicians making last-hour adjustments to the landing gear hydraulics. The doors of the humpbacked payload bay were open, and sure as hell, Eugene the Dork was waddling down the mobile ladder out of the shuttle and down to the hangar floor. Right on time.

The Dork paused on the lowermost platform to ask a question of the bay foreman—Fast Eddie could make out Lynn Stoppard's pained expression, even if Eugene missed it entirely—and to fuss over his datapad with his lightpen. Eddie took the opportunity to relish his target of opportunity. Eugene Kastner was the king nerd of Skycorp's graveyard shift at the Cape, the wanker to end all wankers. This was a guy who probably tucked his Fruit of the Loom undershirt into the waistband of his baggy shorts before he went to bed in the morning. He was an assistant scoutmaster for the local Boy Scout troop, took his Sunday day-off to attend the Baptist church in Titusville, voted Republican across the ballot even for municipal dogcatcher, rarely wore anything which wasn't white, gray, or brown (and secretly cheated on company dress code for management by using a clip-on tie instead of learning how to tie a decent knot), always kept a half-dozen colored pens (no two alike) in his breast pocket, and couldn't keep his weight down because his darling wife always made sure that there was a packet of Sara Lee double-fudge cookies in his dull gray lunchbox. Eugene hummed along with Muzak when he thought he was alone, stopped reading science fiction when he thought all the writers were becoming liberals, and once bared his soul to a couple of other cargo inspectors in the NASA cafeteria to tell them that, if it weren't for them, Lord knows what would get into the cargo canisters lifted to orbit by the shuttles during their weekly supply missions.

The last was utter hypocrisy because there were two secrets in Eugene Kastner's life, and one of them was that when he completed his meticulous inspection of the contents of the cargo bays of outbound shuttles—usually at 3 A.M., if there were no severe holdups in the launch cycle—he would retire to his office, close the door, and steal a half-hour of sleep in his desk chair. You could tell it was coming when he yawned. Fast Eddie had to smile as he watched the Dork slowly walk away from the Sally Ride and head for the door to Bay Four. Just before he reached the door, Eugene stopped in his tracks and yawned. He then glanced at his watch before opening the door. Lord, Eddie thought as he headed down the stairs, I love a man who keeps to a tight schedule. Shows strength of character.

But there was another, darker secret which Eugene kept: He had been bribed a long time ago to ignore certain outbound payload canisters. As unbelievable as it seemed, this prosaic Baptist Republican no-nonsense family man was on the take from someone. The trick to finding out which Spam-can, Fast Eddie mused as he jogged down the stairs, is to watch the Dork carefully when he makes his inspections.

Eddie made it to the floor just as the Dork was heading for the mobile ladder leading up into the Puttkamer's payload bay. "Morning, Gene," he called out over the barrage of noise, pulling the ear protectors down around his neck. "Ready for your look-see?"

The Dork turned and cast a disdainful look at the approaching bay foreman. It was Eddie Delany's job to accompany the cargo supervisor during the inspection. Eugene knew that, but it didn't mean he had to like it, or like Eddie either for that matter. The Dork just nodded, then glanced down at his datapad. "You had trouble earlier getting the pallet into the cargo container," he said, peering over his horn-rimmed glasses at Eddie.

"Uh-huh." Eddie pointed up at the shuttle; the bridge crane had lowered the pallet the rest of the way into the payload bay and the two cargo grunts were disengaging the cables. "A couple of bolt holes were misaligned in the forward section by about a quarter of an inch either way...."

"About a quarter of an inch?" The Dork couldn't tolerate generalizations. He preferred people to speak to him in metric terms—this was a person who, if asked on the street by a driver for directions to the nearest charge station, would tell the man how far it was in kilometers—but he had come to reluctantly accept the fact that he was working with other Americans.

"Three-point-four tenths of an inch," Eddie automatically replied. "Anyway, we got NASA to give us a waiver to drill new holes, so it isn't a problem anymore."

The Dork nodded his head, moved his lightpen across the pad and double-checked to see if a NASA waiver had indeed been issued, and nodded again. "Okay. Send me a memo on this so we can bill the supplier for the work." Then he turned and began walking up the ladder.

Eddie was about to follow him up when he heard a sharp whistle. He glanced over his shoulder and spotted Lynn Stoppard standing in the doorway to Bay Three. The other foreman quickly shook his head, then ducked back out of sight. Eddie got the message; Eugene had thoroughly inspected the payload canisters in the Sally Ride. If there was contraband in any of the Skycorp shuttles, it had to be in the Puttkamer.

The Dork was in the bucket of the cherry picker by the time Fast Eddie made it up the ladder. As Eddie watched, Eugene checked the serial number stenciled on the outside of the first of the two cargo canisters strapped to the pallet—nicknamed Spam-cans because of their general shape—against the list on his datapad, then reached down and unlocked the hatch. He pulled a tiny flashlight out of the penholder in his shirt pocket, bent over the railing and shined the beam across lashed-down plastic crates containing ball bearings, spare computer breadboards, toilet paper, glove linings, and whatnot destined for Olympus Station, the powersat construction base in geosynchronous orbit. He glanced up at Eddie, then pulled a jackknife out of his pocket, selected a box at random and sliced open the plastic sealing tape. His flashlight roved briefly over stacks of folded paper underwear. The Dork looked at his datapad again—no unauthorized jockstraps were going to make it into orbit if he could help it-then he clicked off the penlight and stood up. "Reseal that box and have the hatch locked down," he commanded Eddie as he moved to the second Spam-can.

Eddie watched the Dork carefully now. Ah, yes, it was happening just as it had the last time, six weeks earlier. Eugene looked at the serial number on the Spam-can, checked it against his list ... then furtively glanced at the serial number again, slowly reading its designation as if to refresh his memory. He opened the hatch and looked inside—more crates, apparently containing more of the same stuff as in the first canister—but this time the flashlight and the knife didn't make an appearance. The Dork wasn't quite so meticulous in inspecting this particular Spam-can. Instead, he shut the hatch, and even made the uncharacteristic effort to lock down the latches himself this time.

Eugene stood up, briefly moved the lightpen across his datapad, made a grunt which was lost in the din of the hangar bay, and turned to move past Eddie. "It's okay," he said briefly—was there a vaguely guilty expression on his face?—then went tromping down the ladder again.

Eddie carefully restrained the smile he felt creeping across his face. Bingo! He looked down at the Spam-can the Dork had just "inspected," and committed its serial number to memory; S31CO18 ... S31CO18 ... S31CO18 ... That's the ticket. Then he followed Eugene off the cherry picker.

"Make sure you get that memo to me," the Dork said to Eddie at the bottom of the ladder, tapping the edge of his data-pad against Eddie's chest. Fast Eddie nodded his head, just the way the Dork himself usually nodded, and Eugene made a brief display of looking at his watch. "I'll be in my office doing some paperwork," he added. "Call me on the phone if you need me for anything." Then off he went, waddling out of the open hangar door to the prefab office complex next to the SPC, undoubtedly to consume some double-fudge cookies and to catch a few winks on company time. Yeah, Eddie thought as he watched the Dork walk away into the humid night. Sure thing, Gene ...

Once the supervisor had disappeared, Fast Eddie walked outside and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his vest pocket. Rubbing the end of one against the bottom of the pack, he lit up, took a deep drag, and leaned back against the hangar door. Several hundred yards away, the mammoth white cube of the Vehicle Assembly Building gleamed under spotlights; a couple of miles distant from the VAB, a mobile launch platform was slowly carrying a Grumman HLV-121 Big Dummy to its launch pad in the distance. Closer by, a couple of pad rats lounged next to the big diesel tow-tractor and ground-support trucks, waiting for their cue from the Bay Four crew to haul the Jesco von Puttkamer over to the VAB for mating with its reusable flyback booster. By the end of next week, good old Jesse would be in orbit, making another milk run to low orbit.

Fast Eddie smoked and listened to the nightbirds in the surrounding wetlands. He loved this time of the morning, the serene cool hours before first light and the beginning of another scorching, runamok day at the Cape. God, he thought, please let me stay on the graveyard shift till they retire me, because this way I don't have to deal with too many anal retentives like the Dork.

And speaking of His Royal Dorkiness ... Eddie checked his watch and saw that fifteen minutes had gone by since Gene had left the OPC. He's asleep by now, Eddie decided as he crushed his cigarette out beneath his shoe and walked back into the hangar. Even if he'd left his computer terminal on, he wouldn't notice the little bitty change about to be made to the Puttkamer's cargo manifest.

His own office was a small, messy cubicle located in the rear of the hangar bay. On top of the stand-up desk was an oil-stained Digital terminal with a plastic drinking bird taped to the top of the monitor. Fast Eddie tossed aside the dogeared copy of Penthouse someone had left open on the keyboard and punched up the records for the Puttkamer. It took just a few seconds for him to locate the Humpback's cargo manifest, and there it was: cargo canister S31CO18, allegedly containing MISC. CONSMB., its destination listed as OLY. VIA OTV/PS. Beside it, in bright gold letters, was an appendix: OK/EK/5-17-24 0310.

In plain English, the line of type meant that the Spam-can contained miscellaneous consumables bound for Phoenix Station in low-orbit, where it was destined to be transferred to an orbital transfer vehicle which would carry it to Olympus Station. The gold-lettered appendix was Eugene Kastner's assurance that the Spam-can had been checked and okayed for flight. He was the only person on the graveyard shift capable of registering that appendix, since it required him to first logon a secret code number which caused the approval to be lettered in gold. Which was just fine with Fast Eddie, because everything else in the manifest could still be altered.

It took only a few deft keystrokes to change the manifest from OLY. VIA OTV/PS to DES. VIA LTV/PS and to seal the bargain with a quick stab of the ENTER key. And that was it.

Eddie cracked his knuckles and smiled with satisfaction as he studied his handiwork. Now this particular Spam-can would be taking a longer ride than anticipated by whoever had packed the thing in the first place—probably some guys on the second shift who had been paid off by the beamjacks on Olympus, just as the Dork had been bribed to overlook their little smuggling scam. The data was now in all the NASA and Skycorp databanks, and Eddie knew that Eugene wouldn't look at the manifest again; for all of his fussiness, the Dork was too busy with juggling different cargo schedules to waste time on double-checking yesterday's lists. Once he had okayed a Spam-can for flight, the case was closed.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Lunar Descent by Allen Steele. Copyright © 1991 Allen Steele. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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