Re: Petition of the Select
(a short story by Daniel J. Neumann)
“The Moon is so beautiful,” I said as I gazed at her. “So sterile… glowing… distant.”
“It won’t be in about 5 hours for you, big guy.” My co-pilot, Hans Wagner, didn’t like me because I was landing on the Moon while he had to stay behind in the orbiter. The jealousy hung in the air.
I figured we shouldn’t speak anymore. Instead, I turned my thoughts to the mission. The idea of being the first man to step on the Moon scared the hell out of me. What if I botched the landing and stranded myself or blew myself up in a crash landing? How might that failure affect our entire species? Our Great Nation values the evolution of humanity, and I felt like I was the bearer of that ideal. This demonstration of ingenuity and ambition might have enlightened humanity and connected us together. The world’s states could put aside their paranoia and realize a globally stable world. I considered the posturing between nuclear powers as the possible end to everything, the economy encouraging cruel and unhealthy practices, and people all across the world consequentially revolting against their governments. Our world was tearing at the seams. I would have liked my part to stop mankind from self-annihilation.
“We’re in stable orbit, near your site. Time to get in the landing module.”
His voice shook me out of my reflective trance. I climbed into the cramped lander. We called it the “Golden Eagle” in honor of that sacred symbol we marched with. As I ran through the procedural checks, flipping switches and reading codes, my mind associated the ritual with starting up my plane ten years ago. I remember the day so vividly when the Nazi Party was overthrown by the Resistance. I remember the day when the Jew-exterminating tyrant—that pitted us against our Anglo-Saxan brethren—was executed. The peace with America allowed great scientific strides to converge, which in turn lead to this atomic age threatening everything that we’ve accomplished.
The weight of my task today wound around my head, pulling in a narrative that towered over it, eclipsing my ego with a feeling of resolution in a blurry world riddled with rot.
The computer completed the final thrusting maneuvers. I was there.
With all this philosophizing, I’d forgotten my planned speech. What I was about to do would be broadcasted to most television sets throughout the Earth. My stomach felt like the intersection of an hourglass—the sand: anxiety.
I put on my pressurized suit as I went over the themes of what I wanted to say: harmony, ambition, victory over nature, potential. I clicked a button to activate my microphone, lighting up a red dot in my visor.
“As I open this vessel thinly guarding me from the harsh vacuum of space, the gesture uncages humanity from its own fragile vessel. This act proves that people can do more than suffer and butcher themselves. We can make new homes, gather abundant resources, and discover the truths of the universe.” I was proud of my impromptu speech. I clicked off the microphone that broadcasted live to everyone.
I cranked the wheel to unlock the door. A motor finished the job for me. The Moon reflected a tremendous light into the lander. I stepped out onto the loose, powdery regolith. “Command, I am on the surface of the Moon.”
Applause from command resounded in my helmet. “We are pleased to know that, over.”
Turning back at the Earth, the beautiful planet left me awestruck. It felt as if you could hold it in your hand, but you wouldn’t dare to in the same way you wouldn’t dare touch a delicate piece of art or butterfly. “It’s beautiful.”
The ground began shaking. “Wait a minute! I’m feeling a tremor, Command.” The ground then began lowering—a 100-square-foot section of the Moon, with me, the crumbling grey dirt, and the lander on it—at a measured pace. “Command, the land around me is dropping down.”
“Uh, repeat that please.”
I fought through my shortness of breath as I exclaimed through gasps, “The craft and I are… are descending in… what seems to be a controlled manner.” Seeing what was around me left me with little usable information. I summoned my training to remain calm, taking in and releasing air slowly. “It’s dark. I can’t see light except above me.”
“Can you observe how fast you are descending?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure. It feels very fast. But not terminal velocity. No. I don’t think so. Command, how copy?”
“Please stand by.”
I went from pondering the course of history to behaving like a frightened rat. I thought about what it would be like to run out of oxygen in my pressurized suit. Would I take off my helmet? Would my body be preserved on the Moon indefinitely—perhaps being an artifact in a museum someday?
I didn’t think about the obvious question: Who put an elevator shaft on the Moon?
A new voice came over the radio. “Kai, listen to me carefully.”
“Yes. Who is this?”
“Knowing that won’t do either of us any good. You need to tell me everything you see when you arrive to your destination.”
“My destination? What do you mean? Who are you?”
“When you reach the center of the Moon, you must report back everything you see.”
I felt helpless. My only leverage was not doing as this stranger asked. “If you don’t tell me who you are, then I won’t cooperate. I won’t say a word.”
“That’s fine. We’ll send another. We’ll make sure you die here.”
“’We’ll make sure?’ Who are you people? What do you know?”
The voice poured a drink by the sounds of it. “You’ll be a hero to the fatherland. Your sacrifice won’t be forgotten. Count yourself lucky. As for your poor daughter, I suppose she’ll miss daddy.”
The elevator halted. The vile that man spewed melted away as the walls slid inward to reveal a blindingly bright interior. “Oh my God.”
“What do you see?”
I stepped through the opening without thinking. “There’s television screens and computers and chairs… This is our technology?”
A man appeared in front of me, seemingly from nowhere. “You’re very close. This is ancient human tech. The legends are true.”
“What legends are true?” I asked.
“I wasn’t speaking to you, but the man in your ear.” The man grinned.
“Ask him who he is,” the voice over the radio said.
“I can hear you just fine. I’m a holographic representation of the deceased Arnold Lenz. There haven’t been any living people left in this installation for millennia. There are only computers, clones on ice, and me. I’ve been waiting to speak to the next wave.”
“Arnold, does it always have to end the way it does in the legends?”
The anonymous voice on my radio channel conversed with a holographic dead person, while I stood there dumbfounded. I wondered if this was real or a nightmare. Still, part of me listened closely so that I could decipher what it meant when I had time to digest it all.
“Yes.” The hologram displayed images of people staring at innumerable amounts of missile trails streaking through the sky like clouds that sprang from the soil. It showed the mushroom clouds that were familiar at the end of the war, yet in mass. It showed an image from the Moon, but the marble—the beauty of the Earth so hard to put into words—was replaced by a dark, desolate dot. “It will always happen this way. It has happened many times before. The Select must carry on the torch of humanity.”
I tried pushing the button that activated the live radio broadcasting to the world. The red dot wouldn’t blink on. I frantically pounded it.
“What happens if we don’t carry out the Plan of the legends?”
“Revolt. It’s happened before. Trust me: It’s better to end it now before you lose any of the Select.”
“I’ll need to speak to the council about this,” the man on the radio said.
“Tell them they need to emigrate here immediately and then catalyze the nuclear war.”
A slight pause by both demons felt like eternity laughing at me. “It will be done.”
“Hey just wait a minute,” I said. “You’re talking about moving to the Moon and causing a global holocaust? I thought we got rid of all of you traitors at the end of the war!”
The voice on the radio expelled an arid gurgle. “All of you are property that’s costing too much to maintain.”
Arnold stepped forward with a smirk on his face. “And what do you plan on doing with this one?”
“Can you make the lander look like it crashed and dispose of him?” The voice took a generous gulp of whatever he was drinking.
“That’s fine,” Arnold said. “We can just let his suit run out. We don’t allow killing on the Moon. There will be rules that you must follow. The Select must not waste one iota of genetic material. Have you already picked your women, and are they as diverse as the Plan calls for?”
“Then I’ll see you in a few weeks. I hope you realize how lucky you are. You’re going to live out the rest of your life in paradise. As will your kids and your kid’s kids and so on until the Select will inevitable outgrow this facility and will repopulate a fresh, newly healed Earth. Then I’ll watch every one of you leave me, as you always do. I have seen it countless times.”
“Why don’t you assholes just go to the Moon and leave the Earth’s people alone!” I collapsed to the floor. The world felt diabolic and broken, and I felt like a paper doll in a puddle being ground into the asphalt by tank treads. The war I took part in meant nothing. My landing on the Moon meant nothing. Exterminating humanity was the dream of our most successful people… so it all means nothing.
“That wouldn’t work. The Earth’s population is growing too rapidly. This is the only way to save our species. You’re bitter because you won’t be a member of the Select.” The voice in my helmet said, “Hmmmm. Arnold, could we let our friend, Kai Reynolds, into our club?”
“Not happening. You’ve got enough Germans as it is. Besides, I’ve seen his type before. He would try to sabotage us at some future point—out of some primitive sense of revenge.” Arnold disappeared.
“Well, too bad for you. Enjoy your stay. You’ll be dead from asphyxiation by the time I get there.”
I stood up. “There’s a place in hell waiting for you.”
“Keep it warm for me then; will you? Bye.” Then I no longer heard anything from any hologram or disembodied voice.
Alone in my apparent tomb, I explored the computers seeing if I could turn any of them on. Nothing would work. I grabbed a chair and attempted to smash them. It didn’t seem to cause any damage.
Ten robots that looked like 7-foot-tall letter “T”s, with a thick base, entered the room. In silent concert, they pushed me into the elevator shaft. They destroyed the Moon lander too. Then they left the elevator. The walls slid back, closing me in. The lift ascended.
I suppose they didn’t want my corpse stinking up their control room for the Select.
There’s nothing further to report. I tried waving down the orbiter, despite me knowing it was impossible for Hans to do anything for me. Even so, it was shattering watching the ship blow up from a cannon that rose up from the ground.
How many times has this happened before? Was Mission Command in on this? I was left with questions that I could never find the answers to… and time.
At least I can enjoy how the serene, blue Earth looks now. I’m sorry for all the Russians I killed in the war, of the part I played. None of it meant a thing. We were working for people who despised us.
In my last moments of consciousness, I hope and pray this cycle breaks someday.