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The Man in the Moon Became My Grandfather
In the year 2095, Ulysses Walker-Evans ran from the airlock of Warehouse Three on Moonbase Alpha as fast as his small feet would carry him and pounced on an inflatable chair in front of a storage locker. A pair of brass doors with ornate panels decorated with fields and prairies and heavily bolted stiles and rails opened. An old-fashioned steam locomotive, eighteen inches high, thirty inches long with the name "Shepherd's Follies" engraved on the boiler, puffed fake steam from the cylinders at each wheel and blew two long whistles. Ulysses pulled an imaginary whistle, pretending to be conductor.
"Whoo, whoo, Moon Man Express leaving station," he said.
"All aboard," announced the conductor from inside the engine. The figure waved a Stetson and the train pulled out of the storage box followed by a coal tender, passenger coach and caboose. It chuffed and climbed a track that circumnavigated the warehouse.
A half-mile away in the Command and Control room of Moonbase Alpha, Gonzo Evans and his wife Theresa Walker watched their child on the monitors.
"I wish he'd sit and pay attention to his books the way he studies that toy train," Theresa said.
"He'll learn soon enough. For a few minutes each day, he's a six-year old boy. That's as precious as life itself. I wish I had an engine like that when I grew up." He hugged her, letting his guy-grin consume his wife's concerned look. "It's a guy thing, cars, steam engines, monster trucks. Like those ancient Three Stooges vids I showed you," Gonzo said. Theresa frowned at the mention of the Stooges. She thought them part of old earth that was best left behind. Still this engine was a cypher, an anachronism of old earth brought to Mars.
"It worries me. The other day, Ulysses asked me how the steam drives the engine and after I explained that steam expands and pushes the pistons that drives the wheels, he said: 'Yes Mommy, the hot steam gives up its energy and comes out cold steam.' Then he put on that big disappointed face only a kid can put on and explains to me how inefficient steam engines are thanks to friction and irreversible work," Theresa said. Gonzo's face lit up with pride.
"He understands entropy? That's way more sophisticated than I ever imagined. I didn't learn heat engines until I got the high school learning modules."
"It's not in his learning modules. I checked. He's derived almost all of thermodynamics using only the enthalpy, entropy and efficiency from the steam engine. It's like he has a teacher in that imagination of his. He's awfully young," Theresa had worry in her voice. "They warned us Ulysses would be precocious. I'd love to talk to the man who built it."
"Toomer said the miners found it." Gonzo gave her a peck on the cheek.
Theresa doubted the miners were capable of building a locomotive. She refocused the camera on Ulysses as he followed the steam engine on its path around the largest storage containers. The warehouse held the raw materials and spare parts that the military used to seal and air-proof the newest set of underground caverns. Moonbase Alpha was barely built and already obsolete but it was free.
The steam engine huffed and puffed. This day, instead of disappearing into one of the many small ventilation shafts that honeycombed the caverns of Moon Base Alpha, it turned towards an unmarked storage container. Above the child, a crane moved and lifted the container to reveal a railroad station, a single story building with a large veranda, a windowed waiting room for passengers and offices for the ticket agent. The sign above the front door of the station said: Carnot City.
Gonzo and Theresa stared at the screen. Epiphany. Game change.
The steam locomotive stopped at the station, the conductor leaned out of the cab, waved his cap and yelled "All Aboard" once again before the engine pulled out of Carnot City Station and chugged into a ventilation tunnel. It wouldn't return until tomorrow. Gonzo and Theresa watched in silence. They understood the child's enthusiasm that awaited them when Ulysses returned from his afternoon classes. Ulysses would celebrate this new train station like it was his birthday, Christmas, a new puppy, and cake and candy, all in one.
This required investigation. Gonzo knew that in the hours between now and then, the warehouse would be dark and quiet.
In the middle of the twenty-first century when the ice caps melted and the salt oceans rose, the land died, the air grew stale and storms ravaged the planet. Living space and food grew precious. Earth had grown too populous to sustain its fertile masses. The authorities began to "select" citizens and "allow" them to live in new, domed cities that sprang up like glass blisters on a rotted peach. Those left outside the domes, the non-citizens and outcasts, were banished to the deserts and badlands to make do as nomads while those inside feasted on desserts and bonbons and lived "la dolce vita."
Several years before, the government declared Joe "Gonzo" Evans, his wife Theresa and their son, non-citizens and undesirables since they were of no great family or influential political movement. Rather than take his family into the wasteland, Gonzo fled to the space stations that ringed the planet. Their education made them overqualified as servants to the rich who could afford to live there. The only job Gonzo Evans could find was as superintendent and custodian on the oldest of the moon bases. However, migration to the moon meant genetic adjustment to the new gravity regime and IQ enhancement. It was a one-way trip. They could never return to earth. The moon became their home of necessity. Moonbase Alpha consisted of Gray rooms and gunite walls decorated with surplus military equipment - - working antiques. A month after they arrived, Shepherd's Follies made its first sojourn through Warehouse Three to the delight of their son.
Today, after Carnot Station sparkled in its newness, Gonzo spent the rest of the day searching for who created it and found evidence of nothing living in Warehouse Three. Exasperated and desperate, he stood next to the storage bin that housed the engine.
"My son is more dear to me than my own life. If you harm him in any way, I will rip heaven and hell apart to punish you." Silence answered in his ears but a voice entered his head. A single fleeting thought came and went as fast as he could comprehend its meaning.
"Be assured, we are of one mind concerning Ulysses."
In the year 2105, the Luna governing board established the new Luna College of Advanced Sciences. Ulysses qualified and the college sent a Shuttle to pick him up and take him to class. The first morning like all first mornings embodied chaos. Theresa yelled down the central corridor of their living quarters. "Ulysses get out here, the shuttle pilot is waiting."
"Tell Captain Mumbles to hold his water. I've got one more thing to do," Ulysses yelled as he ran down the back corridor that led to the warehouse.
"Don't you smart mouth me, young man."
"Aw Ma, I've got to say goodbye to Shepherd." He stepped into the airlock leading to Warehouse Three.
Embarrassed, his mother turned to Morgan Monfredi the shuttle pilot with his red complexion. He didn't look more than a half dozen years older than Ulysses. Being beardless made him look even younger but his reputation spoke of many years older. Monfredi's spaceships and tactics broke Earth's stranglehold on Luna commerce two years ago and assured the freedom of Luna Colony.
"I'm sorry he called you Captain Mumbles. I'll get him to stop."
"Please don't. I'm going to have these teens for four days at a stretch and I want to be their friend. Their teachers can be taskmasters. It's my style of command and it's served me well." He smiled his best it's-going-to-be-OK grin and stood like the ancient sage of all things. Theresa's look gave him the disadvantage of the doubt. A dozen teens and one twenty-five year old chaperone, they'll walk all over him, she thought and then qualified herself: well maybe lunar teens but never earth teens.
"We'll see how that works out." A mother's words of doubt.
"Who's Shepherd?" Morgan Monfredi asked. Theresa smiled and laughed.
"Shepherd's Follies is a toy steam engine in the old warehouse. A guy thing. Gonzo and Ulysses build a new diorama for special occasions," she said.
"A choo choo train? What a brilliant idea," Monfredi exclaimed. "I never thought of getting one of those old earth relics. It must have made your exile from earth all that easier for Ulysses."
"Once a day it makes its rounds of the old warehouse and Ulysses is always there. It's like the brother or sister he never had. I can always find him thanks to that locomotive. I won't know where he will be when he leaves with you. You better take good care of him Captain Monfredi or you'll have me to answer to." Her voice quavered once at the word cabin but her body stood hard as steel never betraying her emotions. The banishment from earth, the indentured service on the space stations, the escape to Luna City, the years of scrimping and saving on a warehouseman's salary had taught her how to be hard. She turned quickly away from Monfredi and activated the intercom to listen to the old warehouse.
"Last call for the shuttle," echoed through the warehouse. "Visitors will please disembark and passengers will take their cabins."
A few moments later, Ulysses shuffled into the doorway dressed in his spacesuit; his duffle bag filled with clothes for the four-day trip. His slouch said, "What's the fuss?" He walked to his mother, gave her a quick hug and rested against the wall. He stood taller than his father, all gangly, grown too fast limbs of a child, not yet a man but soon to be one.
"You behave," she said, wagging a finger.
"Aw Ma, I'm not a little boy." His eyes flashed half-hidden behind curly hair, a smoldering, youthful glance filled with wonder for the adventure to come. Monfredi never noticed details like that. Monfredi tugged at Uli's shoulder.
"You're mine for the next few days. Now let's get this shuttle off the ground." He nodded to Theresa. "Give my regards to Gonzo when he gets back from the design meetings for Moonbase Delta." Ulysses slung his duffle over his shoulder and followed Monfredi to the airlock. The airlock almost closed when Ulysses turned and yelled out.
"Shepherd says you come tomorrow."
Five words that stunned. The airlock closed and left her standing in the corridor, speechless. Shepherd's Follies was Gonzo and Ulysses. She didn't even have a thought for what it was. It wasn't a toy or a person or even a thing in the normal sense. Angel or devil were possible words. All these years she stayed away from Shepherd's Follies for fear that her doubts and worries would cause its magic to evaporate. When Gonzo joked that she was too superstitious, she reminded him of his never-washed ice hockey socks when they met in college.
"Shepherd says you come tomorrow."
Tomorrow took forever to arrive. She watched as the steam engine puffed to life and climbed out of its storage box. It stopped at Carnot Station and the birthday dioramas before it took an unexpected turn onto a new siding. There was the house of her dreams, her innermost desires. The house she and Gonzo bought back on Earth in the months before Ulysses was born. It was perfect in every detail that once was and would never be. Shepherd's Follies stopped at the house and a miniature of Ulysses climbed into the passenger car while replicas of her and Gonzo waved goodbye. The engineer waved his hat and blew "release brakes and leave" on the whistle. The figures snapped into place and the locomotive moved on. Theresa left with tears in her eyes.
If we know how to look upon the wonders of life, our dreams have already come true.
Every day after that while Ulysses was at school, Theresa went to the warehouse to watch Shepherd's Follies. Each day as the locomotive made its rounds and then disappeared from view. Each day, she spoke a soft thank you to the Man In The Moon because she had no finer words to describe the gift arrayed before her than thank you.
In the year 2125, newly appointed Admiral Monfredi of the Lunar Navy looked around the old control room of Moonbase Alpha. He remembered his first encounter with Ulysses Walker-Evans twenty years before. Nothing changed in this room. It was antique, all of it antique. He thought about the steam engine Gonzo and Ulysses built and kept in Warehouse Three, an anachronism in a model train, outmoded travel abandoned a century before. A few of the old-Earth settlers collected antiques. Gonzo must have loved earth to celebrate it this way. Ulysses turned from the monitors and leaned against the console.
"Congratulations, Admiral," Ulysses said. Monfredi shrugged off the compliment.
"I've come on a recruiting mission. I want you."
"I already have plans. Not that I don't appreciate the offer but no thanks," Ulysses said. Monfredi frowned and wrinkled his nose at the old equipment.
"You can have any post in the solar system you want. This stuff is older than dirt. At least take an equivalent position on Darkside Base. They melted the walls of Darkside Base to glass to seal the cave rather than spray gunnite and they have a brand new C&C. Like I said, this stuff was old when your parents got it." Monfredi's offer was passionate and sincere. Ulysses smiled and sat in the threadbare controller's chair.
"Home never grows old. In so many ways, you're still Captain Mumbles and I'm still that scrawny, stubborn kid you met years ago. I can't leave the legacy that my parents created to rust and crumble. No, I'm going to raise children on Moonbase Alpha."
"You have a strange attraction for this dump."
"To live, to err, to fall, to triumph--" his voice faded as he turned to face the old equipment and look out the observation window. "--to create life out of barren ground. That's what the army did to create Moonbase Alpha. Now, most of this place is empty. I can't think of a better use for the old facility than housing children orphaned by the wars on Earth. My wife and I are going to turn it into a thriving and wonderful home to give those kids a chance."
"Retrofitting Moonbase Alpha with all the old equipment and new kids will be chaos; in fact, beyond chaos, galloping crazy entropic disorder. Aren't you afraid they're already too fragile to handle the move?"
"I was four and just as fragile when my family fled the tyranny of the domes and almost six when I arrived here. I survived. Those kids only need a home. After war and the loss of their families, the warehouse will bring stability to their lives." Ulysses made this statement from experience as one who suffered. Talking him out of this was a losing cause. Manfredi knew the answer but he had to ask the obvious question one last time.
"I can't talk you out of this?"
"No. Dad's picking up six orphans on the next rocket and more will come in the following weeks. I'm getting their rooms ready." He unfolded a blueprint on the desk and activated the power to an empty section suitable for living. Monfredi shook his head up and down, silently admiring the plans.
"Before I go, I've always wondered who built Shepherd's Follies? Your father let me see it on the monitors once and it was marvelous."
"Remember the old earth poet Coleridge-- 'a miracle of rare device' --that's all it was."
"So that's the big mystery of the steam locomotive. You guys built it." An answer to satisfy Monfredi's question. It wasn't Ulysses' answer and never would be.
"From nothing more than dreams." Ulysses said as the two men shook hands. Monfredi went to his shuttle. After the launch, Ulysses went to Warehouse Three. He spoke to the darkness of the warehouse.
"Grandfather Moon, Father and I are bringing children; orphans of war, rejects and outcasts, fleeing earth like I did here years ago. Will you help them as you helped me?" It wasn't necessary to speak the words out loud, a thought would have sufficed.
"Grandfather Moon will be thrilled to have children around once again. We've been lonely without children."
"Tell me about yourself, Grandfather. I know so little about you." Ulysses thought he heard a deep sigh.
"We once lived like you, children of the silver moon. We called our race Endymion and thought ourselves gods. To achieve immortality, we turned our world into burnt buildings, blasted landscapes and finally to lifeless rocks. We strode through our solar system, vibrant, vigorous, nearly indestructible, our destiny to conquer the stars with all our powers. The universe did not treat us gently. Over the centuries, us became a few and a few became one and this cold and lonely rock you call Moon became our final rest. Then humans, rough workers and hard men with sparse dreams and base desires, came to transform this cave. By chance they brought a child. You, my beloved, so young and innocent and with you came limitless dreams of fantastic worlds and adventure beyond description. We remembered what we gave up so many millennia before. Children make the man immortal. Children take the man to the stars."
The lights of Warehouse Three grew bright and the ornate doors of the storage container opened. Shepherd's Follies began its journey once again. Ulysses sat cross-legged on an air cushion.
"All aboard," the conductor called out. Uli, once again the little boy watching his favorite toy, raised his hand, pulled the imaginary whistle and answered.
"This time, our children will stride out to the stars. This time seeking friends rather than conquest and they will be triumphant and write the history of both of us in bold deeds and wondrous acts." In the years that followed, Shepherd's Follies grew as glorious as its sons and daughters became successful.
3100 words more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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