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THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 33 MOONBASE

MOONBASE

Lindra had always wanted to be an astronaut, but when she qualified in her chosen specialism of radio communications she was told there would be no flight course vacancies for at least six months. In the mean time she was offered a radio operator posting to the Moon. She accepted it, and never afterwards did she suffer even one moment of regret.

Living on the Moon suited Lindra, and she spent all but two weeks a year there. Had it not be for a directive issued by Goran, Head of Personnel, she would never have revisited what she could no longer look upon as home. Goran knew the problem well, but he refused to pander to it, with himself, or with others. 'We are here,' he had written in a memo to all staff, 'to serve the needs of those who live on Steefax. We must not forget that we too are Stefaxaians. We will each of us spend ar least two weeks a year on the planet. There may be no exceptions.'

The problem was this: any who had lived a year or two in gravity less than a third of that of Steefax found returning 'home' increasingly irksome. Lindra had been a 'Moonie' for four years, and going on Steefax leave had become such an unpleasant experience that she spent most of her time in bed. All Moonbase staff were actually entitled each year to two months on 'the world beneath'; there were few, if any, who ever claimed them.

Facilities on the Moon for the pursuit of leisure were second to none. The base library had on its shelves 'banned' books in translation from Ee-arth, particular favourites being the social novels of Ann Tony Trollop, and the gritty, humorous crime stories of Raymond Candlemaker. There were allotments for those who liked to grow their own fruit and vegetables, a popular and knowledgeable wine making club, and a dramatic society which wrote its own plays and shows. There was also a superbly equipped gymnasium, in which spectacular low gravity vaults over boxes could be made, along with prodigious vertical and lateral leaps into a sand pit. There was a game - which was actually invented on the Moon - called basketball. Two 'baskets' with holes in their bases were suspended twenty feet above the floor at either end of the gym. Teams of five players 'attacked' one basket whilst at the same time trying to 'defend' the other. The winners were the ones who were able to toss the ball the most times through their opponents' baskets. The game has been tried on Steefax, but it does not really work in normal gravity.

Not all leisure activities took place within the safety and comfort of the great domes: some people liked to don spacesuits and walk out among the Moon's desolate but spectacular craters, valleys and hills. One such was Lindra, who thought nothing of going out for two or three days at a time. For the logistics of such expedituions, I shall have to ask you to wait patiently for a while.

****

Lindra was troubled, which was rare, for usually it was only the imminence of a 'home' visit that could disturb our woman of the high frontier. With Ullyses probably in the outer reaches of the galaxy by now, she began to ponder the late communications hiatus. She simply did not believe in an accidental breakdown of ground control equipment lasting that long. After all, every system was backed up three times.

"Moonbase calling Steefax. Steefax come in please." Lindra had been sending the same message on and off for nearLy three hours. Shortly before she was due to go off duty there came a reply:

"Steefax calling Moonbase. Receiving you loud and clear."

Now, there was nothing wrong with the message, which was standard, but all the same, Lindra knew there must be something not quite right! For a start, Brolin, her old mate of the radio waves, had mumbled his response like a well worn mantra. Well, that was just not his style, for he habitually imbued even the most routine messages with a cheerful cockiness that was ever an open invitation to chat beyond the requirements of mere business.

"Everything alright with you, Brol?"

"Yes, Lindra, everything is fine."

Except that it couldn't be, for Brolin never used her full name! It was always Lin.

"Try this," Lindra said. "Warrior to Queen's adviser 6."

"Who is that?"

"Who is that?

"Do not be impertinent!"

"But who are you?"

"I will ask the questions, if you don't mind."

"Go ahead then."

"Go ahead then, sir, might be more appropriate. I am General Wishbone. You may have heard of me."

"Indeed, sir. I am most awfully sorry, sir."

"Yes, well. But why have you called? You were not scheduled to call."

"No, sir." Lindra had had time to think of an alternative to admitting she had been checking out the radio silence. "I do apologise, sir, but we do talk, now and then, even when it is not scheduled."

"Why?"

"I suppose it helps us to pass the time, sir."

"I'm sure it does. Did Ullyses try to make contact with you?"

"No, sir."

"Have you tried to get in touch with Steefax during the last few hours?"

"No sir. Not until just now. Has there been a problem, sir?"

"A problem? What do you mean?"

"Nothing at all, sir. It is just that had I tried to make contact I am sure I would have been successful - as I always have been, sir."

"Of course, Yes, of course, er...?"

"Lindra, General."

"Well, Lindra, carry on the good work, eh?"

"I will do my best, sir,"

"I am sure you will." Wishbones 'matey' chuckle did not quite work. "Was it a good move?"

"You'll have to ask Brolin, sir."

"Ah, yes...well, carry on."

It seemed to the radio operator that she had probably got away with it. But what about the people in space? If General Wishbone was at Space Control interfering with radio traffic, what else might he have in mind to do? Let loose one of his missiles, perhaps? And if he was laying plans to blow Ullyses out of the sky, was there anything that could possibly be done to make things difficult for him?

****

It had been Polikova's turn at the radio desk.

"Ullyses calling Steefax. Ullyses calling Steefax. Steefax, come in please."

"This lot, is it?" Wishbone demanded.

"Yes, sir," Engineer Burdon answered.

The General yanked the cables from their sockets.

"What!" the scientists exclaimed together.

"Silence!" Wishbone snapped. "Brawl, Ungin, take them!"

Polikova and Drainin were yanked backwards out of their seats, bundled out of the control room, dragged down the corridor and out of the building, and thrown into a wagon. From the windows of her carriage Nell looked on impassively.

kelson.philo's picture

Should Dicken ever return,

Should Dicken ever return, what will be left of Steefax? Lucky there are such as Lindra...

Diken's return.

The readiness is all. (Hamlet. Act 5, Scene 2, Line 168)