Dear readers, tonight with us is an electrical and computer engineer, working on the moon. She is here to tell us about about commercial operations, international tensions — and finding alien remains
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
That would be Murmansk: a grubby, rundown, vodka-soaked, Navy port town well into the arctic. What was that like? Cold. Miserable. Depressing. For forty days every winter the fucking Sun never rises there at all.
What was it like growing up? Any cherished memories?
In a word, hard. In two words, damned hard.
Father was a submariner. Not that he wanted to be. Not that any sane person wanted any part of the decrepit, post-Soviet navy. He did it because jobs were scarce. Then, in 2000, the nuclear sub Kursk was lost with all hands. Moscow did its best at first to deny everything, and then to deflect the blame. Mother and I were left with nothing but a pittance of a pension. But Mother was a fighter, and she raised me to be one. It took each of us working two jobs, and sometimes three, but I made it to, and through, university. That made me the first in our family to do so.
I won’t call any of the struggle a cherished memory, but there is satisfaction in the accomplishment. I want to believe Father would have been proud. Even though my degrees are from an academic backwater like Murmansk State Technical University.
What do you do now?
I’m an electrical and computer engineer, and I’m damned good at it. Good enough to get a job on the Moon. Do I understand the ins and outs of helium-3 extraction from the lunar regolith? Of the fusion reactors people yet hope to invent, that our He-3 might someday fuel? No. But I do understand all there is to know about the electronics and computerized controls that make it possible for people to live and work on the Moon. More so, if you ask me, than most snooty, overspecialized types with their fancy PhDs from Moscow universities.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
Now there’s a question. First you must know that—despite his delusions—everyone at the Russian lunar base always assumed Yevgeny Borisovich Rudin was an FSB spy. (The FSB is the post-Soviet successor to the KGB. I’m just saying, in case you didn’t know.) He was just too damned interested in everyone else’s business to be anything but a spook. That, and his official job, the lunar version of bush pilot, was just too convenient. The job gave him frequent cover to drop in on any of the several small settlements and research outposts, both international and of any nationality, scattered across the Moon.
So, when Rudin came recruiting—for an undefined project, “somewhere” on the Moon—I wanted no part of it. When he dangled a fat bonus (and how, except with FSB backing, would he even have had access to that kind of cash?) some of the people he approached took the bait. Not me. I never wanted any part of that spook shit. However tempting the money, I said no.
Only for the mine’s senior management to order me to cooperate. Not that they knew any more than me what this was about. The FSB must have pulled their strings, too.
I expected trouble, and I wasn’t disappointed.
What did you think when you found out what was going on?
Have you ever seen a Matryoshka set? You know, traditional Russian nesting dolls? Kind of like that.
Because getting myself dragooned into some FSB scheme was just the start of the surprises. Next came a flight damned near halfway around the Moon, far from any declared lunar settlement, to party-crash on a supposed American prospecting expedition. Why had a bunch of Americans from their Farside Radio Astronomy Observatory driven thousands of kilometers from their base? Onto Nearside, even? No one thought “prospecting” made any sense, which was enough to have made Rudin suspicious.
Next came the discovery of what the Americans had found—and that Rudin then desperately wanted to explore, and exploit, for Mother Russia. Oh, and to keep secret from anyone else on the Moon, our Chinese supposed allies included.
Things only went downhill from there ….
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
All the times I thought I was going to die. Or the times people who’d become my dear friends did die. It’s hard to choose.
What is the worst thing about discovering ancient alien ruins?
Well, they’re alien! Unpredictable! If, somehow (and too often people looked to me to be the one to pull this off), some of that abandoned alien tech could be revived, how would we know what it’d do?
Guess what? We didn’t.
What is the best thing about it?
What was it that Nietzsche said? Oh, right. What does not kill me makes me stronger. After what I’ve been through, I must be stronger than Superman.
Tell us a little about your friends.
At the start of our adventure, I barely knew the few scientists Rudin had also bribed or coerced. I knew none of the Americans we met at the alien site. We all—except Rudin!—grew close. Close enough, certainly, that I’ll miss the ones who didn’t make it. Heroes, all.
Any romantic involvement?
Along the way, surprisingly, I did pick up a boyfriend. And as quickly I almost lost Yun. But that’s a long, long story.
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
Do you sense I never much cared for Yevgeny Borisovich Rudin? You wouldn’t be wrong. But I was raised not to speak ill of the dead.
What does the future hold for you?
Earth, I hope! Lord, you cannot believe how I look forward to getting back to Earth. Where, I’d like to believe, there’ll be the awarding of well-deserved State Honors. Where, I’d like to believe, I’ll get some non-insane down time, some quality alone time, with my guy.
Realistically? One of the world’s few surviving experts on the alien tech won’t be allowed much time off. Not any time soon, in any event. At least I can expect dear Yun will also be stuck there with me. Wherever there ends up being this time.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
No matter how daunting things got in this adventure, no matter how I refused throughout to let any fear show, I’ll admit one thing. I was scared. Okay, make it two things. Really, three. I’m scared, still. And I expect to stay scared, well, for a long time. Because I have no doubt that what the few of us survived is only the beginning of matters yet more terrifying. No, let’s face it. Matters more existential.
Edward M. Lerner worked in high tech and aerospace for thirty years, as everything from engineer to senior vice president, for much of that time writing science fiction as his hobby. He is the author of sixteen SF novels (five of them collaborations with Larry Niven) and dozens of shorter works. His 2015 novel InterstellarNet: Enigma won the inaugural Canopus Award for fiction “honoring excellence in interstellar writing,” while other of his works have been nominated for Locus, Prometheus, and Hugo awards. He also writes popular science, notably including Trope-ing the Light Fantastic: The Science Behind the Fiction.
You can find Katya on the pages of Déjà Doomed.
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