The timeline created at the Watergate complex in June of 1972 which would ultimately feature the fall of the Nixon Presidency, the fall of the Apollo Moon program, the fall the Soviet Union and fall of two buildings in New York City, ran for six months. At 5:26 PM EST on December 13, 1972, six days after leaving Earth and their third day on the surface of the Moon, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt made the final moonwalk of Apollo 17.
Gene Cernan had flown to the Moon before, on Apollo 10, with his commander from his Gemini 9 mission, Tom Stafford. On that mission Gene had even flown a lunar module to within nine miles of the Moon’s surface, then returned to orbit, leaving the glory of the first landing to Neil and Buzz on Apollo 11.
He isn’t exactly tight buds with his partner, Harrison Schmitt, a geologist who had bumped one of Gene’s buddies from Apollo 17 just so the PR fellows at NASA could say they were shifting their focus from military test pilots as astronauts to scientists. But it is true. After Apollo 17 would come Skylab, a joint flight with the Soviet Union, and then the Space Shuttle program after that.
Like the two preceding moonwalks of the mission, this third one was to last for about seven hours. But it was to differ from the first two EVAs in a very important respect, not counting the fact that it was about an hour late getting started.
Robyn follows live television broadcasts of the mission from only a few miles away in Taurus City and she even follows the proceedings with the portable television in her truck as she drives down the flanks of North Massif to reach the floor of the Taurus-Littrow valley. So many stations on Earth were airing the moonwalk the only trick was to pick one station out with a dish.
The landing site of Apollo 17 is on the southeastern edge of Mare Serenitatis where an asteroid hit the Moon nearly four billion years ago and created a basin a thousand miles across. The rim of Serenitatis is a ring of mountains which collapsed in some places to create long valleys like Taurus-Littrow, aligned toward the center of the Mare. The pyroclastic flows that fill the “Sea of Serenity” had been accompanied by lava fountains which covered the whole area with tiny glass beads bearing bright colors such as orange and yellow.
The outer, southeastern end of the valley butts up against a large mountain called the East Massif. In the south, there is a narrow canyon that led to yet another valley. The west side of this canyon is the sheer wall of South Massif.
Crossing north to the other side of East Massif, the advance party of B’nei Elohim (scouting in 1956 with pressure suits purchased on Barbelo) found another canyon leading to still another valley. Beyond this canyon is the Sculptured Hills, and to the west of those hills is North Massif. Between North and South Massif is a narrower exit valley about four miles wide, partially blocked by Family Mountain and a sharp fault ridge about three hundred feet high.
The eastern foot of that sharp ridge forms a gentle ramp that leads up around the western slope of North Massif to some rugged back country where it is difficult for spacecraft to safely land. This high country on the back side of North Massif is where Lilith chose to build the city of Taurus as a “cut-and-cover” tunnel, with multiple copies of the Golden Gift doing the cutting.
Robyn drives her truck to the astronaut’s current position near a large, dark, shattered boulder wedged in the wall of North Massif where geologist Harrison Schmitt is gathering samples. She is careful not to run over their fragile little electric Rover parked nearby.
That Boeing-built Lunar Rover contains a built-in navigation system that keeps track of every turn of the wheels and the total distance traveled. This system uses a new four-bit microprocessor, which is essentially a computer on a single chip. As the decade progressed, this invention would undergo further advances and become the heart of the Micro, sparking the Swarm Revolution.
The boulder being examined by Schmitt, which is in five separate pieces, lies beneath a long furrow of dents showing its recent plunge down the face of the mountain. Apollo 15 Command Module pilot Alfred Worden had photographed the area in 1971 from orbit with a large panoramic camera. He captured photographic evidence of what looked suspiciously like tracks of wheeled vehicles and some debris that did not resemble stones at all. But after looking at the photos some analysts suspected the tracks and debris were simply from boulders that had fallen down the face of North Massif in a recent (probably less than 20 million years) moonquake.
The truth was the staging area for construction of Taurus City was the Taurus-Littrow valley itself and it was impossible to hide from NASA what twenty years of construction did to the pristine lunar surface.
Robyn pulls her truck to a stop, pumps the interior atmo down to a near vacuum, then pops the door open to wait for the boys to come in. They haven’t heard her pull up, of course. They are so busy examining the boulder it is thirty-six minutes before they look up from their task and notice Robyn parked next to them.
At that very instant a new timeline is created. Both of the astronauts utter some expletives and the live feed is cut. CBS cuts to Walter Cronkite for commentary. The live television blackout would last for about a half-hour. NASA claims technical difficulties.
Commander Cernan describes the situation to NASA. Phone calls are made to the Soviet Union asking them if they were operating in the same area and didn’t tell anybody (the Russians think the American’s joke is in bad taste. “Is not enough you win Space Race,” they say, “now you rub it on?”).
Cernan and Schmitt, watching their oxygen levels slowly bleed down, remind Houston they are still waiting for instructions. Houston says the mission commander, Cernan, may approach the truck, and perhaps even enter it, but Schmitt should wait outside and be prepared to hustle back in his Rover to the Lunar Module, which is about four miles away.
So Cernan walks over to the truck, where he performs a complete circuit around it. There is only one space-suited figure seated inside, who is waving at him and motioning for him to come inside.
So Gene does step inside, and Robyn motions for him to have a seat. She closes the door and begins to re-pressurize the interior of the truck with pure oxygen at just 3 psi.
When the dials read the appropriate pressure she removes her helmet and invites Cernan to do the same. The sharp spent-gunpowder smell of the lunar regolith assaults her nose, but she is used to it. And after two lunar EVAs so is Cernan. Gene removes his own helmet.
You sound like an American.
Robyn notes Gene is rather gaunt, and prematurely gray for a man in his thirties.
I was born in Nebraska, Commander Cernan. But my daughter Ariel was born right here.
Born. On the Moon.
On the Moon. But she has Barbuda citizenship in case she ever decides to go Earth-side some day. I’m Kimberly Zinter to your government.
Yes, but who are you?
One of my titles is Prophet of the Church of Green Dome.
Sha brings out a three-ring binder with many documents and photographs.
I am also a member of what we call the B’nei Elohim. And I’m the Chief Executive Officer of the Astrodynamics Corporation. The names and faces in this binder will probably mean nothing to you, but they will mean a great deal to certain people in the United States government. I am providing this information package for you to take home and run up your chain of command.
Cernan accepts the documents, and searches Robyn’s face. She looks very much like an older version of his own daughter. He really wanted to like her.
The information I have provided you also describes some of the operations my company is carrying out here on the Moon. I am sure the United States will find grounds to object, but since Astrodyne is incorporated in the new island nation of Barbuda there’s not much the US can do about it. You could try working with us instead of fighting us for a change.
You make it sound like this is an old argument.
Cernan flips through the sheets of paper to scan the information Robyn was asking him to pass along. Old argument indeed, it seems to go back to the time of World War II. Inside the binder are five glossy color photos of the lunar surface that draw his interest. He pulls them out and asks what they are.
Images of each one of the previous Apollo landing sites, taken days or weeks after their departure. Note the missing ascent stage in each photo. We thought NASA might want a photographic record.
Cernan becomes quiet, and pust the photos back on the clipboard on the inside cover of the binder. He seems to be a little sad.
So this meeting, what is it, a fancy sales pitch? I’m just to be your go-between?
Basically, it all boils down to this, Commander: Everything the United States has done with its socialized government-financed space program, Astrodyne has already done faster and better with good old-fashioned capitalism. I can imagine this must come as a terrible blow to you, because your entire career has been building up to this moment, but that’s the raw truth, justice, and the American Way, so there you go.
How long have you’ve been up here, Kimberly?
She declines to answer that question, despite her strong wish to do so, because it would lead to questions about how a woman who looked to be only about thirty could be forty-seven years of age.
Let’s just say John Glenn was not the first American to orbit the Earth, despite what you may have heard. Nor was Gagarin the first human to do so.
Then how many of you are up here?
Oh, not many right now. Only about forty. We’re just getting started. We are willing and eager to work with NASA on a contractual basis going forward. Our contact information is also in that binder.
Cernan feels embarrassed. All the effort spent by America, all the national treasure, and in the end it all means exactly nothing. The whole Space Race against Russia is just a fart in a hurricane.
It’s twelve days before Christmas, I’ve got about a hundred and fifty of your Earth pounds of presents for your geologist Mr. Schmitt out there. Rocks from right here at the North Massif, taken from various depths up to six hundred feet below the surface. Sulfur from a channel we call Yellow Rille. Documentation is provided with each sample with location, depth, everything. Hopefully it will compensate for all the precious minutes you’re losing talking to me.
I’m sure it will. For what it’s worth, thank you, Miss Robyn.
Well, time marches on and your backpack, which you kept running by the way, won’t run forever. So that’s pretty much all I wanted to say to you, Commander Cernan. Thanks for taking this time out of your tait schedule to meet with me. Perhaps we will meet again someday on Earth.
I would like that very much. In the meantime, I would ask a small favor from you.
Just name it, sir.
My beautiful ten year old little girl’s name is Tracy.
Cernan holds up again the image of the Apollo 11 site that was taken from very near the Eagle lander to underscore what he is saying in an oblique way.
I wrote her initials with my finger in the ground near the Challenger, but far enough away that the blast of our ascent won’t erase it.
I can tell you are a man who loves his daughter very much. These pictures were taken to impress your bosses, sir. But I promise no one will ever come near your own landing site across this valley, unless your own people do later. Tracy’s initials won’t last forever, of course, due to micrometeorites, but close enough. A million years at least. That’s much better than anything you could do for her Earthside. Take care and be safe, Commander Cernan.
When the two men return to Challenger and remove their helmets, Harrison Schmitt snaps a photo of Cernan for the history books. He looks haggard, exhausted, and just a little haunted. The young lady he met out there on the Taurus-Littrow valley floor with her sheaf of papers and bundle of rocks spells certain doom for NASA’s manned moon program.
Apollo 18 and 19 are designated to explore the lunar far-side, but Cernan figures they would be canceled soon after he, Schmitt and Ron Evans return to Earth. The twenty-five billion dollars that had already been spent on the Apollo project now seemed like the biggest waste of money in American history.
When Robyn looks out along the new Timeline she sees that her idea of applying reverse psychology to the Americans is not enough. Apollo 18 and 19 were still going to be canceled, and the country is still going to turn its back on manned space exploration.
So what do we do, Lil?
I think we can fix it without creating yet another timeline. The whole Apollo program was a proxy battle in the Cold War, right?
Right, and just after Apollo 8 the Soviets, sore losers that they are, knocked all the chess pieces off the board. They took their ball and went home.
Well, then, Robyn, obviously all we need to do now is simply get the Soviets to come back to the game.
In the days just before Christmas, 1972, President Richard Nixon sends 130 B-52s and hundreds of smaller bombers to lay waste to Hanoi, Haiphong, and the whole vicinity, including airfields, rail yards, and (although perhaps not deliberately) even residential neighborhoods. The North Vietnamese government say the Americans are insane.
There is a thirty-six hour pause in the bombing for Christmas, and then it resumes. Although fifteen bombers are shot down and nearly a hundred airmen captured or killed, one hundred fifteen B-52s continue to bomb indiscriminately, around the clock. By New Year’s Day the North Vietnamese can’t take the bombing anymore and return to the negotiating table. A month later a cease-fire is announced, and the war shudders to a halt.
A few days after the cease-fire in Vietnam, the judge in the case of the Watergate burglars, “Maximum John” Sirica, hands down ridiculously stiff sentences with the idea of making one of the defendants break and testify against their unknown handlers. Two months later the Quiet Man does break, and writes a letter to Maximum John that there is political pressure to get the defendants to remain silent and that other men are involved in the operation who were not identified during the trial. This breaks the cover-up wide open.
It comes out that the Attorney General of the United States, the top law enforcement official in the land, had directed the whole operation to break into the headquarters of the opposing political party and bug their offices. Counsel to the White House was enlisted to pay hush money and lawyer’s fees for the defendants after the arrest. The head of the FBI was enlisted to steer the investigation by his subordinates away from the truth, and the President himself, only days after the arrests, claimed the break-in was a CIA operation in the interest of national security. And all of this is dragged out into public view because Nixon had bugged himself. He had secretly recorded every conversation made in the Oval Office since becoming President.
Soon after Vice-President Gerald Ford is sworn in to replace Richard Nixon after his resignation, fifty-three year old Astronaut John Glenn is asked to return to flight status with NASA after a hiatus of ten years. Although he had been preparing to make a run for the Senate as a Democratic Party candidate, Glenn instead flies on the Apollo 18 mission in a special non-partisan observer role for the United States government.
President Ford gives Glenn carte blanche authority to make deals with the people already on the Moon who apparently are represented by Kimberly Zinter. This is not public knowledge at the time. Glenn is not assigned a role as Command Module pilot or Lunar Module pilot, but he checks out on both positions.
It is Richard Gordon who actually commands the mission. He had already attained lunar orbit as the Command Module pilot for Apollo 12 but never walked on the moon. Now he is to land on the surface with Glenn and Fred Haise, who had almost walked on the Moon once before for Apollo 13 but had to turn back around following an explosion. Vance Brand and William Pogue are space virgins. They stand port and starboard watch aboard the Command and Service Modules in lunar orbit for the three weeks the teams are to be separated.
The Soviet Union transmits to NASA the orbital elements for their Lunniy Orbitalny Korabl which was parked over the Moon about a week before Apollo 18 arrived. They say the craft is currently unmanned and don’t want the risk of a collision, no matter how remote. The part about the LOK being “currently” unmanned was strange to the Americans, but the Soviets refuse to elaborate.
Soon after Glenn, Gordon, and Haise land, an electric truck identical to the one driven by Robyn and photographed by Harrison Schmitt arrives at the landing site and stops. After that, the truck driver finds the frequency the astronauts are using to talk to Mission Control and suggests, in English but with a Russian accent, that they follow him in their rover. Glenn and Gordon agree to go, and Haise is left behind to watch the Lunar Module. This precaution is deemed necessary because the moon is apparently crowded now.
The route they take is like a long dirt ramp up the North Massif. All the up-climbing takes a toll on the battery of the Lunar Rover. At about the eight mile mark, Gordon gets on the radio and says they have to turn around to recharge, or the rover would run out of juice. The Russian voice suggests it wouldn’t be a problem and that they should keep going.
After thirteen miles, with many switchbacks, they round a hillock and see something like a wide garage door, which opens at the command of the lead truck. Both vehicles enter, and the garage door shuts behind them. It takes about a quarter of an hour to fill the space with oxygen, then two men get out of the truck wearing jumpsuits and boots, nothing more.
Aleksei Leonov! And Oleg Makarov! I recognize both of you from photographs in our briefing. I knew you were out here but I didn’t know you were landing. Where’s your LK?
No LK, Commander. Astrodyne. We hitch ride down here.
There are brief introductions all the way around, then Makarov attaches a power cable to the truck. He brings another power cable over to the Lunar Rover and offers to plug it in, but first he must convince Gordon it is safe. What sells Gordon is how the cable fitting is exactly tailored to fit the rover. Someone up here has done their research.
The next space after the garage is literally a locker room, with large lockers for the NASA crew to stow their pressure suits and keep the keys on their person.
This key for peace of mind, no?
And the space after that opens on a balcony looking down upon the vast green interior of Taurus City, lit by clever sun reflectors in the ceiling.
SENATOR GLENN (taking a big breath)
Damn that air smells good!
It better smell good. We pay for each lungful. They say, go fetch Americans, reduce line item on expense account.
They call this cut-and-cover tunnel, but is big one.
Glenn and Gordon get their first view of Taurus City from the south end, very high up near the ceiling.
LEONOV (reciting from memory)
One hundred sixty four meters wide, one hundred sixty four meters tall, nine hundred eighty four meters long.
Does it have an ecological balance?
Not yet. You see how small trees are. But, I think, in time, yes.
Gordon looks at all the apartment balconies running along all the walls all the way to the other end, almost a full kilometer away.
Is it dangerous here?
There’s no weather on moon, only moonquakes and meteors. Moonquakes are very small, you never feel one. Meteors bigger problem, but still small problem. Sometimes we patch ceiling.
I’m impressed. It’s a compact and carefully designed space habitat that somehow doesn’t look compact and carefully designed.
How do we get down there?
That’s fun part.
Makarov begins to strap some wings on himself. Leonov straps wings on as well, and shows Glenn and Gordon how to do it correctly. Glenn looks at the folds of fabric he is encased in.
No time for flying lessons?
And he kicks free of the ledge. When he jumps, the excess folds of his fabric wings inflat and Makarov glides slowly down under the one-sixth Lunar gravity. It looks like so much fun Gordon immediately follows him, and he is followed by Leonov.
Like a baby thrown into a swimming pool Glenn is instantly required to adapt to the changing circumstances of his flight as soon as he leaves the ledge.
Makarov, with the ease of slightly longer experience, flies circles above and around the Americans to stay close enough to speak as they triy to learn the ropes. They fly right over the business district where the glass and steel Church of Green Dome tabernacle, still under construction, shares a courtyard and fountain with an office building, also under construction. Of course both these structures run for many levels underground.
Makarov begins to give them a guided tour.
There’s two-seater electric vehicle available from motor pool beneath future shopping mall. Ramp from motor pool leads to Taurus Highway, three miles of concrete run from one end of tunnel to other.
They all fly down a bit for a closer look at downtown. Leonov points to an infant skyscraper.
Astrodyne will not be run from there. Is just Potemkin village for bigwigs, so they think Robyn gives good meeting.
On the other side of the highway a hotel and a bank are under construction.
You see Obion street and City Administration complex where Astrodyne handles day to day operation.
They continue to glide along, and drop very slowly. Makarov points out the lunar branch of Canterwood Academy, right next to a one acre site with a grade school for the children of the B’nei Elohim.
Sometimes there you see girls kicking balls in effigy, and not just futbols.
The highway then curves gently through Cedar Heights, a forty-home development of big ranch houses for some of the middle-level B’nei Elohim members, and these homes, by contrast, are complete. The highway bends there to travel directly east to the other wall of Taurus City’s canyon.
Only eighteen second drive. On foot, cross from one wall to other in two minute walk.
Bike paths lead down and around Mineral Canyon which is a thousand foot long stretch of whitewater in a deep chasm. There are eleven mansions there for the top B’nei Elohim members like Hunky, Dory, and Jill. And there is also a bridge where the Americans can see a big pretty two hundred foot artificial waterfall plunging into a grass bowl at the head of the river.
They are getting close to the ground now, and Robyn’s estate looms ahead on a little hill. On the other side of the mansion Glenn and Gordon can see the road does an “S” curve past two sections of nine acre Lake Taurus and an apartment complex where the bike trail ends. The last two parts are the farm sector and the forest sector. The farm is thirteen acres of fruits and veggies plus a ten acre apple orchard with room for about three hundred head of cattle among the trees.
The forest sector beyond that was centered around Green Hill. That is the highest point on the tunnel’s floor.
Makarov and Leonov land first in Robyn’s backyard to show the Americans how it is done. Gordon follows them, and he finds he can deflate or inflate the wings at will to control his descent perfectly. He comes to a gentle stop on his feet right next to the cosmonauts and the Russians beam at him.
John Glenn is too happy to let the flight end just yet. He is overcome with the same feeling one gets on terminal cruise, when a plane’s engines are throttled back near the end of a flight. There is a qualitative change in the background noise of his mind, an attitude shift.
Robyn’s estate dances under his feet. Descending into the compound Glenn tries to finesse his landing with small forced deflations of his wings. Too much. Too fast. The three men watch him come down like a bat shot out of the sky. There was the swimming pool, screw it…