Last Man on the Moon by James M Smith
Visit James M Smith's page

Petar watched the viewing monitors while he sipped his morning coffee. The whole circular room that was the old commissary had been lined with screens that were fed live video from the launch pad’s tower. It always gave Petar the sense that he was a giant, striding across the barren surface of the moon. Nowadays, he’d be a very old giant. He leaned back stretching as he waited for his coffee to cool. He could hear several pops and cracks as he did so.

He wiped away the crumbs of this morning’s pre-packaged danish and ran a rough hand through his somewhat unshaven beard. His standard issue blue jumpsuit was a bit worn but he loved it. Even with his forced retirement, Petar in his heart was a company man. He still wore his four-star pin given to him two years ago. All the guys had surprised him in this very room with a cake that read “40 Years of Dis-service.” Even gruff Petar had chuckled at that one.

The Orbit Liner was in clear view this morning from the commissary viewing screens. It was the closest it would be to the moon on its journey around the solar system. The massive ship took up most of the monitors on the starboard side of the room. Since this side of the station sat in the shadow of a large crater, the white hull of the Liner reflected the sun's rays like a white hot beacon of progress.

Petar smiled watching the marvel of human engineering lazily make it’s way across the station's monitors. He imagined that this must have been what it was like for ancient mariners to see a whale pass by their ships in the night. It also brought back the creeping mixture of nostalgia and fear that he’d been suppressing for months now. A growing anxiety of saying goodbye to the past and fear of the future. He shook his head, trying to keep those thoughts at bay and stay positive, for just a bit longer.

Petar stood there for awhile watching the Orbit Liner pass. He remembered six years back, seeing the ship cruise by on its maiden voyage. The whole lot of Warehouse 32 had been up in the commissary that day, cheering the old girl on her way. Even the eternally grumpy Operations Manager had cracked a smile seeing the marvel of man and machine off into space. Petar knew he was running behind this morning but the shuttle could wait. This would be their last pick-up of the day and he would be their only cargo. They could keep the engines running a bit longer to give an old man time to say his goodbyes.

If Petar had not made some bad investments as a younger man, he probably would have retired when the rumors first began that the company was finally shuttering the moon. Sure, it had once been the keystone in man’s growing network of colonies across the system, but those days were nearly half a century in the past now. Petar used to brag that everything humans touched in space ran through his warehouses in one way or another. “Without me, you’d all still be stuck on that stuffy old rock!” he used to brag.

Of course, they weren’t really his warehouses. Back then Petar had only been a young shift manager: bright, ambitious, and filled with the optimism of a company man. Sometimes when Petar thought back on those early days, he winced. He was ashamed of how he had squandered away his youth.

Slowly, Petar made his way towards the far end of the commissary. He let his eyes linger over every little thing. It would be the last time anyone stepped foot inside the old building for quite a while and he felt somewhat responsible for it. Like someone ought to at least remember it for a little while longer. A mental memorial to a time-back-when and a lifestyle now defunct. Eventually though, he crossed the threshold into the kitchen.

Along the curved countertop the station’s cooks once used to prep the crew’s meals, sat nearly a dozen coffee and tea makers; though Petar had only bothered to keep one of them turned on and powered up. Inside sat half a pot of fresh Instafe, happily percolating its bitter brown liquid. Beside the machine sat a dinged up red vacuum-sealed thermos. Petar took the pot off the heating unit and poured the rest of the pot into his thermos. He set the empty carafe into a nearby sink, not bothering to wash it out. One last act of civil disobedience. With another sigh, he switched off the coffee-maker, walked over to the big breaker box, and powered down the commissaries monitors. As he turned right and began to walk down the stairs, the circular room lay dark and silent.

Petar made his way through the vacant dormitories. He occasionally checked to make sure all the lights were off and the systems shut down in each of the wings. His orders were to power down everything but the absolute mission critical systems. Even then, he was instructed to leave the oxygen and other vital systems set to low. He poked his head into the last cloister of dorms on the right and grabbed the duffel bag that contained his clothes. Everything else he owned had been shipped out parcel nearly a month before hand. Company policy. He took one last look around, and switched off the lights.

The base had originally been founded as a way to generate and harvest Helium 3. The dormitories were really the only structure left of that original mission. They had been built in the pre-existing lava tubes found a few hundred meters below the dusty lunar surface. A few months spent widening and shoring up the existing structures and you had a safe zone you could seal off from the surface, shielded from radiation, and ready to be pumped full of breathable air. Petar ran his hand along the walls, smoothed nearly to the point of glass. He thought about how many countless human lives had been spent trying to achieve this dream: man, living in space. And he wondered if any of those people in the past would begrudge him his position. Petar was the last man on the moon. He was taking the last shuttle off this rock. He was shuttering the base and heading back to Earth. Back to where it all began.

The 86 year-old had to pause and have a seat on one of the benches carved into the hallway that lead to the tram station. Overcome by his emotions, Petar wept.

It was the last tram from Station 32, through the Armstrong complex. After this trip the tram would dock at the Docking Station and power down for an indeterminable amount of time. Petar rode in the front of the tram, his duffle bag on the seat beside him. He sipped on another cup of coffee poured from the old thermos to ease his nerves. He had replaced the normal, company approved, non-descript ambient music with a selection of his own classic rock and roll albums. This would have been highly illegal, if it weren’t for the fact that Petar was the only person on the tram. One person wasn’t considered a public performance as far as he could tell.

As the tramcar zipped through the near-vacuum tube track, Petar reached into his pant’s pocket and pulled out his old brick of a tablet. His daughter had bought it for him to keep in touch when she and her family left for work on Io. He mostly used the thing for chatting and watching his old movies. He pulled up a few videos of his granddaughter and couldn’t help but smile. Maybe he could finally go out and visit them. He would have plenty of time now. He closed the videos and pulled up the warehouse command software, there was still some work to be done.

The hand-sized tactile feedback device let him interact with the net. The station’s Mind had been shipped off a little over a month ago so Earth's internet field was too far to access but he could still log into the Mesh. It was much slower than true internet but as long as he wasn't trying to pull down libraries it was manageable. Petar closed his eyes and listened to the music, feeling his way through old memories. His hands did all the dirty work. Outside the tram, the warehouse was shutting itself down section by section, at the command of Petar’s touch.

As he finally pulled into the launch pad’s station, two very young, very professional pilots were there to greet him. Even though they probably made three times what Petar made, they still bowed and shook his hand, called him sir.

“It’s a pleasure sir.” One of the pilots said after shaking his hand. “I hope I don’t offend you here, but, uh...”

“Well you see,” his friend continued, “company policy states we have to get verbal confirmation that you completed your job before we can take off. Did you complete your tasks, sir?”

Petar looked away from the shining launch bay where the newly commissioned corporate shuttle sat, illuminated in its hangar. Instead, he turned and looked back, past the tram, at the dark and empty void that had once been humanity's greatest achievement. The goal of a hundred different dreamers and the amalgamation of a thousand lifetimes worth of work, now dark, now lifeless.

“Last man on the moon,” Petar repeated from memory, “makes sure to turn the lights off when he’s done.”