By: Allen Ashley
Once upon a time in the future, a new mineral called theosophite was discovered on the Moon. Finally, the great age of lunar settlement began as nation after nation built encampments from which they could shovel up container-loads of this soft, sub-surface rock that held energy potential far greater than oil, gas or coal. The various Moon bases co-existed on only slightly better terms than their Earth counterparts. The Mare Crisium conglomeration was not an exact mirror of the map of the politically divided mother world but, even so, each habitation complex was somewhat separate and generally on guard against industrial espionage by "foreign powers".
One morning, the Three Bears ran out of their personal store of theosophite midway through preparing porridge for breakfast. I say "morning" because it was daylight on the lunar surface and it's always morning somewhere on the home planet below. Michelin chefs and restaurateurs would have described the porridge as space gloop – desiccated packet food mixed with water – but it was nutritious in inverse ratio to its appearance and tastefulness.
Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Baby Bear all donned their protective suits, went out of the airlock and loped off towards a nearby crater. The parents had rocketed up from Earth but Baby had been born on Luna. He loved hearing their tales of "olden times" back on the home planet, that blue and white marble that was always a sight of beauty against the dark sky. Wherever his parents went, Baby insisted on tagging along. In their oversize pressure suits, carrying simple buckets and spades, they looked like deep sea divers come to spend some family time on the beach. Of dust.
Baby Bear was gabbling excitedly on his helmet mike. Daddy's stomach was grumbling, and he would have preferred to fetch the fuel on his own. Mummy was acting as peacemaker between the two males. This probably explains why they didn't close the doors properly.
From behind a rill over to the western horizon came loping a small figure in an airtight suit that sported a small red, white and blue flag on one shoulder. Lunar-born like Baby Bear, her given name was Gillian. A mix of precocious and feral, this girl had been given free rein by her parents to explore the grey surface of her birth world, with just a sprinkling of safety and first aid training to keep her out of major mischief. And if her cute smile helped her to pick up some interesting gossip on her travels? All the better.
"She could charm the birds down from the trees," said her father.
The colonies had plants aplenty, including modified fruit trees. But nothing avian.
"We need new idioms for our new world," said Gillian's mother. "Maybe: she can guide the meteors right into the crater?"
Gillian pushed up her sun visor, noticed that the airlock on the Bears' pod was amber, so tentatively pushed her way into the outer chamber. All children were taught the standard button sequence as soon as they could walk. "Latchkey kids" the older inhabitants called them, although no-one fully understood the reference.
Gillian had a cover story about seeking sponsorship for a charity dance performance. Spectacular choreography could be achieved in the low gravity and was a popular activity. She removed her helmet with a whispered "Hello?" then shook out her thick, corn colored hair that had earned her the nickname Goldilocks. She gazed around. Most lunar dorms were designed to a standard pattern, but each contained its own personal touches. She had a zip pocket near her right hip suitable for any "magpie finds", as her mother called them. Of course, there were no actual magpies on the Moon.
She removed a glove, prodded at the bowls of porridge on the counter. The first had been blasted by a faulty or faltering microwave, the second was hardly cooked at all. The third welcomed a spoon and had that somewhat addictive selene sweetener added. Goldilocks ate it all up.
She grabbed at the top of the first chair in the lounge, but it was too big to climb into while wearing a pressure suit. Down the side was an appealing array of buttons but Goldie resisted pushing them. Turning to the second chair, she pressed the fabric and found it too soft and yielding. The third chair, though, was less complicated and obviously belonged to a child. Maybe she could make a new friend, start to form a pirate gang like on the 3D vis shows. She plonked herself down just a little too abruptly. One of the support legs buckled and the smallest chair collapsed beneath her. No matter. Goldie's mum was an engineer and could fix furniture in a jiffy if required.
Goldie's father had once told her that "you can't easily be nosy in a spacesuit" but that "a helmet never stunts an enquiring mind". She had a quick scan of the screens and instructions around the living quarters but didn't recognize the language in which they were written. Even some of the letters looked a bit strange. Father would be disappointed but, as her mother was fond of saying, "You can't know what you don't know."
Goldilocks was surprised by the sleeping area. Her parents favored a double bed but here were three singles. The first mattress was too hard, the second too soft, but the third was cozy and comfy. She rested her helmet by the side of the bed, let her eyes close a little as she wondered about snapping some photos on her device and running the text through Google Translate.
Outside, the Three Bears had returned from their crater-combing with containers full of theosophite. Daddy Bear punched the buttons and the three of them entered the airlock and disrobed. Reaching the kitchen area, they indulged in a collective frown.
"That's not how we left things," said Daddy.
"Is that a finger mark in my gruel?" Mother asked.
"It's all right for you but someone or something has eaten mine all up," said Baby Bear.
Mummy reached over to hug him. The lunar-born had developed a culture of believing in impossible animals or cryptids: moon mice, space spiders, rocket rats, that sort of thing. It was best to gently humor them.
"Someone's moved the headrest on my chair," said Daddy Bear.
Mummy Bear was about to comment on the state of her seat when Baby Bear yelled, "Ouch! I went to sit down but it's all broken."
Goldilocks had heard the commotion. She didn't understand the words but their tone was clear. As stealthily as possible, she reached down to retrieve her helmet.
"I feel dirty, defiled," said Daddy Bear. "I need to wash and cleanse."
"You need to be a man," Mummy Bear hissed. "What if the intruder is still here?"
Baby Bear let out a howl. "There she is."
In a flash of golden hair, pink cheeks and white spacesuit, Goldilocks bounded past them and barreled into the airlock. Daddy Bear pounded on the door and Mummy Bear set about donning her pressure suit to make pursuit but it was too late. From a viewscreen, Baby Bear watched the interloper using the low gravity to make a swift escape.
"She could have been my friend," he muttered.
The Unified Lunar Police conducted an investigation and ran several school-age profiles across the screens as a remote identity parade. The girl was obviously from the Anglo-American-Euro-Australasian settlement but… there were a lot of blonde-haired, apple pie kids to choose from and they had only glimpsed Goldie for a few seconds at most. The complaint withered.
Spoiler alert. The bears might not actually have been bears but instead mere humans, with the parents being one-time citizens of Moscow or St Petersburg. The post-Putin Russian colonization of Luna had been quite successful to date. Bears, though? Back in the nineteenth century when the European would-be superpowers sought to carve up the Earth's landmass amongst themselves, Russia was generally characterized or personified as a bear on political maps of the era.
Don't you just hate it when an author breaks the so-called fourth wall? Breaking any wall on Luna could lead to instant decompression and a rather gooey death with your insides soon resembling exposed porridge. But… we head off towards the stars and we take our fireside tales with us.