by Tagan Shepard
Major Charlene “Charlie” Hawk has been in the thick of battle many times, but she’s never had a deployment quite like this. A prison riot on the Moon. Fifty heavily armed, violent felons with nothing to lose. Two dozen innocent corporate drones with no way of escape. There’s no retreat and failure isn’t an option—not with so many civilian lives in her hands. And especially that one life.
Gail Moore runs Moon Colony with a soft heart, a head for business, and a stomach full of fear. Fear of the cold, dark lunar surface. Fear of blood on her hands. Mostly, though, fear of the way her eyes linger on the soldier who drops into her domain full of unquenchable courage and a body she can’t ignore.
The odds of survival were never good. The odds they could make something of their mutual attraction were even worse. But as the inevitable orbit of their lunar prison carries them away from the life-giving power provided by the sun, their chances evaporate faster than the fading light. If they are to survive, they need to move quickly. Death waits for them across the dark horizon.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"One of the first movie memories I have is watching the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth. That film enthralled me like nothing before. It sparked a lifetime obsession with adventure, heroism, Jules Verne, and stubborn, capable women. The latter has been satisfied these last eighteen years by my wife. All the former are the inspiration behind Across the Dark Horizon.
I had the idea for this novel while reading Verne’s From Earth to the Moon. What I’ve always loved about Verne’s brand of science fiction is the emphasis on science. No alien invasion or space opera melodrama can be found in his work, but rather a reasoned, reasonable world containing only the knowledge we have today, but with a brilliant mind to connect the existing dots and take humanity to the next level.
That sort of near-future scifi is what Across the Dark Horizon has to offer. That and adventure, heroism, and, of course, a pair of stubborn, capable women."—Tagan Shepard
Jude S. - What’s more dangerous than a prison riot? A prison riot on the Moon.
This was so fast-paced that it felt shorter than it really is. I really liked that it wasn’t as much set in the future as in a present where a company trying to outdo Boeing found, almost by chance, a way to make space travel possible. It felt as if this could really happen one of these days. Setting the story on the Moon also added elements of danger of (being stranded in space, the lack of backup, the time frame of the dark side of the Moon…) and heightened the tension.
I couldn’t put this book down.
Heather B. -Across the Dark Horizon is a fast paced book that I could not put down. The characters are well developed and the storyline is entertaining. The book is well written and I would read more by this author.
R. Swier - Across the Dark Horizon was the first book I read by this author. It was an extremely well written fast paced story. Tegan Shepard immediately pulled her reader into the chaos that took place within the first few pages-a prison riot on the Moon.
Even though this story took place within a short period of time, there was a lot going on. The author engaged her reader with action filled tension and many emotional highs and lows as life and death plans were discussed and debated. The characters’ actions and demeanor reflected this tension culminating in both passion and emotional breakdowns.
This was a great read and I look forward to reading other books by this author.
Sarah E. - So the beauty of this book is it’s a mix between a futuristic setting and a normal setting. It’s on the moon, but yet everything in the world around it remains the same so you get the feeling that it’s not really far fetched! I’m really into romance so to have a break and get into an action/futuristic book was a very good refreshing feeling! I really liked both MCs and I could feel the connection. The supporting characters were good too.
Jules P. - Dear Book: Thank you for full filling every damn fantasy I’ve had about a buff female soldier in crisp bdu’s and combat boots loving hard on a slightly uptight, gorgeous executive who rocks 4-inch heels and pencil skirts, who flashes thigh and sways hips aplenty as she goes by.
Dear Book: Thank you for being jam packed with action and set in outer space because I love SciFi. In fact, nerd that I am, I keep pictures of Octavia Butler and Ursula LeGuin in my phone just because.
Dear Book: Above all, thank you for including a strong, intelligent woc who is fearless in battle and who loves to crush her sexy body against the aforementioned soldier every chance she can get. Thank you also for respecting her heritage and not using it as a token trait.
As in most other SciFi, there’s a good underlying message and in this case, it’s about the flawed American justice system and the pay for play prison system that exists in the U.S. Much love to the author for tackling those issues and blending them into an outstanding tale.
Carrie K. - An anxious race for survival.
Gail Moore is in charge of a colony on the moon that is mostly populated by death row prisoners. They riot and take partial control. Charlie Hawk is the Major of an army special forces team on earth that is called to handle the perilous situation on the moon.
There is always something intriguing happening or new information to uncover with each page turn.
The author does a great job of world building. She describes everything in a way that seems feasible and believable. From domes with three layer protection to a system designed to gradually limit power usage upon entering the 14 day span on the dark side of the moon. The reader is completely immersed in the corporate space habitat project.
The relationship between Gail and Hawk begins on a rough note where the two of them don't meat eye to eye. But as the days pass, a mutual attraction forms. This is a distraction that Hawk does not need as resolving the conflict becomes increasingly tenuous. We wonder if there is any way possible that these two can get together as they face the very real threat of death.
This book has it all. Action, suspense, depth, steamy scenes, love, etc.
Overall, this was a really entertaining read.
Reviewer@Large - Imagined in painstaking detail and richly described, this sci-fi is so entrenched in the ethos of the possible that it becomes believable…just immersive and a really good read.
Kat A. - A great spec fiction romance that keeps a great pace. Loved the moon base setting and the characters were both strong women and had great chemistry.
The dull, rhythmic pounding of Gail’s feet thudding into rubberized metal filled the dark room. Her breath, labored and wet in the thin, dry air, echoed in her ears. Sweat trickled in a thin bead across her hairline, snaking behind her ear and down her long neck. The scent was sour and sharp. It smelled like fear. She ran harder.
The first blow hadn’t even looked violent. More like a brotherly slap on the back. Still, her security guard crumpled in a heap. Gail picked up her pace in a calm, calculated escalation. The second attack, coming too quickly after the first for any possible defense, levelled the other guard, and there was no turning back.
Gail saw the reaction, though the whole scene played out in pristine silence. A half-dozen prisoners poured into the hall, mouths wide with mute shouts. With each footfall, the tablet playing the security footage wobbled on the display of her treadmill.
The real fight had started off-screen. Search as she might, Gail hadn’t been able to find a surveillance camera that captured it. She had to settle for this limited view. While the attackers surged across the screen, disappearing through the opposite side of the frame, the prisoners that started the whole encounter picked up the weapons their guards had dropped. They checked ammunition calmly while the real action was happening elsewhere. Their smooth disinterest annoyed Gail. Her face pinched into a scowl.
Gail was running too fast now. The heart monitor strapped across her chest sent a warning to the treadmill and an alert flashed on its display, telling her to slow her pace. She ignored both the alarm and the scream of her lungs as she sucked at the insubstantial, recycled air. The time stamp at the bottom right corner of the video indicated that in exactly three seconds the next guard would enter the frame. She counted them down mentally, her lips tracing the numbers as sweat collected on her upper lip.
Her eyes flashed to the left of the screen, picking up the guard and tracking his movement. The black and white camera mounted ten feet above them recorded no sound when the butt of the prisoner’s newly acquired rifle connected with the guard’s jaw. Despite the silence Gail felt the crack of bone. She winced at the mist of blood, perfectly visible in her tablet’s high-resolution display. For a moment she could even taste the metallic tang. The guard’s eyes rolled back in his head as he disappeared from view.
Gail’s legs burned past her point of endurance, and she slowed perceptively. The treadmill matched her pace and the alert finally stopped flashing as her heart rate dropped below the red line. On the screen in front of her, the action also tapered. Her guards had been woefully outnumbered and taken by surprise. The screen flashed from one camera angle to another with only a brief pause to show that those guards who weren’t on the ground were retreating from their stations, the panic clear in their wide eyes.
The screen switched back to footage from the original camera as Gail slowed to a jog. This was the part she needed to focus on. The reason she kept watching the compiled footage over and over again. Anyone could tell that the man entering the frame was the catalyst for all this violence. He carried himself like a man without fear. A man with authority. A man with acolytes to do his bidding.
She’d spoken to him a week ago in an attempt to avoid the scene playing out in grainy footage on her tablet. After the first work detail failed to report for their shift he’d sent a letter to her office, detailing the prisoners’ concerns. She went to negotiate and found him lounging on his bunk like a warlord, smug and sly. When she asked to speak to him, he’d shouted a barking, raspy laugh that spoke of years of hard living. What followed was less a conversation than a chance for him to stare at her breasts and lovingly detail his actions toward women like her that had landed him here. She could hear snickering from the rooms on either side of his as she left, knowing in her gut that this would end badly.
He walked into the frame slowly and stopped in the dead center of the room. Looking around with a complacent smile, his gaze fell on the guard with the broken jaw. Only the guard’s legs were visible, but they twitched and dragged as he writhed in pain. The man smiled, then pulled back his stained boot and struck out. The guard’s legs went still.
A prisoner hurried up to the man in charge and held a handgun out to him. The leader looked at it for a long time, tracing its curves and its sharp angles with an almost indecent serenity. He wrapped a large hand around the grip and lifted it from his subordinate’s hands. The other man hurried off, leaving him alone with the gun, the legs of the wounded guard just visible.
Gail flinched in anticipation as the man’s gaze went back to the guard. Every time she watched this moment, she expected him to level his weapon and squeeze the trigger. When he turned his eyes away, Gail again sighed in relief. The light moment was short-lived. The man turned his attention now to the camera. He stared into it, a smile forming on his lips and his thumb absentmindedly stroking the barrel of the gun.
Something in that smile made Gail’s stomach twist with disgust. It was as though he was looking directly at her rather than an inert piece of electronic equipment. She did not want him to see her. She never wanted him to see her. When he leveled the barrel of his pistol at the camera, it was almost a relief. He held the gun there for what felt like a long time. She had time to look down the barrel. To imagine the bullet waiting at the end of it.
The shot came with a flash of light followed by blackness when the camera disintegrated. The video file ended and the replay controls popped up on the blank screen. Gail was a businesswoman, trained to look for the positives in any deal. The only positive she could take from this event was that only one shot was fired. Apart from one severely fractured jaw, the only permanent injuries were to the guards’ pride. Even the guard with the broken jaw was safe, recovering in the facility’s Clinic.
Gail slowed to a walk and activated the tablet’s voice-to-text feature. She checked the glowing red digits of the clock above the water fountain. It was far too early to text, so instead she instructed the software to begin an email to her secretary.
“Please inform me as soon as the support team’s plane is on approach.”
Once the email had gone, she drained her water bottle. It was still very early. She guessed that she had two hours until her assistant would receive the message. The inbound team shouldn’t be in range for some time after that. With a few quick swipes on the screen of her tablet, she cued up the video again.
Hitting play, she started to run.
Major Charlene Hawk had always enjoyed flying. She’d grown up on the lower end of middle class in the rural South, and her family never had the money for a vacation that included air travel. She hadn’t even been on a plane until the Army sent her to the second half of her Basic Training at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. It had been that moment when she fell in love with the feeling. Not only the rush during takeoff, when the blast of speed forced her back into her seat, but also the sense of importance being on the flight in the first place.
She had been the only woman selected for intelligence training that year. The significance wasn’t lost on her then and it wasn’t lost on her now. Ever since that first adrenaline and pride-filled trip, flying had become full of expectation for her. She would board a plane heading to her next posting and know that she had another chance to prove her worth.
This particular flight was like no other she had ever taken, but the feeling of tearing through the skies was familiar enough to set her at ease. It didn’t hurt that the seats on this plane were vastly more comfortable than those on commercial flights. The entirety of Charlie Company was on board, so there was no room in the coach section for her. In fact, more than half her Company was in makeshift seating in the cargo hold. She lounged in first class for the first time in her life and tried to feel guilty for loving the extravagance of it all. The biggest difference, however, was not luxury of the first-class cabin. It was the view through the porthole windows.
Rather than the cotton-ball fluff of cloud tops, she saw a vast blanket of inky blackness pinpricked with glittering stars. It was disorienting to see the empty void of space from her airplane window. Though, she supposed, she was technically in a space shuttle, not an airplane, no matter how much it resembled the latter. The engineers at Andrus Industries had inserted their new technology into the interior schematics they’d been using for years in commercial airliners.
Hawk had watched the endless news coverage of their breakthrough in space travel with the same detached interest as the rest of the world. She’d been occupied with fighting a war at the time, so she’d caught up on some of the finer points years after the initial breakthrough. She had marveled at the idea of drastically shortened space flights but was sure she would never have the opportunity to experience it firsthand. Yet here she was, reading through details of her team’s mission while the Earth quickly shrank from view. She checked her watch. They’d boarded less than an hour ago and in just over two more hours they would be landing at the Andrus Industries’ colony on the Moon.
“Pretty wild, huh boss?”
Captain Stephen Williams dropped heavily into the seat next to her and flashed a wide, toothy grin in her direction. Hawk smiled back despite herself. Williams had one of those contagious smiles with perfectly straight, gleaming white teeth. Matched with his square jaw, blue eyes and blond hair, he was the picture of the all-American soldier. Like Captain America in camouflage. He was exactly the sort of soldier Hawk usually detested because he was exactly the sort of soldier who could get away with anything, including the promotions she deserved, just because he looked the part. She couldn’t hate Williams, though. He was a genuinely good guy and he had had her back too often for her to count.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Captain.” She jerked a thumb toward the window of black space and stars. “Flying through space to retake a commercial colony on the Moon from a group of rioting prisoners. Just another day in this woman’s Army.”
The flight attendant appeared at Williams’s elbow, all doe eyes and fluttering eyelashes. He took a bottle of water from her cart and turned away without a second look, missing her mildly disappointed expression as she moved on.
“Sure thing,” he said, cracking the seal on his water and draining half the bottle. “It’s more of an adventure than an assignment.”
“I don’t know about that. This could be a logistical nightmare.”
When she tried to open her briefing folder, he slammed it shut again. “Oh no. You’ve been obsessing over this for the last twenty-four hours. Forget about the mission for two minutes and appreciate the fact that we are going to the Moon. The Moon!”
“If I forget about the mission for two minutes you and the rest of the squad will be dead this time tomorrow.”
“We hamstrung the Taliban in Helmand Province singlehandedly. We got in and out of Fallujah without a single casualty. We took Pyongyang with barely a shot fired. I think we can handle a few chain gangers on a power trip. And when it’s all over, I get to tell my kids I went to the Moon. Do you understand how cool that’ll make me? Dad of the year, hands down.”
Hawk set her jaw. She had worried about this sort of attitude but hadn’t expected it from her second in command. This mission was just like any other, but the moment they start treating it like a movie starring Charlie Company, was the minute they were going to make a mistake. A mistake in Afghanistan was bad. A mistake on the Moon would mean all of them—including the two dozen civilians and fifty prisoners—would die in the vacuum of space with no chance of rescue.
“I need you focused on this mission, Williams.”
He rolled his eyes and emptied his water bottle. “You’re telling me that you aren’t even a little bit excited to be going to the Moon?”
“I don’t get excited about missions. I get prepared.”
He laughed and slapped her on the shoulder hard but she didn’t as much as flinch. “Relax a little would you? Just take a moment to take it all in.”
He didn’t give her a chance to respond before slipping back through the curtain to coach. He knew her well enough by now to know she wouldn’t relax. Not until this was all over and they were on this same plane watching the stars streak behind them in the opposite direction. She’d been a soldier for a long time. She knew how to read a situation. She knew to trust her gut.
Her gut was telling her this wasn’t going to be a mission like any other she’d been a part of. Not just because it was on the Moon. Something about it didn’t feel right. It was like a rock in her boot, annoying her with every step and too far imbedded to be dislodged. Something must have been left out of her briefing. Something that would explain why this mission felt different from all the others. She flipped the folder open again, hoping to find what was making her so uneasy.
Gail Moore was the only person moving under the dome. Looking down over the open courtyard, the only stirring she saw was the gentle sway of leaves on the potted palms in the current of the air-conditioning. She checked her watch and saw that it was just time for her staff to be waking. If this were a normal day, the early risers would soon step out onto their balconies and look out over the last few hours of sunlight they’d have for a long time.
Today, however, was not a normal day. She doubted she’d see another soul until the soldiers arrived. No one felt safe right now, so Gail would no doubt be the only early riser. Not that she was, strictly speaking, an early riser. Closer to an insomniac. She hadn’t had more than four hours of sleep a single night since she arrived on the Moon. On Earth she rarely managed more than six.
As her steps took her closer to the glass wall of the dome, Gail took a sharp turn down a short hall ending in a nondescript door. The ID badge hanging from her lanyard enabled access, as it did to every other door in the facility. It clicked shut behind her, blocking out the view of the wide, foreign sky. This was a maintenance corridor, complete with painfully bright fluorescent lights and dingy white walls. The floor tiles were stained and scuffed. She took stock of the disrepair as she walked at a clipped pace and made a mental note to inform Environmental Services. She didn’t care that few people used this hall, every inch of her domain should be in order.
The chill that always accompanied that thought caught her unexpectedly, starting a shiver at the base of her skull and travelling the length of her straight back. Her domain. The people who lived and worked here were her people. Her responsibility. As always, the weight of that responsibility settled uncomfortably on her shoulders, like a too-heavy coat she longed to shed. This was what she had worked for her whole life, but it was still an awesome burden. She both loved and hated the power.
Her running shoes squeaked on the waxed tile. She turned another corner down a less well-lit corridor and tried to shake the doubt from her mind. Now more than any other time in her life, she needed to be confident in herself. In her place here. She was in charge of Moon Base, and if she didn’t start acting like it, people would die. Her shoulders straightened as she forced herself back on track. Her thin T-shirt stuck to the drying sweat on her back. Her long legs, bare from the top of her ankle socks to the high hem of her running shorts began to feel the chill of the air again.
Gail had spent the last three hours in the gym downstairs. The gym lights were set to twilight dim until 0700, when most of the station would be awake and inclined to get in their medically required thirty minutes of daily cardio. That was about the time Gail finished her workout every day, today included. While the rest of the station slept, she ran. She preferred the low lighting and the solitude, but the exercise itself was as necessary as oxygen to her. The limits of Moon Base, its borders and glass walls, made her heels itch. If she didn’t run she felt trapped. After her run each day, she’d walk the halls of the station, learning its design intricacies, checking its integrity, wandering her domain rather than settling immediately into her day. Today more than any other, with the shattering of her ordered world, she needed to monitor the station.
She emerged from the corridor into a very different hallway. This one was covered with deep royal-blue, plush carpeting that whispered underfoot. The walls were a rich vulcan gray dotted liberally with bright splashes of color in the form of bold, abstract art. The wood trim at floor and ceiling was solid cherry and gleamed in the sunken incandescent light. The executive wing of Moon Base was decadently generic enough to be in any corporate headquarters in New York. Only the view through the windows gave it away. Gail avoided that view as a matter of form.
Wandering the halls felt normal to her and looking out at the sprawling landscape should have as well. Gail had always loved to roam, had always loved wide open spaces. Her grandmother said it was in her blood. Gail’s mother was Oglala Lakota Sioux, the youngest daughter of a proud chief. Her father was Miniconjou Lakota Sioux. It was from him that Gail had inherited the high, round cheeks that marked their people. Like him and her grandmother, Gail was the image of the great Miniconjou of the past. Lone Horn, Kicking Bear and especially their great chief, Touch the Clouds.
The irony was not lost on Gail. There were no clouds for her to touch here, she thought as she unlocked her office door. There wasn’t even a sky. The wall behind her desk was one massive, unbroken window from floor to ceiling. This place was nothing like the place of her people. No clouds in a limitless blue sky. No sun on the Black Hills. No wind through the high plains. Nothing but chalky, dead mountains and empty, airless space. And so she avoided the view. When she was forced to look through the glass, she saw the broken-tooth skyline of Midtown Manhattan. She saw the emerald green, perfectly manicured lawns of Brown University. Hell, she even saw the barren wasteland and half-dried up lake of the Reservation. Anything but the dark, cold bones of this dead landscape. The lifeless rock of the Moon.
She shivered at the thought, crossing the room quickly to her private bathroom. There was a reason her desk faced away from the window. She did not like the thought of all that space. Beyond the boundaries of the dome there was nothing. No oxygen. No warmth. No life. On the other side of that glass was instant death. It wasn’t something she cared to think about. She dropped her tablet on the desktop and hurried to the bathroom, eager to get the time-sucking necessity of hygiene out of the way so she could start her workday.
Her shower was quick and searingly hot. Steam filled the tiny room quickly but was sucked away through the vent just as quickly. The engineers here did not let a single drop of moisture go to waste. Each molecule had to be collected and recycled. There were thirsty creatures everywhere. Cows, pigs, poultry, people and plants. Nothing could be wasted with so many lives to support. An indicator light was built into every shower right at eye level. It flashed yellow when one’s washing water ration was dwindling, then it flashed red as a final warning moments before shutting off. As Facility Administrator, she was allowed a marginally more generous water ration. Gail had never even seen the yellow light. She refused to take more than her fair share.
She dressed just as quickly as she showered, slipping into a suit with tight shoulders and a slim, pencil skirt. Her heels were high, but she was as comfortable in her four-inch spike heels as she was in running shoes. She was just sitting down at her desk when a soft tap on her door announced her secretary bearing a steaming mug of black coffee and a stack of folders under her arm.
“Good morning, Ms. Moore.” She put the mug down in front of Gail, setting the folders neatly next to it. “Quarterly reports and the revised budget for your review, and I’ve asked flight control to notify us about the plane’s arrival per your email.”
“Thank you, Beatrice.” Before her secretary could leave, she said, “Can you notify Cordell from Environmental Services that the west corridor on level seventeen needs attention.”
Beatrice flipped open her tablet and began clicking the screen. “What’s the concern?”
“The walls could do with repainting and the floors are scuffed.” Beatrice’s nearly imperceptible flinch made her continue, “It isn’t high priority. He can take care of it after this mess is all over.”
She should’ve known better than mentioning their trouble. Beatrice’s body tensed from her high ponytail to the toes of her flats.
“You think it’ll be over soon?”
“Of course. The soldiers will settle everything and we’ll be back to normal in no time. You’re perfectly safe, Beatrice.”
She looked like she wanted to say more, but thought better of it and simply nodded before leaving. That would be the universal reaction, Gail knew. Everyone in her charge had volunteered for life on the Moon. Most of them had done it for the triple pay and radically increased benefits, but they’d volunteered nonetheless. They may be ill-prepared for an armed rebellion, but they were practical, firm people. They would be frightened, but they would trust her. They always did.
Gail worked her way through several reports, trying and mostly succeeding in convincing herself this was just a normal day. The prisoners would be subdued. That was the word the major had used in her introductory telephone conference yesterday. Despite the bad connection caused by yet another poorly timed solar flare, Major Hawk sounded like a woman who could handle their difficulties. She had a confidence Gail liked. When she informed Gail in a businesslike manner that she and her unit would be leaving Earth first thing in the morning, Gail found herself looking forward to her arrival.
Dropping her pen, Gail turned to her monitor. As always, her eyes slipped to the top right corner of the screen where a timer counted down, ticking away the time left until they crossed the dark horizon. When she first set the countdown display, she thought it would help her overcome her fear of the approaching darkness and solitude. It had only served to do the opposite. Now she agonized every day about the ever-present threat. When they slipped behind the Earth, blocking out the sun for two weeks at a time, they were vulnerable to so much. They had no contact with the rest of the world. No warmth and no light. They were alone. Cold stole over her now at the very thought and she forced her mind to something else. Anything else.
While they had the sun on their side, an array of satellites gave them a relatively reliable connection to the Internet on Earth. She would have live access for a while yet before the powerful servers in the basement downloaded the latest version of most websites for access when they were out of satellite contact. She took advantage of the access while it lasted.
A simple search brought her very little information on Major Charlene Hawk. Most of the articles were from a small paper, probably from her hometown, noting with pride a military honor she received in action several years ago during the North Korean Conflict. The accompanying image showed the woman she’d spoken to yesterday, but it must’ve been a few years old. One of those studio shots with a fake smile and a flag in the background. But there was fire there, enough to intrigue her. All she could determine was that Major Hawk had very little life outside of the military. She didn’t even appear to have a Facebook page. Gail was very much interested in meeting her.
“Ms. Moore,” Beatrice’s tinny voice came through the intercom on Gail’s desk. “The shuttle is thirty minutes out.”
“Thank you, Beatrice.”
Gail stood and adjusted her suit. She wished just now that it was a suit of armor. Despite her reassurances to Beatrice, she feared the soldiers would be with them for some time.
Hawk had just refocused on the file folder open on her tray table when a hand appeared in front of her eyes.
“Major Charlie Hawk, right?”
She looked up into a narrow, friendly face. She studied the man as she shook his hand. He was tall, probably close to six and a half feet, but he couldn’t have weighed two hundred pounds. He was bird-chested under a pastel-blue polo shirt and his long, knobbly legs were wrapped in crisply ironed khakis. The face was too thin, like a man who had just recovered from a serious illness. His cheeks were hollow and his eyes sunken, but there was a happy glint in the eyes and his mouth was wide and grinning. His hair was so blond it was almost white, and his eyebrows disappeared in the pinkish hue of his skin. His pathetically sparse mustache was similarly hidden by his complexion.
The rich, confident voice somehow did not seem to fit him. “Jacob Stone. New York Times. Mind if I sit down?”
He indicated the empty seat between Hawk and the aisle and was in it almost before she finished nodding. He leaned on the armrest, pressing himself into her space in that obnoxious way that reporters and used-car salesmen do to unsettle their prey.
She closed the folder and replied, “I wasn’t aware that there were any civilians on this flight. Other than the crew, of course.”
“Andrus Industries allowed a few reporters to come along and report on the uprising. They handpicked three of us. I’m sure they’ll read every word we write and lean on our editors to show them in a good light, but it’s something at least.” He winked conspiratorially and set a couple of cans on her tray table next to the file. “Speaking of the flight attendants, I managed to sneak a few things off their carts. I was hoping for some booze, but they don’t have any. So, I can only offer you a ginger ale in exchange for answering a few questions.”
It wasn’t a request. He spoke like it was a foregone conclusion that she would agree to an interview. She smiled at his impertinence and took a can, popping the tab. “That would be my fault. We’re all on a mission here, Mr. Stone. I couldn’t afford to let the men show up to an active rebellion intoxicated, so I ordered a dry flight.”
His grin was more a leer than anything, and he only took a small sip before setting it down and turning back to her. “I must admit, when I found out Andrus was sending in an entire Special Forces platoon, I didn’t expect to find a woman in charge. When I heard Major Charlie Hawk, I figured you’d be a guy.”
“I get that a lot.” He was trying to rattle her, but this wasn’t anywhere near her first time through this dance. Her usual adversaries were far more formidable than this private-school weakling. She found that calm logic was the best response, but it wasn’t easy for her to fake. “Andrus Industries did not send us, Mr. Stone. We are United States Army soldiers. We were sent by the Army and we report to the Army, not a CEO. Also, this isn’t a platoon. A platoon is about fifteen soldiers. This is a company, which is comprised of six platoons and several supporting officers. Specifically, we’re Third Special Forces Group Airborne, Company C and yes, despite my gender, I am the commanding officer.”
At least he had the grace to blush at his ignorance. “Of course. My apologies. I should have known a major would be too important to command a platoon.”
“Was there something I can do for you, Mr. Stone?” She patted the closed file. “I have a lot to review before we land.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I was wondering if you would give me your opinion on the situation up there.”
“I haven’t arrived yet, so I can’t give you one. I will form an opinion once I assess the situation.”
“That’s not quite what I meant, Major. I meant…well, the whole colony in general. What are your thoughts on the…well, the ethics of the thing?”
“Again, I’m afraid I’ll be disappointing you. Ethics aren’t my area. I’m here because there are twenty-seven American citizens whose lives are in danger. I’m here to protect them.”
“There are far more than twenty-seven American citizens up there, Major. There are twenty-seven civilians, sure, but there are another fifty Americans who are essentially slave labor. Don’t you have an obligation to them?”
Hawk bought some time by swallowing a mouthful of ginger ale. “My obligation is to protect American citizens from both foreign and domestic threats. At the moment, those fifty men are a domestic threat. Beyond that, it’s not my place to say.”
“We all have a moral obligation to object if we see wrongdoing.”
“Undoubtedly. However, you are asking me within the confines of my official capacity, which is a military liaison, not an ethicist.”
Stone laughed, a deep rumble that was at odds with his physical appearance. “You’re a hard woman to pin down, aren’t you?”
“You have no idea.”
He tapped a manicured fingernail against the plastic edge of the armrest. The noise was nearly swallowed by the hum of the engines. His voice was softer, less argumentative when he spoke again, “Isn’t it all too convenient?”
“What do you mean?”
He waved his arm around at their surroundings. “This. All of this. The timing was almost ludicrously in favor of Andrus.”
Hawk didn’t respond. She knew enough human psychology to guess that he came to her to voice his own opinion rather than ask hers.
“Think about how many factors helped Andrus Industries become the richest corporation in the world.” He ticked them off on his fingers as he spoke, his eyes flitting between his hands and the window. “They make this immense scientific breakthrough that speeds space travel from days to hours. But it was a mistake! They were trying to speed up their passenger jets to get an edge on Boeing and they just stumbled across interstellar space travel.”
He shook his head and smoothed his patchy mustache. Hawk watched his zeal grow as the red crept up his neck.
“At nearly the same time it’s announced that there is a global shortage of half a dozen raw materials. Gold, silver, platinum, nickel, even aluminum are just a handful of years away from complete depletion. So they sweet talk Congress and the White House into helping finance an asteroid mining colony on the Moon in return for free licensing of the new technology for government use. We’re in yet another unnecessary war and we need the edge. So we ignore or bully our way out of treaties that say the Moon is the property of all mankind and within a handful of years Andrus Industries has a colony that is fast becoming self-sufficient.”
Hawk finished her ginger ale and set the empty can back down rather more deliberately than she would normally have done.
“Only problem was lack of manpower. Not a lot of miners were willing to work in that environment, no matter how much they were paid. So they needed an alternate source of labor.” He raised his arms to the sky in an exaggerated imitation of a minister. “Lo and behold the country finds itself with heavily overpopulated prisons and a shortage of lethal injection medications. Big Pharma doesn’t want to sell to us because they don’t want to be a part of government-mandated murder. They don’t want public opinion to turn against them the same way it’s turned against the states who still perform executions. Now we have all these prisoners that we can’t house and can’t release and can’t kill. Andrus swoops right in and takes them off our hands. They sign a bullshit waiver, their families get a token check every month and within a decade the Moon goes from an abandoned, lifeless rock to a penal colony like Australia was. Now Andrus Industries makes more in annual profits than all the oil companies combined. And that’s just the beginning…”
He finally seemed to have talked himself out. His cheeks puffed in and out alarmingly and his ears were red as stoplights. Hawk waited another beat before replying, “I would say the company wisely took advantage of market forces to leverage their product. It’s not pretty, but it’s business.”
“Not pretty? Do you know how many prisoners died up there during construction?”
“I imagine a fair few. Like you said, though, they signed waivers and their families get an income. Better than rotting in an overcrowded prison for the rest of their lives for nothing.”
He averted his eyes again, but the angry lines around his mouth were hard to hide. “How very pragmatic of you, Major Hawk.”
“I don’t have the luxury of being a crusader.” His expression didn’t flinch, and she sighed before continuing, “Look, I’d be lying if I said the whole thing sits right with me, but the bottom line is that this is a prison riot. These are violent men who were paying their debt to society and they turned on their guards and are now threatening the lives of not only their guards but also two dozen or so clock punchers just like you and me. They aren’t the CEO who makes billions a year and set up the whole deal. They’re regular people and they deserve to be protected. If there was a prison riot on Earth or a gang of murderers and rapists were threatening an office building, you wouldn’t object to the police going in. This is just slightly more…exotic.”
He opened his mouth to reply but was cut short. A flight attendant appeared behind him with that pleasant but emotionless smile peculiar to the profession and said to Hawk, “I apologize for interrupting, ma’am. There is an urgent call for you from Earth. Would you come with me please?”
Stone snapped his mouth closed and stood, extending his hand to the Major.
“Thank you for your time. Perhaps we can speak again in the coming days?”