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Ken McConnell about 5590 words

“Lunatic”
by Ken McConnell

“Alert, Alert. Contact lost with communications relay four,”
the computerized female voice said in my ear piece. She sounded
vaguely Japanese and spoke in a dispassionate tone.
I was outside, repairing a mesh antenna that had been
pierced by a tiny meteor. It didn’t happen as much as you might
think; in fact, in over five years of living on the far side of
the moon, this was only the second time the array had been
struck by a meteor. I continued to work on the antenna; the
computer was always losing contact with the communications
relays. After a few minutes of trying in vain, it usually
started the realignment routine and then established contact. I
waited for the usual retraction that came after the initial
alert, but it never came.
I started to wonder if I had lost contact with the computer.
I looked up at the antenna high over my head. The Free Space
Optical laser antenna was pointing at my habitat on the far edge
of the crater; it converted my suit communications into light
beams and sent them back to the computer.
I couldn't use radio signals because they interfered with
the giant radio receiver that encompassed much of the crater it
was built into, and because radio signals gave me one mother of
a migraine.
“Computer, what is the status of the communications array
alignment?”
“The communications array is offline. Realignment
procedures are continuing.”
That was odd; it never took that long to reacquire the
mirrors. They must have been blasting again at the new base on
the near side. I started wrapping up my repair operation. The
robot mule was standing to my left, patiently waiting for me to
give the word to head back. It had limited AI, about as much as
a real mule would have, but it was considerably more obedient.
It had four legs that let it scramble up lunar landscapes better
than I could. I let it carry my extra oxygen and various pieces
of heavy equipment that I couldn't easily carry myself. I had
named it Gem.
Lunatic / 2

I looked down at Gem and slid some tools into the tool
pouch. With my attention away from the habitat, I didn't see
the meteor strike, but I saw the flash and I felt the ground
ripple under my feet; it tossed Gem and me like rag dolls
against the floor of the crater. My face mask was completely
covered with moon dust as I lay upside down and sliding down the
inside of the crater. Pieces of metal and other debris impacted
the regolith around me, but luckily didn't hit my suit. I
frantically smeared the gray dust away from my visor in an
effort to see what had happened.
I could see the black of space and the top of the near rim
of the crater, but I couldn't see my habitat. Parts of the
radio antenna were gone and those parts were coming back down
like deadly metal arrows. I covered my head, expecting to be
nailed and have my fragile space suit ripped open. Nothing
happened. I opened my eyes and saw the silent metal rain come
down around me but somehow it all miraculously missed me.
I tried to right myself by spinning around on my back and
then rolling over to push up with my arms. It took me a while
to get upright because of the bulky spacesuit, and when I did, I
noticed Gem struggling to get back over to me from a few meters
away. There was a jagged piece of metal stuck in the robot's
side like a horse struck by a spear. Aside from being
completely covered in gray lunar dust, the robot appeared to be
otherwise fine. It stopped beside me and stood somewhat shakily
on its four animal-like legs.
I reached out with my gloved hand and patted it on the side.
Something made me treat the damn thing like it was alive and I
can't explain why. Maybe because it was the closest thing to a
companion that I had on the far side of the moon, maybe because
of the way the robotics engineers mimicked a real animal in
designing its legs. I pulled out the metal fragment and tossed
it aside. Gem didn’t seem to be much affected by its removal.
"Looks like it's just you and me now Gem," I said to the
thing, even though it could not hear me now that the computer
relaying our communications was destroyed.
I looked back up at the rim where the meteor had hit. I
could see a new secondary rim where my habitat once stood. Not
good.
It took us a while to hike up the crater wall from where we
were. It was only a few kilometers away up the graded slope to
the new crater. Gem ambled along beside me and then moved
forward a bit to more firm ground. I stared into the hole that
used to be my home. I wondered how long it would be until I was
rescued. If, I were rescued. I was the only person living on
Lunatic / 3

the far side of the moon.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no dark side of the
moon, but there is a quiet side. For years astronomers had
wanted to build radio antennas on the far side of the moon. By
using the entire moon as a buffer from the radio noise coming
from our pale blue transmitter, scientists were allowed to
survey the depths of space without interference from man-made
devices. The first array was about the size of a football field
and was unmanned. The second array filled most of the large
Daedalus crater and required a full time maintenance person to
keep it running. That’s where I came in.
They'd needed someone to work alone for extended periods of
time, and not go insane from the solitude. I was the man for
the job. I was born with an unusual condition which left me
ultra-sensitive to radio signals of any kind; I was forced to
live in a RF free bubble for most of my life. I couldn't leave
the protective confines of my specially built home on Earth
without being crippled to the point of inaction by all the
extraneous radio waves that bounced around the modern atmosphere.
In order to experience life outside my home, I had to go to
some of the most remote places on Earth, and even then, I still
suffered low grade migraines. For a long while I lived in a
deep sea habitat, but even that was insufficient to shield me
from the constant transmissions. When I heard of the opening on
the far side of the moon, I applied for the job and got it.
Once here, for the first time in my life, I experienced quiet.
I'd finally found a home.
#

Because of the radio silence required by the huge telescope
I maintained, there were no radio links from my habitat to the
near side of the moon. Instead, there were a series of laser
relay stations from crater rim to mountain top from Daedalus
crater to Montes Cordillera. The first relay point was atop
Icarus crater close to two hundred kilometers away. My only
hope was to jack into that relay and use it to send an SOS to
the near side. I needed the moon buggy to make that trip, but
the buggy had been parked next to the habitat and was completely
destroyed by the impact.
I looked around on the ground and could see the rays of
ejecta that extended away from the new crater in all directions.
It was beautiful even knowing that it used to be my home. The
moon was the harshest environment I had ever encountered. Just
when you thought you had command over it, something happened to
remind you that you were still at the mercy of the cosmos.
Lunatic / 4

There was a hopper on the landing pad a few hundred meters
away. I saw its spindly metal shape catching the harsh light of
the sun. From this distance, it looked unscathed. I started
bounding my way across the landscape, careful not to trip and
rip my suit on all the hidden metal debris strewn around the
gray dirt like mines in a mine field. Gem bounded along behind
me, programmed to follow its master like a loyal dog.
The hopper was a non-orbital ship that we used for long
range traveling on the moon. Its primary purpose was to get you
across the moon’s surface like jet planes on Earth. Everyone
was trained to fly them and they usually traveled just high
enough to skirt most mountain ranges. I named my hopper Blue
Bird because the only color on it was a smattering of blue.
I looked it over pretty close, but not as thoroughly as I
would have on any other day. My oxygen supply was limited, and
I had to get a message out if I expected anyone to get to me in
time to save me.
I motioned for Gem to load itself into the storage racks
under the hopper. It understood my sign language and dutifully
obeyed me. I climbed up the ladder and entered the tiny white
cabin of the hopper. For some reason, the designers chose a
color that would show wear and tear the best. After being on
the moon for several years, the inside of this hopper was just
as gray as the regolith outside.
I got the hopper fired up and immediately sent it toward the
top of Icarus crater. I'm not the best pilot on the moon, but I
did pass my last flying certificate easily enough. I had
little-to-no trouble in setting the ship down near the top of
the crater's rim. I used more fuel than I would have liked, but
I figured I'd never have to use it again, so why compromise my
safety?
I got out of the hopper and climbed the remaining meters to
the relay station. It was on a metal antenna tower whose base
was cemented into the regolith. Several round antennas were
bolted to the tower for collecting the photon beams and then
sending them on down the line to the near side of the moon.
I took out a patch cable from my suit and jacked it into the
tiny computer embedded in the antenna array. The whole
operation was powered from a small solar panel that rested on
top of the antenna. I was able to see the nodes through a tiny
heads-up display in my space suit's visor. The string of
connections from Icarus to Montes Cordillera was intact, but on
Cordillera, the node was out. I tried to force the last node to
readjust itself three times before giving up.
Montes Cordillera was the last link from the far side to the
Lunatic / 5

near side. It was in direct line of sight to the Earth as well
as other nodes which used laser, radio, and microwaves for
transmission. There was even an up-link to Earth and orbiting
satellites. My SOS signal made it clear across the far side of
the moon until that last node, and there it died.
I would have to get back in the hopper and pray it had
enough go-juice to get me halfway across the moon. I looked
around at the barren crater and swore to the universe. I
probably had enough oxygen to get me to Cordillera, but assuming
I was able to fix the relay in a timely manner, I would not have
enough breathable air to wait for a rescue.
But that was the least of my worries. I would be facing
something much worse than lack of air; I would be facing the RF
noise, again. The unfiltered fury of Earth's radio energy
streaming through my head like bolts of lightning, scrambling my
brains in the process was not something I ever wanted to face
again. I would have to face it, if I wanted to live beyond the
next few hours.
My only chance was to get there as quickly as I could, and
pray that someone had noticed the downed link, and sent out a
repair crew. The astronomers would have noticed that they
couldn't communicate with the listening post by now, and perhaps
enough time had passed for them to send someone out to check on
me.
That happened once before not long after I first arrived on
the moon. One of the relay antennas had been loosened by a tech
and after having sat there motionless for months, finally
succumbed to gravity and slipped downward, causing the relay to
go down. I was off-line for about a day as I dutifully checked
each node. I had gotten lucky then: it was only the second
node, and I'd had the problem fixed before a hopper from the
nearest base made it out to me. It had taken them fourteen
hours from the time they realized something was wrong until they
touched down at my habitat. Pretty quick, really.
There was some talk then of installing a satellite
transmitter at my habitat for emergency use. They'd even
installed it, a simple uplink, but of course it was of no value
to me now that my habitat was a crater.
The nearest lunar base was several hours closer to Montes
Cordillera than my habitat. So if they received my SOS, they'd
be able to get to me only a few hours after my oxygen ran out.
I've always been a realist. It's gotten me through some
tough times in my life. It wasn't easy being a boy in a radio
proof box, but I had always managed to count on myself to solve
any problem I was having. Living in isolation from most of
Lunatic / 6

humanity tends to make a person somewhat anti-social. It also
makes a person respect the fragility of life a little more. I
had to press on, even if it meant facing terrible pain.
#

I took stock of where I was according to the maps I had with
me. You never realize just how similar everything looks on the
moon until you spend some time flying over it at low altitudes.
Kilometers of nothing but gray dust and rocks for as long as the
eye can see. Sometimes you can see little craters, but mostly
it's just gray, featureless terrain like a southwestern
landscape in black and white. Most of the names on the map were
Russian scientists and hard for me to pronounce.
The hopper was acting kind of twitchy. I could feel the
ship shudder every once in a while, and sometimes it dropped
altitude unexpectedly like an airplane caught in an air pocket.
There was no air on the moon, so whatever was wrong, had to be
related to the hopper's systems. I scanned the gauges and LCD
screens on the instrument panel; everything looked fine to my
novice eye. My fuel was being consumed at an alarming rate, but
I still had enough to get me to the Montes Cordillera Mountain.
Boy, is that redundant. “Montes” is Latin for mountain and
“Cordillera” is Spanish for mountain range. No matter what
language you used, it's still one of the largest outcroppings of
rock on the moon, and I was barreling towards it as fast as the
hopper's rockets could push me.
The closer I got to the near side, the more intense my
current headache became. I'd never fully gotten over it.
Medications pushed the pain back to a dull numbness that made
thinking possible, but the pain was always there.
I was starting to squint and push on my helmet with both
hands. I didn't hear what was playing on radio signals; I was
only human after all, not some cyborg half-breed from a bad
Science Fiction movie. Every electromagnetic signal from the
very low frequency radio to the microwave lengths affected me in
some way, shape, or form. I was like a cosmic divining rod,
able to detect all kinds of things of which most people were
blissfully unaware. Years of extensive testing by heartless
doctors and scientists had come to the unnerving conclusion that
I was indeed able to sense most aspects of the electromagnetic
spectrum. Doctors theorized that I was reacting to the radio
noise of space itself. I think they thought I was allergic to
the universe, or something.
A new spike of pain in my head, shooting directly through my
eye like a hot needle, made me glance down at a winking red
Lunatic / 7

panel light. The fuel situation was now critical. The Blue
Bird shuddered again, this time more violently. The vibrations
rang my body like a bell as the hopper became more and more
unstable. Maybe it had been damaged by the habitat's explosion
after all. Or maybe it was some little part around the thruster
rockets that decided to finally fail. Whichever the case, the
hopper went into a shuddering frenzy.
More warning lights and a few annoying buzzers alerted me to
the fact that Blue Bird was wounded and attempting to land. I
let the auto-pilot controls get me lined up for a touch down
near a level plateau on the inner circle of mountains known as
the Rook. The relay antenna was a good kilometer higher, but
that was as close as I could get with a hopper.
I pulled the safety belts over my shoulders and prepared to
take over the controls. My head pounded harder with every
shudder and heartbeat as the hopper came down. More warning
chatter from the hopper and I had to fight to keep my eyes open
against the exploding pain in my head. A dip caused my stomach
to rise into my mouth as I fought with the manual landing
controls. I don't recall what happened next.
#

When I regained consciousness, I could see the gray regolith
outside the tiny windows of the hopper and realized by the
orientation that I was upside down. I loosened the straps and
fell onto the roof of the hopper cabin. After a few minutes of
making my way around the over-turned cabin, I was able to pop
the hatch and crawl out.
The hopper was completely trashed. There was a trail of dug
up regolith as far as I could see from the direction we had
come. The hopper had slid until it smashed up against the rise
in the mountain ridge. My white space suit was gray from moon
dust, like one of those old Apollo astronauts who had been out
playing in the dirt all lunar day.
I bounded up to the edge of the hopper and released Gem.
The mule robot slid out onto the ground, its four metal legs
steadying itself like a real animal. Damn that thing freaked me
out sometimes. I'd swear it was alive based on its movements
alone.
My head thudded mercilessly as I strapped my last reserve
oxygen tank to the back of the mule. I didn't waste any time
standing around the crash site; Gem and I started making our way
up the steep slope as fast as our legs could take us.
I didn't have any experience climbing mountains on Earth or
the Moon. I just pressed on, one gray boot before the other,
Lunatic / 8

sometimes using my hands to steady myself. You couldn't really
climb on the moon like you climbed on Earth. The one-sixth
gravity allowed for a certain advantage when climbing, but it
also left you more prone to overshooting a hand hold and sliding
off the face of the mountain. I was already several thousand
meters above the plain that separated the inner Rook from the
Montes Cordillera ridge line.
Luckily, I had Gem there behind me, tethered to me like a
guardian. If I slipped and started to fall, I was fairly
confident that Gem would be able to keep me from sliding over
the edge.
As I got closer to the top my body's reaction to the stray
radio energy coming from Earth became more severe. I felt
nauseous, something you don't want to feel when encased in a
space suit. I turned down the suit temperature and forced
cooler air to blow on my face. It worked for a while, until the
pain became too unbearable. I stopped climbing and came down on
my knees.
I felt my stomach muscles cramping up and the next thing I
knew I was retching into my space suit. It came in waves, like
it always did, and for a moment or two afterwards, I actually
felt better. Then the pain set in again and I was back to
feeling miserable, and now I had bile in my helmet to slosh
around and annoy me. I've heard-tell of workers on the near
side getting moon-sickness and throwing up in their suits, so I
knew it was survivable. I also knew that I wouldn't be able to
go inside and get out of the mess.
The former contents of my stomach sloshed around near my
neck and stunk to high heaven. I bit down on the rubber water
nozzle and squirted my mouth with the cool liquid. That helped
get the vile taste out of my mouth, but there was nothing I
could do about the smell.
I looked up the slope to the antenna. It seemed impossibly
far away in the inky black void of space. You couldn't see the
stars unless you looked straight up and reduced the tinting of
your visor. The moon's harsh gray color washed out the tiny
light coming from distant stars.
The migraine was back; I fought again to see straight.
Slowly, I got back to my feet and started trudging onward in a
daze. The people who installed the antenna realized the only
way up to the top of the ridge was to climb from the level where
I had crashed the hopper. They had built a series of steps and
rails to help climb the remaining few hundred feet to the top.
I hung onto the rails as I pulled my tired body along.
I stopped a few meters from the top and took a breather. My
Lunatic / 9

oxygen levels were getting low. I needed the extra tank on the
mule. Turning to see if Gem was still behind me I caught site
of how high I was from the floor of the basin. That was a
mistake. Just off the narrow trail was a steep cliff that shot
straight down hundreds of meters to the next ridge line. I was
afraid of heights; I just hadn't known it until then. My legs
got rubbery and my gloved hands held on with a death grip. I
had to keep moving and not look down. Just a little further
before I could safely exchange oxygen tanks. Gem was standing
behind me impervious to the perilous fall awaiting us both.
I inched my way forward, not looking down, which was easy in
the limited view from inside the suit. Hand over hand, one foot
before the other. After a while, it felt like I was going on
auto-pilot, not putting any effort at all into the walk, which
was a good thing, because my head was ready to explode.
The final leg of the trip involved going around to the Earth
side of the peak. This exposed me to the full-on RF noise from
the Earth. It also let me see the large white and blue orb
hanging low on the horizon. As I stared at the Earth it
started to glow with a pretty halo. I blinked and realized it
was just condensation on the inside of my visor. Still, it was
stunning.
The noise in my head reached an even louder crescendo. My
brain felt like mush as I struggled up the stairs cut into the
ancient lunar rock. I was just a few steps from the top and the
antenna was above me, its solar panels spread out like flower
petals pointing to the sun.
I took another step where there was no step and fell down on
my right knee. I heard something hiss and I felt a drop in
pressure. I rolled over against the ridge and fumbled for the
Velcro pocket where my patch kit was located.
I only had a few seconds to get the patch on before I was
dead. My gloved fingers found the patch and pulled off the
sticky layer that bonded to the fabric of the suit. I struggled
to look down and find the rip. To have a patch in hand and not
be able to find the rip was a very real possibility. I used my
other hand to rub the knee that I had fallen on. Have you ever
tried to find a rip in your pants without being able to see it?
How about with gloves on? It’s not easy. I fumbled around
trying to find the rip until, finally, I heard the hissing stop
and I slapped the patch onto the spot where my fingers were.
While the suit pressure built up again, I breathed a sigh of
relief. I took a minute or two to breathe. I shouldn't have.
An alarm sounded in my suit and nearly startled me to death.
The oxygen was red-lining. I had to change the air tank in less
Lunatic / 10

than two minutes or I'd be dead. I struggled to get to my feet
and then hobbled up the remaining few steps to the base of the
antenna.
Gem ambled along with no difficulty at all and held itself
steady as I undid the extra tank and attached it to the reserve
nozzle on my suit. After I had it activated, I pulled out the
old tank hose and detached the original tank from my back pack.
I couldn't put the spare tank on my back so I picked it up by
the handle and carried it with me over to the control box at the
base of the antenna.
I carefully sat down beside the panel and opened the lunch
bucket clasps. It was not locked. Nobody in their right mind
would be here for any reason other than maintenance. As I
folded out the over-sized key pad and flat panel display, I
started to get light headed again. I jacked in my audio cable
and forced myself to concentrate.
The RF signals radiating from Earth were wearing me down. I
paused to collect my thoughts and fought back the pain in my
head. All I could smell was my puke and the spent gunpowder
stink of moon dust. The dust must have entered my suit from the
rip.
The panel screen was the first bit of bright color I had
seen since leaving behind Blue Bird. The Lunix embedded OS came
on instantly and was replaced by a blue and white Siemens logo.
Even on the moon, I was not free from commercial marketing.
Eventually, the control panel came up and I fumbled through the
menus to get to the emergency communications link.
The ninety-nine link opened -- the lunar equivalent of nine-
one-one, and a bored technician's face appeared.
"State the nature of the emergency," he said.
"I'm on top of Montes Cordillera; I have one hour of air
left. Send help now!"
The tech looked confused, "Wait, you're where? Who is
this?"
"I'm Anderson, from the far side. There's been a meteor hit
and my hab was destroyed."
The Tech scrambled to make sense of his instruments and then
he looked up.
"We wondered if you were alright. There's a hopper heading
for your base, I'll redirect them to your location."
I sat back and squinted to block the pain in my head.
Depending on how far they had gotten, it would probably take
them longer to reach me than I had air left to breathe.
A sudden burst of VHF radio energy knocked me down on my
back. The antenna was broadcasting to the rescue ship. Being
Lunatic / 11

this close to the source of the signal nearly killed me. I
struggled to get away from the antenna. The tech couldn't see
me anymore and screamed for me until I jerked the plug out of
the system as I rolled over the edge. I slid until the mule
broke my fall.
The pain was unbearable. I had to get away from the damn
antenna. I grabbed the line connecting me to the mule and
severed it with my emergency cutter. I was on a long, gentle
slope on the Earth side of the ridge. As I slid down the hill,
with my oxygen tank in tow, I watched the antenna recede into
the purple sky. The pain did not go away. The lunar dust
kicked up by my slide fell back down to the surface as quickly
as I sent it up. There was no atmosphere to hold it airborne.
I waited for my helmet to crack open on a rock as I slid.
The sky seemed to radiate with brilliant lines in all colors.
It was like those music visualization programs on computers when
I was a kid. I was mesmerized by the waving lines and flashes
of color and light.
My body must have come to a stop at some point, I didn't
notice, I just lay there, staring at the lights above me,
incapacitated by the noise and the colors.
Something big and mechanical stood over me, and some part of
me realized that it must have been Gem. The mule was awash in
reflected waves of energy: it glowed. I saw the radio waves
cascading through space. It was crazy beautiful and mesmerizing.
The black of the lunar sky was now a busy pattern of blue
and violet colors, the background radiation of space itself I
realized. Something had happened to me after being exposed to
the RF from the tower. I was seeing things that I had never
seen before. It was as if my eyes were translating the radio
energy into rings of light like an oscilloscope.
The light show was accompanied by sounds from a million
transmissions all blurred into a maddening white noise. My mind
couldn't handle it. I slipped in and out of awareness as my
sanity crumbled like clumps of fine lunar soil.
The clear white light of heaven, beckoned to me. Was this
what it was like to die? My head exploded in a loud, static
filled burst: the voice of God.
"This is Luna Rescue, we have his position."
I had actually heard the transmission, despite not having
any communications gear on my suit. That realization was the
last thing I remember from my time on the far side of the moon.
#

I awoke in a hospital room, and bound by nylon straps to my
Lunatic / 12

bed. My body was sluggish, completely relaxed. I knew I was
still on the moon, but I had to be on the near side, which meant
that I should be having an intensely painful headache from all
the WiFi and other radio sources that saturated the lunar
colonies.
But I was fine, my head was nearly pain free and I was
perfectly lucid. It was some kind of a miracle. I was no
longer restricted to the far side, or to heavily shielded rooms
in the middle of nowhere. I wasn't afflicted with those
terrible migraines that kept me isolated from nearly everyone
for my entire life.
I closed my eyes and the darkness was alive with the
colorful waves of radio signals all around me. It was similar
to the kaleidoscopic colors that you see when you shut your
eyes, except they were organized into patterns. Distinct
radials of energy from hospital equipment and communications
gear.
I began to hear the transmissions again. Distant pilot and
tower chatter, nearby cell phones and the occasional dispatches
of security teams spread throughout the base. I could literally
hear the communications of the entire city. With concentration,
I found that I could select a particular conversation from out
of the flood of noise.
I opened my eyes and the noise and lights disappeared. I
looked down at the nurse call button on the bed. I could not
move my hands so I spoke aloud.
“Nurse, can you come here please?”
There was a long pause as I waited for someone to answer me.
“Hello? It's me, the lunatic from the far side!”
Soon a straight faced man in a dark suit appeared at my door
with an armed Marine guard. I didn't like where this was going.
“Mr. Anderson, you are back with us. We were concerned
there for a while. How are you feeling”
“Fine. Who are you? Where is the nurse?”
“You won't be needing her anymore, you are under my care
now. My name is Bob, I understand your headaches have gone away
since being rescued,” he said in a pleasant, fatherly tone.
I nodded, not sure whether or not to tell him about my new
abilities. Just his presence here confirmed that he must
already know something. But I didn't care. I was free of my
affliction and I had something that others valued. It was good
to be alive, for once in my life.