Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language, violence, and mature content.
Hey, folks. It's been a while! I've been on a giant PCT hike for a while now and haven't been able to bring a writing instrument with me along the way, sadly. I'll be submitting far more consistently from now on, so please enjoy! Your feedback and criticism is always greatly appreciated my friends.
Vergil tapped the F6 spot on the virtual chessboard, signaling his bishop to move into forking his opponent’s knight and rook. The game had been relatively even so far, but this one mistake his opponent had made would put him in the lead. It was beautiful how a single error could exponentially cause one to lose control of everything. Even the smallest detail could decide the game in the end.
“Clouds!” Axel called out to him. “Get yer bony ass over here, it’s about to start!”
Vergil sighed and resigned from the game. He unfortunately had more important things to attend to. He shouldered his 40 kilogram backpack and checked to make sure his wrist and ankle weights were secure. He had to wear these things throughout the day in order to make him weigh 600 Newtons as he would on earth. The moon’s reduced gravity would render his body a shriveled husk of a human otherwise.
Regardless of the weights, even for a Mooner Vergil was a lanky figure, standing at just under six feet with very little muscle mass to go along with his height. He and his friends had gotten a chuckle or two out of the fact that according to the archaic standards of the body mass index he was supposedly dead.
While chess was a captivating game, and the prototype testing of his gas based mining process was only due to start in 5 minutes, it was never a good idea to be on Roy “The Axle”’s bad side. The man was said to be one of the Moon’s best and most effective mining team leaders, and he did so by running a tight ship. Though Vergil had lived nearly a fourth of his 17 year life with the team, he’d never seen anyone disobey Axel, and thus far nobody had wanted to figure out what would happen if they did.
Vergil stood up from the bench he’d been sitting on and walked over to the viewing window of the temporary base Mining Team 87 had set up on near the Dark Side. The view was quite something from here. The smooth, dusty, and nearly flawless surface of the Light Side to Vergil’s left stood in stark contrast with the shadowy, craterous, and uneven terrain that marked the Dark Side to his right, a gradient of something between disorder and order lying in between the two horizons .
Vergil had been a miner for his entire life, dropped off at an orphanage by an unknown parent before he was assigned this work by The Council. But Vergil didn’t mine any sort of ores or minerals. No, those materials could easily be found on Earth. The moon was such a well populated place because it had been covered in a layer of Helium-3 over billions of years by solar winds. On Earth there was only a few grams of the nonradioactive isotope, but on the moon enough of it potentially existed to run humanity on clean fusion power for several thousands of years.
“You know, if this works, drinks are on you.” a female voice came from behind him.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but when somebody’s ideas come to fruition isn’t it the norm for their friends to buy them drinks in celebration, and not the other way around?” Vergil asked, looking at the woman in the reflection of the glass without turning around.
He couldn’t make out her face from his angle in the mirror, but only one member of the team kept their trademark fingerless leather gloves on their person at all times, and Vergil had only ever seen one individual with an East Asian accent on the Moon. He turned around and found himself looking into the eyes of Lang Zhi, Mining team 87’s mechanic who was two years his senior.
Lang gave a slight chuckle. “Look, Clouds, if your ideas work as intended then your pockets’ll be deep enough to reach down to Earth. At that point buying a few shots’ll be like purchasing a pack of gum for you.”
“You make a good point, Wires.” Vergil remarked, crossing his arms. “And what do you suppose would happen if there was somehow a catastrophic miscalculation on my end and my idea didn’t turn out correctly?”
“Drinks would still be on you because you wasted everyone’s time.” Lang replied.
“So what you’re saying is that I’m buying no matter what?” Vergil questioned. This was starting more and more to seem like an overly elaborate excuse for Lang to get a few drinks out of him.
The manipulative girl in question shrugged before playfully punching Vergil in the arm. “Pretty much. And you know to not call me by my nickname!”
“I still don’t understand that logic!” Vergil protested half-heartedly. He’d learned years ago that there was no such thing as winning an argument with Lang Zhi. “You demand that I call you Lang while still referring to me as Clouds. It seems slightly hypocritical from my perspective. At least your nickname makes sense! You’re the team’s mechanic and you attend to the bulldozers, therefore you’re called wires, but I don’t see how Clouds relate to researching new alloys and doing calculations for the fusion reactor in this sector.”
Lang rolled her eyes. “For the last time, it’s nothing to do with your job, Clouds! It’s just about how you’ve always got your head up there!”
“What does everybody mean by that?” Vergil asked, still failing to understand the connection between his state of mind and an aerosol of liquid droplets.
Lang gave an exaggerated sigh and held the bridge of her nose. “It’s an old saying. Let’s just leave it at that. Now c’mon! Let’s get to the control post of this mess before Axel hands our asses to us!”
With that she turned on her heel and strode out of the room, leaving Vergil with a feeling of disappointment at not being provided with a satisfactory answer as to the origin of his nickname as well as a feeling of anticipation. This project was his brainchild after all.
There was, of course, no benefit in worrying about the ordeal or putting it off further, so Vergil checked the straps on his pack before starting the trek to the control post. On his way there he passed a burly man that loomed two heads or so over himself who was carrying far more weight in his pack than was necessary to maintain one’s body in the Moon’s gravity.
“Hello, Ox.” Vergil greeted him in passing.
“Ho, Clouds!” Ox responded, giving Vergil a hard slap on the back. Of course, to him it must have felt like a friendly pat, but the man didn’t know his own strength, “I’m just getting into position. You’re doing the same, I’m guessing?”
“That is correct.” Vergil said, attempting to not wince at his stinging back. “I wish you luck, Ox.”
“Thanks kiddo, you too!” Ox beamed. “Say, are you confident that this’ll work, Clouds?”
“I went over the calculations, schematics, and potential problems multiple times.” Vergil mused. “I can’t of course tell you with absolute certainty that this will work, but I can assure you of there being a high likelihood that it will.”
“Well, you’re the genius, Clouds, not me.” Ox said. “If you say it works I trust that it works. Godspeed!”
And with that Ox was off. Vergil didn’t pretend to understand the irrationality of Ox using religious words in passing while not being a religious man himself, but then again most people had one or two things about them that were irrational.
Vergil pushed aside a curtain to his right and entered the control room. Axel, Lang, as well as a few other members of the team stood either gazing out the viewing window or studying information from the few monitors in the room.
“Looks like it’s the man of the hour.” Keys remarked, leaning back from one of the monitors to gaze at Vergil. “I guess I’ll have to buy you a drink when this is over.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you.” Vergil remarked. “According to Lang I’m the one buying tonight.”
“What?!” Keys exclaimed before shooting a glare over to Lang. “How exactly is this fair? The norm would be us buying, right?”
Lang simply shrugged. “It’s not fair and norms are for normal people. Clouds is far from normal. Anyways, guys, check this out!”
With that Lang grabbed a leftover cannister of Sulfur Hexafluoride that was sitting on the table next to her and sprayed a bit of it into her mouth while inhaling.
“Prepare to die, puny mortals!” she said in a voice octaves lower than normal. “MUAHAHAHA!!!”
The cannister was quickly snatched away from her by Axel. “Quit messing around and do your job! I put a lot into this gamble, and if it doesn’t pay off because of you, I’ll wring your neck dry, Wires!”
“Awww, so nice to know you care, Axel!” Lang said in a tone of mock appreciation.
Axel ignored Lang’s antics and pressed the ‘talk’ button on the radio. “You ready, Ox?” he asked in as gruff a voice as he could manage.
“Strapped in and ready to go!” the jolly reply came from the speaker. “Does everything check out on your end?”
“Everything’s in place!” Axel replied proudly. “Just give me a minute to herd these cats and we’ll start!”
Leaving the radio, Axel turned to Vergil. “Any last minute alterations that need to be made, Clouds?”
“I don’t forsee any problems.” Vergil replied.
“Good enough for me!” Axel declared. “Now, let’s-”
“Oh and Axel?” Vergil interrupted him.
“For what?” Axel asked with a raised eyebrow.
“For trusting me with this responsibility.” Vergil said with a nod of his head.
“Hah!” Axel bellowed. “Cloud’s, if you told me that you’d found a way to start mining the Sun itself I’d believe you! Don’t sell yourself short, kid, you’re gonna go far!”
“Alright!” the leader shouted. “Everyone get into position. Let’s do this!”
A handful of ‘aye’s and ‘yeah!’s came from the team before they took up their stations. Vergil sighed in contentment and gazed out the viewing window, now only seeing the jagged Dark Side.
The Dark Side of the Moon had been a problematic place for Helium-3 miners ever since they started harvesting here. The conventional method of gathering Helium-3 was to drive around the Moon in aluminum bulldozers and scoop up as much lunar dust as possible before filtering out the unneeded junk and being left with the extremely potent power source. The bulldozers could, of course, be made from aluminum and still structurally stable on the moon due to the decreased gravitational constant provided by the satellite.
One of Vergil’s first ideas to help his team had in fact come from this schematic leeway, where he had suggested that the dozers be made from metal foam rather than solid aluminum, therefore saving his team a small fortune in materials over the years.
However, this method was much less effective in general when tried on the Dark Side. While nearly one third of the Light Side was relatively flat and smooth, allowing for the sloppy and imprecise methods of bulldozing to be effective, the Dark Side had been scarred by meteorites and space debris for billions of years, causing its surface to become uneven and craterous.
Dozers couldn’t efficiently operate with this sort of terrain, and therefore only half of the Moon’s surface area was actually utilized by the miners. Vergil’s method, hopefully, would soon grant miners everywhere access to the other half as well.
“Begin!” Axel called out, pressing the button for the door of the garage that sat on the far side of the temporary base to open. As the two story tall door slid upwards Vergil could see the dust nearby flying up to the heavens as the air from the garage rushed out of the building. The pale dust obscured the garage and its contents, but soon Vergil's masterpiece emerged from the cloud.
Lang had insisted that the vehicle be named Jeffrey, and though Vergil had designed it, Lang had been the one to build it, so Vergil had eventually relinquished his creation’s naming rights to her.
The vehicle… or… er… Jeffrey was designed to use the vacuum of space to suck lunar dust from the ground beneath it. It walked on four spindly legs that would never have been able to support it on the Earth with a hexagonal accordion-like contraption forming the main body.
“How’s it going down there, Ox?” Axel barked through the comms.
“Well the thing drives without toppling over at least!” Ox remarked from the insides of Jeffrey, earning a few chuckles from around the room. “I’m starting her up right… now!”
At this moment Jeffrey’s body could be seen extending towards the ground. In order to gain a proper seal on the uneven surface the bottom of the accordion was weighted with liquid mercury. Though Vergil couldn’t see the process happening from here he knew what was happening within Jeffrey.
The process could only start after the Mercury would weigh down an imperfect but good enough seal on the ground. For inside of Jeffrey was an atmosphere of the same sulfur hexafluoride that Lang had been inhaling, the gas being dense enough to actually not disperse when on the Moon. The top and middle of the accordion would then open up, allowing the pressure of the gas
inside to act like a massive vacuum cleaner and drive the lunar dust upwards.
Two filters existed inside of Jeffrey. The first was a standard dirt filter that would eliminate any large clumps of dirt and dust from the system. The second was designed to catch all particles the size of the sulfur hexafluoride that had taken so very much effort to ship to the Moon. After passing through these stages the crew was left with their heavy gas, their lunar dust, and the leftover molecules and atoms which included whatever Helium-3 resided in the dirt.
At least, that was what would theoretically happen. The whole room fell silent as they watched waves of varying pressures from gases, dust, and vacuum travel up and down the sides of Jeffrey.
Vergil felt a hand come down on his right shoulder. He tore his gaze away from the ongoings outside for a moment before he found his eyes met by Lang.
She gave him a wink that said It’ll work before turning back to the viewing window.
The movement of Jeffrey stopped. So did that of everyone in the room. Seconds which felt like hours passed by before Axel, having a rare inkling of hesitance in his voice, switched on the radio.
“Well…” he asked, clearing his throat. “Did we get anything?”
“Did we get anything?!?!” Ox’s reply came back through the radio. “I’m looking at more kilos than we anticipated right now! It worked!”
Cheers filled the room with such an intensity that Vergil thought his ears would burst. He received so many high fives and slaps on the back that his palms and torso started to sting. He was bear hugged so many times that his ribs felt as if they would split in two at any moment! And all the while Vergil couldn’t keep a stupid accomplished grin from crossing his face. He’d done it! He’d revolutionized mining techniques for centuries to come! He’d… be owing Lang a drink.
Once the initial cheers were over, Vergil grabbed her by the arm and snuck her out of the control room. He wasn’t buying because of any puerile bet or silly scheme. He was doing this for himself.
* * *
Fortunately the nearest Hub, the lunar equivalent of a village, was only a 3 hour drive away from Mining Team 87’s forward outpost. Lang and Vergil simply had to borrow one of thier team’s rovers in order to reach the job. After what Vergil had just accomplished, he was pretty sure Axel wouldn’t mind much. (Though Axel’s version of not minding much usually entailed a 10 minute long rant, a loss of desert rations for a week, and another week’s worth of cold glares in passing.)
“I didn’t know there was a pub in Hub 38.” Lang commentated as they stepped out of the Hub’s airlock. The pair started stripping their suits down, ready to put them in their cubbies as soon as the horrendous things were off. Even after 17 years of living on the Moon, Vergil still wasn’t used to how hot they could get.
“There’s not.” Vergil said cheekily, peeling his arms free.
“But I thought you said we were getting a drink?” Lang questioned, raising an eyebrow as she shook her legs out of her own suit.
“We are.” Vergil replied, a grin breifly showing itself on his face.
“Hey, now!” Lang said in mock anger. “Being ambiguous and manipulative is my job, okay?”
She was met with a few seconds silence in return. “Bah!” She exclaimed, shoving her suit into the cubby with more force than was required. “I’ll wait then. So, while you’re on your confidence high, what does the great Clouds have in store next?”
“Hmm…” Vergil mused, closing the door to his cubby. He leaned back against it. “I can’t answer that seeing as I haven’t thought of that yet.”
Lang chuckled, motioning towards the door. “You mean you haven’t thought about what you’re going to do at all? What you just did’ll change everything for you, you know. I can’t imagine you staying with the team after this.”
“And why is that?” Vergil inquired, stepping out the door with Lang. Hub 38 was one of many Hubs set up around the Moon. These domed communities were the closest thing the Moon had to cities, as the miner lifestyle naturally encouraged spreading out in order to grab the most resources from the most territories that one could acquire. The Hubs mostly functioned as vacation sites and trading centers for the miners on their off time.
The members of Mining Team 87 had, of course, frequented Hub 38 due to its close proximity to their territory, but this time in particular when Vergil stepped out of the garage area he was stunned by the sight of the place. It felt so… empty.
“Not too many people here, huh?” Lang remarked, stealing the words from Vergil’s lips. A sweeping gaze from the pair only revealed less than a dozen people on the street they were standing by, a stark contrast to the usual bustling and crammed walkways of the Hub.
“It’s nearly the time when the sunlight reflects our sleep schedule.” Vergil reminded her. “Everyone else is probably looking to use the daylight while they can.”
“Right, we’ve only been here during New Moon times, haven’t we?” Lang thought aloud. “So… drinks?”
“That seems to be all you think about.” Vergil said.
Lang just gave another one of her shrugs.
With that the pair meandered down the empty streets of Hub 38, marvelling at how little was going on. The Moon was a silent place. Work was mostly individual with many processes being automated and any task that required the strength of six humans able to be completed by one. The Hubs were the offset from the isolation, being loud, noisy, boisterous, and packed to the brim with people who were usually intoxicated by some mind altering substance, but of course on days when the sunlight lined up with the miner’s sleep schedule everyone would be out working, leaving the Hub unpopulated enough that Vergil could hear his own footsteps.
“And… here we are!” Vergil proclaimed, stopping in front of a building that bore a humble hanging wooden sign with the words Robert’s Coffee upon it.
“Wait a minute, hold on!” Lang protested. “The deal was that-”
“The deal, my friend…” Vergil stopped her. “Was that I would be buying drinks. Whatever drinks those were was never specified, and I’m feeling like coffee today.”
Lang narrowed her eyes before grinning. “You sonovabitch! Well, I’ll admit that you outplayed me this time around.”
“And you deserve it.” Vergil added in.
Lang took a few moments to consider this. “Yeah… I guess I do.”
Vergil took Lang’s admittance of guilt as permission to open the door, a vintage bell ringing as it swung open. The place resembled a 20th century diner, with old school booths, a few hanging overhead lights, and tiled floors.
“The hell…” a grumbling voice could be heard from the back room. “At high noon on a Full Moon day?”
A middle aged man stepped out of the kitchen. He was an imposing figure, with a stature towering over even Vergil, short jet black hair, and a pair of eyes that were in the middle of the transition from the twinkle of youth to the depth and wisdom of age. He took a moment to fix his glasses and brush his stubble before his eyes widened.
“Well I’ll be damned…” he said, a smile growing on his face. “It’s been a while, Vergil!”
“Two years and eight months, to be exact.” Vergil replied, taking a seat at the counter. “You haven’t changed at all, Huxley!”
“You certainly changed a lot, though.” Huxley remarked. “You grew a foot or so on me while you were gone! Has the mining job been treating you well?”
“Well enough.” Vergil said. “I have a few stories to tell you.”
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t!” Huxley retorted before turning his gaze over to Lang, who still stood by the doorway. “And you are?”
“Lang. Lang Zhi.” she replied. I’m a friend of Clouds.”
“Then you’re a friend of mine!” Huxley grinned. “Come on now, take a seat! I like the nickname by the way, Vergil. It suits you!”
Vergil let out an audible grunt of disdain upon hearing the last comment.
“So, how do you two know each other again?” Lang asked as she sat down on the stool next to her friend.
“Well, when the orphanage at Hub 36 broke down, I swooped in and grabbed Vergil here before he could end up on the streets.” Huxley explained. “I raised him as my own for seven years. I taught him to read, write, and make a good cup o’joe! Speaking of which, what are you feeling like today? I’m guessing the usual for Vergil.”
“As always.” Vergil confirmed.
“And you?” Huxley asked, his eyes waiting on Lang’s answer expectantly.
“I’m… not much of a coffee person.” Lang admitted, giving a shrug.
“Is that a challenge?” Huxley said, leaning in a little closer.
“Well, we’ll just have to see if you’re ‘not much of a coffee person’ after I’m done with you! How about I surprise you?” the man proposed.
“You’re on, old man.” Lang said, her competitive nature asserting itself after she heard the word ‘challenge’.
“I like that fire in you, my friend!” Huxley said. “I’ll be back in a minute, I need to prepare some things!”
Huxley quickly shuffled himself into the kitchen, rummaging sounds emitting from the room shortly after he did so.
“So… you grew up in a coffee shop?” Lang asked, turning to Vergil.
“Ever since I was seven years old, yes.” Vergil replied.
The bell at the door rung again. A lone man stood in the entrance to the diner. He wore no ankle and wrist weights, and he carried no backpack upon his shoulders, indicating that he was an Earthman simply coming here for a visit. But why come here? The other thing about the man that struck Vergil as odd was the blood red Inquisitor’s jacket draped across his shoulders.
The man could have chosen any seat in the empty diner, but instead he strode over to the counter and sat down directly next to Vergil. Huxley, having heard the bell chime, stuck his head out of the kitchen door.
“Another one? Well, what can I get for you, sir?” Huxley asked before doing a double take at the jacket.
“A double tall soy, if you will.” The man graciously asked, twiddling his thumbs as if there were nothing out of the ordinary about his presence.
“Right away! And I’ll give it to you for free if you tell me what an Inquisitor’s doing all the way out here.” Huxley said with a wink.
“Seeing as you’re indirectly involved in the situation, you’re on.” the Inquisitor responded with a wink of his own.
“So…” The Inquisitor said, swiveling his chair back towards Vergil and extending his hand. “It’s good to finally meet you Vergil. Things been working out well up here on the Moon?”
“I’ve been living comfortably.” Vergil replied, taking the handshake.
“I’m glad to hear it!” the jolly Inquisitor continued, retaining eye contact with Vergil the whole way through their exchange. “You know, I actually visited Mining Team 87’s outpost this morning looking for you, but I was surprised by the fact that you weren’t there! I had to drag myself all the way down here to track you down.”
“That is a decent amount of effort to go through.” Vergil commented. “I don’t recall anything that would be worth you traveling here from Earth that I’ve done.”
The Inquisitor sighed. “Well, that’s where things become… complicated, Vergil. You haven’t done anything wrong at all. Your mother on the other hand… that’s a different story.”
Vergil raised an eyebrow. “I don’t worry myself with matters of my biological family. I never knew my Mother, and therefore I have nothing to do with her. I’ve built a life completely separate from her or any other relative of mine.”
“I can vouch for that.” Lang chimed in, narrowing her eyes. “So what if Vergil’s mother’s in trouble? He doesn’t even remember her!”
“You must be Lang Zhi, right?” The Inquisitor asked. “I heard about you from your friends at the outpost.”
“Right…” Lang said. “You know a lot about us, Mr. Inquisitor.”
“I do, yes. You could say it’s my job to know about people.” The inquisitor remarked. “But you two also deserve to know something about me, I suppose. My name is Mike Kohlberg.”
“Good to know!” Huxley interjected, bursting from the kitchen carrying a few drinks on a tray. “It might’ve gotten awkward not knowing your name. So, Mike, what exactly has Vergil done wrong by being related to a woman he’s never seen before?”
Inquisitor Kohlberg for the first time broke eye contact with a person he was speaking with. He shook his head as if he were a parent regretting a decision they had made with thier child. Mike Kohlberg gazed back up at Vergil.
“He was born.”