The Last Moonshot – Vaughan Stanger

Jessica frowned as she gazed at the Moon’s gleaming face.

“Daddy, why is this moon so bright?”

Not for the first time, she had been caught raising the window’s shutter long after she’d been tucked into bed.

“The Moon looks normal to me, Jessie,” Daddy said, as he snapped his fingers to first lower and then lock the shutter again. “But in any case, you really should be asleep by now.”

Jessica sighed. Daddy calling her “Jessie” was nearly as bad as not answering her questions. Hearing footsteps on the landing, she turned around and asked Mummy instead.

“Jessica is right,” said Mummy. “I saw an article about it on my news-feed this morning. Tonight’s full moon does look bigger than normal, which also makes it brighter. Astronomers call it a Super Moon.”

Jessica frowned at her. “How many moons are there? Cos the one I saw on my birthday looked like a slice of melon.”

Daddy chuckled. “Jessie darling, there is only one moon.”

Jessica was pleased to see Mummy give Daddy one of her looks.

“Let’s see if we can figure it out together,” said Mummy. “Projector On.”

After watching the tiny Earth, moon and sun spin in the air above the fruit bowl, Jessica was willing to accept that the Earth only had one moon. But learning about its phases left her eager to know more. Having promised Daddy that she would definitely go to sleep this time, she waited until the house was completely quiet. Only then did she pull her pad out from under her pillow.

There was so much more she wanted to learn about the Moon.

Jessica pouted her annoyance as laughter rippled around the Year Five classroom.

“But the Earth does have two moons!”

“There is only one Moon, Jessica,” said Ms Williams, who seemed to be struggling to keep a straight face.

Jessica rolled her eyes. “I can prove it!”

“Bet you can’t!”

Jessica glared at Oliver Castelow, who sat three places to her left.

“You just watch me!”

A finger-tap on her pad brought up an animated hologram of the Earth-Moon system, which rotated slowly above her desk before zooming in on a tiny speck. That was good enough to silence most of the class, but not Oliver.

“Well, if you’re going to count something that little!”

Ms Williams made ineffectual shushing noises before asking, “Does this, um, temporary moon have a name?”

“No, it’s too small,” Jessica said.

Ravi Shaktar chose this moment to join in the fun. “Let’s call it Jessica’s Lump!”

Oliver’s pint-sized pal leered at Jessica for extra effect. She turned away just in time to see Tamara Montgomery flick a spit-ball at her moon.

“Now she’s got two,” Tamara said, with a pitying glance towards Jessica. Her pigtails shook while she giggled.

Jessica took no notice, even though everyone except Ms Williams was laughing.

Ms Williams slapped the palms of her hands against her desk. “Right, I want everyone to quieten down now!” When the noise had decreased sufficiently, she looked towards Tamara. “Let’s see what you’ve learned about the Earth’s real moon, shall we?”

Jessica rolled her eyes. Ms Williams wouldn’t get anything out of Tamara, who showed more interest in the schoolyard’s weeds than the sky above her head.

When Tamara delivered the blank look Jessica had expected, Ms Williams scanned the rest of the class.     


Ever polite, Jessica raised her hand. Ms Williams nodded towards her.

“I can tell you the year of the last moon-landing.”

Oliver snorted. “Teacher’s pet!”

Jessica knew better than to rise to the bait.

“Needs putting down,” said Ravi.

But sometimes the opportunity was too good to resist.

“What–like your sister’s cat?”

Ravi responded with his usual scowl while whispering a threat to do the same to her. Jessica shrugged and turned back to Ms Williams.

“It was 1972.”

Despite agreeing with the sentiment, Jess had chosen not to join in with the collective groan provoked by Mr Mbeki’s suggestion. She had a much better idea, but needed to pick the right moment.

“What’s the point of launching another Lego man on another weather balloon?” Ollie Castelow asked. “Your class did that last year!”

Jess gave Ollie a quizzical look. This was the first time he’d shown any real interest in a science project. Not that this change-of-heart made putting her in the same Year Nine class as him feel right.

“Why can’t we do something rad for once?” Ravi Shaktar waved his phone. “Like uploading Ollie’s brain onto this!”

Mr Mbeki shook his head. “Because there are ethical considerations, that’s why. Does anyone have another suggestion?”

Aware that she might not get another chance, Jess raised a hand. Mr Mbeki crossed his impressively tattooed forearms. His frown suggested he knew what was coming.

“What do you propose, Ms Lambert?”

“For a start, I think we should aim a lot higher than thirty kilometres.”

Her response drew a nod from Mr Mbeki and more groans from her classmates.

“Okay, then,” he said. “Please show us what you have in mind.”

“The European Space Agency is looking for student projects that could piggyback on one of its spacecraft,” Jess said. “This is what I’ve come up with.”

She ignored the predictable barrage of complaints and activated the simulation. A hologram presenting the launch of an Ariane 7 multi-stage rocket filled the classroom. She followed it with an animation of the deployment of a phone-sized spacecraft that would fly all the way to the Earth’s newest temporary moon.

“Wow!” said Ollie. “Now that is rad!”

Jess allowed herself to smile, but Mr Mbeki dashed her hopes with a shake of his head.

“So, if we exclude those ideas that are illegal or too ambitious that leaves us with either the high altitude balloon or Ms Montgomery’s proposal for glow-in-the-dark sniffer rats. Okay, let’s put them to the vote…”

The wail of the bio-attack siren halted the show of hands for the balloon option, which Jess had reluctantly decided to support. Annoyingly, the alert, which turned out to be only a drill, swayed the majority of the class into supporting Tam’s proposal, which did not interest her at all.

She would have to find another way.

Dressed in wearables she’d scavenged from the ‘hood’s overflowing skips and sporting an e-visor to match, Jess trusted that she looked sufficiently gang-related to satisfy her former classmate.

“What I want to do, Ollie, is build a rockoon.”

“It’s ‘OC’ now! And don’ you forget it!”

She guessed that his hand gestures indicated his annoyance at being addressed by his pre-initiation name. Not that Jess cared. She’d call him anything he wanted if it helped achieve her goal.

“Okay, ‘OC’. You got something I can use?”

“What you want a raccoon for anyway?” OC narrowed his gaze. “You doin’ GM stuff for MoTam now’days?”

Exasperation made Jess look up at the sky. Working for MoTam? No way!

“A rockoon, shit-for-brains, is a balloon-launched rocket.”

OC screwed up his face while making handgun gestures. “I knew tha’!”

Yeah, right, she thought, but refrained from saying. Still, at least she had caught his attention. OC had always liked anything that made a loud noise, hence his choice of gang.

“So tell me, what kind of ordinance are your Bang-Tech buddies packing these days?”

“Tha’s strictly ‘need to know’!”

She punched his left shoulder, hard. OC winced but stood his ground.

“Well, I need to know!”

OC puffed out his chest in an attempt to look the part. He wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all her.

“You’ll have to swear allegiance.”

She managed a grin despite the rumours she’d heard about the Bang-Techs’ initiation ceremonies.

“You lead the way.”

After two years of turf-wars and technological piracy, JL relished the prospect of stepping down as leader of the Bang-Techs. Working on a gang-exit placement at Virgin Galactic would seem like the quiet life in comparison. She wouldn’t be sorry to lose the e-tats.

“We’re good-to-go,” OC said.

She would miss him of course. Then again, if everything went to plan, she wouldn’t miss him at all.

JL tapped an icon on her mil-spec phone. Released from its tether, the weather balloon dragged its payload a few metres along the churned-up ground before hoisting it into sky the colour of lead.

Not long now.

Not long, too, for her nemesis-in-waiting to deliver his promised revenge. She’d booted Ravi out of the Bang-Techs one week after taking over his GetLoaded collective. Since then, disturbing rumours had reached her about an alliance with MT and her Gene-Genie crew.

She gazed at the vid-feed displayed in her visor, while the overlaid graphics kept her informed about key mission events. She punched the air when the rocket fired just seconds after the balloon burst, sending BTG-1 on its way. Moments later, the ‘hood’s siren shrieked a warning.

OC yelled, “Incoming!”

A deafening explosion terminated his dash for cover.

Peppered with shrapnel and already struggling to breathe, JL made a half-hearted grab for her gas mask, then let it slip from her fingers. Her only regret was that she wouldn’t survive long enough to watch the solar sail unfurl.

She continued to watch the video feed until her brain frothed into soup.

 JL* congratulated herself on a problem-free reboot while bump-bumping the miniature mannequin her mind now occupied around what remained of Lambert2033.

 Six months had passed while the BTG-1 photon-tacked its way towards the lorry-sized moonlet left over from the Solar System’s formation. After harpooning its target, the spacecraft activated its rock processor and began extracting metals and organics. Some hours later, the 3D printer began disgorging parts for the assembler to piece together.

 JL* was pleased with the result.

 Only one thing was missing.

 After checking that sufficient feedstock remained, JL* commanded the printer to build her a companion.

With only two hours left before Lambert2033 slipped from Earth’s gravitational grip, JL* knew what she wanted to do. Unfortunately OC* had other ideas.

<< Reckon it’s ’bout time we headed home! >>

JL* shook her head.

<< Do you really want to melt on re-entry? >>

OC* gestured towards the Moon.

<< Okay… So how ’bout we go out with a bang? >>

Granted, if BTG-1 detached from Lambert2033 it could employ its solar sail to accomplish a crash-landing, but that outcome too held no appeal for JL*. After all, Humanity had been to the Moon already.

<< I’ve got a much better idea. >>

<< Gonna let me in on it? >>

JL* nodded.

<< Let’s do nothing! Let’s continue riding this rock and see where it takes us. >>

After a moment’s consideration, OC* responded with a grin.

<< You rule, girl! >>

Indeed she did.

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