May 7, 2227
The shuttle Callisto rocketed out of the atmosphere. James Cabot and Michael Lee watched the Earth shrink through the window. The Second Space War hadn’t stayed in space. Ash and dust obscured the Earth’s surface from view. The southern tip of South America could just be made out through the clouds.
The War had started three years ago, near Ceres, when an American mining ship had been destroyed by the Chinese Shandong. The War had stayed a cat-and-mouse conflict for two more years. Then Russia had entered the War, then the EU, then the Muslim League and India. Three months later, Earth was afire, its cities silently smoking.
The shuttle descended over the lunar surface; the gray ground drew nearer. “Please prepare for landing,” the electronic voice said, “Estimated time is thirty seconds.”
Through the window, Apollotown was visible, the stars and stripes painted on every dome. The shuttle landed with a jolt outside the largest dome. The docking tube extended and latched. After the shuttle stopped moving, the voice said, “Unfasten seat belts, and you may now exit the vehicle. Be aware of external conditions, and take the appropriate cautions.”
Lee stood up first and said, “Let’s get inside. There’s no point in putting off the unpleasant.”
“No, there isn’t, is there?” Cabot said as they began to go through the docking tube and into Apollotown itself. “God, I hate the moon.”
The long, sterile white hallway gleamed. The air purifiers were on, a constant hum through the settlement, and the only sound other than their footsteps. “This stupid war,” Lee said, more to break the silence than anything else, “This has been the worst year of my life.”
Cabot nodded, unsure of what else to say. The hallway gradually curved to the right, and they arrived at the command post. He punched in the code, and they walked in. Inside it stood Vivian Morton, the Director of Apollotown. She faced the wall, with its videoscreen window and its soulless design, and she looked at the small blue ball in the sky that was Earth. “You still came,” she said, her voice soft.
“We were ordered,” Cabot responded, false bravado evident in his voice.
“You were that.”
Cabot and Lee saluted, and she returned it. “Well?” she asked.
“The initial reports were right,” Lee answered.
“All of it?”
He nodded. “Apollo, New Beijing, Andromeda Station, Marsbase and the Belt are all that’s left.”
She laughed bitterly, “No survivors?”
Cabot looked uncomfortable. “There are probably some billion and a half.”
“We have eleven shuttles, the Chinese have four, Andromeda Station has–” she began.
“We can’t get down there.”
“You know why. Only Lunartown and officially New Beijing were ever self-sufficient; the rest still need Earth to supply them. We barely have the capacity to feed ourselves, much less anyone else.” Cabot said, “We’ll have to hope that those in the South Pacific and the Andes can survive for the next fifteen years.”
“They can’t, not all of them. Hell, not even half of them,” Morton said, “And you know that. If we can’t rescue them, we can’t aid them, except to send them lumps of rock and steel, and they have that in excess. What they need, we can’t give, so we have to let them die and let the last remnants of Earth go. And you know the worst of it?” She held up several papers, “The last transmission, the last signal from Washington before the bombs dropped, was to launch our missiles at New Beijing!” her voice crescendoed, “The last act of the free world is to ensure its end! We stand here on the precipice of self-annihilation, of the vindication of the past two centuries’ doomsayers, and we still want to win the war?”
“With the effective end of the US government, that is your decision, Ma’am,” Lee said, “It is up to you to do as you see best.”
“Do whatever you think best,” Cabot said.
She turned and faced the window again. In the distance, small points of light began curving toward Lunartown.