To Dust We Shall Return

What if, during the Cold War, the space race accelerated and expanded following Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon? Instead of merely visiting the moon, America made an effort to make permanent bases. Both for superiority purposes, but for science as well. How do these bases fare in 2020, in the midst of a brewing war between the US and its newest adversary: China.

There is a large complex of bases simply called "The Complex," which is home to American, Canadian, British, French, Australian, Korean, and Japanese bases. They're primarily scientific missions. It's located on the south pole of the moon at Malapert Mountain. There's also Kennedy South, located in Shackleton Crater, nearby the mountain. This station is located on the rim of the crater and is primarily corporate in nature, owned by the Lunar Collective, or LuCo. This company is a collection of many companies sharing the exploits of the station.

There's also a Chinese presence on the moon, located at the Shoemaker Crater nearby the Shackleton Crater. This is corporate ad scientific in nature, and a collection of three other Chinese bases are located on the other side of the crater. All of these bases are staffed by security personnel. The Chinese bases by Chinese military, and the Eurasian-American bases in contract with Star Sign Security, a private contractor.


Jacob and the others met in the center of the Lunar complex, and he could sense their nervousness. He could certainly feel his own. The LuCo director, Miranda, looked at them all as she inserted a presentation disc into the center table. She took a deep breath and pressed the "play" button. A map of the South China Sea appeared. Jesus Christ, Jacob thought. What trouble was stirred planet-side?

"As of five hours ago, China has attacked the navy of the Philippines in the South China Sea. The United States rushed to their defense, and managed to sink two Chinese battleships, and China launched multiple missiles on to mainland Philippines, killing four hundred people."

Jacob looked around at everyone and could see their reserved horror. Looking at Theo, who always finds reasons to be anxious anyways, he could already see sweat collecting on his brow. He could see Miranda barely holding herself together. Her voice had a faint quiver, as did her hands. She held them together for stability, but it didn't stop anyone from noticing.

"As of right now, we'll still be mining silicon for LuCo, and we're still exploring outward into the highlands to our west. We won't stop operations."

"Okay, so what about Chang'e base, then?" Theo asked. "I'm guessing they'll be pissed if we come to blows with China."

"Seems like we already are," Yasmine, the commander of Star Sign Security, said. "We need to reach out to them for some kind of truce. God forbid we clash on the lunar surface, too."

"I agree," Miranda said with a nod. "Jacob, you and Yasmine will take four security agents and write up some kind of truce. The Chinese are already pissing me off as it is. They took control of the mining field we have to the east."

"Is LuCo suing?" Jacob asked.

"With the current political climate back at home, I'm guessing they're taking it easy." Miranda turned to Yasmine. "Prepare your people. If they reject the truce or if China declares war in the meantime, they might try to take control of the lunar surface. After all, this place has some resources that would be useful for weapon production."

"Jesus," Lyall, an engineer, sighed. "This is messed up."

"World War Three could be on the horizon," Miranda said. "Let's keep it off the moon, yeah?"

Everyone nodded and dispersed. Except for Jacob. All he could see was the map of the South China Sea. Embroiled in war.


"This definitely won't work," Yasmine said during her meeting with Jacob an hour later. "They won't agree with the terms."

"They're made up of mostly scientists and their own small security team," Jacob said. "They don't even have companies here. Scientists can't fight well."

Yasmine put in her own disc to the table, bringing up a long list of directives and plans. It was called the Venus Directive, and Jacob couldn't help but feel anxious about it. It definitely seemed warlike.

"Those aren't war plans, are they?" Jacob asked with a nervous point.

"We've had communications with the President and the Pentagon since last week. They sensed China would go hot. Of course, Star Sign is funded by LuCo, which purely wants the silicon, but we're also partly funded by the Pentagon, who doesn't want to expend Space Force to our base. They gave us plans to quickly overcome the Chinese on the moon and monopolize resources here."

Jacob shook his head. "I didn't sign up to be on a war front."

"No one did. But we have to make use of what we got. Star Sign secretly deployed another thirty agents to be here in a week's time. We're bracing for the worst."

"That's why we should focus on getting this right. They're reasonable on Chang'e. We've exchanged research, they bailed us out when our rover got stuck in the caves-"

"None of that matters if they're willing to go to war with us," she said. "Get your suit on, we're going in ten."

"Do they know we're coming?"

"Of course they know we're coming."


The rover was cold and didn't do well with the bumpy surface of the moon. Moon dust was kicked up, and Jacob would always find beauty in the barren, gray surface. He liked to imagine how it would be if it were Earth. Filled with lush forests, trickling rivers, a beautiful sky and a great view of Earth.

That's what Jacob loved the most. The Earth was a beautiful, breathtaking blue orb. He could see the swirling clouds and the brown-green continents. The water was the most amazing part. The blue. It permeated his eyes and his heart warmed. He loved the perspective of it all. If only everyone got this view, he thought. War seems so petty. The Earth is a beauty. Why taint it with troublesome war? Why spill blood upon its graceful surface? Why dot it with craters and anguish? Crumbled buildings, destroyed by bombs dropped to the ground. He couldn't help but remember what Jesus said upon the cross. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Well, most of them anyway.

The ride to Chang'e station, named after ancient Chinese goddess of the moon, took about twenty minutes. He loved the ride there, but this time it was corrupted by anxiety. He prayed war was far off.


Four Chinese astronauts met them outside as they exited the rover. Yasmine waved. "Ni hao!" She shouted. Jacob knew the astronauts knew english, but maybe slipping mandarin in a time or two would be respectful.

They didn't wave back. Yasmine had instructed the other agents to leave their guns back at Kennedy South, their moon base, but it appeared their Chinese counterparts didn't mind brandishing weapons of their own. He could sense Yasmine's annoyance.

"No need for the weapons," she said. "We come as friends. Our surface countrymen may be at odds, but that doesn't mean we need to be."

The astronauts remained silent. Their helmets were heavily tinted, so not even their expressions escaped. They seemed like corpses locked in place. He knew Yasmine would be shouting soon.

"May we come inside?" Jacob asked. "We have an important proposition. It'll be quick, and we can return to our operations."

The men turned and walked toward the circular door of the lunar base, and Jacob and the others followed. Hesitantly. Nervously.


They sat around a conference table, similar to the one in Kennedy. A map appeared of the South China Sea. Everyone's helmets were off, and he could see Yasmine's confusion. Reserved and not easily recognizable, but he knew what confusion looked like on her face. He understood it, too.

"China has mobilized," the Chang'e director Su Nüying said. Maybe he expected a reaction from Yasmine, but she remained stone-faced. "From what I can expect, you wish to establish some kind of peace agreement."

"That's correct," Yasmine said. "We're here on either scientific or corporate missions. We don't need to be extensions of our own countries. After all, treaties specify our bases aren't technically land for our home countries. We don't need the conflict to reach here. We should be mature about this."

"We don't serve at the whims of your interests. We serve at the the will of the Chinese government, which certainly doesn't answer to you."

Yasmine sighed heavily, and Jacob could tell she was stifling anger.

"Look," Jacob said. All eyes turned to him. Yasmine with confusion and the Chinese with interest. "I'm the Director of Sciences at Kennedy South. I understand that Kennedy South may be a corporate mission, but there's a majority of science missions here. We shouldn't seek conflict. If you agree to peace, we will too. The Complex will obey the peace as well. We just need to continue doing as we need to, and we'll survive."

Someone came into view and whispered something to Su. Yasmine and Jacob shared a glance. Su looked at Yasmine. "Our time has expired," he muttered. "Unfortunately."

He waved his hand and suddenly every Chinese agent in the room drew their weapons. Jacob's heart dropped, and every muscle in his body clenched at once. Su raised his weapon and flung it into Yasmine's face as incredible speed. She collapsed out of her chair and Jacob rose from his seat.

Su raised his hand. "Stop. It's over."

"What's going on?" Jacob asked. No answer. "Let us leave, Su."

"I'm afraid that won't be necessary. You're in our possession now."


Su had put them into a cell-like room with guards guarding the entrance. The six of them were stripped of their suits and left in their gray jumpsuits. The fuel cells had been removed from their rover, and they were left in the dark. The consensus was that things got tense on Earth and the Chinese overreacted and took them captive, perhaps to get Kennedy South to surrender and open the gate to the Japanese cluster and The Complex.

Yasmine eventually woke up.

"Are you alright?" Jacob asked, helping her up. The wound in her head had clotted and was now bruised.

"Yeah," she muttered. "Yeah. We got lucky. I was able to activate the distress signal right before they knocked me out."

Jacob looked to the other agents, and they looked equally bewildered. "What do you mean?"

"I anticipated some shenanigans from Su, so if things got rough I would activate the distress beacon and Kennedy South would know that we're in conflict. They've hopefully begun the Venus Directive."

"And what is that exactly?"

"Well, the Star Sign agents back at South will attack and retake the eastern mining fields that China forcefully took. Then we'll send up orbital pods to take down lunar satellites that China has in circulation. If we shoot down their pods, it'll be more difficult for them to communicate with the ground and their satellites around Earth. They'll still be able to, but we'll command who comes in and out of the lunar surface. Then we'll launch an attack on Chang'e, take it, and force the Chinese to capitulate when our reinforcements arrive."

"That seems like hopeful thinking," Jacob muttered.

"Well, it may be. If it works, then we'll win the lunar war before China even cares to respond. And by the way, the war must've broken out in Asia, there's no other reason why they would take us captive."

"So what do we do?"

"We wait," she responded. "We hope they rescue us."


Three hours later the first rumble came. Jacob didn't know if it was a bomb or if it was some shift in the lunar surface. When the guards rushed away from the outside of the cell, they knew it must've been an attack. "Here it goes," Yasmine said with a faint smile.

Another three loud rumbles came, some muffled gun shots, and then silence. Four minutes later, the cell door opened, and there stood Miranda, an assault rifle in her hand. "Hurry," she said. "There's a lot to catch you up on."

Yasmine, Jacob, and the four others rose, exited the cell, and began to put on their suits. Jacob looked around and saw six dead bodies. He assumed there would be more. When they finished putting on their suits, the exited Chang'e and saw another seven bodies. Two of them American.

"What the hell happened?" Yasmine asked. "How's the Directive coming along?"

"That damned battle plan of yours?" Miranda said. "We have command of the lunar orbit, and we took the mining field easily. We collected our agents and stormed this place, and they evacuated after we killed a slew of their men. They're recollecting on the other end of the crater."

They approached the rover, which had the fuel cells reinstated. They piled in.

"War broke out in Asia," Miranda said. "China invaded Taiwan, and apparently they convinced North Korea to overwhelm the DMZ, and they're laying siege to Seoul. Chinese bombing campaigns are battering western Japan, and China even strung Pakistan along. Them and India are coming to blows."

"And the US?" Yasmine asked.

"They heard about what's happening here. They've sprung a war in Asia, like the rest. Russia's surprisingly quiet. Waiting things out, it seems."

They started the rover up. "And where do we go?" Jacob asked.

"Back to Kennedy South. We're gonna demolish Chang'e and retreat back to South. We'll be there soon."

They nodded, closed the door, and started off.


They were halfway back to Kennedy South when they got an urgent message over comms from Miranda. "Tune into the ISS live feed, now. Now!"

Yasmine and Jacob shared a quick glance, and they clicked two buttons on the console in the rover. They clicked on the ISS live feed, and were greeted by a video of the Earth. A smudge of mud that was apparently India appeared. Suddenly three bright flashes appeared on the screen.

"Oh God," Yasmine muttered. "No, no, no."

The air seemed to leave the rover. His muscles tightened and he could barely breathe. Words tried to leave his throat, but he couldn't bare to say anything. Yasmine stopped the rover. More flashes appeared in what was apparently Pakistan. Then a flash in China. Korea.

"No, no," Jacob managed to say. All he could do was cover his mouth. Tears collected in his eyes as his heart thumped in his chest. The silence in the rover was deafening.

"Team," Yasmine said with a quiver. He could sense the sadness in her voice. "Earth has gone nuclear. Evacuate back to your bases ASAP."

Jacob couldn't bare to watch the screen. He looked back out the window, and Earth was in view. He couldn't see the war from here. The planet looked serene. It looked alive.

A tear fell down his face.

"We're getting data from the US. They're joining in."

Gasps across the whole rover. "We're done for," Jacob muttered. "If Earth is destroyed, we won't last half a year."

"We'll fight over what's left," Yasmine said.

Jacob looked back out the window. A dying planet met his view. His home. His family. Everything he loved.

It'll all be ash soon. Dust.

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