The following is an excerpt from chapter five of my novel, A Draft of Moonlight:
Smith sat in the same place drinking coffee from the same cup. Goldfarb relaxed in his wicker throne, a tulip glass of Scotch held by its stem in his hand. Denning perched on a heavy oak chair, sucking on a martini. A gin and tonic kept Robinson true to his traditions. Liu, like an old and still-durable desert tree, sat in a wingback. The chairs had been moved into a semicircle opening toward the screen opposite the bar. After enjoying his coffee and the varied reactions to his silence, Smith set his cup on the small table beside his chair and picked up a control pad.
“I’ve called all of you here to discuss a matter that concerns each of us.”
He pressed a button, and a Mercator projection of the Earth appeared on the screen.
“General, if you will, discounting any thoughts of predicted developments, which nation can the economy of the world least afford to lose?”
“Your own,” Liu answered. Denning whipped her head around to stare at the general.
“Why is that so?” Smith asked.
“For the present, the United States not only leads the world in the size of its economy, but also in technical advances.”
Denning chewed her tongue while still staring at Liu.
“All true,” Smith said, “followed closely, we should add, by China.”
“Now, I must ask all of you to bear with me as we have to discuss a few matters both technical and historical. General, at what point did this state of affairs come about?”
“When Nixon came to China.”
“Isn’t anyone going to object?” Denning asked. “This little Sino-Smith love fest is making me sick.”
“Objection noted,” Goldfarb observed.
“The general is correct,” Smith answered. “For almost thirty years, beginning in nineteen forty-five, it was the policy of the communist powers and the capitalist powers to contain their opponents and expand their own influence.
“Then several things happened. In the Soviet Union, Nikki’s exuberance and subsequent ‘retirement’ led to the uninspired and uninspiring Breshnev. The expenses of military spending and the oil crisis caused the stagflation of the seventies. And, as the general correctly pointed out, Nixon went to China.
“This last event may seem minor, but it may have been the most important of its time. It was a shift in the policy of containment. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that China was communist. All that mattered was that China had a huge population that could trade with the United States.”
“And so the Truman doctrine went down the memory hole,” Denning snapped. “Orwell explained that, right Arthur?”
“I believe he did,” Robinson answered, “but I’ve never been fond of Nineteen Eighty-four.”
“Okay, fine, Arthur. My point is, what’s your point, Smith?”
“It’s that whereas the Cold War model was one of conflict between two independent sides, after Dick went to China and said, ‘Gee, this is a nice wall,’ there were then nearly two-hundred sides, each with its own interests and all depending on each not only for economic growth, but also for survival. I believe everyone here would agree with me that were the United States to suffer an economic collapse, such an event would pull down the economies of nearly every other nation on Earth. Even the general seems to know this.”
Smith poured himself another cup of coffee while watching the nods — some exasperated, some curious — of agreement.
“The collapse of the U. S. economy is precisely what is going to happen in about five months.”
Denning’s hand shook, spilling the remains of her martini on the carpet. She sank back into her seat, laughing. The others sat silent, Goldfarb sipping his Scotch.
“Goddamn, Smith, you should do this on stage.” Denning coughed. “I mean, the chairs, the drinks, you with your coffee — I thought you were going to turn on Arthur here and roar, ‘You killed the professor in the kitchen with the pudding bowl.’ Ha, ha.”
“The event will take place on the seventh of November of this year,” Smith continued, unperturbed. “That date will be the one-hundred-twentieth anniversary of the Russian revolution.”
“Now you’re going to bring in the Russians,” Denning smirked. “Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.”
“Ms. Denning, would you be so kind as to tell us the date of the first landing on the Moon?” Smith asked.
Her mouth fell open and then snapped shut at the change of subject.
“That’s easy: July the twentieth, nineteen sixty-nine. The landing site is one of the tourist spots everybody goes to see. There’s the plaque, the flag they had to stand back up, the equipment that got left behind, and a string of tee-shirt shops and cheap-camera stands. So many of those last two, that the view from the fast-food joints is just about ruined.
“You are wrong.” Smith pressed a button, and the screen changed to show the disk of the Moon visible from the Earth.
“I am?” Denning scoffed. “I heard some people used to believe the Moon landing was staged on a Hollywood set, but really.”
“The first human-made object to reach the Moon crashed on the thirteenth of September, nineteen fifty-nine,” Smith said. The impact site was noted on the screen with a red dot. “That was the Russian probe, Luna Two.”
“Oh, well, if you mean robots,” Denning sneered. “Do tell, professor. I seem to have missed this particular lesson in history.”
“You didn’t miss it. You never had it. Americans don’t teach themselves much about the successes of other nations. At any rate, beginning in the late fifties, the Russians had an active program of lunar exploration. They took the first pictures of the far side of the Moon and the first pictures from the lunar surface. The latter happened on the third of February, nineteen sixty-six, when Luna Nine landed — not crashed — in Oceanus Procellarum.” Another red dot appeared.
“There was once a plan, also in about nineteen fifty-nine, to explode a nuclear bomb on the lunar surface. That idea was officially shelved, not because it was stupid, but because the lack of a lunar atmosphere meant the explosion wouldn’t have been impressive enough.”
“How is that?” Robinson asked.
“Think of the difference between a day on Earth and a day here,” Smith answered. “On Earth, the sun rises and is a glaring spot in the sky, but the atmosphere also spreads out some of its light so the entire sky is bright. Here on the Moon, the sun is a far-brighter spot in the sky, but there is no diffusion of the light. The same thing would have happened with the bomb. There would have been a brilliant pinpoint of light, but nothing more. Imagine the embarrassment of spending all that money to explode a bomb up here, but having no one notice. The Russians did like to build huge and largely useless things to show off, but they typically wanted some practical gain as well.”
Denning chuckled. “Cold War Americans were so worried about being bombed by the Ruskies when all the Reds wanted to do was bomb the Moon.”
“To continue the history,” Smith said, adding a push to his words, “the Russians brought back the first samples of the Moon with the Zond Five mission that landed on the fifteenth of September, nineteen sixty-eight. It was that mission that brought the first human beings to the Moon, as well — ”
Denning’s glass fell out of her hand and shattered on the floor. A third red dot appear on the screen. Denning’s gaze darted back and forth between the shards and Smith. He made no sign of noticing, hiding his enjoyment of her reaction.
“Don’t worry about it, Patricia,” Goldfarb said.
She glared at him. “Oh, right, sorry.” Her eyes went back to Smith. “What do you mean, the first human beings to land were the Russians in ’sixty-eight? Where do you get all of this crap? I mean, really — bombs, Russians on the Moon — come on. The first Russians on the Moon came here with the international mission to set up this base here in Clavius in twenty nineteen.”
“I get all of this as a part of my job,” Smith answered. “I have access to a variety of documents, American, of course, but also Russian, thanks to several historically-minded members of the K.G.B. and its successors who have brought box-loads of papers to the West over the years.”
“Oh, great, so you’re a spy,” Denning groaned.
“If that’s what you want to call me, you’re welcome to do so.” He wished people would not be so obvious when they realized this. Her response was not so bad, though. She merely tried to bore holes in him with her stare.
“But if the Russians were the first to reach the Moon, why didn’t they trumpet the fact to the world?” Robinson asked. “I can’t imagine the Sovs missing the propaganda value of that.”
“That is exactly the question I asked myself,” Smith said. “It was in looking for an answer that I found the plans to send a nuclear bomb up here. The idea was ‘officially’ dropped, but it never disappeared.”
Smith took a sip of coffee.
“There is a fact about governments that few understand or believe even if they have heard of it. We know the names of the heads of governments. Those who are more aware can name a few judges, a handful of senators and representatives or members of parliament, as the case may be. Some even know the names of the political appointees who head the bureaucracies — this brings you more into the conversation, General.”
“Smith, you like to drone on,” Denning said. “Get to the point.”
“Who can name the bureaucrats who actually run things? But for the rare occasions in which we must pay a ticket or argue about property boundaries, we have no apparent reason to know anything about these people. The president of the United States couldn’t name the head of the water board in your home town, Ms. Denning, nor offer anything informed about said bureaucrat’s opinions or policies.
“This is true about a democracy, a nation in which much of the government’s activities are a matter of public record by law. Imagine the Soviet Union during the sixties. Khrushchev was never liked by a good number of Soviet officials. Do you think they told him much about their activities? The head of the Soviet space program — one Korolev, the man who gave his name to this building — died ‘during surgery.’ The truth is that he was murdered because he refused to back off his plan to send humans to the Moon.”
“I thought you just told us the Russians succeeded,” Denning snapped.
“My kind of Russians did,” Smith replied. “Korolev was a public Russian. He wanted a public landing — lots of television pictures and commentators talking. Again, the shadow government, the one that actually runs things, didn’t want anyone to know about the things they were doing.”
“But, Smith,” Robinson objected, “how can this be? Leaders set policy. The bureaucrats may work away from the cameras, but they have to carry out the programs their elected officials set for them.”
“Think of it this way,” Smith answered. “Who provides the leaders with the data to set policy? The prime minister of the European Union wouldn’t know the population of Kingsclere, Hampshire unless someone told him. He doesn’t have the time to go find out for himself. He wouldn’t even know the population of London without the census figures. There is so much information to process that every leader must rely on the bureaucrats.
“Ms. Denning, can you name any of the economic advisors to the Chair of the Federal Reserve? You probably can name the Chair, but who knows the people who develop the projections about the economy? If a group of such people wanted to change the world, who could stop them from cooking the books? If a group of Russians decided to send humans to the Moon and tell no one about it, who could have stopped them?
“You’ll note I have said nothing yet about the people who run corporations. There is yet another group whom no one knows, and in this case, even its leaders are not popularly elected.”
“All right, all right, let’s pretend you know what you’re talking about,” Denning said, apparently wanting to divert Smith away from commenting on business. “Those cockroaches may be able to build a road through my living room, but I’m going to know about it eventually. Just how is it that anybody missed a bunch of Russians crawling around up here?”
Smith took another sip of coffee. “I’ve heard it said that many modern astronomers can’t walk outside their observatories and point out the planet Venus. Two-thousand some odd years ago, shepherds tending their flocks at night may have noticed a new star, but how many of us today know anything about the sky by our own observation? Spacecraft are small and faint objects in a broad black sky dotted with many brighter things.”
“But surely someone knew,” Robinson said. “What is it called, oh yes, NORAD, in America, for example.”
“Yes, my kind of people knew,” Smith said, “at least those of us who look into such matters, but since the Russians didn’t announce it and the Americans — even the bureaucrats — wanted to be first, nobody said anything.
“Imagine going to President Johnson and telling him, ‘By the way, in addition to the war in Vietnam going badly and Nixon about to win the election, the Russians just beat us to the Moon.’ The documents I have read show a rush of activity to figure out just what it was that the Russians were doing, but the Soviets of the sixties and seventies were good at hiding at least a few of their secrets. The Americans never found out.”
“Sixties and seventies?” Robinson asked.
“The last Russian moon landing was in nineteen seventy-eight.”
Several more red dots appeared on the screen.
“So, what was it they were doing up here?” Denning asked. “Playing golf and bringing back a few rocks, just like us?”
“No.” Smith poured himself another cup of coffee.
“I suppose it had something to do with the plans to explode a nuclear bomb,” Goldfarb suggested. “You said it was ‘officially dropped.’ What were your people doing?”
“When my people are left to themselves or manage to keep to themselves for long enough, some of us become increasingly perverse.”
Smith paused for a sip. Goldfarb was proving himself to be observant. He would have to watch him closely.
“I must go back again, now to discuss the development of the nuclear bomb.”
Denning smirked. “You aren’t going to say the Russians made the first bomb, are you?”
“No, that honor, if you want it, stays with the Americans. Nuclear scientists in the fifties discovered that among the many unpleasant effects of their bombs was the fact that a nuclear explosion damaged electronic devices even at considerable range, in the same fashion that lightning or solar flares will do.”
“It’s called electromagnetic pulse or E.M.P.,” Denning said. “Weapons designers have played around with gadgets to generate the pulse from time to time. I even built one as a project in college. Damn thing fried a bunch of lab computers. . . .” She trailed off laughing.
“The trouble is that such devices are of limited effect,” Smith said, “unless a great deal of power is put in.”
“That’s no problem,” Denning said. “All you need is a flux-compression generator — they’re the best, and there’s nothing to building one. Take two metal tubes, one inside of the other, charge them up with an electrical current, then stick an explosive at one end, and set it off. The explosion causes the inner tube to expand against the outer, makes a short circuit, and zap, you have an electromagnetic wave. Build it the right way, and you can even focus the wave. The only trouble is that the device is destroyed in the using, a one-shot gun. Makes them impractical for all but a few uses.
“We thought about floating a few in space back in the eighties as a part of the Star Wars program. That gave the Russians a fright.”
“Yes, it did,” Smith said, “because they knew about such devices as well. The flux-compression generator was first discussed in the fifties. Powered by a nuclear bomb, it could be particularly devastating. A nuclear-powered generator on Earth would be foolish, but if one could be placed in orbit, just as Ms. Denning reminded us, it would be a valuable weapon.”
“This all sounds like a Bond movie. The Man with the Golden Eyeball or whatever it was.”
“Indeed it does, but the problem with hanging one’s weapons on Newton’s slender threads is that the threads break and the weapon platform falls. The orbits of satellites decay. Satellites also are tracked, by NORAD and others, as Mr. Robinson pointed out. How much better it would be to place the weapon on a body that had a stable and predictable orbit and was large enough to provide good places to hide.”
“Are you saying the Russians built a nuclear-powered generator here on the Moon?” Goldfarb asked.
“Yes. It was completed in nineteen seventy-eight.”
“In Sinus Medii, I presume,” Goldfarb said.
Smith glanced at the ceiling and then at Goldfarb. “Yes, in the center of the lunar face, as seen from the Earth.”
He sipped more coffee and watched the others. Denning was chewing her tongue, again. Robinson took a long pull on his gin and tonic. Goldfarb had shifted in his seat to stare through his Scotch glass at the carpet, the muscles in his face showing some inner calculations. Liu sat still.
“It’s a perfect platform,” Goldfarb observed. “The face always points at the Earth. It’s just a matter of working out when the gun will be over the target and pointing the gun’s barrel in the right direction.”
“Two barrels, actually, each with its own warhead. One is pointed to hit the city that stretches from Washington, D. C. to Boston; the other aimed at southern California. At noon over the center of the United States, on the seventh of November, two high-energy electromagnetic waves will be shot out at the nation’s financial centers. There will be no immediate loss of life, although the cancer rate may rise slightly. The Earth’s atmosphere and the distance from here to there will dissipate most of the radiation that is dangerous to living tissue.
“The air won’t be so kind to electrical gadgets. The wave will ionize many of the atmosphere’s atoms, magnifying the effect. This will be much like the solar flare that shut down the province of Quebec in nineteen eighty-nine, only far worse. As it will happen in the middle of the day, it may be that no one notices the tiny flash of light. Most people will focus on their electronic toys not working. The information stored on magnetic disks or the new quantum-state disks will be destroyed.”
Smith contemplated his cup.
“The Moon will be new that day.”
To read the whole book, go here.