The first clue anyone had that something had gone wrong was when the billboards on the Moon went off.
The first clue Neil had that something went wrong was his phone receiving roughly fifty calls and three thousand messages in the space of him getting up for the shitter and coming back.
The entire drive from the bar to the office he kept staring up at the moon. Almost got into a couple of wrecks, but still he kept his eyes up.
“Come on, come on, come on,” he muttered to himself, not even realizing he was doing it.
The Work Reform Terraforming Project had not been his at the beginning, but it had been handed off to him when it seemed like the whole thing might blow up in everyone’s face. That was his place in the corporate world. Neil Bowland: Project Bomb Squad. Either he fixed the damn thing or he blew up and took a cushy retirement. He always made sure that was written into his contracts.
It had taken him close to five years to get the WRTP on track. It was a creation from all the way at the top, EdiNile’s CEO Chance Rapids. A dream project of his. Put people in space! The dream of nations since the one small step for man! Of course, they would put people in space his way, aka prisoners and debtors going to moon to ‘work off their sentences’ by terraforming the damn thing, and then once that was done being kicked back down to Earth so the Ultra-Wealthy could sit up there away from the other lowly masses and dream up some other place to escape to. Good money was on Mars but Neil had actually put his money on Elysium-like Earth Halo in the office pool. Seemed easier.
As a concept, Neil thought it was disgusting. He hadn’t actually been up there but he’d seen pictures. Heard stories. And, of course, could see EdiNile’s advertisements lighting up the moon. The ultimate billboard, one the entire planet couldn’t get away from. Full, new, night, day, didn’t matter, there was always an ad up there that could be seen and understood even through the vast distance of space. When he’d gone into Harvey’s two hours ago the usual ad about shipping discounts with Chance Rapids’ ugly, hairplugged head had been up there.
Now there was nothing. It was only a crescent moon, so tearing ass down Williams Avenue Neil could only see the corners of the terraforming domes. The Terraforming ‘Team’ – sad laugh – was only a couple of years from finishing.
And that was all thanks to Neil. Yes, the thought of it was disgusting, but the actual implementation had been the best sort of project: a puzzle. Where others might only look at the logistics and legalities of sending a bunch of prisoners and buried-in-debt volunteers up to the moon to perform labor that definitely needed multiple degrees to oversee and run screaming into the night, tearing their hair out and barking at a LED laden moon, Neil, to be perfectly frank, sort of got off on it. An immense puzzle, filled with an incredible number of moving pieces, and with actual lives hanging in the balance? It was the best job Neil had ever had, bar none, and he was thinking of retiring when it was all done.
If the billboard didn’t come back up, though, he’d never retire. If he didn’t fix this before Chance Rapids noticed, he’d be up there with the rest of the Terraforming ‘Team’ before he could even call his wife and tell her where the offshore accounts were.
“What the fuck is going on?” he was yelling before he had even fully entered the command center.
“We don’t know, sir,” Jarrod said, hustling over from where he had been stooped over a computer technician. “They just went down. The technicians aren’t getting any sort of signal.”
“And what does Lunar 1 say?”
“Well, uh, sir…that’s the thing…we haven’t been able to reach Lunar 1…”
Neil stared at Jarrod in the exact same way he stared at his first wife after she admitted to having an affair with her yoga instructor who also happened to be her first cousin.
“What the fuck does that mean?” he asked.
“It means we’ve been hailing them, and they haven’t been answering.”
“I know what the fuck that means,” Neil said. “What are their systems saying?”
Jarrod looked helplessly at a technician, who gulped and then started speaking like that pimply teen from The Simpsons.
“We’re not getting any sort of signal from their systems. They all cut off simultaneously.”
“Simultaneously? What could bring everything down simultaneously?”
Jarrod and the Teen Tech shared a glance, and the Jarrod shrugged.
“Either the entire station and terraforming machine blew up, killing everyone instantly-”
Neil’s blood pressure jumped. “And destroying everything instantly and also putting me on the eleven o’clock news. Instantly.”
Neil waved his hands. “OR?!?”
“Or someone up there cut the reports from getting down here.”
Neil stared at the wall across the room for exactly five and a half seconds while his brain performed a system reboot.
“You’re talking about an uprising.”
“I mean, that’s an ugly word…”
Shaking his head, Neil started toward the first computer he could get to. He pushed the mousy-haired woman’s chair away hard enough that it slammed into the soda machine in the corner, but he was already putting in his credentials to care.
“There’s no way anyone up there has managed to gain control.”
At least, not complete control. This was his system, after all. He’d put it together, hired the right people, had those people hire more people, contacted the prisons, worked with EdiNile’s Deep Space Division, and somehow gotten all of the people and supplies that were needed onto the moon in the space of sixteen months. Did those people up there really think that he hadn’t taken the time to build a back channel into the Lunar Command Center? A few more key strokes, a couple of slams of the mouse on the counter just for fun, and then the multiple screens all showing either snow or nothing switch over to an image of the Lunar Command Center.
And the three dinks trying to work the computers.
Neil picked up a microphone and tapped it a few times. After a couple of seconds, the people in the Lunar Command Center winced.
“This is Neil Bowland, Executive Director of the Work Reform Terraforming Project. I am demanding an update on the situation in the Lunar Command Center and a fucking explanation for the Lunar Billboard to be completely dark.”
The three of the people on the screen – all wearing security uniforms and not ‘Team’ uniforms, he noticed – glanced all around the room, trying to find either the camera or his face on some screen to look at. They found neither. The one in the middle, a woman with her black hair tied to the back of her head, picked up a microphone.
“This Shelly Brown, Head of Security for the Work Reform Terraforming Project, coming at you from Lunar 1,” she said in a sultry radio voice. “And I’m telling Neil Bowland he can fuck any amount of donkeys he so chooses from literally thousands of miles away.”
“Yeah, Neil, I hate that you’re finding out about it like this. Mostly because we meant for the planet to find out through the Lunar Billboards. But someone got a little excited, and blew it all to hell before we could broadcast our message.”
She was glaring at one of the three in the room, a wirey man with burn marks up and down his arms. He shrugged and made a who me face before devolving into giggles. Neil suddenly noticed there was a brown bottle in his hand, and he was smoking something.
“That’s not a security guard, is it?” Neil asked.
Shelly winced. “Dude, did you seriously just call another human being an ‘it?’ Fuck, you know, that’s exactly what’s wrong with all you C-Suite EdiNile bastards. This man is named Ray. And no, he wasn’t a security guard. But neither am I anymore. We ain’t playing cops and robbers up here anymore, man.”
“This is ridiculous,” Neil said. “You there, the other one. Arrest them.”
The third person in the Command Center, a large man who looked like a drill sergeant, heard his orders and immediately started laughing so hard he had to kneel down to regain composure.
“Oh, my God, you are not getting it,” Shelly said. “Okay, honey, let me spell this out: we the people of moon are cutting ourselves the fuck off from Earth. We’re not working for you anymore. We’re not coming back. And we’re not letting anyone else up here, either. All of you can just get in a conga line around the equator and fuck each other to death for all we care.”
“You can’t do this.”
“No,” Neil said, snapping at the technician. “You literally can’t. You think you can just completely cut us off from our systems? Don’t make me laugh.”
“Not trying, fuckface. And I don’t think we can cut you off from the systems. I know we can. Because we did.”
Neil did start laughing. The two Command Centers were too intricately connected. There was no way this fucking security guard managed to separate the two systems. From the Command Center on Earth they could flood the airways up on the Moon with knock-down and have all the traitors sleeping sweetly until they could send up another team to clean this mess up. All he had to do was press a button and…
The technician Neil had been snapping his fingers at was only staring at him, face completely pale and eyes completely wide and hands out to his sides as he shook his white, flat, stupid face side to side.
Neil turned off the microphone.
“We have zero control. Sir,” Jarrod said. “They’ve cut us off from everything. From what the techs can tell, this separation is something they’ve been working on in secret for a long time. Maybe months.”
“I’m sure someone down there has filled you in,” Shelly said. “The only thing we missed was the backchannel you put in, and now that we know it’s here good old Doug is going to have it shut down in about two minutes.”
“What do you want?” Neil growled.
“Oh, we have everything we want.”
“You can’t be serious. You’re on a dead rock with limited air and food.”
“Actually, we are on a nearly completed terraformed rock, with enough air and food to last us until the processes are finished. And the process is basically automated from here on out. Why do you think we waited until now to pull this off? We’ll be destroying the landing pods next, and firing up these sweet security measures Chance Rapids wanted us to install and thought we’d never figure out what they were.”
Neil stared at Jarrod and mouthed security measures?
Jarrod sighed. “Experimental laser weapons.”
“How successful were the experiments?”
“So, what you’re telling me is a bunch of criminals are now in complete control of a terraformed moon?”
“Looks like it.”
“Look, I am missing a huge celebrate talking to you chucklefucks, so I’m going to go. Final message: don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing. Hasta la bye bye, dicknuts.”
The audio and visual feeds cut out, and Neil was left with nothing from the moon except what he could see in the sky.
An intern ran up, cell phone in hand.
“Sir, Mr. Rapids is on the phone.”