Short Story: Beta Base

Stainless steel and ceramic tile drably colored the walls and floors of the Luna-base research outpost. Officially, Luna-base was the first scientific Research exostation in Sol. It was the first time Humanity left Earth and actually stayed put once it landed, officially that is. Unofficially, it was the second, and on Luna at that, but mentioning that fact had become a social faux-pas. Mostly, people didn’t want to admit they’d let their governments and militaries win the space race.

Luna-base Alpha was a series of interconnected modules fused onto a cylindrical spindle that stood upright on the Moon’s surface. It rose over a kilometer at its highest point, modules protruding from it like spines at random angles, each one spinning independently to harness centripetal acceleration and create artificial gravity. When combined with extensive radiation shielding, the place was as near to being on Earth as being millions of kilometers away would allow. On top of that, hydroponics and aeroponics labs grew fresh, organic food in dedicated spines, while weekly deliveries of luxury goods and other necessities kept the 2,000-person staff from wanting for anything.

In the meantime, the various scientists and researchers were free to carry out whatever work they’d been assigned, be it studying their habitat’s effects or others on various subjects. Luna-base Alpha’s people were the cream of the crop. Those not top in their fields, were second only to those that were. That was the compromise made by the world’s nations.

Luna-base Alpha’s long term effects were being studied on its people, and only those that could continue to work and keep in mind their purpose there, were allowed to go. Despite the sign-up sheets overflowing with names, only a specific group were chosen to go. The final 2,000 people had to pass rigorous physical and mental evaluations before being allowed to leave Earth, and were otherwise replaced by runners-up if they failed.

If Luna-base Alpha was the control, Luna-Base Beta was the experiment. The stringent guidelines the nations of scientists were forced to adhere to, on Beta-Base, were entirely absent. Despite still being in peak, physical shape, the military assets sequestered a few kilometers from Alpha-base were little more than laymen, grunts. Aside from the administrative officials and higher-ranked officers, there were no evaluations, no bars to entry.

Beta-Base’s personnel were chosen randomly, by lottery, from each of the UN nations. On the order of five-thousand soldiers and accompanying faculty were plucked from their homes and lives planet-side. They were cast into space, forced to sleep in bunks five-high, and pass their time outside maneuvers with little more than the few, meager possessions they’d crafted to engage themselves. It would eventually be their downfall. The civilians on Luna-base-Alpha knew it. The officers and admins on Beta-base knew it. The soldiers and faculty knew it.

Most of all, I knew it.

Only so much could be done each day to prepare us for life or battle in Zero-G. Invariably that meant running us even more ragged than if we’d been planet-side. Maneuvers were carried out both in the ground-based facility and in the large, centrifuge ring towering Kilometers above it. We were often forced out into the desolate fields of ice and vacuum beyond Beta’s airlocks to carry out war-games– grand-scale laser-tag in the vastness of space with little more than air-tight cloth, rubber, and glass separating us from certain, grisly death.

One might find it hard to see how this led to total anarchy. After all, mental stagnation at some points was a given, but so too were intensive work and some fun– if the games could be called that. None of that changes facts, or history. History has, in fact, shown that Beta-Base was a powder-keg and needed only the fuse to be lit to set it off. I would know, I was there.

Our days were simple, wake at the ass-crack of Earth-dawn, P-T until chow, chow until classwork, classwork until chow, then more P-T, in one form or another. The only variations were the days we went out to the fields to run our war-games.

At first, it was great. Being in zero-G was fun, playing laser tag in space was fun. Even if the officers and admins did their best to take the fun away, they couldn’t. No one could take away the fact that we were in space, playing gun-games there. We were all kids again, especially those of us who’d grown up dreaming of going into space. There was something sacred about those first few months, for us at least. Not even the hard-ass militaries could take away the joy of bouncing in a space-suit pointing toy-guns at one another. Male or female, it didn’t matter, everyone loved it.

Then, they pitted us against each other in competition. I don’t know when, or why even, but the admins and officers got together and decided the nations would be split into teams. Tournaments would determine the nation’s teams individually, creating all-star crews to represent them. Then, in a similar style tournament, each nation would fight each other in the fields to battle for first place rewards. In this case, that a few months of shore-leave, planet-side. Some incentive, especially considering none of us were supposed to leave the station for upwards of four years.

But Human nature is fickle. People get pissy when they lose. Even if they’re best of friends, a defeat at one anothers’ hands can turn two people into throat-goring savages. You can imagine where things went. Believe me too when I say, when they went, they went quick. Rivalries were always anticipated, encouraged even, but that all changed when politics planet-side went tits-up.

Earth was teetering on the brink of another world-war. The UN was barely functioning. The people representing them in space were feeling it. Most of the time, it was racism, or nationalism. That’s the problem with putting 5,000 people “serving their country” together. Turns out, when their countries are assholes to one another, the people are too. The only way anyone could get any frustration out was in the games. When they became competitive, all of that sacred catharsis disappeared.

However healthy competition might be for evolution, it was the catalyst to catastrophe for Beta-Base. What began with an on-the-field spat between two nations, (one feeling they’d unfairly lost) turned into a mess-hall melee the next afternoon. The fuse had been lit, and there was no putting it out. The best we could do was run, try to get clear of the blast before getting blown to gibs.

I remember reading of “the shot heard ’round the world.” This wasn’t that. There were no weapons on Beta-Base outside the laser-tag rifles. Truth was though, we didn’t need weapons. We were the weapons. Another problem with cramming thousands of soldiers together in one place; someone wants someone dead, someone’s going to do die– or the person starting it will.

Some of us tried to keep our heads in the resulting madness, and were knocked out or killed for it. I’m not ashamed to say I kept myself alive. That was all that mattered. Over four-thousand people rioted all at once. Anarchy splattered blood across the walls. Fires decimated our O2. Entire spines were overridden by nationalists that had gotten the upper-hand on control rooms. They turned against their fellow humans, opened airlocks, spaced people, or asphyxiated them by cutting O2 off entirely.

Someone tried to retaliate and blew open a power cell, hoping to cut power to some of the control rooms. It took a third of the station with it. The second-third went up from secondary explosions. I’m still not sure how the other third survived.

I was in my suit, blown out an airlock from some Australian asshole with a grudge against the Americans. I don’t know why. It might’ve been the game. It might’ve been something personal. Maybe some yank boned his Aussie wife, or jerked off on her picture. Whatever. What’s it matter? It doesn’t. All I know’s I went out before I’d meant to, cracked my regulator on a beam, and had to murder someone to steal their oxygen… someone I knew. I’m not the only one.

Now, here I am, drifting on fading oxygen, watching the silent explosions. These god awful fireballs just appear and then disintegrate, propelling massive swaths of debris out into oblivion. I almost pity us, but then, we did it to ourselves. Human nature is fallible that way, I guess.

O2‘s running low. Don’t know if this will ever be found. I know Beta-base was the test grouup. Tesst failed… or succeeded. If it meanntt to test whether or not we’d kill ourselves. I knnow Lunebasealfa hwas rescueee podzz ttro retreeiieve usss, byut tgheyt arent supppposeddto ibnrterfereee ssoo iii dfooiubbbbbbbt tyhgeyll…

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