Thank you so much for contacting me, Dr. Cook. As requested, I’m writing to you and your class from Aitken to tell you about my involvement in the discovery of the Artifact--and about the ongoing, often-frustrating mysteries surrounding lunar colonization. The candor of your communication was refreshing; I hope to match it. Obviously, because of our locations--me on the Farside and you in an undersea location--I’m unable to use the Com. You’d think after nearly two centuries--not to mention recent events here--that the Consortium would develop links to any place on the Moon and Earth. But here we are, using old school technology. Rather than employing my avatar, I’m actually dictating a letter to a Com keyboard for transmission via century-old CubeSats. We’ll just have to think of it as something pleasantly “retro” and forge ahead.
So, before anything else, the first thing we must get out of the way is my absolutely ridiculous name.
What were my parents thinking? Did they actually believe I would get through my childhood without constant joking? That my early adult life wouldn’t be filled with little side/snide comments and smirks?
My father legally changed his surname to Monkfruit (from Wilson) after a drunken visit to Thailand during Spring Break of his Senior year at Melbourne Uni. Why? I have no idea. A bet? A dare? He never told me; I never asked. Our family’s version of don’t ask, don’t tell.
That’s the same trip he met Mum, another college Senior (at RMIT) also on Break. Apparently, as the old song goes, “one night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble”--or as my Dad said: “I was totally smitten.” They came back to Melbourne and nine months later, there I was wailing out my first WTFs. According to the midwife, immediately after I was born--like literally ten minutes after I popped out--my parents (and the midwife and the midwife’s friends) decided as another old song goes “to party like it was 1999,” did a whole mess of psychotropic drugs, and somehow came up with the name Stevia because one of Mom’s sorority sisters who was a barista at a local Starbucks told her that’s how one of their sweetener options came up on their Com screen: Stevia Monkfruit. Mom thought it sounded romantic and Italian: Steeev-iah.
Rather than change the name when I became 17, I actually kept it. Yes, I still think the name’s asinine, but I’ve appropriated it as a sign of strength, an eccentric flip of the middle finger. It’s unique; it’s mine. It’s a dare--as in “I dare you to laugh in my face when I introduce myself or make a dinner reservation or display my ID on your Com.”
There. Have we had our chortle? Can we move on?
So now we can get down to the important stuff--like the Artifact and those cryptic monoliths. And that’ll require a bit of backstory.
My parents moved to the American Consortium when I was an infant because my Mum got a tech job in New York--and Dad taught Humanities at Columbia. That was 2145.
From the time I was a kid, I was always interested in the planets and stars; I became a math and astronomy whiz at an early age, which, as I got into high school, some girls found sexy. I was tall, athletic, with my Dad’s curly blond hair and my Mum’s big brown cow eyes--so the word cute was sometimes tossed around as only the Americans can. And if my classmates razzed me endlessly about my name--Monkey Fruits, Fruit Pie, Monkey Bars, to name but a few--they also admired the stuff I was exhibiting at Science Fairs or showing off in chem lab: “Holy crap, Fruit Loops, that’s freakin’ awesome.”
After high school came a few years at Harvard, and then Cambridge on a Hawking scholarship. With a PhD in hand, I was chosen by the United Consortium to work in New York on SETI projects and to establish a special Archive collection devoted to anthropology, archaeology, and hominin paleontology--past, present, and future. A dream come true. Then a couple of years ago, they decided to move me up to Aitken.
Oh, just a few more details before we move on: I’m 134 but don’t look a day over 30. All hail gene-splicing and nanobots! I’m also single and gay. The attention from those high school girls back in the day definitely added to my “cool factor,” but by my Junior year, I figured out it was the high school boys I found more intriguing. For some of the guys, it was just another aspect of my overall weirdness, but a few others tried to bully me. Fortunately, Dad loved the martial arts and taught me well. After two or three encounters that I won fairly decisively, the bullying turned into tacit, grudging admiration by a handful and “I don’t give a crap” from most everyone else. I was Monkey the Science Guy--funny, smart, and--yes--kinda cute. In Uni and Grad School, the gay thing was a total non-issue--as it has been for the last century.
That’s probably enough shaggy-dog story for now.
So, the first question some of your students want answered: What do I do as exoarchaeologist?
Well, until the discovery of the Artifact, I was a theoretical archaeologist who hypothesized about potential relics, ruins, and abandoned sites found off-planet. It was a growing theoretical field that was pure SETI research based on solid Earth-bound field work.
But then came the discovery of the Base, the Monoliths, and--most importantly--the Artifact.
And that, ladies and gents, requires a little more backstory. If this is stuff you already know, forgive me; I never want to assume.
Humans didn’t return to the Moon until the late 2020s. The Chinese, the European Space Agency, the Americans and Russians. Even India and Japan made their way there. By the 2090s, there were two thriving international colonies, both on the Nearside: Aristarchus and Cleomedes.
Then in 2098--or so the American Consortium once had us believe--the American Consortium took the lead on the third colony, this one on the Farside: Aitken. Other nations joined in, but the American big wigs were the head honchos. The official party line? Aitken was going to be the first real attempt by humans to explore the cryptic Farside, an attempt finally to decipher the mysterious thickness of the Farside crust and the inordinate number of impact craters. Only a permanent Base with a steady stream of scientists could really accomplish “our” goals.
And so Aitken was born. Again.
Flash forward 180 or so years and I was invited to take part. Me. Living on the Moon. An exoarchaeologist.
And once more, you ask: Doing what, Monkey Bars?
Ah, let’s go back to last October--2278.
Enter Ethan Milnar. Transportation chief at Aitken and all-around good bloke.
It was a Tuesday afternoon when I saw Ethan’s rover returning to the Base--but I immediately suspected that something was off.
A little more info: You need to imagine Aitken’s lay out. It’s a hodgepodge of buildings created steadily since 2098. (Stay tuned--more about the actual date in a sec.) In any event, the Base is concentrated in an area about twenty square acres--and still growing. We have the original Quonset huts that were constructed by robots--whom we call Mechanicals--before the initial settlers--the “New Millennials”--arrived in 2101. Those structures contain all the “firsts”: the first farm, the first “air forest,” the first lab space, and first personal quarters--all of which are maintained in their original state for “historical purposes” and for the small but regular flow of tourists from Earth (aka “Downstairs”). Then we’ve got the domed structures of various sizes built by the ensuing waves of human colonists that now house half a dozen farms plus a massive “farmers’ market,” eight “forests,” some living quarters for the farmers and “park rangers,” and the hanger-sized Garage dome for our local transport, space shuttles, all-terrain tractors, and other smaller vehicles. And finally, we have well over a dozen, centrally-located multi-storied, urban-sized structures--including a few pyramids--that are the hub of what amounts to a lunar city: rather toney apartment buildings, administrative offices, a state-of-the art Medical Center, a Library that includes the Archive labs where I work, a theater complex for live as well as Holo presentations, and--most recently--a rather beautiful Art Museum that hosts special exhibits from Earth and the growing number of lunar artists. All in all, our Base has everything you’d need a quarter million miles from Earth.
And though you already know this, I still find the most remarkable aspect of Aitken is that--like Nearside Aristarchus and Cleomedes--the colony is completely underground, constructed inside a vast cave that’s part of an enormous, extinct lava tube--nearly a kilometer wide, over two hundred meters high, and winding further back into the crust over a dozen klicks. The first wave of Mechanicals installed the great “sun lamps” on the “ceiling” of the cave directly over the initial Quonset “village” for the incoming humans to help dispel the sense of being trapped underground. As the colony expanded into a small city, more “sun lights” were added--which also help illuminate the rough-hewn interior of the cave, a rather boundless, bouldery world of greys, blues, purples, and even a few splashes of deep orange. And the bottom line for all this cave-dwelling? No stray meteors or untoward radiation bursts can affect us in here.
Final important detail: The entrance--a yawning 500-meter-wide slash towards the top of the eastern wall of the cave--is about one klick from the “city.” Our rovers and tractors use the 25-degree trails to and from that opening to access the surface; and all vehicles leave and return to the Garage on the eastern edge of town.
So late on that Tuesday afternoon, I was reading in East Park. I looked up and noticed my friend Ethan’s excursion rover make its rumbling way back through the entrance. It was easy to recognize: A large six-wheel vehicle that resembled an old-style RV like the one I’ve seen in prehistoric family photos, bright yellow (instead of the usual sand-toned), Ethan’s Rider detailed in large blue italicized letters under the front window. No big deal--except that when I saw that it didn’t go to the Base’s Garage, I was more than curious. Instead his vehicle worked its way through the town’s somewhat narrow streets, forcing smaller conveyances to the side or onto walkways, making more than a few pedestrians scramble to safety. It finally made an awkward docking maneuver with Tower C, the Administration building in city center.
An hour or so later, in Mess Hall Two--one of three available to those who wanted a break from cooking in their own quarters--I approached Ethan during our supper hour. There are three staggered hours in each Mess to accommodate the usual crowds. We’re a city of nearly a hundred thousand people; that’s a lot of mouths to feed, which keeps all the farms going round the clock. So I asked if I could join him at his table--he was alone and it’s something we do all the time. I’ve always considered Ethan one of my closer friends on Base since I arrived, so his reluctant “Yes” surprised me somewhat.
The first part of the conversation ended up being small talk about who was dating or mating--Rick and Madi? Really? And what’s with Sven and Harry?--how the expansion was progressing--Ten new buildings by year’s end--and the elections--Do you think Hoshi will run for Colony Commander? All fine and good, but then I asked about Ethan’s Rider.
“Why C Tower? It’s not equipped to handle big off-loads.”
“I can’t talk about it.”
“Oooh, mysterious,” I joked, leaning in. “Must be something big.”
“Seriously, I can’t talk. I’ll get in trouble.” He was clearly uncomfortable as evidenced by his glances around the crowded dining hall.
“Sorry.” I pulled back. “Just an innocent question.”
“Mind your business, Monkey Bars.” The tone was suddenly sharp.
I registered an internal “What the hell” that must’ve been apparent--I don’t exactly have a poker face. “Sorry, kiddo, just curious.”
“Which we know kills cats.”
For the third time: “Sorry.”
“Then drop it.” The strident tone was muffled, under-the-breath, more of a plea.
“All right, all right.” I dropped it, but...
The rest of the meal--about five minutes of watching him shovel his food in as quickly as possible--was silent and tense. And with nothing more than a nod, he got up and left.
What the hell, indeed.
Then came the call the following morning--Wednesday--from Jenna Hilliker, who despite (or is it because of?) everything, is still Base Commander.
Her top floor office in Tower C is spacious even by lunar standards--10 by 10 meters with a steeply vaulted metallic ceiling that boasts not one but three skylights that let in “sunlight” from the stony roof of the cave.
I was ushered in by her assistant, a very humanoid Mechanical named Larken.
Hilliker sat in a high-backed, possibly-leather chair behind her desk--a large slab of polished lunar basalt resting on spidery titanium legs--looking every centimeter the Commander-in-Chief: 40 years old (but who knows?), a salt and pepper crew-cut, squared-off features, battleship grey eyes, a crisp khaki-colored uniform.
“Thanks for coming, Steve.” (Did I have a choice?)
She didn’t get up, which meant I couldn’t shake her hand unless I leaned awkwardly across the desk. She nodded towards the visitor’s chair, a smaller companion to hers, and I sat, feeling somewhat like the naughty school boy being brought into the principal’s office.
I can’t believe how ridiculously inept my opening remark was: “What’s up?” As if we were going to have a pleasant little chit-chat. No, this was serious business. No two ways about it.
“‘What’s up’”--she repeated my words--“is something potentially very serious and we need your help.”
Relief clearly registered on my face; she actually broke into a smile: “What? Did you think you were in trouble?”
“Frankly, yes--and I was trying all morning to figure out what the hell was wrong after your office called.” I admit it: I tend to assume the mantle of guilt in front of authority figures quite easily, which is a surprise since my upbringing and school experiences were anything but rigid or authoritarian. “Well, this isn’t a social call, for sure. But, no, you’re not in trouble. In fact, quite the opposite. We’re pleased with your work.”
My turn to smile. “I haven’t really done much other than organize the anthropology and archaeology sections in the Library. In fact, I’ve always been a bit puzzled by my presence here since I arrived.”
What I thought was: What a weird conversation. What I said was: “As an exoarchaeologist, my work is--at least so far--highly theoretical. We humans haven’t found any extant alien civilizations anywhere we’ve looked. I hypothesize, but I’m not examining actual artifacts or evidence, unless, of course,” I winked and laughed, “you’ve actually found something buried you’re not telling me about.”
She went pale, then quite stone-faced. “Has anyone spoken to you?”
Is she changing the topic? What’s that reaction? “About what?”
“About anything involving the Base.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Has anyone told you something?” She wasn’t spelling it out.
“I’m at a loss here, Commander. I’m confused. I made a joke and I seem to’ve said the wrong thing.”
“Not wrong. Just interesting.” Like grey-eyed Athena, she scrutinized. “Are you sure no one has spoken to you in, say, the last 24 hours.”
“Again, I’m at a loss. About what?
“About anything unusual.”
“What’s this about?”
“Your comment about artifacts.”
“What about it?”
“Because we need your help--and,” she paused, carefully minding her next words, “an artifact may be involved.” She emphasized the word like a cautious lawyer. “An object that may have been delivered to us by a field crew yesterday.”
My lights went on. “Ethan Milnar.”
“Then someone did say something to you.”
“Actually, no. I happened to see his vehicle pulling in yesterday. It came here rather than the Garage. When I asked him about it at dinner, he told me to mind my own business.”
“But you’re friends, right? He didn’t say anything?”
“No. We’re friends, but he said nothing. If you asked him for his silence, he definitely followed orders.”
“Good to know.” She was all business. “But what I brought you here for is your expertise. And your discretion. If we asked Ethan to remain quiet, we’re asking you doubly so. No one, outside of a few very select people, must know about this.”
“About this.” She went over to a set of drawers installed under a bookcase filled with HoloPix of family and friends plus a few very old leather-bound books that must have been worth a fortune. She pulled out a small metal box and went back to her desk.
She slid the box across to me. “Open it, Steve.”
I did. Inside, nestled in foam padding, was a shard of bone--from its slight curvature, perhaps a piece of skull.
“Where did you find this?” I asked.
“About three klicks west from here. That’s all I can say for right now. Not because I’m being evasive. We just don’t know what we’re dealing with.”
“Need to know only at this point. Sorry.”
I took the piece out and turned it in my fingers a few times. “It appears to be a section of a skull. Human.”
The word hung in the air for a moment.
“Ah. Hence the possible need for me--the exoarchaeologist?”
“Exactly. We want you to date the fragment. But we’d like a DNA analysis, too. And we’d like you to work with Ethan--don’t worry, I’ll let him know I spoke with you. I’d like the two of you to head back to the site and see if there are other remains.”
I put the bone back and placed the box back on her desk; she leaned forward and retrieved it, placing it squarely in front of her. Protectively. Probably for the first time in years, I was truly speechless. The questions poured through me: Why the hell was there a skull fragment on the Moon? Where’d it come from? If it was human, what was the cause of death? Was it someone from the early days? Why was he--or she--buried out there? Hilliker said three kilometers--why so far from the Base? Natural causes? Foul play? Accident? Why did she say humanoid--as opposed to human? If it wasn’t human--holy crap--that’ll rattle more than a few cages.
Hilliker could see my cogs whirling around. “You’re up to this, Steve. We have every confidence in you. We also know you’ll treat this as top secret. Absolutely no one must know what you’re doing.”
“Except for Ethan.”
“But what about people in my Archive lab? I can’t do this alone.”
“We’re assigning you two Mechanicals.”
“But won’t using the robots--replacing my regular human assistants--raise questions among the rest of the staff?”
“Which is why you’ll tell them the truth--or a variation of it--that you’re working on something sensitive for the Consortium. It won’t be a problem.”
“Unless someone decides to snoop.”
“Which is why you’ll be using special equipment that can be locked down anytime you or the Mechanicals aren’t around.”
“What about someone hacking into the data?”
I raise an eye. “Seriously? Where there’s a will...”
“...there’s a prison.” She wasn’t smiling. “If anyone tries anything, we’ll be on immediate alert and they’ll be escorted off to the brig before they have a chance to say a word. The Mindwipe is quite effective.”
“And quite painful, sometimes fatal,” I said.
She didn’t respond. Instead: “Are we clear, Steve?”
“About the rules, yes. About the bone itself, about its origins, not so much.”
“And we know you’ll solve the mystery.”
“When do I start?”
“You and Ethan will go to the site tomorrow morning. This bone fragment”--she tapped the box--"and anything you find at that site of a similar nature will be delivered to your lab in the afternoon and retrieved by Security when you’re done for the day. It will be delivered and retrieved every day for your analysis for as long as you need it.”
“Can Security be trusted?”
“They’re Mechanicals programmed by us; only we have their codes.”
“And you trust every one of the ‘we’?”
“My, my, you’re more cynical than I imagined.”
“I’ve read too many novels, seen one too many Holos.”
“I’m glad you’re being so questioning; it proves we made the right choice. You’re looking at all the angles, and you’re doubt-filled. We need a skeptic to make sure we’ll get the right answers.”
And with that our meeting ended. Hilliker got up and walked me to the door. Her tough Commander demeanor slipped for the briefest of moments when she put her hand on my shoulder. “You can do this, Steve. This is why you’re here on the Moon.”
As I walked out and made my way down to the first floor, I replayed Hilliker’s last sentence: “This is why you’re here on the Moon.”
Does that mean they--whoever they are--know something about the Moon they aren’t telling the rest of the world? Was I brought here because they already knew there were bones to be found? Or that bones already had been found? But why an exoarchaeologist? Yes, I’ve got a background in medicine and genomics thanks to some early work at Cambridge--but that wasn’t my focus. I was busy imagining alien civilizations. Is that what this was all about? Was there something here on the Moon? Proof?
Suddenly, my job wasn’t about theories and speculation.
So Dr. Cook--and class--we’re now up to Thursday morning.
Ethan and I were heading out onto the surface in his excursion rover.
“I’m sorry, Monkey Bread,” he said. “I didn’t mean to be such a dick at dinner, but I’m anxious about all this. The Consortium--not to mention Hilliker--can be pretty intimidating.”
“You should’ve seen her yesterday when she asked me to do this. She was right out of a Holo--the imperious matron of a prison unit. Though I couldn’t help but think that some of her tough act was and is a show--not for me or you, but for the Consortium.”
Once we hit the mouth of the cave, we were slapped by the brilliance of the sun against the pale lunar landscape; the Rider’s sunscreens immediately activated. We rumbled away from the Aitken’s entrance. Heading west, the regolith alternated between a dusty sand and rocky debris mingled with monumental boulders.
“Did you stumble across the find--or were you sent?”
“Wow, she really does have you by the nads.”
“Again, I’m sorry Monks, but they’re probably tapping our Coms right now. Anything we say...”
So we spent the next few minutes in a tense silence, watching the moonscape slip by. The blaring sun on this side meant the Nearside was in darkness--a New Moon on Earth. The horizon--only a couple of klicks away--was saw-toothed and, as we got further out, the nearer terrain reasonably smooth with occasional up-swells of basaltic rock.
“It’s up ahead.”
“What am I looking for?”
“You’ll see it, trust me.”
In another moment, I did. A Quonset--a much smaller version of the larger ones in Aitken--stood between a pair of matching five-meter-high monolithic rocks. Were they a bizarre natural feature? Something created by the original settlers? And for what reason? I felt my pulse speed up with the next thought: Or were they erected by something else? Someone else? My imagination was scampering.
As we got closer, I realized that the hut was significantly damaged. Its metallic skin was torn in several spots--as if blown out from the interior--and there were scorch marks emanating from the doorway. What had happened? An explosion? An accident? An attack?
We stopped a few feet from the entrance which appeared to be a large sliding door on a metal track; affixed to it was an old American flag emblem--neither the United Consortium nor the American Consortium shield. This place is seriously old.
“We’ll go inside now.” Ethan’s voice clearly hinted at his nerves; he just wasn’t himself.
“Fine, but I wish you’d open up with me. What the hell’s going on?”
He pointed to his Com implant behind his right ear, shaking his head. I was tempted to say something snide about Consortium Security goons, but for once I filtered my usually too spontaneous mouth and simply acknowledged my understanding with a grudging, quick nod. No use in arguing or forcing an issue.
We went to the rear of Rider and donned the new Belt Units that we’d all been issued just last week. With a press of the “buckle,” we were almost instantly enveloped in a transparent head-to-toe SuitBody; we could hear the nanobot-powered air recyclers kick in. They sure beat the EVA suits we’d been using for the last few decades--even the newer models could be cumbersome. The Belts allowed so much freedom, including wearing “street clothes.” You could walk around in pretty much any exterior environment as if you were inside the city, enclosed only in a thin body-shaped “bubble” of plasma energy that protected you from radiation and any noxious atmosphere--or, in the case of the Moon, the lack thereof. A marvel.
We left Rider and headed towards the bruised entrance. Low gravity and the consistently stony ground of the Farside kept us walking gingerly and methodically.
The closer we got, the more I could see how damaged the entire facility really was.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I’m showing you something inside.”
The door slid open fairly easily revealing an interior now bathed in light from emergency lamps that floated like oversized fireflies around the room. (They were probably placed there by a previous away team.) I guessed the hut to be about 4 meters wide and about 8 long. A few workbenches lined the curving walls. The center of the room had what appeared to be wooden flooring some of which had been pulled up a little left of center.
“Wood on the Moon? Now there’s a sight.” I said aloud.
But Ethan pointed towards the exposed soil. “That’s where the fragment was found. We’ll need to dig more.”
As if on cue, five Mechanicals walked through the door we’d left open. Gleaming white, 2 meters tall, and decidedly human in appearance, each one bore some type of digging tool either in its hands or in a haversack.
“Where’d they come from?”
“They’ve been here since the discovery, outside, in rest mode. They’ve been waiting for us.” He then addressed them: “Okay fellas, it’s time. We need more of this area in the middle excavated. Be careful. If you find anything, let us know before proceeding.”
They began immediately, shovelful by shovelful. More and more planks cautiously being removed. For two full hours.
And then: “Over here, gentleman.” The lead Mechanical--Roger was printed on his chest next to a Consortium logo--raised his hand. “I’ve found something.”
Ethan and I walked over. There it was. Another bone sticking out of the grimy grey lunar soil.
I carefully walked into the dig site. Kneeling, I could see clearly what it was. A leg bone. A tibia. I brushed aside more dirt. A broken piece of fibula rested immediately next to it.
Unless some alien species was an exact match, I was willing to bet I was looking at human remains, but I’d have to determine that in my lab.
“Extract these, please,” I ordered. “And uncover the entire floor of this hut. Keeping digging. You have my permission.” Just in case, I looked at Ethan to make sure I had the authority; he nodded. As if the Mechanicals needed further assurances, a voice came through our Coms. It was Hilliker: “Yes, proceed. And carefully bag and label everything. Do thorough imaging as well. We want a complete record of the site.”
And so it went for the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening. Digging. Imaging. And bones. Many more bones. The skeletal remains of at least five persons. I could see this would easily be the work of several more days, probably a week.
Normally, I think I’d be over the Moon with unfettered excitement. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist; I’ve been wanting to say that for the longest time.) A lunar excavation site with the remains of once living beings? Who were they? When was the hut built? What was going on here? Which came first--the skeletal remains or the hut itself? How and why was the hut damaged? Dozens of pulse-quickening questions. But all of that was tempered with the ominous feeling of being used, of being part of something the Consortium clearly wanted to keep underwraps and under control. This was their show and nobody else’s. I was--and I assume Ethan was--merely a tool, part of something that I might never fully know about. This was like the 20th century’s Manhattan Project or the 21st century’s Project Staghorn. People working on something, being told to keep their mouths shut, and never completely realizing what they were part of until it was all over.
So my awe and wonder were definitely tempered--and my natural tendency to shout from rooftops was being squelched.
Yet--despite the buzz kill--there was something wondrous happening. Until now, all that humans had been able to discover on another world was microbial life--on Mars and five of the gas and ice giant moons. And aside from some intriguing “signals” from deep space, finding a bonafide extraterrestrial civilization had been full of dead ends. There was still that part of me dazzled by the idea that I might be having the chance to identify and analyze remains from once-living alien beings found someplace other than planet Earth. Or perhaps--just as remarkable--identifying and analyzing mysterious human remains that had somehow gotten buried here in the thick gravel of the Moon several kilometers away from the nearest settlement.
It’s now Friday--the day after our initial visit to the site--and we’re in my lab in the Library building. It’s a gleaming room of Screens and work tables, MicroSeers and good old-fashioned test tubes.
Commander Hilliker came in, placing a disrupter on my workbench. I must admit, I was deeply suspicious.
“A disrupter? Illegal tech?”
“For fifteen minutes, they won’t care--especially since I’ve rigged it to look like a System malfunction.”
“Because that won’t raise flags.”
“I doubt it. They’re installing a whole new Com link in Building G. A fifteen-minute outage won’t matter. Trust me.”
“One of the perks of being the Commander?”
Was that a self-effacing, almost-a-smile look I saw? But it quickly disappeared. “We’re down to 14 minutes; let me fill you in on what’s been going on.”
“Why the change of heart?”
“Because I like you; I like Ethan. I don’t appreciate seeing any of us screwed over by the system.”
“Which you represent. Why should I be trusting you now--especially in the middle of this supposed Consortium assignment?”
“I don’t blame you for being wary.”
“Wary doesn’t even begin to cover it.”
We watched the various machines in front of us clicking and calculating. Any moment now.
“Be honest: Do you already know the results I’ll get?” I asked.
“Possibly, but before I tell you what I do know, I want to see those results. To verify or refute what I’ve been told.”
And so we watched a little longer. Me, Hilliker, and the two Mechanicals who stood like sentinels at the door.
It was one of the longer minutes of my life.
Then--finally--after a quiet ratcheting sound, a magnified section of a DNA strand fizzed into view, rotating slowly, floating in the air over my workspace. Above and below the spiral with different colors representing the chemical components, a few math formulae faded in and out of view along with an analysis chart off to the side.
Realizing we were pressed for time, I quickly tapped into my Archive Com to verify the results--reanalyzing the strand, recalculating the math, rereading the chart at least three times.
Impatiently Chron-watching, Hilliker finally broke the silence. “So?”
“Human. Definitely human. But.”
I raised my hand for quiet--which I’m sure surprised the Commander--I imagined her calling me a cheeky bastard--and checked the numbers again.
“The bones are human, that’s definite. But the results say they’re between 300 and 325 years old, which would mean the original sample and all these other remains could date as far back as the mid-1950s--which is impossible.” I turned and saw a Cheshire cat smile spread across Hilliker’s face.
“Son of a bitch,” she muttered. “Not the mid-1950’s, but maybe the mid-1960’s.”
“And is this what you were planning on telling me?” I asked.
“You need to sit, Steve. I’ve got a story for you.”
As I turned off the display, she checked the disrupter ball. Satisfied it was fully operational--“We’ve got another few minutes”--we took our places on two work stools. The Mechanicals remained at a distance--standing guard or listening in; I couldn’t guess which.
“So. You were right, Steve. If these remains had indeed proven to be alien--as in visitors from another planet--yes, that would’ve been a major game changer. But they’re not. They’re human. Twentieth century human.”
Meanwhile, I just sat there wondering what the hell was happening. “The 1960’s? Really?”
“Really. Here’s the ‘truth’,” she made air quotes, “as I know it. The truth uncovered through lots of behind the scenes digging around. Believe me, I owe lots of folks lots of favors. Who knows if it’s the whole truth or just part of a larger narrative? One never knows with the Consortium.”
I didn’t know what surprised me more. Her openness or her doubts about the Consortium. Yet chief among my reservations was the possibility that this whole conversation was bull. Was this tête-à-tête nothing more than a quite vivid, award-winning act? Was she feigning everything? Testing my loyalty? Testing my ability to keep my mouth shut?
Yet...there was an intangible something about her whole demeanor that made me think she was actually being honest with me. That she’d been wanting to open up to someone who wasn’t part of the system for a long time. Was that my sixth sense--or good old-fashioned projection? Truth or attributing a wish?
“Here’s what I’ve been told--take it or leave it. Are you familiar with the name Project Horizon?”
I smiled at the memory of my mother telling me about it, a kind of bedtime fairytale. “Supposedly the American government’s plan to build a military Base on the Farside.”
“I’m not sure I like where this is going.”
“Why? If it’s the truth, it’s the truth. And apparently it is. What Ethan Milnar uncovered is the remnant of an old military base finished in 1966. It housed around a dozen men and women--a full three years before Apollo 11 made the supposed first landing. It operated for nearly twenty years, growing to hold close to a hundred people in twelve buildings.”
Suddenly, my filter was off: “That is some serious bullshit, Commander. How could anyone have constructed the transport rockets, brought up the supplies, let alone convey the personnel given the state of rocketry in the 1960s? It’s ridiculous.”
“And yet here we are. You saw what you saw and DNA doesn’t lie.”
“I don’t trust the Consortium. I barely trust you, sorry to say. I don’t mean disrespect, but it’s the truth.”
“The Consortium could’ve built this whole site for some bizarre, yet-to-be-discovered reason; they could’ve planted those skeletons.”
“Just like some people thought the Moon landings were all a hoax?”
“And for what purpose? Why go to all the trouble? Isn’t that ‘serious bullshit,’ too?”
I was flummoxed by the whole proposition. “Besides, why hasn’t anyone from Aitken come across the site before? It’s been around a long time; it’s a pretty decent-sized city these days. Is that probable? Science teams travel west all the time--dozens of missions a year. None of them found it? Seriously? Two monolithic rocks? A half-destroyed Quonset in the middle of nowhere? And then where’s the rest of this alleged Base?”
It was Hilliker’s turn to put up a hand. “All good questions. Two minutes, Steve, two minutes. Let me finish. There’s more.”
I guessed: “The monoliths?”
Let me pick up on Saturday morning and finish the story:
“How long?” Ethan asked.
“Ten minutes. I’ll claim another glitch in the system. Hilliker’ll back us up.”
We were out by the damaged hut again.
“So how much do you really know?” I asked.
“Hilliker told me everything. You might as well tell me your version.”
He looked at me as if he were weighing what to do; the anxiety was palpable. But after a few moments he exhaled. “All right. Let’s do this.” He walked over to a metal locker that was partially tipped and opened the warped door. If there’d been air, I could imagine the sound of an un-oiled, rusty creak despite there being no rust on the Moon.
Inside were large map rolls, one of which he brought over to a workbench along the wall and unfurled it. I quickly saw it depicted the local region--I recognized a few of the features.
“Aitken cave--over here on the map--was the original Base. 1966. This hut was one of twelve built out here--near missile launchers.”
“Where are the other huts? The launchers?”
“Why is this one left?”
“That’s one of the mysteries. I honestly don’t know. But first things first. Go back to your lab and look for DNA matches for the remains we found. What you’ll find are matches from a long time ago, one of them being a distant forefather of mine. About 12 generations ago another Milnar worked inside this hut.”
“Seriously? You have proof?” “Your lab results should prove it.”
“Why would the Consortium allow that--especially if they’re part of a cover up? This whole story has serious holes in it. If this were a Holo, I’d be cringing at this point.”
“Let me go on, please.” Like Hilliker, he seemed seriously relieved to be getting this saga off his chest. “When I was back on Earth, I’d heard the stories and had my suspicions, but then Hilliker contacted me when she was last there--about three years ago--and told me she’d been researching the same story. She’d heard one of her distant relatives had been part of Project Horizon, too. She wanted the proof. Since I was an engineer and a construction expert, there would be a logic to her requesting my transfer to Aitken.”
“Again, I ask: Why bother? Even if it’s true, why would the Consortium want this known? It’s been denied for thirty decades.” I just rolled my eyes, more out of frustration than anything else.
“Let me finish.” He waited for me to nod. “Why bother, you ask? Because what happened when the Americans got here was beyond remarkable.” Another pause. “Why bother? Because the monoliths were placed here thousands--or millions--of years ago by alien visitors. What are they? Who knows? A greeting? A weapon? A marker?”
I couldn’t help it. I burst into spontaneous laughter. “Oh my God! This is the same bull that Hilliker told me yesterday. Alien monoliths? Really? That’s called 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it’s one of the great Holos of the 20th century. Seriously? Monoliths on the Moon?” Lots more laughter.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“2001? You don’t know it? It’s an old film--you can watch it in any Holo archive these days. They find a monolith on the Moon that’s clearly alien in origin. It leads to a mission to Jupiter, which is seen as the source for the object. Anyway. You’re both telling me that the two rocks on either side of this hut were placed here? Placed by aliens? That’s the official story?”
“There’s no official story at all. Just lots of denials and unofficial, wink-wink stories. Let me go on.”
“By all means; this is getting good.”
“So the Base was originally built because the American government was afraid the Soviet Union--the old name for the Russian Consortium--was going to use the Moon as a military Base to attack the States and its allies. But then the monoliths were discovered--and that just sparked another fear going around in the mid-20th: namely, UFOs and malevolent visitors from space. Now the Base had a dual purpose: To stop the Soviets from attacking us and to ward off space invaders.”
I was still really trying not to laugh. “Can’t you see why I’m finding this all hard to swallow?”
“Oh, I get it, Monks. Really, I do. But if you let me finish, I can...”
“Can’t you see that this is probably a hoax? Monoliths on the Moon? They’re stone; they’re slabs of basalt. Believe me, I’d love for them to be alien, but I’m just finding the whole scenario tough to swallow.”
“Then why are they standing upright? It’s geologically impossible, Monks.”
“Not necessarily. Think of all the natural features on Earth that were mysteries until science unraveled the answers.”
But he moved along: “On top of that, if you do more analysis, I think you’re going to find out the bodies we found were murdered. You’re right. They--whoever they were--seemed intent on destroying everything. So why leave this one hut? Why leave these few human remains? Was it on purpose? Or did someone stop them before they could finish the cover-up?”
“The aliens stopped them?”
“Who knows, Monks. We also think the Consortium knows about our digging around and actually wants us to discover the truth--and leak the information. If we do their work, they can claim they had no idea and can take over the investigation.”
“If that’s the case, Ethan, then why bother hiding these conversations? If they already know, why do you and Hilliker use all the disrupters and Com glitches?”
“Because if we’re wrong, it’ll halt our work. We’re erring on the side of caution. But everything I’ve told you so far leads up to this. Our proof.”
“About the monoliths.”
I checked my Chron. “You better hurry. Our time’s almost up.”
“Hilliker and I’ve tracked down a lead on some proof. Supposedly, there was an artifact that was returned to Earth shortly after the Base was in operation.”
“Allegedly, next to one of the monoliths was a small metallic globe--about 25 centimeters across--inscribed with writing--maybe it’s something similar to the Golden Record we sent on the Voyager I craft.”
“Where’s this globe?”
“Supposedly back on Earth at the Consortium’s New York headquarters--‘hidden in plain sight’.” He rolled up the map and placed it back in the locker. “Hilliker has the only notes about the inscriptions in her possession. Unfortunately, there’s no photographic record.”
“Of course not.” My head was still reeling. “I’m havin’ a really tough time buying all this. Too many holes. Too many improbabilities.”
“And despite the flat Earth, people still sailed into the unknown.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Suspend your disbelief, Monks. Go along with it. See where it takes you.”
“Probably no place good.”
We both heard our Coms switch on--a clicking sound deep in our heads. “Ah, we’re back on.” Ethan winked. “Gee, Monks. I wonder what’s causing all these disruptions?”
I played along, though still a bit stunned. “Ghosts maybe?”
It’s still Saturday--later that afternoon--and we’re back in Hilliker’s office.
She pressed a button, and the corridor windows darkened. “We’ve got six minutes.”
“The way you keep using them, I’m surprised Disruptor’s haven’t been made illegal.”
“That’s prescient of you. It’s on the agenda for the next Assembly meeting. Which is why I need to get this out in a hurry. Do your results confirm our intel?”
“To a tee. DNA matches for Ethan Milnar and Jenna Hilliker. Your forebears were definitely at that Base in the 1960s.”
It was hard to read Hilliker’s reaction. Pleased? Affirmed? Angered? She’s such a damn sphynx.
“So here’s what we’d like you to do.”
“Ethan. Myself. A couple of others Earthside. A couple of Consortium moles. We’d like you to use our connections with Undertow...”
“...the underground news outfit?”
“That one. Yes. We’d like you to go to Undertow and tell them what you’ve found. Tell them about everything--the destruction of the Project Horizon base and the remains, about the monoliths and the artifact.”
“And if the higher ups realize I was the source?”
“Our moles will definitely keep things in check; they’re pretty high up. And Undertow is discreet.”
“What if Undertow isn’t as discreet as you believe? What if your Consortium moles fail?”
“The President will disavow the story or she’ll praise the story. I’m still not convinced the hierarchy hasn’t set this whole thing up so that they can grab headlines: ‘The Consortium Discovers Truth About Base.’ ‘Alien Civilization Has Visited Us.’ That sort of thing.”
“Or,” I said, “it could be the one thing they don’t want leaked out, especially if it was their ancestors who were behind destroying the Base.”
“A possibility, for sure. So, yes, if you’re found out, it could do a real number on your career. Or not. You could end up being the hero if they want to frame it that way.”
“You know there’s a part of me that wants to do this, don’t you? You wouldn’t have brought me into this whole craziness if you didn’t think I’d be up for it. I’m an exoarchaeologist who finally has a chance to practice his craft. But, lady, there are some serious lacunae in the story. Why wasn’t the entire Base destroyed? Were the destroyers--whoever they might be--interrupted? Was leaving behind some evidence purposeful? Did someone hope the site would be discovered? Then there’s the whole issue of timing. Aitken’s been around for a very long time. How is it even remotely possible that a site barely 3 klicks from town has never been discovered before? How are you or anyone going to explain that one? I’m sure there are lots of questions like that. Undertow will want to know; so will the public if the story actually gets out.” I stopped to catch my breath.
I found the whole situation remarkable.
What the hell was Hilliker asking me to do? I’m just a lab-based scientist, not some undercover government agent.
“You’ll be bringing this with you.” She pulled out a small flip-lid container from her tunic pocket. “This holds a biochip with my signed statement, images of the site, and above all drawings of the markings on the object.”
James Freakin’ Bond.
Jason Freakin’ Bourne.
And now: Stevia Freakin’ Monkfruit, Super-Agent.
I am so screwed.
And so I left the Moon on the following Monday.
Sitting in the lounge of the luxury transport--Selene V--I kept nervously looking out the viewport watching the Moon shrink incrementally. Every moment it got smaller meant I was closer to Orion Station where I’d be held for a week to reacclimate myself to Earth’s gravity and atmospheric pressure.
And after that week? Then what?
I shivered every time I thought about it.
Hilliker’s “official” nanochip--the one displaying the Holo document saying I was on a sensitive mission for the lunar Consortium to the Council--was safely tucked in the Port on my left arm. It would easily pass scrutiny.
The not-so-official document--the biochip that probably wouldn’t register on the Scanners because it’s gentech not nanotech--was surgically implanted in my colon, the way those old-time runners would stuff drugs in bags in people’s rear ends back in the cartel days. She told me if the chip scanned at all, it would appear to be an internal hemorrhoid.
Great. Just great. Hilliker’s mule. With freakin’ hemorrhoids.
They told me seven days, so I tried to make the most of it. Orion is a sight to behold: It floats majestically in synchronous orbit 35 thousand klicks above the equator. Its six enormous wheels--each named after an explorer--are spaced half a kilometer apart, each spinning to create one gee gravity, each connected by spokes to a central three-klick-long cylinder that allows easy movement from wheel to wheel. The “rehab” unit where I was staying takes up much of Frobisher Ring (after the explorer who searched for a Northwest passage back in the 16th century). If you don’t know it, anyone travelling from the Moon, Mars, or the Asteroids is now required by law to spend a week’s recoup time in Fro Ring; to do otherwise would mean serious or permanent injury not to mention some prison time.
But not to worry. No cabin fever here. Fro is seriously decked out. And if you’re like me--on a so-called “Executive Mission” from the Commander of Aitken to the Consortium High Council in New York--well, then, break out the caviar and champagne, fellas.
Of course, all the luxury in space couldn’t keep me from looking over my shoulder, constantly wondering whether the chip up my bum would be detected before I shuttled Downstairs. (I cringe--and smile--at the very words: a chip up my bum. Sorry for the crudity, but that’s what it was.)
So when I say it was a “mixed” week for me emotionally, I’m putting it mildly--and when I was finally given the go-ahead to leave, I let out a sigh I’m sure could be heard ‘round the entire Station. The infamous bum chip remained undiscovered.
I was put on a private shuttle that flew directly to the Port at Consortium Headquarters on Broadway and 181st Street.
In New Darwin, you live in an underwater city--in a sense, you chose to embrace the flooding seas. Not so the New York branch of the American Consortium. What used to be Washington Heights is now the epicenter of Manhattan. Much of what was 21st century New York is under 18 to 20 meters of river, harbor, or ocean. Whole sections of the old downtown and waterfront skyline are now submerged, leaving only towering fingers of metal and glass emerging from the lapping waves. Some of those buildings remain standing, interconnected with skywalks, but many are condemned, awaiting either a natural collapse or a planned demolition depending on which demise will prove less dangerous to the surrounding structures that are still deemed safe.
Hilliker told me the artifact could be anywhere in the complex of buildings making up Headquarters--perhaps in the President’s office--or more likely (according to one of her sources) in a Council office. Or somewhere else entirely. If I kept my eyes peeled, I might find it. Meanwhile, my magical bum chip would be removed by an operative who just happened to be the President’s personal secretary, a Nigerian named Odalauh Okeke. He might also be able to help me find the “probable” location.
And then what? Okeke would make sure Undertow got the information on the chip, but what would we--what would I--do if the actual artifact were to be uncovered? What then? Would I bring that to the press as well?
But those thoughts slipped away for the moment when I landed--10 AM. The Port was a grassy, soccer-sized field next to the Consortium complex, two massive buildings constructed to imitate architectural aspects of the old, long-since water-logged United Nations Building down on 42nd Street.
New fears settled in.
There was Okeke--nearly seven feet, slender, sinewy--waiting for me at the bottom of the shuttle’s ramp.
He smiled. Friendly enough.
But still the fear washed through me.
Screwed. So screwed.
At 10:30, the chip was removed in Okeke’s secured office--during another one of those mysterious, brief Com outages. I’ll spare you the embarrassing details, though I must say Okeke handled the situation with as much dignity and discretion as he could muster. Within minutes, the message was transmitted as an encrypted Archive over the Library system--to an outsider it would appear to be a summary of the last Council meeting. The send button was hit just as the Com system came back on--a close call. Over the next hour, its contents were split by some of Okeke’s deep channel friends into discrete units and dispatched to Undertow over different channels from five widespread Manhattan locations--all in the effort to make tracing the original source a little more difficult. Looking back, I’m still impressed by the speed of the whole operation; clearly, everyone was more than ready.
To anyone watching us over the Com--or listening to the conversation--Okeke and I were discussing lunar cities and their respective futures. Since I was an exoarchaeologist, my task was to devise time capsules and other means of preserving lunar history for future generations; in other words, I was to invent something for future archaeologists to uncover should the lunar cities ever be abandoned for whatever reason. I’m sure we sounded quite convincing, especially since several aspects--like the time capsules--were indeed being considered by the Consortium.
Around 11:45, a light blinked on Okeke’s desk console. He tapped his Com, listened for a moment, and then tapped it off.
“We can begin our tour now. Security just called. They’ve cleared the Atrium for us.”
“Well, don’t I feel special.”
“You are. The President wanted to give you the VIP treatment.”
“Honored, indeed.” We both made sure we weren’t milking the scene for any potential eavesdroppers. Just a polite exchange.
And thus we began our treasure hunt, expecting to come up empty-handed. But then:
“Odalauh. Look.” I spoke very quietly despite knowing we were being monitored.
We were walking down the ramp from the administrative building into the General Assembly’s remarkable grand hall--an immense space of glass and marble. Suspended mid-air above the floor was a Calder-like mobile--we’d all seen it many times in Holos and Com reports over the years. It was a sculpture representing the Pleiades--the Seven Sisters.
Hidden in plain sight.
There it was. The artifact--a 25-centimeter silver globe covered in hieroglyphic markings--was hanging with six slightly smaller bronze spheres, each representing the stars of the Pleiades. The silver globe was placed to represent Alcyone, the brightest star in the Pleiades. Very clever.
Feeling quite bold, I tapped my Com twice--which sent what I was seeing to the general public. Anyone on Social Mode would probably sense my link and focus on it. In moments, images of the artifact would be pouring through the heads of countless people.
As I expected, Security guards began to appear and slowly descended to the Atrium floor. Yet I didn’t sense my Com being shut down. In fact, I had the feeling that any attempts to freeze me out were being thwarted.
And suddenly, along with the images of the artifact, Hilliker’s avatar appeared in everyone’s Com--like yours down in New Darwin--telling listeners and viewers about the lunar Base, about the mysterious monoliths, about the skeletal remains at the hut.
Security picked up their pace, but then stopped a few meters short of our position. After Hilliker’s image dissolved, the President appeared--Sera Sonjohnkoksoong, a middle-aged Thai woman dressed in a colorful sabai. She smiled. “Well done, Mr. Monkfruit.”
It was Okeke who spoke up: “What next, Madame President?”
“Absolutely nothing. I’ll see to that.”
I was taken aback. “Nothing?”
“Nothing. It’s time to end this charade.”
Which proved the possibility that Hilliker and I had discussed back in Aitken: The Consortium had secretly wanted the discovery--and Hilliker, Ethan, and I were the means to get it out there without the Consortium looking foolish.
As you know, by the afternoon, the Consortium lowered the Artifact--now always spoken of with a capital “A”--in full view of the world and the scientists like myself who would study it.
So here we are. There’s not much more I can share with you. It’s a few months later, and no one knows much more than they did when I was first brought into the picture. Or so the Consortium claims.
Certainly President Sonjohnkoksoong has pulled off a political victory for herself primarily by throwing the American government of three hundred years ago under the proverbial bus. “It was America’s participation in a needless Cold War that provoked the building of the secret Base. When they discovered the Artifact, the military hid it from their Commander-in-Chief, from America’s citizens, and from the rest of the world. Their ultimate reasoning remains inscrutable and unsavory, clearly the work of control freaks and micro managers. Perhaps worst of all--after retrieving the Artifact and bringing it to Earth, they destroyed the Base and slaughtered the good men who had gone to the Base in good faith. Now, many, many years later, thanks to the inventive work of Commander Jenna Hilliker and her team, we know about the two great monoliths and the Artifact found by them. We know that we humans are not alone and that the Universe is potentially full of ineffable civilizations.”
Of course, her “explanation”--broadcast around the world via the Consortium Network and over every personal Com system on the planet--still hasn’t explained so many things--things that scientists like me want to know. Things that you and your class down at the University have asked me about. Undertow has certainly done its best to keep the questions in the foreground, though as time has gone on--and the next news cycle, and the one after that, and the one after have unfolded--those questions have gotten pushed to the side.
You know them; you’ve asked me about them. I’ve rehearsed them with you more than once in this response. Why was any evidence left behind? How could the remaining portion of the Base remain undetected for so many years? How long has the Consortium really known about the Artifact and the monoliths? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
It’s all a big political game, isn’t it? But that’s the way things always seem to go. Always mired in Etcetera. The all-important questions that get brushed away before the important, inconvenient, embarrassing answers can be spoken. Etcetera is the fly paper that traps everything and makes getting at the truth nearly impossible. Cynical, aren’t I?
But while I mutter and quietly fume about the way of the world, I’m back on the Moon again and have free reign at the dig site. I spend hours each week--often with the help of Ethan--studying the monoliths, trying to understand their structure, composition, and their meaning (if there is one other than an interstellar “We were here”). As for the capital “A” Artifact, I spend (along with a few colleagues down on Earth) just as much time attempting to decipher its content, hoping one day for a Rosetta Stone, hoping for the eureka moment when I can tell everyone about the civilization that once visited our strange little solar system tucked among the billion stars and countless nebulas of the Milky Way.
Of course, each week new questions arise, or old ones are re-visited. The one I’m pondering today is an old one: Why leave the monoliths on the Moon? Why not on Earth? Or did “they” leave some down there, and we just haven’t discovered them yet? Or have they been found and that’s just another cover-up?
The biggest take-away from all this is that there are often mysteries that remain mysteries, might always remain mysteries. We can keep struggling, for example, to understand the Big Bang or the concept of a Multiverse, but in the end, we simply may never know where the material for the Bang came from or if there really are parallel universes.
And that, my new friends, is the greatest challenge we humans face, isn’t it? Can we live in a world where some things remain ambiguous at best? Can we live in the Grey when we long for, yearn for, beg for the Black or the White? Can we--to borrow an ancient title--live in the Cloud of Unknowing?
Well, that’s all I have for now. I hope I’ve helped flesh-out the version of the story you’ve been fed. I realize that everyone--from Com Network pundits to the Consortium--has a version. I’m sure it’s difficult to rummage through all that--so I’m glad you wrote to hear my angle. May it prove helpful.
Feel free to contact me again. Who knows, I may have more insights at some point. Just know that despite some frustrations, the work is wonderful. The guy with the silly name forges ahead and leaves the politics to the bureaucrats, loving instead the sound of this simple two-word sentence: Monkfruit investigates.
With that thought, I wish you all the best. Have a wonderful, productive semester.