Full Earth

    I never know which is worse during Full Earth: being alone or being with people. Either way is hazardous. When I first came to the Moon I thought all the “Full Earth” stuff was bullshit, but now I know better.
     So when Judy Hralt called me and invited me out on the day of Full Earth, I hesitated. After a moment she said, “You remember me, right? Judy? We met at the eclipse party? You said you’d probably be free during Full Earth and would guide me.”
     Judy of the amethyst eyes. Of course I remembered her. We’d watched the dark globe of Earth pass in front of the Sun and gain a shimmering red nimbus all around. She’d seemed so naïve. “A few months ago I didn’t even know the Moon was a PLACE where you could go!” she’d gushed. “It’s so cool to be here.”
     That was two weeks ago, and now it was Full Earth.
     “Hello? Alain?”
     “Yes, Judy, of course I remember. You’re going to take the Test, aren’t you?”
     “Yeah. When you said we should get together for Full Earth, I thought you were being romantic,” Judy said. She quavered. “Now I feel really lucky to be able to have your experience to rely on.”
     “Experience doesn’t do you any good,” I said. “It’s nothing you can study for. The Test measures your biological ability to withstand gravity fluctuations. Might as well study in order to change your blood type.”
     “Well anyway I thought we could meet at the Moon Dawg at the spaceport an hour or so before Full starts, unless you have some other place in mind? The Moon Dawg has a Test booth.”
     “Moon Dawg it is.” I hung up and got back to work.
     Back on Earth, the courts and crazyhouses get clogged during the full Moon. Grunion writhe ashore to mate and wolves howl when the Moon is at the top of the sky at midnight.
     The mass of the Earth is 80 times greater than the mass of the Moon, so the tidal effects of the Earth on the Moon are 80 times greater, too. All the vagaries of human behavior were 80 times more likely to happen on the Moon during full Earth; a smart Lunie keeps a wary eye on his neighbors during Full.
     A couple of hours later it was the end of my work day. They don’t have a Tested Full-proof technician for the top job at the garbage dump, so that shift is down-time. I began shutting down the giant roaring cauldron of activity around the Big Burner. Covers slid across the tops of the tanks of materials arranged all around the central laser.
     Fresh stuff is always coming into the dump, too. I threw more switches and stopped the inflow of effluents from the city. Recovering light elements was the most important thing for the humans on the Moon because there are so few light elements. But everything was shut down for Full.

     I finished shutting down the garbage dump and stepped out the door into the connecting tunnel to Mud Street.
     Mud Street isn’t very muddy any more. It started as a rich vein of ice that led down a thousand feet under the lunar surface near the south pole. The ice was quickly quarried, leaving a tunnel a hundred feet in diameter that meandered four miles in a twisting and turning wormtrack path.
     The last drop of water was salvaged long ago and the ice miners moved to other veins. The street is all grass and trees and the air there is wonderful. The ceiling is grow lights.
     I got on the slidewalk leading to the commercial district. There were many other people afoot, but there was little talk among us; each was huddled against Full.
     The Americans, of course, were first on the Moon. They acted like Americans always do when away from home: they took a lot of pictures, wandered aimlessly for a while, picked up a few souvenirs and left a big mess behind.
     It was the Chinese who went to the Moon next. Their inscrutable science had found a quiet and clean method of utilizing fusion power, and the Moon held something very valuable to them: nothing. They saw how Western civilization was drowning in its own by-products and figured the best way to avoid industrial pollutants was to dump the pollutants onto the surface of the Moon. This necessitated building factories on the Moon.
     They never actually got that far, though. Their series of manned missions set up a fusion plant, constructed living quarters for 30 people, and started mining operations. Durlng the third month of their occupancy, they suddenly ceased all communications. The next ship discovered the bodies, all killed by explosive decompression.
     The puzzling part was that it was not an accident. Records and transcripts showed that the officer of the watch had bypassed all fail-safes and deliberately opened all airlocks at 2 a.m. (local time). All mission members were killed in their sleep. The watch officer made no preparations for himself and died with the rest.
     That was the first example of what they now call Full Earth Psychosis, but it sure wasn’t the last. Nobody’s sure what causes it — maybe it’s a reverberation of the same primitive sense that enables an oyster in a bucket in a basement in Cleveland to open its shell at the right time for the tides, if there were an ocean in Cleveland.
     Today the moon is the site of most heavy manufacturing for Earth. Whatever isn’t done in orbit. Railguns supply raw materials for factories in orbit around Earth. On the side facing Earth we have the immense flat arrays of casting wells for video screens — slabs of silicon with a fury of buckytubes. On Farside is the vast growing array of radio and optical telescopes the robots are building.
     I arrived at the spaceport and stepped off the slidewalk at the Moon Dawg. Judy was sitting at a table — with another man. Their skin had the plumpness of muscles tugging six times harder than necessary against gravity. It takes a month or two for the muscles to learn where they were. “Hi, Judy,” I said. “Welcome to your first Full Earth.”
     They looked at each other. They weren’t smiling. The man had a large ring of sweat under each arm. Judy blurted, “Has it started yet?”
     “Sure it’s started.” I extended my hand to the man as I sat down. “Hi, I’m Alain Rokkor.”
     “Leo Hastings,” he said without looking me in the eye. At least he shook my hand.
     “Leo’s a pilot for a railgun catcher ship,” Judy said. They were both as nervous as hell; well, who wouldn’t be? Their smiles were forced and larger than life and they gripped their glasses tightly.
     After a few sips Judy began tugging at her short blond hair. “Is Full really so bad?” she asked. She grimaced, as if regretting her choice of words. “I mean, they never mentioned it back at prospector’s school, except to laugh at. And my mother was here for a vacation once and she said she didn’t know what all the fuss was about.”
     “She probably got here a week or so before Full,” I said. “It takes your body a while to get into the rhythm of the place.”
     “Everybody I’ve asked about it just sort of laughs and says, ‘Oh, you’ll find out.'” said Leo Hastings. “And they wouldn’t even let me try the exams until Full. So all I’ve been doing for the last two weeks is worrying how Full will affect me. I think all this “Full Earth” crap is superstitious bullshit. Next you’ll be telling me to watch out for werewolves.” He sniffed and took a large sip of his drink, inadvertantly sloshing his tunic.
     I smiled at his gee accident and handed him a napkin. “I think those old legends are true parables,” I said. “Some people are more susceptible to whatever forces cause Full mania. When a man with a three-day beard and dried blood on his face and blackened eyes accosts you and demands your money — when he turns out to be one of your friends, you’re shocked by your lack of recognition. He wasn’t himself that day… but when it starts to happen every Full, you’ve got a werewolf.”
     “Somebody told me it was like a full-moon New Year’s Eve the day after a war ended,” Judy said. She fingered her hair abstractly and looked down into her drink. I noticed a large vein pulsing in her neck. “Doing it once a month might be too often.”
     “Did you meet back on Earth, or here?” I asked.
     “Oh, at Canaveral,” said Leo. “They were filling the cans alphabetically, and we were in half a six-pack. Three days!”
     “Three days of zero gravity,” Judy said. “I was sick all the way.”
     “Attention,” a mechanical voice said from the bar’s speaker systems. “The eclipse will begin in one minute.” Our table was a meter in diameter of wall screen doing its best to imitate formica (and doing a pretty decent job, except for the give-away texture), but with the announcement it suddenly became a view screen looking down on a basketball-sized Earth surrounded by intense points of light. Mars flared bright near the edge of the screen. North America was in view. We moved our glasses and wiped the table to get a better view of Earth and watched it as the penumbra appeared and then the umbra expanded into a dime-sized black dot moving across the continent.
     Tourists always marvel at the number of video screens we have on the Moon. All the vacuum casting is done on the Moon now, so we save the shipping costs. You can display just about anything from an old movie to a convincing wall with fireplace. If you can afford the Combux, you can punch into the Library of Congress (at a Combuck a minute) and get lifelike 3-D. In fact, a lot of surfaces on the moon turn out to be video screens. We use them to bring scenery inside our rooms.
     The eclipse lasted twelve minutes and then it was over. We were at the peak of Full.
     “Isn’t it odd that there was a Lunar eclipse two weeks ago, and now a Solar eclipse?” Leo asked.
     “No, it happens all the time,” I said. “The eclipses often come in pairs. It’s just that on Earth you’re isolated from most of the Solar eclipses, and from the Moon you can see every one of them.”
     “So we’re at peak of Full now, and so we can take your goddamn Test, right?” Leo said.
     “You can take the Test at any time four hours either side of Full,” I said. “Only about 15% of people can pass the Test.”
     “I can pass any test you’ve got,” Leo said.
     “I used to think the same thing myself,” I said. I couldn’t believe I’d failed the Test the first few times. It’s always very abstract and multi-dimensional — an audio circuit wouldn’t be enough to reproduce the Test, although it’s necessary. But it’s not sufficient. Nor is video. So it’s kind of impossible to explain what the Test is to a new fish, and they always claim (after they fail) that the system isn’t fair at all, since they didn’t get a chance to study the test beforehand. But that’s part of the point of the test.
     The reason the test is so hard to define is that it is very nearly a living creature itself.
     It was born back in the early days of Moon industry when NASA was trying to figure out why so many accidents happened at Full Earth. They didn’t connect the accidents with Full Earth right away, but the computers shoved it right in their faces. Personnel in charge of critical services must be stable; since no Earthside tests could determine this stability, the Test was begun. It wasn’t infallible. A feedback system was introduced. The complexity of the test grew and grew — it changed from a simple paper-and-pencil test into the multi-media, multi-dimensional whirl of events it is today. It is a uniquely individual test each time for every person taking it.
     Terrans expect the test to be merely a formality — the problems of Full are rarely talked about on Earth and even less often believed. Since there is no known way of preparing for the Test, the various schools on Earth that specialize in Moon training mostly ignore it. An 85% failure rate is not something to advertise. And you cannot get a critical job with NASA on the Moon unless you can pass the Test.
     It doesn’t matter that I can tune a laser more accurately than any computer ever could — I have unusually accurate color vision — nor that I’ve never injured anyone nor destroyed equipment nor done anything at Full except go quietly and privately nuts. Rules are rules.
     “You mean you can’t pass this Test?” Leo said.
     I took a big gulp of my drink. “That’s right,” I said.
     Judy looked puzzled. “What do you do here, then?”
     “I studied isotope separation back at MIT,” I said. True.
     “Boy, that was too much for me,” she said. “Too much math. And lasers scare me. Digging rocks seems a lot easier to me.”
     “Wandering around on the surface in a pressure suit scares me,” I said.
     “So you can’t pass the test, but you’re still here, you’re working on the Moon,” Leo said. “What’s the big deal?”
     “So far nobody in my job category can pass the Test, and so my job shuts down during Full. As soon as somebody comes along who can do it, I’ll be out of work. I’m just a temporary expediency until the robots can either fully mechanize the job or find another human with suffcient color vision sensitivity, the willingness to come to the Moon, and the ability to pass the Test.”
     “I just wish it would be over,” said Judy suddenly. “I mean, I never even heard of this Full crap, and it doesn’t make any sense to me, and I don’t see why we have to wait and wait to see if we can be hired, and why can’t we take those goddamned tests right now instead of waiting all night?”
     Leo looked alarmed. “Are you okay, Judy?” he asked, reaching over and taking her hand. She put her face down on the table and began weeping. Leo looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen her do anything like this — she was the coolest one of us all on the trip here, even when we lost pressure.”
     This Leo Hastings guy was starting to get to me. He was only 22, but he thought he knew it all. He looked even more scared to me than Judy, but one thing I’ve found out over the years is that being frightened of Full is probably the sanest reaction there is. But he looked unstable to me: close-cropped sandy hair, skinny, eyes darting around all the time — he never looked you in the eye — and I know his palms would always be sweaty if you shook hands with him.
     Not that I wanted to get rid of Judy, though, and I was afraid she and Leo were an inseparable unit. Maybe later on in the Full, though…
     Leo Hastings, I could tell, was the sort who expected the answers in any tests to be previously established. If he failed he would be a grumbler.
     But that didn’t mean he would fail. There was no known way to test for stability at Full except experiencing Full. It bothered the bureaucrats of NASA even more than it bothered me, of course. So despite any prejudice I might have, Leo was as good a candidate for Lunie as anybody.
     “Look, it’s the middle of Full, are you going to take your Test?” I said to him.
     “Yeah, let’s get this over with,” he said. He stood up and went to the Test booth.

     The Test booths scattered throughout Luna City look much like telephone booths of the previous century, except that they are opaque. There is a seat extruded from the wall and a control panel. All six interior surfaces are video screens.
     Leo wiped sweat from his forehead, wiped his hands on his pants, and sat down. He punched LEO HASTINGS 374-46-8891; the screen in front of him glowed with the word READY. Leo punched in the code for the Test.
     Instantly he seemed to be in outer space. He still sat, still felt the control panel, but he saw stars all around. The Earth and Moon were in front of him; he turned around and saw an L-5 factory a few dozen kilometers away. When he turned back the view of Earth/Moon was framed by a porthole and a glowing instrument panel. The stars faded and he now seemed to be inside a spaceship of some sort. A neutral voice said, “Repeating: Luna Control to Retrieval Craft Gamma, report, please.”
     Belatedly Leo realized that he was supposedly in Retrieval Craft Gamma. He cautiously inspected the controls until he found the proper switches. “Uh, retrieval craft to Luna Control,” he said.
     There was a slight lag — speed-of-light, Leo guessed — and then Luna Control said, “L-5 Injection Module K-574 enters your induction field at 21:33:58. Mass: 52,954 kg.” Various screens around Leo began to light up with other information — vector, density, etc, and finally the destination of the module: the huge mirror near the L-5 factory where the ore would be melted down.
     Leo was familiar with the procedures, he had trained for it. All the controls seemed self explanatory and he had no trouble catching the module with the ship’s magnetic field. He began calculating the orbit needed to send the module through the focal point of the solar mirror, humming as he worked.
     He became totally absorbed in what he was doing, and even forgot (subtle drugs infused into the booth cause Leo to forget where he is) that he was actually on the Moon taking a test. Finally he launched the module, then sat back with satisfaction. But instantly a frantic voice yelled “Gamma, Gamma, K-574 is on collision course with the factory! What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
     Leo stared with dismay at his readouts. He visualized the 50 tons of the module colliding with the factory, punching its way through deck after deck, molten iron combining furiously with the escaping oxygen…
     He quickly checked his instruments. The module was already far out of reach of his magnetic field: he would have to pursue. He entered the data and ignited his jets. As he accellerated toward the module a figure leaped up at him from the readout board and his body suddenly trembled as most of the glands in his body began gushing — the only possible rendezvous orbit took his retrieval craft through the focal point of the big mirror 4 seconds after contact. He’d have time to re-direct the module, but not to save himself. He re-entered the data and queried about different accelerations, but 4 seconds was his optimax. He checked on increasing his magnetic fields he would have to extend the field x kilometers, which would take… more energy than his ship could generate, unless he overloaded the generators.
     Which would blow up the ship.
     He couldn’t save the factory and survive.
     He began to whimper as he frantically entered query after query. But no series of events could save both both himself and the factory. There were, he knew, abqut 200 people in the factory at any given time. He screamed and maintained the scream as he programmed the ship to save the factory.
     Judy and I heard Leo’s scream from the booth and stopped kissing. He staggered out with a glassy look on his face. “How did it go?” Judy said.
     “I saved the factory,” he said, and downed his drink and signaled the robot for another. “Fuck. Fuck.”
     “What was it like?” Judy said. But Leo said nothing, he just drank and hunched his shoulders together and put his head down.
     “The Test is a bitch,” I said. “It measures proper or improper action at cusp during the Full Earth. The tidal forces affect your thinking, but that doesn’t matter; what matters is what you DO.”
     Judy appeared shaken. Leo had been so confident. But she said, “Well, I guess I might as well try, too.”
     The serving robot came up to me with another drink. “There is a message for Alain,” it said. “You are requested to report to the garbage dump to clean the main degaussing unit because of high demand expected as soon as Full is over.”
     Judy looked stricken. “You’re going to stay here, aren’t you? Please stay.”
     Ordinarily I would have jumped at the chance to do anything at the dump during Full, but I waved the robot aside. Degaussing is grunt work, anyway. There was plenty of time.
     I took another big sip of my Full Earth Special as Judy entered the Test booth.

     JUDY HRALT. 962-57-6788
     Judy punched the Test code. The screen ln front of her flashed a thousand colors, then displayed ONE MOMENT PLEASE. “Oh, fine,” she said to herself. She located a tangle in her hair and worked on it with her fingers while she waited. Every moment or two she heaved a sigh. She watched and waited with troubled indifference.
     Priority One! Judy had never had a Priority One message before. She swiftly accepted the call. The screen flashed and blurred and then coalesced into the head and shoulders of an Oldie woman, an Oldie who had obviously spent plenty on geriatrics and cosmetic surgery. Her hair was stylishly worn and her clothing was subtlely expensive.
     Judy closed her eyes for a moment and felt her ears getting warm. “Mother,” she said, “I can’t talk to you now. I’m in the middle of a very important–”
     Impassive till now, the image suddenly became animated and interrupted Judy. “Oh, there you are now. I’ve been having such trouble finding you, honey, I wish you’d at least leave a message for me, if you can’t return my calls. I had to use a Priority One to find you… What do you mean you can’t talk to me? Do you know what a Priority One costs? Well? Why don’t you answer me?”
     Judy clenched her teeth. Her mother never would understand the 3-second speed-of-light lag between Glendale and Moonport. She thought it was some sort of legislation, like the Eastern Time Zone or Daylight Savings. “Look, Mom,” Judy said, “I’m sorry to be rude, but I can’t talk to you right now.” She broke the connection firmly and felt a warm/cold surge of adrenalin flow through her body. I finally told her, she thought. She again punched the Test code.
     The screen lit up with QUESTION ONE, which then faded and dissolved into a scene of a person ln a pressure suit on the Lunar surface. Words began to flow across the bottom half of the screen and a pleasant voice read the same words to her. PROBLEM INVOLVES CORRECT USE OF DRILLING TOOLS. THIS MARK II CORE SAMPLER CAN BE USED….
     Judy watched and answered the questions as they came. She felt relaxed about the test — the questions were all the stuff the school had prepared her well for — but at the same time tense about her mother. The Test paused and, as she had been fearful of, the screen reported another Priority One call. She tried to ignore lt. But a Priority One was expensive — it could track down and signal virtually any phone or screen in the entire Earth/Luna communications system. It was almost cheaper to travel than to use a Priority One.
     As the test continued the notice appeared again and again. Judy grew nervous and split a quarter of the screen away for incoming signals so as not to interrupt the test. Minutes went by and the message remained on screen… Judy’s mother was building up an incredible bill.
     Judy found herself answering the questions with only half her mind — they were actually simple, though, freshman-year stuff. She decided she could answer and talk to Mom, too. She instructed the screen to continue the test but accept the call, too, on the screen.
     She was quite frosty. “Well. You’ve finally found time to talk to me, I hope?”
     Judy kept answering questions but said, “Mom, I’m right in the middle of a very important test. Please tell me what you want and let me get back to you later.”
     “Oh, those tests aren’t so important — you kids today put so much importance on them, but they don’t really mean anything. I know — I was in school too, you know. And please don’t call me ‘Mom’ — especially on an interplanetary circuit!” She giggled. She had obviously been into the ethanol, or the cannibanol, or whatever was stylish that week.
     “Sorry, Heather,” Judy said automatically. QUESTION 14 WHICH CHANNEL ON THIS TRANSPONDER LOCATES THE….
     “Your father wants to know if you’ll be at Aunt Jean’s birthday party next month. We need to know today so we can reserve the rooms. I told him just to go ahead and make a reservation for you, but he insisted I call and ask.”
     Judy was incredulous. She punched a hasty answer to #15 and said, “Heather, you know I just spent a half a million to get to the Moon. Use your head.”
     “Now, I know you’re going to worry about money.” Judy was startled: there wasn’t time yet for her words to get to Earth. Well, her mother did know her pretty well, she thought grudgingly.
     Heather looked smug. “Yes, dear I know. But you didn’t know that the liver she had put in last year just isn’t working right and they can’t find another… she has a very rare type, you know… and it’s affecting everything else. Thls is probably her last birthday. She’s never been to Australia, you know, so we’re taking her to Perth for a surprise. It’s the tourist season there, drat the luck, so we have to make reservations early. Can we count on you?”
     Judy felt frustration building up. “I can’t discuss it now. No, I won’t be there.”
     “I’m surprised at you, Judy. I know you never liked Aunt Jean very much, but she’s not going to be around much longer. You can be so selfish sometimes.”
     Judy grew icy calm, Her words were carefully selected, crystal-edged. “You obviously haven’t considered how selfish your interfering with my test is.” She broke the connection, snapping switches a little harder than necessary.
     25. WHAT SPECIAL PRECAUTIONS ARE NECESSARY WHEN PRESSURIZING THE FOLLOWING MODELS OF EMERGENCY SHELTER… She mechanically answered the rest of the questions while keeping an eye on the screen; she was sure her mother would call back. Well, no she wouldn’t, but if she did, what was she going to say?

     Judy came out of the Test booth and sat down and started crying. “That fucking bitch,” she said.
     I stood up and embraced her. “It’s okay,” I said. She shoved me away and grabbed her drink. “That FUCKING bitch. If she’s screwed things up for me again…”
     Leo was starting to come out of his stupor. “So when do we find out if we passed?” he said.
     “Not until Full is over,” I said. “Another three or four hours.”
     “Well I think I did pretty damned good,” Leo said.
     “Me too,” said Judy.
     “How about you, mister Moon expert?” Leo said to me. “Are you man enough to take the test?”
     “Yes,” said Judy. “Alain is strong. Aren’t you?”
     I looked into her amethyst eyes. The robot server tugged at my elbow again. “Alain, the degaussing unit needs to be cleaned.”
     “Oh, that can wait. Sure, I’ll take the Test,” I said. I swaggered into the booth and sat down. Maybe this would be the time that I passed.

     The door closed and I punched my code into the screen, and it read: TEST COMPLETE.
     The door opened and I stepped back out into the Moon Dawg bar. But there were no Judy and Leo, there never had been, and I’d failed again.

Originally appeared in
Swagazine, 1999