Max Brash stood in a bubble on the moon, ready to launch the most epic gender reveal party in the history of the human race.
In front of him were nearly a hundred transparent monitors linked to his mission control – which was really just one person, his buddy Dave. The rest of the screens were reserved for the feed from dozens upon dozens of drones, to capture every angle of this event.
On the center monitor were his aging parents, broadcasting live from Sweetwater, Texas.
“Hey buddy!” Dave’s voice came over one of the monitors. “Should be coming over your position in the next 15 minutes. We gonna get this party started!”
“Hell yeah!” Brash replied. “Just gotta test the monitors and make sure they’re ready.”
Max swiped with furious majesty at his holographic interface. The screen to his left switched to a satellite feed of the near side of the moon. The moon was a dark sphere, a round circular lump that blotted out the galaxy in the background. He touched the virtual button that said, “Send test.”
The near side of the moon immediately lit up: hemisphere to hemisphere, north to south. Pink, blue, red, green and yellow LED lights swirled in a rotating pattern. Then the phrase, “This is Major Tom, to Ground Control…I’m baaaaackk”, scrolled in marquee.
Brash checked the monitor beneath his parents to see the live Twitter feed. “Wat da fuq dust happened wit tha moon. #WTFMOON,” Derpmaster Supreme Tweeted.
“Am I trippin, ballz! Did the moon just speak to me? #WTFMOON” Little Slut Prince tweeted.
“Can I get TV on the Moon now? #WTFMOON” Lee Paulsen tweeted.
Brash was trending. Good.
Eight months, and 200,000 drone years of work, went into doing what he did, which was to cover a celestial hemisphere with LED clusters. Brash repurposed them to create the largest scrolling banner ad display in the whole solar system. So what if those repurposed LED clusters were originally made for solar shields? He was an entrepreneur, a person that Time Magazine, People Magazine, and Playboy Magazine were all calling “Emperor of the Moon.” It was only fitting that his heir to his kingdom be welcomed into the universe in the most absurd way possible.
“Dave, we are in business. Everything is good to go,” Brash said.
“Roger, good buddy, I’m about 12 minutes out.”
“Awesome, start venting the charged plasma when you get overhead.”
“Hey, is Brittney coming to this thing?” Dave asked.
“Who?” said Brash. “Oh! Yeah, Britt. Yeah, she’s around here somewhere. Said she wanted another hour in the pregnancy chair.”
Max Brash swiped left to mute Dave’s audio feed. He pulled out a very expensive bottle of Groobenhurst Champagne, popped the lid, and filled two glasses. He sat in the chair and rolled it over into the screen, in view of his parents.
“Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. Did you see the moon?”
His parents collectively squinted in annoyed fashion, as if he’d just asked them to smell his fart. “Moon?” His mom replied. “I thought you wanted us to watch this conference.”
“Can you see the moon?” he asked again.
His mom shuffled to the window. “I don’t think so.”
Max typed into his virtual keyboard. “How about now?”
His mother intoned. “Really, Max, did you need to do that? It seems a bit much.”
“Did you invite your wife to this here reveal party?” his Dad asked.
“And really, she shouldn’t be drinking,” his mom said as she walked back toward the couch.
“Oh, I would kill for a drink.” Brittney said as she waddled slowly up the stairs. “Hi, Anthony! Hi, Agnes!”
“Hi, Sweetie! How are you liking life on the moon?”
Brittney looked longingly at the glass of bubbly and smacked her lips. “Oh, it’s a tea party for zombies.”
Max stood up from the chair and let his wife sit into it. He downed one of the glasses of Champaign and set the other one aside.
“Did you conference my family in?” Brittney asked.
Max puffed out his chest. “I did you one better.” He swiped a screen, and almost all the monitors changed to display all of her family and their friends, spread out over the globe. “Surprise!” They all shouted, even though it wasn’t a surprise party.
“Oh, Max!” Brittney said, reaching for his hand. He took it, smiled broadly, and took the other glass of Champaign. “Friends, family, guests, and members of the media who will no doubt find this on the internet later: Ever since Brittney told me she was pregnant, I have dreamed of this day when we could properly reveal our child to the world. A child who will no doubt grow up to rule the solar system. (Hashtag kidding. Hashtag not kidding.) So, please turn your attention skyward! Let us reveal our brand new baby….”
“Max! Max, come in!” came Dave’s voice over the audio feed. “Hey buddy! I got a problem. Oh, shit! Oh, shit!”
Max’s smile changed to one of a corporate executive revealed to be embezzling. “What is a party without a minor hiccup?” he said, his voice shaking. “Excuse me a moment.”
Max muted the party. “Dave, talk to me. What’s going on?”
“So, hey how’s it goin?” Dave replied.
“Kinda in the middle of something. Is it important?” Max was suddenly feeling impatient.
“Yeah, kind of. So, I started venting the charged particles like you wanted me to, right? Yeah, well, something science-y happened. l think one of the vents exploded a bit.”
Max could hear the computer’s tinny voice in the background: “Warning: Catastrophic deceleration. Warning: Temperature levels reaching critical.”
“So, the computer says that’s bad. So … gee sorry, I’m not going to be able to complete another orbit. I’m gonna have to punch out. Send someone to pick me up, OK?”
Dave flipped his visor and ejected from the craft, and his live feed went static. Overhead, Max could see Dave’s spacecraft plunging, trailing a yellow plume of charged particles.
“Damn it!” he thought angrily. “The charged particles aren’t supposed to be yellow!”
The craft plunged past Max’s bubble toward the edge of the horizon. For a moment, there was only silence. Then everything shook, like a bouncy castle in San Francisco during an earthquake. The monitors rattled, and a few fell to the ground. Max lost his balance and fell over. When the shaking had stopped, he stood up. On the horizon were huge plumes of grey dust and white clouds pumping out into space.
“Oh, that’s bad,” Max said, realizing the craft likely had just crashed into the colony on the moon. He looked around at the monitors that were still in place. Every single one of them suddenly blinked out at once, the feed terminating to static.
He had no idea what to do now.
Brittney pushed herself up and walked over to Max. She took the flute of champaign, took half a drink and handed it back to him. “You know, honey, I love how big you think. But this could have been an email.” She waddled toward the stairs and down back to their home away from home, below the surface.
ONE WEEK LATER
Max scratched his chin and counted his blessings that someone on Earth still would speak with him. It had taken five days of furious tech-nerding, satellite realigning, and an EV, during which he nearly ran out of oxygen, to reconnect just one satellite. That uplink allowed him to connect to his corporate offices in New Jersey. He finally received an answer from his team on Earth 25 minutes ago — though as far as he could tell, a lot of impromptu meetings were happening off-camera.
A chief financial officer with the hip-sounding name of Zander De La Muerte was in front of the camera,. Like Rudy Giuliani in front of the landscaping company, Zander was sweating, and his black hair dye was running down his cheek. “So hey,” Zander said, trying to sound nonchalant. “As you’ve probably guessed, things have been pretty crazy around here. You know, with our lunar colony being destroyed by last week’s explosion, and the stock dropping 86 percent.”
“Yeah, still,” Max said. “If you can send a shuttle to pick me up. I can smooth things over with the powers-that-be.”
Zander pursed his lips. “Okay, listen, real talk right now: So, they’re kind of mad at you, bro. I hear a lot of talk about ‘crimes against humanity this,’ and ‘gross incompetence that.’ A lot of people want you in chains. Might just be safer to stay on the moon until all this blows over.”
“Hey, look, Zander!” The words didn’t’seem to sink in with Max. “This colony is too big to fail! My satellites have surveyed the damage. We can rebuild it, better, and the explosion has exposed a very valuable vein of rare earth elements.”
“Yeah, soooo,” Zander tried again. “It’s a touch more complicated than that. The P.R. is nightmarish, with the stock tanking. Our accounting team tells me, best case and only by tapping our cash reserves, 10 years minimum to get boots on the ground to you. Congress doesn’t want to bail us out — and to complicate matters, the Russians landed a probe on the site with a giant flag and claimed the whole area because it is technically vacant. Despite calls for you being tried in the Hague, China is willing to proclaim you a hero of the nation for your brave acts in defeating western imperialism. About the only good thing I heard is the CIA was interested in your lunar jumbo-tron as a way to broadcast anti-North Korean propaganda. So maybe some options there.”
Max covered his face with his hands. Dave walked into the bubble with his bathrobe open. “Dude, we’re out of cream for the coffee. Can you get them to send some up?”
Max turned to his friend. “Dude, not now.”
“Hey!” Zander asked Dave. “You were flying the ship that crashed into the colony, right? What were you even doing before the crash?”
“So, yeah, Max thought, ‘You know what would be cool, release a lot of charged plasma atoms around the moon to create an artificial ring.’ When the sun reflected the light, it would tell the world if Max was having a boy or a girl. And things kind of exploded.”
Zander’s eyes grew. “…. the actual fuck!”
“I mean, you have to admit it’s a pretty neat idea,” Max replied.
Zander exhaled, deep in thought for a moment. “Okay. Maybe we can spin it as a science project gone wrong or something. I’ll get the marketing people to cook up some deep fakes. Maybe try to smooth over some of this bad press.”
“Confuse the issue,” Zander said, thinking out loud. “We’ll make the gender reveal party unrelated. We’ll say we were testing the effects of solar radiation or some shit and suffered a catastrophic mission failure. And throw in some additional sympathetic adjectives and ‘boom!’ We can get back in the game.”
Max smiled. “This could work.”
Zander nodded. “Okay, I’ll get on it. Since no one has asked, are you having a boy or a girl?”
“We’re having a …. ”
Just then, a dweeby, anxious, and nerdy-looking tech ran up to Zander. “Sir, we’ve got a huge problem. The satellite network has become severely compromised. We’re gonna lose feed in the next few minutes.”
“All of them!!!” The tech called out to another tech. “Give me visual on GlobeSat6!”
“Guys, guys! I want to see.” Max called out.
“We’ll patch you in, sir,” the tech called out to Max.
The visual changed to the satellite, moving in low-Earth orbit. Suddenly, the camera picked up a huge chunk of debris and rocks, moving at bullet speed toward the satellite. And then, darkness.
“Jesus!” Max exclaimed. With some fancy finger movements, he brought up the last few frames just before the satellite lost feed. The chunk of the debris looked eerily familiar. It was dented, mangled, and burned — but he swore he’d seen it before.
“Is that part of your ship?” he asked his best friend, Dave.
Dave scrunched up his face. “Ahhhhhh, who could be sure….”
Max fell into his chair. Dave shrugged, looking into his black coffee cup. “I guess I’ll just learn to drink it black.”
For the next few hours, Max worked furiously at his computers. It took almost 12 hours, but he finally got a line-of-sight with one of his last satellites, moving in orbit. And then, he saw it: a massive debris cloud of satellites, stations, and space hotels racing around the planet. Every few minutes, a new piece of space property went down, exploding into more debris that collided with more things in orbit, making more debris.
Max realized the Kessler Syndrome had now been fully realized. Low-earth orbit had been reduced to an infinite, spinning tornado of debris and ruin. They weren’t getting off the moon any time soon.
That sucked. But Max’s underground lunar habitat was sustainable long-term, even cut off from Earth. Maybe just long enough to make it to his kid’s graduation day.
He flicked a button. The visual changed to a large debris cloud of debris burning up over Asia. Before it disappeared, a large brilliant white flash exploded on the Korean Peninsula, followed by another, and another.
“Hey, hon, we lost internet connection from Earth,” Brittney said as she waddled up the stairs. “I was wondering if you heard, anything…”
Max looked to Brittney, and she looked at his blank monitor. “Oh, gosh…. Um… I guess I’ll just put on some music.” She left back down the stairs, to their home.
Max couldn’t move. He just watched as more and more white flashes ripped across the surface of the Earth. Soon, there was nothing. A sorrowful piano ballad came up from downstairs. “Soft rains will come…”
He stood up. Wiping out the human race wasn’t what he had envisioned when he planned this party. But, his mother raised him to be an optimist, and he was ready to see the bright side. His kid would still be ruler of the moon.