Issue 1.1. “Blood Moon,” by Joshua Foust

Orig­i­nal Illus­tra­tion by Faine Green­wood.

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on March 1, 2016

The first sign we were under attack came from the elementary school.

The third graders were learn­ing to print Christ­mas trees in time for win­ter break — an anachro­nism that always made the adults laugh at the idea of win­ter — and the print­er wasn’t work­ing right.

The lit­tle girl who raised her hand will always be famous for fig­ur­ing it out so quick­ly. She point­ed to the slight­ly lop­sided, plas­tic tree stand­ing on her desk, col­ored in a shock­ing crim­son.

Miss­es Banks, why won’t this print right?”

Words that will live in infamy.

I don’t know Amy, have you checked your set­tings?”

She nod­ded. Miss­es Banks went over to Amy’s tablet: she had drawn the tree right, with preter­nat­u­ral­ly steady hands for an eight-year old, and she had checked “ever­green” on the print screen. The dimen­sions checked out, it had the prop­er z‑value to be the right depth, and the scale was about right. The printer’s plas­tic hop­per was full, and its dye bank had just been replaced that morn­ing.

Miss­es Banks was stumped. “Can every­one else print their trees okay?”

The oth­er stu­dents ner­vous­ly checked their set­tings, just to make sure. No one want­ed to be embar­rassed like Amy was about to be, the one stu­pid kid who couldn’t use a print­er right. But she wasn’t stu­pid. It was the print­er.

Miss­es Banks, my tree won’t print right, either.”

The his­to­ry books always changed who that was: whether it was George Zucker­berg, or Tom­my Gates, or Jonathan Spiegel. It didn’t mat­ter: Amy Hansen, the Governor’s daugh­ter her­self, is offi­cial­ly the one who fig­ured out some­thing was wrong with the 3D print­ers and thus showed us we were being destroyed, bit by bit.

We thought it was the Chi­nese at first. They had always been jeal­ous, or angry, or crit­i­cal, or what­ev­er, of our base and what we had accom­plished. Their state-run news sites attacked us con­stant­ly for wast­ing time, atten­tion, or resources. We were the sub­jects of a dozen state TV hit pieces. They accused us of dump­ing trash onto the lunar soil, of poi­son­ing it with human waste when we’d des­ic­cate and bury our sewage. We thought they want­ed us shut down, but then they’d also make plays to inval­i­date our patents, or to gain mar­ket share on our exports, or to force us to cut an exclu­sive price drop on helium‑3. It was a dys­func­tion­al rela­tion­ship.

So the Chi­nese wouldn’t — couldn’t — do this, we thought. They want­ed to be in our base, not destroy­ing it. Con­trol, not death — that was their modus operan­di. They couldn’t afford their own moon base since the last Asian cur­ren­cy col­lapse. Destroy­ing us wouldn’t help them get a toe­hold up here, espe­cial­ly if it would dis­rupt their helium‑3 fusion fuel.

We had shown the world that lunar colonies could work. We grew our own food, mined our own water, and gen­er­at­ed our own wealth through intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty that we defend­ed through an aggres­sive law firm we kept on retain­er in Lon­don. For all intents and pur­pos­es, we were our own gov­ern­ment, even if we were tech­ni­cal­ly still Amer­i­can in some way. It was just a tech­ni­cal­i­ty — we were all born on the moon, two gen­er­a­tions of us. We didn’t real­ly deal with the Amer­i­cans very much apart from a for­mal­ized trade rela­tion­ship, though they count­ed us among their space set­tle­ments. Still, our prod­ucts had to go through cus­toms just like every­one else. I don’t think any of us had pass­ports or con­sid­ered our­selves cit­i­zens. We couldn’t go down to the sur­face any­way — the crush­ing grav­i­ty on Earth would keep us bedrid­den, and prob­a­bly kill most of us any­way.

America wasn’t laying claim to this chunk of the moon — just a few dozen commercial settlers.

Are we a base? That’s what we call our­selves now. I like to think of us like one of those Antarc­tic bases on steroids — sort of nom­i­nal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with a gov­ern­ment but not real­ly, and exist­ing in a unique­ly apo­lit­i­cal envi­ron­ment. Unlike Antarc­ti­ca there are no zones of nation­al con­trol — no one could con­ceiv­ably enforce a claim to ter­ri­to­ry any­way. More­over, because the U.S. gov­ern­ment nev­er endorsed or even sup­port­ed our launch, the Founders always con­sid­ered us above the Inter­na­tion­al Space Treaty. Amer­i­ca wasn’t lay­ing claim to this chunk of the moon — just a few dozen com­mer­cial set­tlers.

We pre­tend to be a real gov­ern­ment, but no one real­ly puts his or her heart into it. As far as I know, when vis­i­tors come we don’t have cus­toms or any­thing. We just have them swipe their IDs, and oth­er­wise wel­come them onto the base to con­duct busi­ness. I guess it’s more of a free eco­nom­ic zone than a colony: a hyper-pro­duc­tive place spring­ing from some smart inven­tors and oth­ers who had lost any strong ties to the coun­try that gave them the wealth to fund their jour­ney out­ward.

By the mid­dle of the cen­tu­ry, trav­el to the moon and back had become dan­ger­ous. The Euro­peans didn’t launch their first jan­i­tor­sat until the Founders were all mid­dle aged. The jan­i­tor­sats focused almost entire­ly on the low­er orbits, the ones crowd­ed with old con­struc­tion equip­ment, decrepit Russ­ian Kos­mos satel­lites that were nev­er pro­grammed to de-orbit, the left­over skele­tons of Iridium’s net­work after Anony­mous unleashed, the spi­ral­ing radioac­tive cloud of debris that used to be the old Chi­nese Tian­gong sta­tion, and hun­dreds of spent rock­et stages. It took decades to net-down all the old satel­lites from a hun­dred miles up to thir­ty thou­sand. The geo­sta­tion­ary orbits took the longest to clear: it is expen­sive to go that high, and it was so crowd­ed with work­ing and bro­ken satel­lite bus­es that the jan­i­tors had to be del­i­cate.

By the time there were one again wide open launch win­dows for a safe trip up to the Moon and back to Earth, we were poised to dis­rupt the econ­o­my with what we had dis­cov­ered: not just abun­dant fusion reac­tor fuel, but new process­es for mol­e­c­u­lar man­u­fac­tur­ing. We built real­ly high-pre­ci­sion lasers on the cheap and used them to man­u­fac­ture high pre­ci­sion equip­ment below any Earth­side costs.

Plus, our pota­toes and cat­fish are the best for a mil­lion miles around. Lunar regolith has tons of nitro­gen, but it nev­er stayed hydrat­ed and plants nev­er thrived in it raw. So the Founders brought up some algae sam­ples and cat­fish eggs to start an aquapon­ics sys­tem, using their own poop to sup­ply active bac­te­ria. Human poop is mag­ic: it can pow­er com­bus­tion engines, or be processed light­ly into bio­plas­tic for con­struc­tion. Human guano. Gross to think about, but eco­nom­i­cal­ly it is unbeat­able.

The dou­ble-plus bonus? The nitro­gen-15 iso­tope that’s so com­mon in moon soil makes our food easy to trace. It helps our lawyers sue peo­ple who try to steal our (patent­ed) food pro­duc­tion tech­niques.

A week after Amy Hansen’s print­er prob­lem, Jorge Menen­dez, the deputy direc­tor of oper­a­tions, noticed the south polar water proces­sor was a bit mis­aligned. It was a prob­lem no one had seen in four decades: it was still crunch­ing through mined blocks of regolith, sep­a­rat­ing out frozen water for fil­ter­ing and con­geal­ing the rest into blocks for con­struc­tion at a man­u­fac­to­ry near the base, but the blocks were com­ing out a bit wrong. And the water was just a bit less pure than usu­al.

I was on duty and mes­saged him that day. “Is there a wear-out some­where?” I asked.

No,” he said. The “typ­ing” ellip­sis in his win­dow last­ed a few sec­onds longer than it should have. He was typ­ing real­ly slow­ly on his phone. “I just ran a sys­tem-wide diag­nos­tic. There are no fail­ures report­ed any­where.”

Is it a mon­i­tor­ing issue? Maybe the sen­sors are gummed?”

He paused again. Sent a screen­shot of his diag­nos­tic win­dow and pulled up a video from his desk. “No, see? The sen­sors are work­ing just fine. Dust is light today.”

This was puz­zling. “I’m sor­ry Jorge, I know going out­side sucks out there, but can you get suit­ed up and check in per­son?”

He flashed a thumbs up emo­ji. He must be pissed. Jorge’s win­dow went idle.

Twen­ty min­utes lat­er, I got a buzz that his video stream was on. There were a lot of dead pix­els. “Jorge, are you sure you’re on the right net­work? Your feed has a lot of errors on it.”

Yeah, I don’t use the pub­lic Wi-Fi any­more. Maybe it’s my per­son­al net­work,” he said. The typ­ing on his left wrist made the image shake.

Nope,” he huffed, “my net­works are all work­ing nom­i­nal­ly, they’re ping­ing low and I have no pack­et loss.”

I don’t get it, Jorge. The sig­nal is real­ly dirty.”

I don’t know what to say, Ben­nett. Let me get to work.”

I watched him glide around the mas­sive water proces­sor. It made me think about the first CCTV hit piece on us, when they claimed our base was faked because we didn’t bounce around the way the Apol­lo pio­neers did. The pro­duc­ers for­got that most of us were born here; for us, this was nor­mal grav­i­ty. We don’t bounce. At the most, we glide. I always thought it a much more ele­gant way to walk than the stac­ca­to stomp­ing you see from the Earth­side feeds.

But Jorge found noth­ing. No mechan­i­cal faults, at any rate. “How else can you diag­nose this?” I asked him. “Is it a soft­ware issue?”

I have no idea, Ben­nett.” Jorge sound­ed tired and he was out of breath. “That will take some time, and mean­while we will have to work hard­er to re-machine these blocks to get air, pro­pel­lant, and drink­ing water. Can we afford to take these offline while we look?”

I don’t think we can, Jorge. We can’t dis­trib­ute blocks that are out of spec; it’ll screw up every­thing down­stream. But we can’t just shut down either — we’ll lose too much.”

By now Jorge’s breath­ing had become ragged.

Jorge, can you check your O2? You don’t sound good.”

Through heav­ing pant­i­ng, he replied, “My meter says I’m fine, but I feel light­head­ed. I’m going back to the air­lock.”

He paused twice on his way back. With­in ten min­utes he went from sound­ing a bit tired to being bare­ly upright. He sat down as the air­lock cycled. His video feed shook. “Ben­nett, I can’t remove my hel­met.” His voice was slurred, and his video feed shook a few times as his hand pawed at the release clamp.

I slapped the emer­gency klax­on and yelled into the mic. “May­day may­day may­day! Any avail­able per­son­nel to ren­der aid at south polar water proces­sor air­lock 2! This is not a drill!”

A tech­ni­cian was just up the cor­ri­dor, thank God. The air­lock hadn’t cycled all the way shut and was still part­ly open to the vac­u­um out­side. Jorge was passed out in his suit. I could see the tech­ni­cian fran­ti­cal­ly punch­ing com­mands into the screen by the air­lock door. Jorge’s suit trans­mit­ted a muf­fled whumpf as the out­er door sealed prop­er­ly and air flood­ed into the cham­ber. As soon as the pres­sure equal­ized, Jorge’s hel­met popped open. He wheezed and gulped huge lung­fuls of air. But he didn’t wake up.

The tech yanked open the first aid pan­el and placed an oxy­gen mask over Jorge’s face, eas­ing the man to the floor to lay flat. He looked at his wrist and tapped some com­mands. “Sir, there was a soft­ware fault in the air­lock. It reg­is­tered a full cycle but the mechan­i­cal fail-safes reg­is­tered vac­u­um and pre­vent­ed a full decom­pres­sion. We could have lost the entire proces­sor dome.”

I nod­ded. “Thank you. Can you help Mis­ter Menen­dez to the med­ical shut­tle? We’ll take care of him back here.”

The tech began to gen­tly ease Jorge’s shoul­der up. Jorge groaned and his eyes flut­tered. “Oh and would you please run a diag­nos­tic on Jorge’s suit?” I asked. “I want to know why he didn’t get a CO2 alarm.”

Yes sir,” the tech said. He pulled Jorge into the cor­ri­dor and shut off the video stream.

This was our first casu­al­ty in the war.

Jorge’s suit was com­pro­mised in some way. It took us days to fig­ure out that it was a delib­er­ate fault. Some­one hacked his suit and the air­lock at the same time. He was three min­utes away from being the moon’s first mur­der vic­tim.

Gov­er­nor Hansen declared an emer­gency. We dropped every­thing beyond life sup­port main­te­nance to iden­ti­fy how such a thing had hap­pened.

But we were too late. Things just began to go wrong, fail­ure on top of fail­ure like an avalanche accel­er­at­ing down­hill. On Earth, if some­one hacks your refrig­er­a­tor and the tem­per­a­ture spikes, it sucks to lose all that food but you won’t die. There are oth­er fridges to store food. You also have the gro­cery store, restau­rants, deliv­er­ies and what­not. You wouldn’t starve.

On Earth, if someone hacks your refrigerator, it sucks to lose all that food but you won’t die. Living in space, however, is hard.

The moon is dif­fer­ent. Here, you are always on a knife’s edge, a slight tip away from death if some­thing goes wrong. If you lose your capac­i­ty to grow food, you starve. You lose access to ice and you go thirsty or suf­fo­cate, whichev­er comes first. With­out water you get no hydro­gen per­ox­ide, which means no rock­et pro­pel­lant, which means you can’t trav­el to find new sources of ice. If you lose your air­locks, you can­not go out­side to fix things, and if you can­not go out­side to fix things you even­tu­al­ly go blind from your sen­sors being dust­ed over or you die from equip­ment fail­ure. Same thing if your space­suit goes kaput.

Liv­ing in space is real­ly hard. We do it because we love it, and we find it enrich­ing, and because we have known noth­ing else for two gen­er­a­tions. I nev­er had a choice about grow­ing up inside a regolith dome hacked out of a dead moon, but it is a good life any­way. It is also an inher­ent­ly vul­ner­a­ble way to live. You can­not let things get out of hand. You can­not relax, not tru­ly, and you can­not be lazy or you will die.

We were fac­ing death, and it stalked us in our own com­put­er sys­tems. And we had no idea what was caus­ing those com­put­ers to fail.

Five air­lock fail­ures a week for two months. Half our suits wouldn’t work, and we didn’t know when the oth­ers would fail. The fail­ures seemed to strike at ran­dom: there was no pat­tern to where or when they would fail, or under what cir­cum­stances a suit would stop recy­cling oxy­gen. Peo­ple began to wor­ry that oth­er sys­tems would get com­pro­mised, too: the car­bon diox­ide in their rooms, the san­i­tiz­ers in the kitchens, the impact detec­tion grid.

You could see it in their faces, the way the younger kids would clutch their par­ents’ hands just a lit­tle bit tighter as they walked down the halls, the shad­ows under everyone’s eyes in the din­ing hall, the way the tech­ni­cians hung their heads every time they suit­ed up to go out­side, the way the traf­fic con­trollers would tight­en their voic­es just a tiny bit when giv­ing land­ing direc­tions.

I had to design a con­tin­gency plan: our com­put­ers were going all wonky, so we need­ed to have non-com­put­er back­ups. But it’s the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry — how do you live on the Moon with­out mod­ern com­put­ers?

My first idea was to take as many ana­logue back­ups as we had left­over from Found­ing and refur­bish them around the near­est air­locks. It was only a dozen old suits, but they were enough while we worked to remove the mod­ern suit routers. That wasn’t near­ly as easy as it seemed — every­thing from teleme­try to health data to the sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness sen­sors had to be mod­i­fied. Jorge’s intern, Gabrielle, cob­bled togeth­er sim­ple radio trans­mit­ters that could be switched out for the routers.

We had to posi­tion first aid and res­cue kits in the cor­ri­dors and in adja­cent locks — which still came too late. The first few down­mod­ded suits failed any­way. Gabrielle spent weeks man­u­al­ly re-cre­at­ing the elec­tron­ics suite of the old Found­ing suits. We had to dis­as­sem­ble every­thing and rebuild it as an old­er, less capa­ble ver­sion. It was like giv­ing up a mod­ern elec­tric car to dri­ve a Mod­el T.

Every­one was on the bud­dy sys­tem out­side, and no one was per­mit­ted to be in-suit more than a three-minute jour­ney from an air­lock or a mechan­i­cal source of air. Main­te­nance got hard — and expen­sive. Rooms began reg­is­ter­ing leaks, some were false read­ings, but even the real leaks nev­er became cat­a­stroph­ic. It was just enough to cause us con­stant heart­burn, like some­one was mak­ing us into the lit­tle Dutch Boy in space, run­ning our­selves ragged.

The clock was tick­ing for us to fig­ure this out. Our exports had halt­ed, and we didn’t make enough from our resid­u­als to cov­er any of our oth­er costs. We were actu­al­ly con­tem­plat­ing the prospect of run­ning out of mon­ey and thus, lawyers. It would be a death spi­ral for our econ­o­my. No one knew how long we’d be a viable com­mer­cial enti­ty with­out IP lawyers on earth to defend our exports.

Jorge was tak­ing it real­ly hard. “I can­not fig­ure this out,” he told me one day over lunch. He was hag­gard, his voice harsh and grit­ty. By this point, we were prac­ti­cal­ly liv­ing in our suits from the con­stant envi­ron­men­tal fail­ures. “Our oper­at­ing sys­tems are work­ing. Our virus scans don’t show any­thing. None of our pro­grams have been mod­i­fied that I can see. I can’t make sense of it.”

He had dark cir­cles under his eyes, and he hadn’t shaved in weeks. I could smell my own stench com­ing out of the neck of my suit. Every­one I passed in the hall­ways looked hag­gard. It’s hard to sleep when you’re won­der­ing if your own home was going to mis­be­have and kill you with­out warn­ing. And show­ers are out of the ques­tion: no one want­ed to be dis­cov­ered freeze dried and naked. We were falling apart.

I know, Jorge. But I’m con­fi­dent you can fig­ure it out.”

He just nod­ded and went back to eat­ing his steamed veg­eta­bles.

I won­der if we weren’t actu­al­ly hacked?”

At this, Jorge looked up at me. “What do you mean?”

I don’t know — maybe we’re being too lit­er­al in look­ing for an out­side hack­er.”

But…” He paused and stared off to the side. “That doesn’t make any sense. That’s trea­son. It’s mur­der! Who would want to do such a thing?”

I didn’t have a sol­id answer. “Maybe who­ev­er it is wants us to look like fail­ures, instead of vic­tims?”

Jorge kept nod­ding. “Maybe. But that would mean there is an inside per­son here. Some­one man­u­al­ly rewrit­ing lines of code and mod­i­fy­ing the logs to cov­er his tracks. Some­one with root access to every­thing we own.”

I looked him in the eye. “Who has that sort of access?”

Not many,” he said back. “Not many. I’ll work up a list.”

It felt like living in the dark ages. Or a slum. 

It felt like liv­ing in the dark ages. Or a slum. Our video feeds all became grainy, down to res­o­lu­tions you’d see on an antique phone. We lost our band­width: first the laser optics, and even­tu­al­ly the Wi-Fi too. Our net­works were so slow we could bare­ly share pic­tures, and the video was unbear­ably fuzzy. It was worse than liv­ing in a slum; it was liv­ing in the 90s.

I got caught in one of these fail­ures. It was a ter­ri­fy­ing expe­ri­ence. I thought at first that the flick­er and wavy motion off to my right was just my eyes being sil­ly, the sort of entop­tic move­ment you get when you stare at the bright sil­ver lunar soil for too long. But soon I noticed that turn­ing my head would cre­ate lit­tle waves of nau­sea. Spots began to appear in my vision. I stum­bled and cried out, pant­i­ng, but my voice nev­er left my hel­met. Down on one knee, I dart­ed my eyes around, look­ing for my walk bud­dy Suleiman, but I couldn’t see where he was. My oth­er knee hit the ground, sink­ing slight­ly in the regolith. Then I felt a hand on my shoul­der. The hand reached under my armpit and hoist­ed me to my feet. My head swam. I couldn’t see and felt only dis­tant.

Next thing I knew, I was gasp­ing and chok­ing in an infir­mary.

Jorge was stand­ing over me. “Are you okay?”

My eyes watered. As I shook my head, the droplets flung out­ward in the low grav­i­ty. Pierc­ing agony waved through my mid­sec­tion. “I am in a lot of pain. What went wrong?”

Jorge thinned his lips. “This time it wasn’t a small fail­ure. Your suit didn’t vent into space, but instead flood­ed your hel­met with nitro­gen. You were slow­ly asphyx­i­at­ing and got the bends when we brought you inside.”

My stom­ach pit­ted, but only for a sec­ond. A lance of pain through my shoul­der pulled the gut feel­ing away. Nitro­gen nar­co­sis is incred­i­bly dan­ger­ous. “I don’t feel much like mov­ing around, Jorge.”

I know, Ben­nett. But you’ll be okay. We got you into a pres­sure ves­sel in time. You’ve been uncon­scious for almost two days.”

Is that why I’m thirsty?”

Jorge nod­ded. “Ben­nett, there’s more.”

I looked at Jorge. “What do you mean, ‘more?’ Like, more than my suit being fucked up?”

He nod­ded and looked over at a screen. “Umm, look…” He licked his lips. “One of the grow hous­es vent­ed.”

My eyes went round. “Like…vacuum?”

Yes. There were four peo­ple inside. Their emer­gency suits vent­ed too.”

I sat upright, ignor­ing the streaks of pain in my abdomen. “We lost four?”

He stared at me. “Gov­er­nor Hansen has called an emer­gency meet­ing for tonight. He wants you there.”

Will I be okay to go?” I looked over at the doc­tor. She nod­ded.

You’ll be uncom­fort­able, Ben­nett, but you’ll be able to make it.”

At the meet­ing, we couldn’t fig­ure out what to do. Gov­er­nor Hansen was unhap­py. “Look we know we’re com­pro­mised in some way, right?” Jorge and I nod­ded. “But we don’t know who?”

Jorge spoke up. “No, sir, we can­not even iden­ti­fy what is going wrong in the code. All we know is that we have cas­cad­ing equip­ment fail­ures, and that the new­er equip­ment seems to be the most fail­ure-prone.”

Well that doesn’t help us very much does it?”

No, Mr. Gov­er­nor, but we might still have options,” I said. “We need to hire out­side help.”

The gov­er­nor gave me side eye. “Out­side? Like who?”

I don’t know,” I said. Before Gov­er­nor Hansen could say any­thing I added: “But Lon­don should. They work on com­put­er secu­ri­ty cas­es all the time.”

Noth­ing like this has ever hap­pened before. No one has ever hacked an entire fuck­ing soci­ety,” the gov­er­nor shot back.

How­ev­er,” Jorge said, “there have been some attempts.” Every­one looked at him. “It’s most­ly Rus­sia and Chi­na,” he said. “At the dawn of the mil­len­ni­um, they would attack the com­put­er sys­tems of states they opposed. Rus­sia tried, once, to shut down Estonia’s gov­ern­ment net­works that man­age social ser­vices and count votes at elec­tion. Chi­na hacked dis­si­dent groups, com­pet­ing tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies, and tried to crack open seces­sion­ist move­ments in a pret­ty com­pre­hen­sive way. They humil­i­at­ed a ton of groups by mak­ing their secu­ri­ty look weak.”

I inter­ject­ed. “Right, we are all aware of that, but that’s why we built sys­tems that can’t be hacked that way. It is phys­i­cal­ly impos­si­ble for some­one on Earth to break into our net­work. It’s light speed. The sig­nal delay would iden­ti­fy their loca­tion as Earth and lock them out. There is no way a hos­tile gov­ern­ment can spoof that.”

Jorge looked uncom­fort­able. “Well it could be some­one here.”

The gov­er­nor scowled. “Do you have any evi­dence that some­one is active­ly doing this here?”

No,” Jorge con­ced­ed. “But it might not have to be a per­son. It could be some­thing else, some­thing built in that we missed, some­thing in our source code that is being exploit­ed some­how. I don’t know. I think the only way we can fig­ure this out is by hir­ing a secu­ri­ty expert to audit our sys­tems.”

And so we did. It turned out intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty lawyers in Lon­don are real­ly plugged into the some­what murky uni­verse of com­put­er secu­ri­ty experts. Our lawyers found a guy who was will­ing to trav­el on site to do his audit.

As the consultant’s shut­tle approached, I decid­ed to tune into the Lunar Traf­fic Con­trol fre­quen­cy. Too many things had gone wrong and I had to make sure that he got here prop­er­ly. The video feed was grainy but I could make every­thing out with a bit of squint­ing.

The shut­tle pilot indi­cat­ed she was on final approach.

Roger that, shut­tle Alpha-four, set land­ing con­trols to auto.”

Con­firmed, land­ing sequence is on auto. Luna Con­trol you are in the driver’s seat.”

Copy that, Alpha-four. Stand by land­ing sequence.”

The shut­tle lurched to the side.

Umm, Con­trol? Who’s punch­ing but­tons today?”

That wasn’t us, Alpha-four. Stand­by.”

The shut­tle rotat­ed a full nine­ty degrees, its thrusters puff­ing out con­tra­dic­to­ry whips of vapor.

Con­trol I am fight­ing a nasty roll here, dis­con­nect from autopi­lot!”

The traf­fic con­troller sound­ed pan­icked. “Shut­tle Alpha-four I am com­plete­ly dis­en­gaged from your con­trol sys­tems. Right your land­ing approach!”

The shut­tle descend­ed on its side, puffs of vapor still com­ing out at oppos­ing angles from the thruster nodes.

Luna Con­trol we are unable to right our ori­en­ta­tion. Pre­pare recov­ery crews!”

The shut­tle was descend­ing rapid­ly now, with a slight corkscrew. The traf­fic con­trol sound­ed the crash alarm and a small-look­ing trac­tor out­side lit up. Three peo­ple in suits left the traf­fic con­trol air­lock with res­cue bags.

Shut­tle Alpha-four! Brace for impact!”

The shut­tle slammed into the sur­face, just off the side of the land­ing pad. A giant puff of dust and vapor shot away from the impact site and a body went tum­bling onto the sur­face. It didn’t move after impact. As the cloud blew away, I could see that the body of the shut­tle looked intact. But the roar of shout­ing on the main traf­fic con­trol line told me it was real­ly bad. I real­ized that the cloud cleared away because of the force of the air inside the cab­in, leak­ing into space.

A lit­tle bit away from the crash site, pieces of the shut­tle began plop­ping onto the sur­face, kick­ing up minia­ture puffs of dust and leav­ing behind tiny craters.

We are so fucked.”

I looked over at Jorge. “Oh real­ly, Jorge, thank you for point­ing this out.”

Ugh, I’m not just emot­ing, Ben­nett! I think I fig­ured out what’s going on.”

Okay. So what is it?”

I think we have a worm.”

I paused for a sec­ond. “A worm? What does that even mean?”

It means there is code in our oper­at­ing sys­tem that has prop­a­gat­ed through­out the net­work and is respon­si­ble for the soft­ware fail­ures.”

So we were hacked? Who could do that, Jorge?”

He looked for­lorn. “I have no idea, Ben­nett. This is very strange. I think it’s old, too. Like it’s been here since Found­ing.”

That couldn’t be true. The impli­ca­tions — “That means one of the Founders was a trai­tor,” I said.

Jorge nod­ded. “Yes they were. Some­one built our entire soci­ety with a weak­ness we nev­er knew about.”

Two days lat­er we pre­sent­ed this the­o­ry to Gov­er­nor Hansen. “Pre­pos­ter­ous,” was his response. “The Founders were all com­put­er sci­en­tists, coders all. How could one have cre­at­ed a worm that far back that no one else ever noticed? There has to be a more recent expla­na­tion. One less crazy.”

Jorge tried to per­suade him oth­er­wise, but Hansen wasn’t hav­ing any of it. So we kept look­ing, pro­gram after pro­gram, line by line of code.

I keep com­ing back to this,” Jorge said after anoth­er few days of analy­sis. “I can’t find the actu­al pro­gram, it’s being too sneaky for me to track it down. But I can see what it does, and how it’s chang­ing things. And it just isn’t behav­ing like a mod­ern pro­gram. The heuris­tics are all wrong.”

We were hav­ing lunch. I had just spilled sal­sa roja on the neck ring of my suit and reached for a nap­kin to wipe it off. “Is it learn­ing? Is that why you can’t find where the actu­al pro­gram resides?”

No,” Jorge said. “That’s what I mean about the heuris­tics. Machine learn­ing hap­pens in a spe­cif­ic type of pat­tern: you can see it try­ing new things either sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly or con­tex­tu­al­ly. This is ran­dom. Or at least, I think it is. That’s why I think it’s old, like a cen­tu­ry old or more. Those old Machine Learn­ing algo­rithms didn’t do a good job of learn­ing from con­text. They learned ran­dom­ly, with­in bounds.”

But how would some­thing like that even get on our net­work?”

That’s the part that puz­zles me. But I think one rea­son these fail­ures seem to be ran­dom is because our net­work does not have tight bound­aries.”

You mean the pro­gram doesn’t have a nar­row con­text to oper­ate in, so it strikes wher­ev­er it can?”

More or less,” Jorge said. “But that still doesn’t help me find where it is, it just gives me a ran­dom set of effects to try to make sense of. It’s real­ly frus­trat­ing.”

While Jorge chewed on the weird worm putting us all in dan­ger and mak­ing us poor, I was try­ing to fig­ure out how to get some out­side help. No one was will­ing to land a com­mer­cial shut­tle, not even man­u­al­ly, after the Alpha-four crash. And our firm in Lon­don had denied our requests to send a new con­sul­tant up here to audit our sys­tems.

I had begun reach­ing out to the Found­ing Fam­i­lies in Cal­i­for­nia. Most had sev­ered ties with us when we began pur­su­ing intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty lit­i­ga­tion against Chi­na; it was too risky to their own port­fo­lios to be seen as hav­ing a rela­tion­ship with a state adver­sary. But some had stayed in con­tact, at least finan­cial­ly. They cashed their resid­ual checks at any rate.

His one and only name was Narendra. I asked him for a last name and he declined.

How­ev­er, none of them expressed any inter­est in help­ing us, save one: Dar­ryl Sand­berg, who fam­i­ly went back gen­er­a­tions in tech cul­ture. He put me in touch with one of his friends, who did hush-hush secu­ri­ty con­sult­ing for the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment. That seemed exact­ly what we need­ed: not con­nec­tions to some secu­ri­ty ser­vice, but the skills to oper­ate at that lev­el. His one and only name was Naren­dra. I asked him for a last name and he declined.

Well, I can tell you one thing right off the line,” he said dur­ing our first con­ver­sa­tion. “You need to fire your lawyers.”

I stut­tered. “Umm, okay, that’s good of you to say. Can I ask why you think we should do that?”

They’re owned by the Rus­sians.”

I fur­rowed my brow try­ing to fig­ure out why that was rel­e­vant. “So what? Rich Russ­ian guys own lots of com­pa­nies. Why does that mat­ter?”

I am almost cer­tain they’re involved some­how,” he replied.

Is there…I mean…do you have any evi­dence of this?”

The man shook his head. “No, but you know they’ve had designs on the South Pole for­ev­er. If the oil mar­kets hadn’t crashed their econ­o­my they would have set up there with the Euro­peans.”

I fail to see why that’s rel­e­vant,” I said back. “All that was forty-five years ago.”

Naren­dra nod­ded. “Yes, right when your Founders were launch­ing con­struc­tors to the Moon.”

Now that gave me pause. “We’ll think about it,” I said, and pro­ceed­ed to work out his fee.

We prob­a­bly under­paid. In less than a week, he had land­ed near­by in a small, pri­vate rock jumper, pilot­ed by one of Sandberg’s employ­ees, and hopped across sev­er­al miles of regolith to enter the main dome. Three days lat­er, he told us he had an answer.

It’s your BIOS,” he said. Jorge yelled some­thing from the near­by office. Per­haps despair? Naren­dra con­tin­ued: “Your BIOS has been com­pro­mised for decades, and it’s a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty frankly no one has ever dis­cov­ered until now.” He seemed hap­py, almost ecsta­t­ic. “I mean, think about it: No one has used this spe­cif­ic sys­tem for admin­is­ter­ing hard­ware for decades, but you stuck around long enough to get hit by it!”

You do know 10 peo­ple have died.”

Imme­di­ate­ly, his face drooped a bit. “Yes, I’m sor­ry. It’s very excit­ing to dis­cov­er some­thing com­plete­ly new. But I mean, also, you are so fucked.”

I beg your par­don?”

You need to replace every­thing here. Every sin­gle piece of elec­tron­ics you have either con­struct­ed or that you have pur­chased since arriv­ing. And you need to replace it all simul­ta­ne­ous­ly: total pow­er down, every­thing unplugged, full replace­ment.”

My mouth fell open. “We can’t do that. Even assum­ing we could afford it, I don’t think we can han­dle being offline for how­ev­er long that would take. We are lit­er­al­ly depen­dent on these com­put­ers for life and death.”

Yeah,” he said. “That is why you are so fucked.”

Of course news of this cat­a­stro­phe spread. Every sin­gle buy­er for our high-pre­ci­sion man­u­fac­tur­ing went silent. They wouldn’t even return our calls. The news accused us of sell­ing “poi­soned moth­er­boards” to an unsus­pect­ing pub­lic. We were com­plete­ly ruined. We couldn’t even export our food – no one was will­ing to land a shut­tle, nor were they will­ing to accept our car­go launch­es. We lost five pota­to har­vests while they died in space, slow­ly irra­di­at­ed into poi­son.

We lost our Inter­net access. Emails back to Earth stopped work­ing, and we had to access social media through spe­cial por­tals that “scrubbed” our traf­fic to make sure this BIOS worm wasn’t get­ting to any­where it shouldn’t.

We needn’t have wor­ried. By the time Naren­dra had traced the BIOS worm to a small group of Rus­sians who worked for the KGB fifty years ago but sold “secure” com­put­er assem­bly sequences as a side busi­ness, he had unpacked the source code. We were the tar­gets. Some Russ­ian offi­cial fifty years ago want­ed to dis­rupt our colony, and he even­tu­al­ly suc­ceed­ed. We were ruined.

The Sand­bergs took a bit of pity on us: they drop-shipped a thou­sand dumb space­suits near­by the crashed shut­tle Alpha-four. They then sent a big trans­port to start tak­ing us to some near­by space sta­tions. We were going to be split up; the only com­mu­ni­ty any of us had ever known was being ripped apart because of a piece of ancient soft­ware.

Naren­dra helped us back up most of our pics and vids on some scrubbed hard dri­ves. Besides our clothes, our only pos­ses­sions amount­ed to a file direc­to­ry on a lit­tle wafer of sil­i­con.

When the Founders had set­tled the Moon, they spoke at great length of how won­der­ful it would be to be pio­neers again, to be on the very cut­ting edge of some­thing new. They were right to be proud, even as I lament how arro­gant they were to not check their com­put­ers more thor­ough­ly before mak­ing them impos­si­ble to change. Lega­cy bugs, the Inter­net says. Those lega­cy bugs will kill you. In our case it was too true.

I can’t admit, out loud at least, that we at least have the dis­tinc­tion of being anoth­er first for human­i­ty: the first space refugees. We can nev­er go down to earth, but we can at least get clos­er to it. Liv­ing in a spin­ning wheel is nev­er the same as being pulled down by prop­er grav­i­ty. But that’s all we have left, now.