Diamonds in the Sky

The Moon is a Harsh Pig

by Gerald M. Weinberg

Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.
- Allen Ginsberg

“That’s the most disgusting thing I ever saw.”

“It’s just a pig, Zeke. The biggest one on the planet, according to the sign. 527 kilos.”

“Is that with or without the mud? Yuk.”

“Mud is a perfectly natural environment for a pig,” said Astrid, studying the Planetary Fair sign as it scrolled past. “—or a sow. She’s a female.”

“All the more disgusting.”

How did I wind up with this bozo on my thesis trip? she thought. He’s cute and he’s smart, but he knows it and he’s trying too hard to convince me. Why can’t he just relax?

He attempted to put his arm around her waist and steer her away from the pigpen, but she moved his hand away and stayed put. Too bad you couldn’t afford this trip on your own money. You linked up with him to qualify for a companion fare.

In other words, you sold yourself for money. Now he thinks he’s entitled to collect. Well, deal with it, girl! He can be charming. Maybe I can get him to loosen up. Get his mind off my body.

“Come on,” she said. “I’ll show you the rest of the fair, so you’ll see why Parma is so interesting.”

He made a sour face, but allowed himself to be led outside the pig building into the open air. He took a deep breath, as if to remove the odor from his nose, then gazed up at the open sky. “I’d rather be sitting on the beach with you, smooching by the light of that fabulous moon.”

“Stop acting as if I were one of those twenty-first century floozies. I’ve only known you for two days, and I have no intention of smooching with you. Besides, I came here to study the history and culture of this planet, not to make out with some oversexed rich, spoiled, know-it-all.”

He checked the sleeves of his body suit for invisible lint. “What’s your major, anyway?”

He sure dresses well, but doesn’t even seem to know that his fancy suit repels lint. Maybe that’s because his father’s tailor made it for him. “Exodus anthropology.”

They approached a booth with distorting mirrors. He stopped to check his image, then changed his suit color to a pale gold. “What the heck is … whatever you said?”

“Better I show you.” They were now passing the protein pavilion, so she invited him to take a seat at one of the outdoor tables. A waitress stopped at their table, and while Zeke was busy peering down her low-cut peasant blouse, Astrid ordered a sample plate along with a bottle of Cave de Rivesaltes.

“All of the farmers of Parma came here to escape the Pollution. As an exodus anthropologist, my job is to study how their cultures have changed since they left Earth, and for what reasons.”

“Who cares about that?” He cast his gaze around the crowd of other patrons, adjusting his suit to a brilliant crimson. “Looks just like any other backward planet. Look what they’re wearing.”

The waitress arrived with a giant platter holding a loaf of crusty bread surrounded by artfully arranged slices and wedges of cheese. She set down a bottle of deep golden wine, pulled the cork, and offered him a small sample to taste.

Astrid could see Zeke had no idea what he was tasting, but allowed him to accept the wine with a great pretense of sophistication.

Once the waitress was gone and Zeke had stopped watching the sway of her departing hips, Astrid held up a wedge of cheese with a hard, dark brown rind.

“Take this cheese, for example. Idiazabal is made from unpasteurized milk that can only come from the latxa breed of sheep. On Earth, it could only come from the Basque region of Spain, but when the Pollution destroyed conditions there, the Basque herders sold their land to speculators and took their flocks here, to Parma.”

She held the cheese wedge up to his nose. He sniffed it suspiciously. “Why here?”

“This was the most earthlike planet available. Their cheese has such high market value they can export it and earn enough to maintain their traditional way of life. It’s the same for the specialty products of all the agricultural people who came here.”

She nibbled on the Idiazabal, then gave it to him and picked up a chunk of whitish cheese laced with irregular blue veins. “The producers of Stilton, for example, came from England.”

He wrinkled his nose. “It stinks. I can smell it from here. Who would want it?”

“Oh, just millions. They’re willing to pay top prices, because they can’t get real Stilton anywhere else.” She swept her hand over the tray. “It’s the same with all these cheeses. And olives. And onions. And meats. Just about any delicacy that can no longer be produced on Earth.”

He pushed the tray to her side of the table. “But Earth can produce all these things.”

“No, only cheap, inferior, imitations. Here, taste some of this.” She handed him a strip of pink dried meat. He looked at it dubiously, sniffed it, then worried off a small bite.

“Mmm, not bad. What kind of cheese is this?”

“It’s not cheese. It’s prosciutto, or Parma ham. Dry-cured, from a pig like Greta.”

He gagged and spit out the half-chewed ham. “From an animal?” He rinsed his mouth with a swig of wine, then spit the mouthful on the packed earth floor.

“Of course an animal. Where else would it come from?”

“From a vat, of course.” His face was turning pale green, contrasting with the crimson of his suit.

“This is real prosciutto. Originally from central and northern Italy. It brings forty or fifty times the price of that vat imitation—Vam, isn’t it called? That premium allows these farmers to thrive.”

He stood. “Let’s get out of here. I can’t—.” He put his hand over his mouth and bolted for the entrance.

She could see he was about to vomit, but knew he could never admit it. She gave him time to answer nature’s call, paid the bill, and followed him out onto the moon-lit concourse. He’s got potential, but I’ve got to break through his defenses.

He appeared five minutes later, looking a bit better and acting as if nothing had happened. “I was studying the moon,” he alibied. “I didn’t tell you, but my field is astrophysics—a lot more scientific than—what was it?—exodus archaeology.”

“Anthropology,” she corrected, smiling to herself because she knew he’d made the mistake intentionally. He was about to do some serious ego-building, at her expense, if possible. Well, maybe I can break it down, and reach him that way.

“Yeah, whatever.” He pointed to the sky. “Let me teach you something that you probably don’t know. See that moon? Do you know why you only see a crescent?”

She stared up at the glowing half-disk. “It’s because different parts of the moon light up at different times.”

He clasped his forehead in mock dismay. “My god, that’s dumb.”

“What’s dumb about it? That’s the way it works.”

“Wanna bet?”

Here it comes. “What would we bet? You have everything you could ever want.” Or your father does.

“Except a kiss from you.”

“Oh, not that again, Zeke. Don’t be so boring.” She held up her palm as if ready to push him away.

“Why not? If my explanation is correct, and you lose, then you’ll kiss me.”

She threw him a coquettish glance. “Hmm. I don’t know about that. What if you lose?”

“I won’t lose.”

She shrugged. “But it’s no bet if you have nothing to lose.”

“So, what do you propose?”

She paused as if considering possibilities, though she already knew where this was going. “For starters, if you lose, you pay for my return trip, full fare.”

“Sure,” he said, cocky as ever.

She realized her mistake immediately. That didn’t work. It’s his father’s money. It wouldn’t bother him to pay.

She offered her hand to shake on the deal, but he held up one finger, signaling another condition. “If you lose, I’ll pay your fare anyway, but we have to take the long way back. And you’ll share a cabin with me.”

She knew the long way back was at least two weeks. “I think you just raised the stakes.” She thought fast. “Under the circumstances, we need to throw in one more thing, to balance the odds.”

“What did you have in mind?” Apparently he still didn’t have a hint that he might lose.

“Hmm. Remember that pig we saw?”

“You mean that … Greta, the champion sow?”

“That’s the one.”

“What about her?”

“If you lose, you have to climb into the pigpen and kiss her. On the lips.”

He rocked his head back and forth, tossing his golden curls from side to side.

“Very funny. Okay, why not? I’m not going to lose.”

He extended his hand. She shook it, sealing the bet. He didn’t release her hand until she led him up in front of a uniformed policeman and asked for directions to the live animal pens.

On their way to the pens, they passed a small girl, perhaps five years old, bouncing a large multi-colored ball—probably a prize from one of the gaming booths. Zeke moved quickly and snatched the ball on a bounce. When the girl started to cry, he seized her hand and pressed his own palm sensor on hers. “Here’s money for the ball. Enough for ten new ones. Now get lost!”

Astrid wanted to hug the child and wipe away her tears, but the five-year-old was already running back to her friends, wailing. Zeke tugged Astrid’s elbow.

“Let’s get out of here before she complains to her parents. Her Mama is probably a hundred-kilo farm wife who wrings chicken’s necks and eats them alive, feathers and all.”

Astrid pried his fingers off her arm, but couldn’t see much alternative to following him as he searched for a spot adequately dark for his demonstration.

Eventually, he found a barn-like structure filled from wall to wall with animal pens, though the stalls on their end of the building were all vacant. “This should be dark enough,” he said, setting his data pod on the railing of the nearest stall and turning on its light beam. “This will be the sun, shining its light on both the planet and the moon. Now you stand here.” He swept away some straw on the dirt floor.

“You’ll be the planet.”

“I’m supposed to be a planet?”

“Well, okay, think of yourself as you, standing on the planet. You’re looking up at the moon.” He held up the ball in both hands. “This will be the moon.”

“And what am I supposed to do?”

“Just stand there and look at the moon while I carry it around you. You do know that the moon rotates around the planet, don’t you?”

“That doesn’t sound right, but if you say so, okay. It’s your demonstration.”

“Good. Now, face away from the sun—my pod—and watch the shadow on the ball.” He stood in front of her so that she and the ball and the “sun” were in a straight line. “Tell me about the shadow you see.”

She was distracted for a moment as two young boys led a noisy flock of white and black sheep into a pen about thirty meters away. Once the sheep were safely penned, they stopped bleating. She looked at the ball. “There isn’t any shadow. Not that I can see from here with the sun behind me. It’s illuminating the whole moon.”

“Right. That’s what we call the full moon. No shadow. Now, watch what happens when I move over to your left side.”

“I’m supposed to watch you?” He’s actually very good at explaining this. He’d make a good teacher if he wasn’t so full of himself. If I give him a hard time, that might help.

“Well, not me. The moon.” He wiggled the ball. “Where’s the shadow now.”

“That’s easy. The right side of the ball is dark. Half the ball.”

“Exactly. That’s the half moon. And now what happens when I move the moon between you and the pod—between you and the sun.”

She didn’t even look. “It’s all shadow, of course. Because the sun’s shining on the other side.”

“So there you are. The new moon. And that’s how phases of the moon work.”

He puckered up his lips and made a smacking sound. “Time to pay up.”

She shook her head and waggled her finger at him. “Not so fast, lover boy. You haven’t heard my explanation yet.”

“Sure, I did. You said that there are lights on the moon that go on and off in phases. That’s pretty much the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard. Bad science. Very bad science. In fact, it’s not science at all. It’s pure fantasy.”

“And what makes it bad science, Mr. Smarty?” She held her arm extended stiffly in front of her, to fend him off.

“Because there’s no evidence, no data, whatsoever. Science is based on facts. Observable facts.”

“And what observable facts did you give me in your so-called proof?”

“I showed you, with this ball. You could see it with your own eyes.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “Ah, so the moon is a child’s ball?”

“Now you’re being silly. Of course the moon isn’t a ball. I was using an analogy.”

“Oh, so now science is based on analogy, not facts?”

He wrinkled his face in frustration. “Of course not. Stop acting like a girl.”

I ought to smack him, but this is going to be better. “I’m not acting. So your ball demonstration wasn’t a proof after all, right?”

He dropped the ball into the straw and raised his hands in a gesture of mock surrender. “Maybe. But it’s as good a proof as you can get without actually going to the moon itself.”

Finally. “So, let’s go to the moon and get some observable facts for ourselves.”

He crossed his arms over his chest, showing resistance but obviously intended to impress her with his artificially enhanced biceps. “Now you’re really being silly. That would take five or six hours.”

“I don’t think it would take that long. It didn’t take much longer than that to get to this planet from Earth.”

Zeke slapped his forehead. His expression said, How dumb can a broad be? What he said out loud was, “If you knew anything about astrophysics, you’d know it’s faster from planet to planet,” he explained impatiently, “We came through hyper-space. To get to the moon, we’d have to take an ordinary taxi through real-space, which means we can only go at real speeds. I don’t know exactly how far this moon is, but I’d say it’s at least 300,000 kilometers, which means about five hours each way.”

“It looks like it’s a lot closer than that.”

“Sure. And it lights up in phases. Archaeologists know all about it, don’t they?”

“More than you do,” she pouted. “I’ve studied it for my thesis. Anyway, even if I’m wrong, I won’t concede our bet unless we have a real proof.”

She studied his face as he considered her proposal. He must think I’m dumber than a hammer. I hope he thinks he can make whoopee on the five-hour trip.

“Okay,” he said at last. “I’ll call a taxi.”

The taxi arrived two minutes after they reached the cab stand. It was a rather ordinary rocket car of such an old model that Astrid had never seen one quite like it. She made a mental note in her data files—a nice bit of detail for her thesis. Inside, however, it did have conventional privacy controls. Zeke blocked off the driver and proceeded to continue his smooch campaign on Astrid.

He’d been pawing at her for about ten minutes, and seemed to think he was making progress, when she turned on the view window and gave a little squeak.

“There it is. Isn’t it lovely?”

He didn’t turn his face away from its position about a hand’s breadth away from her lips. “There’s what?”

“The moon, of course.” She slid away from his face and pointed at the screen.

“See, I was right.”

He didn’t look, but inched closer, narrowing the gap again between their faces.

“It can’t be the moon. We’re no more than a few thousand klicks up.”

“So? I told you how close the moon was.”

They circled the moon for another twenty minutes, examining what turned out to be a huge curved disc in a geo-stationary orbit. The back of the disc consisted of a criss-cross of slim metal structural members, while the front was a black background covered with millions of tiny lights. Tonight, half the lights were on, projecting an image of a half moon to the residents of Parma below.

Zeke remained silent until they returned to the fairgrounds. He paid for her ticket without complaint, and she wondered if his ego was going to allow him to ask her about the moon. She led him from the cab stand along the concourse until they were alongside Greta’s pigpen, at which point he stopped and said, “How did you know?”

“I’m an exodus anthropologist. It’s my business to know these things. Of course I know about the phases of Earth’s moon, or of any natural moon, but Parma has no natural moon. The first immigrants didn’t realize that was a problem until they noticed that their animals weren’t breeding properly. That would have made their migration hopes hash, but a scientist—an anthropologist, actually—showed that the cause was the missing moon, so there were no biological phases. The pigs and sheep and other animals were genetically adapted to the Earth’s moon cycles.”

She edge him closer to the pigpen. “The animals, like Greta here, were absolutely essential to maintaining the immigrants’ way of life, but buying and moving a moon was way too expensive. Instead, they hired an engineering firm to build them that artificial one, with lights that simulated the phases of Earth’s moon.”

They were now looking down over the railing at Greta, grunting and wallowing in her mud. He stared, wide-eyed, into the pen. “You took unfair advantage of me,” he said. “How could I know the moon was artificial?”

“Oh, if you were a real astrophysicist, you could have known by your own principles.”

“Huh?”

“Observable facts, remember? Ever since we landed here, the moon has been in the same position in the sky. It’s in a geosynchronous orbit. It shows phases, because that’s what it was designed to do, but it doesn’t rise and set like Earth’s moon. In fact, I told you it didn’t rotate around Parma.”

“So, you set me up.”

“No, Zeke, you set yourself up by being an arrogant fool.”

“I may be a fool, but I’m bigger and stronger than you.” He flexed the muscles in his artificially enhanced chest to show his defiance. “I say you cheated me, so I’m not going to pay the second part of the bet. And, I’m going to collect the kiss you cheated me out of.”

He grabbed her shoulder and started to pull her towards him.

She took hold of his wrist, placed her other hand under his elbow, and pivoted around on her right foot. He wouldn’t let go, so she spun him around faster until his legs hit the railing. Over he tumbled, splashing on his rump into the mud right in front of Greta. Without hesitation, the giant sow moved forward and immediately pressed her snout into his face.

“That’s the only kiss you’re going to get,” she called in after him. “And one more thing you didn’t know. I didn’t buy my muscles. I earned them, by working out. Unlike the muscles you bought, they’re not just for show.”

Greta’s huge tongue bathed his face. He wiped off some of the pig slobber with the back of his hand, then began to laugh. “I guess she recognizes me as real pig because that’s the way I’ve been acting.”

She broke into a smile and reached down to offer a hand for pulling him out.

“You finally got that right.”

“I guess I was trying too hard to impress you. Can you forgive me? Can we start over from square one?”

She yanked him out of the pen. “We’ll see. You can start by—”

“—cleaning up?” he asked, watching his suit shed mud.

“You can do that later. I was thinking you could find that little girl and give her ball back. With an apology.”

Afterword:

In this story, I was aiming at a number of lessons:

1. “Know-it-all” scientists aren’t scientists.
2. Astronomical events (like phases of the moon) have a lot more influence on things than we are aware of.
3. How easily we can fool ourselves with simulations.
4. And, of course, how lunar phenomena actually work.

Copyright Jerry Weinberg