Touchdown occurred at six minutes past eleven that evening. The control room held the engineers who’d designed, built and deployed the landing vehicle and its industrious occupants. Terry performed the unnecessary verbal countdown. JimmyK had rigged the main screen to actually tick the seconds, and the numerals were, shit, twenty centimeters high. But Terry insisted.
“Three, two, one. And there they go.”
The event went off without a hitch. Only, it wasn’t a singular event. Touchdown of the Lunar Surface Etching Bots involved the rocket lander’s release of six balls that unsprung into round wire cages. These flexible cable structures possessed control-hubs containing radios, solarcells and pulley systems designed to reel and unreel twisted wire that would make the cages tumble along on the surface of the Moon.
The cameras in each BumbleBot, as they were called, flashed wildly as the balls spun in flight. The cages expanded and hit the surface, bouncing as they slowed in the powdery regolith that covered the Moon.
“We’re good on BBot number three and four. Yup, there’s number one.”
Eventually all six would tumble to a stop and report in healthy.
“How far off our mark?” Terry, commander and original investor, practically twitched in anticipation.
JimmyK, chief designer, looked affronted. “We’re not ‘off’ at all. We’re just closer to the middle of the ‘D’ than to the corner. But, hey, it’s a loop. We can get started as soon as we link ’em up.”
The six BumbleBots would need to inter-communicate to accomplish their mission.
“Damn-it Jimmy, you said the link-ups would be automa…”
“They are. See?” Jimmy thumbed at the screen. Six columns, indicating health statistics—green lights next to the ‘Paired’ labels—indicated successful swarm-connections between the bots. Although directed from Communication Central, ComCen would rely on the inter-communications between the robotic tumblers to orchestrate the details of etching logos into the Moon’s surface.
The bots were, in essence, celestial graffiti artists. Their subway walls, as it were, had been selected with great care and research. Mare Serenitatis, the Sea of Serenity, was a six-hundred kilometer-wide dark patch in the upper third of the perpetually Earth-facing surface of the Moon.
The team of BumbleBots would traverse a predefined path, their passing would leave a disturbed trail of lighter colored regolith traced in the charcoal-shaded bed of the mare. One hundred kilometers wide and twenty tall, the resulting scar represented the culmination of ten years of legal battles.
Just who owned the Moon?
It turns out, whomever could get there first.
Terry gave the command, JimmyK tapped the keys and the line of BumbleBots began their choreographed dance on the Moon. The process would take months. For the first day, the ComCen team hung around mesmerized by the snapshots the bots returned to the team’s monitors. Designed for attitudinal and situational awareness, each bot could adjust its path, reversing if necessary, take photos and even short clips at will. When a bot’s battery discharged too low, the bot would ask the other robots to pause allowing them all to position themselves for maximum exposure to the sun.
The whole process became routine. Darci Reyes took first watch while the rest of the team went home and logged in periodically to check progress.
Two months had passed as the path of the bots slowly revealed itself through the telescope trained on Mare Serenitatis.
JimmyK decided to take an extra shift. He’d dedicated himself to the project, always pulling extra duty. His shy demeanor belied his exquisite competency. He’d requested a bump in rank but Terry had shut him down.
As part of the minute by minute routine, the bots paths were checked and double checked per the contractual obligations designed into the system. The sponsor had insisted on anonymity until the deed was done. Public outcry, while the bots worked, was expected. Marring the surface of the Moon for capitalistic purposes, scraping ads into fair Luna’s face, would brand the company that performed the act as either a patron of progress or a pariah.
JimmyK took a sip from his Space-Ex coffee mug. He’d worked for the famous company for years before Musk and he had come to blows over Mars First vs Moon First. On the big screen BBot #1 flashed a course deviation.
“Hmm.” Jimmy tapped out a few commands. He stared at the screen. BBot #2 signaled its own unexpected course change. The remaining bots followed suit. He clicked the chat-channel’s ALERT button which notified the team of an anomaly.
“What’s up, Jimmy?” Darci’s comically high voice squeaked in the conference call.
“We’ve got a course problem. I can’t seem to correct it.”
The rest of the team popped in and eventually everyone had been brought up to speed on the situation.
Terry showed up last, calling in from a retreat in the Texas Outback. “You’re telling me we can’t override these goddamn things? They’re on their own?”
“Not a one is responding to admin overrides.” JimmyK never reacted well to Terry’s cursing. “No, that’s wrong. They respond but ignore our directives.”
“Shit, shit, shit.”
The sound of the course alarms echoed through the call’s connection.
Terry’s call dropped and reconnected. “…down!”
“Sorry, Terry, we missed that.”
“Shut the fucking things down.”
“I’ve tried.” JimmyK sounded defeated. “I think the bots may have been tampered with.”
“Who the hell would want to screw with our project?”
JimmyK emptied the can into his mug and took another sip. He flipped the empty into the trash where it clanked with the other Pepsi cans sitting there. “Got me.”