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Monday, August 22, 2022

On Wings of Eagles

With thanks to Jeff S. for the inspiration. 

They arrived by Eagle, of course, setting down gently on launch pad three, the pilot expertly firing the retro-rockets just enough to not quite overcome the tug of the Moon's one-sixth gravity. 

Flying would have been faster, Clark thought to himself in the passenger compartment. But then, there's no reason for Superman to be on the Moon, is there? 

An Australian accent crackled over the intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at Moonbase Alpha. We will be debarking in a moment, once Eagle Four has reached its final berth in the landing bay." 

"That's Alan Carter," Lois whispered, pointing at the speaker grille above the cockpit door.

"Gee, Lois, you think so? There's got to be more than one Australian assigned to Alpha..." 

"I know that voice. I interviewed him a few years back, when he was moonlighting as a voiceover artist playing villains on those silly cartoons about Superman and the Justice League." 

"Gosh, I didn't know he did voice overs. But then I'm not really into cartoons," Clark said. 

"Attention passengers - I'm opening the doors. Head to the reception area to be guided to your ultimate destination on Alpha. Enjoy your stay." 

Lois and Clark milled out with the other passengers, looking inconspicuous in their Moonbase guest uniforms--what amounted to tan slacks and long-sleeved tops, each with a thick green stripe running down the left side of the ensemble. 

"Honeymoon suite," Lois said as they reached the reception kiosk. The Alphan attendant smiled widely and handed them each a small, roughly cylindrical device. 

"These are your commlocks," the attendant said. "They'll open your suite and any other publicly accessible place on Alpha. I highly recommend the sun room - it's very relaxing and great for people watching," she smiled coyly, eyeing Clark. 

Clark blushed as they moved past the reception area and into the white plastic catacombs of Moonbase Alpha. "Gee whiz, Lois, I hope you're not thinking of that sun room suggestion. It's a little, uh, racy for our story, don't you think?" 

"Clark, don't worry about looking all scrawny and underfed in your swimsuit. No one will be paying attention to you. Besides, if we're going to get the real scoop on the rumors of rip-offs and kickbacks in Moon tourism, we're going to have to check out all the attractions at some point."  

"Uh, gee, Lois, I guess you're right." 

The honeymoon suite proved quite decadent. The room was cavernous, the ceiling crafted from a gigantic dome of transparent aluminum. The view was magnificent, with the glorious blue-green Earth hovering overhead. 

Lois immediately began stripping out of her Alpha coveralls, causing Clark to abruptly turn his back like the gentleman he was. 

"You know, I think I will check out that sunroom," Lois said, rifling through her travel bag for a suitably scandalous bikini. "I could use a little relaxation after that long flight. And it should be a great spot for gossip." 

"O-of course, Lois," Clark stammered as Lois primped in the mirror, tch-ing at every perceived flaw. To distract himself, Clark scanned the base with varying combinations of telescopic, microscopic, x-ray, infrared, radar, and ultraviolet vision, admiring the intricate mechanical and biological systems that kept the Moon community safe and functional. People really are a marvel, he thought, smiling to himself. 

But when he scanned beyond Alpha's walls, across the stark, dusty moonscape, he saw something alarming at one of the nuclear waste dumps. Clark's eyes widened as his Kryptonian senses revealed a catastrophe in the making: Somehow, the spent nuclear fuel was approaching a critical mass that should have been impossible. In seconds, it would produce an explosion that could crack the Moon in half--or worse. 

Moving faster than the human eye could see, Clark peeled off his Alpha uniform and eyeglasses, stuffed them into a drawer, and vibrated his molecules as he took flight, soaring through the transparent aluminum dome without shattering it, passing between atoms like a spectre. 

Lois felt only a strong breeze. She turned around. "Clark?" 

But Clark, moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light, was already on the far side of the Moon. 

Despite his great speed, he was a second too late. The freighter Eagles would clear the explosion - barely - but it was too late for Clark to halt the reaction. In slow motion, he watched, horrified, as a great plume of nuclear fire erupted. He'd failed--

--or had he? Defying logic, the reaction's energy wasn't being released in one terrible burst; instead, it was spraying out like a rocket engine, putting immense pressure on the Moon, shifting its orbit. In fact, Clark calculated, there was enough energy being produced to send the Moon flying off into outer space with sufficient acceleration to eventually reach relativistic speeds. 

He couldn't let that happen. An eyeblink later, Clark - Superman - positioned himself directly opposite the nuclear waste dump, on the Moon's so-called "near side," relative to Earth. He pressed his hands flat against the Moon and pushed, his tactile telekinisis augmenting his Kryptonian strength and, importantly, preventing him from simply drilling through the satellite like a missile. 

The pressure was immense. Superman's mighty thews strained, and if he could have broken out into a sweat, he would. 

The reaction on the far side of the moon roared in silent rage, throwing all its vast power into propelling the Moon beyond Earth's reach, into the starlit eternity. It was an irresistible force--but there on the other side was Superman, the immovable object. Impossible pressures threatened to crush the Moon, but it held fast. 

On Moonbase Alpha, over three hundred men and women were violently tossed to and fro as the entire satellite trembled. It felt like the end of the world. 

But, over the course of several long, agonizing minutes, the nuclear fire burned dim and finally flamed out. Clark relaxed the force he was applying, steadily, carefully, and at last backed away from the grey surface. He flew past Alpha, scanning for casualties, finding none. He waved at the awestruck Alphans as he flew past the windows of Main Mission, offering them a reassuring smile. 

"You picked quite a day to visit your old stomping grounds, Commander Straker," said John Koenig, newly-installed leader of Alpha.

"So it seems," Straker said blandly, though in truth he was as amazed as everyone else. 

Lois was just picking herself up off the plush carpet of their suite when Clark reappeared, glasses and all. 

"What was that?" she exclaimed, her hair adorably mussed. 

"Looks like we might just have a bigger story to write, Lois," Clark said, and turned to wink at some audience unknown and invisible.

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