Exploring our galactic excursions in a distant-but-perhaps-not-so-distant post-apocalyptic world.
In the year 2182, NASA sent a team of researchers up to the moon after Earth’s total livable acreage went down by over one-third since the start of the century. The continents all had shrunk as they were consumed by the oceans. Large swathes of land had become radioactive wastelands.
(All due to unforeseeable kinds of disasters of which humanity was most definitely not the perpetrator. By no means.)
Here they were, a select group of 50 escaping to the moon from all the things that went wrong back on Earth, to quickly transform their temporary moon base to a properly-sized colony for the approaching time when everything else will have finished going wrong.
Then things went wrong very quickly.
First, out of the nine space shuttles sent, two were destroyed when one crash-landed into the other. Fortunately, it was an unmanned shuttle that crashed into an already-evacuated one, so there were no fatalities (just yet). Unfortunately, it had contained most of the research team’s pre-made food supply.
Their backup food plan was the plant and livestock they were experimenting with as a food source in the base. It wasn’t a foolproof plan, but it was what they were there for anyway. By the power of science, they would make this work.
They didn’t. All the plants died within a day of being transported to the greenhouse (or perhaps they had already died in transit), and the livestock soon followed suit. The researchers would have a sufficient meat supply to last them a little while, but there was nothing sustainable enough for them to complete their mission.
The researchers returned home prematurely before they died, and the mission was deemed unsuccessful. NASA planned to relaunch the team soon, but then a rapid series of bombing mishaps destroyed another two-thirds of the remaining livable land on Earth, setting technology back by many years alongside. At least there would be no more bombings for a while. (Yay.) There would also be no NASA escape plans for a while. (Dang it.)
Many years later, it became 2236, and the new International Aeronautics and Space Administration had come to be. Mostly because there were not enough people or countries left to reasonably have separate space research when everyone was clamoring to leave Earth as soon as possible. The IASA sent a group of 50 researchers (perhaps a solid 8% of the remaining population) to continue work on the lunar base, to make a hospitable colony to which what was left of humanity could finally escape. (Sound familiar?)
This expedition was even more ill-fated than the first. Instead of dying from bombings after returning home, the new crew was dying before they even reached the moon when five space shuttles imploded. Ah, a minor engineering flaw. Perhaps IASA was sending people out to space a little too soon.
And so, 14 researchers were all that the IASA had left. At least there were enough materials and resources for them to comfortably stay a while for their mission. The moon base technology would increase their rate of research by many orders higher than back on Earth; they could even rebuild shuttles for the return home to replace the rickety ones on which they had arrived.
Iris did not know how she ended up here. She did not even understand how she was chosen as one of humanity’s brightest minds. She had been studying under her botany research mentor as she was working toward her degree, but one day the mentor died and she was told to take his place in the upcoming space expedition. Two weeks of poorly-executed training later, she was shuttled off to the moon, luckily in one of the less combustible transportation vehicles.
Her task was to engineer a crop strain cultivatable in the prototype moon base greenhouse in order to establish a steady food source for the future colony. A few months in, Iris strongly believed that it was the greenhouse that was the problem and that its design had to be majorly changed, but there were no appropriate engineers in the team to make those changes. Once again, all Iris could leave behind in the greenhouse were several plant boxes of wilting bits of leaf and stem.
The next day, Iris gave up. Most of the team had given up by then actually. Only the two fixing up the shuttle to go home were making progress. Given that they said they would need another month or so to finish up, the rest of the team waited around until they could return home.
However, a few weeks in, the moon base seemed haunted by a strange scuffling noise. In the middle of the night, Iris blearily got up to investigate. It seemed like it was coming from the greenhouse, so she went in only to see a shadow in the corner slip into what looked like…a giant tunnel? How did she notice that before? Deeming it a hallucination, Iris went back to bed.
And then the next morning she went back with the rest of the researchers just to realize that there was indeed a tunnel leading to a whole underground network of tunnels the research team hadn’t previously been privy to. It was an otherworldly underground carpeted with glowing malformed lettuce(?) leaves. From a side tunnel, the researchers caught a glimpse of a long-eared beast.
Monster hares poked their nose out from their burrowed home. Their fur was matted and coated in moon dust, but most striking was the size, nearly as big as the researchers. By observing the surrounding field of plants, Iris quickly deduced that the hares and their food must have been a remnant from the 2182 expedition. The plants were the result of radioactive contamination that had miraculously permitted them to thrive on lunar soil, and upon ingestion, the super-hares began living in a bunker treasuring unground elixir of life.
Then the hares, being opportunistic carnivores, ate all the researchers. There went humanity’s arguable last hope.