Vesta's Cross

This is the beginning of a novella. Message me to let me know what you think or if you want to read more.

Chapter 1

It was a typical rainy day in Berlin and Sara was in her office reviewing a draft proposal; an annex for a Japanese lunar habitat located near Tycho crater. She was head of a small architectural firm specialised in structures erected on rocky planetary bodies such as the Moon and Mars, and business was booming with commissions from Japan, South Africa, UAE, EU, and India, as well as private firms wanting to have a piece of the space pie.

Sara was deep in thoughts when her virtual personal assistant informed her of incoming call on her secure channel; it was a cardinal from the Vatican. The woman quickly glanced at her agenda for the rest of the day, it was packed but she had some flexibility. Intrigued, she took the call and a few seconds later, a bald middle-aged man with a plump face appeared on the video wall in her office.

‘Good morning cardinal. Who do I have the honour to talk to?’

‘Lopez. Cardinal Lopez. Good morning,’ Replied the man with heavy Spanish accent. 'I speak on behalf of the Vatican City.’

‘It's an honour to speak to you cardinal. Now if you're calling to thank me for my last donation to the Catholic Church, you're fifteen years late. What can I do for you?’

‘We have been impressed with your portfolio Mrs. Hern and want to approach you for a potential project.'

'Carry on,' Sara replied.

'As you know, the Roman Catholic Church has had a long-standing interest in astronomy.'

'Yes. I recall seeing the Vatican Observatory when I visited Rome.'

'We are proud of such legacy and have now decided to build upon it. Considering your expertise in the field of space architecture, we have a proposal we would like to make to you. Would you be inclined to know more about it?’

‘Building cathedrals in space is an interesting project. I’m listening.’

‘Your consent is a blessing to our souls, Mrs. Hern. As you know full well, various religious monuments have recently been erected on the lunar surface. As a statement, these monuments will outlive us all and stay intact for millions of years.'

Sara interrupted, ‘Yes, but didn’t the Pope decry the Hindu and Muslim lunar monuments as space follies that were diverting valuable funds from the poor?’

‘Indeed. Nevertheless, we can’t remain insensitive to the powerful messages these monuments project to the souls back on Earth.’

‘I didn't know saving souls was such a competitive market cardinal,' she smirked.

‘Let us not become too cynical, Mrs. Hern. Our objective is to share the word of God and help those in need. To do so, we often assess how to best carry on this work on Earth. And it has come to our attention that erecting a monument in space in the name of our lord will help in achieving those goals.'

Sara remained silent for a few seconds.

‘The north pole,’ she said.

‘I beg your pardon.’

‘The lunar north pole. That’s where you have to build your cathedral. It’s one of the most sheltered places on the Moon, yet, there are locations where the Sun is always visible. Best of both worlds.'

‘Oh,’ chuckled the plump man. ‘I am sorry to have confused you Mrs. Hern. The Moon is not what we have in mind.’

‘Not on the Moon?’ she said in a surprised voice, ‘Where then?’

‘On the tallest mountain in our Solar System.’

‘On Mars!’ she heard herself shout.

'No. Mars is not where you can find the tallest mountain. Try again.'

'What? Olympus Mons is not the tallest?'

'There's one taller.'

'Where so?'

"In the asteroid belt.'

'Oh, yes of course. On Vesta.' she replied.

‘Peak Rheasilvia to be precise,’ he said calmly.

‘You want me to build you a cathedral on asteroid Vesta?’

‘Well, not a cathedral. More like a modest monument to our saviour.’

‘Something like a cross?’

‘Exactly. Five hundred meters in height and two hundred and fifty meters across to be precise,’ he replied.

‘But cardinal, that’s twice as tall as the lunar Hindu tower.’

‘Well, we thought that since peak Rheasilvia is exactly twenty two thousand and five hundred meters high, adding five hundred meters would round it nicely to twenty three kilometers.’

‘I see,’ Sara paused for a moment. ‘I must admit cardinal, this is a smart move. Vesta is a safer bet for guaranteeing the longevity of a human structure in space as the moon is too close to Earth and will always be an easy target. Also, there are less impactors on Vesta given its smaller mass. It’s also easier to build there given Vesta's low gravity well. And the symbolism of placing a cross on the tallest mountain of our solar system is a powerful one. It's going to be costly though.'

‘We are blessed with remarkable donors whose eyes are firmly fixed to the heavens. You will find a full budget forecast in the annex of our proposal.’

‘Thank you cardinal. I enjoy challenges and what you have here has piqued my interest. I have other things to attend now but send me your proposal and I’ll read it later today.'

'Thank you Mrs. Hern. I wish you a pleasant rest of your day and may god bless you.' the cardinal said before hanging up.

Sara considered the project. No one has ever built a structure further than Mars and the asteroid belt was around two hundred million kilometers further away. That would reduce solar power effectiveness and increase the logistics costs. However, the asteroid was also more massive than Mars' moon Phobos which she had recently installed a communication's tower, and that had gone well. So distance would be a issue, Vesta would not. She asked her virtual assistant to write a brief summary of the proposal for her to read later, and went back to work on the Japanese lunar annex.

Chapter 2

‘So, not only is the project six months delayed and way over-budget, but you are now telling me that there is a structural problem with the base of the monument?’ cried out the cardinal, visibly unhappy with what he had just heard.

‘Actually, the problem is with Vesta’s entire peak,’ Sara replied sternly at the man on the video wall.

‘What do you mean the entire peak? The project was almost complete! Didn’t we test-drill the site?’ The cardinal’s face was now flushed with anger.

‘Yes. By the Singaporean contractor you appointed for this project,’ Sara said working hard to keep her cool. She continued, ‘Do you recall the geological report compiled from the test-drill?'

The cardinal leaned deep into his chair and replied, 'Yes. And?'

'It showed that the peak was composed in part by an igneous rock called diogenite, most likely formed deep within Vesta’s interior.’

‘I recall. Carry on.'

‘As you know, the construction robots mine the diogenite on the flanks of the peak, then crush and mix them with nano-binders shipped from Earth to form concrete-like material. Given Vesta’s very low gravity and the presence of diogenite, we lay down numerous hundred-meter concrete pillars deep within the peak itself.’

‘Twelve, if I recall’.

‘Correct. This number was derived using the estimated cohesion and granularity of the peak as shown by the test-drills. Somehow, it seems that these estimations were wrong. The physical stress from the mining and the placement of these pillars deep within the peak might have created numerous fissures internally. Or maybe there's more diogenite inside the peak than evaluated which can have the effect of weakening the anchoring process.'

'I hear you Mrs. Hern but can we get to the point? What is the status of the site?'

Sara felt her jaws tighten, yet managed to remain calm. 'The top of the peak has detached itself,' she replied.

'I...I don't understand,' said the cardinal seemingly lost for words. ‘You mean… Rheasilvia’s summit is not part of Vesta anymore?’

‘Yes,' Sara said bluntly. 'A two-kilometer wide piece of the summit and our construction site on it is now drifting twenty five meters above the surface and slowly moving outwards.’

The cardinal’s mouth was open but no sound was coming out.

Sara decided to continue.

‘I’ll be honest with you cardinal; I can’t explain it myself. Our calculations were sound. This should not have happened given what we know about the interior of the peak. And I currently can’t explain why the chunk is moving outwards so quickly; there must be some outgassing involved but even that doesn’t make much sense given that there are little volatiles present in Vesta's subsurface.’

‘Can’t the construction bots help?’ the cardinal swiftly replied.

‘Maybe, but given the scale of the problem, I doubt it cardinal.’

‘Does Mr. Tam know about this?’

‘The automated status report from the site arrived half an hour ago and it’s nighttime in Singapore, so most likely no.'

‘I will call him now. Let us reconvene in an hour to see how to move forward.'

'In the meantime, I'll get my team to work on proposals to resolve this issue.'

'Fine. Oh, and not a word about this to anyone,’ he grunted and hung up.