Chapter 5

Moon Base Sagan

The long glow of flashlights crisscrossed the empty blackness of a metallic corridor.  Light blue envirosuits encased each member of the crew completely in a bubble of warmth.  A strange green mist hung in the air.  Lights on the wall flickered.

“Looks like they still have a trickle charge to the solar arrays.  Jack,” echoed Thomas from inside his ISC standard issue helmet. “You’ve been here before.  Which way?”

Jack stepped forward.  “My memory ain’t much better than warm swiss on rye.  The control processing room is where we need to get to.  That’s where they’d store all the logs.  It’s this way… I think.” Jack pointed along one of the empty passages.

The group moved down the hallway to a hatch and stepped through.  In the next room, framed posters of the Earth hung on the left wall.  Off to the right, a row of four storage lockers had toppled over. An empty duffle bag lay on the ground next to it.  Continuing on, the group pushed past a metal door and labored up a flight of stairs.  Another portal opened into an empty passage.

Julie stopped. “Does anyone else find this just a bit weird?”

Daxman glanced around the room.  “What about this whole mess isn’t weird?”

“No, I mean, where is everyone?  There were a hundred people here.  Where did they go?”

Daxman shrugged his shoulders.  “Evacuated?  Who knows.”

“But why would they evacuate?”

Daxman shrugged his shoulders.  “Perhaps we should find out.”

“Okay, Jack, lead on,” said Thomas.

The crew moved cautiously through a series of hallways, passing vacant chairs, and powerless monitors covered in a green powder.  After several minutes, they arrived at a round door with the label above it, “CPR-301”.  Above it, a light sputtered struggling to illuminate the area with a series of sporadic flashes.

“This is it,” said Jack.  “The Command Processing Room.  Not sure how to get in though.”

“Let me handle that.”  Daxman pushed past Jack and studied the console to the CPR.  Examining the controls, Daxman breathed in and out deeply.  He extended his fingers and steadied his hands moving them toward the keypad.  Everyone watched to what he could possibly do that they could not.

“CLARA?”

“Yes, Mr. Spinner.”

Daxman sighed.  “Please radiate sub-sequence CPR-301 O-P-E-N to my location.”

Daxman waved his hands like a magician.  The door to the next room slid open.

Julie rolled her eyes and grinned playfully. “Wow.  Amazing.”

Daxman smiled.  “Sometimes the easiest solution isn’t right in front of you.”

Julie shook her head.

The group entered the control processing room.  A circular room spread out before them with scattered chairs and computer displays strewn about.  At the far end of the room, the gray landscape stretched to the lunar horizon through a number of large windows.

“Jack, can we get more power in here?”

Jack was already gone, exploring the rows of computer towers at the back of the room.  “Reserve power should still be good.  Hold on a sec,” he called from the darkness.

Julie swept her flashlight across the room.  A chair lay on its side.  A panel on one of the central workstations had been peeled back.  A conduit below them charged with a muffled hum.

“Got it!” shouted a voice from beneath the floor.

The lights flickered and then lit the room with a welcomed steady glow.  Computer monitors throughout the area sprung to life.

“Good,” said Thomas. “Okay, Dax, do your thing.”

“Uh, sure.” Daxman glided to the nearest console and began his infiltration of the Moon Base Sagan’s computer systems.  Julie sat at the terminal to his left.

Jack poked his head out from underneath one of the floor panels.  “We’re on batteries but we’ll be runnin’ em dry in about 60 minutes, give or take.”

“Good work, Jack.”  Thomas walked around to the side of the room and turned toward one of the workstations.  A picture of two young children rested above one of the monitors.  In it, the boy, dressed as a storm trooper, stood dutifully at attention. The girl, wearing a flowing pink princess gown with white trim, gazed lovingly at the boy.

Daxman shook his head.  “Logs have been wiped clean.”

Thomas stepped toward Daxman and peeked over his shoulder.  “What do you mean?”

Daxman turned toward him.  “Other than a couple of sys-admin files, there’s nothing there.  No logs.  No history tracing.  Someone wiped the system in a hurry.”

“Why would they do that?” asked Julie.

“Standard procedure.” Jack hoisted himself onto the floor and patted off his jumpsuit. “If they was say… under attack.”

Julie appeared concerned.  “Attack?  From who?”

Jack pulled a towel from his pocket and wiped his gloves.  “No clue, really.  Someone from Earth?”

“Why would they do that?” asked Julie.

Daxman followed the rapid scroll of numbers on the screen.  “Well, whatever happened, it happened eight years ago.  There are no system files in any of the directories dated later than 2060.”

Jack stuffed the hand towel into his back pocket.  “We’d a been well outside of Comm range in 2060.  I reckon we were, what, eight light years from Earth?”

“Why didn’t they send a message?  Couldn’t they have told us what was going on with optical comm?” asked Julie.  “Lasers are coherent light sources, aren’t they?”

“Oh, sure ‘nuff.  But even with optical comm, there’s still a bit of spread.  And even if they did know our exact location, which they didn’t, that’s hittin’ a ten foot dish at 50 trillion miles?” Jack shook his head.  “Ain’t gonna happen.”

Thomas marched to the front of the room and gazed out across the lunar landscape. “Okay guys, we have about an hour to find some information and get the hell out of here.  We don’t want to stay a minute longer than we have too.”

Daxman’s eyes lit up as he sat in front of the computer, moving through his own virtual world.  “Interesting,” he murmured to himself.

Thomas turned.  “What’s up, Dax?”

“Something’s hidden.  Give me a second.”

Daxman continued as his fingers glided across the keyboard.  “So tell me KyleB, what were you working on exactly?” muttered Daxman.  “What was so important that you had to hide it under layers of 1k-bit encryption?”

The screen went dark. A lone cursor blinked in the corner.

“Oh, I don’t give up that easy KyleB.”

Daxman continued to type, unrelenting as he directed an orchestra of zeros and ones.  A flashing red window popped open in the center of the screen and Daxman filled it with a shotgun of keystrokes.

“Where are you?”

Daxman flew through a virtual maze of directories, hidden folders, and fired off a final salvo of keystrokes.

A login window appeared.

******************

Login: KyleB

Password: _

******************

“There you are, KyleB.  Nice to finally meet you.”

Daxman smiled.  The cursor blinked.

“So, a password it is then.  Okay, if I were KyleB’s password, what would I be?”

Daxman shook his head and studied the workspace.  He picked up an empty mug from the left of the keyboard and inspected the photo printed on its side.  A young girl, dressed in a light blue and white lace dress, hugged a stuffed lion affectionately.  A basket with a small Cairn Terrier inside, dangled from her arm.  Cute kid, thought Daxman as he returned the mug to its place.

He searched for more clues.

He grabbed a framed picture next to the monitor and brought it into the light.  In the picture, a man and a woman stood in front of a yellow brick home with green trim.  The same girl was in the photo but her face blurred as if caught in the act of sneezing.  The etchings on the bottom of the frame announced the location of the photo: Miltonvale, Kansas.  Daxman set the frame down.

With no idea of where to even begin, he stared down at the keyboard.  Daxman shook his head and punched at keys in random desperation.

Password: fuckIfIKnow12345

“LOGIN FAILED:  (4) attempts remaining before terminal becomes locked.

REMINDER: Passwords are letters only.  Numbers or special characters are not allowed.”

Daxman sighed. He knew that his first guess was just an stab in the dark.  “You mean ‘fuck if I know’ wasn’t it?” said Daxman.  “Shocker.  Well, the reminder does makes things a little easier for my next four guesses with only say… four hundred trillion possibilities.”

He searched again for common elements in Kyle’s work area.  What’s important here, he wondered.  His eyes were drawn back to the picture of Kyle.  He studied the image, his face, like staring at a child, lost, haunted by the dreams of another life.

He readied himself for his next guess.  Its gotta be something from his past.  His fingers punched in the next answer.

Password: miltonvale

“LOGIN FAILED:  (3) attempts remaining.”

Daxman shook his head and closed his eyes.  He remembered his father looking down at him as Daxman crumpled to the ground.  A drop of blood fell from his upper lip onto the gray carpet.  “You think you’re so special?  Really?  You?  Look at yourself!  Just like your mother.  Worthless!

Daxman opened his eyes.  He shook off the thought of his father and researched the work area.  A book lay on its side: ‘How to survive exposure to the vacuum of space’.  Daxman sighed and continued.  Above the monitor, a collection of shot glasses captured Kyle’s memories from Earth: Las Vegas, Yosemite, Paris.  He glanced back toward the mug picture of the little girl dressed like Dorothy.  “I can do this,” he said.  “I need to think.  What’s important here?  Wizard of Oz?  Wicked witches, flying monkeys?  Nah, something else.  Something more…”  Daxman punched in his next guess.  “Personal.”

Password: yellowbrickroad

The computer responded.  “LOGIN FAILED:  (2) attempts remaining.”

The cursor blinked.  “No you can’t!” screamed his father in disgust.  “You will never amount to anything!”

“Fuck!” Daxman breathed deeply, regained his composure and glanced around the workspace.  On the right side of the monitor, a thick piece of yellow tape held up a picture of the Milky Way galaxy.  In the center of the image, an arrow pointed toward our sun about halfway from the center with the words “home”.

Daxman lowered his hands to the keyboard.

Password: notinkansasanymore

“LOGIN FAILED:  (1) attempts remaining.

WARNING: In the event of a final failure, the computer system and CPR will become locked.”

“You are nothing!  You pathetic piece of shit!”

“Dammit!” shouted Daxman as he slammed his fist on the table.

Julie turned toward him and put her hand on his.  “It’s okay.  You’ll figure it out.”

Daxman snapped his hand away.  “Get away from me!  I don’t need your help.”  Julie recoiled.  She seized the datapad from the counter and fired off a series of diagnostic commands.

Daxman shook his head and regained his focus.  He opened the drawer to his right.  There, resting among a pile of pencils and paper clips was a medallion made of green clay.  Written across the medal in yellow paint in a child’s writing were the words, “Bravist Dady in the World”.

Daxman looked back at the monitor as the cursor continued to taunt him.  “You will never amount to anything!  You are just like your mother!

Daxman’s heart pounded.  He stared at the screen and in the reflection saw his father.  Rage took over.  Don’t you dare tell me what I can’t do, you son-of-a-bitch.  Who do you think you are!  You weren’t a part of my life.  Too goddamn stuck in your own pathetic world.  I wasn’t the perfect son?  And you were a horrible excuse for a father.  Fuck you!  I don’t need you.  You were never home.  I don’t need you anymore!

“I got it,” said Daxman.

Password: noplacelikehome

A new window opened and another and then the words appeared in front of him.  “WELCOME KYLE BLANKENSHIP.”

Daxman turned white.

“Kyle Blankenship,” he whispered to himself. “It’s you, here, following in your mother’s footsteps after all.”

He leaned back in his seat and looked to Julie.

“See?” she said beaming with kindness.  “I knew you could do it.”  Daxman turned away, hiding the tears in his eyes.  The surge of emotions both from the brutal memories of his father and the juxtaposition of Julie’s kindness was more than he could manage in this brief victorious moment.

“Dax, what did you find?” asked Thomas.

Daxman sniffled and gathered himself.  “Give me a second.”

Daxman started again, pulling up dozens of windows with images and schematics of experimental spacecraft, subsystems, and instrumentation.  More windows opened with equations and derivations for a new technology.

“Guys.” Daxman sniffled. “Here.  Take a look.”

A final window popped open.  A schematics of a cylindrical object with wires flowing from its sides filled the screen.

Daxman probed deeper into the file system.  “Found some top secret research on something called plasma stealth and EMR redirection.”

Jack turned toward Daxman. “Lightbenders, you say?”

“Yeah, heard of it?”

“Idea’s been around for years. It’s a tech that bends light around somethin’.  Makes a thing disappear,” said Jack. “Say, they have a prototype anywhere?”

“One sec.”  Daxman fired off a series of search commands.  “Looks like there’s something in the R&D lab, one level down.”

“Hot damn.  Might be somethin’ worth lookin’ into.”

“No, not yet,” interrupted Thomas.

“Ain’t nothin’. I could be there and back before a rooster crows.”

“No, Jack!  Stick together.  That’s the plan.”

Jack shifted uneasily and gnawed on his lower lip.  He wiped his gloves again with the cloth from his back pocket.  Thomas approached him and put his hand on Jack’s shoulder.

“We don’t know what’s going on yet or what’s out there. Okay?”

Jack nodded his head. “Sure thing, boss.”

Thomas walked over to Julie.  “How’s your search coming?  Find anything yet?”

“Possibly.  The logs are gone but I am running a current system diagnostic now.  Should be done in a minute.”

Four windows filled the screen in equal parts.  Julie studied them.

 

POWER

  Solar Array Wattage

     CRITICAL

     0.8% of Nominal

  Battery Power

     CRITICAL

     00:47 minutes remain
STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY

  Breaches in Buildings

     230, 264, 301, 321

  Ambient Pressure

     10^-10 Pa

  Ambient Temperature

     75K
COMMUNICATIONS

  Near Space Network - 1

     DESTROYED

  Near Space Network - 2

     DESTROYED

  Near Space Network - 3

     DESTROYED
ESCAPE POD LOG

  POD 1 LAUNCH: CONFIRMED

  POD 2 LAUNCH: CONFIRMED

  POD 3 LAUNCH: CONFIRMED

  POD 4 LAUNCH: OVERRIDE

  POD 5 LAUNCH: CONFIRMED

  POD 6 LAUNCH: CONFIRMED

“Sir, a system-wide diagnostic of the base is done.”

“What did you find?” asked Thomas.

“The people here, they used the escape pods.” Julie glanced over her shoulder at Thomas.  “Looks like they evacuated.”

“Evacuated?  What were they running from?  Any clues?”

“No idea.”

An outline of pod 4 blinked red on the screen.

“And almost everyone made it out,” said Thomas tapping on the word ‘override’.  “Let’s get to the launching bay.  Maybe we’ll find something there.”

* * *

Moon Base Sagan – North Wing – Launch Bay

Lights sprung to life as the group entered the launch bay.  Scattered papers littered the floor.  The ceiling was high, ten meters or so.  Above the group stretched a catwalk with passages that led to different parts of the launch bay.  On the ground floor several large plastic containers were stacked against the walls.  To the left, three doorways ringed in a dull green lined the wall.  To the right were three more doors.

“There,” motioned Julie.  She walked toward a large metallic hatch to the far right, illuminated by a red light above it.

Thomas stepped forward.  “Julie, how many people were onboard?”

“I don’t know.  I only know that someone overrode the launch sequence.”

The group approached the door labeled ‘Pod 4’ with a glowing red letters above the portal.  To the right of the door, a control panel protruded from the wall.  Daxman stepped forward and after a few keystrokes, the door cracked open.  A burst of air rushed toward the group opening a portal into darkness.

“I’ll go,” said Daxman.

Thomas nodded as Daxman entered the dark passageway.  The sides of his neck pounded as he waved the beam of his flashlight around the pod.  The interior resembled the inside of a small airplane, capable of holding twenty people for a short emergency voyage back to Earth.  Nine rows of seats to the right and left of the aisle, sat empty waiting for passengers.  The chairs were simple, black with gold trim, standard issue ISC seating.  Daxman shuffled toward the cockpit door.  He sucked in a breath of air and grasped the handle.  He turned it and the door swung open effortlessly as he stepped into the dark room.

The forward window framed the star filled night sky.  Staring out into space, the corpse of a middle-aged man rested peacefully in the right forward facing chair.  A standard issue ISC uniform hung loosely around his small form.  In his left hand beneath a gold band on his ring finger, he clutched a small handheld video recorder.  In his right hand, he cradled a stuffed lion.  Daxman remembered it from the picture mug.  The nametag sewn into his uniform read “K. Blankenship”.

Daxman stared at the corpse with a mixture of sadness and morbid curiosity. “Hey buddy, what have you been up to?”

Daxman glanced around the room.

“No place like home, eh?”  Daxman leaned over and stared into Kyle’s well preserved but cloudy eyes.  Kyle stared back.

He touched Kyle’s left hand and opened several stiff fingers. Daxman caught the recorder as it fell.

“Sorry, Kyle, but I need to borrow this.”

Daxman turned the recorder over in his hand.  A square memory card about the size of a matchbox protruded from the side.

Daxman shouted back to the rest of the group.  “Hey guys!  I found Kyle!  He’s alone but it looks like he has some sort of video recording device with him.”

Thomas leaned into the pod.  “Good, let’s get it back to the ship.”

Daxman turned back to Kyle.  His heart filled with an aching empathy.  He swallowed.  “Hey buddy, you know, I’m sorry things didn’t work out like they should have.  You deserved more than this.  You really did.”

Daxman saw the frozen sadness in Kyle’s eyes, the longing for a happier time.  He knew it well.  Daxman continued searching and pushed his hand into Kyle’s left pant pocket, nothing.  He reached across and felt the outside of Kyle’s right pocket.  Nothing there.  Daxman patted Kyle’s front pocket and felt something small.  He reached in and pulled out another memory card, identical to the first but with the same metal etchings.

“Hmm, more secrets?”

Daxman studied it for a moment, glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was looking, and slipped it into his own pocket.

“I’m sorry, Kyle.  If there were something I could do, I would.”

Kyle stared into space where Earth had been, the empty space where his daughter once played.  The stuffed lion that Kyle had been holding since he first witnessed the Regulus Event, fell to the floor.

Daxman looked down.

With big brown eyes, a fuzzy peanut mane, and a cherry-colored tongue, the lion smiled lovingly up at him.

* * *

Waiting outside of the escape pod, Thomas pressed a button on the side of his helmet.  “Sophie, you there?”

“Yes, Tom,” echoed Sophia’s voice inside Thomas’s helmet.

“Dax found some kind of storage device.  Can you have CLARA prepped for ISC decryption?”

“Will do.”

“Good.  We’ll be back in about ten minutes.  We are going to take a quick detour to the R&D lab and bring back what we can.  Some of the things here might come in handy.”

“Of course.”

“And Sophie?”

“Yes?”

“We found a body in an escape pod that we are bringing back.  Can you prepare my Cryostasis chamber for him?  When we get the chance, we will give him a proper burial on Earth.”

“Of course, Tom.”

 

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3 Responses to “Chapter 5”

  1. sandygrains September 2, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    Excellent. As ever! Can’t wait for chapter 6. 🙂

  2. Quinn October 11, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

    Excellent, but you have a typo. Last word in this paragraph has one too many letters:

    Thomas marched to the front of the room and gazed out across the lunar landscape. “Okay guys, we have about an hour to find some information and get the hell out of here. We don’t want to stay a minute longer than we have too.”

    • dequils October 11, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

      Good catch. Fixed.

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