Chapter 7

Lest We Forget

In the Tesla Prime tech lab, Thomas and Isaac stood on either side of a tall metallic table covered by a glowing hexagon pattern.  At the center of the table, Kyle’s video recorder lay on its side.  A white piercing light from the ceiling illuminated the gathering.

Thomas circled slowly to his right.  “What do you think, Isaac?”

“Well, it is certainly beyond the tech that existed when we left Earth but it does have a relatively simple interface.  CLARA should be able to decrypt it.”

“CLARA?”

“Yes, Commander.”

“Can you analyze this recording device please?”

A robotic arm dropped from the ceiling and from it, a yellow beam swept over the recorder.

CLARA announced the results of her analysis.  “Affirmative, I can decrypt the information stored on the memory card.  However, given the amount of data on this device and the level of encryption, the process will take considerably longer.  It will take 11 hours 38 minutes 14 seconds to decrypt, approximately.”

“CLARA, can you ask everyone to meet in the Tech Lab?”

“Message sent, Commander.”

Thomas paced as he rehearsed what he wanted to say.

One by one, the crew arrived at the tech lab, tired, anxious, and confused.  Their world was gone.  Everything they had known had vanished.  There were no answers, no cheering crowds to welcome them home, no warm greetings from friends and family.  Nothing waited for them but the cold lunar landscape.  And in the shadows of the Moon, they assembled.

When Jack entered, he paced by the door, eager to get back to work.  Sophia followed and strolled to an empty spot on the floor by one of the workbenches.

Daxman entered last and shuffled to a window at the far corner of the lab.  With trepidation, Julie watched him.  She wanted to reach out to him but didn’t have the right words.  Stawford took position next to Julie and asked her to sign for him.  Julie nodded.

Thomas glanced around the room.  He could sense their anxiousness, the uneasy fear, the worry.  He could see it in their faces. Julie began to sign to Stawford as Thomas spoke.

“CLARA is working on the information we found at Moon Base Sagan.  It’s all we have right now and it’s going to take about twelve hours so wrap up whatever you’re working on and get some sleep.  Use meds if you have to.”

Thomas paused a moment and took a deep breath and then continued.  “I know you’re all scared.  I’m not going to lie.  I’m as scared as you are.  And even though it’s been twenty-seven years, we all had friends and family on Earth.  I don’t know what’s happened here but we’ll do what we can to figure it out and nothing less.  I believe in you all and, honestly, I couldn’t have picked a better crew.”

Thomas studied each of their faces trying to gauge morale.  Isaac smiled and nodded approvingly.  Julie wiped a tear from the corner of her eye.  Sophia put her arm around her.  Daxman stared out the window.

“Okay, get some sleep and let’s meet back here in twelve hours. I’m going to need everyone’s help with this.”

Jack appeared impatient.  He wiped his hands on an oily rag.  “Captain, I’m gonna pop the hood on this EMR redirection thing.”

“Alright, Jack. Just don’t blow anything up, okay?”

Jack chuckled.  “Would I do something like that?”

“You might.”  Thomas forced a smile.

“I’ll treat her good.  Don’t you worry.”  Jack left the room.

Stawford touched Julie’s shoulder.  She gazed up at him with red sorrowful eyes.  He thanked her and strode out the door toward the command deck.  Julie glanced back toward Daxman.  Lost in his own world, he stared into space. Thomas turned toward Sophia and smiled reassuringly.  Sophia grinned with fondness in return and then stepped into the GravLift.

Before disappearing beneath the floor, Sophia motioned to Thomas.  “I’ll be in the hydroponics lab if you need me.”

Thomas nodded.  As they set off to do their duties, he hoped his speech would give his crew even a small boost. But the truth was, Thomas felt powerless, alone, and afraid.  He knew that oblivion lingered for Tesla Prime and her crew.  He wondered what horrors lay in wait, hiding in the shadows.

* * *

Tesla Prime Hydroponics Lab

A wild collection of plants from a strange world crowded the sterile room.  Blue and turquoise leaves, dazzling red and emerald daisies, and maroon-colored branches all reached toward the pale orange recessed lighting in the ceiling.

Suspended misters released a gentle spray of water down on the plants.  This was the bounty, vegetation from an alien world, that the people on Earth would marvel at for decades.  For weeks, the crew collected dozens of flora specimens on Proteus.

Secured inside a yellow hazmat suit, Sophia walked among the specimens, marveling at their beauty.  One in particular reminded her of the fields behind her father’s house in Klyushnikovo, in the Kovrov Region of the Russian Empire.  Sophia gazed at the tiny yellow flower with a sentimental delight.

“Buttercup,” said Sophia as she caressed one of the oily petals unaware that chemicals from the glistening flower were dissolving her glove.

# # #

Saturday, June 16, 2035

A gravel pathway lined with rows of yellow flowers stretched up to a small stone cottage.  Inside, a burly man sat down with a teenage Sophia at a knotted wooden table for supper.  Next to the table was a third chair, empty.  In front of each of the chairs were placemats with sewn images of pink and yellow flowers.

Near the door, a dark brown armoire rested on a thick brown rug covering the floor.  A smoky haze filled the room and the heads of deer and moose hung from the walls.

Sophia stared at her grizzly father, his bushy gray brows obscured his eyes.  Alexander Belanova was a hard man.  His wife passed away from ovarian cancer and he was thrust into the role of raising his only daughter alone.  Her father slurped the soup from beneath a thick moustache that covered his upper lip.  Sophia wasn’t eating.  Fretfully tense, she wondered to herself, reflecting on all of the horrible possibilities.

What will you say, Papa?

Sophia’s father scraped out the last bit of brown soup from the white ceramic bowl in front of him.  Sophia studied her father’s face. It was gentle, weathered, and aged with the wrinkles of time. How will you be? she thought.  Raising the spoon to his mouth, her father slurped the last bit of soup.

“How was it, Papa?” asked Sophia.

“Good, like your mama’s,” Alexander dropped the spoon into the bowl.  It rattled for a moment before coming to a rest.

“I’m glad you liked it, Papa,” said Sophia.

But how angry will you be when I tell you? she thought.

Sophia collected both bowls and marched toward the kitchen.  She placed each of the bowls in the sink and glanced back toward her father who was now pouring a glass of vodka.

Will you hate me?

Alexander stared at the glass for a moment and tossed the vodka into his mouth.  Sophia rinsed off both bowls and set them to the side of the sink to dry.  She wiped her hands on a dishtowel that hung loosely from her apron and turned back to her father, who was pouring a second glass of vodka.

I’m afraid you won’t understand.

Sophia sat down next to her father.  Alexander stood and staggered over to his chair next to the fireplace and set the glass of vodka down on the stool.  Sophia wasn’t one for prayer but with her tiny glimmer of faith, she pressed her hands together and begged to any god that would hear her, that her father would understand, that Dmitri would understand.  Sophia rose from the kitchen table and plodded across the floor to join him.

Please understand, Papa.

Alexander grabbed a log from next to the fireplace and dropped it onto the pile of smoldering embers.  Sophia settled into the chair next to her father and stared at him.

I can’t stay here anymore.

Alexander struck a match against a rock, which flared and dimmed to a steady flame.  He slowly lowered it to a pile of logs in the fireplace.  When the flame of the match touched, the bottom log ignited.  The flame crawled along each log and steadily it grew into a full fire.  Alexander sat down in the chair and gazed at Sophia, smiling.  Sophia returned his loving gaze.

I’m sorry, Papa.  I can’t.  I can’t have this baby.  I have dreams.  I have a life that I want to live and if I have this baby, my dreams and that life that I want to live are over.

Alexander looked back toward the fire.  Sophia grasped her father’s leathery worn hand and caressed it gently.

I’m so sorry.

Alexander pulled his arm away, picked up the bottle of vodka and filled his glass.  He stared at it for a moment and noticed the glowing sparkle from the fire through the clear liquid.

This isn’t my life.

Over the next couple of hours, Alexander went through his usual routine.  Drink followed blissful drink into oblivion as an empty bottle of vodka fell to the floor.  Once he was asleep, Sophia covered her father with a white wool blanket.  She walked to the front door and glanced back toward her father.

“I love you, Papa,” she said to her sleeping father. “I love you to the ends of the Universe and back but you’re from an old world that can’t understand what I need.”  She could dwell on this no longer and accepted that her strength, her belief that she was destined for more came from her father’s teachings.  If he loved her, he would understand.

Sophia gathered her belongings, placed a note on the table next to the door, and left.  On top of the note, Sophia left a yellow buttercup that she had picked from the field behind her father’s house.

* * *

Tesla Prime – Present Day

Thomas lay on his bed that was pressed into the corner of his living quarters.  He rubbed his eyes and pulled back his hair pressing his thumbs into his temples.  His shoulders tensed.  The stress was at times too much.

“Commander, we have a medical emergency,” announced CLARA.

His mind raced.  He fired off his questions.  “What?  Who?  Where?”

“Sophia has lost consciousness in the Hydroponics Lab.”

“Patch me through!”

“Ready, Commander.”

“Sophie!  Can you hear me?  Are you okay?”

Silence.

Thomas sprinted toward the door of his chamber, which opened moments before impact.  Time stopped as Thomas raced around the corner toward the GravLift.  He rose through the ceiling, agonizing over the slow pace.

Not again, he thought.  His stomach ached with nervousness as he remembered that moment when he heard of the outbreak.

Before reaching the surface, he jumped out of the GravLift and sprinted down the hall.  A door to the Hydroponics Lab opened and Thomas raced in.

“Sophie!”

Winnie poked her head out from behind a two-foot tall palm tree and stared at Thomas with concern.

“Winnie!  Where’s Sophia?”

Winnie opened her eyes wildly, waved her tail, and darted into the next room.  Thomas dashed, following her and after a few dozen steps, found Sophia, lying on the ground.  The glove she was wearing had dissolved and her hand was swollen and red.  Sophia’s lips and neck were also puffy. Thomas kneeled down beside her and unfastened her hood.

“Sophie!”

Sophia was motionless.  Her chest rose and sank with labored breath.  Thomas listened at her mouth and pulled Sophia on to his lap.  He put his hand on her chest to feel for a heartbeat.

“Sophie, wake up!  What’s wrong?”

Sophia stirred and in a haze opened her eyes and glanced around the lab.  In a moment of conscious bewilderment, she murmured one word.

“Dmitri.”

She slipped back into unconsciousness.

“CLARA!  What happened?”

“Doctor Belanov was inspecting the plants and then fell to the floor,” responded CLARA.

“Where was she when she fell?” asked Thomas.

“Standing next to the Protean Toxicodendron radicans.”

“Where?”

A light emanated from the ceiling onto the yellow flower that Sophia was lovingly attending to moments before.

“Here, Commander,” said CLARA.

“What is it, some kind of poison?”

“It is analogous to poison ivy on Earth,” replied CLARA.

Winnie leaped onto the table, grasped the stem of the buttercup with her wiry fingers, and carefully sniffed the flower.  She stared at Thomas and opened her eyes and mouth wide twice.  She shook her head, leaped off the table, and sprinted into darkness.

“Winnie, wait!”  Thomas called into emptiness after her.

“Commander, according to data from Medical Monitor Implant, I am 93% certain that Dr. Belanov is experiencing anaphylactic shock.”

Thomas turned back to Sophia.  “Jesus, what do we do?”

“Commander, I am not Jesus, but the preferred method for treating anaphylactic shock is epinephrine.”

“Alright, let’s get it,” said Thomas glancing around the lab anxiously.

“We are out of stock at this time.”

“What do you mean we’re out?” screamed Thomas.

“Our latest inventory shows that the small amount of epinephrine supplied by the ISC was depleted by the crew.”

“What?”

“During surface operations on Proteus, several members of the crew suffered from reactions to local flora and fauna.”

Thomas glanced back to Sophia who was laboring to breathe.

“Hang in there, Sophie,” Thomas turned. “CLARA, do we have anything?”

“Corticosteroid can be used to prevent the reoccurrence of biphasic anaphylactic symptoms over the next 72 hours.”

“We don’t have that long.”

Sophia stirred.

“No, I won’t let you die!  Please don’t die.”

Thomas pulled Sophia close to him.  Her hand had swollen to the size of a grapefruit.

“Not again,” whispered Thomas.

Moments later, Winnie emerged from the darkness.  She carried several items with her.  In her left hand, she held a blue bulb of something that resembled garlic, a large ruby-colored starflower, and some red seeds similar in appearance to small peppercorns.  In her right hand, she clutched a fist full of dry yellow grass.

“You know what to do, girl?” asked Thomas.

Winnie did not answer.  She hopped over to Sophia and smelled her swollen hand.  Winnie glanced up at Thomas and swayed her body from side to side like a dancing snake.

One by one, Winnie shoved each of the ingredients into her mouth, which expanded like the pouch of a kangaroo carrying her young.  She churned the mash slowly.  After several deep grunts, Winnie coughed up a purple ball of dripping goo into her small wiry hands.  Sophia struggled to pull in each breath.  Winnie moved closer, scooped out a small bit and gently applied it to her swollen hand.  Winnie pulled out more goo and wiped it on Sophia’s neck and lips.  Thomas watched wide-eyed and in awe.  Winnie placed the remaining goo on the ground and stepped away from Sophia.  Fluttering her tail wildly, Winnie leaped and spun around in the air.

Thomas gazed back at Sophia to see the effect that the strange mixture would have on her.  A moment passed, then two.  Thomas caressed Sophia’s hair and hoped.

“Commander, Dr. Belanov’s vitals are returning to normal.  It appears as though she is recovering from her exposure to the Protean Toxicodendron radicans.”

Winnie grunted and spun in the air.  As the swelling subsided, Sophia’s breathing returned to normal.

Thomas stared at Winnie in bewilderment and shook his head.  “Whatever you are, Winnie, you certainly are full of surprises, aren’t you.”

Winnie returned Thomas’s gaze and smiled, her white teeth still covered in purple goo.

Thomas scooped up a groggy Sophia.  Her arms dangled and swayed as Thomas lumbered toward the hallway.  “Okay, let’s get Sophie to her quarters.”

Winnie trotted along next to Thomas and held Sophia’s dangling finger.  Her tall green tail swayed back and forth happily.

* * *

Winnie entered Sophia’s living quarters and lights in the room illuminated.  Thomas carried Sophia across the room and laid her onto her bed.

“Commander, I have decoded the information from Moon Base Sagan,” announced CLARA.  “I have provided the decrypted data to Dr. Yeatman.  He is waiting for you in the tech lab.”

“Thank you, CLARA.  Please monitor Sophie,” Thomas paused “I mean please monitor Dr. Belanov and inform me of any changes to her vitals.”

“Affirmative, Commander.”

Winnie jumped up on the bed next to Sophia and held her hand.  Thomas shuffled toward the GravLift and disappeared into the floor.

 

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