The Rapture Corridor
"Yeah, if some god should wreck me in the wine-dark deep,
Even so, I will endure...."
--Homer, The Odyssey
"Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, only a signal
shown, and a distant voice in darkness...."
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
RAPTURE CORRIDOR N. V. ADJ. A theoretical, mathematical bridge in the space time continuum; a short tunnel between two points; a vortex of cosmic instability.
Synonyms: 1. Hyperspace, a warp, a singularity, a wormhole.
In the battle of Moonbase Alpha versus the Mysterious Unknown Forces, here is the number of people who liked Rapture Corridors so well that they perished almost immediately:
Mono. Un art indet. The number that comes before two.
Her name was Regina Kesslan. Once vital, she now resides in a sealed, crayonne coffin beneath the lunar surface.
The LRV was
reliable, flexible, easy to handle.
You would have a harder ride cutting a golf course.
To Harness Bull Pound, it was extremely boring. After ten hours tooling around Plato, he felt like Man In A Can. Finally, the collapsible wheels ground to a halt as he parked 463 pounds of chassis before the cyclone threshold. Beside him, Milt Judge was so orgasmically thrilled with this
duty as to be sound asleep.
"Core control, this is Union Five." The security guard said into his Plantronic chip. "We're ready to re-enter the compound."
They waited in the augural shadow of the new Main Mission tower, never noticing that the moondust continued to rise, and not fall.
At his desk on the lower level, Stellar Cartographer Win Edwards drew concentric circles on top of enclosures; on top of stadiums; on top of cordons, and meridians. Space looked fake to him. He needed to declare it, but because spurious vacuum was not considered a critical mission point, he elected to stuff the information.
On the upper level, Controller Paul Morrow sat in the animated, gradual tint of the rafters, and thanked Carolyn Kennedy in passing for the revised BOOSTER checklist. To the left of the open mezzanine, Analyst Sandra Benes finished her coffee without drama. To his right, Angelina Carter was clearing tabs on her monitor.
Directly in front of them--across from the pit, the too lush image of planet Seven Dysnomia was prominent on the big screen.
"Strange place." Astronaut Alan Carter marched thru the fields with his commander, Captain, My Captain. "Pastoral."
He felt he should change his name to Abraham.
"To the contrary, this is the place to be." John Koenig commented in the high, red Fescue. "As long as you love grass." He brandished his commlock, and tipped it towards the clouds. "Victor, what does the Agro Report look like? Is there a connection between that orbiting derelict, and the fact that there is absolutely no other form of vegetation on this planet?"
"Analysis of the top soil does not indicate any reason why there can't be more types of vegetation," Victor Bergman spoke from Koenig's desk on the upper level. The privacy window separating the upper level operations from Koenig's office was completely open as was the privacy door. Bergman thumbed through the thick green flimsey report from Melita Kelly-Geist. "We should be able to plant whatever we like."
Angelina Carter was grinning ear to ear. Here they had the definite possibility of a new home and it was looking wonderful. She was quite envious of Carter and Koenig for being the lucky two individuals to conduct the stage 1 reconnaissance but had already won the straw poll, beating out
Sandra Benes as a member of the stage 2 reconnaissance team.
On her monitor, a conference IM session was in progress with Pierre Danielle firing off a list of requirements to her and to Helena Russell for the mission.
"As for why there are not any other kinds of vegetation besides grasses," the professor went on, adjusting his reading glasses. "We cannot conclude that from the topsoil analysis." He set the report down, looking into Koenig's desk monitor. "I suppose we would need to conduct a geological dig for that, John." He paused, consulting another flimsey then continued. "We
actually have plenty of time in which to do that though, based on our trajectory. Would you like to schedule it as part of the Stage 2 reconnaissance?"
"I would." Koenig's chipper was momentarily replaced with annoyance at the slight pixeling on the commlock's monitor. "And while we're on the subject, it might be a good idea to add Phil Geist to the landing party. We'll have to have a reliable first harvest. With a little luck, the Beetles, and the
Armyworms will leave our crops alone." An exaggeration, really. Since landing they had observed no insects. He preferred to think of it in terms of having a picnic where you could eat your food, but they could not eat you.
"...end of mission...minus delay...." Paul Morrow's scrabbled voice said incomprehensibly over Alan Carter's commlock. He was standing wistfully in the background, and had been listening to Koenig when the transmission came through.
"I'll have to remember not to buy stock in our first radio station." The pilot chagrined. "Paul, could you repeat that. I only heard part of the message."
"I SAID...." The controller grew vociferous. "THAT YOUR QUICK LAUNCH WINDOW IS IN TEN MINUTES; EOM, PLUS ONE."
"Chill." The astronaut with sadistic glee. "I heard you."
Koenig was enjoying it too, and did nothing to hide his pleasure.
"Victor, we seem to be having trouble communicating." He explained. "The sky here is absolutely gorgeous, so my guess is we're standing on an outcropping of Magnetite. Still, have INCO check it out. It's always nice to be able to talk to each other."
"Or it could be on our end," Angelina Carter admitted sheepishly on the other side of Koenig's desk. "Ed installed an incorrectly rated capacitor on a transmitter power circuit and blew it to hell. We had to switch to the auxiliary station and you know how 'well' the auxiliary station works."
Actually, it didn't work well at all. It was an auxiliary transmitting station, after all, and it hadn't worked properly since the catastrophe of Baal exploding at them. Technical had other priorities and not enough resources to tweak, troubleshoot and maintain an auxiliary transmitter.
Now, she wished she had made it a higher priority project as she heard the snapping and popping on the speakers.
She'd already decided Ed Malcom would not take any part in electronics and equipment maintenance on their new home.
"On the backside of that...." Victor Bergman squeezed Ang' out urgently, but deferentially, square of head on the commlock's monitor. "Those interruptions are a good sign that we've got weather. Seven Dysonomia isn't an arid desert. We can count on that."
Carter decided it was safe enough to chew some of the Timothy grass. Mind the vast, available selection.
Near one of the blue-green shelves, he caught sight of an emerging swarm of coruscating zaps, and tinsels.
"So I noticed." Koenig responded to the professor. "In fact, when we came over the hill we scanned the entire western hemisphere, and there were no barrens. Just oceans.
"I think this entire planet was under water at one time...something affected its rotation...shifted it on its axis."
"Well...it'll be a long time before that happens again." Bergman argued.
"True." Koenig wagered.
"Commander." Carter nodded towards the elusive, daytime spangle. "This place has got insects."
They looked like fireflies, in fact.
"There's no doubt about it," the young Jacob Burrill turned the screen toward Gloria Eason. "Young" was a relative term. Actually, Burrill was one of the youngest adults on the base, at age 29, turning the big 3-oh in 2 months. Burrill had been a college student, a brilliant astrophysics major from
before September 13, 1999. Of course, the fact that his father was a prominent member of the ILC might have been a 'small' factor in his opportunity to study on the Moon.
Now he wished he was not so brilliant, flunking a few finals to throw his GPA into the 'toilet' such that he would not have ended up on another 'toilet': Moonbase Alpha, out of Earth orbit.
"I don't know, Jake," Eason surveyed the calculations on the spreadsheet. "Moderate probability of rapture corridor. Here?" She scanned the numbers again. "Haines would disagree. Where did you get the cartography information?"
"Win Edwards," the young astrophysicist pulled up another spreadsheet.
"He's been wrong before," Gloria continued. "Lots of times. Still..." She glanced at the numbers again. "I think it might be worthwhile giving Haines a call but I suggest waiting a few hours." She nodded toward the clock on the commstation. "He's pulling night mode this month and it's the middle of the night for him." She patted Burrill on the shoulder as she turned to leave. "Better to catch him in a good mood after he's somewhat rested than wake him up in the middle of the night."
Jacob Burrill thought for a moment, sitting back in the swivel chair. It occurred to him that maybe he should give Professor Bergman a call. Then, he suddenly found himself less confident in his calculations which led to thoughts of getting verbally abused by an irate Jim Haines for bothering
Bergman with something that was probably not correct.
They encountered an early, twilight borealis on the way back to Eagle One. The coolness of a sudden, force Fall sent spasms of wind thru the green terrain, and created healthy, subsequent waves in the moss-ridden pond that the spacecraft rested beside. Amidst the rustling, Carter could see a piece of blank computer paper blow upwards into the late sky, from the passenger
module as Koenig opened the hatch from a distance.
On the back of his neck, the astronaut felt a raindrop.
"This squall was kind of sudden." Carter was acerbic.
Koenig stood soaking wet, and expressionless as the sand, and gales parted his hair, and caused the polymer utility case to vacillate at his side. The funny, grass planet had become an evil-starred Picasso. The native forage undulated--almost instantly savagely--and he began to wonder if the ship was secure enough to withstand a tornado. The black, and beryline sky expanded, and parted to reveal cursed thunderheads that exploded--silently at first--and then with audible wrath from air to ground.
And the hardest fardel to bear was the fact that only ten seconds had elapsed from onset to imminent flash flood.
"Moonbase Alpha?" The commander tried, but the radio waves were not willing.
"There's no need to check out the wreck." Professor Bergman assured Kate Bullen as Emma Black walked jovially past Ang,' and left her the _War and Peace_ of computer, printout blocks. "It's over ten thousand years old...."
"In case anyone's interested...." Paul Morrow surveyed the room with smug satisfaction. "We're ready for suiting, and ingress."
"Que ball sim command." Bullen turned back to her monitor, and commenced downloading into the command module computer of Eagle Five.
"Copy." Ouma verified busily from the mainframe platform. "Understand we are at Phase Two."
"Well...." Bergman approached Ang' with congratulatory respects--totally ignoring Phil Geist. "I believe you're presence is required on Launch Pad Three."
Angelina nodded, smiling, and stepped toward Bergman.
["Well...." Bergman approached Ang' with congratulatory respects--totally ignoring Phil Geist. "I believe you're presence is required on Launch Pad
She was back where she was 2 seconds ago. Every face in Main Mission froze then the expressions were replaced with bewilderment. A group déjà vu in the making. Angelina let out a shaky exhalation and at the same time, the strong, forbidding and disgusting taste of aluminum began creeping up the back of her throat and spreading through the inside of her mouth. She
swallowed metal spit hard.
Sandra Benes rose slowly from her chair at her station, a mixture of dread and complete inconvenience crossing her features.
Helena Russell had just climbed the spiral staircase from Koenig's office up to the upper operations level when she stopped, eyes widening. "Victor?"
The Chief of Technical Operations exchanged a horrified glance with the Professor. She'd experienced this before...they all had.
"No," she whispered, almost in shock, almost in tears, almost ready to burst out in an angry rage, "No....not now."
"qkekkekWasdjasdHwowowY NwerwOghewepW!?!??!" She asked incredulous but that was a question which she would never get an answer.
Still unwilling to commit to this hecatomb, dream obliterating finale, Bergman double checked his own instruments; and then Sandra Benes'; and then Paul Morrow's. He rode the open lift--down into the bowels of the support services level, and then returned again, tormented by the knowledge that over a hundred scientists, and engineers agreed that he was right. The only person that did not fall under this inclement, we-must-be-mistaken supervision was Ang,' but this was only because the professor could not suborn the lighthouse of embraced vexation that emanated from her.
He also neglected Ouma, but only because Lars Manroot had already wisely switched the computer breaker off, and with it, the computer chief's big, punky mouth.
Morrow stood, relinquishing his post. His vocation was that of traffic. There was no way to regulate disintegration, and decimation. Truman Starns was staring directly into the lights just as they began to yellowhammer.
"...get them back...." The professor completed, bitterly ashamed.
Tara Bathory was in Travel Tube-B when the power was cut. She was adamant, bitchy, yes, and spoiled too. Fortunately, no one would have to hear her protestations because there she would stay--with Videographer Duke at her side--for the next fifteen hours. So much for team coverage.
In Accessway-M, the sound of thunder grew to Old Testament proportions. The dorian rows of commstation monitors reported nothing so fine as static and digital crisis.
Emma Black felt it first.
The floor of Main Mission, compelled, and she with it.
"SKIP IT, AND GO TO PAGE FIFTEEN OF THE CHECKLIST." John Koenig toggled Alan Carter immediately. "WE'LL WORK OUT THE GEOMETRY LATER; AS SOON AS WE'RE IN ORBIT."
He cinched his Zero-G harness tightly, and rolled forward towards his console.
"...commander...." The astronaut lowed at the image he saw beyond his own rendezvous window.
The black, cumulous clouds of Seven Dysonomia were spiraling into a vortex.
"WE'RE MOVING." Sandra Benes effused.
"OUR ORBITAL SATELLITES HAVE ALREADY BEEN DRAWN INTO IT." Lars Manroot
"Look." Emma Black told everyone, and no one. She gazed with wonder--out, and out, and out; beyond the storm of subatomic particles. She could see a thousand alien space ships, whirling dervishes, and colliding with huge meteors, and planets of gas, and ice; comets, and quasars that were imprisoned by some dominant, gravitational force beyond the event horizon.
"GET FLAT." Paul Morrow delivered the command, and hunkered to the floor with all of the other operatives.
The naked singularity had already sucked away so much power, there wasn't even a Red Alert claxon--only the forlorn of the devil's own railway station.
At first they appeared to be stars.
Then they were a ball of suns, gyrating with fury, and no physical law.
And then the Moon slid into the Rapture Corridor.
Fiery tongues of deep purple and orange flames reached toward Sandra Benes, vampire faces and full sets of fangs leered then sprang forth. The Data Analyst screamed in terror, sitting up and backing away abruptly while smacking the back of her head with concussion inducing strength against the bottom of her desk.
Fortunately, for her, she was no longer a participant in the real time nightmare, though she would wake up soggy and very uncomfortable from her bump on her head and her loss of bladder control.
It was not the ending of the day which she had hoped for.
Actually, everyone was looking forward to a happy ending but it was not meant to be. Not this time. Maybe not any time, Angelina Carter surmised, transfixed by the pool of Sandra's urine slowly creeping toward her. Ang was not hallucinating, not this time, but being awake and aware of other's hallucinations was probably worse than living through her own private hell.
Not that she was comfortable. Her nose was already bleeding profusely as her head pound, made worse by the screams of terror. Beside her, Ben Ouma was actually sucking his thumb and sobbing, interspersed with cries of "Momma, Momma, help me!!" Was he a child living through the current hell or was he reliving a horrible memory? Ang would never know and Ouma would in all likelihood not remember.
Emma Black was on her back but her hallucination seemed to be of a more pleasurable nature. She moan to the rhythm of an unseen lover, again, someone current or perhaps someone in her past...maybe even someone in her imagination. Lucky her.
At least she wasn't cursing and screaming like a raging lunatic as Lars Manroot was doing. His hands were wrapped around the leg of the Technical station and he was attempting to choke the life out of a piece of furniture.
Paul Morrow was on the floor, tossing his head side to side and mumbling, eyes closed and experiencing his own personal hell.
Helena Russell had just assumed a fetal position, with a glazed, unblinking expression on her face.
Ang glanced at the Professor who seemed to be watching her. "Professor?" Ang decided to chance it. "Are you with it?"
(But somehow, in the untold seawater, the stepchild of inhumanity sank like lead to the immortal depths--the crystals of sentient algae disappearing in the rapidly encroaching steep of time, and black, ocean bottoms. Beyond submerged,
Except for the Plutonic flashes--the Vulcanic, high intensity voltage--that lit up the succession of vision ports, the interior of Main Mission was a dark, subterranean dream of negated reality.
"I was...." Victor Bergman buried his tormented face into the cool motes of near-linoleum. He was not good--picture being turned inside out, and having your syrupy musculature exposed, and then, only to have it basted, and cauterized with Chlorine Bleach, and Hydrofluoric Acid. He could feel his bones melt, but amidst the mush, he had to remain upbeat.
"Not that...." A disillusioned, frazzled, after-crack Paul Morrow said of the ghostly specter that drifted across the auditorium. There had been many reports of seeing this particular acousma during transdimensional appropriation. Each time they had entered a Rapture Corridor, it was there. Long of gray, ghastly mane, but neither male, nor female, it was sometimes described as perched on the beams; on other occasions it appeared to be hanging from the bulkheads. In the safety, and security of BC Space, they tried to view it logically--as a side effect of Polyphemic gravity on the human animal. Others viewed the mute apparition as a for-real, life form that might dwell inside the singularity.
Most looked at it for what it appeared to be in the nonce.
A hag attack.
Someone cried from the pit below.
The Moon was defeated; demolished; demylelinated; desolated; extirpated; interdicted; and raped. One quarter at a time, the satellite was cut to ribbons in the fire; torn down; ravished; vandalized; disassembled; wracked; uprooted; dismantled; and put back together again.
Slowly the homeless person lying under the cardboard box next to her disappeared and when Ang blinked once more, he was gone. Instead, blackness replaced the faded green fog.
Complete and utter dark.
Sounds broke the silence, sounds of rasping, tears and moans. Angelina felt the cold tile mixed with the wet, syrupiness of her own blood on her cheek. Slowly raising her head, the Technical Manager spit out a mouthful of hemoglobin and with her hands, felt the leg of the desk.
"Is anyone alright?" she called into the darkness. Normally, one would ask 'is anyone hurt' but in the case of going through a rapture corridor, the assumption was that most were hurt and the minority was 'ok'.
"I think so," Professor Bergman answered her, though, his voice was gravelly and weak. At least, though, he was mentally sound which was at least half the battle in recovery from a rapture corridor.
Usually, most people recovered the mental trauma of a rapture corridor. There was one, however, a woman by the name of Brandi Hollister who was a permanent resident of
Angelina remembered she was under her station so she carefully felt for the bottom of the desk before moving and gingerly rose, avoiding bashing her head. She fumbled for the drawer handle and opened it then consequently rifled blindly through the contents until she found the long, slim handle of the maglight. Thankfully, she had recently changed the batteries.
She flicked on the switch and shined it around the pitch black, cavernous auditorium. She found the emergency battery power switch on her desk and lifting the cover then turning the key (she never removed the key), after pushing the 'ENGAGE' button she was relieved to see every other light panel beginning to cast a red glow.
Ang turned to help Bergman, who had managed to raise himself on his elbows.
"Activate wardens." Paul Morrow helped Lars Manroot to his feet before realizing that the corridor had somehow left him standing upright, in the OK corridor beyond Level-A. Before, he was hunkered on the mezzanine; now he walked, somehow, in the annals of afterward. "Damage control."
"The central PS is blown." Ouma called down to him. "Computer is offline."
Leaning against the darkened, open sill of the big window, Bergman did his best impression of a concerned citizen.
"...digital recovery beacon, non-responsive...SIMITAR is no-go...." One of the SAT-COM stations reported in.
"...bay four, helium cylinder ruptured...." It sounded like Yul Ostrog.
"Dr. Mathias, we need a trauma team in Main Mission." Helena Russell relied on her ailing commlock. "STAT."
"...fractures in the Alpine solar panels...." Man-Or-Woman, a gender indeterminate, unrecognizable voice called from the air. "Explosive decompression in storage cluster...."
"We're on our way now." Mathias responded calmly. "ETA, five minutes."
"I hate to be a burden." A dazed, charcoal faced Kate Bullen said regally--cracked, but with fantastic dignity. "But could someone help me down."
The storm had somehow transitioned her to the rafters--fifteen feet above Level-B.
lord," Ang mumbled looking up. "Hold on, Kate!"
Well, what did she expect her to do? Kate Bullen gave her a blank look. Let go?
"Power Generation to Main Mission," Joe Erhlich cracked over the Technical Station link, only audio, no video. "Ang, anyone, are you ok?"
"We're here, Joe," she answered, hoping transmission was not knocked out. "What's up?"
"All reactors down," he responded, though the audio was becoming fainter such that she had to lean her ear within inches of the speaker. "I think we can get #3 up in 45 minutes....minor electrical repairs."
"Do your best....everyone ok?"
"I think so...this time," he responded glumly. "I'll let you know if something unexpected comes out." He cut the link.
"Potter, here," the manager of Electronics Instrumentation chimed in. His voice was slightly louder but the audio was still weak. "Most equipment on carts was smashed."
Angelina groaned audibly.
"Sorry, we had no warning," Chris Potter went on. "Usually, when we're warned of a possibility of a rapture corridor, we secure parked carts."
"Not your fault, Chris," the Chief of Technical was shaking her head. "I guess we can learn from this. Anyone hurt?"
"I guess so," Potter cracked on the other end of the link. "Everyone seems ok but a cart rolled over Ed Malcom's big toe. Otherwise, nothing serious."
She nodded and cut the link.
"Ang," Michelle Cranston's voice snapped and popped immediately after Potter signed off. "Manufacturing reporting. Plating is heavily damaged. Drill machines are unbalanced along with the testers. That's the preliminary triage, still more info to come. Severe casualties."
"How many?!" a muscle twitched in Angelina's temple.
"Twenty-three," the Manufacturing Manager responded in a tone like she'd been pulling an all-nighter. "Doc Sullivan's got a crew down here now."
"Keep me advised, Michelle." Ang cut the link, ready to contact the next department in her managerial umbrella when a sick feeling hit the pit of her stomach.
"Professor!" She stood, forgetting professionalism and momentarily her job. "Alan! Commander Koenig!"
Bergman continued to lean, but his gander was as uptight as Harry Houdini, straight-jacketed over the port authority. Ed Malcom was a better astrophysicist, the professor morosed. There was nothing like a Rapture Corridor for ruining one's confidence; he was no Handcuff King. Bergman's
art was the finery of how to remain in them. The fact that Ang' was counting on him did nothing to unstop the well of magic know-how.
"Sandra...." He made his puny, picayune attempt. "How long before the dish is aligned again...for deep space tracking."
"Fire teams--GO." Paul Morrow strained over the loop. In fact they could start with the controller's own, goddamn desk. His gooseneck lamp had its neck wrung. The only light was that of the sanguine bath of red emergency bulbs.
"The range display is number five on the DC priority list." The data analyst replied dissonantly. "Upgrading its status will require a direct command order."
Bergman already knew that. He had simply been delaying the inevitable.
"Paul?" He passed the torch to the new, executive, pro tempore, Commander Paul Morrow.
The controller heard them, but a thousand different issues were 999 problems
"Shore up the base." Morrow adjudged unfamously, all the while typing orders into his upper keyboard. "And try to locate Eagle One...."
Eagle One breached the outer atmosphere of Seven Dysnomia and instantly Koenig's unsecured clipboard began to drift, its own weight no longer an issue. Carter manually activated the gravity module and the clipboard dropped to the floor with an unceremonious clunk.
"Moonbase Alpha, this is Eagle One. Do you copy?" Koenig activated the link again but getting the same response as he had in the last 30 minutes.
The onboard computer hummed and Koenig tore off the register tape read out while sliding on his black rimmed reading glasses. He was expecting/dreading a debris field but scanners had not returned evidence of moon becoming billions of boulders and rocks.
"Hmmm," the astrophysicist turned astronaut but now astrophysicist again analyzed, "Quantum evidence of the passing of a singularity. Very interesting."
"I'm glad you think so, sir." Carter was high hat--the first clue that he was worried for his own behind, and well he should be. The astronaut slid back one of the blank panels beneath the midship tiles, and extended a microscope into position.
"What are you doing?" Koenig twiddled his thumbs--his own yoke, relinquished to computer control.
"A little shaft, and trunyon...." The pilot gazed into the great
"Well...no." The commander stooped. "The TM was in our onboard computer. Manroot was in charge of the digital dump, and I think he transmitted the right address--the relative location of the Moon."
He was actually enjoying his squeeze tube of Café.
It was amazing what stress could do.
"It won't hurt to have a look." Carter persisted.
"OOooo.' If that's your thinking, you would have bombed Victor Bergman's class big time." Koenig was sure. "Remember how that wind shear sounded? On the surface?" The commander reminded him. "The diffusion in the clouds--the sky? Vacuum force."
"It was just as storm." The astronaut peered into the vague, nothingness.
"Alpha entered a Rapture Corridor." The commander deduced. "Who knows. It may have drifted into this solar system decades ago--incredibly fast. The fact that it was uncensored would have made it harder for us to detect. Now, we're here, and they're in post-space. It's insupposable." If they survived the transition, that is. "It's probably for the best. If we'd colonized that planet we would have been really, really screwed."
"Right." Carter was frustrated, and all ears now. "They're down the gopher hole, and we're trapped in a spacecraft with conventional drive capabilities, and rations to last a month. What's the fix?"
"Fix?" Koenig cocked an eyebrow but otherwise did not turn his head. He had reimursed himself in the meters of register tape data the onboard computer continued to reel out toward him. "No fix in this craft, unless you start praying for a miracle."
The reading glasses were slowly sliding down his nose. He was starting to perspire, slightly, becoming more aware of the situation. The scientific curiosity was slowly being replaced with....
He stopped, holding his breath for a second. His action was unnoticed by Carter but he strained to hear the sound. He thought he heard a voice, then, dismissed it to the whirl of the air emitting from the circulation vent. Slowly lowering his handful of register tape, he found himself staring out
at the derelict in the distance, still orbiting the planet. It was amazing that it was still in one piece.
Somehow, he found his confidence, losing the creeping feeling of hopelessness and once again focused on the scientific aspects of their situation.
"Alan," he returned to studying the register tape data "set a course for that ship."
"Location?" Koenig sounded more routine now--given to grocery list mode following their last, failed attempt. They were now two hundred thousand feet above the
"I'm still working it up, but I think I've nailed down our Delta-V." The astronaut said from the CMP's couch. "Commander, if you don't mind my asking--why are we with this derelict. Shouldn't we be trying to find the gateway?" Strange, how the stern camera showed only deep, blue, salt
to-die-for. "The anomaly pulled the guts right out of this solar system. I couldn't find Malcom's butt in this fog."
"We've never had to deal with ground zero before." Koenig tried rounding his numbers off. "The Moon would emerge in clear space. We're searching for that cruiser because it may have been the biggest, most dunderheaded mistake I've ever made when I elected to ignore it. The time has come to render more prudent judgments. Secondly, we don't stand a chance of finding the Rapture Corridor on our own. The entry point is an infinitesimal, mathematical angle. Even if we did manage to stumble upon it, without the proper coordinates, the gravitational fields would engulf the ship, and we'd either be vaporized, or trapped forever in an anachronistic, Groundhog Day."
Carter understood now.
"But a race that is technologically advanced enough for deep space travel...they would have ironed out those wrinkles." The pilot hoped.
"A good possibility," Koenig hoped. "In fact, given our situation, it’s the only possibility."
There was that creeping pessimism again. He couldn't help it.
"But it's still a possibility, one we wouldn't have without the presence of that ship." He returned to his role of encouraging but far from fearless leader. He consulted the digital imaged pictures from the bow cameras. He had an idea where the Rapture Corridor might lie but without the proper coordinates, he would not take a chance at all.
Unless, of course, their visit to the alien derelict proved to be fruitless.
He returned to the digital images but this time of the ship looming ahead.
"Here," he pointed. "It looks like a point of entry, a hatch."
A Hatch...or a garbage shoot. Either way, it appeared to be a point of entry.
"Let's try for it over here," Koenig passed Carter the picture.
On final approach, the ship appeared to be shaped like a polygon...an asterisk. The astronaut closed on the planes, and circuits.
Carter didn't like the Polaroid any better than the shuddersome, weird expanse that slid beneath the cabin window. It was more than the dregs, and the stellar trash that floated in the mist, left behind by the Rapture Corridor. Here, space was lamentable, and scary. It was more than the
1,000 meter long, cleaved into Etruscan that loomed before them, following some eon-old smashup. The void here reeked of abhorrence, and horror.
"Initiating RCS Direct." Carter squeezed out propellant with the starboard hand controller.
"ACK lights on." Koenig assisted, leaning forward to flip the toggle.
The exterior floods did no good, to speak of.
With globular, frustrating non-progression, Eagle One crept beneath the keel of the alien spacecraft until only the canted glow of lights from the passenger module were visible. Carter corrected their course to put space between their own engine quad, and a black, dripping row of spikes, and sky wires that looked, for all the world, like ironworks in a cemetery.
"How this wreck managed to avoid being pulled into the corridor...." Carter trailed. He noticed that the illumination on his panel had changed from gunmetal gray to silver which heralded their immersion into total shadow. "Who do you think built the thing?"
"I don't know." Koenig said, still busily. "My instincts tell me they weren't from around here."
"There...." The pilot discovered beyond the transparency. A dim, gaseous, cabalistic bluestar glowed from the belly of the leviathan. "What do you reckon that is? Some sort of power source?"
"Probably," Koenig nodded. "Possibly some sort of fission reaction. Such reactions can continue even after hundreds, thousands of years, provided there is enough fuel."
Eagle One eased to an instrument controlled halt.
"Welcome aboard the Lady Lovidbond." Carter unbuckled his harness. "The design is incompatible so an actual docking maneuver is impossible."
"Then we'll have to perform a spacewalk," Koenig removed his reading glasses, ready to return to his astronaut hat. "That area still looks like some sort of access point. I suggest we start there."
That's when they heard the crashing of heavy metal organ music, and the pull of frozen, lifeless hands as the keel parted, and Eagle One was pulled inside the alien ship.
landed on the other side into the fog," Bergman stated poetically while
gazing out the viewport into the murky, pea soup depths. "If they managed
to break orbit, it's quite possible Eagle One was sucked into the rapture
corridor and is out there, in need of our assistance."
"Then why aren't we trying to ASSIST them?" Angelina interjected from her station. Helena Russell couldn't have said it better.
Pierce Quenton couldn't get enough gin.
For later...or course.
Truman Starns finished sweeping the remains of a broken, Gorski vase onto a five year old copy of a periodical, issued by the
No one wanted to sit in Koenig's chair, so there it sat, vacated, and at an angle.
"Cooper." Morrow had no idea why he turned to highbay chief first--in order of importance, his report wasn't even on page three, but consulting with an aussie made him feel like Carter was still around. Funny, a month ago--even a day ago--he would have seen the astronaut busted down to Latrine Boy, First Class. "What's the status of the VAB."
"We're getting on...." Cooper acknowledged, setting his spectacles on top of his total overthrow of computer printouts. "We can put a ship in space." He offered. "Maybe even two, or three. If that's what you want."
Morrow burned, inwardly, patty caking his palms thrice.
"Right." He said with sweating, upper lip. "Put together a search, and rescue team. Have them ready to go in one hour."
He closed his flimsy, and stood.
"Those were not your initial orders." Sandra Benes was swamping, defiant. "There are five areas of this base that need to be recompressed. Now, those same damage control crews will be diverted to clearing away those beach heads that were formerly called 'launch pads.'"
"Paul." Bergman wasn't sure what to call the neo-commander. "Are you sure? Quite sure? We've only just made passage thru the white hole. That doorway is still too near. At this distance, we could lose those ships to the Rapture Corridor."
"And in theory, we could be sucked back into it as well," Angelina was now standing. In theory, it had never happened before and Bergman's scenario was far more likely. However, her judgment and priorities were clouded and biased. "The fact is that they could be out in that muck," she motioned to the viewports, "and in much worse shape than we are. Perhaps they have no power and are drifting aimlessly. Perhaps they are injured."
Consciously or not, Angelina Carter spoke loudly, with reason but with passion as well. It was loud enough for everyone in the Main Mission complex to hear her, even those on the lower level. In fact, when Bergman glanced around, he saw that everyone was all ears.
"Professor, if they are out there, we can't just leave them out there to die," the Chief of Technical finished.
"Right," Darla Lomax spoke up from the still in repair Capcomm, "and I volunteer to go out. Actually, I've already had a bunch of text messages on my Commlock from several pilots in Reconn who want to be part of the search and rescue. There's no shortage of willing astronauts, Professor."
"Volunteers?" Morrow teetered, verifying the waters of his decision. "How many?"
"Too many to risk." Sandra Benes cut loose again--chip on her shoulder. She would address the individualists of the group in this same, chippy way. "The least we can do is to wait until the base is at full power again. Then, after a careful study of the reconnaissance data, we might be able to
This last part blurred in a fit of high blood pressure, and spoiled, hateful data analyst.
"Was I talking to you?" Paul commanded. She received the worse glare.
"Who's going to write the mission rules for this one?" Ouma challenged. "You, Cooper?" He was glib to the highbay chief. "And does anyone really expect computer to project a sunny probability formula.
"You're stoned on Rapture Corridor if you think for a moment that will happen."
In space, sunny was kind of funny.
"Is that the wind blowing?" Paul commanded (he didn't have the heart to tell Mr. CPU, here that Technical Section was going to work out the math, and not that useless pile of circuits that was currently enjoying a state of moratorium). "You look fatigued...Sandra. Maybe it would be helpful if I relieved you of your post."
"Civility...please...." Victor Bergman panged disagreement.
Kate Bullen preferred to listen to the heated exchange while gazing out the viewport of the lower level into the muck beyond. Cartography, when power was restored, would tell them they were in some sort of gaseous cloud of interstellar waste.
She stared, catching the movement, the formation of something. She felt her stomach turning in knots, that feeling of dread which she had come to know so many times, and she broke out into a cold sweat as she thought she saw....something. She blinked and the unformed murkiness returned. She doubted her own sanity and dismissed her musings as an overactive imagination.
"Professor," Angelina Carter turned toward Bergman, completely ignoring Sandra Benes. "We can't leave them out there. You know as well as I that if they are out there and the ship is damaged or they are injured, time is not on their side."
"Paul," Darla Lomax added reinforcement, "we can have a ship ready in 30 minutes. What say you?"
There it was again.
In the dark--the set aside ruins beyond the emergency lamps.
Truman Starns saw the fireflies again.
"Right there." Carter pointed at the black ice beyond the rendezvous window. "See it?"
They were completely without power, and trapped inside the confines of the alien juggernaught.
"No." Koenig spared the briefest glance, and ducked back into the lower equipment bay. "Heads up." He said, and tossed Carter the techno-polymer survey kit that they had used on Seven Dysonomia. "None of our toys will work here...probably...but we'll try to gather as much data as we can.
"What did you think you saw?"
"Insects?" The astronaut grappled for definition. "Like lightening critters? I dunno.'" The pilot seemed confused. "I saw the same thing on the planet. On the hillock--just before the wrath of God shewn down on the Israelites."
"Amen." Koenig found Carter's Old Testament humor to be uncomforting. "If we run into them, set your prayer book aside, and try to grab a specimen."
The pilot was already testing his maglite.
The expanse outside was nothing, if not a complete, chanting lower world. A sightless Naraka. The only emanations came from an ellipsoidal zone with a citrus colored glow. It could be a light, or a light in a corridor, or a monster in a corridor.
"Commander, where do you think they went?" Carter asked soberly. "We're the only life forms on this ship. What became of the crew?"
"Who knows," Koenig answered while running his hand along the smoother than smooth support column. "Another mystery. One thing's for sure," he waved his maglight around, revealing layers and layers of dust and soot,” It’s been quite some time since anyone or anything has been here."
The commander stopped his maglight search on a far wall which contained a bizarre circular hatch, 2 meters off the floor. They moved across the room and stopped at the wall, shining their maglights upward.
"Whoever they were, they were either quite tall," Koenig mused. "Or could fly." He shrugged then stopped his beam of light along the top of the threshold, which revealed unrecognizable cryptic shapes and scribbles.
"Exit?" Koenig translated, half humorously. There was nothing funny about their situation and he felt he had no reason to feel so relaxed. Nevertheless, he wasn't stressed out at all.
For perhaps the first time in over a hundred centuries, an equivocal piston movement could be heard as the door broke away in segments of three, port, starboard, and ceiling. Alan Carter backed away instinctually. He liked to think that it was more about vanity than having no gonads. Conglomerates of oil, and grime did fall from the hatch as it opened. Then again, there was also a gigantic, gossamer web that plumed an inner screen between the two chambers, and...
...(and...parenthetical note: it freaked his ass out, and put him viscerally in contact with his own mortality)....
John Koenig felt the same way, but didn't care. The commander regarded the utility belt that was around the waist of his own, red pressure suit, and unbuckled his laser holster. The reticulum was, in verity, thick enough to cut with a knife, but a machete would be even better. Beyond the
obfuscating membrane, there were yards, and yards of similar material; on the other side of that, there was row, upon row supporting strands. The ship could use new duct work. Walk fifty meters, and you would still be playing fly/Din-Din to some horror movie sized
Just like the sightless, ashen, mummified faces that stared back at them.
"Eagle 10 to Alpha," Darla Lomax called through the link," coordinates grids G01 through I100 search complete. Results negative. Continuing on to Q01 through S100." She dropped her clipboard and tossed a banana strawberry yogurt squeeze tube to her copilot, Max Letourneau, then opened one for herself.
"Copy Eagle 10," Zed Astrin entered a few keystrokes into the controller station and was beginning to wonder if this exercise was all a waste of time. After all, they were going into the 20th hour of the search and there was still no sign of Eagle 1. Of course, the cloud was so thick, Eagle 1 might be mere kilometers from the rescue Eagles and still be missed.
Hence, the search was like sending out a blind man tapping around him with a white cane to locate an object.
Meanwhile, the chief controller, Paul Morrow, now acting commander by default, sat in the conference room, surrounded with command staff.
"I refuse to accept the supposition that they aren't out there," Helena Russell spoke quietly and somberly from her chair. "There hasn't been enough time elapsed in the search and, you know the conditions." She pointed out the viewports with a flourish. "We can't give up now."
"At risk of sounding dodgy...." Gordon Cooper sounded uncharacteristically eloquent. "It's more a case of not being able to transmit what you don't got."
Morrow's brow rumpled, and rucked.
He was a bundle of contradictions, the controller--giving the first impression of being a free wheeling beatnik, but with the heart of someone who sold government cheese on the dole.
"Our velocity." A harangued, tormented--but handling it all with great elan--Victor Bergman was in terminal distraught now. He was iconically supportive, standing behind Angs' white, plastic chair, arms folded, and phiz contorted. "We came thru that gateway like a missile."
"We sent them out with ten thousand pounds of concentrated Aerozine." He knew by rote. "The reactor won't go cold...witness the marvels of the nuclear age. But they won't have enough primary fuel to sustain a burn; there won't be anything for course correction, or for landing.
"Not at our present rate of speed."
"What about the solid fuel." Morrow contended.
"We already figured that in." The highbay chief was depressed to admit. No one should live in space, and certainly, no one should have to die there. "Remember, the SM's are almost closet sized." He overexaggerated...but not by much. "In about 24 hours, those combustion chambers that will be dry as well.
"They could come out of the Rapture Corridor like blazes, and still, they'd be a farthing too short."
"We're assuming, of course, that Eagle One didn't emerge from the white hole, disabled." Ouma thought gloweringly.
"Well...." Coop' answered that. "If that's the case, then they are FINISHED."
"You're assuming that they come out of the rapture corridor at the same velocity as we did," Angelina Carter was turning the lance of her PhD astrophysics knowledge on Gordon Cooper. "It is likely that they exited at a higher speed than the moon, given the reduced mass of the Eagle."
She did not mention that such a higher velocity might also cause more stress on the hull than it was structurally designed.
"You're assuming that they even made it out at all," Sandra Benes pointed out the obvious.
"Then I would also add," Ben Ouma added, not that anyone asked him to contribute," that your judgment is somewhat clouded, given your personal interest in the situation."
"Since when did you get a doctorate in psychiatry, Ben?" Angelina shot back venomously. "My interest is the safe return of Alan AND the Commander and I don't think we should give up yet."
"All the evidence does seem to point to our options being exhausted," Morrow now rifled through several stacks of flimsies.
"And you're saying we should give up?" Helena Russell interjected.
"No....not exactly," Morrow answered, unsure.
"We will continue the search," Angelina spoke up, confident.
"No, I did not say that," the controller contradicted.
"Then what ARE you saying?" Angelina pressed him. The lack of leadership was disturbing. It wasn't the first example. In fact, several of her section heads had expressed doubts about Morrow, as if Koenig (and Alan) were already dead men. It pissed her off.
"Dead." John Koenig pronounced. He was covered with enough webbing to weave a thousand baby blankets as he lowered one of the lacerated, half torsos to the floor.
"They look humanoid." Carter was already looking away--he had to...had to--probing the darkness with his flashlight for some niche, some corner that was not part of the ghastly graveyard.
"I'd say we found the crew." The commander stood, wiping the elements uselessly from his gloves. On the other side of bad death, each and every body appeared to be asexual now; any notion of personal identity was wiped away by the generalized approach of the massacre. All bald, all hairless; most were missing more than one appendage. The amputations seemed to have been carried out thru slow, agonizing evisceration.
"Why were they all here?" The pilot oppugned. "In this compartment?"
Koenig thought of General Custer and his last stand against Sitting Bull. The aliens looked scalped, of heads and limbs, and the analogy was too similar.
"A last stand...a last defense," the Commander went on. "But against whom...or what? He shined his maglite around the room, about the same level as the entry hatch, until the beam illuminated yet another doorway. This hatch was not sealed and though he was below the entry point, with one long arm he shone his light into the cavern. Instantly, shadows of long dormant equipment appeared in the shadows.
"I'm guessing some sort of bridge or control center," He hoped.
Carter loosened the grip on his satchel. He blinked, adjusting his eyes to the lavender, spectral grotto that danced before them in Nth logistic paganism. One minute, he was drowned in a payback of orange hellfire; the next, in a sea of cold, aqua mortification. They could both feel the low ebb of solar conductivity; the derelict's only remaining source of power.
"This air tastes like quiche, and cardboard." The commander witnessed. "All things considered though, it would appear that computer was wrong about this being a powerless, uninhabitable scow."
Did he ever doubt the conclusion?
"Holography?" Carter stepped onto the expanse of circular platform. The walls were all lined with blue, velvet-like curtains. Yeah, man. Just like the interior of a coffin, no matter how much he tried to avoid the inevitable comparison. Everywhere, there were cantilevers, and mounted on
each one, there were scrambled images--it might have brought out the Admiral Byrd in Carter's soul; the sense of an explorer, were it not for the fact that both of their kiesters were dead if they didn't find harborage. Seven Dysonomia was low on groceries--they could eat grass; to their heart's content, and graze--and he rather thought the ship's galley would be low on
provisions too. "It takes thousands of photographs to do that." He differentiated. "How did they adapt it to real-time visuals?"
"Because they're a hundred thousand years more advanced than us?" Koenig the caveman knew. He played his flashlight across the floor, and discovered more corpse gods. "It's like walking in on
No unforeseen accident with the thingamajig' did this.
"What are those marks?" Carter aimed his flashlight at one of the deceased. "Teeth? Something bit them?"
Koenig crouched closer, shining his maglight intently at one of the chewed corpses, moving it slowly to capture different patterns and shadows.
it was, it attacked them," for lack of a better term, though the commander
had a strong feeling it was more like 'devoured them' but would not disclose
his suspicion without further proof, "from the inside out," Koenig
moved his maglight like a laser pointer. "See? It looks like more damage
internally. Though, admittedly, it could be a natural decay."
He wasn't sure. Hanging out with Helena Russell in his free time, he was able to pick up quite a bit of life science knowledge beyond the scope of his own high school biology. Still, he was far from being in the same league as a Russell, Mathias or Sullivan in the medical field. He wished one of them was here to consult.
"Alan, hold the lights," he passed his maglight, while removing his digital camera from his satchel. "I want to get some photos. It might be interesting study for Medical when we get back to Alpha."
"Right." Carter minimized. "The phone call will come."
Koenig put his glasses on again, and hunkered down beside the Joey remains of what may have been an alien female. Attractive? Once? Perhaps. But it was all behind her now. He flipped the latch on his case, and removed a meticulous pair of tweezers. The ship yawed left slightly. It was
difficult to see, but the scatter of sapphires was clearly detectable in the effulgence of holograms. He could see the astronaut clock backwards on his heels, redistributing his weight to compensate for the suddenness of
"There goes the Cobra Clutch." The pilot adeptly estimated whilst the commander gathered his rubies from the floor. "This ship is inbound, whether they--or we--like it, or not."
"Who knows?" Koenig posited, standing. "Alexander, the Great was probably in high school when this ship began to drift. Before that, even. Since the creation of dirt, maybe. It's eventually going to hit the atmosphere, and it would probably be a good idea if we're not here when it happens."
He clasped the case.
"We'll need a procedure." Carter planned. "Opening that sodden, freakin' airlock will be almost as difficult as finding that hole in space."
"Maybe." Koenig wondered ambiguously as he stepped to the opposite side of a bright, and undulating energy mosaic. "Maybe not."
"Are you with us?" Greg Sanderson whispered to Joan Conway.
"I don't know," she wavered. "I'm not sure this is a good idea."
"Koenig was bad enough." Peter Cervik went on. "Morrow is worse. Completely incompetent and he will most assuredly get us killed."
"Talk to Ang Carter," Sanderson continued. "I bet we could get her on our side. Just tell her that Morrow is going to leave her husband to die in space."
"Brutal, horrible death," Cervik continued, faux but convincingly, shuttering.
"But don't give anything away, see," Sanderson folded arms across chest. "Just feel her out, see what she thinks of Morrow. But...you need to be quick about it. If she isn't with us, then she's against us."
"Paul," Angelina Carter, weary from yet another pointless command staff meeting, spoke up softly,” may I speak off the record...please?"
Against Morrow's judgment, he snapped off the digital recorder for the minutes. "Alright, Ang, go ahead."
After a long pause of staring at her folded hands, she looked up. "Don't take this personally, but your lack of leadership sucks."
Ben Ouma burst out laughing. "Well, if I can speak off the record too, I have to concur with the Director of Technical Operations but I DO hope you take it personally. We find you quite lacking and your ability to 'lead' is virtually nonexistent."
Pierre Danielle tried hard to suppress a smirk, his face turning red.
"Are we still off the record?" Ouma pressed, and nudged Truman Starns "or are you going to have the constable here take me off to the gallows."
"Stop it, Ben," Sandra Benes hissed at the Chief of Computer Operations.
"Why does the entire command staff have to be here?" Ang spoke up again, now regretting her off the record comment. "There are a thousand things to do on this base right now and I have never, ever felt comfortable being a desk jockey in Main Mission when I could be useful elsewhere."
It would also get her mind off the increased likelihood as the minutes ticked by and the search parties continued to return negative results, that Alan Carter and John Koenig were dead men, if not at that moment then within a matter of days or worse, long weeks. This thought she did not need to share with anyone; it was painfully obvious.
"Professor," she implored Bergman once again, "can't you do SOMETHING?"
"I'm in charge." Orville Hendershot boasted to the others autocratically, legs bowed wide enough for a train to pass thru. He was helping himself to a cup from the kitchenette's water filter. "Agreed?"
???WHERE ARE YOU??? He pecked out the text message to videographer Duke on his commlock, but received no answer
"What a sty." It took Pete Cervik took time to notice the K9 mountain of crap that was Ed Malcom's quarters. "Do you ever clean the place?"
"Well, I think it's important to discuss incentives." The technician weighed in--not physically, which would be impossible, but philosophically. "You know what it takes to round out this team."
His promotion to Eagle flight systems, in a phrase.
Atop the refrigerator, a dozing Caesar, the cat yawned impertinently.
"No way," Darla Lomax spoke up from the corner, objecting. "There's no way in hell HE'S going to Eagle Flight Systems." Already, she was beginning to regret her decision to join this group of mutineers.
"Then there's no way in hell that I'm going to help you out," Ed Malcom crossed his arms over Budda belly defiantly.
"Now, now, Astronaut Lomax," Sanderson began to play the politician. "I'm sure we can work something out." He slapped Malcom's shoulder. "Right?"
Cervik made eye contact with Lomax, glanced at Malcom, then back at her while slightly shaking his head. It sent a chill down Lomax's spine.
"Yeah, I guess," she went on, insincerely and wanting nothing more than to leave the landfill of a quarters. She was trying to concoct an excuse to leave when the door slid open and in walked Pierce Quenton.
"Did you take care of Engineer Conway?" Sanderson looked up at the Chief of Security.
"Taken care of," Quenton responded evenly, if not slightly inebriated.
His stomach felt terrible--it was mammoth malpractice; the fuck of the future where physicians stick any available part into your body, and then staple you together, and you had to love it. He did find the covert meeting to be energizing. The adrenaline gave him a real rush, and at last, he
could hook many, many individuals into the everlasting payback pipeline.
"Does anyone else hear it?" He huffed. "That dreadful music?"
("Not to worry." An obnoxious Mathias had told him during his long, massacre of the saints, holocaust of recovery. "I can't really say where the liver came from, but it's yours now.
"Kick." Ed Malcom finished off his plate of chocolate Tofu. "I want to talk about the bonus."
"What the bloody hell are you talking about?" Cervik sneezed as Caesar strolled by to scrutinize them.
He was allergic to cat hair.
The text message flashed across Angelina Carter's commlock. "Need 2 talk 2 u. Duke"
She scowled in disgust. It was from Duke, the hippie videographer. She surmised (incorrectly) his camera was broken again and he was (once again) trying to bump himself up on the priority list. She erased the text message.
"Gnarly." Duke succumbed to their plight, and premature burial. "I don't want to die in here." He told Tara Bathory. "Not until I've made love."
He was an elephant man of grief, and misfortune.
Tara Bathory huffed, irritated. "I guess you'll be living another day, Duke." She was running her hands along the wall in the near blackness of the travel tube, a lone red emergency light shining in the corner provided just enough illumination to at least orientate her between the wall panel and the doors. "If you want the damsel, Duke, you have to act like a man and at least make an attempt to save her."
She bitched loudly as she broke a fingernail.
"Man, I really don't know what you expect me to do." He complained, reseating himself in the darkened, travel tube coach. "That's the third person I've tried to contact. She probably won't answer back either. We're trapped, incommunicado, dude."
He was sure that the opportunity alluded her. It was for the best, probably. Midol wasn't his trip.
"THIRD??!?!" She rebuked loudly in the almost dark. "THIRD PERSON?!?!?! YOU'VE ONLY TRIED TO CONTACT THREE PEOPLE!??!? Your incompetence is amazing." She plopped indignantly in a chair on the opposite side of the travel tube.
"How do you expect to be rescued when you've only tried three people?!?!? Idiot." Her final assessment of the videographer made without her making any effort at all to improve the situation.
Then. The silence of the convicted, of the imbecilic.
On the other side of their car/vast chasm, someone in unseen Hawaiian shorts could be heard drumming his fingers against the case of his digicam. It took no effort of the imagination to presume he was slumping.
"Man." Duke evoked earnestly. "I wonder if this situation has made Hendershot power hungry again. You know? What if the big, boss-man didn't make it back. He, and John Glen, Jr. They were away when this happened. I know because the big "O" refused to cover the story."
The executive producer of Alpha News Service declaimed any events that he deemed as being propaganda--the falsity of a reconnaissance mission to Seven Dysonomia, for example.
"For all of your dirt bag claim to hippie fame," Tara Bathory snorted, "you're quite the conformist, Duke." She tossed her hair in the near darkness. Why, she did not know. Habit. Instinct, perhaps. "Or maybe you're just wishful thinking. Thinking with your dick, Duke." She giggled.
"After all, if Captain Carter's out of the picture, maybe you can act on your fantasies and make your lonely nights of masturbation with his wife a reality. Not that you would have a chance in consoling the grieving widow. She laughed haughtily. "I'm sure she has better taste in men than you."
"Man, take your pot shots." Duke allowed automatically. "I can groove on it. See, I know it's because you two, stuck-up geezers are envious of my youth, and too, too rare competence."
What could she say? Nothing, besides howling with laughter until Bathory sputtered into a coughing fit. She fumbled for her water bottle, swallowed the last ounce then chucked the empty bottle across the travel tube.
"Seriously." Duke wanted no arguments. He did want a joint. "What do you think he's up to right now? Hendershot?"
Maybe it was time to try his commlock again.
"No, it's not as easy as that." Victor Bergman came as close as he ever had to chastisement. He, and his former acolyte were alone in the currently unoccupied (but not for long) commander's office. All around them, there was prevalent, Gorski crap, but soon--very soon--it would be permanently filled with the bull of Morrow. "Everything I've done; everything I've said is part of a promise that I made to Commander Koenig. I hate it as badly as you do, but rescue was only a priority to him if it involved someone else.
"And you know better than I do that Alan was the same way."
"WAS?!?" Angelina could hardly believe her ears. "You talk of him in the past tense....like you've already written him off." She was almost to the breaking point, choosing to look away and stare out the viewport instead.
"You need to look at the long view." The professor did not sound convincing. He sounded hypocritical, and pained--his grief, and his guilt affording him nothing better than a view of the nearby commstation. It was easy for Sandra Benes to be a selfish harridan. Others were not quite so skilled. "Look at Helena Russell. Is she ecstatic about this outcome? No, but she's deliberately keeping her chin up because she knows that there's more at stake than her own wants, and needs."
"So you expect me to crack, do you?" She was disappointed, though, it wasn't as if he had not seen this before. "I'm disappointed." She took a deep breath, almost a sigh. "Sorry, professor, but I am human and my own wants and needs can't be ignored. However, believe it or not, I am also looking at the long view."
She turned to face him. "The long view is this: if Alan and the Commander are not found, then they will die, unless, of course they are already dead. If that happens, Nicky and I will have lost Alan. However, ALL of us will have lost Commander Koenig. Paul Morrow is the presumed leader. Is Paul Morrow even half the leader that John Koenig is?" She emphasized her use of
"Not on your life....and I know for a fact that several people would agree with that sentiment. The long view? If John Koenig is dead, there will be strife amoung us."
"The search party is out there." Bergman swore an oath--it was his final statement on the subject. "In fifteen minutes, the tanker will be cleared for launch as well. They'll continue to look for Eagle One until they've reached the maximum limit of their fuel consumption. After that, we'll have
to deal with the results."
He wanted to back down, but couldn't.
"Like I said, professor, strife amoung us...or, we have seen the enemy and the enemy will be ourselves."
"Professor." Truman Starns echoed from the speakers of the local monitor. "We need your assistance in the dispensary.
"Someone has been...attacked."
Eighty kilometers above the surface of Seven Dysnomia was not as cheerful as being on the surface (minus the whiplash emanating from a hole in orbital space, mind you). High up, the pods of the alien space vehicle drifted silently over a grainy, toothpaste sea of concave atmosphere. There were no traces of vivaciousness, and life.
There was only blah.'
It was like having Strauss, and Ligetti--going thru your head all day, every day.
On the planet, the grass always looked greener.
"Commander?" Carter nudged Koenig--believing him to be asleep, but realizing that he was only resting on the passenger module couch when the lights came on. "Shift change? I hope you have better luck than I did."
Koenig stood, wiped away the strain of tossing, and turning, and grabbed the tallest styrocup he could find.
"Centimeters, meters, kilometers...." The commander enumerated as he helped himself to a cup of café. It was time to trade in his tee-shirt, and beta cloth sweats for an environment suit. The temperature inside the vessel was a reliable 70 below zero. How lucky were they that the thing still had reserve power? "It has to be measured in some unit similar to that. Length, perimeter, radius. If there is any such thing as universal...."
"It's greek to me." Carter pronounced, sitting, and removing his gloves. "Hell, how do we even know that's a coordinate line in there? That might be ET's version of a painting by Rembrandt, a fruit bowl. If we follow that we could get our bollicks burned."
"No, no," Koenig shook his head contemplatively while scratching the stubble of his beard. Shaving was not a priority, though the wisps of gray in the heavy 5 o'clock shadow gave him the somewhat distinguished look of the astrophysics PhD which was now his primary role. "All the markings on the holograph seem to converge into a vortex. There is some familiar components of relativistic equations but...." he took a swallow of bottled water and nibbled at a blueberry muffin, defrosted and heated a few hours before. "Admittedly, there are a lot of unfamiliar shapes and geometries."
"I don't know sir." Carter confessed, exhausted, and rubbing the clench between his eyes. "A red dot on a holograph does not a Rapture Corridor make. We don't know what these people were thinking. Sometimes 'X' doesn't mark the spot. Sometimes 'X' is where you make a good, old fashioned waste dump. They may have been charting space debris, for all we know.
"Then there's that little problem of how to open the airlock again when it's time to leave."
"Why do we need to open the airlock except to leave the ship when we get on the other side?" Koenig stood up, stretching and feeling the bones cracking in his back. "This ship is coming with us. As I see it, it is our only way back. Besides, I was not overly confident that, even with the exact coordinates and equations to get us through to the other side that the Eagle would be able to withstand the forces. The moon and Alpha never come through Rapture Corridors unscathed. We'd have a better chance at hitting the Powerball jackpot than getting through in one piece in an Eagle.
"No, we have to take this ship. I see no other way to do it."
Really? Carter thought improbably, but did not pipe. Forget the absence of steering wheel, and direction (something else he could fail in Victor Bergman's comparative class). Fine, I'll ride shot gun on this one, he wanted to say, but as it was, he dropped his carcass onto the settee, and spent his sleep period thinking about alien wings. The pearls from the brain center floor dropped low like useless change.
But that was far away, outlying, and significantly removed. By commlock, it would only take ten million years for John Koenig's mastermind to reach the core. Moonbase Alpha was two galaxies away, and the rift was widening with each passing moment.
"Professor, surely you've got better things to do." Pierce Quenton greeted them with blunt, plain spoken dull headedness.
The shadow didn't follow him in. It was either something paranormal, or because he smelled bad.
Helena Russell was in the dispensary too as was Raul Nunez, taking careful photographs of the trauma suffered by Specialist Bacon. She was leaving the JPL facility when it crossed her mind that she needed a refill on hair, and body wash. The store had appeared empty. Before she even had a chance to bring up the lights, the lurking glisters had swarmed on her. She felt much better now, though--excepting the subgross of red, inflamed bites that crossed her cheeks, and hands in irritated seagirts.
"Dammit, I asked them here." Helena Russell turned from her bottle of peroxide.
"No, she didn't." Truman Starns contested. "I did. They're LC members, and as such, they have a right to know what's happening on this base during the current crisis. The controller is next on the list." He avowed with exacting sarcasm.
"That's my job." The security chief with the boozer, Santa Claus nose corrected his staff. Good help was so hard to find. "Do it, and I'll stick it in, and break it off."
"No need to get violent," Angelina moved between the heated Quenton and surprisingly pissed off and on the verge of throwing punches Starns. "Paul is the acting Commander so he should be informed."
On the outside, her exterior was cool and calm but inside, she was going crazy with disbelief, anger and a increasing sense of hopeless grief. She wanted to talk to someone in Reconn, anyone who had gone out in the initial search and one of her good friends, Darla Lomax, was a natural choice. She paged Darla but she did not answer her commlock. Then, in an act that is usually reserved in an emergency, she put out a computer tracer on her location. Ed Malcom's quarters. Ang couldn't help but burst out laughing when she read it on the screen. Darla hated Malcom. She wouldn't be caught dead in his quarters. Therefore, Ang informed Ben Ouma and told him the locating software was acting up.
Then she received the urgent call from Starns.
"What was the cause of death?" Bergman, crouched down beside the lifeless body of Specialist Andrew Bacon for a closer visual examination. For once, there was not an excess amount of blood or bodily fluids plastering the wall panels, floor and ceiling. Only a single trickle of blood had issued from his right ear.
"It appears to be some kind of trauma," Helena Russell pointed to the black and blue bruising completely covering the skin, "but there is no swelling or edema associated with normal bruising."
"It's like he changed color or put on a bunch of Halloween makeup," Ang peered over Nunez's shoulder. Then she noticed Russell's face. "What happened to you?"
"Nothing." Russell stonewalled cynically, brushing back her blonde style so that she could have a better view of the Rigor Mortis. "I'm just happy to be alive." She handed Nunez the forensic skin sample. "Do a complete autopsy." She told the RN. "But pay particular attention to this. Something's not right about it. Of course, I can't actually find anything 'wrong' about it--other than the fact that it was extracted from a dead person, but I think it's worth a trip to the electron microscope."
Starns wanted to shat' upon Pierce Quenton's head. In the overlapping,
multi-tiered, overpaid, underworked environs of Earth, and orbital Moon, the
ILC investigator would have been the cheese. Wherever he went, he was the
conductor; the symphony, and the case would have been his whilst the ilk of a peon
like Quenton would have been relegated to the non-glorious grit. He would have
pushed a pencil--assuming that he could spell.
Now, they were worse than enemies--they were colleagues. One of them had a serious problem adhering to lunar law, and basic procedure, and it was not Starns.
"I am going to report this to the deputy commander." He dredged the scum, and the smegma from the well again.
"A busy bloke." Quenton affirmed. "Controller Morrow.... I don't think he needs this kind of drama."
Beneficent words, considering that only an hour ago, he was plotting with Sanderson, and Hendershot to overthrow him.
"Don't click your blasted tongue at me." Starns devolved into a square. He couldn't help it. Levity, and humor were not his strong suit. His friendlessness was proof of that. He was willing to trade congenial relations for the look of a greek god, and the ability to always be right.
Even when he was wrong. That was his only rule, but he was very, very tough about that. When in doubt, return to the top of the page.
Quenton turned, and postured again.
"Professor Bergman." Adisa Talic called from the commstation. "Something very interesting. Could you come to Main Mission."
Koenig laid down his notebook, rubbing the corners of his eyes. He was sitting in front of what they had determined as a control console for the equivalent of a navigational computer. They had tried to power it up touching every square inch of the smooth console. For all of their efforts, maybe it was just an end table or something. The commander crossed his arms on the table and put his head down, almost defeated.
Then he exhaled in a deep sigh.
Then, the console came to life.
"Eh?" Carter stumbled onto the helm control (he assumed) scaffold. The quartz-like rail closed behind him--he made it just in time as the motors beneath the floor began to roll them smoothly, comfortably towards the hypothetical coordinates in the center. All around, holograms were coming to life--most scrambled with static, but a few were filled with some incredible ratiocination. The face-down mummies that remained on the platform were suddenly illumined in the radiant glow of infinite calculus, and plane trigonometry. "What gives? You found the switch?"
"Quite by accident, to be sure," Koenig responded, now re-energized like no cup of Moonbase Alpha java could ever accomplish. "I was taking five and as ridiculous as it sounds, I exhaled on it." He explained absently, now with bone rimmed glasses perched on the edge of his nose, he glanced around at the different holographic images, quickly taking notes in his reclaimed notebook.
"You breathed on it?" The astronaut concertized. "Sound? That's how it responds?" And then it dawned on him. "Those hangar doors. They appeared to be keyed to some sort of harmonics. It nearly blew our eardrums off when we were hauled in."
The commander paused then nodded. "It could be," he continued nodding like a bobble head as he scribed on a new sheet of paper. "Yes, that makes perfect sense, Alan." He scanned what he assumed were controls, now being gradually revealed though a series of mechanical flips, trap doors opening and raising opaque displays with what he assumed were touch screen function, each illuminating with both basic geometric figures as well as shapes he could never imagine.
"If that's the deal, then all we need to do is to find out how to jive talk the system." The pilot caroled excitedly. He temporarily forgot that English was not the language of the universe. "Maybe we can tell it what we need it to do...."
It was a chance, but not much else.
"Maybe...." Koenig stopped, realizing that amoung the myriad of geometries were indeed squares, triangles and circle. "Would you look at that?" He pointed to the elementary shapes. "At last, something familiar."
"Thank God." Carter evoked modestly. "That makes me feel so much more secure--as long as they assign the same meaning to those symbols that we do, sir."
But the way things were going, it was probably some cabalistic code for unleashing some barbaric death gas that would liquefy their respiratory systems.
Koenig's eye caught one of the panels, noticing a familiar receptacle. He thumbed the USB drive in his pocket and just for the sake of 'giving it a try', he inserted it into the receptacle. The barrage of holographic images stopped momentarily but clearly, activity within the control room was continuing.
The commander noticed the light patterns changing on one of the holographic screen on the ceiling. Looking up, the contents of his USB flash drive scrolled on the ceiling from one end of the room to the other side. Soon, the data dump stopped and the ceiling went blank. Koenig and Carter continued to stare up, craning their necks.
John Koenig was really not surprised when one word, with letters 10 feet tall appeared on the ceiling.
The word was "HELLO."