Moonbase Alpha status report. 302 days since leaving Earth orbit. Doctor Helena Russell recording…
It has been weeks now since our last encounter with a planetary body or alien ship. Space really is empty – but at the same time filled with dust, rogue planets and rocks the size of baseballs. Regularly this matter gets drawn down to the surface, and where our base is protected by its Bergman force dome, the geography of the rest of moon is being altered – and Victor reckons that over the past thousand days, the Moon has actually increased in mass from hundreds of impacts.
Most of the time we ignore them, it’s only when something really big hits that it peaks our interest. As the Commander is keen to point out, our resources are finite and our recycling plants can never be anywhere near 100% efficient. We recently recovered valuable rare earths for the fabrication of new replacement computer components, and from my perspective being in charge of life sciences and support, water and oxygen are a priority. It was this need that determined the Eagle mission to the lip of the Moon, where an asteroid the size of a city block had impacted onto the surface – and Computer indicated the presence of water ice…
Chief pilot Alan Carter lowered himself into the pilot seat of his Eagle – Eagle 1. Though none of the pilots were allowed a personal attachment to any ship, and all the Eagles were practically identical, he always insisted on this one, calling it his baby and supervising the servicing and pre-flight prep himself.
He pulled the shoulder straps of his harness over the bulky arms of his spacesuit, locking the central buckle with a reassuring click. He stroked the control surfaces with his hands and smiled. “All right girl,” he said, “here we go again.”
“What was that, Alan?” said his co-pilot, locking her faceplate up. Joy Williamson was one of only three female qualified Eagle pilots and she was on the duty roster for today – in fact she had been slated as mission commander until Alan had showed up and bumped her to co-pilot.
“Ah, wasn’t talking to you, love,” he smiled, putting on his gloves and activating the pressure locks at the wrists.
“I see,” said Joy, starting the pilot pre-flight checks. “We’re going after ancient water according to the mission brief, but if we were looking for dinosaurs…”
“Oh come on, let’s not start that again,” Alan sighed, the smile starting to fade from his face.
“There’s no reason why the female pilots can’t fly the same number of missions – even solo – as the men. And you seem to be forgetting about all the pilots we’ve lost. The first female air force combat pilots flew over five years ago – there have been space missions since with female commanders, and yet we get stuck training new male pilots and the only female in the command structure is Doctor Russell. I’d bet half the crew in Main Mission don’t even know we exist!”
“Well, I’m chief pilot but I’m not Commander Koenig – and as I’ve said before love… sorry… Joy, I don’t make the big decisions around here. And before you start again, let’s get this crate off the deck, eh?”
In the passenger compartment, the mission crew were also fastening their harnesses and checking helmets. On the left of the aisle sat two geologists, Boris Sandinsky and Dan Murray. Sandinsky was wearing his zero G spectacles under his helmet, and he hated the way they pinched his ears and nose. He reached into his helmet and once again adjusted the position of his grey-streaked beard and wiped a sweaty lock of hair from his brow. He wasn’t much of a fan of Eagle flights either – and had seen the results of one too many crashes over the past several months.
Murray was young enough to be Sandinsky’s grandson, and had been on his first tour of duty on Moonbase Alpha when been trapped by the disaster of break-away. For him, any flight time, or any excuse to suit up and get out of the lab was a boon. One thing Alpha wasn’t short of was geologists, and so the times when he, as the most junior member of staff, got to go on a mission were few and far between. His suit told him that his perspiration and heart rate were high – his palms were slick with sweat inside his gloves – but this was pure excitement. His blue eyes looked even bigger and bluer than usual, the orange of the visor making the freckles across his nose and cheeks vanish.
On the other side of the aisle was the huge form of the security officer, Ka’Ne Alohilani. The big Hawaiian ex-soldier jumped out of his seat and came over, checking the scientists’ suits and harnesses.
“All set, gentlemen?” he smiled, the facial tattoos somehow shifting with his broad, perfect smile from the death face of a warrior to the benevolence of a mythical god. Satisfied, he went back to his seat, pulled on his own harness and took the comlock off his belt. “Passenger section to Carter – all set here, sir.”
“Thanks – stand by,” Carter replied.
The docking tunnel slid soundlessly back into its housing, and seeing the corresponding green light on the control panel, Alan punched the controls and the Eagle’s vertical jets exploded to life, the huge insect-like craft quickly lifting straight up through clouds of moon dust. Appearing from the top of the clouds, the main engines fired on minimum power, and the Eagle continued to climb, heading for the northern horizon.
Commander John Koenig sat back in his office chair, put down his pen and ran his hands though his lank black hair. No matter how many times he looked at the supply figures, they never got any better. The materiel they had managed to recover from a few of their less threatening encounters over the years since leaving Earth orbit had helped, but were not enough. This new water asteroid would be a big help to their slowly depleting supply, but he hoped there was more riches for the taking – mineral nutrients that could be used in the hydroponics or even better – if there was organic material, something that could be synthesised…
The door beeped and Koenig picked up his comlock. The smiling and seemingly permanently embarrassed face of his friend Victor Bergman, chief scientist, looked back at him from the tiny screen. Koenig sighed, and a brief smile passed over his face as he pointed the comlock at the door and it opened. Bergman strode in – though original impressions of the old doctor were somehow frail, his bearing and his walk were those of a man much younger.
“Catch you at a bad time, John?” he said, walking up and sitting on a corner of Koenig’s desk.
“No more than usual, Victor. What have you got for me? Good news I hope.”
“Well, I don’t know. The readings we got from Computer about the asteroid seem to have been confirmed by the readings from the Eagle as it approaches, but something isn’t quite right…” Bergman replied, sweeping his long frizzy unkempt hair back from his otherwise bald head. But before he could continue, Koenig’s comlock beeped. He picked it up, and the face of his second-in-command, Paul Morrow, appeared.
“Commander, can you come to Main Mission?”
“I’m right here Paul,” Koenig replied, pointing his comlock at the wall in front of his desk. It slid aside, revealing the central control room – Main Mission. It was one of the biggest rooms on the base, having an upper balcony level with observation ports on both sides. The room was originally intended to house one of the main computer processors, and had been designed as the command and control room for interplanetary and even interstellar exploration missions. Now it was entirely given over to the day to day running of the station, but it still served as flight control for Eagle missions, and any Eagle could be controlled remotely from here by the computer or via a manual override. Koenig’s position at his desk was elevated so he could see all the stations and have an uninterrupted view of the large display screen on the wall opposite his office.
The screen was showing the forward view and some flight telemetry, from Eagle 1, but the signal was also breaking up quite badly. Koenig got up and walked down the steps to the control room floor, followed by Victor. Paul looked up with his typical frown.
“The interference has been getting worse the closer they get. It looks like we will lose contact completely,” he said.
Koenig looked over to the communications position, currently manned by Sandra Benes, whose hands were quickly moving over the controls.
“I’m sorry Commander,” she said, “but that is the best I can do.”
“Koenig to Eagle 1… Alan, are you receiving me?”
Static filled the room, painfully for some until Sandra adjusted the volume.
“Commander… not… well. Seems…. ing worse.”
“How far are you from the impact site?” Koenig said, speaking slowly and clearly.
“About… miles. Walking distance?”
Koenig nodded, though Alan couldn’t see him. “Thinking the same thing, Alan. Set down whilst you are still in contact with us – the science team will have to walk.”
“…roger, Commander. Will do.”
Koenig turned to Sandra. “Keep an open channel. Kano,” he said, looking across the room to where the tall computer officer stood looking at a print-out, “see if you can get Computer to nail down exactly what the cause of that interference is. Paul – have a rescue Eagle ready for launch, just in case.”
To be continued in Part 2!