As soon as the docking tunnel latched onto the Eagle and pressurised, Koenig was through the door, racing through the landing pad airlock and straight into a transit tube. The door hissed closed behind him and the cylindrical capsule accelerated away towards the centre of the base. The commander paced in the small space, his brow furrowed, his right hand covering his mouth, a mannerism that he’d been unable to shake since his boyhood days. The car began to decelerate again after only a matter of minutes, but what seemed like an age for Koenig. As soon as the doors opened he exploded out of the car, almost knocking a couple of technicians to the ground as he set off at a loping run – as fast as the bulky orange space suit would allow.
When he got to sick bay, he almost accidentally threw his comlock at the door as he drew it from his belt. Helena turned to see who it was, and went to meet him deliberately blocking his way to the ICU unit, where Koenig could just see Doctor Mathias tending to someone.
“John,” said Helena, taking his arm and drawing him to one side. Koenig looked pale and was sweating profusely, a lick of black hair stuck to his forehead.
“It’s his implant, his heart,” she said.
“Can’t you build another – a replacement?” he said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. “Surely Technical…”
“It’s not a technical failure John,” she said quietly and calmly. “The surrounding tissue, the nerves and blood vessels, they’re too degraded. I’m sorry… there’s nothing we can do.”
Koenig pulled away from her suddenly, turning his back, not wanting her to see the pain, the worry, the recognition of loss. “I don’t accept it. There must be something. Cloned tissue? Extending the replacement to healthy tissue… something… anything!”
The doctor stepped up behind him and put her hand on his shoulder. “He’s been asking for you. He doesn’t have much time left…”
Koenig turned and glared at her for an instant, the sudden flash of anger making her step back. Then realising, he closed his eyes and let his head droop, wiping the sweat from his eyes. His shoulders slumped, and with a deep breath, he looked up again and took her hands in his.
“I’m sorry, Helena, ” he said. She smiled and shook her head, the concern still evident in her eyes. “I’ll see him now.” She nodded back towards the ICU and with another sigh, steeling himself again, he walked back towards the tiny figure of his old friend.
Alan and his young co-pilot bounced across the surface. Both were very experienced in EVA and had no problem covering a lot of distance in a short time with the minimum effort and whilst operating handheld scanners at the same time. At the top of one leap, Jones saw something – a straight edge – a hint of something artificial. He signalled and pointed, and both men bounced to a halt and walked more conventionally to the object.
As they approached, they could see that it was the buggy, smashed into boulder and partially buried in fallen rocks and dust.
Alan pushed his comm switch. “Ka’ne? Ka’ne… mate, respond! Can you hear us?”
Jones looked around the wrecked vehicle, underneath it, and walked all the way around the boulder, walking back to Carter shaking his head.
“No sign of him, boss,” he said, shrugging his shoulders almost comically in his spacesuit. “No tracks, no other debris, nothing. Nada. Zip.”
“He’s got to be somewhere!” Alan said. “He can’t have just disappeared into…”
“Well the bloody asteroid did, Boss. There’s no sign of that either. Where the hell did that go?”
Ka’ne focussed on the silver boots, the only part of his rescuer that he could see, trying to ignore the flashing lights that told him that his air would soon run out. He was already into his reserve, and when that was gone, the suit would go into to survival mode, trying to scrub as much CO2 out of his air as possible as it began to feed back what he had already breathed.
Suddenly, the boots stopped and Ka’ne almost walked into the other person’s back. He felt a pressure against his chest unit – a hand? – Then light spilled onto the ground as a door slid aside. The hand took his arm again, and he stepped across the threshold into blinding light – light too bright for his visor to effectively shield him. He reflexively put an arm across his face, as he felt and began to hear the familiar sensation of an airlock pressurising. He was safe. But what was this? This wasn’t an Eagle, nor any of the other vehicles they had on base. And the silver suits had been phased out years ago – why were they using one now?
The light began to fade and as his eyes recovered from the dazzle, he checked his suit display to see whether he could lift his visor – the readout was reassuringly green. He lifted his hands to unlock his visor but again the silver-suited hand gently restrained him. Another door opened, and he was led through into what he sensed to be a much bigger space. The restraining hand was withdrawn, and so Ka’ne immediately released his visor and slid it up. Training dictated that you always closed your eyes before doing this. The air felt cold against his face, a welcome relief from the increasingly stuffy suit. He took a cautious breath. It was cold, but not too cold – cold enough to be fresh despite a slightly old, musky smell. He opened his eyes and took another breath, his exhale condensing into fog.
He was in a large chamber that faded away into darkness on all sides in front of him. There was a light source somewhere above but he couldn’t tell how far away it was. His companion was nowhere to be seen. He looked back at the door – a fairly standard airlock door made of dull grey metal, but he didn’t recognise the design, and there seemed to be no warning signs or writing on it of any kind.
He took another breath in order to call out, but then coughed, the air being just a little too cold and dusty for that purpose. He took a drink from his water tube and spat it onto the floor. The floor appeared to be concrete, or stone. Was this underground? He took another breath. “Hello? Hey… is anybody there? Hey!” he called. But a tinny echo was the only reply.
Ka’ne began to feel uneasy, as if someone – or something – was watching him from the shadows. He drew his laser and set it to STUN, but this didn’t help, he still felt uneasy, and slightly dizzy. Perhaps the O2 level in here wasn’t as good as his suit said it was. He blinked and shook his head, tying to dispel the dull throb that was beginning behind his eyes.
“Hey… HEY! Come out where I can see… see… you, dammit!”
He stumbled, and then fell to his knees. Reaching up with his left hand, he pulled his visor back down but probably because of the patch, it wouldn’t close, leaving a half-inch gap. The suit air wouldn’t trigger unless the visor was closed and locked. He struggled and grunted, but it refused to budge. He dropped the laser and tried with both hands, but just fell forward onto his knees with the effort, panting, his breath now rasping in his throat, as the throb inside his head turned into burning, his vision fading to black.
Koenig stepped up to the bedside, almost reluctantly. His old friend lay propped up, a clear plastic mask over his mouth and nose, the monitors behind him all showing worryingly low levels. The Bergman that Koenig knew always seemed so alive, so full of energy, but here was reduced to an almost unrecognisable frail frame underneath the thin thermal sheet, his long white hair making a halo behind his head on the pillow. The commander took the old man’s hand – it felt cold, the skin dry and rough like old parchment. Bergman’s eyes flickered, and then opened, his other hand immediately reaching to remove the mask.
“John!” the old man said, smiling, weakly.
Koenig smiled back and squeezed Bergman’s hand in response. He didn’t know what to say.
“I figured it out. I know what the asteroid is, John!” Bergman said, trying to sit up. Doctor Mathias put a gentle hand on his shoulder, and shook his head.
“That’s not important, Victor. You should rest now, save your strength…” said Koenig.
“No John. It’s dark matter! It’s made from dark matter!”
“Dark matter? What’s that – like antimatter?”
“No,” the old man said, finally managing to free himself of the mask. “Dark matter, it’s a theory… not enough matter in the visible universe to account for mass and gravity…” Bergman took a deep breath, his thin ribcage expanding under the sheet. “That’s why the gravity was messed up, why the asteroid didn’t crash. It’s a ship – it’s being controlled somehow…” His sunken eyes closed and he fell back into the pillow. Koenig immediately began to replace the mask and then was startled as his wrist was snatched and painfully gripped by Bergman’s bony hand, his friends eyes snapping open again.
“You have to get inside, John. We have to know the secret. We could use it… we could use the power… the… drive…” Koenig’s wrist was released as Bergman passed out completely. Mathias took the mask from the commander’s hand and replaced it over Bergman’s face, checking the airflow and other instruments.
“He’s out, Commander,” the doctor said, with a reassuring tone. “He needs the rest. He appears stable for now.”
“You’ll let me know the minute…” Koenig started, insistently.
“Of course, don’t worry.” Mathias replied, gently.
As Koenig turned to leave, Helena got up from her desk and came to the door to see him out. “I’ll be in Main Mission…” he said, before looking down and realising that he was still wearing his spacesuit. “Perhaps I’ll need to make a stop first…”
“We’ll do the best that we can for him, John,” said Helena.
Koenig looked up into her eyes, but just for a moment before nodding and looking away. “I know…I know you will.”
He took out his comlock, and opened the door, once more composing himself before striding out into the corridor as Commander of Moonbase Alpha.
Standing in the Eagle again, Alan checked his suit display by reflex before unlatching and removing his helmet. Jones did the same, flicking a sweaty lock of hair out of his eyes.
“You should get your bloody haircut!” said Alan, punching him in the shoulder.
“Like you should be so lucky!” Jones retorted, combing his thick-fingered gloved hand through his hair. “Can’t disappoint the ladies!”
Alan went through to the command module and sat down, placing the helmet beside him.
“Coffee?” said Jones, from the passenger module.
“Yeah, ripper,” Alan replied, leaning forward and activating the comm switch.
“Eagle One to Main Mission!”
Paul’s face appeared on the grainy black and white screen on the contol panel.
“Main Mission. Report, Eagle One.”
Alan felt his hackles rising. Why did he bloody think I was calling? And why does he have to be so bloody officious all the time…? He took a deep breath. “We found the buggy tracks and followed them all the way out. We found the crashed buggy, but no sign of Ka’Ne or the asteroid. Nothing. No tracks… the ground is totally undisturbed.”
“Very well,” said Paul, looking away at something. Jones came in and gave Alan a coffee mug, before sitting down in the copilot’s seat. Alan nodded thanks. Even with the lid on, the coffee smelled good – though it was month’s since their supply of real coffee had run out.
“When you’ve quite finished your tea break,” Paul said, his voice dripping with contempt, “We still have a man on the surface who will be running out of air very soon. Take the Eagle up again and have another fly-by. Report any…” – he consulted a print-out – “gravitational anomalies. Acknowledge.”
Alan glanced over at Jones who was grimacing and jerking his fist back and forth.
“Acknowledged. Eagle One out,” he said toggling the switch. “Hey, enough of that!” he said, though unable to stop himself from smiling. Jones stopped, shook his head and took a swig of coffee through the sip-cup lid. “Why does he have to be such a wa…”
“Oy! He’s still second-in-command when Koenig’s not around.” Alan said, taking another drink. “How many pilots have we lost since this bloody thing started, eh? We’ve lost mates, I’ve sent people on those missions…” Alan put the cup in a cup holder and strapped in, the command module doors sliding closed behind them. “We deal with it in different ways, we have to.”
“Okay,” Jones said, putting his helmet back on and strapping in. “But we’re the ones out here in the black every day, the first ones out when the alarm sounds. Does he think…”
“Enough bellyaching! Now let’s get her up and get back to work, eh?” The young pilot shrugged and nodded, and started his pre-flight checklist.
Ka’ne opened his eyes into bright light. His helmet was gone, but he was still in his suit, lying on something – like a medical gurney. He sat up and felt reflexively for his laser – that was also gone. He was in what looked like the inside of a spaceship, it looked somehow familiar but like the interior airlock door, it was still somehow… different. There were equipment boxes, tools, what looked like a computer console, and at the other side of the small room, a door. He stood up gingerly, still feeling a little dizzy, but otherwise, much improved. He walked over to the door and tried what he assumed to be the controls on the right of the door on the wall. Nothing seemed to work, or at least, they didn’t open the door.
He went back to what he presumed was a workbench and looked at the tools there. He was no engineer, so even if he recognised the tools he wouldn’t have had much of a clue… but there was a short pry-bar, and he certainly knew how to use that.
Just then, with a clunk and a hiss that made even the big Hawaiian jump, the door opened. Ka’ne turned, readying the metal bar to use as a club.
A silver space-suited figure entered – perhaps his rescuer from before – the mirrored visor down. The person stopped, looking up at Ka’Ne, slowly raising their hands in a sign of surrender, before sliding the visor back.
Ka’ne almost dropped the crowbar, dumbfounded.
“There you are! Feeling better now, hmm?” said Professor Bergman.