by Candi Bartlett | art by jennibcreative
Dedicated to Uncle Roger, who always had a story to tell, and always wanted to hear one.
Contains themes of violence, suicide, and sexual situations.
Red light flashes overhead. Agent Mills jogs up the stairs of one of twelve massive dormitories. In full surface gear, the only thing agents and citizens can see as they swerve out of his way are his green eyes, stern and focused. The focus covered the fear. He makes his way through the human congestion. Citizens panic, ignoring the automated message to “Please remain calm and walk to your residence”. Mills finds his way into the hall of Residential Building 5.
“I think we’re going to be okay here, Sir. People are scared, bu—” An explosion launches two citizens into Agent Mills knocking him to the ground. Debris and dust blind the room.
“Agent Mills – Joey!” Head of Security, Agent Dan West looks out at a wall of monitors deep within Security Operations. Behind him, his office is a mess. The desk is littered with paperwork, thermal images of crafts hovering in darkness are pinned to the walls. His face reads like his office: days without rest. The comm in his ear, its spider legs winding up the side of his face to the implanted nodes allowing thought control, illuminates pink. His private line to Mills is still open. “Mills, report.”
Mills is on the floor, two citizens sprawled across him. Agents rush to his aid. “We’re fine here.” The unconscious citizens are pulled off him and the Team Medic attends. When Mills gets to his feet he sees what caused the explosion. “Agent West. You might want to call down to Operations. Someone is shutting down cooling systems way too fast.” At the base of the corridor wall the shattered remnants of a coolant tube sit inside a hole that once held a metal door. “This blow was small, Dan. The next one might not be.”
West closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. It’s happening. “We’ll take care of it. Get those halls clear and get back to Security.” The comm goes dark. West rushes to his desk.
He tosses crumpled papers and flashing screens aside to reveal a button underneath. He hits it, hard, and a holoscreen appears above the desk. “Operations.” he says, and the blue-white images quickly fade to the Operations Building in the Citizen’s Dome. A tiny red glow, deep in the hovering blueprint flickers. “Dammit!”
West leaves his office, stepping onto the platform above the Control pit. The hundreds of monitors lining the massive wall change and jump from happening to happening, all of New Earth, Enceladus covered. Hallways filled with citizens, empty fields, gleaming domes with generators in the distance. The expansive space beeps and buzzes as every SecOp Agent works to rebuild the calm they are accustomed to.
His comm flashes to life, green this time, and he address an entire department. “Citizens Operations, this is West. Is Devlin with you?”
A random voice reports. “No, Sir.”
West stares down at the current of chaos sweeping into the world and clenches his jaw. The comm flips to pink. “Davis, get me a location on Devlin.”
In the mass of rushing bodies on the SecOp floor, a young woman puts a hand to her ear and looks up. Agent Missy Davis, Head of Security Operations gives West a fast head shake. “I haven’t been able to contact Devlin for 20 minutes.”
West nods down at Davis and his comm goes dark. “Dammit,” he says to no one. “What the hell is she doing?”
Deep below the crisp surface of Enceladus, an 83-year-old woman looks into the eyes of an equally aged man, the UN Ambassador to New Earth and former army general. The woman appears much younger. The man’s eyes sit in deep circles surrounded by sallow skin. Looking up at the large monitor, a steel table fit for 24 stretching out behind her, she addresses the once close friend without kindness.
“After a month of requesting assistance, and the insistence of proof which we now have, you are still denying our request for aid?”
The man blinks. “But the proof is still assumption, Doctor”
“They’ve landed, George. I think ‘assumption’ is a bit much.”
“Yes, but,” he scrambles. “you are only assuming they are hostile.”
Devlin has no control over her small smirk. She brushes long salt and pepper hair behind her shoulders. “George—General—Fifteen years ago, the United States requested military assistance from New Earth to aid in what was presented as a small, localized dispute in the Caribbean. Four world powers and five years later that conflict ended with not one of our soldiers returning.”
When he blinks again, it is slower. “Dr.—Rose—you know I can’t send what you need. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you to hear the quarterly reports from Earth have not been entirely accurate. Military numbers from all nations drop every day. People are sick, Rose. And the ones that aren’t are… not fit for combat.” George is tired.
Devlin had known the truth of Earth’s condition for a long time. She sees her old friend’s shame and feels pity for him. For humanity. The moment passes.
“General, at this point the two-week trip from Earth would make your assistance less than useful. Outside of a supply drop—” The general starts to interrupt her but she puts up her hand to stop him, “—which I know you can’t provide, the negligence of Earth has already played into our fate.”
For a long beat the room is silent.
Devlin never blinks. She waits for him to prove he has no response. “Remember that when this conflict is over, General.”
Dr. Rose Devlin disconnects the Ambassador before he has a chance to come up with something.
The infirmary is filled with citizens. Bruises, broken fingers and toes, insignificant injuries people inflict on themselves during mass panic. Dr. Marrin is furious. The perfect bun she started the day with falls around her face in frizzy, greying tufts. She stops a young intern. “If I see one more person who does not need to lie down in these beds I’m sending you to your quarters.”
Jessica has only been volunteering at the Panacea Treatment Facility for a month. Only since the Travelers were spotted. Everything was going so well until they landed. She felt prepared. Now she feels like she will cry, but only nods. The tension bubble has burst. She can cry later. Now Jessica finds her way into the triage traffic and starts directing bodies. A SecMed team rounds the corner carrying two unconscious citizens. Jessica sends them to the last two open beds through a sea of blurry green and white.
Dr. Marrin meets the medics as they transfer the patients to beds and starts hooking up machines. The brow she hasn’t had to furrow in decades deepens to show her almost 70 years. She looks around the room and closes her eyes for a second. It’s all she has.
In the Research and Development Dome, Dr. Marrin’s comm flashes yellow. Miles away in the Security Dome, Agent West’s does the same. All department heads of New Earth are called to the bunker beneath the Board Building in the Citizen’s Dome. Devlin sits at the steel table, the black screen behind her, eyes closed. The yellow flash of her comm brightens her eyelids as they gently bounce. She contemplates how to fix it. She built it. She has to be able to fix it.
The department heads file into the war-like room, some engaging in hushed whispers, others in silence, all watching Devlin. She remains cool. Still. Usually it was something he liked about her but now it feels indifferent. He doesn’t know what he expected from her when the deep space detection first blipped into their world, but he knows now. He expects her to have an answer. That is her job. Her inability to fix this one annoys him. It’s unfair. He doesn’t care.
As everyone sits, West starts. “Have you heard from Earth?” Any lingering conversations end.
An intern walks in with a stack of tablets and hands one to Devlin. She flips through it, nods, and the intern distributes the rest. “Agent West, we have.” Devlin meets his eyes. “We learned nothing new. They are not coming.”
Heavy sighs follow. One particularly sweaty scientist drops his head into his hands. West’s eyes never leave Devlin’s. “What now?”
“We prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
Everyone at the table reviews their report absently, watching the two volley. They expect Devlin and West to come to the answer. That’s their job. Dr. Marrin waits for the moment she will have to intervene, explain they are discussing the same scenario, and move the whole group to the next part of the solution.
Everyone has a role.
Agent West is young, born on Earth and migrated with the first wave as a child. At five years old he became one of the first 3,000 humans to move off world with his father, General Randy West and mother, Major Judy Blake, two members of the original concept team. Their bodies are buried in New Earth’s only cemetery but every bit of who they were sits at the table staring at Devlin, demanding an answer through their son’s eyes. Devlin can’t help but internally smile. She misses her friends. And desperately wants to keep their son alive.
West wants more. “I was expecting something new. Something strategic would be helpful.”
Someone at the table mutters “just fire already” followed by a sigh.
Devlin looks each person in the eye. “We are not going to fire on possible allies. We are going to follow the procedure in front of you to prepare for evacuation.” She speaks slowly. She will not repeat herself. Its best to give them a fair chance at absorbing every word. “Earth’s decision is, upsetting, but expected at this point. Our plan has never been to rely on reinforcements.” West starts to speak; Marrin sits forward. Devlin puts both hands up, silencing her top advisors. “We will not fire first. The plan is outlined for you. We will not waste time. Are there any questions?”
No one dares look at each other, Devlin silently commands the intimate respect of constant eye contact. She always does. No one knew if she did it on purpose.
“Good,” she says. “Let’s shut her down.” Everyone shuffles out just as they shuffled in. “Not you, Agent West. Meet me in my office. Dr. Marrin, a moment.”
In the hall, Dr. Marrin and Devlin speak quietly as people swiftly walk by. Dr. Marrin presents a plain hard file. “This is as far as they’ve gotten with classified projects in R&D. It’s slow, but they have everyone with clearance shutting down and moving crates out.”
Marrin gives a tired stretch of the mouth. It cannot be called a smile. “He’s his usual pleasant self.” Devlin sighs. “Don’t worry about Frost. He’s no more scattered and fidgety than usual. Everything will get done.”
“Do you think he was missed?”
Marrin raises her eye brows. “At the top secret, red alert meeting of the heads of New Earth?” Devlin tilts her head, opening her eyes wide. Their long friendship shows. Marrin gives first. “Rose, I don’t think anyone cares what corner Frost might be fussing over right now.”
In her office, Devlin is greeted by West’s back.
“Your desk looks just like mine,” he says.
She crosses the room and squares off with him. “You’re not going to take a seat, are you?”
“Rose, I don’t have time for this. And neither do you. We’ve got an evac to prep. What is going on?”
She sits down and lets her shoulders relax just a bit. Enough to lean on the desk and give up some of the incredible weight for a short time. “Dan, you know you are right to be so concerned. I know we are in trouble and so does every other person in that room. Every other person on this moon. What do you want me to say?”
He sits with what is almost a huff. “I want you to say you know what they want. And, or why they aren’t speaking to us.”
Devlin wants to say something encouraging but there is nothing. And she doesn’t have to with Dan. She hands him another unusual hard file. Fields filled with hemp offer only a very small crop percentage to printing. It’s almost never done. “You’ve seen everything we have just before they landed. This is what we’ve got since this morning.”
West looks at satellite images showing eight ships nearby. Hovering, smooth beans in the distance. Ground images show vehicles that look almost like the terrain trucks on New Earth but the Travelers’ have a rounded sleekness West has never seen before. Looking at it, the vehicles feel light. It looks seamless. It makes him wonder about their weaponry.
He flips through the pictures and reports, taking longer than he needs. “I noticed Frost was missing.”
Along the wall a hiss pops into the moment. Almost invisible water sprays from an unseen pipe onto the long row of plants Devlin keeps. They’re in all of her offices. The more closed in the office, the more plants. The entire room shines and hums with environmental regulators.
Devlin closes her eyes so not to roll them at West. She stands and pulls her hair into a ponytail letting her aging neck show. It looks better than her mother’s did at her age and exceptionally better than her grandmother’s. A side effect of life on Enceladus is excellent skin. A new side effect is being first stop on the deep space road map. Every test pool has long-term developments. “He’s shutting down R&D. We have a lot to do down there and not a lot of time.”
West slides his eyes to Devlin. “Okay.” He lets a beat pass before getting back to the point. “We don’t have any biological readings?”
“Thermals only, but we can’t tell if they’re making it naturally or if it’s a regulation system. Either way, the environment of Enceladus is colder than they want to be.”
“That’s not good.” His comm flashes green, colliding with the soft pink glow of hydroponic bays shifting into day mode. “They need to get inside.”
When the Travelers had done nothing but hold since landing, Security Agents had no choice but to continue their day. Limited teams remained at all perimeter posts, volunteers assisted with evac shuttle procedures, but in the Security Dome, Team Leaders press on with preparation. Volunteers are trained in units of 40 with cadets just out of training teaching the special skills of the astronaut soldier. The Astronaut Soldiers of New Earth were revered on Earth as the frontier of PROTECTION. DIPLOMACY. DEMOCRACY!
It read well. It made any font pop. It sold.
The largest dome in the colony, Security allows for Earth air military training and houses New Earth’s Galaxy Facility controlling all of the moon’s satellite programs and rocket maintenance. The massive structure holds dormitories for cadets, education buildings, the armory, full surface gear stations, and the motor pool. By afternoon, it is the only dome that buzzes at all.
West takes what time he can to visit the groups while they run combat training. He does it every day. The new normal makes him nervous but he hides it well. Some Agents use the nerves in their training. Mill’s group performs a take down in unison. A volunteer incorrectly throws his graduated cadet partner and they both end up on the ground. Mills walks and stands over them.
“Look at yourself! You have Traveler all over you. You are being eaten by the enemy!”
He shouts like his mother did when they got into not-so-real trouble as kids. It sounds like an age-old Earth cartoon general screaming at a bumbling private.
The volunteer’s eyes go wide. “They want to eat us, Sir?”
Agent Mills bends down, nose inches away from the volunteer. The cadet tries to hide his smile. Mills is very serious. “Yes, son, they will eat you.”
West walks by. “Mills, knock it off.”
Mills stands. “What? We don’t know.” He looks at his group. “They could eat you. AGAIN!”
The next group is much quieter. Agent Glouser believes that fun should be earned. Her group moves steadily through synchronized drills of Glouser’s particular fighting style. Somewhere between Tai Chi, Krav Maga, and what happens when some people have too much to drink Margrit Glouser has honed an easily teachable, extremely effective, low endurance fighting style. It’s how she has spent the last month. The volunteers are picking it up quickly and the cadets are eager to add it to their long list of skills. The burning light of false dusk starts to reach across the dome. It bounces off of her blonde hair as she twists and turns and thrusts her elbow into her partner’s chest in demonstration.
For a moment, Dan stares. Everything about her makes him feel better. Always has. In that moment, Margrit catches his eye and gives the faintest of winks with a small smile. Drills are not usually time for fun but she believes more than anyone on the moon, he’s earned it.
Before leaving, he scans the groups one more time. White arm bands make the volunteers stand out. He recognizes the CitDome intern from earlier. The one handing out reports at the entirely useless meeting. He taps his comm, looks at her, and taps it again. The small tablet in his pocket buzzes and he pulls it out to review her stats. Dammit. West wants to send the 17 year old girl home. He wants to tell her it’s probably too dangerous. The fact that they don’t know for sure makes it too dangerous.
He walks to the elevator in the motor pool main garage that will take him to SecOps, back to the ever stretching wall of eyes. The low, soft crimson hum of emergency light pulses at him in the silent box as it falls.
He wishes they didn’t need her.
It should be dark in Bea’s quarters, but the hum keeps her awake. Specifically, the dark red hum against the true night of Enceladus coming through the window, keeps her awake. For a month she has been waiting for the ships from Earth. Deep down, despite the whispers and gossip, she believed the citizens of Earth and Enceladus were truly allies stepping into the future of interplanetary democracy. But the Travelers landed and the soldiers of Earth still had not arrived and Bea finally feels the deflation she has seen in so many young eyes. She thought her years gave her a wisdom they did not yet possess. After all, humans had learned they could only move toward a brighter future with an understanding of the past but now, amidst the chaos triggered by the first sighting, she is no longer sure. Her 95-year-old body feels truly tired for the first time. She gets out of bed and stares out at the darkness.
West and Glouser are together in his quarters. Their hands run over each other’s skin, cold and soft in the regulated room. The indigo darkness shines in from the large window. The red hum swells and ebbs around them. They kiss. Dan presses Margrit against the window as the rest of her clothes tumble to the floor. The horizon of Enceladus engulfs them, wrapping them in silhouette.
On the opposite side of the colony, in Residential Dome 4, Bea’s reflection ghosts back at her. The vast emptiness lies ahead and behind her. There is nothing left to see.
She closes her eyes and slits her throat.