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.
When his comm buzzes before false morning, he is startled. When he sees Margrit is already awake, sitting on the edge of the bed stretching her neck, her long back dancing into his fuzzy vision, he is happy. The comm buzzes again and the pink glow bouncing off of her shadowed skin brings West completely awake. He is still tired.
She turns to him. “Go,” she says. There is the hint of her parents’ Russian accent when she speaks. She insists it’s not there but he hears it all the time. He let it go early; the more he insisted it was there the less she spoke. Nothing was worth missing that voice. “You will be good today, just like every day, Dan. I will see you at morning brief.” She kisses him and walks to the bathroom. She emphasized will see. She does that a lot, emphasizes what matters most in every sentence. He never knows if it’s on purpose.
West enters the Magnetic Railway System through SecOps. The lines are dark, grey. They look cold. The station is not cold, it’s perfectly heated or cooled based on human variable, but it is empty. When the door closes on his four-seat car, a small holoscreen pops up from the console in front of him. He taps Research and Development on the map and the car is sucked into the tunnel with a whir.
In comparison to the previous day, the hospital is practically silent. Only a few machines quietly make ridiculous sounds but the round room’s beds are almost empty. The one Dr. Marrin and Dr. Devlin stand at has a body in it.
“Who is this?” West asks.
Dr. Marrin replies. “This is Bea. 95 years old. Nice lady. She has a bakery.”
West sighs. It’s his new most commonly made sound. “Please tell me she wasn’t trampled yesterday.”
Marrin gestures to a bed across the room with an unconscious patient, face covered in bruises and stitches. “He was trampled. Bea killed herself.”
Devlin closes her eyes.
West shakes his head. “That’s impossible. There has never been a suicide on Enceladus and this is not funny.”
“Dan, if I was going to develop a sense of humor I don’t think it would be now.” Marrin addresses two of the most important people on the moon as if she is their babysitter. Their status means nothing in her hospital. This is not what she signed up for. “Something needs to be done. Now. I expected the patients we received yesterday.” Two nurses look over at the somber group. Marrin leans in closer. “In the past 10 hours we’ve had two children beat the hell out of each other, a man that ate non-stop for the entire day almost to point of rupturing his stomach…”—she starts counting horrible things out like a to-do list on her fingers— “a woman came in the middle of the night with a black eye that was definitely not the result of falling down stairs and now, a suicide.”
Devlin and West look at each other. They were being scolded but neither knew why. There was no way to prepare for this. 35 years in a brand new environment with only very specific data to reference made for a very vague pool of predictability. The two leaders were filled with guilt. Guilt is a constant human variable. So far. What is happening is not New Earth. This is not the home they built where crime was nonexistent and violence largely unheard of. This is fear. And it is spreading.
Dr. Marrin pulls off her glasses and uses them to emphasize her point. “We are supposed to be the most advanced treatment facility in the system. Until five minutes ago New Earth held the most advanced beings in the system. I can fix, mend, cure almost anything. But this…” she looks down at Bea. “This I can’t fix. Do. Something.”
West waits for Devlin to respond. She stares at Bea, eyes wet and glistening. A loss for words is not something Devlin is known for. Agent West looks to Marrin. “We will.”
West goes from the infirmary to his home in ResDome 1. He has been sleeping in his emergency quarters in Security, spent the last few nights there with Margrit, and needs fresh supplies. He hasn’t been home in a week. When he walks in, Mills is waiting.
“Joey, I can’t right now.”
Mills wags a large printout in his hands. “But you have time for this.”
West opens the almost invisible closet door and pulls out an empty bag. “Obviously not, Joe. Do you see any solutions in those documents?”
“I don’t see anything in these documents other than unnecessary pages to be repulped. Why do you have hard copies here?” Underneath the actual question was a little bit of hurt. It wasn’t like West to keep things from him, and Mills doesn’t like it. Of course, no one has been acting like themselves around here for a while. No one liked it.
“Do you really think every document, schematic, and report on this moon is in the database?" He throws clothes into his bag, emphasizing each word with another angry slap of material. Dan isn’t mad at Joey and he certainly doesn’t think his best friend is an idiot. Joey’s mother was one of the last wave of Earth to New-Earthers to die from Earth diseases. If it wasn’t for looking after Joey, his best friend turned little brother, West might not have excelled like he did in the Agent Program. As agents, Mills’ strategic skill is one of West’s best assets. As family, Mills makes him laugh. West doesn’t laugh a lot.
West walks to the bathroom and a bright blue-white strip of light comes to life. He hits a button and the holomirror disappears revealing a medicine cabinet. When he is done, he pushes the button again and the mirror reappears with Mills standing behind him. Mills pooches his lip out and makes tiny sobbing noises. He furrows his brow between those big neon green eyes and desperately tries to squeeze out something wet. West smiles and thinks about Colonel Jacqueline Mills. She made the same faces. “You’re going to get stuck that way.” He smiles a little then locks eyes with his friend.
“How bad is it, Dan? Really?”
He thinks about Bea. “It’s bad, Joe.”
Mills nods and walks back to the stack of papers and mess on the table. “So, you really don’t need these then?” He starts tearing paper apart, crumpling it, and tossing it at the back of West’s head. In the mirror, West watches his friend smile like a kid, living the way he always has. There is no reason to panic. It isn’t Mills’ style. He moves through each moment enjoying as much of it as he can of it, even if it hurts.
West thinks about Joey’s mom again. His first childhood crush. His mother’s best friend.
He desperately wants to keep her son alive.
West drinks instant coffee while dealing with reports. A pink holoprojection shimmers from his comm a foot away from his face. Agent Davis is on the other end. She reports face to face interspersed with live video feed and image files. Her reporting is a ballet of data but he can’t admire the display. Citizens have been restricted to their quarters and told to prepare for evac. Very few common areas are currently open for occupation and they are heavily guarded. All businesses are closed.
Waiting for instruction is hard, but the rare shut down on New Earth never used to equal looting. All morning, Agents were detaining teenagers for destroying property. Not everyone detained was a child. One of the high school teachers was caught stealing booze. Another was found naked in the school swimming pool, practically pickled. Both were math teachers. No one thinks its relevant but West wonders.
He needs to speak to Devlin. Or, rather Devlin needs to speak. For the first time the Citizens of New Earth, Enceladus have no rudder. There is no forward focus. No answers. No purpose. Apparently, they do not handle confusion well. Mass confusion never led to a good moment in human history. Leadership, hope, could.
West leaves his home in full surface gear, retracting face down, breather attached to his belt. He wants everyone to be in full surface gear at all times. The small window of minutes one has to get a breather on before succumbing to the atmosphere is too much to count on right now. Better to be in full surface gear, air tight helmet and environment stabilizers one button away – a thought if the suit was custom made and integrated into your comm like all Security Agents. Breathers are temporary, only cover your eyes, nose, and mouth, and can only save your life for 20 minutes in a breach.
Instead of the MAG lines, West takes a terrain vehicle via Hub 1 connecting all ResDomes to the Education Dome and drives the length of the transit tube to Hub 2. He checks in with the security teams at each blast door and airlock before leaving Hub 2 toward the Citizen’s Dome. All civil and municipal works on New Earth are handled there. Small neighborhoods dot the suburban view where the Citizen Representatives live. Devlin is the only one who hasn’t evacuated to temporary safe housing. West finds her in her home office on the top floor of a three-story house filled with books and more tablets, active holoscreens, and paper than his two offices combined. There is a cat somewhere. Devlin stands over her covered desk, surrounded by blue-white holo-flickers. In her hand is half of a sad sandwich.
“I think it’s time.”
Her eyes dart between bits of information but the rest of her is mostly still. “There is no time. There is no time for Communications to get through the layers of encryption on the Traveler’s signal, no time to come to any answers…” She shakes her head and flips screens with her right hand. The sandwich hasn’t moved.
“Rose, you need to sit for a minute.” She starts to protest but he puts his hand up just like she taught him and she complies. “No human here has ever had to steal food. No one has been excessively violent. Everyone is happy, Rose. Everyone wants to survive.”
Devlin raises her eyes and cocks her head.
“Her, too. She wanted to survive.”
“Dammit, Rose.” West has so many other things he could be doing he doesn’t have time to count them. This isn’t like her. She doesn’t whine or wallow. But, how can he possibly think that? No one has a measurement for the situation. “I saw how people looked at my parents. I see how they look at you. We’ve all watched the footage. You convinced the world to venture into space. Convinced humans to spread across the solar system. Do you think you can’t convince the citizens that we will be safe?”
“There’s a difference, Dan. I knew we could do all of those things.”
This isn’t going to work for West. He can’t possibly do his job if the leader of all humans at the dark end of the system’s extreme confidence just wore out. “That’s it, isn’t it?” he asks. “You are their leader, Rose.”
“They are not my followers, Dan. They made a choice. Everyon—"
“No. Not all of them. I didn’t. Joey didn’t. The thousand children born here didn’t. An entire generation of people are just here, Rose, and they believe in you, too. They all need you. They need somebody.”
The two sit in the silence of the almost entirely shut down dome. It stretches for a few minutes. Devlin stares out the window.
“Dan, what do you think? Really.”
He sighs. Again. “You’re the mega genius, I just work here.”
“Not tactical, I don’t know that. Your mom did. The team they brought in to build this place, they did.”
“They’ll engage at some point. That’s the only thing I can guarantee.”
“Yeah.” It sounds far away. It’s so quiet. For the first time since landing, she misses a noisy city. “Dan.”
“When you say ‘mega genius’, how smart do you mean? Dr. Marrin smart?”
“Way smarter than Marrin.”
“When we get through this, mention that.”
He smiles. “Eat your sandwich.”
Hours later, when the comm of every citizen flashes bright red, Dr. Rose Devlin doesn’t speak of the history of human triumph or the years of preparation and work leading up to the migration. She speaks instead of her honor to share the moon with each of them. Devlin expresses their place in the universe with great poetic detail. For five minutes, every citizen is thanked for their contribution and told of their importance. The citizens of New Earth are reminded they are the future; children of invention and exploration. If war is at their doorstep, everyone will need to participate. The halls need to be clear, citizens and volunteers will remain in their areas. Clear the way for our Security Agents. We will protect each other while they protect our world.
The halls go quiet. By dark, no one will be detained and curfew reports will come in with every citizen accounted for.
Team Leaders rotate out for sleep shifts.
Dr. Marrin naps on the couch in her office.
Devlin closes her extremely tired eyes wondering if she said the right things.
Agent Davis doesn’t blink. She can’t spare the fraction of time. It has been three years since she was given her post and sometimes she wonders if she caused this. At 24 she is the youngest Lead Agent on the moon. Her first year running SecOp was boring. It was slow. She watched the screens, flirted with Racquel, and wished for something to happen. The moon never changed. Life never changed. She had never seen the sky on Earth but the blue false morning on Enceladus felt like the wrong blue. Agent Missy Davis wanted desperately to see something new in the sky.
Now every second speeds by. Now, she is solely responsible for every eye ball on Enceladus. Davis didn’t know confidence and fear could share space. She hopes her eyes are fast enough to keep them all safe. She floats back and forth through rows of holostations, cadets and agents breeze by unnoticed.
When she sees the strange flutter on Monitor 64 she floats in that direction. Her head tilts to the left, black curls bounce against her neck. Again, flutter. The long range shot on the Traveler’s landing site isn’t fluttering, the image is fine. Once more. For a micro second the Traveler’s vehicles flicker out of sight.
Before she can call out her black hair glows pink and a video call pops up. Agent Racquel Diaz is on the other side. “Did you see that?”
“Yes, Agent I did.”
“Agent Mills wanted a report to go out. I told him you already knew.” When Missy is in the zone her eyes sparkle. It always surprised Racquel. Those deep brown eyes are constantly open. They have to be dry as hell.
“Tell Agent Mills I’m bringing West in. Rac—you call me if you see something else.”
Racquel nods. “Baby. Blink.”
Davis smiles back. “Thank you for the check-in, Agent.” Her comm goes dark. She gives herself the second to close her eyes and breathe deep, twisting the ring on her finger. Before she opens her eyes again her comm flashes pink.
Agent West answers. “Davis, what happened?”
West contacts Devlin. Davis meets West in his office. She overrides the command codes, takes over his screens, and pulls up the loop.
West chews his lips watching it play over and over. He crosses his arms. “Did Communications report?”
“Only that there was a—” Davis flips screens on her tablet. “—hiccup.”
West rolls his eyes. “What is that, Missy? What kind of report is that?”
She gestures to the loop. “A flicker.”
West makes a face at his favorite agent that says having a technically correct answer is not really an answer when Devlin runs into the room. Her face is flush, chest heaving. In her hands, she clutches rolled up documents and blueprints. A bright orange messenger bag hangs across her body. It looks ridiculous against her black turtleneck and slacks.
“Dan, you need to see these. Now.”
West and Davis meet eyes. “Show us.” They push the chairs back to the corner. Devlin drops all but one of the documents to the floor and splays a blueprint of New Earth across the desk.
She lays the first of three clear sheets over the colony they are all familiar with. On it is the MAG railway but this shows four tracks not open to civilian traffic. Two of these lines run from places West is aware of, the Residential bunker underneath HUB 1 and the Citizen’s bunker. The others are new to him and it pisses him off. All of the tracks end nowhere, miles away from the colony. When Devlin flips another sheet, small underground bunkers are revealed under R&D and Security, along with a massive underground facility where all Private MAGs lead.
“Rose, what the hell is this?”
“Where we put everyone.” She is almost frantic, hair loose around her face. Small pieces stick to her temples. It’s hot. Way too hot for what she’s wearing. She pulls off her heavy top revealing a nude tank underneath. Its standard issue hemp fiber. Usually, it’s the coolest, most breathable thing in the universe. Usually, she isn’t preparing for an invasion. Devlin pushes her hair behind her ears again and unrolls another schematic. “This is how we keep everyone alive.”
A plan to divert power from the terraforming stations outside the perimeter to the underground habitat is laid out. Not ten miles away is a defensive contingency plan West knew nothing about. Underneath the MAG he rode that morning is an evac plan that has nothing to do with readying massive shuttles. A plan they could have implemented hours ago. He feels like he is hyperventilating but when he speaks his voice is even. It scares him. “What’s in the bag?”
“Wrist comms, old gen. Enough for each lead agent and department head. They’re loaded with all of these plans and coded for the private lift and MAG access.” A moment passes. “Dan, I—”
He turns back to Devlin but before he can speak her comm flashes green, then pink, then yellow. He can tell by her face his is doing the same. There are too many connections, no one can get through. The commotion outside the office builds. They run to the pit. Below them, agents jog from station to station, comms flashing. West can’t find Davis in the crowd and he can’t call out. The pit gets louder as reports push their way through.
West moves his eyes to the monitors. The entire colony is spread out across the wall. There, in the upper left corner, something is wrong. He calls the monitor up on his comm. Before him, the monochrome image shimmers. He zooms in, closer to the spot that doesn’t look right.
Closer to the odd black star on the Education Dome. The image magnifies again, the black star disappearing into shards of dome, large pieces of conductive glass and cellulose fall into the hole.
New Earth is breached.
The Security Dome is hit – hard. Devlin grabs the railing on the walkway. She closes her eyes and breathes deep while the world shakes. West puts his hand on Devlin’s shoulder until the rumbling stops. “You have no idea how much explaining you have to do. Grab those old comms, this,” he hands her a pistol. “and follow me.”
Agent Davis directs human traffic in the pit. As soon as West and Devlin are at her side she reports. “Mills is on his way from Education with the missile now, Sir and Lead Agents are on their way for debrief,” she slides her eyes to Devlin then back to the monitors.
“Have him do a scan at Hub 2 before entering the Security MAG. Give me the fastest damage rundown you can.”
“The Education Dome’s blast door was dropped as soon as Mills left. We have eyes on the Travelers inside Education. They have not attempted to enter above ground transit. The tubes have not taken any damage. Security just took a massive hit but the dome remains intact. We’re pulling in recruits and volunteers now.”
“Bring them in underground. I want Security Agents in the tubes only with your okay. Keep an eye on those Hubs.”
West turns and backs Devlin into a corner. “Please tell me you are not the only person on this moon with the knowledge of these… areas and I do not have to worry about the Travelers pulling it from our database.”
“I didn’t used to be, but I am now. Nothing is on the network.”
“My parents.” He stepped back and turned back to the monitors. He watches everyone buzz around the pit.
“I told you, I don’t do tactical.”
West wants to scream at his parents. To tell them what absolute nonsense it was to have any secrets on the dark edge of system. All of the military politics they carried with them from Earth never went away. He found it in old notebooks, read the cryptic reports in their logs. Now, as far as he is concerned, Devlin can take the reprimand for all three of them. West’s comm flashes again, orange this time. All Lead Agents are reporting in at the Security Dome checkpoint, including Mills and the Traveler’s missile. He meets Devlin’s eyes. They are the same. She is the same. Big secrets and all, they both want what they always will. “Okay.”
By the time everyone convenes in the motor pool, the Citizen’s Dome is under attack. Devlin’s assistant had been left behind to direct remaining citizens and every bit of New Earth’s short culture they could secure. Everyone was underground before the airlock systems were destroyed. Blast doors leading to the above ground transit are raised. CitDome remains intact, but uninhabitable. West and Devlin receive the information at the same time. He looks at her.
Devlin nods testing her wrist comm while her primary flashes pink. “My assistant has everything she needs to get them out.”
West nods. He eyeballs the missile as Dr. Finn, Head of Communications, runs in carrying scanning equipment. West reaches out toward the possibly sedentary device.
“Don’t touch it!” Finn shouts. He is nervous. They all are. The military personnel just hide it better. It’s part of the training. “I know it’s been scanned which only means it doesn’t seem to be unstable. There may be triggers we don’t know about, it might be a total scam, man, so please, just give us a minute.”
West raises his dark eyebrows. “’Man’?”
Finn widens his eyes and shrugs. He is sweating. His shirt clings to his chubby chest and his glasses refuse to stay up. Dr. Bush, Lead Engineer in Communications enters with equipment of her own. She puts down a metal case, takes the scanner from Finn, straightens his glasses, and shooes Agent West away. Finn focuses almost immediately when his wife is in charge.
New Earth’s most recent graduates, recruits, and promotions are having a particularly stressful first year.
Devlin hands out comms and explains the alternate blueprints. Evac is off the table. All agents prepping shuttles are moved to assist two teams assigned to bring citizens into the underground bunker beneath the Residential Domes one compound at a time. Once the missile is cleared and brought into the Security Labs, agents will use the MAG lines to ready each remaining dome for assault.
“Do not use the tubes unless prompted by me or Davis. We believe the underground lines are still off their radar.” West doesn’t actually know this but it seems likely enough. “Stick to the public MAGs as long as you can and do not linger in the Hub. We need to be swift. Be invisible.” He wants to give a speech, to rouse the troops, but all he has is instruction. He looks them all in the eye, trying to convey how important this is. How important they are.
When the agents disperse, Glouser walks up to West. She takes his hand, puts her other hand behind his neck and kisses him. It’s long and somehow, she pushes her body into his as if they weren’t separated by surface gear. She does not seem to care about the crowd. “You,” she whispers to him, her lips touching his ear. “be good, my love. Like always.”
She pulls away leaving West stunned for a moment. Mills watches from a few feet away. He smiles, big. “See? We have no secrets here on New Earth.”
West walks away. “Get to your post, Agent.”
Glouser walks passed Mills. “I will destroy you,” she says. Its filled with ice but she smiles at him.
“The only destroying here is the alien butt we’re going to stop, Agent Glouser.” Mills raises his voice. “There is no destruction here, only love, Agent Glouser!”
The Agents laugh. They have to.
Mills’ team and a group of volunteer agents are in charge of clearing out the residential domes. 20 men and women move up into Hub 1, near occupied territory. Davis is tasked with watching the Travelers, reporting to all teams, keeping West informed.
Glouser’s team heavy 10 volunteers is tasked with getting into the CitOp building in the Citizen’s Dome and manually redirecting power from the terraforming stations to the massive underground habitat. In under an hour, the TF stations that normally hum in the distance, slowly creating a world humans will inhabit without domes in the future, will fully support the humans buried in a box now.
Marrin is tasked with coordinating hospital shut down, supplies and equipment would be sent to the habitat by private MAG. All of R&D gets a final sweep with two hours and 30 agents.
The Security dome is to remain occupied until West feels there is no option but to entirely retreat.
For a short while, everything flows like it used to.
It remains quiet. There is only a hum of energy outside and in each dome.
For a short while, the citizens of New Earth remember who they are.