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.
Doors from the private MAG open to a massive room. Crates and carts line the grey walls. The walls mostly match the floor and ceiling. It makes the room feel oddly short, especially since it seems to stretch on endlessly into the distance. It makes West woozy.
They reviewed the blueprints but really seeing the habitat is different. Medics meet them at the doors and wounded are turned over. West and Glouser make their way through the open area and down a hallway lined with labs and smaller rooms. With his helmet retracted, he can smell more than himself again. They must have walked by a kitchen and West realizes he is hungry. He feels like he’s been wearing his surface gear for days.
In the Operations room, Devlin, West, and Glouser stand around a large table with Finn. A holoimage hovers over the table. The Traveler’s missile.
Finn speaks as the missile image slowly blows out revealing the tech inside. “Once we got past the casing, an alloy we still don’t recognize, I was able to hack into the targeting system. That helped get into their communications frequency. Our connection is unsteady but it’s there.” He zooms into the navigation system creating a second image. “We found short range targeting and long distance travel. Dr. Devlin, the long coordinates are Earth.”
West looks to Devlin. She stares at the rotating schematic between the group, watching the missile’s guts shimmer. Elements she doesn’t know. Engineering she doesn’t understand. Yet. “Rose.”
She turns to meet his eyes. Before she speaks, Bush enters the room. She’s breathless. Wherever she came from, she ran. The poofy brown bangs on her forehead are wet. Her glasses slide around just like Finn’s. “We might not be able to warn anyone. They finally hit the satellites. We’re trying to get into China’s Mars grid now to reach the Station, but I don’t know that it will work. We have no direct contact to the Station or Earth.”
Devlin’s comm flashes pink. “Davis, are the ships that left heading toward Earth now?”
“We believe so. We only have ground images to work from, they left the cameras. They range is long but we lost the ships about 10 minutes ago.”
“And the Station’s current location?”
“In the path.”
Devlin cuts her comm. West speaks. “Keep trying to get into that sat grid.” He pulls Devlin aside. “What are you thinking?”
“About our people. The hundreds of citizens being treated and the thousands that were massacred." She pulls off her gear. "I’m thinking about the generators and how long we have to rebuild before we use too much energy.”
She holds his eyes for a moment then steps back to the group and adds her gear to the pile on the floor. With that damn suit off she feels clearer. She feels like she can breathe again. How long has it been since she has taken a full breath? She looks at a large screen on the wall showing nothing but white static. In the round room, people she respects and love study figures and run calculations. They are still dirty, still bleeding. Down the hallway she can see into other rooms. Every citizen left, tired and broken after fighting to save their world, will toil to find a way to save Earth.
West comes to her side. The luminous blue-white Traveler bomb guts reflect in her eyes. “It may not be a decision I have to make.”
West wanders the habitat while Security Leads get checked out by medical. He ends up in temporary Security Operations, back where he started but in the adjoining room. Davis is there, running the large container-like space. When he makes it to her, he can see she’s crying. While she speaks and directs the secure setup of her new home, while she tries to pin down the location of all agents, tears run down her cheeks. It makes sense but it’s wrong. Her tears feel surreal, out of place. Just like the suffocating walls and the too few screens in new SecOp.
Just like the moon without Joey. The moon without Racquel.
Everything is wrong.
West put his hand on Davis’ shoulder. She covers it with hers.
“We’ll figure this out,” he says.
She doesn’t blink. “I know.”
He doesn’t have to tell her to get a report on dome status as soon as possible. She will. She doesn’t have to ask him to lay off while she works. He will. The moon will still run because they insist it.
West looks across the expansive room into the hall. Marrin and Frost stand outside of a very serious looking door with a keypad. They speak, their body language suggesting hushed tones. After a minute they disappear behind the overdramatic door. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe its cold steel presence is correctly dramatic. He wonders if there is a code for that door in the old wrist comms and makes a mental note to check when he can get to it. He assumes there will be administration again one day. An order to things, a schedule to keep. One day soon, he will find that he has a free afternoon, no violence to tend to, no bullshit to deal with, and he’ll dig into the archives on the wrist comms looking for a code. Maybe he’ll have a cup of tea.
Maybe, when they get rid of the lingering Travelers.
When they figure out how much damage the chemical weapons did to their crops.
After they clean up all the bodies.
The heavy door makes a loud click! behind him, blowing the mess of curly grey hair around his head. Dr. Frost closes his eyes for a moment. His tall, bean-like body hunches over. He is so tired. He pulls a roll of homemade antacids from his pocket and pops one in his mouth. Things aren’t so bad. The New Earth shuttles are secure. Nothing exploded on the trip from R&D. So far, everything that could cause damage to the underground habitat is safely locked away and if he can find a moment to get his thoughts together, maybe he can find a viable way for everything to work out. A crash comes from down in the dark blue hallway and he runs toward the first lab in the labyrinth he has sole control of. For now.
“Dammit, Jamie! You have to be more careful!”
A young woman in a white lab coat picks up a tray of broken specimen jars. They’re empty. She sighs and turns around to Frost sharply enough to flip her ponytail with an almost audible whip. “Sir, my name is Dr. Campbell. Dr. Keisha Campbell.”
Frost waves his hand in apology, or to move her along. He waves a lot. No one knew what action it was meant to initiate. Every time he waves, she leaves.
There are too many projects in these triage-style labs that the young pains in his ass are not aware of. It makes him more fidgety than usual. It makes him want off of this moon more than usual.
Another young woman jogs over. “Yes, Doctor?” Her nametag reads “Jamie”. He tries to respond, but can’t think of anything to say. This is never going to work seems wrong for the moment. He shakes his head, puts another antacid in his mouth, and walks away.
There has to be a small, dark room somewhere.
Perhaps, he thinks, a small dark room with whiskey is just down the next dark hall.
The tech cloak is holding. Hours later, the underground habitat has not been discovered and the private MAG lines are secure. Travelers still roam the surface but there is little to find. They seem uninterested in anything the humans left behind or in the humans at all. A few small Traveler ships have been sent out in directions away from Earth, probably searching for shuttles, but the search is slow. Eyes clear, still on the screens, Davis swears the remaining Travelers seem bored.
The habitat is surprisingly quiet. A deep purple glow wraps the corners. It lends to the unexpected calm. There is just a hum and that comforting glow until Finn shouts. “We’re in!”
Finn pulls up an unstable image of space. “We are receiving visual in China’s sat system. We have a minute, maybe two, to send a transmission. When we lose visual, we lose all connection.”
Devlin looks at West. They lock eyes like they have countless times before. Like they have all his life. Now is different. Something is missing.
She takes a calm breath then leaves the room.
Across the hall, Watts takes munitions inventory. He can’t believe what they’ve managed to get underground or how much was waiting for them. The armory was almost full before topside equipment started flowing in. He looks into the room across the hall, new command central it seems, and sees the leaders. It looks like they’re viewing a still image of Mars in space. The screen seems as big as the room.
Davis is there, curls outlined by the screen. Her silhouette glows. Marrin faces away from the group, looking down another hallway.
West and Glouser stand, their backs to Watts. West takes her hand.
Finn sits at a console, the light shining up at him.
The space image moves then. Small, smooth ships zip into view. For a moment they move on into the still distance. There’s a flicker.
They disappear. Snow fills the screen.
The endless habitat is quiet.