Heart of the Moon

Heart of the Moon
By: Bastian Hafrey

Chapter #1
SCENE 1:
“What the hell?!” Brimley exclaimed, as he turned his chair towards Langston.

“What.” Langston said. He held his right foot in his left hand, and a pocket knife in his right hand. Clipping his toenails, manmode style—he was completely oblivious to the situation.

“I said, ‘what the hell’,” Brimley repeated. Staring at Langston, with a hint of rage and dismay in his eyes.

“‘What the hell’ what?” Langston asked in turn, now eyes met with Brimley. It wasn’t the first time Brimley had given him that unsettling stare.

“We’ve come to a full stop.” Brimley barked.

“Oh,” Langston said casually. “Is this the cause?” He pointed the pocket knife at the fourth panel in front of him. Brimley leapt out of his chair and rapidly closed the five meters between them.

“Robb,” Brimley began, as he placed two fingers on his nose bridge, furrowed his eyebrows, and let out a sigh. “The powercoil for the drill has been overloaded.”

“Oh,” Langston said again, more casually than before.

“See this?” Brimley pointed at a line on the screen. “You had a full five minutes to resolve the problem, or alternatively, shut down the process and ask me for solutions.”

Langston folded the pocket knife and ironically hooked it onto his sleeve—he had plenty of empty pockets.

“What do we do now?” Langston asked, desperately trying to create some distance between him and Brimley to no avail—he was confined to his chair while Brimley breathed down his neck.

“I have some good news, and some bad news,” Brimley began. “First the bad news: It’s our responsibility to manually get the drill operational, unless, YOU pay for the drill haul—because I sure as hell ain’t.”

Langston waited uncomfortably in anticipation for the good news bit. After a minute which felt like eternity, he couldn’t wait any longer and asked, “And the good news?”

“You’re fired.” Brimley said, his displeased expression had morphed into a satisfied smirk.

“I don’t think that’s your call.” Langston said.

“I will make it my call or so help me god, I w—” Brimley started but was cut off by Langston.

“Fine, fine. I get it,” Langston said. “I’ll suit up and take a look.”

They were situated 300 kilometers below the Lunar surface, 250 kilometers into the mantle, in a drill operation cockpit. The cockpit was cramped, and they had been confined in there for little over a month now. This was the first of such endeavors by mankind, and the dangers were phenomenal. All in the name of science, of course.

“Oh,” Langston said. “By the way, Mark, if I get stuck down there, I expect you to get me out.” he was in full gear—standing in the compression chamber, ready to drop into the Heart of the Moon.

Sure,” Brimley said. “Let me just go and grab the nine-hundred-kilometer-long rope.”

“We have one of those?” Langston asked—the sarcasm was lost on him.

“No, we don’t.” Brimley confirmed, as he opened the chamber gate and let Langston out of the cockpit and into the freefall.

“Woah!” Langston exclaimed. “A subtle warning would have been appreciated.”

A reserve powercoil was sent only moments ahead of Langston’s decent, with a drone flyer. Langston’s suit was equipped with mini-thrusters, they would speed up his descent. He would be at the outer layers of the core in mere hours. The thrusters were equipped with an automatic trajectory system, ensuring comfort. The freefall went all the way down to the shell of the outer core of the Moon. Extreme pressure and heat would be the primary danger for Langston, thankfully the entire passage had been reinforced with a dense hull, automatically constructed by the drill as it made its way down, compressing the materials available in it’s path, and the suit was specifically designed for this role, to withstand the massive pressure and heat.

SCENE 2:
“Hey!” Brimley shouted through the com for the eighth time, with only a few minutes in between.

“Wha—what?” Langston replied drowsily.

Really?” Brimley asked rhetorically. “You’re sleeping on the clock.”

“Well excuse me for not finding the blackness entertaining.” Langston replied.

“I’m calling to inform you,” Brimley said. “You’re about to reach the heart.”

“That would explain the threatening numbers on my helm console.” Langston said.

“Do you see anything yet?” Brimley asked. “Save for the dim light of the drone flyer.”

“Actually, I don’t see anything at—” Langston began, but was cut off by a bright flash. His com went silent.

“What happened?” Brimley asked. He waited a good few minutes for a response, but it never came. He asked again, “Robb?”—”Hello?”—”What’s going on down there?”

After another pause, a clicking sound akin to static streamed from Langston’s end of the com.

“What the fuck,” Langston said distraughtly. “I don’t know what just happened Mark, my helm console went blank for a while, and then it suddenly came back online—on its own—it took me by surprise.”

“We’ll figure it out later,” Brimley said. “You’re inside the outer core now, do you see anything yet?”

“No, it’s pitch black,” Langston said. “I’m activating the brights.”

“Hey,” Brimley said after a pause. “Talk to me, I don’t want the channel to break, won’t be able to tell if I lost you again.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Langston said abruptly. “You won’t believe what I’m seeing right now.”

“What is it?” Brimley stressed. “What do you see?”

“Nothing.” Langston said.

“What do you mean nothing?” Brimley asked in frustration.

“That’s what I’m seeing,” Langston said. “A whole lot of nothing.”

“You’re not making any sense,” Brimley said with clear frustration in his voice.

The brights wouldn’t reach any walls, but they weren’t broken, because he could clearly see the beam go out of his suit. After a long session of peering around with aid from his torque system to direct the brights, he finally flipped the suit upside, and saw the roof, and the hole he came through. “It appears to be some kind of pocket.” Langston said.

“Now you’re making even less sense than before,” Brimley assured.

“I’m telling you,” Langston affirmed. “The lunar core is hollow.” He used his thrusters to fly a bit to the side of the hole while still keeping his eyes focused not to lose track of it. He activated the automatic trajectory system for return—It worked, he turned it off again. Whatever it was that blew out his suits powergrid for five minutes previously was not interfering with the navigation. With a relief, he began to descent into the dark abyss below.

“I’m terminating the mission,” Brimley said. “You clearly hit your head, hard.”

“No way,” Langston protested. “I’m going to drop straight down, see if I can locate the drone flyer and the drill.”

“You’re insane,” Brimley suggested. “Whatever it is that you think is going on, we don’t have protocols to deal with it—get back up here before you get yourself killed, or worse, damage any equipment.”

“Try and stop me.” Langston said.

“Mhmm,” Brimley replied. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you.”

“Very much,” Langston said. “Meanwhile, I’ve got some exploring to do.”

Fine,” Brimley said. “Do what you will—I’m calling command.”

SCENE 3:
Langston had slowly descended further down the unfathomable gorge. No radio contact from Brimley. Langston figured Brimley was getting a long list of instructions on how to deal with this new problem, not least how to get Langston out of the core without personally and physically dragging him out, kicking and screaming. That particular thought amused Langston greatly. A few moments later, his suit registered a thud, which set him in a slow spin, until the torque system corrected his trajectory. “What the hell?” he whispered to himself.

Once he fully regained control of his suit, he peered around again. He thought he saw something at the bottom, but it seemed much too large to have been what struck him. Eventually, his suits tracking system detected a small object slowly floating away from him—it was the drone flyer. He made his way to the drone flyer, made a quick inspection, and powered it up again. It would appear that things ceased to function once they entered the chasm, and could not be activated remotely, save for his suit, which had probably activated by consequent panic and flails. The drone flyer gently dislodged itself from his suits robotic power arms and continued on its mission. Langston followed.

“Fuck me.” Langston expressed quietly, albeit loud enough to trigger the com.

“What now?” Brimley asked in response.

“Oh,” Langston said with surprise. “Hey there, Mark.”

“Hey, Robb,” Brimley humored him with sarcasm in his voice. “So what’s up?”

“Shit just got weird,” Langston said. “For real.”

Yeah?” Brimley said frustratingly. “Point, get to it.”

“I’m telling you,” Langston said. “This is so fucked up—you’re not going to believe me.”

“Oh, c’mon,” Brimley said. “There’s no way in hell anything can be more unbelievable than an entire planetary core missing—get to the point already.”

“Give me a second,” Langston said. “I’m going to see if I can pry this open.”

“OK,” Brimley said firmly. “How about you give me a straight explanation for once.”

“Just hold on,” Langston said. “Looks like I can open it.”

Langston managed to insert the suits smaller robotic hand into an aperture of a loose panel, this particular hand wasn’t as strong as the large ones, and designed for interactions that required precision rather than brute force. “OK,” Langston said. “I think I got it.”

The suits robotic hand tore off from the suit, but not before the panel had been dislodged. Langston used the larger robotic hands to pry off a couple of more panels. He made a large enough opening for his suit to get through. “It worked.” Langston said.

“What worked?” Brimley said, more frustrated than before.

“To open it.” Langston replied.

“Remind me to fire you when you get back up here.” Brimley said with a sigh.

“Look man, I’ve been trying to tell you,” Langston started. “There’s a fucking alien spaceship at the center of the core—and it’s huge, it’s so unfathomably large I really doubt we built it.”

“OK,” Brimley said. “Let’s pretend for a second that you’re not insane. Could you give me an estimate on the size of that thing?”

“It’s probably over one-hundred-kilometers across.” Langston said. “I can’t even materialize the edges with my eyes, the suits zoom isn’t helping either, and the brights seem to extend forever.”

“You’re right, I don’t believe you,” Brimley said. “Just don’t go anywhere, I need to contact command.”

“Yeah,” Langston said. “About that.”

“The prying,” Brimley vocally reminded himself. “You’re already inside, aren’t you.”

“Yup.” Langston said.

“Good god,” Brimley shouted. “What the hell’s wrong with you?!”

SCENE 4:
“Command tells me the military has issued martial law on the lunar populace,” Brimley said.

“Which military?” Langston said, crawling through the spaceship evidently not designed to accommodate a suit of his size.

“Earth.” Brimley said. “Which else? There’s only one.”

“And,—So,—Then,—What?” Langston said, as he stopped in his tracks.

“So,—Then,—Thus,—Therefore,” Brimley said. “We have to go back to the surface, immediately, unless you want us to face the tribunal—note, I don’t.”

“It’s the Earth military,” Langston confirmed. “They have no jurisdiction in Sol Union space.”

“This close to Earth, they sure as hell do.” Brimley said. “You need to be smart about these things.”

“Yeah, well, you know what?” Langston started. “I couldn’t give a damn about their politics.”

“Damnit, Robb, We can’t afford your shit right now,” Brimley said. “Why do you always have to reject authority?”

Before Brimley could finish the sentence, he heard a click from the com, Langston had turned it off on his end.

“That asshole is going to get us both sent to the gallows.” Brimley said to himself. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the military installed gangplanks on their spaceships as a courtesy to our disobedience, just for the effect.”

“Hey, Asshole,” Brimley shouted into the com. “Turn your com back online and get your ass up here!” There was no answer, nor did he expect one. He swapped the channel back to command.

“Hey Padgett—Over” Brimley said.

“Go Ahead.” Padgett from Command said.

“We seem to be having some technical difficulties,” Brimley said. “Robb is out of reach. His equipment is likely malfunctioning, again—Over”

“Copy that.” Padgett from Command said.

“That would be all—Drill out” Brimley said, then turned off the com. Wondering how long this farce would last.

He moved from his seat at the control panels over to Langston’s seat at the monitor panels. “Why, hello there.” He said to himself. He observed a blip in the second monitor, indicating that the drone flyer was back online.

Brimley moved back to the control panels, and activated the video feed from the drone flyer. “Fuck me,” he said to himself. “This is too beautiful,” he continued. What he observed was the poorly lit view from drone flyer’s feed, idling next to the drill, and giving a preview of the spaceship. Brimley took control of the drone flyer, and slowly navigated it along the structure. What he could observe was an endlessly large sheet of metallic panels, covering the entire bottom of the cavern. He surfed around for a good while, trying to find any inconsistency in the otherwise perfectly aligned hexagonal panel bed. Suddenly, the feed gave a static-noise-view. Brimley made an attempt to regain control over the drone flyer—still unresponsive. It refused to acknowledge his input for some reason. A few minutes passed, the video feed came back on its own—it was mostly black. Brimley tried again, but was unable to regain control of the flight course. “Ahh,” he said to himself. “So that’s your game.” he continued.

A few moment passed, and Brimley could see Langston inside the suit, but nor he or the suit would move an inch. A few moments later, he watched with aghast as Langston opened up the suit, stepped outside, and looked to take a deep breath, then trip over, hand on his throat, gasping for air. “What in gods name is wrong with you?!” Brimley shouted at the screen. “Are you completely out of your mind?! If you wanted to die so badly, you could’ve done so on your own time.” Brimley turned off the screen, he didn’t want to watch his friend suffocate to death.

SCENE 5:
Langston ignored Brimley’s warning, turned off the com, and continued his less than graceful walk through the passage that he had uncovered behind the panels.

He noted the walls were thin, not at all safe nor practical for an actual spaceship. He began theorizing the purpose of the massive structure. It wasn’t out of the question that it might be a spaceship, but he couldn’t be sure either. He hadn’t seen much of the peripheral structure, just the ridge, or perhaps the belly. Well that, along with a couple of cables that he had to remove in order to make way. Seeing as the Earth military wants to get involved, he gave it a few moments to consider that they may have something to do with this thing. Again, though, something of this massive size is unheard of, even if the Earth military would somehow be able to build something as majestic as this, they would need the resources from Arc Technologies, and even then, it would take years to refine all the materials, and possibly decades to build something like this, even if they had every single 3D printer in the solar system at their disposal, not to mention how they managed to hollow out the Lunar core, and put this thing inside of it. There is no logical answer as to how they could manage such feat. No, this thing had to be alien in origin, he figured. If aliens were behind the construction of this thing, then he would be the first to ever set his eyes on something not crafted by humans, maybe even be able to meet one of them, sleeping inside one of those sci-fi freezers, a stasis pods? Either way, Langston amused the thought of being the first contact with aliens.

His screen flickered, signifying that there was plenty of oxygen, no heat, and no threatening pressure. “Nice try,” He said to the screen. “But I’m not removing the suit.”

Some hundred meters from where he had entered the structure, he finally arrived at what looked like a door. There was a button next to the door, and as anyone would assume, buttons next to doors usually have the function of opening said door—he pressed the button. Nothing happened. “Very well,” He said to the door, and raised his suits robotic power arms. The fists slammed into the door with a massive punch simultaneously. Normally, a strike like that would have easily pulverized bedrock. The door didn’t budge. “Interesting,” He said to himself.

He used his helm console to remotely access the drone flyer, and gave it new instructions, commanding it to fly to him.

After a few minutes, the passage was illuminated by more than his brights, it was the glow from the drone flyer’s thrusters. The drone flyer arrived, still carrying the reserve powercoil for the drill. “OK,” he said to himself. “Let’s try it your way.” he continued.

Due to the precision arm of the suit no longer being attached, he weighted the rationale of leaving the suit, what with pressure, no air and instant-burning looming in the not too far distance, but eventually caved, and opted for the Langston choice—his greatest weakness was his own curiosity, and recklessness. Not a particularly good combination, it would probably get him killed one day. That thought amused him. “How poetic, I’ll probably die the way I’ve lived.” He said to himself and opened the suit.

Langston took a deep breath, to his surprise and dismay, the air hinted of sulfur—he gave it a good cough, the surprise brought him down on his knees, hand on upper chest.

He grabbed the drone flyer, and removed the powercoil from its holder. He dislodged a cable from the powercoil, used to connect the coil to the drill, and with his pocket knife, cut off the connector. “What now,” He said to the cable with a confounded expression on his face.

He looked at the door for a good while, “Well, couldn’t hurt.” He said to himself. He touched the door button with the cable, but nothing happened. “Yeah, I didn’t think you’d make it that easy for me.” He said to the door. He reached his right arm into the suit, and used the right arm of the suit to dislodge one of the cables from the roof of the corridor. He used his pocket knife again, this time to cut off one of the cables that looked like it connected to the door. He connected the powercoil to the cable, “Presto.” He said to no one in particular, his hands expressing confidence, as the door opened.

SCENE 6:
“Robb just got himself killed—Over” Brimley said, suppressing a sob.

“Elaborate.” Padgett from Command replied in turn.

“The drone we sent down came back online, I navigated it for a while to take a closer look at the strange structure. The drone went inside a crack in the hull, and there stood Langston. Shortly, he proceeded to remove his suit, and immediately began to suffocate—Over.” Brimley said.

“Standby,” Padgett from Command said, after a short pause, she continued. “Let’s go over this again. You saw Robb Langston. He removed his suit. He did not burn or get crushed by the pressure. He choked to death?—Over”

“I think we’ve lost our right to question the impossible by sheer frequency of occurrence,” Brimley said. “Or—I’m highly schizophrenic and this is all figments of my imagination.” He didn’t say the last part aloud for the com to register. “Over”

“A military vessel will land shortly, I recommend you be part of the welcome committee—Over and out” Padgett from Command said.

Brimley grabbed a recording of the recently recorded footage from the drone flyer, it was stored on a storage stick. He stepped into the compression chamber, and suited himself up. When the suit sealed off, the helm console came online. He remotely activated the chamber depressurisation, and opened the gate—lept out, and ascended towards the surface.

During his automated trajectory flight, something that shouldn’t happen, happened. The tracking signal designed to aid in coordinated precision for flight path malfunctioned, and his suit began to trash into the walls of the freefall. Panic stricken, he changed control to manual and managed to recover stability. A few more slams into the walls could have damaged the mini-thrusters, suit compression, or the reinforced wall itself. He reduced his velocity, ensuring that his ascension wouldn’t run into more mishaps.

Little under an hour passed. He finally reached the surface compression chamber but was thoroughly beat by exhaustion. He sent a signal to the chamber gate, it wouldn’t budge. He tried to open a com with command, but nothing happened. Something was jamming all outgoing and incoming signals. “Lovely,” he said to himself with a sigh. There was a manual override in place for rare situations like this, the override was in form of a regular door button. Brimley reached out with his mechanic suit arm and pressed said button. The gate opened. “Why do we even need a remote?” he said for himself confoundedly.

Brimley entered the chamber and closed the gate behind him. He tried to pressurise the chamber, but was unpleasantly reminded of the signal jam issue. “Right…” he said to himself. He stepped into the suit holder which automatically activated a mechanism, the action connected the suit to the chamber, which allowed him to manually enter the pressurisation command. A few moments later, he exited he suit, pressed the door button, and stepped into the arrival dome of the geological drilling project. No one was there to greet him.

While he made his way towards the passage-tunnel between the arrival dome and the geological research facility dome he could hear a low, deep, thumping sound slowing down. It was the sound from the ventilations connected to the life support system, the life support system was in the process of going offline. Brimley paused in his steps with an alarmed face of concern. “Swell,” he said with a sigh and gained momentum again.

Shortly before he reached the passage-tunnel gate, which was mostly made out of a thick transparent material, a light streamed into his eyes from afar. Brimley peered out, and saw an explosion in the distance. A vessel (assuming military) had crashed on its entry into the hangar dome. Most likely due to the signal jam, preventing proper navigation. Debris from the explosion soon reached the arrival dome at high speeds, cracking one of the few and considerably sparsely placed near-ground-windows of the arrival dome, along with the lights of the dome going out.

SCENE 7:
Langston peered inside the room, he couldn’t see anything—It was too dark. Once more, he stuck his right hand into the suit and brought the arm down sideways, this allowed for the the right-side bright, which was situated at the shoulder near the helm, to beam into the room.

“Well fuck my ass with a chainsaw,” He exclaimed vehemently with eyes wide open. By a stroke of luck, Langston had found something that looked akin to an engine room. Immediately from the door, were a set of descending stairs. The room was roughly 200 cubic meters, stocked with what looked like giant transistors, perfectly aligned to one another in pairs to the sides of the room. In the center, were a line of large cylindrical what-looks-like-glass capsules, inside of which, was some strange wiring unfamiliar to Langston, and probably the rest of mankind.

Langston disconnected the powercoil from the door, the door remained open. He went down the stairs carrying the powercoil, and saw screens lined up at the bottom of the wall behind the stairs. He approached one of the screens, they had no buttons and seemingly no way to directly interact with them, even less boot them up. After flailing his arms around like an idiot in front of the screen he had approached, checking if they were motion sensitive, he decided it was time to try the method which had never failed him in the past—his trusty pocket knife.

After carefully observing every crook and cranny of the wall of screens, he assessed that they had no visible cables connected. He used his knife at the side of one of the screens, and managed to slightly bend it off the wall. Behind the screen was a series of cables. He couldn’t see, even less understand what the primary goal of the cables was, so he just reached in and pulled one out, hoping his unfounded luck would once more help him in his endeavor. He used his pocket knife to sever the specific cable that he had brought forth, and once more, connected the powercoil. After a hum, the screen went live. “I am—The Wizard,” Langston asserted to no one in particular.

The screen’s picture would flicker for a short while until it stabilized, nothing on the screen made particular sense to Langston. He tried his motion sensing theory once more—to no avail. He then decided to molest the screen in the most uncanny way. This seemed to do things, not that the things it did made any sense to him at all. After a short while of pushing buttons, Langston had enough. He disconnected the powercoil, only to have the coil-cable accidentally touch the other end of the screen cable, the one going back directly into the ship. This caused a short lapse of light glowing in the room from no recognizable source. “OK,” Langston said to himself. “Let’s see what a supposedly incompatible and low-source-powercoil can do to a gigantic alien spaceship of mysterious origin.”

If someone wrote a list of all the dumb decisions Langston had made in his life, that list would win the Hugo Awards, mostly due to the amount of words used (no one would live long enough to finish reading the damn thing, and just go by assumption). Some of his decisions would come with serious repercussions, others, with less serious implications. This one, however, could theoretically be a one-way ticket. Langston thought for a moment, well, on the one hand, this could potentially wipe out humanity from the face of the universe. On the other hand, why the hell not—he flipped the proverbial switch.

A spark. “A spark,” Langston said with disappointment. “I was expecting something more dramatic.” Give it time, he thought. Another spark. “Hi there, little guy.” he said to the spark. A sound not too much unlike a thousand firecrackers simultaneously exploding boomed out from behind the screen. He peered inside. “Oh,” He expressed, as he would often do. In the vault of the wall, something unexpected was going on. Every single cable was bleeding out electrical charges. Langston ran over to another screen, and pried it off with his pocket knife to take a peek inside—exact same event was in progress.

A continuous humming sound echoed across the engine room. Lights flickered to life akin to the crackling of fluorescent lamps. Soon, the entire facility was radiating a sterile glow, one you would normally associate with hospitals. The screens came online one after another. Langston turned his view towards the door, the passage he stepped through, too, was alit.

SCENE 8:
A dim light from the phosphorescent plating in the floor illuminated a path for Brimley. The dome was effectively dead, no electricity, no life support. Under normal circumstances, air wouldn’t be a problem, as a person exhaust 2 liters of air an hour. Unfortunately for Brimley, the cracked window, aided by the vacuum of space, diminished air at dangerous rates.

Without a beat, Brimley ran back into the compression chamber, and re-equipped the suit. Now he wouldn’t have to worry about air, but there was still no electricity. The passage-tunnel gate wasn’t exactly designed to be opened manually. He made his way through the darkness and positioned himself straight in front of the gate, after a few moments of contemplation, he assessed that what the gate needed was a good pounding, so he pounded. Now, unlike the alien spaceship doors, the gate was human made, and croaked immediately. A deafening sound boomed through the dome, as bolts popped from the sides, and soared by like bullets. The 3 tonnes heavy gate fell forward, flat onto the ground. Brimley had struck the door from the top to make sure it wouldn’t go flying, ripping the passage-tunnel apart; not that it mattered, he was in his suit after all, but you never know.

Brimley made his way through the passage-tunnel and stopped at the gate between him and the geological research facility. The arrival dome had air trouble, which meant bad news for Padgett and whoever else was on the other end, that is, if he practiced the same method once more. He evaluated the consequences, “What if?” he thought aloud, and then pressed the gate button—the gate swung open.

Moments after Brimley stepped through the gate and into the facility, the air pressure on the cracked window left it wide open, the helm console casually alerted him of the complications. Had he not been specifically looking at the oxygen levels, he would probably never had caught it. He proceeded by shutting the gate behind him.

Brimley opened his helmet and took a deep breath. After a short pause, he began, “Well then,” He said to no one in particular. “Looks like electricity and life support is working properly in here.” No one responded. He walked around for a bit, despite it all, he was quite content. He hadn’t left the drilling cockpit in over a month. He was also slightly excited by the thought of finally being able to see the mug of someone other than Langston. Not to mention finally being able to flex in a more spacious environment—he still wore the suit, however. “Hello?” He shouted. Still no response. “Where the hell is everyone?” He thought aloud. Frustrated, as he often felt, he paced angrily over to the Command ward. He peered inside, it was empty, which reminded him, embarrassingly, that everyone had probably gone to the Hangar dome in order to greet the military vessel. Which further reminded him of the crash—they were probably all dead by now. The helmet shut back in place, as he dashed towards the second gate.

Brimley looked through the gate glass and saw the gate on the other end of the passage-tunnel, it was half open. He pressed the button and the gate in front of him swung open, air streamed out from the dome and into the passage-tunnel, the heavy gate on the other end was forced wide open by the pressure. He made another dash towards the end of the passage-tunnel, and as he came close to the gate, he saw Padgett laying on the ground only a few meters away from the gate. The air pressure had probably lifted her a bit further into the room, Brimley suspected she had been in the process of making her escape just as she fell unconscious from the lack of oxygen. He lifts her from the ground and carries her through the gate and into the passage-tunnel. He promptly shut the gate.

Air stabilized in the passage-tunnel and Brimley opened his suit and climbed out. He checked for Padgetts pulse, she was still alive. Now the question remains, he thought, how long has she been unconscious? If it has been more than 6 minutes, she might have suffered brain damage and entered a coma, if not, she should wake up shortly.

SCENE 9:
“Why, hello there—pretty.” Langston said in awe. He had walked out from the engine room, through the corridor, reached another door, and opened it. He found it particularly hard to label the room, there was little context as to what purpose the room held. The entire room was filled with glass-like-tubes swirling all across the open space. The room was about as large as the previous one. Each tube had a visible fluid flowing through in various colors and textures.

Langston climbed the staircase. Unlike the previous room, this room only had one screen behind the staircase, but the screen covered the entire wall. There were unfamiliar symbols all over the screen. Of course, being the guy behind the monitors back at the drill cockpit, Langston felt at home, fiddling with what to him looked like input, hoping for something to happen—something did.

As a result of his fiddling, the sound of machinery twirled. Air bubbles in the tubes would change direction, others gradually changed color. Soon, the room began to vibrate. The vibrations progressively became more pronounced. Langston let out an audible “Hmm…” He considered for a moment if he should press his unnatural luck, or for once, listen to his fragmented concept of reason—he opted for the latter, and soon found himself back in the corridor.

As evidence suggested, the entire structure was now violently vibrating. He swiftly made his way to the suit, buckled up, and started the com. “Oy!—Mark!” Langston hollered. “I’ve got a situation down here—it’s about time you hold up the end of our deal!” No connection. With that, he clumsily made his way to the exit.

The automatic trajectory system wouldn’t respond to input, so he seamlessly swapped to manual navigation and slowly ascended from the homemade exit of the alleged alien spaceship.

Langston paused and fixed his gaze on the helm console. He pulled up the log file for thruster output, his idea was to gauge the position from a particular point in his recent journey, specifically, the moment when he retrieved the drone flyer. He found what he assumed was the particular moment, now all he had to do was find the drill. He peered around, and after a few moments, saw a shape in the distance. As he got closer to the object, his field of vision got distorted. In slight panic, he refocused his eyes on the console—the letters on the console wasn’t distorted, with relief he asserted that the problem wasn’t in his head. Shortly, he realized that something externally was causing the distortion. After activating the analytic systems he discovered an erratic flow of values; oxygen, pressure, heat—everything had gone awry. Soon after, the flash that he had seen when he first entered the cavern suddenly projected itself once more. It was as if it radiated from no single point within empty space. Langston took a deep breath. After roughly five minutes passed, the suit, like before, came back online on it’s own.

Langston felt coherently uncomfortable with the developments of his situation, he engaged the thrusters at low burst, ascending in a straight line a couple of paces from the object he had groggily seen during the distortion. A short minute passed, as he almost came crashing into the roof, but was able to break just a few inches from contact. His brights revealed fractures all along the visible line of light. He scaled the roof with his brights for a short while, hoping to find anything that would indicate the freefall. As he did, he suddenly saw something flash by in the corner of his eye. He made a turn, but whatever it was, had only been there momentarily. He gently propelled himself forward, and suddenly saw a cloud of dust reflecting his brights, the roof above the cloud hinted of an orange hue. Odd, he thought to himself, but it would soon reveal the opening of the freefall.

Inside the freefall, the compressed matter of the drilled walls had started to crack, radiating an orange glow. While the area they had drilled into was low on seismic activity, and chosen for that fact, these walls should be eloquently reinforced to withstand ferocious moonshakes, not to mention the gravitational pressure and heat. A force greater than the internal weight of a planetary body had caused these cracks. “The epitome of my life.” Langston said to himself, as he carefully ascended the freefall, to avoid accidental agitation of the cracks. Of course, as with everything else in life, things just never work out the way you want it to—the walls around Langston started to collapse, gushing magma into the freefall.

SCENE 10:
Brimley breathed heavily and massaged his temple anxiously with both hands, waiting for Padgett to wake up. A good minute passed, he began to fear for the worst—pause, there was a moan. He let out a sigh of relief, and cupped his face with his hands, “Thank god,” He said through his hands and slowly scraped them down his face. He knelt next to her, and grabbed her shoulder. “You’re going to be alright.”

“What happened?” Padgett muttered as she came to, and attempted to force her eyes open.

“What’s your name?” Brimley asked immediately.

“Uh,” Padgett murmured. “Rhea Padgett.”

“Good.” Brimley confirmed.

Just as Brimley opened his mouth to explain the situation, a massive explosion ruptured from the arrival dome. They both stared at the bright spectacle, their brains had yet to register what was happening before their eyes. In the midsts of the explosion, a spiral of fire had been left in the wake of something leaving the arrival dome, flying straight into outer space. Brimley opened his mouth to speak, again, an explosion erupted. This time, it was the power supply for the research facility dome, it had been ignited by the previous explosion. Shortly thereafter, they watched as the lights progressively went black in the geological research facility dome, and the chain eventually reached the passage-tunnel where they were situated.

Brimley reached his hand into the suit and activated it, making sure that the suits life support system would hopefully help sustain them a bit longer than the current prospects suggested. There was nowhere to run at this point. Padgett was still groggy from the previous endeavor, but she managed to get up on her feet.

“Mark, what did you do?” Padgett said.

“Thank you for the confidence,” Brimley said. “You might want to sit down, I doubt we’ll be going anywhere soon.”

“That much I gathered,” Padgett said. “But I prefer to stand.”

“Fine.” Brimley said.

“What about our situation?” Padgett asked. “What happened, how did I get here?”

“Hell if I knew,” Brimley began. “I think there was some kind of sabotage in form of a wide signal jam, as both me, and I suspect the military vessel, lost the autopilot signal for trajectory management. I don’t know how you managed to survive without air as long as you did, since you were out cold when I found you in the hangar dome, I think it’s safe to assume no one else made it out.”

“Shit.” Padgett said with a look of sadness on her face.

“I’m sorry.” Brimley said.

Brimley peered through the window of the passage-tunnel, watching as the fire spiral slowly dissipated. “I wonder what the hell that thing was,” He said. “Anything in the compression chamber sufficiently volatile to send something flying like that?”

“No,” Padgett began. “The whole thing is made out of tubes, computer chips, and metals, nothing that should explode. Might have been a large gas buildup at the top of the freefall, but I have no idea how it could get ignited on it’s own—by design, that should be impossible.”

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned today,” Brimley started. “Then it’s to distrust the whole concept of ‘impossible’, the definition is a sham, the word needs to be redacted from the dictionary immediately.”

Padgett gave a weak chuckle, and then balanced herself next to Brimley. She leaned herself against him, still feeling weak from her previous situation.

“I’m flattered,” Brimley said. “But I have to insist that you sit yourself down.”

“I’ll consider it,” Padgett said. “You first.”

SCENE 11:
If there’s one thing Langston is good at—other than being ridiculous—it’s flying. Before he became a drill engineer, he had applied for a shuttle pilot degree, with the dream of one day becoming a fighter pilot for ‘the S-U-A’, not that the Sol Union has, or ever had, an Army—but hey, planning ahead. A shuttle degree required the basics in spacecraft engineering, which was just enough to land the gig as a drill engineer for the sol geological research division. They needed an able pilot for the tricky repairs and surveys, and after a few months of preparation, Langston was up to speed.

This was the perfect opportunity, if there ever was one, to put his skills to use. The freefall wasn’t exactly spacious, but it gave enough leeway to maneuver with hair thin precision when dodging falling flakes of wall pieces and magma. Not that the suit couldn’t withstand some, if not all of it. However, to manually fly the thing without any computerized aid wasn’t done in a teacup, getting hit would throw him off balance, and yes, that would be lethal.

Not only was the freefall rapidly breaking down ahead of Langston, but the magma boiling from below was slowly catching up. The suit could fly 1400 km/h at max speed, but that was strictly for emergencies, because even with the onboard trajectory module for automated flight and precision, the suit wouldn’t be able to stop itself fast enough if something suddenly appeared along the path. “Fuck it.” He said, and increased the velocity. Bad decision. A large chunk of wall struck the suit on the right side almost immediately, and he tumbled into the wall, springing a fissure. A flood of magma captured his legs, he used his robotic power arms to desperately climb his way in the wall cracks. Amazingly, as soon as he managed to break loose from the magma, it solidified just enough to temporary slow down the previous rush of magma boiling from below him. He stretched the power arms against the walls, and activated the thrusters at full force, this gave him enough balance to continuously increase his speed regardless of the floating debris in his path. Soon, Langston caught up with the walls, and transcended the cracking threshold, now he could finally give the thrusters full burst and gain maximum velocity in his ascension.

He eventually passed the drill cockpit, now it was only ~300 kilometers left to the surface, but even so, he knew he would only briefly be able to enjoy it until the volcano below him consumed the entire science complex.

15 minutes passed, something whistled by the suit, “Tha F?” he expressed and widened his eyes, as he realized the readings on the helm console presented him with an abundance of gas in the atmosphere. Sound could travel here, he just broke the barrier. Another 5 minutes, and he would be at the surface, or so he thought, and then he saw new cracks in the walls. Soon, he found himself engulfed in flames, his visibility was reduced to zero. Again, he was forced to progressively reduce velocity and press his power arms against the walls before he flew into possible debris. The entire ridge all the way up to the surface must be leaking gas and burning—I don’t have time for this, he thought. Moments later, he crashed into a field of partly molten metals, he kept his balance by aid from the power arms, and marched through the field as if it was nothing but vacuum.

He burst through a particularly dense field of molten metals, thick enough to lose the grip of the walls, and suddenly found his vision clear, he had reached the surface and flown straight out into space. The moon was at least 3 kilometers blow him. He quickly noted that the arrival dome was nothing more than a burning pile of rubble, the geological research facility too was aflame, but not yet as devoured as the former. He quickly made his way back down, and landed inside the facility dome through the broken and burning roof, to see if there were any survivors.

After a quick investigation, he assessed that there couldn’t possibly be anyone alive or half dead in the dome, and paced towards the passage-tunnel. There, to his dismay, he saw Brimley, Padgett, and the second suit. They were leaning against each other, seemingly unconscious. Langston proceeded to gently slam into the gate, attempting to get their attention.

SCENE 12:
It did, they both got up on their feet almost immediately as the sound reached their ears. “Langston, you son of a bitch!” Brimley yelled in rhapsody accompanied by a fat smile from all three of them. Langston could however not hear him, the sound wouldn’t travel outside of the passage-tunnel. Brimley and Padgett watched as Langstons mouth flapped up and down, he was trying to say something. Brimley pointed towards his own ears and then made the motion of waving his hands in a cross. It seemed to be enough, Langstons mouth seized to flap, and instead, he raised his right robotic power hand, pointed into the passage-tunnel, and then raised his left power hand, showing it flat to signify ‘wait’. Brimley nodded.

Langston flew out through the roof of the facility dome and went straight for the hangar dome. The roof had a hole in it from the previously crashed military vessel, not at all close to the intended airlock for incoming and outgoing traffic, the outer gate of the airlock was even open. “Fucking b-grade pilots.” Langston muttered. He descended into the hole, and peered around. The military vessel had of course plunged into a series of shuttles, totaling 3, now legally considered junk. Luckily, there were still a pair of shuttles operational and in prime condition. Langston opened one up, and took his seat at the controls, suit in tow. “This isn’t the slightest bit practical, they need to design these to properly accommodate spacesuits.” He said.

Brimley heard a noise, it was coming from his suit. “Hey,” he said, but there was no response. Brimley decided to climb inside and utilize the helm console, as it turns out, the com channel was set to Command. He changed channel to an open frequency, and repeated again, “Hey!”

“Woah,” Langston said from the other end of the com. “Hey there Mark!”

“Glad to hear you breathing, Robb!” Brimley exclaimed. “I’ve told everyone you died at the heart of the moon.”

“You give me far too little credit,” Langston said. “People don’t call me a cockroach for nothing, you know.”

“That’s not why they call you a cockroach, Robb,” Brimley said. “So what’s the game here?”

“Suit up,” Langston warned. “And prepare Rhea, she’s not going to like what I have in mind.”

“On it.” Brimley responded, he knew exactly what Langston had in mind. He turned towards Padgett, “OK, you’re not going to like this—when Langston arrives, you’re going to have to plug your ears with your fingers real hard, and exhale.”

“Oh hell no,” Padgett protested. “I’ve already been there once today. I’ll take it from here—you, get out of my suit.”

Brimley considered it for a moment, and then climbed out the suit—Padgett climbed inside. Shortly after, a craft landed close to the passage-tunnel window with its airlock pointed towards it. The airlock opened, and a suited Langston stepped out. Padgett grabbed Brimley’s arm, as Langston lifted his power arm towards the window and broke it open. They had about 12 seconds to get Brimley inside the ship before he would lose consciousness, and then another 18 seconds before the exposure to space dealt permanent damage—not to mention the remaining ~80 seconds before he died. Padgett swung Brimley like a ragdoll towards Langston, and Langston grabbed his floating leg, then he too swung Brimley, aiming at the airlock. Once Brimley was inside, Langston pressed the pressurisation button. The airlock closed, and now all they had to do was to patiently wait for Brimley to get out of the airlock and into the pilot cabin, and then open the airlock for the two of them. He did. Padgett widened the window frame with her power arms, climbed out, and joined Langston inside the airlock. Just as the airlock began to close, the volcano erupted from the freefall.

They were all finally inside the pilots cabin. “What say we get the hell outta dodge?” Brimley said to the two suits. “That volcano looks mighty fierce.”

“Oh,” Langston said. “That’s about the best thing I’ve heard all day.”

Padgett nodded in agreement. Brimley engaged the engines.

Chapter #2
SCENE 0:
Langston found himself in the midst of the Sydney Market. No, not that kind of market, the market with which you have to carry a coupon. No, not that kind of coupon, either.

SCENE 1:
The blades slammed against each other like hands cupping for a dive. The deafening sound of the massive metal sheets echoed aloud into the far distance. Soon, the blades pierced through the dirt, ripping a screech in its wake, only to unfold, creating a gap, and then slam together once more, repeating the process. Brimley stood in a glass goblet, it was the front observatory.

“It’s astonishing.” Brimley muttered to himself. A door swished open behind him.

“I must apologize for the late demonstration,” Herschel, the chief of operations, said distressingly as he entered the observatory, showing his hand for a shake. “I was recently made aware that you scheduled visits twice before, unfortunately my team of incompetent employees draw blanks every time matters don’t involve them getting covered in synthetic grease.”

Believe me,” Brimley assured, and raised a hand which previously shook with one of the workers. “I’m well aware of your grease problem.”

Herschel retracted his hand and cleared his throat, “How do you like the product?” He asked.

“It is quite a piece of engineering,” Brimley began. “Having four blades contract and expand in succession. Especially the folding of the blades, creating a thin singular knife that cuts into the rocks as if it was air, and then smoothly open up into a square passage, as if the passage was always there. By the way, what materials are the blades made from? The mission orders I received from Sol Union had zero descriptions, it just told me where to go.”

“You’re to be the foreman, not the technician.” Herschel reminded him.

“I need to learn everything there is to learn,” Brimley said. “Just tell me.”

“Unfortunately I have no answers for you,” Herschel said, shrugging his shoulders. “This is an Arc tech machine, and as you know, they won’t let anyone near their schematics. We’re lucky they decided to lease it to the International Science Committee.”

“I have been wondering about that too,” Brimley said. “Why, exactly, did they lease it to you in the first place?”

“Hey,” Herschel said, lifting his hands in innocence. “I’m just the king of peons.”

“Indulge me.” Brimley said.

“Well, if you want my opinion,” Herschel said. “They’re rubbing one at us, to show us how far ahead they are, technologically.”

“You might be onto something, there.” Brimley said with a smile.

“Well then,” Herschel said. “If we’re done here, would you like a tour of the machinery?”

“Will I have to shake more grease hands?” Brimley asked.

“One or two,” Herschel said jokingly. “But you’re way past the point of concern.”

Brimley let out a thin chuckle in agreement, as they left the front observatory. They walked through a cramped circular hallway with a metal skid floor. When they reached the end, Herschel spun a valve wheel on the door to open it, it was a relief valve.

“You say it’s to show how far ahead they are,” Brimley pointed out. “Yet these doors are truly archaic.”

“You’re inside the belly of true human ingenuity,” Herschel said. “But somehow the door design have you by the noose?”

“It’s the little things,” Brimley said. “They get you killed.”

“Good thing we’re on Earth, then.” Herschel said.

“For you maybe,” Brimley added. “I have to take one of these things to Mars.”

“Then do I have the perfect solution for you,” Herschel said. “Make sure you always stay on the correct side of one of these doors.”

You have it all figured out, don’t you.” Brimley said.

“I do pride myself in my wisdom.” Herschel said, bellowing a laugh, as he stepped through the door. Brimley followed.

SCENE 2:
The liveliness and chatter from all around Langston made him feel like he just stepped through time. There was nothing like this on any of the surface worlds anymore. Stalls selling everything from fruits to guns, permanent luxury shops next to the stalls ranged from butchers of all variety, to drug dens, with dozens of small useful trinkets shops filling the gaps. He could get everything from assassination orders to marriage counseling in one short street.

Langston walked up to one of the fruit & snacks stalls, “Any free samples?” He asked.

“Why of course!” The vendor said, and handed him a small round can.

Langston plucked one of the scrawny black fruits from the can and tasted it, “These grapes are a bit dry.” He said.

“Well yes,” The vendor said. “They’re raisins.”

“Aha,” Langston said, stroking his nose with his index finger, as if he learned something important.

The vendor gave a puzzled look at first, but quickly went along with it, “It’s two bits for the whole can.” He said.

“It says half a bit on the can.” Langston corrected.

“Silly me,” The vendor said. “I forgot to remove the cans own price tag.”

“Fair enough,” Langston said and swiped his coupon at the registry for the purchase process. “Oh, you wouldn’t happen to know where I can find the biomedical establishment?”

“You mean CCC? Sure,” The vendor said. “Take a right next to the russian firearms dealer, Charles has red neon all over the front door, you can’t miss it.”

“Cheers mate.” Langston said, and raised the raisin can as to toast a thanks. He then put the can in his back pocket.

As he casually strolled down the busy street, a physical vendor war broke out between the russian firearms dealer, and the body disposal service next door, guns blazing. He heard an argument from the body disposal vendor yelling at the russians that their prices had gone too high, putting a dent in his disposal business.

To avoid getting shot, Langston squeezed himself between two stalls and ended up in an alley of sorts. Apparently, one of the bullets had strayed, as there was a body blocking the path and bleeding out. Not to get himself involved, he skipped over the body and trudged on, hoping that the alley would put him closer to his objective.

Psst,” Langston heard from a fenced off path in the cramped alley.

“Yeah?” Langston asked in turn.

“Are you Roberts?” the hidden person behind the fence asked. There were no lights in the fenced off path.

“I’m Robb.” Langston corrected. “Why?”

“You’re right on time for the meeting,” The hidden person said. “This is most fortunate.”

Okay?” Langston said with a hint of scepticism.

“Come, come,” The hidden person said and opened the fence. “This way.”

Langston contemplated his options for a moment, and then decided to follow the stranger rather than get shot in the back by stray bullets. He was led down a short pathway, which ended with a broken down door. The door creaked as the stranger opened it, and led Langston inside. He stepped into the room, it was decorated in black banners with a hat motif covering each wall. There were eight chairs placed in a circle. On each but two chairs sat well clad gentlemen, the stranger too had the same dress, he took a seat at one of the two empty chairs.

“Sit.” The stranger said to Langston, and so he did.

“Welcome to the ‘White Fedora’,” One of the men (assuming leader) said. “We have been expecting you, brother.”

Langston took a look around, hoping for someone else to be the target of welcome, “I am humbled.” He said hesitantly, and then bowed.

SCENE 3:
Hundreds of pistons beat melodically with might, as cogs turned like clockwork along the walls.

“First the doors,” Brimley said. “And now the machinery.”

“Really now,” Herschel said. “Did you expect Arc to show us one of their latest products? This one is probably thirty or forty years old by now yet still beyond our comprehension.”

“I guess I didn’t.” Brimley agreed.

“Well there you have it, then.” Herschel said.

“I just,” Brimley started. “I was expecting something else, something more. During the Moon project, I worked with some of their latest technologies, and the designs were truly state-of-the-art.”

“I am so, so, sorry, to disappoint you.” Herschel snarked.

“I suppose,” Brimley said. “When you look at the scale of the projects, the Moon one was much more important, especially considering what we found hidden there.”

“I heard that was a bust, what with the volcano and all,” Herschel said. “So you found something important, yes? What was it? What did you find?” he excitedly asked.

Ops,” Brimley sneered. “That’s classified―it would be treason to discuss this topic further.”

“Gee, thanks.” Herschel said disappointingly.

“Anyway,” Brimley said. “Now I see why we need a grease team in order to keep things operational.”

“It kinda got that victorian era feel to it, doesn’t it.” Herschel said. “Can’t say I mind, it’s cool.”

“I was never a fan of steampunk,” Brimley said. “Let’s move on.”

“Would you like to see the rest of the machine rooms?” Herschel asked.

“Will there be cogs?” Brimley asked.

“Cogs and pistons.” Herschel confirmed.

“Why do I get the feeling that all machine rooms look the same?” Brimley asked rhetorically.

“Fine,” Herschel said. “Let’s hit the lounge.”

“You guys have a lounge?” Brimley asked. “What for?”

“Perhaps it was necessary back when they built this beauty,” Herschel pointed out. “You know, back in the days of the new era, before corporations wrote the laws.”

“I remember the school books,” Brimley said. “Supposedly they argued that relaxation helped workers morale and increased productivity.”

“Ah, yes,” Herschel said. “We never got things done back then―Ah, those were the times. Too bad you’re too young to have experienced it.”

“I’m a Sol Union employee,” Brimley protested. “Don’t lump me together with your earth-work-ethics.”

Herschel bellowed a laugh. They exited the machine room together, made their way through a cramped hallway, and arrived at one of the many intersections. Herschel stopped in his tracks. “You know what,” He said. “Let’s skip the lounge. I think I know exactly what I need to show you, so that you can overcome your disappointments.”

“Why, is there something wrong with the coffee maker?” Brimley asked sarcastically.

“Well, you did like the actual drill mechanic.” Herschel pointed out.

“The concept was astonishing.” Brimley confirmed.

“Well there you have it, then.” Herschel said. “We’ll take a quick visit to the rear observatory.”

They made their way past another two intersections, and eventually arrived at the rear observatory. Just like the front observatory, the room was designed as a glass goblet. Brimley peered out, and was speechless at the mechanics working in front of him. At the floor of the carved out tunnel, a form of arm connected to the digging machine melted rails directly from the materials of the soil. A square-frame-like apparatus went segment for segment across the walls and roof, creating small squared tiles in its wake.

“You’re right,” Brimley said. “I never expected the same mechanics to be applied here, as the one used for the moon project.”

“I saw the moon dig specs,” Herschel said. “I believe the principle applied is the same.”

“It’s amazing,” Brimley said. “To think they already had this technology thirty or forty years back.”

“It does the job alright,” Herschel assured. “Soon we’ll have a subway connecting australia with new zealand.”

SCENE 4:
“First order of business,” The leader said. “I just received news that our brothers over at beta have successfully eliminated one of their platforms.”

A cheer broke out in the room, Langston smiled uncomfortably.

“Sischo, do we have brothers from alpha and zeta on the ground?” Another gentleman in the room asked.

“We do,” The leader, now Sischo said. “Furthermore, our benevolent has guided us to a third objective this evening.”

A loud ‘Ooh’ broke out in the room from all participants except Langston, he instead gave a confused expression of despair.

“Brother Roberts, you look concerned.” Sischo said, looking directly at Langston.

Langston brushed the hair at the back of his head, breaking eye contact, “I’m just nervous, being new and all.” He said.

“Understandable,” Sischo said. The room nodded in agreement. “I would be too, as our benevolent has yet to grace us with his presence, but you, my dear brother, you get to meet him soon.”

“Lucky me.” Langston said with a frown.

“Brother Tanner, brother Jackson, hold him down.” Sischo commanded. Tanner, the gentleman who led Langston to this place, and Jackson, stood up from their stools and grabbed Langstons arms simultaneously. Langston twisted and squirmed but was unable to get loose from their grasps. Sischo disappeared behind one of the banners, and shortly came back with a syringe in his hand. “Now now, brother, don’t be alarmed,” Sischo said. “This is merely for your own good. All new initiates need our genetic imprint, so that we can recognize one another on the field.”

“I knew that,” Langston said unconvincingly. “I just get uncomfortable around needles that’s all.”

“Don’t you worry, you won’t feel a thing.” Sischo reassured, and stuck the needle into Langstons neck. Langston groaned. After a few moments, he felt a weird sensation flow over him, it was as if he could physically feel the whereabouts of every single individual in the room.

“Well then, the deed is done.” Sischo proclaimed. “You are hereby fully integrated into the ‘White Fedora’ gamma division. A cheer for our new brother, a cheer for Roberts!”

Another cheer broke out in the room, Jackson and Tanner let go of Langston to join the cheer.

“Now for the second order of business,” Sischo said. “Brother Roberts was recruited for his particular set of skills, chosen by our benevolent himself. It is therefore my pleasure to announce that brother Roberts heroic quest has been set in full motion.” Sischo walked up to Langston, took him by his shoulders, and stared into his eyes. “You will meet our benevolent at the platform of justice, he will then hand you the specifics of your task.”

Langston had no idea what to say, he merely gave a nod in turn.

“With that,” Sischo said. “The meeting is adjourned.”

A queue formed, as people left the room one by one to the door where Langston arrived from. Sischo was not in the queue, Langston figured he had gone back to the door hidden behind one of those banner.

“So, Tanner, was it?” Langston asked.

“Yes, brother Roberts?” Tanner asked in turn.

“You don’t happen to know the quickest route to the biomedical establishment?” Langston asked.

“You mean CCC? Sure,” Tanner said. “Just take a left at the end of the alley, you should arrive right at Charles doorsteps.”

“Thank you.” Langston said.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” Tanner began. “What business do you have with Charles? The man is insane.”

Langston gave his answer a moments consideration, after what he just experienced, having this man question the sanity of others brought shivers down his spine. “It’s for the quest,” He assured with confidence. “Remember, I’m the expert here, I know what I’m doing.”

“Fair,” Tanner responded with an understanding nod.

After a good 5 minutes, it was finally Langstons turn to leave the room. He followed the directions that Tanner had given him, and ended up having to squeeze past another set of stalls. As soon as he was through, he was met with a glow of red covering the entire street.

SCENE 5:
Brimley sat at the table in the lounge, sipping coffee. Herschel munched down dry crackers with such display that Brimley wondered if he hadn’t eaten in days. As soon as they had arrived, Brimley noticed a static sound echoing through the room. He tried not to pay attention to the sound at first, but it increasingly agitated his patience, and the taste of the coffee just gave fuel to the fire.

“OK,” Brimley shouted. “What the hell is that sound?!”

Herschel dropped a cracker in surprise, crumbs dangling from his beard. “Sound?” He asked.

“That annoying static sound.” Brimley complained.

“Oh,” Herschel said. “It’s the com system.”

“Why the hell is the com system echoing through the lounge?!” Brimley barked.

“I activated it as soon as we got in,” Herschel said. “I’m expecting a call.”

“Hello?” A voice said through the static. “I didn’t know this thing was on.”

“See,” Herschel said to Brimley and then turned to face the room. “This is Rico Herschel, the chief of operations, speaking―I have been expecting you.”

“Is he there with you?” The voice asked. “I recognize that voice despite the noise.”

“This is Mark Brimley.” Brimley responded.

“Hey sweetie,” The voice said. “I’m here to pick you up.”

“Is my presence here unwanted?” Brimley asked Herschel.

“Truth? Definitely,” Herschel said with a smile. “But that’s not why, I received an urgent memo as we left the observatory, something has happened at the surface.”

“What?” Brimley asked.

“Didn’t say.” Herschel responded.

“I should arrive in just a couple of minutes.” The voice said.

“Good,” Brimley said to the voice. “The coffee here is terrible.”

Brimley went up from his chair, “If you don’t mind.” He said to Herschel, motioning him to lead him to the airlock.

“I would be my pleasure.” Herschel said, taking the lead.

They went through a couple of hallways, and eventually ended at the arrival room. A small space between the airlock and the hallways. Multiple loud sounds boomed from the outside, it was the magnetic bolts connecting one after another. The red lamp above the airlock gateway soon turned green, and with that, the airlock gateway swished opened.

“Don’t just stand there,” Padgett said. “Move those legs.”

Brimley passed the line, and entered the transport vessel. He turned around and gave Herschel a two finger salute, “It’s been fun.” He said, as the door closed. Herschel gave a nod and immediately turned around to leave the arrival room.

The transportation vessel was rather small, it went along the rail and was designed for moving personnel, delivering foods, and garbage/waste disposal.

“So what’s the emergency?” Brimley asked.

“The kiev space center suffered a terrorist attack,” Padgett said. “The entire complex has been leveled to the ground.”

“What?! Why?!” Brimley said distressingly. “How could that happen?!”

“We don’t know yet,” Padgett said. “I’m sorry to say this, but your pilot, Nick, was at the complex―he is assumed dead along with everyone else from the mission.”

Brimley sunk down on the floor, and closed his eyes with a frown. He balanced his head on his palm which was balanced on his leg. “So, what now?” He muttered.

“SU consider this an Earth issue, and won’t get involved in the matter,” Padgett said. “However, there’s still the matter of the unmanned arc drill floating in low earth orbit, so the international space agency has explicitly demanded we move the drill as planned, and thus loaned us another shuttle to resume our mission. With that said, they have moved the departure to tomorrow.”

“Why? We weren’t supposed to leave until next week,” Brimley pointed out. “Have they already decided on a replacement for Nick? Have they no shame?”

“They already have a candidate yes,” Padgett said. “They’re awaiting his response as we speak, but they are confident he will accept the mission as he is already overdue for departure.”

“Don’t tell me..” Brimley complained.

SCENE 6:
Langston noticed as people went a bow around ‘Charles Cybernetics Clinic’, avoiding the entrance like the plague. It wasn’t really that surprising to Langston, as the red neon lights fiercely blinded him, too. Langston held a hand above his eyes, shielding them from the light, and trudged into the clinic.

It was a rather small lobby. There was a door with dimmed glass behind a desk. In front of the desk was a chair. Langston took a seat at the chair. Along the walls behind the desk were bookshelves. This was particularly peculiar to Langston, as he had never seen a paper book before. He knew what it was, as all tablet devices used an icon which looked very similar to these primitive devices. He knew however that paper books could still be found en masse on Earth, if you went looking for them, it just wasn’t a Mars thing.

After sitting at the chair for a while, looking around the room, Langston discovered a big button on the desk with label ‘Bell’. He pressed the button, and a buzzing sound rang out from behind the dimmed door.

“Who’s there?!” a scrawny voice said, it came from behind the door.

Shortly, rapid footsteps closed on the door, and the door burst open. “Who’s there?!” a brittle old man said through his yellow and sparsely placed teeth. He had long, thin and grey hair, stained white apron, wires sticking out of his body, one arm with metallic muscles as if it was skinless, the other looked normal but thin, and green tinted goggles covered his eyes.

“I’m looking for an.. improvement.” Langston answered hesitantly.

“Excellent, I can certainly do something for you,” Charles said. “You know, years back, I pioneered this.. science.. but it appears, my services proved too grand for the idealists. No, they wanted to keep man limited, god forbid we ‘improve’ ourselves. ‘A line only god may walk’ they said,” The old man scoffed. “Mortals, what do they know? Their constant fear of the future is rotting their minds.”

“Wait,” Langston said curiously. “You’re immortal?”

“What gave you that idea?!” Charles sputtered. “Do I look like a god to you? I have to admit I do try, but I can’t have people think of me as a god. I’m a scientist!” Charles relaxed his back on the door behind him, seemingly falling into thought.

“Ahem,” Langston coughed. “I would like a visual improvement with specific parameters.”

Charles snapped out of thought. “Excellent choice my good sir, you won’t find a more pronounced eye replacement anywhere else, mine’s the most advanced, and most refined. It’s quite exquisite.”

“No, I’m,” Langston began. “I’m only looking for a standard improvement, no need to go the extra length.”

“Nonsense my fellow kin,” Charles said. “You can’t deny yourself the perfection of my profession. It would be―inconsiderate―of you.”

“I’m certain I just want a singular function,” Langston assured. “Not the whole package.”

“How quaint,” Charles said. “Fine, have it your way, be as foolish as the rest of them.”

“So we have a deal?” Langston asked.

“Yes, yes,” Charles said. “Just fill these forms and we’ll get right on it.”

Langston received a paper sheet of an unchecked checklist specialized in eye improvement. After going through the list, he found the specifics he wanted; The ability to see trajectory, speed, distance, and size, numberized live directly on his retina. He checked them, and at the end of the sheet, he wrote his signature.

“Your coupon if you may,” Charles said. “Can’t have no spies stealing my research, precautions, you understand.”

“Of course,” Langston said, reached down his pocket, and handed his coupon to Charles. As Charles took the coupon, he gripped Langstons wrist with his other hand. He quickly ran the coupon through the registry, dropped it on the table, grabbed a syringe from his apron, and stuck it into Langston’s arm. “What the hell are you doing?!” Langston yelled.

“It’s just a sedative,” Charles reassured and let go of Langston’s wrist. “Now take a seat, the procedure will begin shortly.”

SCENE 7:
Brimley and Padgett reached the surface, arriving at New Springwood Station, Sydney, Australia. The station was still under construction, being built directly atop the mouth of the tunnel, next to the old Springwood Station. They walked past the boarding terminals, and continued to the entré of the building. There, they met with O’Callaghan, who had arranged for transportation by autocar.

“Hello again,” O’Callaghan said to the two. “I’m sorry that we have to meet under these circumstances.”

“What circumstances would that be.” Brimley said snarkily.

“Did you not tell him?” O’Callaghan whispered to Padgett.

“I did.” Padgett said in turn.

O’Callaghan cleared his throat. “I understand how you feel,” He said. “Nick was a good friend of mine as well, along with Sarah, Daniel, Jessica, Edwin, Sameer, Vikram, Olof, and everyone else who died in the explosion. But you have to understand that time is of the essence here, I do not make the rules, we have to follow the decisions and rulings of the Earth Coalition. If they’re only willing to give us a single timeslot to retrieve the drill, then what other options are there?”

“Oh, I see,” Brimley said. “Ceremonies no longer apply to SU citizens.”

“There’s more to it,” O’Callaghan pointed out. “Soon after I dispatched Rhea, I got news that Kennedy Space Center and Alcântara Launch Center suffered attacks, it’s a global crisis.”

“So we should be thankful, is that it?” Brimley asked rhetorically.

“In a way,” O’Callaghan said. “We should. You know the drill needs to get to Mars A-S-A-P, and the sooner you can leave this place, the more likely you are to avoid getting involved in Earth issues.”

“To hell with―” Brimley was cut off by Padgett as she slapped her hand on his shoulder.

“Calm the fuck down,” Padgett said sternly and clawed her nails into his shoulder. “You’re too angry to think straight.”

Brimley leaned slightly to the side of the shoulder with nails in it, but he was far too furious to concern himself with the pain.

“Earth Military personnel and SUI agents have been stationed at the Sydney Space Center,” O’Callaghan informed. “It should be safe for the time being.”

I feel better about this already,” Brimley muttered. Padgett clawed her nails deeper into his shoulder. “I yield!” Brimley expressed with a pained grimace.

“I’ll let go when we’re in the auto.” Padgett said sternly, as she led Brimley through the exit.

The two gull-wing doors of the autocar swung open on their approach. The car design was rather simple but practical, it looked like a white rounded edge box with windows. It had four seats, with a screen attached to each of them. The screen position could be manually adjusted as it extended from a metallic arm.

Once inside, O’Callaghan fiddled with the screen to give it directions for the space center. Brimley was still a bit grumpy, but paid attention to Padgett, she was prone to unexpectedly hurt him when she was upset, regardless if the cause was by Brimley or by other external factors.

A good 40 minutes passed, the autocar stopped at the closed off gates of the Sydney Space Center, next to the gate stood a military vehicle. A group of camouflage clad men guarded the otherwise single-manned control post, weapons ready and aimed at Brimley’s group.

O’Callaghan lowered his window. “Corporal.” He said to the group.

One of the men stepped out from formation and approached the autocar. “That would be me, sir.” The Corporal said.

O’Callaghan stretched his arm out the window, the Corporal used his military issued ptab (personal tablet) on O’Callaghans hand to scan for identification. After a short moment, the Corporal saluted, and commanded the gate to be opened.

As soon as the gates were fully open, O’Callaghan started the car and activated parking parameters. The car navigated itself into the roofed parking lot.

“OK,” O’Callaghan said as he stepped out the autocar. “I have yet to receive transmission from the pilot, and his deadline ends in about two hours from now. I believe it’s safe to assume that he has refused our offer, and if so is the case, I will personally undertake the mission as we have no other candidates available in close proximity.”

“Wait, what?” Padgett asked as she stepped out the car.

“All I’m saying is, we should prepare for immediate liftoff,” O’Callaghan proposed. “Considering the increasing threat from the terrorists, we should be able to arrange for launch in two hours, and after that, evacuate the entire complex.”

“Best thing I’ve heard all day.” Brimley said, carefully observing the distance between him and Padgett.

“The hell was the point of driving me out there then?” Padgett complained.

“It’s not my fault the two of you are inseparable,” O’Callaghan pointed out. “It’s not like you had anything better to do either way.”

“Let me think―no better things to do than to potentially get myself blown into smithereens,” Padgett said snarkily. “Hm, actually, I think you’ve misjudged my characters entirely.”

Just as she finished the sentence, violent shakes ruptured throughout the parking lot, followed by a shockwave blasting several autocars into each other. Brimley leapt to knock Padgett to the side of a concrete pillar as autocars came flying their way. One of the autocars hit O’Callaghan by the legs, sending him into a spin, flying past Brimley, his arm struck Brimley to the ground as he went by. Seconds later, the concrete roof cracked, shattering into pieces and tumbling down on upon them.

SCENE 8:
Green flashes thumped at Langston, waking him up. It came directly from inside one of his eyes. He struggled, attempting to open his eyes―to no avail.

“It would appear you have not been entirely truthful,” Charles said. “I usually don’t make it my business, but your bloodworks came back with replicating nanos. Only a handful of people know how to work with this kind of technology. Not surprisingly, of course, I have seen this particular model before, they come from those insane religious buffoons plotting and scheming all day long not too far from here.”

Langston let out a weak grunt.

“Now,” Charles said. “I don’t take too kindly to them, nor do they take too kindly to me. However we mostly leave each other alone. So what business does an operative of theirs have in my clinic?”

“You’re wrong,” Langston muttered. “I’m not.”

“You paid,” Charles said. “I will leave it at that for now, but if any of you scum come to my clinic again, I won’t be as lenient.”

Langston finally managed to open his eyes, the one eye left a green tint over the room on regular intervals. As he peered around, he could smell a dank smell, the room was filthy. The floor had broken tiles, which were probably once white, but had turned into a moldy green. There was metallic channels in the floor to the sides of the chair he found himself on, probably to wash away blood from surgeries. Directly above him was three fluorescent lights that could have their position manually adjusted. The chair itself had some kind of machine connected to it with a multitude of tool arms. Wires and drums ran across the roof, and there was two fans hanging strategically in the room, they were both inactive. One of the drums had an air duct, but it, too, was inactive. Next to the dim glassed door in the room hung an air conditioner, it gave no sound, probably inactive as well. Next to the chair was a yellow bucket with ice, and a water flush just like one you would find at the dentist. Langston peered down into the yellow bucket and saw an eye, a thumb, and bone chips. “What’s with the bones?” He asked with concern.

“What else, for the interaction pad!” Charles said happily. It didn’t make much sense to Langston.

“What’s with the green tint?” Langston asked.

“I took the liberty of applying your personal cloud directly into the interface.” Charles informed.

“Excuse me, how do you have my access codes?” Langston asked. “Oh, also, what you just said doesn’t answer my question.”

“Who said anything about access codes,” Charles said proudly. “That’s for the idealists. The green tint is the indicator of a message in your inbox, you can change the tint to any color you’d like.”

“How do I go about doing that?” Langston asked.

“Why with your interaction pad, of course,” Charles said. “It’s inside your fingers on your left hand. You are right handed, right?”

Langston started fiddling with his left hand, moving his thumb across his fingers, this did things to his eye. “What the fuck did you do to me!” He yelled.

“I gave you my latest model,” Charles assured. “It has everything you could possibly need.”

“I didn’t ask for this!” Langston complained.

“With no additional costs,” Charles added.

“Well―alright, then.” Langston said contently.

Langston fiddled some more, and managed to open the memo panel. There was a bolded message in his inbox from Sol Union, it was yet to be read. He opened the message―it was in video format―there was no sound. He flipped his fingers around some more, and managed to activate the automated subtitles. The message read ‘Hello Robb Langston. I am Commander Eric O’Callaghan of Sol Union Intelligence Division. I ask for your service as a shuttle pilot. We need an able pilot to dock with an object in low earth orbit, which is to then be transported to Mars. I have been made aware that you requested a passage to Mars, but have been held earthbound during the investigations of the moon incident. We will arrange for legal passage, if you accept this mission. The shuttle will leave from the Sydney Space Center in approximately twenty hours from now. I expect an answer within ten hours of this message.’ Langston gleefully shouted “Yes!”.

“I knew you would come to like my latest model.” Charles said with a creepy smile.

“Old man,” Langston began. “You need to give me exact specifications for this eye, and how to work the interaction pad. It appears I am going to need use of this sooner than expected.”

“Old,” Charles said in a cold voice. “I do not age like you idealists. I can replace any part of me, good as new. Old, perhaps from the concept of experience, but definitely not from my physical state. Aging does not exist, not for me.”

“But you,” Langston stuttered excitedly. “You told me before that you’re not immortal.”

“What I told you before,” Charles corrected. “Is that I am no god.”

Langston took a deep breath, as curious as he was about the immortalization process, he did not have the time for it. The clock in his eye suggested that he only had another 2 hours to accept the transportation mission. “I’m sorry Charles,” Langston said. “I did not mean to offend. Now, could you please give me the specifications of my eye?”

“Yes, yes,” Charles said. “I have no patience for ungrateful youngins to linger.” He handed Langston a piece of paper.

SCENE 9:
A pounding headache brought Brimley back to life. He tried to raise himself from the floor, but his body wouldn’t move. An excruciating pain ran through his shoulder, the very same shoulder Padgett had assaulted earlier. He looked over to his shoulder, and to his aghast found himself pierced by a rebar. He followed the rebar with his eyes, it was attached to parts of the concrete roof which rested steadily above him. With teary eyes he turned his head to the side, there lay Padgett, and by the looks of it, she was safe, but unconscious.

“Rhea,” Brimley bleated. There was no answer. “Rhea!” He yelled.

She let out a faint moan, and soon came about. She crawled up on her legs and looked over to Brimley. “You look like shit,” She said. “Need any help with that?”

“What do you mean?” Brimley yelped. “I’ve never looked sexier.”

“Sure,” Padgett said. “Its to die for.”

“I’ll make it my new thing,” Brimley groaned. “Now kindly pull it out of me.”

“You’ll probably want to look the other way,” Padgett said and firmly gripped the rebar. She pulled as hard as she could, but the steel rod wouldn’t budge. “I think we’ve got ourselves a slight setback.”

“Call me when you get back from the gym.” Brimley snarked with pain in his voice. Padgett softly kicked the rebar, Brimley let out a cry of pain.

A muffled beeping sound thumped not too far from where Brimley laid immobile. Padgett skipped over rubble and made her way to the sound. O’Callaghan was trapped between two autocars, unconscious. It was his ptab beeping. Padgett reached into his pocket and looted the ptab, she felt his pulse as she touched his body. “Eric is still alive,” She yelled. “But he’s in far worse shape than you.”

“Don’t move him,” Brimley yelled back. “He’s bleeding internally.”

“How do you know that?” Padgett yelled.

“I saw his legs turn into a jigsaw puzzle.” Brimley yelled back.

The beeping sound was due to an incoming call being received by the ptab. Padgett answered the call. “Rhea Padgett speaking.” She said.

“Hey Rhea!” The voice on the other end said.

“Hello Robb.” Padgett said in turn with a sigh.

“You don’t happen to see Eric O’Callaghan about?” Langston asked.

“He’s indisposed at the moment.” Padgett said.

“Oh, that’s cool,” Langston said. “Could you do me a favor and tell him I accept?”

“The mission is off.” Padgett said.

“What!” Langston said in an upset tone. “Are you sure he won’t reconsider? I’m on my way to the Space Center in a heli as we speak.”

“Positively.” Padgett said. “Hanging up now.” She closed the call and went back to Brimley.

“Let me guess,” Brimley said weakly. “It was Robb calling to accept the mission?”

“Yupp.” Padgett confirmed.

“Oh, what a surprise,” Brimley said, now slightly agitated. “Add Langston to the equation and BOOM, everything around you decide to spontaneously explode.”

“He has a knack for it,” Padgett agreed. “Now quiet, or you’ll bleed out.”

Padgett paced away, scavenging autocar trunks for something to help saw through the rebar, while waiting for a call to the Sol Union Intelligence to go through. After a good while, the call went through.

“This better be important, the Vostochny Cosmodrome just blew up.” The SUI agent said.

“This is Rhea Padgett,” Padgett said. “I got Eric O’Callaghan, and Mark Brimley with me, they’re in need of immediate medical assistant.”

“You’re at the Sydney Space Center?” The SUI agent asked.

“Yeah, we’re stuck in the parking lot.” Padgett specified.

“We have a heli on route,” The SUI agent said. “It’s for surveillance and transportation, so I’m not sure if he can accommodate anything critical. I’ll update his mission either way.”

“Tell him to bring a blowtorch.” Padgett added.

“Will do.” The SUI agent said and hung up the call.

Only a minute passed, as Padgett heard a heli flap around outside. She climbed through a crack in the roof debris, the heli saw her and made an immediate landing only a few meters from the crack. The rotor blades slowly came to a stop, and a figure climbed out the door.

SCENE 10:
“What the fuck happened?” Langston yelled to Padgett.

“Terrorists,” Padgett revealed. “They’ve been at it all day, blowing every darn launch site.”

“Fuck,” Langston expressed. “How are we supposed to get off this rock now?”

“You’re asking the wrong person,” Padgett said. “Either way, I’m not allowed to leave for another six months.”

“Oh,” Langston said. “Well that sucks.”

“Robb,” Padgett said with a concerned look. “Right now, Mark and Eric are dying down below us, and unless you’ve got a blowtorch or bandsaw at your heli, there’s nothing we can do to help.”

“Uhh,” Langston expressed. “What you need that for?”

“Saw through steel.” Padgett said.

“Oh,” Langston said, after a short pause. “I might have an idea.”

Langston rushed off in the direction of the entrance to the complex. The concrete walls had been cracked and at some places tipped over from the earlier shockwave. The fence of the entrance gate had been blown a few paces out. The camouflaged men laid scattered around, probably unconscious, Langston figured. He carried one of the men to their vehicle, used the mans ptab and palm to open the locked armory case. He looted a pair of hand grenades, one in each hand, and then ran all the way back to Padgett, handing them over to her.

“Yes, Robb, let’s saw through steel with grenades,” Padgett said sarcastically. “Great idea.

“Why don’t you read the labels.” Langston proposed.

Padgett checked the labels. “Incendiary?” she pointed out. “How’s that going to help?”

“Thermite,” Langston corrected. “It melts through most metals.”

“That’s great, there’s just one problem,” Padgett said. “Blast radius.”

“We’re not detonating them,” Langston said. “Look at the bottom.”

“Oh.” Padgett said as she discovered the filling hole at the bottom of the grenades.

Langston reached into the heli and plucked out an emergency tool box, inside the tool box he grabbed a rescue flare, and a flexible screwdriver, which he then used to open the filling hole of the incendiary grenades. “Next stop?” He said.

Padgett led him down the crack into the parking lot. They skipped over a couple of autocars and rubble, and eventually reached Brimley.

“Hey Mark!” Langston said.

“Rhea,” Brimley said. “Did I just end up in reverse heaven?”

“Yes,” Padgett said. “We call it real life.”

“So I’m positively not dead yet?” Brimley asked.

“Afraid not.” Padgett confirmed.

“Enough,” Langston said. “Let’s get that rebar out of you.”

Langston pulled up the raisin can from his back pocket.

“Robb, I don’t know if you’re aware of this,” Brimley said. “But that’s a can of raisins.”

“Correction,” Langston boasted. “A can of raisins―made out of tungsten.”

Langston removed the lock and put the raisins back into his pocket. He filled the can with a little thermite mixture from one of the grenades. “Aight,” He said. “Rhea, you’re going to have to ignite this with the flare.”

“Alright,” Padgett said, and lit the flare. After she had ignited the mixture, Langston quickly moved it next to the rebar, and held the lock beneath the can to catch the molten steel so that it wouldn’t fall on Brimley.

“We’re through!” Langston exclaimed, and carefully planted the burning thermite a few paces away from them. Padgett grabbed the rebar once more, and this time, managed to pull it out of Brimley. He cried in pain, but soon recovered his usual posture. Together, they walked over to Eric, he was still alive, but barely so. Shortly after, they heard another heli zoning in.

“That would be the SUI,” Padgett said. “They’re here to get him out.”

“OK,” Brimley said. “Let’s go and greet them.”

The second heli landed a stone’s throw from the one Langston arrived in. As soon as the rotor blades came to a stop, a woman walked out.

“Where is Eric O’Callaghan?” The pilot asked.

“He’s jammed between two cars, badly hurt, and unconscious.” Padgett said.

“Very well,” The pilot said, “Is anyone here Mark Brimley?”

“Me.” Brimley said.

The pilot handed Brimley a ptab. The message read ‘In face of the global crisis, Earth Military have granted Sol Union use of their secret launch site near Lake Burragorang. This was done in good faith, to strengthen the cooperation between our two states. Mark Brimley, and acting pilot Eric O’Callaghan are to be transported to Lake Burragorang for immediate shuttle launch.’

“Robb, looks like you’re going to be flying a shuttle,” Brimley said, Langston raised a fist in success. “Rhea, dear, I have orders to leave immediately.”

“That’s fine,” Padgett said. “I’ll take care of things here―you go.”

“Alright, hon.” Brimley said and gave Padgett a hug accompanied by a light smooch on the cheek.

“Woah,” Langston cracked. “What’s with the new developments?”

Oh, I didn’t tell you?” Brimley snarked. “Then it must be none of your business.”

“Fine,” Langston said. “Be that way.”

They went for the heli that Langston arrived in, and took off.

SCENE 11:
They arrived at the lake. Brimley sent a message through the ptab he was handed, asking for landing coordinates. An awe inspiring event soon followed. The top of the highest elevation in their area slid open, and from the hollow insides rose a rocket launch platform, along with buildings. Brimley’s ptab bleeped. It contained a message, which stated ‘Use the helipad atop the main complex.’

Langston swooped down the heli to the landing platform, and turned off the engines. As they opened the door, they were greeted by a small group of military men.

“Welcome to Project Colugos,” A general-looking-type said. “I am General Fred Maxwell.”

“Hello,” Brimley said. “I’m Mark Brimley, and this here is my pilot Robb Langston.”

Langston pulled Brimley back a bit. “Something’s not right, I can sense it.” He whispered. Brimley snapped from Langston’s hand and walked back to place.

“Is there anything amiss?” Maxwell asked.

“Not at all, General.” Brimley assured.

“Good,” Maxwell said. “As you have been informed by evidence of being here, we have prepared a shuttle for you. It will take a couple of minutes to finalize the drill flyby trajectory, during which time you are free to mingle or what have you, but keep in mind that this base is supposed to be secret, so the both of you will be confined to the commissary cafeteria until all preparations are in order.”

“Thank you, sir.” Brimley said. “I have a request.”

“Go on, son.” Maxwell said.

“There’s a hole in my arm,” Brimley said. “I used the heli emergency medkit to prop it up, but I could really use some plasma shots.”

“Will be arranged.” Maxwell said.

They followed the military down the staircase and into the complex. The general and most of his men left for the mission control room. Brimley and Langston were stuck with two low ranking officers, who escorted them to the cafeteria. The cafeteria was cramped, with only four tables, one occupied.

“Anything I can get you?” One of the officers asked.

“Besides the plasma shot? No, not right now, thank you.” Brimley said. The two officers took a few steps to the side, as Brimley and Langston took a seat at a table.

“I’m telling you,” Langston repeated. “Something’s very wrong here.”

“What makes you say that?” Brimley asked. “We’re getting back to Mars, we’re getting back to work.”

“I can feel it,” Langston said. “It’s like a tingling in my body.”

Brimley put a hand to his own face with a sigh, and then slowly scraped it downwards.

Unwilling to let it go, Langston stood up from the chair, and asked to be escorted to the bathroom. One of the officers were more than willing to do so.

When he arrived at the bathroom, the officer accompanied him inside.

“Uh,” Langston expressed. “Do you mind? I think I got a handle on this.”

“Don’t fret my brother,” The officer said. “It is I, THE BENEVOLENT.”

Langston widened his eyes in disbelief. “No shit?” He said.

“I’m impressed, Roberts.” The benevolent said. “You took it upon yourself to acquire the position we agreed you would undertake.”

“Oh, yeah,” Langston said unconvincingly. “I’m good like that.”

“I must ask, however,” The benevolent said. “How did you dispose of Eric O’Callaghan? How did you get the job?”

“Hold up,” Langston said, changing the subject. “How can you be sure that I’m a brother?”

“Don’t be silly, brother,” The benevolent said. “By your genetic imprint of course.”

Riiight,” Langston said with an exaggerated nod. “So, I have arrived at the platform of justices, how do I continue my quest?”

“Well,” The benevolent said. “As we discussed in the encrypted messages, your role is to act as pilot for the colugos shuttle. We believe in you Roberts, we know that you would never do anything to risk phase three of our endgame.”

“Of course,” Langston said. “Anything else?”

“Everything has been going according to plan,” The benevolent said. “In a few hours, the orchestra will be completed, the symphony heard, as our brothers from lambda, omicron, sigma, and omega complete their missions.”

Great,” Langston said hesitantly.

“You are the final tone, my brother,” The benevolent said. “Oh, and remember, your heroic sacrifice will be forever sealed within the Book of Epic Hats.”

“I think we need to head back now,” Langston said. “Before that Mark guy gets suspicious of us.”

“Precise as always,” The benevolent said. “My brother.”

They left the bathroom and went back into the cafeteria. As soon as Langston sat down, he started to nervously shake his legs. Brimley gave it a few moments before his patience ran out. “Would you stop that?!” He barked.

“What?” Langston asked nonchalantly, seemingly lost in thought.

“The leg thing,” Brimley complained. “It’s infuriating.”

“Sorry,” Langston said. “Didn’t realize.”

“Here is the plasma medigun,” A medical officer said as he entered the cafeteria. “Sorry for the wait.”

“Just get it over with.” Brimley complained. He pulled his shirt to the side revealing the bandages. The medical officer ripped the badges off, and used the plasma medigun to rejuvenate the tissue around the wound.

“It will take a few hours to fully heal,” The medical officer said. “Just don’t touch it too much or use that arm more than you need to.”

“We are set,” Maxwell said as he entered the cafeteria. “Escort our guests to the shuttle.”

SCENE 12:
Brimley and Langston sat buckled up and ready for launch. The countdown went off, Ten, Nine,―

“So, anyway,” Langston said.

Eight,―

“I think the shuttle has been sabotaged.” Langston continued.

Seven, Six, Five,―

“The what?” Brimley asked, slightly alarmed.

Four, Three,―

“Yeah, I met this guy,” Langston said.

Two,―

“Probably a terrorist.” Langston finished.

One, Liftoff.

The G-forced pressed them against their chairs, as the vehicle shook violently. After roughly 10 minutes of this, they had finally reached low earth orbit. As they unlocked the buckles, Brimley turned to Langston. “You couldn’t have found a better time to tell me?!”

“Well, I didn’t want to get shot by a terrorist.” Langston said.

“Why would you get shot by him?!” Brimley exclaimed. “We were on a goddamn military base, all the good guys carried weapons too.”

“It’s the Earth Military,” Langston pointed out. “They would probably shoot us first.”

“I hate you,” Brimley revealed. “I really, really, hate you.”

“Well,” Langston said. “Are we going to sit here and argue about it, or are we going to establish if we’re safe or not?”

“Shut up and check the wiring,” Brimley barked. “I’ll check the metrics.”

Brimley browsed through a couple of screens, making sure that everything was in order. Langston went about opening up wall platings, checking for any malicious wiring attempts. After a while of doing this, Langston went back to the bridge. “The wiring seem to be in order.” He said.

“Great,” Brimley said. “Unfortunately our trajectory for the drill is way off.”

“So,” Langston said. “Sabotage?”

“I don’t think so,” Brimley said. “Look at the launch numbers, the idiots down at the colugos completely messed up the calculations.”

“Shit,” Langston said, and sat himself down in the captains chair. “Don’t you just love trying to manually dock with an object moving twenty eight thousand kilometers an hour?”

Sure I do,” Brimley said. “But I wouldn’t dare robbing the pleasure off of you.”

The shuttle increased its speed to catch up with the drill, but it came in too fast, and slammed the drill into planetfall. This did however help in slowing the drill down by to the friction of the thin atmosphere, which allowed Langston to lay the shuttle next to the drill, and activate the carriage clamps. As soon as the drill was fully attached to the ship, Langston halted the engines, to lay in course for Mars.

“Aight,” Langston said. “We’re in line for a gravitational slingshot, once we’ve circled the planet we should be on our merry way.”

“Great, ninety minutes until we’re in outer space then,” Brimley said and pulled up the ptab. “Let’s see if I can download some books before we’re disconnected from the earth cloud network.”

“Good call,” Langston said. “Get a couple of science fictions for me, no old classic tho.”

Silence broke out for a while. Langston started to eat some of the raisins he had stuffed in his pocket. “I love this.” He said.

“The raisins?” Brimley asked. “Can’t say I’m a fan.”

“No,” Langston said. “The gravity! It’s been eating away at me for months.”

“Good for you.” Brimley said, and turned back to book browsing.

“Oh,” Langston said. “And the fucking anti infection shots, daily! Can you believe it? Good riddance, I say. Earth is disgusting, too much disease. Here I come, healthy hygienic and sterile red planet!”

“Hey,” Brimley said. “That’s my birthplace, you dick.”

“Yeah,” Langston said. “Which you left behind, ten years ago, for a good reason.”

“Jobs,” Brimley said. “More opportunities on mars, that’s all there is to it.”

“Says your last years approval for SU citizenship.” Langston reminded him.

Oh, shut up.” Brimley snapped.

Suddenly, all screens went blank, and after a few seconds, they turned back on with a black background and a white fedora.

“Oh man,” Langston said. “These guys are really starting to really piss me off.”

“You’re familiar with the symbol?” Brimley asked.

“Yeah,” Langston said. “It’s a group of religious zealots going by the name ‘white fedora’.”

Brimley tried to contact the Colugos Mission Control―to no avail. He then tried to send a message through the ptab—no dice either. Soon, the engines of the ship went offline, along with the lights. The emergency lights activated shortly after.

“It’s shit like this, Robb,” Brimley said. “You’re like a magnet for calamity.”

“Well, as long as we got backup power,” Langston said. “I can probably get us back online.”

SCENE 13:
“Eeewww.” Langston hollered from the airlock.

“What now?” Brimley sighed from the bridge room.

“The suits,” Langston said. “They’re so.. primitive.”

“Oh yeah?” Brimley said. “Well, you’re more than welcome to step outside without one.”

“No thanks,” Langston said. “I’ll get over it.”

“You know,” Brimley said. “It could be worse.”

“Yeah?” Langston asked.

“I could be the one forced to wear it.” Brimley said.

“I’m starting to hate you, Mark.” Langston said.

“Good,” Brimley said. “Then the feelings are mutual, my friend.”

Once Langston had suited up, he went to the far end of the shuttle and opened a wall panel. There, he attached a powercoil to give direct manual control of the fusion drive through the wires, a trick he learned from the moon project. The lithium band drive system and deuterium-tritium injector wouldn’t budget, but the magnetic nozzle activated as advertised, just as he anticipated. This nearly overloaded the system, but at least now all power was flowing through the magnetic nozzle. When done, he went into the airlock and opened the gate.

As he climbed outside the shuttle, he made his way to the rear. The suit was too primitive for a helm console, but due to his cybernetic eye, he was able to scan the immediate area for satellite debris and similar space junk in orbit. He made a couple of calculations with his eye, and then climbed back to the airlock.

Langston opened a second wall panel near the one that was already open, he attached yet another powercoil to this panel, giving him trajectory control of the vehicle control ion-thrusters. He manually fed the ion-thrusters his collected coordinates to move in line with the passing space debris, this gathered all of the junk around the magnetic nozzle of the fusion drive.

He went back outside once more just to make sure that materials had been gathered around the fusion drive, and then went back inside. He opened a third panel next to the other two, this time, for the mars launch engines. Unlike the fusion drive, the mars launcher used a chemical ignition process (jet engine), but had far too little fuel for long-distance propulsion, and was merely designed for take-off from the considerably milder gravity well of mars. He moved the powercoil from the ion-thrusters and attached it to the mars launcher, igniting them.

The mars launcher in turn ignited the debris around the fusion drive, causing a massive explosion. This sent the ship from planetfall, past the moon, and into outer space.

Langston walked back into the bridge. “You can stop gasping now.” He said.

“First of all,” Brimley said. “I don’t doubt you to get things done. My problem is with how you go about doing it, you never think before you act, causing us trouble. Secondly, I wasn’t gasping.”

“Not even a little bit?” Langston asked.

“Nope,” Brimley confirmed. “However I am very curious as how you managed to navigate the ship thrusters from a single look outside. It’s puzzling, yes?”

“I replaced one of my eyes with a biomedical one.” Langston admitted.

“You lost your eye?” Brimley asked with concern.

“Nope,” Langston said. “I Replaced.” He repeated.

“Let me guess,” Brimley said with a sigh. “Without approved license.”

“Yupp.” Langston confirmed.

“Are you crazy?” Brimley asked rhetorically. “You do know that’s illegal, right?”

“Yeah,” Langston admitted. “Which is why I went to ‘Sydney Black’.”

“Are you nuts?!” Brimley blurted. “No wait, you don’t have to answer that.”

“We still have a number of problems,” Langston began. “The jet is completely destroyed, so we’re left with a damaged and dysfunctional fusion engine, along with our general systems still being offline, and I have no idea why the communication software on the ptab went down with it. Plus, we’re drifting in the middle of nowhere.”

“So?” Brimley asked. “No way we can fix it?”

“Sure we can,” Langston confirmed. “It’s just going to take a few hours.”

SCENE 14:
A couple of hours passed, Langston figured out a way to reboot the entire shuttle systems, flushing out the white fedora virus. Strangely, the communications channels were still offline, and the ptab had long since gone out of reach. Some of the systems were however damaged by the earlier explosion, so Langston had to sidestep them by replacing on-board backups, and leaving non-vital systems completely disconnected not to bleed the wiring.

“Aight,” Langston said. “We’re ready and set to go!”

“Hold on a minute,” Brimley said. “Look.” He pointed at the bridge porthole.

Langston leaned in to take a look, “What’s that?” He asked.

“You tell me.” Brimley replied.

“Can’t,” Langston said. “we kinda blew some of the thrusters, won’t be able to correct the trajectory for a closer look.”

“Since we can only go in one direction,” Brimley began. “We should send the coordinates to SUI once we get communications back online. I’m sure they got staff on the moon eager to flex.”

“Screw that,” Langston said. “This is our finding, what if it’s important? Like top secret arc technology.”

“How exactly do you propose we do that?” Brimley asked.

“Just sit tight,” Langston said. “I have a perfectly sane idea.”

Brimley rolled his eyes as Langston rushed back to the airlock. He suited up as fast as he could, Brimley arrived at the airlock just as Langston was about to seal the helmet.

“You can’t be serious,” Brimley said with a sigh, shaking his head.

“Lay off,” Langston protested. “I know what I’m doing.”

Langston sealed the helmet. “Oh,” He shouted with muffled voice through the glass. “Hand me that fire extinguisher.”

Brimley plucked the fire extinguisher from the wall and handed it to Langston with a sigh. Once Langston held the fire extinguisher in his grip, he pushed Brimley out of the airlock with a grin and shut the gate behind him. He opened the gate to the dead of space, made a quick survey for trajectory calculations with his cybernetic eye, and launched himself off with his legs.

He had to be quick about it, get there for a look and then back to the ship, before the ship drifted too far off.

As he got closer to the egg shaped object, he noted the white hexagonal pattern of its surface. He had an inkling of what to come next. Soon, as he was barely a few meters from touchdown, a bright light consumed him.

“I knew it!” Langston shouted in excitement.

The light dissipated as quickly as it had arrived. He now successfully landed on the object. The object wasn’t more than 4 meter in diameter, and as he investigated the surface, he noticed a blue but dim light beam from a small hole both at the top and the bottom.

Suddenly, a static sound broke out in the suit, which coincided with the dim blue light disappearing. “Hello?” Langston said.

“Robb, are you alright?” Brimley said from the other end of the com.

“Yeah.” Langston said.

“Good,” Brimley said. “Because as you got closer to that thing, it turned into a large white ball of light, until you were fully submerged in it, then the light went away.”

“Yeah,” Langston said. “It was the same as before.”

“You better get back here,” Brimley said. “The shuttle has drifted dangerously far now.”

“On it.” Langston said, as he pushed himself off the object with his legs in the direction of the shuttle. He opened a spray from the fire extinguisher, giving him propulsion and navigation control as he made his way back to the shuttle.

Once he reached the shuttle, he opened the airlock and went inside. Brimley greeted him.

“I say we keep this for ourselves, for now.” Brimley said.

“You bet.” Langston agreed.

“Never know who’s eavesdropping,” Brimley said. “Last time, it was the earth military who got scent of our findings, and I wouldn’t be surprised if arc tech or even those nutjob white fedoras tapped our communications.”

“My friend,” Langston said. “Lets set sail for the red marble.”

With that said, they went onto the bridge, took their seats, and set course for home.

Chapter #3
SCENE 1:
Langston sat at the top of a panel with a large jug above his head, moving the jug back and forth as engine grease slowly flows down onto cogworks, pipelines, the wall and the floor. His mind was far removed from his task, as the boredom demanded his attention on more entertaining things―such as his biomedical eye, browsing through the local online community domain. ‘A new booster module for DODGER-X12, I should get one of those when I get back to the surface.’ he thought to himself. Bored out of his wits, it had already been three weeks since the metro project began, and as much as Langston loves being the head technician, he just doesn’t do well with repetition.

“Robb!” Echoes across the entire drilling vessel through the speakers. It was Brimley.

“What,” Langston said on instinct, looking around confusingly, as he snapped out of his zone. “Right.” He said to himself, as he realized Brimley wasn’t in proximity to hear him.

“Robb?!” The speakers echoed again.

Langston put the jug down beside him, looked at the mess he had casually created a couple of minutes prior, and then shrugged with his shoulders. “Coming.” He said to an empty engine room and slid down from the panel with a sigh.

Langston was situated in one of the many engine rooms of the metro driller. They all looked virtually the same; metal skid floor, cogs and pistons covering the walls and roof, with large wiring stations randomly placed all over. He walked to the room exit and spun the relief valve, and then passed through into the circular hallway. He clanked with large steps across the skid floor, entered an intersection, and then took a right. This lead him directly into Brimley’s office.

“About time,” Brimley snapped. “It’s one thing when it’s just the two of us on a job, but there are twenty men on this boat, and they’re all mesmerized by your lack of ambition.”

“But, I-am-so-bored.” Langston expressed.

“Don’t care,” Brimley said. “We have a job in need of getting done this decade. Your procrastination is not helping us reach that goal. If everyone starts following your lead, we might as well call back to base and ask them to replace the entire crew with trained monkeys.”

‘Clever monkeys,’ Langston thought happily. “Would I still get paid in full?” He asked.

“Robb.” Brimley said.

Fine.” Langston said as he made a 180 turn and stepped out of the office. He slowly made his way towards his main department, the analytics room, a room which he avoided like the plague.

Well inside the analytics room, he sat down in his chair and flipped the screens into a circle around him. The screens were attached to flexible arms, sticking out from the roof. He fiddled with his left hand for a bit, activating the biomedical eye’s scanning system. After a quick scan of the screens, he loaded a custom-made script designed to alert him if any of the values had gone awry. To his boredom and displeasure, everything was in perfect harmony, as always. He moved the screens back into position, and started spinning the chair around.

“Robb?” Echoed in the analytics room. “You there yet?”

Langston pulled down the com which hung from a panel on the wall, and opened the channel, “Yeah?” He said.

“We good?” Brimley asked.

“We fine, Mark.” Langston said.

“My systems might be a bit wonky,” Brimley said. “Mind checking the waste disposal? It says it’s full, but that darn sensor cleaner never seem to remove the fat. Maybe we should replace the cleaning agent?”

Langston started to rub his face with his palms, he was really not in the mood to smell a weeks worth of human waste. “Its been a week since last we emptied the bin, just call base and have them drop by for a sweep, and ask them to bring another cleaning agent while they’re at it.” He said.

“I could,” Brimley began. “But we’re two days from the next supply shipment, and they won’t like making unnecessary trips.”

“So just stock up on supplies at the same time?” Langston suggested.

Or,” Brimley said in a sarcastic tone with a short pause. “You could stop being lazy and start doing things around here.”

“It’s not in my job description to handle waste.” Langston pointed out.

“Oh, but it is,” Brimley corrected. “The sensor cleaner is clearly dysfunctional, so it’s within your job description to find a short-term solution.”

Langston let out a loud sigh, “Fine.” He said in a defying tone.

SCENE 2:
It was against regulations, but Langston had equipped himself with the outdoor survey suit intended for hull repairs. He climbed up the ladder and spun the relief valve of the waste disposal tank lock and peered down with a helm flashlight. The levels were high, but not high enough to warrant a sweep for another three-four days. He beamed the headlight at the sensor rod, and indeed, it was covered in sticky lumps of fat formed by condensation. He climbed back down the ladder of the waste tank, opened the door and entered into the hallway. Appelbaum passed by.

“Hey, Jarl.” Langston said in a muffled voice through the glass of the suit.

“Uh,” Jarl Appelbaum expressed confusingly. “Do we have a leak? Should I be wearing a suit?”

“No, no no no no,” Langston said and waved with his hands in a ‘not to worry’ motion. “I’m just, excavating the mystery of the waste tank.”

“I,” Appelbaum stuttered, confusingly. “I see..”

“Could you do me a favor?” Langston asked.

“I’m not sure I want to.” Appelbaum said, as he squinted his eyes with suspicion and tilted his head.

“Well,” Langston started. “You see, lumps of fat has condensed around the sensor rod of the waste tank, and the cleaning agent is inadequate, so I could really use some water to wash it off. Would you mind getting a hose, connect it to the water tank, and pull the tube all the way over here?”

“Can’t you do that yourself?” Appelbaum asked with a displeased expression on his face.

Sure, but I’m not supposed to run around with the suit on.” Langston said.

Fine,” Appelbaum said with a frown. “Wait here.”

Langston sat down next to the open door which lead into the waste tank room. He closed his eyes and pulled his left hand up the sleeve of the suit so that he could fiddle with his fingers to access his navigation of the biomedical eye, momentarily, he was surfing the local online community domain. He accessed his personal stream and tweeted ‘Fun, productive day. Cleaning sensor rod in human waste tank.’

Moments later, Brimley bellowed “Robb! Get back to work!” through the speakers, the sound echoed throughout the vessel.

‘My boss might be a stalker.’ Langston tweeted in turn.

“Robb! Get off the damn cloud!” Brimley bellowed back.

‘You get off first!’ Langston tweeted.

“I’m not on! I have you on follow! My ptab buzzes every damn time you tweet!’ Brimley shouted back.

‘Stalker!’ Langston tweeted. He could picture Brimley turning in his chair back in his office, the thought put a big smile on his lips.

Appelbaum came rolling the hose tube behind him through the hallway, “The speakers aren’t meant for your private disputes and quarrels.”

Langston got back up on his feet, “No?” He asked with a sincere expression.

“Nope,” Appelbaum said, as he handed the hose roll to Langston. “I’ll start the water pressure on my way back, but then you’re on your own.”

“Thats alright,” Langston said. “Thank you.”

Appelbaum turned the way he came, as Langston went back into the waste disposal room. He climbed up the ladder, hose roll on shoulder. Beamed the headlight back inside the tank, and placed his feet firmly at the tank ledge. He put the hose roll down on the ledge, gripped the head of the hose, spun the pressure valve to full, and readied his aim. A few moments later, water came gushing out of the hose with such force it tipped Langston to the side, as he tried to regain balance, his head dipped low and got caught in the waste tank opening. He tried to straighten himself, but it was a futile effort as the pressure from the water weighed his entire body down. Soon after, he plummeted into the waste tank.

Langston shuddered as he floated in the waste, “Good job Robb, this is just wonderful.” He expressed quietly to himself.

He rubbed the headlight, it had been covered in waste. Peering around, he saw the hose fly about erratically from the pressure, “Traitor.” He mumbled to the hose.

SCENE 3:
Brimley sat still in his chair with a straight back, eyes closed, and breathing calmly. He was meditating. This was a recent habit, recommended by his psychologist, for dealing with a certain someone. From experience, he found it didn’t help at all, but the psychologist had instructed him to give it time, and so he did.

Brimley’s ptab buzzed, he put his right hand to the side of his face, covering his right eye, and then weighed his head on the hand with his elbow firmly placed on the office desk. He reached into his left pocket and plucked the ptab.

‘Shit. I’m literally covered in shit.’ Langston’s tweet read.

Brimley calmly put the ptab back into his pocket, “Nope.” He said to himself with a sigh, and put his other elbow down the table to weigh his head on both hands.

A bell sounded from the computer system, Brimley revealed his eyes to the screen, it was an incoming call from base. He answered the call.

“Hello, Greg.” Brimley said.

“How’s things, Mark?” Greg Henderson said.

“The drilling process is going fine,” Brimley said. He sweeped at the screen in front of him to access the progress predictions. “We’re slightly ahead of schedule.”

“Good, good,” Henderson said. “And the crew?”

“Save for Robb, you mean?” Brimley asked.

“Actually, how is Robb?” Henderson asked.

“Out of his mind.” Brimley said.

“Hah, no surprise there,” Henderson said. “Six years is a long time, but I’m sure he will have adapted by then.”

“Or gotten us all killed.” Brimley added.

“The project is no small feat, I admit,” Henderson said. “However, he will have plenty of opportunities to shine.”

“Don’t be such an apologist,” Brimley started. “I was stuck with him for over a month in a small cockpit back at the moon, and he was ready to crack then. I mean sure, he can handle sitting in a shuttle forever, but that’s in space, to him, that’s like an extension of his body. To be confined deep underground with only thirty vacation days a year? That’s really taking it too far. Even if he sees this project as setting a new future for Mars and the Sol Union, I don’t think he will be able to handle the long haul.”

“Mark,” Henderson started. “The metro needs to be built, and Robb is a true martian patriot. He would never forgive himself if he gave away his position.”

“I hope you’re right.” Brimley said.

“You know I am,” Henderson assured. “So, anything else on the agenda?”

“Yeah,” Brimley said. “We need a new type of cleaning agent for―” A bleep rang out from the computer system, the call was cut.

Brimley had an inkling of what the cause might be, he hit the speaker button and isolated the sound to his office, “Testing.” He spoke into the microphone. Nothing happened.

“What,” Brimley said aloud. ‘Like clockwork, every third month.’ he thought.

He jumped out of his chair and went out of his office, there he met Appelbaum, who was just on his way to see him.

“Boss,” Appelbaum said. “We’re having some problems.”

“I’m busy,” Brimley said and started walking. “Walk with me.”

“Something is jamming our scanners, we’re digging blind.” Appelbaum said.

“I’m well aware,” Brimley said. “We should be safe for another hundred meters, count the progress manually and then call for a stop.”

“That’s not my department,” Appelbaum said. “What about Robb?”

“He’s currently indisposed,” Brimley informed. “You’re the only one available, so get busy.”

Appelbaum dashed in the opposite direction, Brimley hurried his steps through the hallways. Eventually, he reached the hallway door with the water tank room, as he spun the valve to the door and opened it, he was met by Langston.

“Hey there Mark!” Langston said with a muffled voice, he was still in the suit.

“What the hell are you’re doing?!” Brimley blurted angrily. “You’re covered in shit! This is a clear sanitation hazard!”

“I hosed myself!” Langston said proudly and posed with his knuckles to his waist.

“You’re contaminating the entire compartment!” Brimley yelled. “Why didn’t you take the suit off in the waste tank room?!”

“Relax,” Langston said. “Everything is under control.”

“To hell it is!” Brimley yelled. “What are you even doing here? Trying to poison us by contaminating our water supply?!”

Fine,” Langston said. “You turn the water pressure off, I’m going to burn the suit.”

A massive rumble followed Langston’s sentence, followed by the gravity shifting diagonally.

SCENE 4:
Red light repeatedly flashed throughout the vessel as an emergency alarm bellowed. Langston (still in suit), Brimley, and Appelbaum stood in the front observatory. The observatory was designed as a glass goblet. Apart from the digging mechanism, no matter the direction, all they saw was darkness.

“Give me a quick assessment of how bad it is.” Langston said to Appelbaum.

“We appear to be half way into an endless abyss.” Appelbaum inquired.

Brimley rolled his eyes, “For once, could we try to be serious?” he asked.

“Any propositions?” Langston asked.

Brimley rubbed his beard stub for a short while, as he stared into the abyss, “Robb get to the transport airlock and wait for me. Jarl, I’m putting you in charge since there’s no one else here, don’t let it get to your head. We need someone to clean every nook and cranny of the hallways from the waste tank room up to the front observatory, yes that includes the transportation airlock. Communications are offline right now, so we won’t be able to focus any repairs on the outside until me and Robb has made a proper assessment, until then, tune the equipments and make sure the tilting didn’t loosen any cogs or put unnecessary pressure on any of the pistons. You should also have someone check the storage, lounge and offices, to see if anything needs cleaning up.” He instructed.

Appelbaum sighted, then muttered, “Yes, Boss.”

“Oh,” Brimley said. “And be ready at the airlock in an hour if we’re not back by then, the base should have sent a transport vessel our way due to the communications blackout. Tell them we’re going to need a haul to find a new route.”

Langston left the front observatory and entered the hallway. He climbed down the ladder of the first intersection in his path, and then continued straight until he was one intersection away from the hallway with the water tank room. He climbed down another ladder, this one lead him straight to the arrival room, the small space between the hallways and the airlock. He pushed his back to the wall, and slid down into a sitting position.

A few minutes later, a suited up Brimley climbed down the ladder. He gave Langston a look of disapproval as he reached the floor. Langston got up on his feet and opened a locker. He grabbed two straps, two fuel tanks, and two jetpacks. After attaching the fuel tanks and jetpacks to the straps, they equipped one each. It was a type of jetpack using magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters, with a non-chemical combustion engine designed to function in all environments.

“You ready?” Brimley asked.

“This is kinda my thing, why are you coming with?” Langston asked.

Gee, Robb, I don’t know,” Brimley started. “Maybe your tendency to ignore me and go spelunking in the unknown and potentially life threatening environment.”

Fine,” Langston snapped, grumpily. “I get it.”

They stepped inside the airlock, and the room adjusted it’s pressure after a few seconds. They opened the gate to the outside, and stepped into the pitch black passage of their labour. The only source of light came from their headlights.

The passage was so wide and high, the headlights barely emitted enough light to reach the ceiling. In comparison, the actual vessel was small, only the drilling mechanism was sizeable enough to reach the width and height. The mechanism weighted the whole vessel down into the abyss, tipping the far end into the roof of the passage. They activated their jetpacks and flew towards the back end. Just as they arrived at the end, Brimley yelled to Langston and pointed down, they both dropped down to the ground and turned off the jetpacks.

“Strange,” Brimley said. “We appear to be surrounded by a thick atmosphere. The jetpacks are louder here than in the regular martian atmosphere.”

“Can’t be right,” Langston said. “But yeah, I can hear you fine through the suit.”

“Some kind of gas might be seeping in from the cave.” Brimley pointed out.

“Might be a methane pocket.” Langston added.

“Maybe,” Brimley said. “We’ll make a scan when the blackout ends, in the meantime, let’s take a look at the digger.”

They flew up from the ground to the top of the hull, the part of the hull which had smashed into the roof. After a quick peek, They dropped back down to the ground and turned off the jetpacks.

“The hull is crushed,” Langston said. “However it won’t need any immediate emergency repairs, as there’s no electronics or parts in that area of the driller. We just need to keep the compartment sealed so we don’t leak oxygen or lose cabin pressure.”

Brimley stared at Langston, not saying a word. This went on for a while, until Langston broke the silence, “So, what’s up?” He asked.

“Is that it?” Brimley asked. “Nothing we can do from here? Nothing we should do?”

“Nope,” Langston said. “We can go back to the driller now.”

Brimley blinked a few times in disbelief, “Well, that’s a bit disappointing.” He said.

“What?” Langston asked.

“Well,” Brimley said. “Want to make a quick survey of the cave?”

“Mark? Did you hit your head?” Langston asked with concern.

“I was wholly prepared to feign an attempt at stopping you from exploring the cave,” Brimley started. “You’ve been a bit of a downer lately, so a bit excitement might do you good. Plus, I kinda want to get in on the excitement just this once, after all, inside the driller there’s just cleaning and maintenance waiting for us. I can’t say I’m really in the mood for that sort of thing.”

SCENE 5:
“Looks like we came out at the very top of the wall.” Brimley said. He beamed his light at the roof.

“Lucky,” Langston said. “The haul would be harder had we drove into the room without the back end stopping us half way through.”

Lucky,” Brimley murmured. “We should have stopped the driller the moment we lost signal with the scanner.”

They started up their jetpacks and slowly slid downwards into the darkness. After a good 2 minutes, they reached the bottom. It was a lake. They peered around to see if there were any elevations or cliffs in the rocky wall, there were none as far as they could see. Langston moved himself closer to the surface of the liquid, which caused ripples to flow out beneath him. The ripples in turn left a strange purple light in its wake. Unable to communicate due to the deafening sound of the jetpacks, Brimley decided to follow the walls for a bit. After a short while, he came back to Langston, and gave him the gesture to follow. They flew a bit higher, close to the wall, and landed on a small cliff.

“Wow,” Brimley said. “That’s amazing.”

“Think it’s some kind of bacteria? Bioluminescence?” Langston asked.

“Nah, might be a chemical reaction triggered by the pressure.” Brimley suggested.

“Either way, the astrobiologists are going to squeal like teenage girls on a concert.” Langston said, jokingly.

The thought of aged men and women acting by lisztomania, squealing and fainting, made Brimley cringe. “Thank you for that image,” He said, followed by a shudder. “Anyway, we should head back.”

“What, no way,” Langston said. “What if there’s more? You want to give away the discoveries of a lifetime to some nosey astrobiologist?”

“We don’t know what’s ahead or how deep it goes.” Brimley pointed out, but Langston was already on his way out. Brimley gave it a few moments consideration, then followed.

Langston flew close to the surface, causing ripples to pan out, and in the wake of the ripples, the luminous light rapidly expanded in the fluid. Brimley followed his lead and made a path of his own. Soon, the ripples, and so the light, would reach the walls of the cavern lake, displaying it’s mighty size in an almost magical, purple, tint.

A good 8 minutes passed. They eventually reached the end of the lake. As they landed and turned off the jetpacks, Langston turned to the glowing lake and said “Look at that.”

Brimley turned as well, “Awe-inspiring.” He mustered.

“It’s mind-boggling to think something so beautiful existed on this planet.” Langston said.

“What should we call it?” Brimley asked.

“Langley Lake.” Langston suggested.

“There’s already a place on earth with that name.” Brimley informed.

“Uh-huh,” Langston said. “Let’s go with Xiathacl Lake then.”

“What? How did.. What?” Brimley expressed.

“The X makes it sound exotic.” Langston added.

Brimley was about to facepalm but realized he wouldn’t be able to while in the suit. “Fine,” He said instead. “We’ll decide on a name later.”

They turned away from the lake and began walking along the ground deeper into the unlit cavern. In the distance, something reflected off of their headlights. As they got closer, they saw an egg-shaped structure. It was approximately 15 meters across and 8 meters high. The hull had a hexagonal white plating covering most of the structure.

“It’s the same.” Langston said quietly.

“What the hell is this thing doing here.” Brimley said with raised voice of concern.

“Beats me,” Langston said. “These things sure have a tendency to show up at the weirdest of places.”

They inspected the structure closer, the entire right side of the structure was damaged, as the hexagonal plating bent inwards. “Something big must have hit it.” Langston pointed out.

As they went to what they assumed was the back of the structure, they found something akin to a cargo door. Langston proceeded to knock on the door.

“What are you doing?” Brimley asked with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s impolite not to knock before we go inside.” Langston casually pointed out.

Brimley shook his head. “It probably crashed on Mars eons ago, and the cave formed around it. Obviously no one is going to mind if you knock or not before we enter.” He said.

Moments later, they both picked out their welders from the suits toolkit bag and started welding on the sides of the door. After a while of this, they managed to weld through the mechanism holding the door together, causing a cloud of dust to obscure their vision as the door slammed into the ground.

Once the cloud settled a little, Langston took the first step inside the ship. “I always wanted to be the first human to meet aliens, does them being dead count?” He asked.

“What are you talking about?” Brimley asked. Langston pointed at the front end of the vehicle.

Brimley stepped inside of the ship and looked to the location where Langston was pointing. It was two chairs, and two humanoid shaped objects sitting there, with their arms hanging out to the sides. They both walked up to the chairs. As they took a closer look, they saw two mummified bodies inside space suits, belted to the chairs. They were so well preserved their features were still apparent, but so dried they probably looked nothing like their former selves.

“Dry bones.” Brimley muttered.

“Hey,” Langston said. “Something’s not right.”

“Yeah?” Brimley said.

“The light bubble that kills electronics,” Langston said. “It didn’t trigger as we got close to the ship.”

“I noticed,” Brimley began. “But the size of this ship compared to the one we saw before, the energy supply is probably just a fraction of the size.”

“But that small one we found a couple of paces away from the moon did.” Langston reminded him.

“It didn’t look like a ship though, not like this, at least.” Brimley added.

SCENE 6:
Wall panels laid scattered all across the floor of the alien ship. Langston had half of his upper body stuck inside the wall, looking at the circuits.

“Quit desecrating their grave.” Brimley bellowed for the thirtieth time.

“If you have any suggestions, feel free to share.” Langston said.

“Even if we do find the power supply, this ship ain’t flying.” Brimley said.

“What if we can make it fly?” Langston proposed.

“But it can’t fly,” Brimley assured. “If the ship crashed before this cave formed around it, then it could’ve been here for millions, or possibly billions of years. It should have turned to dust eons ago, or at least some of it. We can still see the tissue in the faces of the mummified bodies, that alone should raise some very serious questions. Even if it came crashing through the planetary surface only some thousand years ago, how did it manage to pierce through miles of thick rock?”

“Nonsense.” Langston said, not really listening to Brimley.

“Look, Robb, I’m serious,” Brimley started. “This ship shouldn’t exist. The fact that it does is horrifying. What if they’re hostile? What if they’re still around? What if they have continued their technological evolution, reaching the point of gods? What if they’re interdimensional beings on another plane of existence, watching us right now, and plotting our destruction?”

Langston pulled himself out of the wall compartment and turned to Brimley. “What if these two persons one day decided to exploring our particular part of the galaxy, and so they did, just like you and me.” He said.

“But what if―” Brimley was about to make another argument, Langston cut him off.

“Enough,” Langston demanded. “They’re dead, this ship is dead, it’s all ancient history now.”

“No power supply?” Brimley asked.

“With you yappering?” Langston started. “Maybe if you helped, but you’re hell bent on doing the opposite.”

“Well I’m sorry,” Brimley said. “But in no way is it safe or wise for us to mess around. Leave it for the professionals to deal with, I’m sure they’ll give you credit.”

Ah, yes,” Langston said, dryly. “The scholars of ancient alien technology, I’m sure they have a lot more experience than me in this particular field.”

“Probably not, but at least they’re expendable.” Brimley said.

Oh,” Langston said with a hint of surprise. “Thank you, I guess.”

Langston stood up from the floor, and walked over to the two dead aliens. In front of them was a small translucent and hexagonal prism, fitted into a panel like a key. He grabbed the hexagonal prism and put it into the suits toolkit bag. “Aight,” He said, as he turned around to face Brimley. “I’m ready to head back.”

“Finally.” Brimley expressed with relief.

They stepped out from the ship and started up their jetpacks, in the distance, the purple glow still glimmered euphorically. They had a clear visual of their heading, and flew across the lake with haste. They soon reached the driller, and made their way to the airlock. At the airlock, the transportation vessel was connected, blocking the entrance. Brimley knocked on the side of the vessel, hoping for someone to be inside. No one was. They both took a seat on the ground next to the transport.

“The crew will be excited about our discovery.” Langston said.

“No,” Brimley said sternly. “We need to keep this under wraps. Like I said before, we don’t know what any of this means. Who they are, why they came, why they died. It could be a threat to all of us. Until the intelligence division makes their own assessment, keep a lid on it. They wouldn’t pass up such an amazing tourist attraction, if it proves to be safe.”

Fine.” Langston said.

Brimley got back up on his feet, “If it’s anything like before, communications should be back online soon.”

As soon as he finished his sentence, loud hydraulic sound echoed out from the passage link between the transport vessel and the airlock. It was disengaging. The transport booted up and moved a couple of meters distance from the airlock. The airlock then opened up, and a suited figure stepped out.

“Well, this is embarrassing.” Henderson said from inside the suit.

Brimley and Langston moved towards Henderson, “How so?” Langston asked.

“I was worried you guys went exploring the cavern and got lost,” Henderson said. “I even suited up.”

“You forgot the cape.” Langston added.

“Harr harr,” Brimley said. “We have some serious matters to discuss.”

SCENE 7:
Henderson, Langston and Brimley sat at a table in the lounge, sipping coffee.

“This is awful.” Henderson pointed out.

“What did you expect, it’s freeze dried.” Brimley said.

“Still,” Henderson said. “How are you able to drink this?”

“I would like to say that it’s an acquired taste,” Brimley said. “But that would be a lie.”

“It needs to go, you need proper coffee. Fresh beans!” Henderson said. “Who handles your budget?”

“That would be you, Greg.” Langston pointed out.

“Well then, it’s decided,” Henderson said. “You’re not going to be drinking freeze dried toxic waste in powder form. Next supply shipment you’ll get a real coffee maker and some fresh beans.”

“About that,” Brimley started. “You probably want to hold off on any more shipments. What we need right now is to be hauled all the way back to base, and put the crew on leave until we know what we’re dealing with.”

Oh?” Henderson expressed. “Why is that?”

“Martians.” Langston blurted.

Brimley let out a cough, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” He said. “It was either a chemical reaction, or some kind of biological reaction, but let’s not make any assumptions until we know for sure.”

“It was beautiful.” Langston added.

“I’m intrigued,” Henderson said. “You’re going to have to give me more.”

“The cavern holds some kind of underground lake,” Langston said. “When you touch the liquid, it emanates an enchanting purple light.”

Henderson stared at Langston in disbelief.

“I’m serious,” Langston said. “But that’s not even the most spectacular thing we found.”

“Robb, don’t.” Brimley warned.

“Go on.” Henderson said.

“We found a crashed alien ship.” Langston said.

“Ok, I’m going to stop you right there,” Henderson said. “The less I know, the better. I’m very fond of my job, and I would recommend the two of you do not speak to anyone about your discovery. Until we have a green light from the SUI, we’re going to have to put the metro project on hold. I will arrange for personnel transport in a minute, inform your crew of departure.”

Brimley left the table and went to a wall panel next to the exit of the lounge. He pressed a button on the panel and said, “Attention crew. The metro project has been put on hold. I advise to get your personal things together, as we will all be leaving shortly.”

After a few minutes, Appelbaum came rushing through the door into the lounge, “Boss.” He said.

“Yes, Jarl?” Brimley said.

“I noticed some kind of purple light from the cave through the observatory when the two of you went out to investigate the damage.” Appelbaum said.

“It was just a weather balloon.” Langston yelled monotonically from the table.

Brimley shook his head, and then turned back to Appelbaum. “What you saw was some kind of gas in the cavern, which is why we are evacuating until further notice. Do me a favor and don’t tell anyone what you saw, we don’t want to cause any panic or stress on the success of the metro project.”

“Of course, boss.” Appelbaum said.

“Anything else?” Brimley asked.

“No,” Appelbaum said. “I will be collecting my personal belongings now.”

Appelbaum left the lounge.

“Hey, that was quite convincing.” Henderson said.

“Why, thank you.” Brimley said.

“Well then,” Henderson said. “Let’s make room in my vehicle.”

SCENE 8:
Brimley sat in a large conference room. The room was designed like a dome, with a V-shaped table and an elevated platform for the prime speaker. He had been on leave for over a week, awaiting the fate of the metro project. The latest development had called him into conference with the colony council. The people attending the conference were the 14 most influential men and women of Mars, well, save for the heads of SU and SUI, whom had their secretaries represent them. Brimley felt out of place, he considered himself a nobody compared to the collection of people attending, he was simply the chief of staff and foreman of the metro driller. Nothing more, nothing less.

“Before we begin, I would like to welcome Mr. Brimley to the conference hall. As most of you know, he made the preliminary discovery of the new lifeform and the ancient alien ship,” John Overton, the colony leader, said. “You have been invited here today, as we believe it is imperative that you are fully aware of the extent of the changes made to the metro project. By contract, you are required to keep it secret, and to fulfill your duty as a citizen of Mars.”

“Thank you,” Brimley said as he raised himself from his chair. “The growth and health of our planet is my main priority in all things.”

Overton smiled at Brimley’s dedication, “Glad to hear it,” He said. “You may sit down. The lifeform found in the cavern is a microbe capable of producing methane at an exponential rate. Unlike the engineered microbes on earth, this natural and biological well far exceeds any previously known source. What this means for us, and the future of Mars, is a haven of supplied energy. In order to capitalize on our discovery, the metro driller loaned to us by Arc will remain in use, but have its objective changed to create cultivation sites closer to CITY. In the far future, we might revise this decision, and even build city domes atop energy nodes similar to the one found, but for now, this is the end of the metro project, as we must look to the interest of our only sustained colony. In addition to this, we will begin a new project, to survey the ground of the entire planet, in order to locate similar or potential sites for the cultivation of these microbes.”

“Excuse me.” Brimley said with a raised hand.

“Yes, Mr. Brimley.” Overton said.

“What would happen if the microbes came in direct contact with our biological structure?” Brimley asked. “I mean, what if they contaminated our air or water supplies? I guess what I’m asking is, could we be opening the door to a new disease?”

“Unfortunately I cannot answer the what ifs, Mrs. Radford, if you may?” Overton said and stepped down the platform.

“Naturally,” Jane Radford, head of research, said, as she walked up the platform. “Currently, there is no evidence to suggest they would have any adverse effect on earth life, even less be able to interact with our biological structure as you put it. Rest assured, we will continue our research with utmost caution, as that is usually how we conduct our research around here.”

“Sufficient answer for you?” Overton asked Brimley with a smile.

“Yes.” Brimley said, his cheeks slightly flustered.

“Since I’m already up here, I might as well continue,” Radford said. “Tiny martians were not the only thing found in the depths of that cavern. We found something far older and far more alien. My second research team has been working around the clock to uncover the mysteries of the specimen. Of course, I speak of the two alien mummies. From what we can tell, they are both of the same species, same sex, and humanoid. For reasons we cannot explain, their bodies were so well preserved that we could still name organs. They apparently lack what we would call a traditional heart and brain. We theorize the normal job attributed by the brain is not centralized, but rather distributed evenly by their nervous system. Instead of a heart, they seem to be using some kind of broad web of airways throughout their bodies, distributing air to tissues and organs. By the extent of which their bodies had dried, we are unable to make proper predictions of the functions of their rather exotic organs. The composition of their soft tissue is exceedingly unusual for a mammalian-like being as well, and rather something you would expect from plants. Of peculiar interest, they have a couple of things in common with us, such as their calcium based skeleton structure, human-like body shape, and two predatory aligned eyes, at the front of their face, just like us.”

“The summary I received doesn’t mention how long they had been down there.” The SUI secretary, Nora Greenhill said.

Ah,” Radford expressed. “The ship has been there for so long, we were unable to make a precise estimate. The only answer I can provide is ‘billions of years’. It might even be as old as Mars itself, crashing right after the formation of the planet.”

“This is all very interesting,” The SU secretary, Adam Varellas began. “But where do we go from here? Will Mars contribute resources to extended research into ancient artifacts of this sort?”

“It is undecided at this time,” Overton said. “I will bring this question to the next SU meeting, but until then, I believe a decision on this matter would be premature.”

“Very well.” Varellas said.

“We have more pressing matters,” Paul Carlton, head of agriculture, blurted angrily. “Our agricultural stations are producing four percent less than last year. I couldn’t care less about electricity or alien invaders, if we can’t put food on our tables, none of that matters!”

With that, Brimley asked to be excused from the meeting, and so he was.

SCENE 9:
Om, nom, nom. Sounded from a particular table, in a particular café. Langston was munching on a banana. He was at Café Du`Bon, A favorable café at the CITY Central, which was part of a complex filled with restaurants, cinemas, gaming halls, and similar recreational activity parlours. The entire CITY dome could house roughly 25,000 people, so entertainment was considered an important element of the colony.

‘This is outrageous!’ He tweeted. ‘I’m stuck eating a banana while Mark gets to enjoy a meeting with the council!’

“Excuse me, sir.” The waitress said.

“Yeah?!” Langston exclaimed, mouth full of banana.

“You’re going to have to order something,” The waitress said. “You can’t just bring your own drink and food.”

Fine,” Langston spit banana, “Get me some coffee and a mint.”

The waitress left to prepare his order.

‘It is MY findings!’ He tweeted as a followup. ‘Mark wouldn’t want nor care for what they have to say! He’s far too conservative to deal with anything but his precious job.’

In frustration, he swiped the screen on his ptab, which brought him from the personal stream channel to SOLNET, the public discussion board used by everyone within the Sol Union.

“Hmm.” He said audibly and raised an eyebrow.

┌ :5492: ┐

I have uncovered some photos taken from a dig made a few clicks outside of CITY:

<image has been removed by host>

<image has been removed by host>

<image has been removed by host>

<image has been removed by host>

<image has been removed by host>

As you can clearly see in these photos, this is an alien spaceship.

Someone is trying to hide the truth from us.

Stay tuned as I uncover more!

└ ──── ┘

┌ :7268: ┐

OP will surely deliver /s

└ ──── ┘

┌ :- – – -: ┐

This message has been removed by moderator.

└ ───── ┘

┌ :2275: ┐

Interesting, but there’s no evidence to suggest it is in fact an alien ship.

It might be a new Arc spacecraft?

└ ──── ┘

┌ :9984: ┐

├── 2275 said: It might be a new Arc spacecraft?

Are you high? That is obviously not arc architecture..

I agree with OP, the SUI is gunning for a coverup.

└ ──── ┘

┌ :3456: ┐

├── —- said: This message has been removed by moderator.

Anyone else curious to know what the ‘moderators’ censored here?

└ ──── ┘

┌ :2275: ┐

├── 9984 said: obviously not arc architecture..

What would YOU know about Arc architecture? I say OP made 3D renders.

This thread is fake and gay.

└ ──── ┘

┌ :5344: ┐

Let’s assume for a second that these photos are genuine, and that we’ve been visited by aliens. If true, we have acquired a new low. Because unlike these travelers, we, as a species, are inadequate to conjure a method of star travel. For a hundred years, we’ve tried, and what do we have for show? Nothing. Regardless of the method they used to get here, they are beyond us, for they possess an advantage impossible for us to triumph. No matter what action we take from here on, we cannot compete with them. Military? They can attack us from anywhere at any time. Trade? They can acquire whatever we have to offer somewhere else. Alliance? We can’t even leave our own solar system, such an endeavor would be very one-sided. We are by default inferior to them in every conceivable way due to our lack of experience in an interstellar world. Believe me when I tell you this; the only thing they could possibly want from us, is slaves.

I submit to you, that we are, in fact, at the end of times.

└ ──── ┘

┌ :1325: ┐

Aha! The existence of aliens prove that God exists! Checkmate, atheist scum!

└ ──── ┘

“Your coffee and mint, sir.” The waitress said.

“Thank you, miss.” Langston said. His eyes were glued to the ptab. The waitress put his cup and mint down on the table and walked away.

┌ :6518: ┐

├── 5344 said: we are, in fact, at end of times.

So dramatic. Why do you immediately assume they want to take advantage of us? If I had an abundance of knowledge and resources, I would be traversing the vacuum of space in search for friendship. For potential peace and cooperation. For love. What if they are simple explorers, adventurers, merchants, geologists, astrologists, missionaries, biologists, historians or physicists looking to compare notes? The universe is not painted black, despite what our limited eyes suggests. If you could see the entire electromagnetic spectrum, you would know that the universe has more to offer than what any of us could possibly perceive. Black, does not exist, and similarly, our concepts, fears, doubts, joys, beliefs, all of it, equally constrained by our own finite imagination.

└ ──── ┘

┌ :3456: ┐

Great.. the photos has been taken down ಠ_ಠ

I smell conspiracy.

└ ──── ┘

┌ :4851: ┐

├── 2275 said: This thread is fake and gay.

I want to believe 😦

└ ──── ┘

┌ :2275: ┐

├── 4851 said: I want to believe 😦

Then believe with the intent to know.

└ ──── ┘

┌ :5344: ┐

├── 6518 said: constrained by our own finite imagination.

Okay, I’m going to humor your proposition for a bit. Let’s pretend they come here out of pure curiosity. Even then, our worldview is a recipe for conflict. We have never been unified as a people, and if we are incapable of unity, then how would we ever be able to cooperate on an interstellar scene? Maybe it’s not obvious to you, but to me, I see us as an immature species with a lot to learn and a long way to go. Who would the aliens make their interactions with? The Sol Union? Arc? Earth Coalition? USA? EU? Texas? Ethiopia? Iran? Japan? Norway? Australia? You? Me? We would never be able to establish a representative of our species, we are too greedy, too dishonest.

It would be a mistake to try and make any form of contact, it would all lead to a single conclusion: War.

└ ──── ┘

Langston hit the ‘contribute to the discussion’ button, and started typing away at his ptab: ‘I have on good authority that it is fact an alien shuttle. There were two dead aliens inside.’ He hit the ‘Submit’ button.

SCENE 10:
Brimley walked down the stairs of the conference building and onto the main street. He reached for his ptab in his pocket in order to connect it to the cloud, as he had it disabled during the meeting. As soon as it came online, he was prompted by a message. It reads: ‘Find an encrypted channel ASAP.’ He immediately hurried down the street, jumped on the first transporter, similar to a tram, but without an exoskeleton, utilizing the geosync to travel between points. He was on his way home.

After a good 15 minutes, he finally arrived at his doorstep. He authenticated the door, and went inside. His home was a small 20 square meter apartment, with his bed, rig, and kitchen all in the same room. The bathroom was separated by a thin wall and door. He pressed a button next to the rig, which booted the system and made a simple bar stool pop up from the floor. He took a seat and opened a secure channel. It was a video feed from O’Callaghan.

“Are you alone, Mark?” O’Callaghan asked. But before he could answer, O’Callaghan was pushed to the side.

“Honey!” Padgett said with a big smile as she appeared on the screen.

“Since when does a communications officer have precedent over a commanding officer.” O’Callaghan said off screen.

“Kindly fuck off and let me speak to my man,” Padgett said sternly with angry eyes in the direction which she had pushed O’Callaghan. “So, Honey, how are you?” She asked.

“I’m okay, and you?” Brimley asked.

“Never better,” Padgett said happily. “We will be arriving at mars shortly.”

“That’s great news!” Brimley expressed. “They cancelled the metro project, so I was a bit disheartened until just now. Hold on, don’t you have three months left of your earth commission?”

Now O’Callaghan pushed Padgett to the side, “Are you alone? Is Robb there?” He asked.

“No, he’s not here,” Brimley said. “I could probably get him for you, but that would take a while.”

“Don’t,” O’Callaghan said. “I have some bad news regarding Robb.”

“Even when he’s not around, he still manages to cause trouble.” Brimley sighed and shook his head.

“You remember how we were unable to reach Robb when we tried to offer him the position of piloting your passage from earth to mars?” O’Callaghan started. “Well, I checked the geoposition logs of his whereabouts at the time. He was at the Sydney Market. Normally, what someone does during their free time is none of my business, but in this case, I retraced his steps. There was a particular establishment at the market which happened to be in line with my then current situation, and I wanted to find out where it was. I lost my leg, Mark. So, the establishment in question could get me a new, improved, one. Here’s the thing though, Robb apparently visited ‘Charles Cybernetic Clinic’, the place I was looking for, but before that, he made a stop in a back alley. On further investigation of said alley, it revealed to be a White Fedora hideout. I’m sorry to be the bringer of bad news, Mark, but your friend might be a terrorist and a murderer.”

“Actually,” Brimley started. “Robb told me about his interactions with the White Fedora. They almost got us killed. They had hijacked our shuttle with a virus, attempting to put us, and the drill, into planetfall. We never figured out their target, but whatever the target was, Robb managed to recover control and limp our way to Mars. He is definitely not associated with those clowns. What he is, however, is a magnet for calamity.”

Padgett squeezed her face into the video feed, gave Brimley a fat smile, and then turned to O’Callaghan, “See, I told you.”

With a sigh of relief O’Callaghan said, “I’m glad he’s in the clear, then.”

“How soon will you land?” Brimley asked.

“We should be in range of geosync in about an hour,” O’Callaghan said. “Remember how I said you should leave in order to not get dragged into Earth issues? Well, I was wrong. The perfect precision and timing of the attacks on the space industry was not isolated to launch sites, the cascade continued with assassinations, sabotage, destruction of technological development, corruption of data, satellites fell from the sky en masse, hell, we were lucky to get off earth ourselves. It was an all out apocalypse. It was an attack on Earths connection to the world outside of the blue sphere. At the White Fedora hideout, we managed to uncover encrypted files with plans of a much grander scale in place. The so-called White Fedora is just a facade, it’s not real, it doesn’t exist, never did, the reality of the matter is much more complicated. It’s power play, a chess piece, in a political war that involves both Sol Union and the Earth Coalition. They, whoever they are, want full control of the economy of our solar system. We don’t know what they have in mind for the Mars Colony, which is why we’re here. But whatever it is, we need to stop it before it happens. We believe there may be involvement of Arc as well, but we don’t know how deep this runs. We need to find passage into the realm of the asteroid belt, as we already know that Arc hides most of their advancements from us. Apart from their annual reports of mined minerals from the belt, we suspect there might be more, much more. Prior to our arrival here, I attended a meeting with the earth officials as the sole representative of the SUI. We came up with a plan, I will tell you more when we land, meet us in two hours at the SUI headquarters. Oh, and, bring Robb.”

“Bye bye, Honey. See you soon.” Padgett said, as they turned off the feed.

SCENE 11:
Just as Langston steps out from café Du`Bon, he was apprehended by a man in a suit. The black, red and blue suit was familiar to him, but not the man in the suit.

“What seems to be the problem, uh, officer?” Langston asked.

“You know full well I’m no officer,” The man in the suit said. “You have leaked sensitive information on the public domain. I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”

“It’s just a conspiracy board, I gave no proof or credentials,” Langston protested. “No one is going to take the message to heart.”

“Irrelevant.” The man in the suit said.

The suit pulled Langston to a transporter. They rode the transporter for a good 20 minutes and eventually arrived at the southernmost airlock of the CITY dome. The airlock was connected to a smaller dome, it was a hangar which housed 5 DODGER-X12s, all of which were owned by the Sol Union Intelligence Division. They entered the hangar, and the suit pushed Langston into one of the DODGER-X12s.

“Sit. Behave.” The man in the suit said.

“As if there’s enough space to move around in here.” Langston complained.

“Quiet.” The man in the suit demanded.

The DODGER-X12 came online, and lifted from the ground. The airlock opened up, and they soon left the CITY dome. They crossed the cold, harsh, wasteland of Mars, as they flew towards the isolated headquarters of the SUI. At great speeds, it still took a good 5 minutes to arrive at the complex. The airlock of the complex opened, and they landed at the landing platform.

“Follow.” The man in the suit commanded.

Langston had already figured the futility of arguing with such a monotone suit, and kept a three-step distance from the man. As they entered the SUI headquarters, Langston was guided into an interrogation room. There was a single chair in the room, the walls were white and without texture, and a blank one-way window faced the chair. Langston sat down in the chair, as the door closed behind him.

“Hello?” He said. There was no response.

Langston closed his eyes and began to fiddle with his fingers. He opened his personal stream, and tweeted ‘I’m at the SUI headquarters. It’s a pleasure to finally be here. Albeit my accommodations could have been more favorable.’

Brimley reached into his pocket and pulled out his ptab. He read the message which Langston just posted, ‘Son of a bitch, how the hell did you beat me there?!’ Brimley thought to himself. He let his finger go of Langston’s doorbell and took the next transport to the southernmost airlock.

When Brimley arrived at the airlock, he immediately went into the SUI office building. There was a guard sitting behind a glass.

“Hello. I have a scheduled meeting with Eric O’Callaghan and Rhea Padgett at the SUI headquarters.” Brimley said to the guard.

“I have been informed, a pilot is waiting for you in the hangar, he’s in the Dodger parked in slot two.” The guard said.

“Thank you.” Brimley said and headed into the hangar, and then immediately found his ride.

He took a seat, they left, and arrived at the headquarters 5 minutes later. The pilot never left the DODGER-X12, so Brimley walked into the building by himself. He felt uneasy. It was the first time he had ever been to the SUI headquarters. The door lead into a long corridor, with multiple untagged doors. At the end of the corridor was a desk, with a plastic flower. As he reached the desk, he saw a young woman sitting behind it, It was Nora Greenhill. The plastic flower had apparently obscured her from view.

“Um.” Brimley started.

“Yes, how may I help you?” Greenhill asked.

“I’m looking for a man by the name Robb Langston,” Brimley said. “I’m also here for a meeting with Eric O’Callaghan and Rhea Padgett.”

“The man Robb Langston is being held in interrogation room four,” Greenhill said. “Turn back towards the building exit, and take the fifth door to your left.”

“What is he being held for?” Brimley asked.

“I don’t have that information,” Greenhill said. “You’re going to have to ask the interrogator.”

Brimley nodded in thanks, and made haste towards interrogation room #4. As he entered the room, he was met by Jack Stockwell, head of the Sol Union Intelligence Division.

“Ah,” Stockwell said to Brimley. “The meeting isn’t for another ten minutes.”

“That’s not why I’m in here,” Brimley said. “Why are you holding Robb Langston?”

“He revealed classified information.” Stockwell said.

Brimley facepalmed immediately, “How much did he reveal?” He asked with a sigh.

“Oh, not much,” Stockwell said. “But enough to keep him here for a while.”

“Good,” Brimley said. “Robb is supposed to attend the meeting.”

“Ah,” Stockwell said. “Very well, let’s head for the Ward then.”

They left the room, and Stockwell opened a door next to the room they came from. Langston appeared through the door.

“Oh hey, Mark!” Langston exclaimed happily.

Brimley rolled his eyes in response.

“If you may,” Stockwell said. “Follow.”

SCENE 12:
They walked down the corridor, past the desk, and took a stairwell deeper down into the complex. Another long corridor, and eventually, they arrived at the Ward.

This room was equally texture-less as the interrogation room, but with a table, 8 chairs, and a graphical interface screen instead of a blank one-way window.

All three of them took a seat. Shortly after, the door opened again, and in came O’Callaghan and Padgett. Brimley left his chair, and went to hug Padgett. It was a rather affectionate hug, which made Stockwell display visible discomfort, and then, they all took a seat.

“Now that pleasantries are done,” Stockwell said with a cough and a displeased grimace on his face. “You may begin.”

“Okay, as you know, Jack, I have already informed Mark of the situation. So I’m going to get right to the plan we devised together with the EC,” O’Callaghan began. “Mark, we are going to need you to gain passage into arcs realm of the asteroid belt. You need to come up with an excuse for upgrades to the driller, so they will agree to transportation of the vehicle into their space.”

“Already done,” Brimley said. “We kinda broke the back end of the driller during the signal blackout last week. Since the metro project is no longer live, we sent a request for repairs in preparation for the new undertaking. An order has already been granted by Arc, so passage to Ceres is being planned as we speak. They will probably send for the driller in a few weeks from now.”

“Wow,” O’Callaghan said, eyes widened in surprise. “Well that makes things a lot easier. Okay, so here’s what we’ll do; When we rendezvous with the Arc engineers, and they retrieve the driller, me and Rhea will act as the delivery crew. We will distance ourselves from their domain once they have received the driller, but stay in proximity for communications. Meanwhile, a hidden dodger will be transported with the driller to Ceres. Mark and Robb will be in that dodger. As soon as you arrive at Ceres, you’re going to have to exit the dodger, and try to gain access, infiltrating the Arc headquarters by suit. Once you’re inside Arc HQ, you’re going to have to locate their archives and decrypt their files. Your mission is to uncover if they had any involvement in the attacks on Earth and planned attacks of Mars.”

“This is exciting!” Langston exclaimed with a wide smile.

“This is foolish,” Brimley said with a frown. “Remind me again, why can’t you be the one in the dodger?”

Because,” O’Callaghan began. “As far as they know, you are not part of the SUI, neither is Robb. In fact, that is the truth. If they discover you, then you have a plausible excuse for your actions. If a SUI agent went in your stead, it could speed up their attacks on Mars and the Sol Union, that is, if they indeed are involved in these matters. The two, well, three of you, already know more than any civilian of our current situation, hell, almost the entire SUI and EC are in the dark about this.”

“Contingency plan?” Brimley asked.

“If you get discovered,” O’Callaghan said. “Get the hell out, get to the dodger, get to us.”

“I really don’t like your plan,” Brimley said. “Also, why did you involve Rhea in all of this?”

“Another three months!” Padgett exclaimed in anger. “Really? How daft can you get?”

“I don’t want you to get hurt, Hon,” Brimley said. “You almost died on Earth.”

“As I remember it,” Padgett started. “You were the one impaled.”

Brimley kept his silence, he was defeated.

“Someone’s going to have to map the damn thing,” Padgett continued. “Eric will pilot the shuttle, I will keep communications and guide you through the facility.”

Fine,” Brimley snapped grumpily. “However, what if they are innocent? What if they’re just another target?”

“Arc monopolized the space-age gold rush in its infancy,” Stockwell said. “Even if they are not involved in the power grab, any intel gathered will see immense use for the future of humanity.”

“You mean,” Brimley started. “Immense use for the future of the Sol Union.”

Exactly.” Stockwell confirmed.

Brimley, Langston and Padgett, left the SUI Headquarters and soon arrived in CITY. O’Callaghan remained behind to deal with other SUI business. As they jumped on a transporter to take them to central, Brimley broke the silence, “I really don’t like their plan.” He said with concern.

“It doesn’t sound all that bad,” Langston said. “Think of it like a james bond mission, in space!”

“Oh, shut up.” Brimley said.

“Creepy,” Padgett said. “That Jack guy.”

“I don’t trust him,” Brimley said. “I have a feeling he has an ulterior motive.”

“As obvious as sunlight.” Padgett said.

“Perhaps we should devise a contingency plan of our own.” Brimley suggested.

Langston gave the widest, most mischievous, smile he could muster.

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