“This is Skyler Beaumont, serial number Q, dash eight, Lunar Surface Oxygen Port Maintenance Team. Hey, I just thought of something. I’m on the oxygen maintenance team making sure people always have air and, here I am, running out of it, huh, how ironic. Anyway, I’m with Rover Depot three…”
“Warning! Suit oxygen level twenty percent!”
“…see, there’s that irony again! I’m making this recording to set the record straight as to why I’m so screwed right now. First, I think my partner Phil, “I’m a butt-head” Hampton, should be fired and sent back to Earth so he can go back to scrubbing toilets at the Burger Joint. I’m blaming him for this. Wait, on second thought, I don’t think that would be fair to the Burger Joint, they never did anything to me.”
“Warning! Suit oxygen level fifteen percent!”
“I really wish I could shut that thing off, I don’t like having what life I have left, represented in percentages. Boy, this really sucks, going like this…anyway, I would like to say I’m sorry to Colonel Barentz. Sir, you really believed in me even when I didn’t, and now I’ve let you down, sorry Sir. Mom and Dad, at least I won’t be a continuing cause of embarrassment anymore. I know you probably don’t care but getting a job on the moon was as far away as I could get so, I wouldn’t be a burden to you anymore.”
“Warning! Suit oxygen level ten percent!”
“I don’t have much time, so I better be quick with the rest of this recording. This is what happened, Phil is a real telescope nerd and when the chance came up for him to actually look through the Lunar Telescope, he just couldn’t pass that up. He knew someone who could get him in to see, how did he put it, “look back time” with no “atmospheric disturbances”? There’s more irony in that, but I’ll explain that in a bit. We took three suits with us on our maintenance check of the O2 line going to the telescope observation dome. Phil put on one suit, exited the rover, and made the short walk to the dome. I propped up the second suit in the driver’s seat so, when the boss did the video check of each vehicle, it would look like someone was inside. I put on the third suit and went out to check the air-ports on the line.
“I was at the last port when the atmospheric part of atmospheric disturbances bit me in the butt. See, on earth, atmospheric disturbances can cause the stars to be blurry when you look through a telescope. Here on the moon, with no atmosphere, that doesn’t happen. The funny thing about atmospheric disturbances on earth is that small meteorites burn up in that atmosphere. Here, they don’t, they just keep going until they hit the surface. However, this time I got in the way of one of those pieces of space rock and it went right through my suit and, apparently, my leg. So, here I lay, unable to walk, unable to reach the air-port, my radio doesn’t work and I’m bleeding out into my suit.”
“Warning! Oxygen level critical!”
(Labored breathing) “Did I say this really sucks? You know what… maybe that’s unfair… what I said about Phil… I agreed to this plan too…so I should take equal blame…maybe… I should be the one… cleaning toilets at the Burger Joint.”
“Warning! Oxygen level critical!”
(gasping) “See ya.”
Suddenly, over the suit alarms, Skyler heard two sounds, two good sounds. The first was a click, the second was a pwffeeeeet.
“Oxygen level thirty percent!”
“Oxygen level sixty percent!”
Another helmet appeared directly above Skyler’s visor. Over the sound of the incoming air, he was able to make out a muffled, “Hi!”
“Oxygen level eighty percent.”
The muffled voice said, “I’m going to connect to your suit radio!”
“How’s that? Good?” The words filled his helmet.
“Oxygen level one hundred percent.”
“Who…who are you?”
“Hold on a second, I wanna make sure your O2 levels remain nominal. Are you injured?”
“(Deep breaths) Yes…yes, my leg. The right one. I felt a sharp pain then my suit lost pressure. I think a micro-meteoroid, or something went through it.”
“Ouch… let me look.” The visor disappeared, then was back. “Yep, your suit left a dye marker where something entered and exited. Looks like the suit sealed itself, so there must be a secondary leak somewhere else. Most likely in your life support. We won’t know for sure until we get you out of your suit.”
“I’m still feeling pretty light-headed.”
“That’s probably from your leg leaking, no self-sealing there. Listen, you’re on my suit’s air so breathing for you won’t be a problem, but I’m going to have to get you up and carry you out of here. That’s probably going to hurt… a lot.”
“Okay…wait! The rover, use that.”
“Negative on that.”
“Why…what’s wrong with it?’
“Nothing, I’m sure, but, hmm, how should I put this?”
“Well, I’m not really here and I don’t want that thing giving me away.”
“I don’t understand, and, um, I don’t feel too good.”
“Hey, hey, hey, stay with me and don’t puke in there!”
“No promises. What… about…air…for you?”
“Got it covered.”
“No, you’ll die.”
“I’m not here, remember?”
“What? Oh, yeah… right.”
“Okay, here we go, ready? One, two, threeee, upsy daisy.”
Skyler slowly opened his eyes and tried focusing on what looked like someone sitting at the foot of his bed. He tried blinking a few times to see if that would help clear his vision, but everything stayed a little blurry. He turned his head to the side and tried looking around instead. He could just make out that the walls of the room looked to be made out of aluminum panels, just like his room. He looked up and saw that the lights on the ceiling looked like the same LED strips as in his room, that was a good sign. He looked past the figure at the end of the bed and noticed the hatch. Even though it was a lot further away, it seemed to be the same type as the one in his room, “I’ll count that as being good as well” he said to himself. But who was that at the end of the bed? He squinted to see if that would help…nope. He stared at the figure trying to force it to come into focus. He relaxed, took a couple of deep breathes and then, slowly, his vision started to clear. It quickly became apparent that whoever was there was not his friend, Phil. For one thing, Phil didn’t have hair that was blond and cropped close to his head. Second, this person was shorter and way thinner. He looked closer at the uniform and noticed that was definitely not Phil!
“Not Phil” noticed he was staring at her, “Oh, hey, you’re back.”
Still a little groggy he said, “You’re not Phil, you’re a girl.”
She looked down at herself and said, “Yes, yes I am.”
He looked around the room again then back at her, “Where is here?” He tried lifting his arm to gesture towards the room when he noticed an IV line attached to it. He stared at his arm for a second then slowly lowered it back to the bed.
She smiled to herself as she watched him slowly come out of the anesthesia, “The Synthetic Biology Module.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Of course, you haven’t.”
“What happened to me?”
“You got yourself in trouble out by the observatory. If I hadn’t come by when I did, you’d probably be dead”
He stared at her for a second then said, “The glasses…behind the helmet visor…you said hi. You’re the one that saved me, it was you, I remember now.” He glanced at her name tag, “Is Lee your first or last name?”
“Last, first name Yuki.” She stuck out her hand.
He raised his good arm to shake hers and said, “First name Skyler, last name Beaumont. My friends call me Sky.”
“Well, Skyler, nice to meet you, again.”
“Yeah, again. Hey, about that, thanks, thanks a lot.”
“I really thought I was a goner.”
“Well, about that…”
“Where are we? The Synthetic…what?”
“Synthetic Biology Unit.”
“I never knew Endurance station had anything called that.”
He looked directly at Yuki, “This is very confusing. This room looks exactly like mine at Endurance. We are at the Shackleton Crater, right?”
“Then, where are we? Why is it that I’ve never heard of the, uh, what did you call it again?”
“The Synthetic Biology Module.”
“Why don’t I know about this place?”
“Well, I’ve been trying to tell you…”
Their attention was suddenly drawn toward the hatch to the room. It started to slowly open and make a strange noise; like a pig grunting. They both looked at each other then back at the door. There was a final “uhg” sound when it stopped moving. They waited, not sure what to expect. Suddenly, an old man stepped into view, wiping his brow with his sleeve and breathing heavily.
“Phew, I hate these things, way too heavy to push open,” he said in a high-pitched voice, “Ah, good evening, Mr. Beaumont. I see that you’re finally awake.” He stepped quickly over to Skyler’s bed, his white lab coat was unbuttoned and flowed behind him as he strode across the room. “I’m Doctor Lestrange and as Miss Leigh has probably already told you, you’re recovering nicely, but you need to stay off your feet for a few days. After that you’ll be as good as new, then we can get you set up in a room of your own. We’ve sent for some of your things, discretely of course, considering the circumstances.”
He had somehow managed to say all that without taking any additional breaths.
“Circumstances?” asked Skyler.
Yuki spoke up, “I’m afraid I haven’t had the chance to tell him yet, Doc. I was almost there.”
“Tell him what?” ask Skyler, getting even more worried about where he had ended up. “Where’s Colonel Barentz? Let me talk to Colonel Barentz!”
“If you will just calm down for a moment, I’ll tell you,” said Yuki with an edge to her voice.
He was about to say something else but the look on her face made him keep his mouth shut.
She looked right at him, started to say something, hesitated, then said, “How should I put this? Um, I’m afraid you’re dead.”
Skyler pushed himself up but the pain in his leg forced him down again. Through gritted teeth he said, “What!”
Yuki looked at Dr. Lestrange and said, “Doc, can we have a second?”
He had his head down looking at Skyler’s files but looked up over his bifocals in response to her question, “Sure, but from the sound of it, you may need more than that.” He looked at his watch, “I’ll give you twenty minutes.” He slammed the file shut, stuck it under his arm and strode quickly back to the hatch, his coat flowing again. He stopped when he reached the hatch, he looked at it, shook his head back and forth and said, “I’m going to keep this thing open.” He then leapt through the hatchway and was gone.
Skyler looked directly at Yuki and said, “What’s going on? This whole thing is freakin’ me out! I must be dreaming!”
Yuki moved around from the end of the bed to sit down on the edge careful not to touch his injured leg. “Look, I know none of this makes any sense. You’re not dead, dead, you’re dead because there’s no other choice. Part of that is my fault. When I saw you laying there, I had to make a choice; let you die, literally, or take you back here and have you die, figuratively.” She watched his eyes as his brain tried to process what she had just said.
“So, let me get this straight. You saved me from asphyxiation and bleeding to death, carried me here, to this place, wherever this is, the doctor then fixed my leg and just said, using his words here, “I’m recovering nicely”, yet, somehow, I’m dead, figuratively, not literally.”
She smiled and said, “Exactly.”
“Okayyy, but somehow that still doesn’t tell me anything.”
“You have to be dead because you’re here, (she motioned to the room with both hands) a place that doesn’t exist, with people who, equally, don’t exist. I’m sorry, but that’s the reality here.” She looked at him and still saw the questions in his face. “You just said you have never heard of this place, right?”
He nodded yes.
“Exactly, not many people have. This place is a secret and we have to make sure it stays that way which means you cannot go back to your base, your friends or your life for that matter. For all intents and purposes, you’re dead.”
“So, everyone thinks I’m dead?”
“Yes… well no, not Colonel Barentz. He’s the only other person, outside of this facility, that knows about you being here, alive, with us.”
“But, how come he knows but isn’t dead, figuratively?”
“Because he’s got the clearance. Plus, we needed someone else to know in case we ran into trouble out here and needed help. Being on the moon completely alone is not a good idea.” She gave him a look and added, “Which, of course, you demonstrated perfectly.”
He lowered his gaze as his face grew red. He looked back up and asked “What happened to Phil? Did you “kill” him too?”
She chuckled and said, “No, he’s alive, for real, but will soon be on his way back to Earth.” She stood up and continued, “You guys messed up real bad and put a lot of people and things in jeopardy. There were a lot of angry people out there but, if it wasn’t for Phil admitting it was his plan plus the Colonel speaking up for you, you might be dead, dead.” She paused, then asked, “What were you thinking, being out there all alone?”
“I don’t know, it all made sense, at first. It was only going to be for a little while. No one would ever have known. I mean, we walk around, out there, everyday making sure the air terminals work, nothing has ever happened before.”
“I’ve trained here, everyday of my life, trying to protect myself and my friends from the ‘what-ifs’. Out here it doesn’t take much of a ‘what-if’ to kill you, just as you found out. If you’re going to stay here, then you’re going to have to learn to be more respectful of the dangers.”
He thought for a second, “What about my parents? Do they think I’m dead?”
“Unfortunately, from what I’ve been told, they haven’t been able to find your parents yet. I think that’s something you’re going to have to help with. But when they do find them, I’m afraid they’ll have to be informed of your untimely death.” She looked down, then back up, “Sorry about that.”
“Well, I don’t know where they are, and I don’t think they really care. They never did before, and I don’t think it’s something that they’ve recently taken a new stance on.”
She sat back down and said, “I see.”
He paused for a second then asked, “What did you just mean when you said if I decide to stay here. I thought I didn’t have a choice.”
“You’re an additional body here which means resources are going to have to be redirected in order to care for you. We won’t see another re-supply shuttle for another month. So, in the meantime you’re gonna have to pull your weight in order to keep everyone happy. But, if you don’t like it or people don’t like you, then you’re going to get sent back to earth with the other waste in the return shuttle.” She smiled slightly at that.
“So, I can go back.”
“Yeah, but, more than likely, you’ll end up at some lonely Artic research station in the middle of nowhere with nothing but frozen tundra extending for miles in each direction.”
“Nothing new, there.”
She stood up and said, “And you wouldn’t have me around to save your sorry butt every time you ventured too far from home…alone!”
As she started for the hatch, she told him, “Get some rest and I’ll check in on you later.” Just as she was about to reach for the handle, Skyler blurted out, “Wait, one last thing!”
She stopped, turned to him and said, “What?”
“Thanks, again, I really mean that.”
She smiled and said, “You’re welcome.” She grabbed the handle and was about to pull the hatch shut when he shouted again, “Wait, one last, last thing.”
She dropped her shoulders, turned and said, “What!”
“I just remembered something. When you connected your O2 to my suit, what did you use for air? I don’t remember us buddy breathing.”
“I had it covered.”
“Right! Exactly! That’s the same thing you said then. What do you mean by that?”
She paused, a hint of sadness entered her voice, “There’s a lot you don’t know about me…and this place.”
Seeing her reaction, all he could think to say was, “Oh.”
She quickly smiled, wiping away the sadness, “Get some rest and when you’re up to it, I’ll give you the five-cent tour.” She turned and pulled the hatch closed as she stepped through.
Before it had a chance to fully close, someone else entered the room. Skyler looked up, expecting to see Doctor Lestrange. Instead, a tall man wearing a long, white lab coat entered. He had a stethoscope wrapped around his neck. He walked over to Skyler, extended his hand and said, “Hello.”
Skyler reached out with his good hand and couldn’t help but notice that the man’s hair looked like it had been blown around by a gale force wind.