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I’m Not Really Here
“This is private, first class, Skyler Beaumont, serial number Q dash eight, of the Lunar Merchant Marine’s 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. Is that ironic or what? Anyway, I’m with Rover Depot three…”
Skyler’s suit life support system calmly warned him, “Suit oxygen level is 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. Wait, on second thought, I don’t think that would be fair to the Burger Joint, they never did anything to me.”
“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. 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.”
“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 get into the observatory and actually look through the Lunar Telescope, he just couldn’t pass that up. He knew someone who could sneak him in to, how did he put it, look back in time with no atmospheric disturbances? He sounded really excited about that so who was I to say no?
So we came up with a plan that sounded good at the time. We took three suits with us on our maintenance check of the O2 line going to the observatory from the main building. When we got there, Phil put on one suit, exited the rover, and made the short walk to the dome. I propped up the extra suit in the driver’s seat so, when the boss did the required safety video check of each work vehicle, it would look like there was someone inside. I put on my suit and went out to check the connection ports on the oxygen supply line.
I was at the last port when the atmospheric part of no 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 oxygen supply line, my radio doesn’t work and I’m bleeding out into my suit.”
Warning! Oxygen level critical!
“It’s really hard to breath now…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!”
Skyler could see the darkness start to fill the edges of his vision. “I think I’m done. See ya.”
Suddenly, over the blare of the suit alarms, Skyler heard two sounds, two good sounds. The first was a click, the second was a sound he knew well. It was the noise oxygen makes when it flows into a helmet. He was at a loss as to how that was possible.
The alarms stopped blaring. Oxygen level thirty percent.
Suddenly, a 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.”
Skyler said weakly, “Phil?”
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.
Skyler was confused, “You don’t sound like Phil.”
“Hold on a second, I need to make sure your O2 levels remain nominal. Are you injured?”
Skyler took long deep breathes; oxygen filled his lungs. “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 this thing.”
“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.” Skyler shut his eyes then remembered something. “Wait! The rover! You can use that.”
“Negative on that.”
Skyler thought that it was perfectly fine when he got out of it so why couldn’t they use it now? What could have happened to it? Was it broken? Did he break it? That would be just perfect! Not only did he ruin a good suit, now he’s wrecked a rover. He asked. “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 us away.”
“I don’t understand, and… uh oh, I don’t feel so good.”
“Hey, hey, hey, stay with me and don’t puke in there!”
Skyler swallowed hard. “No promises.” Another thought suddenly came to him. “Hey, if you connected your air from your suit into mine then what are you using?”
“No worries, I got it covered.”
“Disconnect me! Don’t put yourself in danger!”
“I’m not here, remember?”
Skyler felt light-headed and confused. “What? Oh, yeah… right.”
“Okay, I’m going to get you up.”
Skyler felt his shoulders and head lift up.
“I’m not going to lie to you, this is going to be real uncomfortable. Ready, on three?
“Wait, I don’t know if I…”
“One, two, …”
Skyler felt himself lift up. The last thing he remembered was an excruciating pain that ran up his leg.
You’re Not Phil, You’re a Girl
Skyler slowly opened his eyes. Everything was blurry so he blinked a few times to see if that would help clear his vision. He turned his head to the side which made him feel a little light headed. He closed his eyes and waited for the feeling to disappear. He opened them again and, without moving his head this time, could see that his head was resting on a pillow. He looked up a little and could see that the walls were made of aluminum panels just like the ones in his room at the base. It was confusing because the last thing he remembered was working outside with Phil. He slowly rolled his head so he was looking straight up. The lights on the ceiling looked like the same LED strips as in his room back at the base.
Maybe I was dreaming about being outside.
He lifted his head and noticed someone at the end of the bed? He stared at the figure trying recognize who it was. It didn’t look like Phil. Who was it?
The figure said, “Oh, hey, you’re back.”
Skyler licked his lips then said, “You’re not Phil, you’re a girl.”
The figure looked down at herself and said, “Yes, yes I am.”
He looked around the room again then back at her, “What are you doing in my room?” 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. Feeling very confused he asked, “Where am I?”
She smiled to herself as she watched him slowly come out of the anesthesia, “The Synthetic Biology Module.”
“The syn what?”
“The Synthetic Biology Module.”
Skyler looked at his arm again then followed the IV line up to the bag hanging from a stand next to the bed. “I’ve never heard of that before.”
“Of course, you haven’t.”
He put his free hand up to his head and asked, “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, you’re wearing glasses. The person behind the helmet visor was wearing glasses…you said hi.”
“That is correct.”
“You’re the one that saved me, it was you, I remember now.” He glanced at her name tag then said, “Lae? Is that your first or last name?”
“Last. First name is Yuki.” She stuck out her hand.
He raised his good arm to shake hers and said, “Mines 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.”
“Yeah, about that…”
“Where did you say we were? The Synthetic…what?”
“Synthetic Biology Unit.”
Things started to flood back into Skyler’s brain. “I never knew Endurance station had anything called that.”
He looked around at the room again then back at Yuki, “This is very confusing. This room looks exactly like mine at Endurance. Are we not at the Shackleton Crater?”
“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 too slowly open outward and as it moved it seemed to make a strange noise, sort of 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 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 Lae 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 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!”
Yuki moved next to Dr. Lestrange and said to Skyler, “Sheesh, calm down will ya.? Just give me a second.”
Skyler tried to cross his arms in front of his chest but the IV line prevented him from doing that so he dropped his arms to his side and gave Yuki the best menacing stare he could muster.
Yuki started to say something, hesitated, then said, “How should I put this?” She looked at the doctor.
Dr. Lestrange looked at Skyler and said bluntly, “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 put her hand on Dr. Lestrange’s shoulder and said, “Doc, can we have a second?”
He looked at her over his bifocals. “Sure, (he glanced at Skyler) but I think you may need more than that.” He looked at his watch, “I’ve got to be somewhere else, so take all the time you need.” He headed for the hatch but stopped when he reached it. He looked at it, shook his head back and forth then said, “I’m going to keep this thing open.” He leapt through the hatchway and was gone.
“What did he mean, dead? What’s going on? This whole thing is starting to freak me out!”
Yuki sat down on the edge of the bed, careful not to bump against Skyler’s injured leg. “Look, I know none of this makes any sense. What the doc said isn’t exactly true.
“So, I’m not exactly dead. What does that even mean?”
“Well, obviously you’re not dead, dead, you’re dead (she made quotation marks with her fingers) because there’s no other choice. I’m afraid that’s partly 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.
Skyler leaned back against the pillow. “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 told me, using his words here, I’m recovering nicely, yet, somehow, despite the fact I’m talking to you, I’ve died, figuratively, not literally.”
She smiled and slapped his leg. “Exactly.”
Skyler almost leapt out of the bed. “Ahh, careful!”
“Oops, sorry about that.”
He rubbed the top of his leg. “Okay, but somehow that still doesn’t make any sense and it still doesn’t explain where I am.”
Yuki crossed her arms across her chest and took a deep breath. “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, unfortunately, 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 about this place but doesn’t have to be dead, figuratively?”
“Because he’s got the clearance. Plus, we needed someone else to know about our operation in case we ran into trouble 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? Is he figuratively dead 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.”
Yuki got annoyed hearing that. She pointed at him and said, “I’ve trained here, every day 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.”
“Okay, okay, I will, I promise.” He thought for a second, “What about my parents? Do they think I’m dead?”
“Unfortunately, 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.”
Skyler looked away. “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.”
“Uh, hello, we’re on the moon so nothing new, there.”
She stood up and said, “Yeah, but if you left, you wouldn’t have me around to save your sorry butt every time you ventured too far from home…alone!”
Yuki touched her finger to the side of her glasses. “I gotta get going.” to 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 for saving me, 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 had it covered?”
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, he decided not to press her any further. “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.”
Skyler reached out with his good hand and couldn’t help but notice that the man’s hair looked like it was being blown around by a gale force wind.
You Can’t Stay Away, Can You?
Yuki walked down the corridor toward the gym; her training shoes barely made any noise on the polished metal surface. She had her head bent down, deep in thought, when she noticed a smear on her glasses. She stopped dead in her tracks. She hated seeing a smear on her glasses because it meant taking them off to clean them. She dreaded having to do that, so much so, that she had even tried a couple of times to clean them while they were still on her face but that never worked; she either ended up making them worse or getting cleaning fluid in her eyes. She felt her back pocket to see if she had any cleaning wipes, she did.
Yuki sighed and reached into her back pocket for the wipe. In a well-rehearsed choreography, she ripped the packet open, pulled out the folded paper soaked in cleaning fluid and quickly wedged it into the top of her right front pants pocket, then dropped the open packet to the floor. She looked up and down the hall to make sure nobody was coming then reached up with both hands to take off her glasses. She took a deep breath and slowly lifted the arms over her ears and slid them forward. The last thing she heard was the slight click the magnetic contacts made when they dis-connected. She hated this part the most; the silence was almost unbearable. It took every bit of concentration to try and not think about it. She quickly pulled the crinkled wipe from her pocket, unfolded it fully, then wiped each lens. She brought the glasses up to the light in the ceiling to make sure she had them totally clean. Satisfied, she let the wipe fall to the floor so she could use both hands to put her glasses back on. She grabbed the arms of the frames, lined them up correctly, then slowly slid them back, anxiously waiting for the contacts to reconnect with the magnets in the surgically implanted receiver just behind her ear. When they did, the sounds of the station flooded back in. She closed her eyes and fought the impulse to cry. “Why did this have to happen now, why couldn’t it have happened during the deep sleep portion of the mission or even after we reached the exoplanet?”
She stood for a second longer debating whether or not she really wanted to go to the gym. She couldn’t understand why they had increased her exercise sessions, plus they had her on new meds to help speed her body’s calcium production. This bothered her because it could mean only one thing… she forced the thought from her head and took a deep breath. She decided she really wasn’t in the mood to work out, so she picked the wipe and the wrapper from the floor, stuck them in her back pocket and headed for the Command Center viewing room.
Yuki pushed open the door and walked into the mostly dark room, the only light came from the computer consoles in the mission control center on the other side of the viewing glass.
She made her way to the first row of seats in front of the glass and side stepped her way past the first, few seats and stopped about halfway down; behind the Flight Surgeons console. With the mission already into its third week, there was only a skeleton crew monitoring the various systems so, right now, nobody’s head was blocking the monitor. Through the glass she could make out the life support system readouts for each of the astronauts, her friends, her crew. All their vital signs were reading normal, the section next to her name, was blank. She frowned and thought to her self that she should be with them right now.
“You just can’t stay away, can you?” A voice from behind, startled her. She didn’t have to turn to know that it was Karen, her flight technician.
Quickly regaining her composure she replied, “No, I can’t, and it appears, neither can you.”
Karen got up out of her chair, made her way down to Yuki’s row and moved to stand next to her. “I know I should tell you that ‘you shouldn’t let it bother you’, but I also know that it wouldn’t do any good.”
Yuki turned to look at her, “I should be there with them.” She motioned with her head toward the control room then looked down at the floor.
Karen looked at her and said, “It sucks, I know, but there was, and still is, nothing you can do about their decision.”
Yuki lifted her head and sighed. “I know, but why did it have to happen before we were scheduled to leave? Why not later when they couldn’t have done anything about it? It just doesn’t seem fair.”
“Whether it’s fair or not has nothing to do with it, it’s just how it is. Your deafness was something that never showed itself until now. The DNA scans were always clean, the mutations developed so quickly there was no way to prepare for it. Plus, even if it did show earlier, there was nothing anyone could have done about it. You know they couldn’t run the risk of having a deaf astronaut going on a mission as critical as this. It’s something you’re going to have to learn to come to grips with.”
“I know, I know, but it doesn’t make it any easier. My implants and glasses are working perfectly. Plus, with the built-in software and sensors, they allow me to see things my teammates can’t, I could still have contributed something!”
“That’s true, but what if the glasses got damaged? How would you have communicated with everyone then? It would have been necessary for you to always be in visual range with at least one of them at all times, that would have been impossible.”
Yuki didn’t have an answer to that, so she remained quiet.
Karen continued, “Even now, I bet you never take them off. You probably sleep with them on, right?”
Yuki pressed her lips together and slowly shook her head back and forth, “Yeah, until they become too uncomfortable, then I have to take them off.” She quickly added, “But then I’m so tired that I fall right asleep and don’t have to deal with the si…” She stopped short without finishing the sentence.
Karen put her hand on her shoulder in an effort to comfort her. “Are you practicing your lip reading and signing? I am. You know, we should spend more time together, practicing.”
Yuki leaned in close to her even though there was no one else around and whispered. “It’s embarrassing. I don’t want people to think of me as being deaf. They’ll treat me differently, like there’s something wrong with me.”
“Come on, you know that’s not true. Everyone here has known you since you were born, they don’t treat you any different than anyone else around here, it’s you who treats yourself differently.”
Yuki dropped herself into a chair and said nothing, Karen slid into the chair next to her. They both sat in silence, watching the few people next door in the control center monitor their computers and talk to each other about things neither one of them could hear. Yuki finally broke the silence. “What’s the story with that new guy with the wild hair? I saw him go into Skyler’s room when I was leaving.”
It was Karen’s turn to look around the empty room to see if anyone was listening. She leaned in close to Yuki who, in turn leaned her head in towards Karen’s. “I hear he’s here to talk to Skyler about some device he made.”
Yuki quickly pulled her head away in surprise. “Made? What kind of device? Was it dangerous, was he going to try and do something here?”
“Oh my gosh, no, nothing like that. He made it before he came here. Some sort of tablet thingy, I don’t know what it is or does, nobody’s saying much.”
“I also heard something else. Something to do with you.”
“Me? Really? What does he want with me?”
“Well, I’m not too sure about this, but I think he wants to talk to you about going back to Earth.”
Yuki jumped up, “WHAT?”
“Shhh!” Karen pulled her back down into her seat while looking into the control room to see if anyone had heard her, nobody seemed to have noticed, “Quiet! I told you I’m not sure about that and I don’t want anyone thinking I told you.”
“I can’t believe it. Why would I need to go back to Earth? Is it because I’m deaf? Are they getting rid of me?” Yuki suddenly looked very worried. “I knew they were making my work outs harder and giving me meds to prepare me for Earth’s gravity! They don’t need me here anymore.”
“No! It’s nothing like that! Sheesh, why would you even think something like that? They need and want you here, they’re not going to get rid of you because you can no longer hear, you have to stop thinking like that. Your deafness does not define you.”
“Then why does he want me to go? Why me?”
Karen whispered, “Well, I think they need you for some sort of special training.”
“Training? Training for what?”
Karen shifted in her seat, turning her body towards Yuki, she looked very serious, “I think, and I repeat, think, they need you… to… um, find your mom.”
Yuki’s mouth dropped open as she, for the second time, jumped to her feet and yelled, “WHHAATT?”
Karen turned toward the control room to see that everyone was now staring at the two of them. She buried her head in her hands.