01 Feb We have been stationed on the Moon since 1988, There’s a reason it is kept a secret
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” – Carl Sagan
After they firmly strapped us in, I took a moment to relax, and enjoy the final minute of Earth’s gravity before takeoff. The Rookie in the seat next to me, looked worse for wear, with pearls of sweat covering his pale face. He’d seemed so excited only moments before, but I couldn’t blame him. The little blue planet had been his home, and now he’d leave it, never to return again.
“First time in space, right?” I chuckled, trying to keep the mood light.
He nodded, his eyes still fixed at the control panel in front of us.
“I’d like to tell you that the acceleration would knock you clean out, but that ain’t the case. Lying in that position, blood is basically forced into your brain. You’ll be awake to feel each bump on the road!” I said cheerfully.
That little tidbit of information seemed to break his trance. He looked over at me and cracked a weak smile. I could’ve given him words of comfort, or told him it wasn’t that bad, but from experience, I knew that facetious humor would best aid our journey into space.
“I’m not worried about the takeoff,” he said. “It’s just – the magnitude of it all, you know?”
The countdown sequence started, and I braced myself while the Rookie desperately tried to control his breath.
“Time to say goodbye, Kid!” I yelled at him.
“Don’t listen to him!” the pilot said. “You’ll love it once we break out from Earth’s atmosphere.”
“Here we go, here we go,” the Rookie mumbled to himself.
The shuttle shook violently, rocking us back and forth in our seats. The Rookie kept his eyes firmly shut in anticipation, with his arms firmly clenched on the armrests. Before long, our spacecraft had taken off from the ground, and started shooting up towards the vast sky above.
It was a slow start, as the engines worked their way towards maximum acceleration. It was an intense feeling of both horror and excitement, as our bodies tripled in weight, firmly locking us in our less than comfortable chairs.
From takeoff to space itself, about nine minutes would pass. Each one would feel like an eternity on its own, as the shuttle accelerated from a standstill to 17,500 miles per hour.
“Observer, you have cleared the tower,” launch control notified us over the radio.
“Appreciate the info. I Didn’t even realize we’d started flying,” the Pilot joked as he looked over the control panel, making sure none of the warning lights had greeted us with their flashing alarms.
As far as the works on the ground were concerned, we were on a routine mission. According to any official document, we’d be staying a week in space, before dropping back to Earth, landing gently in the massive deserts of Kazakhstan. In reality, our mission would take us much further away from home, and years would pass before any of us ever had the pleasure of returning.
What followed were five minutes of intense shaking. If I hadn’t known better, I would have believed we’d been thrown into a drier, as clothes rumbling around in circles. I wondered what kind of unexpected bruises I’d find once we finally reached the base.
The Rookie finally opened his eyes. I couldn’t hold his nerves against him, he hadn’t seen the best part of our journey yet: The magnificent view of Earth as we drifted away, weightless in space.
“Observer, prepare for staging,” launch control suggested through the radio.
With that message, we were launched forward in our seats, noses pressed hard against the smooth glass of our helmets, almost touching the control panel inches ahead. A loud clunk sounded through the shuttle, as the strap-ons finally detached from our ship, and the secondary boosters were activated.
Minutes later, we’d entered orbit, and the three of us finally relaxed while we awaited the third stage.
Being free of Earth’s harsh gravity was a strange sensation. As a larger man, it made me seem so insignificant, as if my mass meant nothing against the empty vacuum around our shuttle. It felt like falling, except there was nothing left in the universe to fall against. Total freedom.
“Hey, Daniel! Check it out,” the pilot said as he let go of the check-list, in front of the Rookie.
There it hung, gently rotating in a weightless state, only seconds before the third stage would begin, officially starting our journey towards the Moon.
As we left our payloads behind, the escape tower was jettisoned out. For the first time, we had an unobstructed view of the infinite darkness ahead of us. Millions of star greeted us with their full glory. Without the filter of Earth’s atmosphere, we could see as far as space reached.
There, in the distance, hung a white celestial body, seemingly small and insignificant. Unknown to the general public, it would be humanity’s final hope. We were moving towards it at an almost impossible speed, yet it barely felt as we were moving at all.
“Beautiful, ain’t it?” I asked.
At least the Rookie seemed less panicked. Without the literal weight of Earth’s gravity to keep him pinned down, he could finally just sit back, and enjoy the trip.
“Wow, I don’t even know what to say. It’s – it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
He spent the next few hours just staring out at space, still not willing to believe he had actually made it there. The Rookie couldn’t even have been out of his twenties, yet he’d been specifically recruited for a lifelong mission on the Moon itself.
“Tell me, was it worth it?” I asked.
“Was what worth it?”
“Leaving everything you’ve ever known behind. To have the company fake your death, and erase your presence from Earth, all so you can spend the next decade in a secret base, hidden away from mankind? I mean, you don’t even know what the job is, do you?”
He turned his attention towards me, finishing his string contest with the universe. He pondered for a moment, before finally responding.
“All my life, I wanted to make a difference. To be one of the few to ever venture into space, to advance science. When the company contacted me, they didn’t even tell me where I was going, they just said I’d be saving the world.”
He was smart, good physique, and socially intelligent. He could’ve had a fantastic life back on Earth, started a family, made a shit ton of money, and just enjoyed all of the luxuries home had to offer. Yet, he chose to help, knowing he’d never return. I knew then he was someone I could trust.
The trip towards the Moon would take about three days, leaving us with plenty of time to get properly acquainted. I’d been tasked with picking him up from Earth, and based on the file they gave me on him, he was nothing less than a genius.
Sleeping in space was oddly comforting. There are no uncomfortable positions when floating without ups or downs, no limps to lie on top of, no need to roll around.
Other than that, the trip to the base was fairly dull. The planet we had left behind faded away into the distance, turning into a little pale dot.
The base we were heading towards had been named Ares. It was a massive construction on the dark side of the Moon, out of view from the people back on Earth. Ares was the greatest creation of mankind, one kept hidden for decades, known to only the two hundred people living there, and a handful of people situated back on Earth.
When there, we had close to no radio contact with ground control. According to Command, the less contact we had with Earth, the less likely it was that our operations on the Moon became public knowledge.
As we was taken in by the Moon’s orbit, we started hearing static feedback. Before long, we’d be in contact with Ares itself.
“This is Observer 108 to Base Control, do you copy?” the pilot asked.
“Greetings Observer, This is Base Control, we read you loud and clear. Station 7 is ready for docking. Get ready to initiate landing sequence.”
I pulled out another check-list, while the pilot flicked around the necessary switches. Within a minute, we were approaching the docking station.
The landing was smooth, and once the airlock opened, we finally got the chance to stretch out legs. We were immediately greeted by a decontamination crew, and ordered to change out of our sweaty undergarments, and into more suitable uniforms.
“It’s been a pleasure, Rick,” the pilot said to me as we parted ways.
It was time for the Rookie’s initiation into the system. I brought him to the sectional office, looking for his instructor and guide, Jennifer.
“Rick, how are you doing?” Jennifer asked as she stepped out of the office. “I don’t see you around Section 7 very often.”
“Just bringing you our newest scientist. Mind if I stick around, make sure you don’t go too hard on the kid?”
She smiled, and gestured for us both to follow her through the narrow halls of Section 7, as she explained protocols and rules around the compound.
It was an impressive construct. A station big enough enough to comfortably house hundreds of people, in addition to the countless laboratories, workstations, and massive common areas for the large amounts of downtime. The fact that it had been kept hidden for so long was an almost impossible feat on its own, one that had piqued Daniel’s interest.
“Mind me asking, how, and why has this been kept secret for so long?”
Jenna smirked, it was a question inevitably asked by each newcomer, one she knew exactly how to answer.
“Ever heard of the Manhattan project?” she asked.
“Yeah, the race to build an atom bomb, back in 1939,” Daniel responded confidently.
“130,000 people working together to create the most destructive weapon in human history. Divided into hundreds of sections, each working on their part of a bomb to be dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Out of these 130,000 people, only about a couple of dozen knew what the project would result in. The rest were kept in the dark, unknowingly causing the death of countless people.”
“Exactly how the Ares project was kept hidden, by giving each station a piece of the puzzle, just not enough to see the whole picture.”
I always loved listening to Jennifer’s speeches about the Ares Project. The look of surprise and amazement as they realized the magnitude of the situation, but one final piece of information still strayed away from Daniel’s knowledge.
“So, what exactly are we doing here?” he finally asked.
Before Jennifer got a chance to explain. The speaker system emitted a loud and jarring message.
“Security head office, calling Richard Fender. Report to Section 9 immediately.”
Jennifer and Daniel looked at me questioningly.
“Sorry, I’ll catch up with you later,” I said as I started rushing down the hall.
The act of running on the Moon was a peculiar experience. With only one fifth of Earth’s gravity, you spend more time gliding through the air before each step hits the ground. In a way, it feels like flying, and you can reach speeds higher than what would be possible back home. On the other hand, without ground contact, it’s hard to maneuver around corners, which is why Ares had been built almost exclusively with straight hallways.
Within a few minutes, I’d made my way to the head security office. Inside, I found a whole crowd of guards and officers, all frantically trying to yell over each other to make a decision.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
My supervisor, Lance Henderson, took me to the side to fill me in.
“Rick, something landed next to PAW Station-12,” he said. “It doesn’t show up on any of our instruments, but the crew swear they saw it.”
Particle Accelerator Weapon, Station 12, was the furthest reach away from the main base. Situated near one of the major craters. It was the last of a set of canons aimed into deep space, weapons so powerful they could deflect any meteor getting too close to Earth.
“What are they saying about?”
“We don’t know. We lost contact with them not fifteen minutes ago. I need you to take a team out to the station and find out what the hell is going on.”
I made my way to the hanger. A massive structure situated partially underground, doubling as the main oxygen production facility. The Moon’s crust is naturally rich in oxygen, and by converting the rocks, we effectively produced, and maintained an atmosphere within the station.
Three of my colleagues, Derek, John, and Patrick, met me by one of the buggies, all wielding rifles. It wasn’t a large team, but with the few, trained guards we had at the station, the rest would stay behind. If something happened to us, the protocol was to lock down the entire Ares facility, and abandon anyone trapped in the smaller stations.
“Station 12, this is Buggy Zealot, do you copy?” John kept repeating as we endured the uncomfortable, hour long trip.
It felt like an eternity passed before we reached the station. It was a large construct, with the particle weapon towering up from the ground, staring off into deep space. In front of the station lay a large, diamond shaped rock covered in what looked like massive blisters, some of which had ruptures.
“What the fuck is that thing?” John asked.
“I don’t know, but keep your weapons ready.”
There were still two buggies parked outside the station, meaning that the crew couldn’t possibly have left.
“Station 12, we are entering through the main airlock, get ready for boarding,” I said as we manually unlocked the front gate.
We kept out helmets on, even as the airlock was pressurized, and we could breathe. We didn’t know what we could expect on the other side, so we had to be ready for a quick escape.
We stopped dead in our tracks as we took our first steps inside. There, on the floor, lay the entire crew of PAW-12, dead and mutilated to various degree, with no sign of any other creatures. It didn’t look like monsters had come in to murder the crew, but as if they’d simply decided to kill each other, using whatever they could use as weapons.
Some of their wounds were created with surgical precision. Slit throats, stabbed heart, or crushed skull, while others were more morbid, as if they’d taken their time to finish the kill.
The only discrepancy among the murdered, was a man zip tied to the wall in a corner, some distance away from the others. While his neck had been stabbed, it didn’t look like any major vessels had been injured.
As I bent down to examine the tied up man, he suddenly jolted awake, screaming in horror. “No! Stop it! Get out, I don’t want to!”
I grabbed him in an attempt at keeping him still, worried he might exacerbate his injury. “Calm down, you’re safe!” I kept repeating.
His fear quickly turned to despair as he noticed the corpses littering the floor in front of him.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to,” he cried.
I grabbed a sedative out of my kit, and injected him through his port. Hoping he’d remain conscious, but at least calm enough to relay what had happened onboard the station. I read the name on his suit, Fredrick.
“Hey, Fredrick, look at me. I need you tell me what happened here.”
He calmed down a bit following the injection. Then, he looked carefully around the room, as if he was recounting the events that had transpired.
“I tried to kill myself. I don’t know why, I didn’t want to, but the voices. Oh God, the – the voices, they just – kept telling me I had to do it, they were so loud, so fucking loud. My – my team, they pinned me down and tied me up, but it didn’t help them. I’m so sorry,” he sulked, still breaking down.
I looked back at the dead crewmen littering the floor. If they’d managed to tie him up before he died, then who’d killed them?
“What about the others?”
“They just started killing each other, but it wasn’t them! The things, they changed them, they made them do it!”
His rambles were only semi-coherent, but the last statement piqued my morbid curiosity.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, the things! They came from the vessel, we didn’t even see them, but they were there. They got inside our heads, made us do it. I’m sorry, please, you gotta believe me. Oh God, oh God…” he kept rambling for a couple of minutes.
I gestured for Derek to put him to sleep. He would only make things worse by panicking. If we stood even the slightest chance of bringing him safely back to the station, he had to be put out.
“Don’t worry, Frederick. We’ll get you out of here. I promise.”
Within a minute, he was out, and we brought in a stretcher to carry him out. The rest of the crew were a lost cause, too destroyed to even fit into their suits. We had no choice but to leave them behind.
We boarded our Buggy, and immediately got a transmission from the main bases.
“Buggy Zealot, do you copy?”
“Yes, we made contact with Station 12, there are multiple casualties, but we’re bringing back a survivor. Prepare the medical bay.”
“Buggy Zealot, we’ve lost contact with station 4, 6, 8 and 9. We are reading multiple heat signatures on the surface, return to Ares immediately.”
“Wait, what the fuck is happening?”
There was a brief pause while I waited for the next transmission.
“Ares, you there?”
Then, they said words I had dreaded the most since I was assigned to the project. A simple sentence that I thought was years away from ever coming true…