Luna’s Box

I was trying to go classic sci-fi- with this one. I think it turned out pretty decent. Not much to say about this one, it’s pretty straight-forward!

 

 

The airlock slid open with a hiss, and geologist Dr. Ellen Hastings stepped into the Easton Mining Company’s biopod on the surface of the moon. Biologists Worth and Mason shuffled in close behind her. A tall thin man with curling brown hair greeted them with a crooked smile on his angular face. He gave a short glance to the Pad in his hand.

“Welcome to Pod Fifteen, I’m Jorge Alvarez, and you must be Dr. Hastings?” He extended a thin hand to Ellen. She shook it and gave a curt nod. “And Dr. Worth?” he said, looking back and forth between the two men. One was balding thick and pale, and the other dark of skin and hair and wearing old fashioned spectacles. The bespectacled man stepped forward and shook Jorge’s hand.

“I’m Winston Worth, pleasure to meet you Mr. Alvarez.” His voice was deep and he spoke slowly.

“The pleasure’s mine.” Jorge smiled, then turned to the remaining man. “And that would make you Dr. Nakamura, wel-”

“No no, there was a last minute change, as you should have been notified. I’m Dr. Samuel Mason.” His voice was shaky and thin. Ellen had heard the same brief explanation on the flight over.

Jorge tapped some commands on his Pad. “I haven’t received any-”

“Well you really should have by now.”

“My apologies then. Follow me and I’ll take you all to the site.”

~

As Jorge drove them in the rover across the regolith, Ellen looked out the window at the glowing earth. Only a day ago, she had been safe on that warm globe. The others seemed unimpressed. Worth typed something on his Pad with a soft smile on his face, and Mason kept crossing and uncrossing his arms and fiddling with his watch.

Ahead she saw the white half-sphere of the biopod sharply outlined against the inky, black sky.

“A living space has been set up for you directly above the site, you can see it just ahead here,” Jorge was saying. “We’ve set up what scientific equipment we had available, but it’s not much.”

“I’m sure we’ll manage,” said Worth, without looking up.

~

The airlock opened and Ellen and the others followed Jorge into the pod.

“Ugh, these locks take forever,” Mason looked at his watch again. “Let’s get a move on please?”

“All right then, you can get settled in here later, I’ll take you down to… whatever it is, and leave you to your work. And, I’m sorry Dr. Mason, but we have one more airlock to go through, so helmets back on.”

Ellen’s heart raced. What they were here to see had been kept quiet, but it was sure to be something major. All they knew was that one of the miners had found something while drilling beneath the surface.

They snapped their helmets back into place and turned on the radio communication.

“All right, we need to go down quite a ways before we meet up with the tunnel that was being drilled below, so be prepared,” said Jorge over the radio.

This airlock was a vertical one. Ellen clung to a ladder as the air was cleared out of the small space. The hatch opened below and she lowered herself down the ladder into darkness.

The lamp on her helmet illuminated jagged, crumbling walls as they climbed down. The tunnel was nearly a hundred meters below them, and several minutes passed before Ellen finally felt her feet on solid ground. The oppressive silence of the vacuum made her ears ring. The sound of her own breathing and the sporadic hiss of the radio felt like companions as she looked out at the others moving noiselessly through the dark.

Jorge lead the way down the tunnel, waving them onward.

“It’s just a little bit ahead here.” His voice crackled inside Ellen’s helmet.

Their headlamps swept across fallen rocks and torn up ground. She saw Mason with his Pad out filming everything. A waste of time, she thought. All their video and pictures would be taken by government officials before they left, and all their ID’s were noted in the satellite system, blocking any transfers they might try to make.

Jorge pointed. “Here is where I drilled through before I realized what I was looking at.”

The tunnel narrowed to a smaller opening two or three meters in diameter. The rock was different here, Ellen noticed. The broken chunks were smooth, and homogeneous in texture and color, and all with sharp flat angles.

“This stone is—”

“Yes, just through here, you’ll see,” Jorge stepped through the opening and out of view.

Ellen followed him, stepping carefully down the slight drop-off. Then her feet fell onto smooth stone.

“Oh my God.” She swept the light around with her gaze. She was in a square chamber, the walls and floor were perfectly smooth and flat stone, near thirty meters on each side. The room was flat, unadorned and a featureless grey. It appeared to be empty, then Ellen’s light fell on a lump of something in the far corner.

“What is that?” She pointed, and the others looked.

“That… is even stranger,” said Jorge.

As they walked across the level surface of the floor, Ellen looked for any kind of markings on the walls, and could see none; the lump in the corner was the only feature. It looked to be about half a meter high, and maybe two long. As they drew closer, it became clear that it was covered in some kind of cloth of a faded brownish-white color.

“What is this? Why have you covered it?” Worth said.

“Nothing has been touched but the ground we are walking on.”

“How…”

“Look.” Jorge pointed at a fold in the cloth and they all leaned in. Mason shoved his Pad forward as much as he could. Between the folds could be seen something shriveled, dried and desiccated. Something that had clearly once been alive.

“This- this-” Mason stuttered.

“Yes,” said Jorge. “We think that this is the first discovered extra-terrestrial life form, and that you are standing in the first discovered extra-terrestrial artifact.”

~

After the shock and excitement wore off, Worth and Mason decided to move the body up to the biopod for more convenient study. After placing it in a vacuum-sealed container, they transported it back up top with the help of Jorge. Ellen stayed behind to look at the stone construction.

She could find no break in the stone, it all appeared to be one solid piece. All the angles were a perfect ninety degrees, and the only thing interrupting the perfect flatness were some scrapes along the wall where the body had been. Perhaps, she thought, the being had been trying to leave a message. Before leaving, she took some video and several pictures with her Pad, and placed a few chunks that had been broken off by the drill in a sealed container, for further study.

Back up top, she pulled off her helmet to see the two men exiting a room they had made into a quarantine for the body.

“Simply amazing,” Worth was saying, as he pulled off his helmet. “Ah, Dr. Hastings, you’ve missed a great deal. We have learned much already.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, yes!” Worth beamed. “The creature seems to have a skeletal system of a sort, though the bones appear designed to be able to relocate themselves, and the cells are of a completely innovative arrangement, unlike any on earth —they are open ended in their construction, leaving them free for modification on the fly, and—”

“Really, we should be getting to bed, we can work this out tomorrow, don’t you think?” Mason sputtered, glancing fitfully at his watch.

“Ah, yes, Dr. Mason is very tired from the flight, and has convinced me we should get an early start tomorrow. Did you discover anything interesting?”

“Well, my first assumption was that it was a tomb. Now I think it’s more likely that it was a sort of prison, or at least that the being was trapped in there and alive at some point. Also, my first guess is that it was constructed over ten thousand years ago.”

“Ten thousand —my Lord! What would that—”

“Please! Dr. Worth, I’m very tired, can’t we continue this in the morning?” Mason’s voice was cracked and his face sweaty.

“Of course, yes, of course.” Dr. Worth replied, a concerned and confused look on his face. “Until tomorrow, Dr. Hastings.” He nodded at her, then headed into his sleeping chamber.

Ellen headed to her own room, noticing Mason looking over his shoulder at her as she closed the door.

She sat on her cot and began to look over the rocks she had collected.

~

Samuel Mason shut the door behind him and leaned on it with a sigh. Finally, they were in their rooms. He was running short on time.

The hardest part was over though, he thought, as he unstrapped his watch and unscrewed the back.

Poisoning Nakumara in order to take his spot had been tricky. Making the deal with the journalist at World News had been even more difficult, but the hardest part was rigging the signal amplifier that he had hidden in his watch. Though the satellites were blocking any signal from his Pad, that would not stop him from transferring something directly. With his signal boosted by this little device, he would be able to send pictures, video and other data to his partner in the ship that would be flying over the biopod in just under half an hour.

He plugged the booster into his Pad and quietly exited his room. He had enough time to get a few more pictures of the body. With Worth out of the way he could pull back that cloth and get a better view.

Mason hurried into the quarantined area without donning his suit. In the few minutes he was going to be in there, it wouldn’t matter.

He carefully pulled the shroud back from the dried body. He could see several shriveled limbs pulled up against its mid section, the skin was tight against clearly visible bones.

He leaned in for a closer view of the face. One foggy and cracked eye stared up at him from an oblong skull. As he adjusted the zoom on his Pad, he felt a bead of sweat forming on his forehead.

Before he could move, it was too late. He watched as the drop fell down to splash on the dusty skin of the alien body.

“Shit.” He wiped his face with his sleeve, and looked to see what damage he had done. The color had changed in the spot where the drop landed, from a dull grey color to a more pinkish hue, and was spreading outward before his eyes.

He caught a whiff of something then. Something old. Something that triggered a memory he could not quite place. Something nostalgic and melancholy. Something he was missing, or had forgotten. He breathed in deeply trying to place it, and his head was filled with a numb buzzing.

The skin was the answer. That pink patch. The texture looked so strange. His fingers itched to touch it. He watched as his hand moved forward, knowing that something was wrong, yet unable to resist.

He placed his palm against its skin, and his hand was filled with searing pain.

Samuel Mason watched as his hand shriveled into a blackened husk, and felt himself losing consciousness.

~

Ellen was distracted from her study of the stone pieces by a crash outside her door. She almost ignored it, as she was nearly certain she had found some kind of writing etched onto one of the broken pieces that must have formed the outer wall. Could the whole outside of the thing be covered in writing? She set down the stones with a sigh, and went to investigate the sound.

“Everything all right?” No one was in the main room. She looked through the window into the quarantined area. It took a moment for her to process what she was looking at.

The table the body had been on was tipped over, and Mason was lying on the floor next to it with his hand on the fallen specimen. He looked… wrong, somehow.

She rushed to open the door then stopped in her tracks. The dried body was much bigger than before. And it was moving. Pulsing. Writhing. She heard sickening wet popping and cracking sounds coming from it.

It lurched into a sitting position, the cloth falling away, and Ellen saw a pink mass of flesh in the vague shape of a human. Shallow pits were where the eyes and mouth might be. The neck and shoulders looked soft and rounded; malleable.

It stood up and there was a snap as Mason’s arm broke off from his body, and hung by the hand from the creature’s chest area. It was desiccated, the skin tight against the bone. She knew that his whole body must be that way, its liquids absorbed by this thing.

She watched, frozen, as it stepped toward her, the soft pink mass coalescing into skin and muscles and hair. Finally, a copy of Mason was standing naked at the door of the quarantine room, a blank look on its face.

“What’s going on here?” Worth looked out from his door. “Mason, what the devil?”

“No! It’s not—”

Worth pushed past her into the room. “What have you done here? I knew you were up to something fishy! What have you —agh!”

The thing reached out and grabbed Worth by the throat, and Ellen watched his skin shrivel and crack beneath its touch.

She had to get outside, away, she had to warn Jorge. Where was her helmet? In her room. She rushed in and snatched it off the bed as she heard Worth’s body thud onto the ground behind her.

Then she felt hot breath on the back of her neck —and that smell. What was that smell?

~

Jorge Alvarez heard the airlock open and turned from his work to see a suited Dr. Mason step in from the surface.

“What the… did you walk here?”

The man did not respond, but turned and entered the nearby airlock that lead to the docked ship waiting to take the scientists back to Earth. Jorge shook his head, all it would have taken was a call or a mail and he would have sent the rover to pick him up.

A short while later he watched as the ship took off, flying its passengers toward their blue home in the distance.

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