One smaller step, p.1
One Smaller Step
Copyright 22/8/2013 by Raymond Daley
Our probes did a pretty decent job of surveying the Moon but some things still required the human touch. On our best choice for a site of the first Lunar Dome we had encountered some magnetic anomalies that the probes just couldn't scan.
So it meant that a human being had to go and find out what was causing them. That's where Mission Specialist Collins came in.
"Capricorn, this is Ground Control. Your landing site is confirmed. Details should be on the display now."
"Roger Control, that places me less than three metres away from the disturbance." said Collins.
"Be careful Collins, if you overshoot the landing you'll end up like the probes." The operator at Ground Control sounded genuinely nervous, all the probes that had entered into the anomaly had either lost control, lost signal or crashed. The surrounding area was littered with their wreckage.
"I know Control, I'm keeping a weather eye on my read-outs here. I've got no wish to be the first man to crash on the Moon. I've got a wife to come back to." said Collins.
"Speaking of which, can I marry her if you die?" came the snappy retort from Ground Control.
"Screw you Zeke, I'm coming back for her. One way or another. Even if I have to walk home." Collins didn't really mind the innuendo and banter, it kept his mind off the danger.
Ground Control razzed him once more, "Hey Collins, is it true you only got into this program because of your Grandfather?"
"Not at all Zeke, he was Irish. My Grandma was the one who worked at Baikonur. She got tired of the Russian administration spying on her so she left the country and moved to somewhere with no space program – Ireland. She met a nice man, settled down and had a son who had me. Is it my fault my father had a sense of humour?"
Collins knew that people back on Earth thought the only reason he was in space was his Astronaut surname. He always had to tell them the M stood for Mikhael. And that he wasn't about to sit out a historic Lunar Mission, watching from space.
Mikhael Collins was about to walk on the Moon. Heck, if the data from Ground Control was correct then he would shortly become the first man to walk beneath the Moon.
Ground Control talked him through the landing, grounding within just less than a metre from the edge of the anomaly. The radio connection to Earth was still strong but the feeling was that it wouldn't continue to be the case once he went below the surface.
"Okay Ground Control, I'll make my way towards the entrance and place a signal booster at the edge of the Dead Zone. I'll send back the shielded ground drones with my logs every fifteen minutes. Consider me lost if there's no report after one hour. I'm on my way. Collins out."
"Be careful out there Collins. You still owe me a beer." Typical Zeke, that was just like his motto. Always leave 'em with a joke.
Out of the ship, Collins carried the ground drones inside a case in one hand with the signal booster in the other. Every few steps he performed a comms check. "You still there Zeke?" Collins asked.
"Sure buddy, you're still coming in strong."
Collins took three more steps and suddenly static hummed in his ear. He took a single step backwards. He could hear Zeke breathing into his headset mic back at Ground Control again. "Hey Zeke. I found the edge, I'm dropping the booster now. Wait one."
Collins activated the signal booster and placed it on the lunar surface then took one step forwards. "Zeke, you still there? Still with me?"
He tried again. "Zeke, you hearing me down there buddy?"
"I guess not then." he said, more to hear his own voice than to try to transmit any message back to Earth. Collins stepped back once more. The sound of far away breathing returned. "Hey Zeke. It doesn't work. Guess I'm flying solo from here."
"Okay buddy. Tread softly and hurry back. Sooner is better than later, you hear?"
Back at Ground Control Zeke Fenton had only been razzing him because he'd initially been the first choice for this mission. A sudden case of chicken pox had grounded him, opening the way for Collins to take the hot seat aboard Capricorn.
Collins activated his in-suit recorder and stepped forward past the signal booster they had hoped would keep communication lines open. The static returned like an unwelcome visitor. Collins hurried on towards the small downward incline that would take him under the surface of the Moon.
Another first for Mankind.
No matter what else happened today, the name Mikhael Collins would be remembered forever as a Lunar Pioneer.
Collins planted a guide pole at the top of the incline and walked down into history. Also darkness. Behind him, a thin cable was paying itself out as a fail-safe guide back to the surface. The tunnel was fairly wide and high and his suit lights provided ample visibility ahead of him.
It did nothing to prevent the prickling feeling on the back of his neck, never knowing exactly what was behind him. After all these years, EVA suits still didn't come with rear-facing mirrors. 'Something to bring up when I get back home,' Collins thought to himself.
Just another trick to occupy the mind in the loneliness of space. There were many more like it.
The tunnel angled down for about thirty metres then levelled off. The first suit alert sounded, Collins dumped his current recording and mounted it to a ground probe which he then sent off, trundling its way back towards the surface.
It would transmit constantly, eventually clearing the Dead Zone and sending his progress back to Zeke at Ground Control. It was the best they could manage under the circumstances but it was better than no contact at all.
Another ten metres of walking brought Collins into a larger cavern. The roof was too high to see. The path was narrow and littered with what appeared to be metal beams.
"I'm seeing signs of possible building or technology down here. We definitely aren't the first ones here. I can make out signs of scuffing on the floor, they dragged their feet – whoever they were. I'm not sure what these things that look like metal beams are.
They look a lot like the corridor support beams from our Transit Craft. I'm trying to be careful how I pass them. I don't want to get my line snagged or to block my way back. The static appears to be getting louder so I think I'm getting closer to the source of the anomaly."
The suit alert sounded again, Collins deployed his latest data back to the surface. After another five metres of walking Collins realised something.
No more static.
He decided to try something. "Hey Zeke, can you hear me?"
Dead air. Nothing.
Whatever the anomaly was, this appeared to be its source. Several piles of fallen rocks, miscellaneous debris littering the floor.
And several familiar looking shapes.
"Guys, I'm seeing what appear to be EVA suits here?"
Something nudged at Collins' feet. He looked down. A ground probe had come back. He pulled the data card, plugging it into his suit.
"Collins, if you're hearing this then the test worked. Your messages are being received all okay here. We're a bit concerned about you being alone down there so we've despatched a Transit Craft out to you. The next message you receive should be from them. Ground Control out."
Collins felt slightly less alone as he deployed his next update. "To whoever receives this, I'm going to check out these things that look a lot like our EVA suits. Whoever was here before us had very similar technology. I hope that I can learn more about them. I'll be as cautious as I can."
The objects were slightly buried in one of the debris piles. If they were suits then there were four of them by his count. "It is possible that four is a significant number to who ever these visitors were."
"Hello Collins, this is Transit Craft Delta Two. Captain Liam Wilson with Specialists Omar Neru and Tara Jones, on our way to meet you. We estimate our arrival at your landing site in about thirty minutes. We look forward to hearing your next update."
Collins returned to his task, eager to uncover the objects before company arrived. Rolling aside three more rocks finally revealed a rectangular shape covered in a thick layer of dust. "This seems to be some shape similar to our life support system. I am wiping away the dust to see if there are any displays or read-outs."
Collins brushed the dirt away with his suited hands. "It almost looks like white plastic of some kind," he wiped his hands across the surface, removing more dust. "I'm seeing markings? They look like letters? This can't be possible. I see an I and an F?"
He was breathing faster now, in the excitement of this discovery. "There's something I can't quite make out, then a U, a P, another P and an O? I think there's more there but it's badly damaged by the dust and it's obviously been here quite a long time."
More frantic scraping revealed the whole object, definitely some kind of suit. Collins struggled to turn it over.
With a final pull, the object turned over. Time had not eroded the front. Clearly stencilled across the middle of the chest was the name of its occupant. "Delta Two. You MUST abort your landing! These things don't just look like EVA suits. They are EVA suits! I just turned the smallest one onto its back. It had a name on the front. It reads T. Jones.
Please Delta Two, abort your landing! My battery is running low. Abort! Just leave me here! Tell my wife........"
Thus ends the final ground drone message received by Ground Control and Delta Two.
Despite his low battery Specialist Collins was able to return to the Capricorn and safely get back to Earth along with Transit Craft Delta Two. Establishment of Lunar Domes has been cancelled until further notice.
All records pertaining to this mission are to be classified as MAXIMUM SECRET.
Authors Notes:- Inspired by the short movie Unearthed. Originally I was going to end the story after the last transmission. The transcript idea was an after thought, I'm still not sure how well it works as an ending.
I like space travel. I was fairly annoyed that poor Michael Collins got to go into space but never onto the Moon, this is my way of settling that. The reference to Zeke's chicken pox refers to Apollo 13. Zeke comes from Deke Slayton, one of the Mercury astronauts. I have purposely put no date of when this is supposed to be set, the reader can decide for themselves.
Capricorn refers to the movie Capricorn One, if you haven't seen it then it's a must watch. And in case you hadn't guessed, the writing on the back of the suit would have said LIFE SUPPORT.
One Smaller Step by Ray Daley / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on40 votes