Remember last week’s flash fiction piece where I said I had so many ideas through my dreams? Yeah that, well it happened again this week and I wasn’t even asleep. I was vaguely drifting off when I exclaimed to my girlfriend “it happened again” and proceeded to tell her – well, it was about three sentences because it was that vague of an idea, about what had just happened.
This is what I came up with.
‘Hello sir, I trust your flight up was pleasant?’ she smiled with the official air of the military that betrayed a minimum level of respect for civilians, or academics, whatever her particular prejudice was. He reached out to shake her hand and she accepted. His brow creased, ‘Yes thank you, rather uneventful. You must be … Commander Simpson?’ She looked nothing like he expected, he’d imagined stern features to go with the no-nonsense tone but he’d been wrong. Her features were delicate and she was surprisingly small for the gravelly voice that was his first introduction to her. She was also surprisingly young for one with such an important commission.
‘You look nothing like I imagined,’ she smirked as if reading his mind.
He grinned. ‘Ah yes, well. Not all quantum physicists wear leather jackets and carry a guitar everywhere they go, and I prefer to wear a beard.’
‘I’m certainly glad about that, Doctor Byrne.’ She turned and gestured to the cold, oppressing grey tunnel behind her. It was predictably hexagonal, mimicking everything he expected about off-world military installations. All they needed was for the lights to go off and a malevolent alien life form to break out from the walls. ‘I know your time here on The Moon is short, shall we?’
Her pace was quick and he wasn’t sure whether it was military habit or her personal distaste for civilians meaning she wanted this over and done with quickly.
‘May I ask why I am here, I mean… why me?’
‘We have researchers from the European Union, from the USA, China, Russia and India. North Korea, as much as their country has opened up in recent years, is still slightly xenophobic and distrusting of most outsiders. That’s a lot of science and military egos to placate. May I be frank?’ she turned to look at him.
‘You are the only name put forward that all of them trusted.’ She opened the door and gestured for him to pass through.
‘Sounds as much the poisoned chalice as an honour, then.’ He chuckled.
‘We’re not even sure if you can help us but most agree that you are our first port of call.’
He nodded. ‘I will do my best. I was given no brief though?’
‘And you won’t,’ she replied curtly, ‘at least, not until after you’ve seen it. Then you’ll meet with the top people here and we’ll tell you everything we know.’
She led him to an airlock and not to a conference room as he expected. ‘We’re going outside?’
She immediately began donning a vacuum suit and instructed him to do the same. ‘It really is best that you see it immediately. I’ll fill you in on the details on the descent.’
What struck him most about being on the surface of the moon was the lack of atmosphere, the lack of feeling the elements. He expected to feel something. But here, there was nothing but a distinct feeling of cold lifelessness, a cold that he felt despite the insulation of the suit.
The ground beneath his feet felt impossibly dry and he took a few small steps to explore the curious feeling. The Commander thought nothing of it, she must have been outside many times before. They followed a lit path around the side of the building and Doctor Byrne was struck by the glow of the brilliant blue diamond of Earth against the black background.
She must have heard him breathe in sharply then. ‘It never stops being that awe inspiring, Doctor.’ She said no more.
They stopped at a square pit, roughly ten metres by ten metres. At the near side was a mechanical lift with a pylon rising twenty feet above it. It had no electronics and the lift itself had safety bars around the side; it was a design typically reserved for moving supplies, nothing too expensive but stuff that needed moving in bulk and moving quickly without the need to replace complex and expensive computer parts in the result of a breakdown.
They stepped onto the lift and the Commander threw the switch that began the slow descent. ‘Computer. Call Lieutenant Commander Sørensen.’ After a few seconds the line connected. ‘Sørensen. Yes he’s here. We’re on our way down.’ Then she cut the line.
‘This rock,’ she gestured at the wall, ‘thousands of years old. None of it has been disturbed until now, which makes what we found at the bottom even more shocking.’
‘How far down is… it?’
Lights had been drilled into the rock and soil and placed at regular intervals but the ambience was inadequate; he could barely see the walls, the illumination providing the only proof that the four of them existed.
‘About a hundred and fifty feet. We’ve dated the soil down there to something like three hundred million years old. It’s quite remarkable, really. And it makes what we found down there even more puzzling.’
He pulled his arms in close to his body, the temperature had dropped noticeably since their descent.
‘Sorry about that,’ she said, noticing his reaction. ‘We’ve a fully heated tent down there. Hot air rises so we can’t really expend the energy on heating the shaft. The suits are inadequate I know and I’ve requested a few upgrades, whether I’ll ever get them though is another matter.’
He peered over the edge and finally saw the roof of the tent the first time. It was lit up from the inside and only a short path linked the lift are to the tent entrance.
A few minutes later the lift came to rest with a clunk that seemed all the more louder for the surrounding silence. Lieutenant Commander Sørensen was there to greet them at the bottom. If Simpson was surprisingly young, then Sørensen was surprisingly advanced in years – clearly beyond retirement age. Byrne wondered whether it was his brilliance or unwillingness to go that meant he was still in the role.
‘Commander, Doctor.’ he nodded at both in turn. ‘Please follow me.’
The tent was a simple yet sturdy construction with surprisingly thick and flexible walls – probably made of an advanced rubber. There was no floor and so the dry sandy ashy feeling under foot remained as they stepped inside.
‘That’s it, right there. Go an take a look, Doctor,’ said Simpson.
It was a pod, lozenge shaped with a glass front at one end and a digital display on the other. It was six feet long and the metal was milky white, contrasting starkly with the grey colouring of the soil and rock that surrounded it. Slowly, he let his gaze drift along the length of the lozenge. There was a company logo that he didn’t recognise and above that, the digital display read in two rows: Time in stasis YEARS: 750. MONTHS: 8. WEEKS: 2. DAYS: 3. HHMMSS: 19:50:12
The glass section was clear and behind it was the unmistakable face of a human woman. Blond hair tied back in a bun, she looked about 35 years old yet had a certain youthfulness that made her one of those people that would always look younger than her years. The most startling thing wasn’t that a 750 year old cryotube was 150ft beneath the surface of The Moon in rock that was 300 million years old, technology that did not exist when the Black Death was sweeping across Europe, it was that the woman inside was Commander Simpson.