Authors: Jeremy Robinson
"I'm okay!" Stewart shouted with a chuckle. "The facemask absorbed most of the impact." Wearing a wide grin on his face, Stewart rolled over onto his back. "See, I'm fine.... Huh."
After years of working with science minded folks, Peterson had learned that there was a single phrase that always held more meaning among scientists than among the layman. The simple word, "huh," usually predated a significant discovery, observation or in some cases, immediate and approaching danger. Peterson rushed toward Stewart, "What is it?"
Pointing towards his clear mask, Stewart said. "There's a crack in the mask."
Peterson kneeled over Stewart's body, inspecting the mask.
If Stewart came into contact with alien biological material, the effects could range from nothing to instantaneous death. That's why with objects of particular interest, Peterson always had his crew wear bio-suits. When he inspected the crack in Stewart's mask, his anxiety level grew from moderate to severe. He sucked in a quick breath.
Stewart grew instantly nervous. "What?"
Benson knelt down next to Peterson and saw it too. "Some of the meteorite is imbedded in your mask. Can you see it?"
Stewart went cross-eyed, focusing on the inside of his mask. "Yeah, I see it. A little red line. Looks like dust in the crack."
"Is there any on the inside of the mask?" Peterson asked.
Stewart scanned the inside of the mask. "I don't see any. Am I going to—aachoo!" Stewart's head rocketed up with the force of the sneeze and then smashed back down. "Sorry about that, I...I..."
Peterson inspected the crack. The red material was gone. "Oh god." A thin cloud of red dust swirled inside the mask. Stewart inhaled and sucked in the material.
"I...where am I?" Stewart said, his voice sounding sleepy.
Benson shot Peterson a worried look.
Peterson whipped around toward the other men. "Get to the heli! Tell them we need a med-evac over here, right now!"
The men bolted for the chopper and Peterson turned his attention back to Stewart, who was beginning to quiver.
"What's that?" Stewart said fearfully, looking to his left. "Something's over there. And there! No, no, no. Where
"Hang on, Stew. I'm still with you." Peterson said, trying to remain calm.
"Dr. Peterson? I can't see you! Who's that talking? I can't understand?" Stewart shook violently. Benson did his best to hold him still. "My head...in my head...I can hear them talking to me...What are you?"
Stewart became deathly still, sucking in quick breaths. His eyes were wide. Peterson realized he was listening to something. "Stewart, can you hear me?"
"No..." Stewart said.
Peterson was confused by the response. If Stewart couldn't hear him, how did he know a question had been asked? It was when Stewart spoke again that Peterson realized the delirious intern wasn't talking to him.
"You're lying! No...no! Stewart was screaming as his body convulsed violently. His back arched as though an electric shock had ripped through his body. A burst of red foam spewed from his mouth, coating the inside of the mask. He froze in a sickening arched position.
Peterson and Benson knew Stewart was dead. And because he was contaminated there was nothing either man could do to resuscitate him. Peterson slumped back onto the ice, his chest rising and falling quickly as he attempted to catch his breath.
Both men looked from Stewart's dead body, then to each other, then back to the meteorite. Despite feeling sick to his stomach, Peterson realized what Stewart's death meant. It was a tragic loss, but in his death he proved the presence of alien biology.
Peterson lay on his back as the sound of the approaching helicopter grew louder. He sighed as he looked up at the bright cobalt sky and said, "All my life..."
CHAPTER 2 --
At -55 degrees Celsius, the air felt cold enough to freeze human lungs solid. Kathy Connolly had first felt the chill more than five years ago when she first arrived at
-55 degree weather to return. Of course, technology had improved since her first days at
But even with all the high tech gear, the cold still hammered her body. Connelly and Willard were already ten minutes over that mark, and the cold was beginning to seep through.
"Boss, we have to get back inside!" Willard shouted over a gust of wind. Ethan Willard looked like a visitor from another planet. His body was covered in the same outdoor gear as Connelly, but his light blue eyes were concealed behind bug-eyed, mirrored sunglasses.
"I just need one more minute!" Kathy said.
"Another minute and we'll be popsicles! We have to go now!"
Connelly trusted Willard's opinion, but TES was too important. When the winds had picked up, she had known the supports would need to be secured, but she hadn't counted on the drop in temperature. Connelly looked up and took in the massive structure, which she had designed and built, mostly with her own hands. The Thermal Exploratory System (TES), towered fifty feet above Connelly. Its three black diamond shaped panels pointed skywards, enclosing and protecting the delicate innards—a sphere and three cranes—which gave the entire structure the shape of an ominous dark crystal.
"Not yet!" Kathy said. "TES is too important!"
"Important enough to die for?"
Connelly whipped her head to Willard and gave a quick nod.
Willard shook his head. "How am I supposed to keep you safe if you don't listen to me?"
Connelly's fingers flew over a keyboard at the base of one of the TES panels. Work was slowed by having to constantly brush snow from the plastic covered keys and her gloved hands made frequent mistakes. She had delicately tightened the slack on two of the support cables which held TES rigid against the wind, and had just started tightening the third when a loud
filled the air. Connelly shuddered. She knew what that sound meant. One of the cables had snapped loose.
"Shit!" Kathy shouted. "Ethan, secure that line!"
Willard grunted in frustration, but quickly ran for the line, which was being whipped side to side, like a wriggling snake. Willard crept up on the cable, which was as thick as Kielbasa and flexible as a double jointed contortionist. Willard bent down, preparing to pounce.
Before Willard's muscles could snap him into action, the cable swung in his direction and wrapped around his ankle. A strong gust of wind took hold of the cable and pulled. Willard was yanked off his feet and dragged back and forth across the ice like a rag doll. Willard tried to dig into the rough snow and ice, but his gloved fingers simply scraped the surface. Willard's stomach twisted as he was launched skyward and slammed back down again. He coughed as the air was knocked out of him, but he managed to get out a yell, "Some help here!" It was all he could manage before the cable was plucked up by the wind and Willard was airborne was again.
Connelly looked over just as Willard struck the ice. She wanted to help, but couldn't. Not before finishing. She worked the console with a burst of speed, eager to assist her friend. She gave the cable, which was whipping Willard around, some extra slack and prepped the retraction process. Once started, they would have thirty seconds while the system warmed up. After that, the cable would retract and either yank them both skyward, or snap securely into position on a hook braced twenty-five feet within the ice crust.
With her finger hovering over the final key, Connelly prepared herself to run. She pushed the button and sprinted towards Willard, who was now in a sitting position, hanging onto the cable above his feet. Connelly ran to the cable and took hold a few feet above Willard.
"Bout time," Willard said.
"Shut up and get that off your leg!"
Willard squinted behind his sunglasses. "Or what?"
"Just do it!"
Connelly imagined that Willard could hear the urgency in her voice, even above the howling wind, because he sprang into action, tugging at the thick cable.
Willard's foot was freed and he grabbed the cable, which ended in a loop. "All set!"
"Get it looped up!" Connelly shouted.
Willard tugged back on the cable, fighting against the wind, and with Connelly's help, was able to pull the slack cable closer to the hook, extending a few inches from the snow.
"Ten seconds!" Kathy shouted.
"Ten seconds until what?"
Connelly didn't answer and Willard didn't press the subject. He dug his heels into the snow and fell back with the cable, pulling it toward the hook with his hands. There were only inches to go, but the wind was putting up a fight.
Willard grunted as he pulled with all his strength. The cable slid over the hook, but looked as though it might slide back off. With all the slack Connelly had given it, the cable thrashed wildly in the wind. But there was no time left.
"Let go!" Connelly shouted as though their lives depended on it. Connelly dropped the cable and dove to the side. Willard rolled away. As Willard flipped onto his back he saw the slack on the cable disappear as the line was sucked into TES like a giant strand of spaghetti. The line snapped taut and would have easily cut a man in half if he'd been standing too close. Willard caught his breath as he stared up at the secure line. They'd done it.
A shadow fell over Willard as Kathy stood above him. "What the hell are we still doing out here?" she asked. "It's freezing!" Willard laughed as Connelly thrust out her gloved hand and helped him to his feet.
The Vostok TES Observatory stood in stark contrast to the surroundings, with its nine dark gray metallic domes, each pocked with round portals and luminous flood lights. Some of her Vostok neighbors had commented that it looked like a UFO at night. The nine domes where spread out in a circle and were connected by curved tunnels, all of which joined together at the center, where a large dome, the size of a four bedroom house, served as the main living quarters.
Willard and Connelly entered one of the outer tunnels through a thick hatch. Snow exploded into the hallway. Willard closed the heavy door behind them and secured it. After pulling off his hood and Simmer Suit head covering, Willard shook his golden hair with his finger, sprinkling water into the air, and smiled at Connelly. "Geez boss, you're almost as crazy as me."
Connelly smiled in return. Coming from Willard, that was a compliment. She continued to remove her gear, down to her Simmer Suit, as she spoke. "Better get used to it," she said. "Once TES is up and running we're going to be spending every other hour outside, just melting through the ice."
Willard shook his head. "That
Connelly offered a sarcastic smile and said, "Thanks for your support."
The main living quarters were composed of separate bedrooms and a multifunction room, which served as kitchen, dining room, living room and most recently, electronics lab. The space was circular and forty feet in diameter, but it was cluttered with computers, spools of wires, soldering equipment, computer chips and other assorted high-tech gizmos. There was a lab for such work, but with only three of them currently stationed at the Vostok TES Observatory, they preferred to spend most of their time together.