As I went in to cryo-sleep again, I had another dream.
The eyes I was seeing through weren’t mine. I could tell as much. They were the eyes of someone else. Someone older. Someone who had strength and confidence. Well, most of the time. With this person, they were dragging their feet. Something stayed their motion. Was it fear? Sadness? I couldn’t tell. But for whatever reason, as they walked down the street, they didn’t carry themselves well. It was Mars. That much, I could tell. In fact, the more I saw of this street, the more familiar it started to look. I saw the house of one of my oldest friends! Through whose eyes was I seeing this? Better question, why were they here? The person turned a corner, and I saw my house. The fear that was slowing them got sharper. I could feel it. The person was desperately trying to hold back tears. They looked down, and I saw that they were wearing a uniform! Mars?! Why was Mars here?
She finally arrived at the door, her hand visibly shaking as she went to the bell. Finally, after some mental fortitude, she willed herself to press the button. There was a brief pause, with her straightening her uniform.
Dad came to the door.
“Oh, hello. How can I help you?” He was looking Mars over, surmising that someone in a military uniform must have official business.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“Is your wife here as well?”
“She is.” Dad’s face got more concerned.
“If I could step inside, I have something that I need to talk to you about.”
“Honey, who’s at the door…?” It was Mom. She came walking in. “Oh, someone from the IDF. How can we help you?”
“My name is Marlene Devareau. I was part of the Europa mission.”
Both of them lightened up a bit after that.
“Ah, then you might know our daughter!” Dad said. “She is on that mission. Slated to be home in a couple of months. Should have already launched. Is the shuttle here? Did they get home early?!” That got the two of them excited.
Mars let out a long breath. Both of my parents looked worried.
“Did something happen to Ellie…?” Mom asked, grabbing Dad’s hand.
“Something…went wrong. We should go inside and talk. This should be private.” Things suddenly faded out.
They faded back in with me seeing Mom on the couch, trying to hold it together, while Dad was crying. Mars was on the verge of tears herself, fiddling with her hands.
“Everything happened so fast. There was the alarm, and Aronax telling the crew to abandon the Station. I desperately tried to reach Ellie, but the long-range transmitter was down. Hers wasn’t the only Distance crew we lost. I was about to suit up and head out to find her, but the Commander stopped me. Had to throw me onto the elevator. I haven’t gotten my ass kicked by a CO like that in a long time. He told me, ‘there’s nothing you can do. Even if you found her, this place would be sunk by the time you got back.’ I hated him. Wanted to shoot him and head back out. That little girl, she wasn’t just my job. She was…” Tears flowed in earnest.
“Your friend?” Mom asked. All Mars could do was nod. Nobody talked for a while.
Finally, Dad looked up. “If she did find her way back to Atlantis, could she have survived?”
Trying to find the right words. I knew this feeling well. “The fact is that everything was falling apart at the time when we were ordered to abandon the Station. We had minutes. Water was rushing in from everywhere. The Station was already starting to buckle. The most nervous I was during all that was when the elevator started to buckle. We would have had to climb up the shaft. If that had started to flood, then we all would have died. We had to shut off the elevators after we got up. So many crew didn’t even get a chance to evacuate. Whole sections decompressed and water rushed in. God, the people who must have drowned in there. I don’t even want to think about it. Ellie…” More tears. I felt like crying too. All I wanted to do was hold Mars. I guess my mother could channel my thoughts, because she went over to the woman and put her arms around her.
“You did all you could.”
“I should have gone after her! So what if I died! At least she wouldn’t have had to die alone! She would have been with people who loved and cared for her!”
Dad looked up. “No. I know that Ellie wouldn’t have wanted that. She would want you to live and be happy. She wasn’t the kind of person to want anyone to suffer.”
It was true. I would have been so angry at Mars if she had stayed in that Station and had died to find me, when she could have escaped.
“I had to be restrained once we got back to the surface. They shoved me into that shuttle and we left. Going into cryo for the journey was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. We just got back. There hasn’t been an official announcement about what happened on Europa. The PR people are trying to find the right way to word it. We technical don’t even know. Everything happened so fast that we couldn’t conduct any scans. Aronax prioritized the safety of the crew. He’s a good man. I may have hated him then, but he is a good man. Did everything he could to save as many people as possible.”
My parents nodded.
“I’m glad that he saved you,” Mom whispered.
“So you could tell us what happened. So it wasn’t someone who didn’t love and care about our daughter coming in and telling us the truth. That’s important.”
Now Mars was choking back sobs. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I tried…”
Mom just hugged her tighter. All the control that Mars had melted away, and she broke into Mom’s shoulder. Nobody talked, for a time.
“We’ll have to get started with funeral proceedings,” Dad said, his lip trembling.
“Yeah. I’ll make some calls.”
He shook his head. “No, I’ll do it. You stay with Marlene.” The dream was fading out. They believed I was dead. How long would they believe that? What would happen next?
The first thing that I remember is the sound of beeping. A noise that seemed familiar, to me. A heart-sensor! My eyes opened, but my body felt unbelievably stiff. Had something gone wrong? I don’t remember coming out of cryo being this unpleasant before. My body was a little weak. Weaker than other times I’ve come out of cryo. What happened? The room I was in was white. Very, very white. A little cool, too. Looking around, this place was nice. Very nice. It was the Station! Of that, I was sure. I looked to the other side, and saw Lucas there. Thank God. Moving got a little easier. There was an IV in my arm. As I was awake and looking around, my optical implants came online, along with my Band. It told me about my surroundings. Sure enough, I was back on one of the Orbital Stations. My heart was singing. We were home! Now I could tell my parents that I’m not dead.
First, I had to check on Lucas. My vitals were strong enough. But I had to start moving. Sitting up was not easy. Why was my body so weak? An analysis seemed to point to a cryo-sleep that was longer than normal. How long had I been out? Not enough data. Having finally sat up, now I had to try standing. My feet didn’t touch the floor sitting up, so I was going to have to slide off. That was going to be fun. A little courage moment, then I did it. My feet greeting floor was scary. But my balance returned. I wasn’t going to be running marathons, but I could move. I walked over to where Lucas lay. We were both in our underwear, from when we went under. We couldn’t have been out of the cryo-pods for long. My optics did a scan. Lucas was alright. Like me, he was suffering the effects of what most likely was a long cryo-sleep.
Time to get a doctor and to talk about this. I shuffled back to my bed and moved it up so that I could lay in a seated position. So tired, but didn’t want to sleep. Done enough of that for two lifetimes. My Band hooked in to the network here and let the desk know that I was alive and looking for assistance. A young man came in, smiling at me.
“Well, hello there! Glad to see that one of our sleeping beauties is awake.” Flattering bastard. I admit, I blushed a bit. He’s a sweet guy, and, I admit, kinda cute.
“Yeah. How long was I out?”
He frowned a bit. “I’m not sure. There is someone here that can help you with that, though. He’s the head of the Medical Ward, here on this Station. We’re with the IDF, so he should have all the answers. I’ll ring him up.
About 15 minutes later, an older man, with a trimmed white beard and a jovial face came to my door.
“Well hello, young lady! I see that you and your companion are awake.”
Indeed, Lucas had woken up. Well, I woke him up.
“I had to get his lazy ass up, but yeah,” I sneered.
“Blow me, bitch,” Lucas replied. We chuckled.
Taking out a tablet, the head of the Medical Ward sat down. “Nice to see you two are up. My name is Director Adrian Veer. I’m the head of this facility. Sounds like you two have had quite a ride.”
Lucas snorted. “Understatement of the fucking year.” I wasn’t about to argue.
“Well, I understand you were wanting to know about your cryo-sleep.”
I nodded. “My optical implant told me that that was the most likely reason behind my muscle weakness and why I didn’t come out of sleep in the pod.”
“That’s true. You two’s shuttle had to make a whole bunch of course corrections. Avoiding more pirates, like the ones who captured you. Smart defensive systems on those. After you got away from the ship you were on, and a ton of corrections to keep you out of enemy hands, you headed back to Mars. The whole journey took just over a year.”
“A year?!” I gasped.
“Yeah. The Asteroid Belt is a pretty risky place. Your shuttle was a little overly cautious, but it got the job done. You weren’t captured again, after all.”
It was shocking, but I had to give him credit. That shuttle had kept us out of danger.
Lucas decided to step in. “So, then, it would have been about a year and a half, since we left Europa, then. Wow. Why didn’t we wake up in the pods?”
The Director looked at the chart. “According to our information, given your age and the length of your cryo-sleep, they wanted to make sure that you hadn’t had any adverse effects. When they pulled you out of the pods, they gave you some anesthetic, to keep you under, until we could verify your health. That’s part of the reason for the weakness. The drugs are wearing off.”
“And, was there anything wrong with us?” I asked..
“Aside from some mild melanin depletion, you’re fine. Though the two of you are pale as corpses. Kind of unnerving.” He chuckled. Lucas and I couldn’t help but do so as well. It felt good.
“So, is IDF Command going to be debriefing us?” Lucas asked.
“Very astute. When we got word that you were up and about, I sent word to them. Commander Aronax is coming to debrief you, along with talk about other things. If you’re hungry, I can arrange for some meals to be sent up. It isn’t technically meal time, but I think that we can make an exception, for a couple celebrities.”
Both of us looked shocked.
“Oh, I know who you are. Stay here. I’ll have meals sent up.”
Both of us were starving. I was eager to feel like I was alive again.
After getting some lunch, Lucas and I were totally different people. It was just chicken strips and fries, but I felt so good. There were all kinds of people poking their heads in. The whole celebrity thing that the Director brought up. Oh well. It felt kinda cool, to be a rock star. The two of us were giggling like schoolkids again as Commander Aronax came into the room. Both of us looked up.
“Ah, I see our two stars have survived!” He looked right at me. “I can tell you now that Marlene was fighting with me the whole way when I had to drag her off Atlantis Station. He was about to go to the sub bay and take one out looking for you two.”
A smile came to my face. The dream was right. That meant that my parents thought that I’m dead, too.
“Sir, have our parents been notified?”
Lucas piqued at that as well.
“I will personally be sending out notices after you are debriefed. They won’t be able to come here, because this is a military installation, but in two days time, you will be heading home.”
Lucas grabbed my hand. I clutched his back.
“But first, I have to know – how on Earth did you get off that Station?”
We told him the whole story. From us getting back to the Station, to ending the Executive Lockdown, to getting to the surface and leaving on the shuttle, then when we got captured by Pirates, and how I used my tech to get us out. It made for one hell of a story. There were times where I wasn’t even sure that I believed it, and I was there! After over an hour, the story was done.
Aronax stroked his chin. “Wow. You two certainly are a couple of amazing kids. You are going to be all over the news! Of that, I can guarantee. Is there anything else I should know?”
Lucas suddenly looked excited. “Sir, I think I figured out what happened to Atlantis.”
That got Aronax and a couple of people who were taking down notes’ attention.
Clearing his throat. “Yes sir. When we were on the Command Deck, dealing with the Lockdown, I did some scans. I also had the data that I got on the sub’s mission to check out the coral and did a little correlating. I think I may have an explanation.”
I was confused. “When did you do that?”
He smiled at me. “Well, the first time that we went under, I waited a little while after you did. I did some analysis of the research I had gotten and formulated a theory, based on the data that we gathered. I have all the information, which I am happy to share with your scientists.”
Aronax leaned back “I’ll be glad to have our people look at it. What did you find?”
“Wish I had a holographic projector.”
“That can be easily remedied,” one of the note-takers said. He took out a small device and set it on Lucas’ bed.
“Excellent!” There was a brief pause. An image suddenly came up. It was of the coral we scanned. “When Ellie and I were on the mission, we found coral growing out of the caves that we found them in. They were sending out some kind of organic mixture into the water. It was warming the local area quite a bit. At first, we thought that it was some kind of terraforming, but I believe that it goes much further than that!”
The image changed to the sea floor scans of Europa.
“We believed that the coral were limited to a few caves, but I think that those estimates were grossly inaccurate. Sir, I believe that the coral was part of a massive network of caves that may have stretched through the entire sea floor. It might have gone all over the planet. No way to know without a detailed analysis, which is something I would very much caution against.”
Aronax looked confused. “Why?”
“Because they would likely suffer the same fate as Atlantis.”
“You brought up knowing what happened with that. Tell me.”
“Well, from what I’ve determined, eggs from the coral got into the Station from exterior venting ports. The kind that were made for waste. The filters would have caught them, but they didn’t go inside. They started to grow along the vents. The growth rate was exponential. There’s a reason for that.”
The image changed to Atlantis, showing access ports and various passages. “The coral consumes electricity. It speeds up its growth. In the day leading up to what happened, there were power drains being reported. They didn’t seem significant enough to check out. If you had, then things might have turned out a bit different for Atlantis. Though I doubt it. From what I scanned, the access ports were now totally overgrown with the coral. They blocked the vents and backed everything up. Once the filters busted, the coral wasted no time growing into the Station.. It was so fast that you wouldn’t have been able to stop it, even if you had seen it. Though you might have been able to get everyone out quickly. The major systems start being affected, and right as you are about to deal with it. the pipes that were overgrown with coral burst and the Station has a massive influx of water. A very simple plan of attack. Though elegant, for the coral lifeform.”
A quiet pause as people digested. Aronax was still stroking his chin. “I see. But wait, did you say attack? The coral were attacking us?”
“That’s my belief, yes. The coral attacked Atlantis when we attacked it.”
“It? You say that like it’s only one. But that’s impossible. We saw countless polyps. Even different forms of them.”
Lucas shook his head. “No, it’s all one life-form. Singular. This will take a bit of explaining.”
The projection of Atlantis changed again. Now there were the electrical lines that we saw before.
“Oh a hunch, I had Ellie do a scan of electrical energy running through the base. It showed me this. There were TONS of signals being sent through the coral! It was running all along the passages. But that’s not all.”
The image zoomed back, to show the lines going out into the ocean surrounding Atlantis. I felt so stoked. I remembered when we first saw this, and how cool it was. It was so cool, listening to Lucas be all super-genius and explaining it. I might be a hacker, but this was some cool shit!
“The electrical signals were being sent out of the Atlantis, and flowing down, toward the seafloor!”
“But how would it travel through the water?” a note-taker asked.
“There was that organic material that I believed was for terraforming, but now I think that my assumption was wrong. Now I think that is a kind of conduction chemical that carried signals back to the main body. See, the coral isn’t different types. All the types that we found, I am almost certain that they are simple different arms of the same body. Like how various organs perform different functions. My reference point for this was a tree colony back on Earth. People believed that each tree was a different flora, but it turned out that their roots were all connected. The entire forest was one massive super-organism. It’s the same thing here. The electrical signals were being carried through all the coral polyps. If they were individual animals, then the transmission between them wouldn’t have been so seamless. It is all one giant system, each with its own part.”
The image zoomed back in.
“The coral wasn’t doing what it did for any malicious reason. It attacked Atlantis out of self-preservation.”
“But why would it view us as a threat? We meant it no harm!”
Aronax nodded, but said nothing.
“Because we injured it. We cut pieces off the body. We thought that we were being smart about it, but this animal had never been injured by another life-form. It took us cutting parts of it away as a sign that we were a threat. So, it responded in the only way it could – by destroying our stuff. Quite a fast evolutionary response, if you ask me.”
The room went quiet again.
“Incredible,” Aronax whispered. “You have figured out a mystery that will put the coral creature in a class of its own. A super-organism animal, which is extra-terrestrial. Amazing! I must say, son, if our people agree with your assessment, you are going to be given a place in scientific history! Though I’d say that you have earned it!”
Lucas blushed a bit.
“Send the data to my people, and we’ll look it over. I can’t wait to hear what they say. I’ll make sure to keep you in the loop, seeing as how it’s your discovery.”
The Commander stood up, along with the note-takers.
“Get some rest, you two. Two days from now, you’re going home.” He was about to leave, then stopped. “Oh, right. Ellie, my people found something in one of the lockers, and a friend of your said that you would want it back.” He was handed an envelope, which he then handed to me. I opened it quickly, seeing Angie’s necklace. My heart sang. It was here! Part of me was wondering if I would ever see it again.
“Now, get some rest. You’ll be going home soon.”
There was a part of me that was so happy, yet so nervous about going home. How long had Mom and Dad thought I was dead? Did they bury me? Wonder what was in the coffin. Too creepy a thought. I would be with them soon enough. That’s all that mattered. Angie’s necklace was back where it belong – hanging right over my heart.
Until next time, a quote,
“People like what science gives them, but not the questions science asks.” – Mr. Rzykruski, Frankenweenie