The Daedalus Report

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A scanning base on the far side of the moon is destroyed in an apparent act of sabotage. But was the bomber merely a mass-murderer, or was he trying to prevent something far worse?

Submitted: October 16, 2009

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Submitted: October 16, 2009

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The Daedalus Report

  Never complain about boredom, the pilot cursed himself. All lunar workers followed that mantra. As soon as you complained that there was nothing to do, karma would step and make sure you had plenty to keep you busy.

In this case, the pilot had been flying a long mission over Farside during the long lunar night. Seven and a half days out of fourteen, the place was lit up by the sun. The other six and a half, it was so black you could only find the horizon by where the stars ended.

No one worked out here except the researchers. Everyone else—the miners, the refiners, the other industrial guys—liked seeing a full Earth at night, liked the reassurance that, in an emergency, all they had to do was blast off far enough and the home planet would grab them and pull them in the rest of the way.

But when looking at the stars, nothing beat Farside. In the northern Daedalus crater, the farthest point from Earth, there were 74 trillion teragrams of solid rock blocking out every radio signal, cellular internet connection, digital I2 signal, and laser burst exchanging information among the two worlds. Even the ancient Hubble had never had such perfect silence to work in.

Because the Daedalus station was there for watching the stars, ships were rarely allowed to fly over Farside. Otherwise there was too much radio noise. But the Daedalus bimonthly report was a week overdue. Someone needed to check on the station.

And so the pilot had been flying above the lunar equator and cursing his boredom just when a patch of the absolute blackness before him decided to get bright. Zooming in on it, the pilot was horrified to see that Daedalus was exploding: The flames devoured the base’s oxygen in moments, and then the darkness returned.

Seventy people, dead… the pilot mourned, shouting into his radio in the dim hope that there were any survivors. But the scopes showed nothing: Seconds ago, there had been a cluster of signals from space suits inside the distant base. They had vanished in an instant when the light appeared.

And then, unexpectedly, a single emergency signal appeared: Someone was still alive inside their suit, but they were dying. The pilot locked in on the signal and dived hard. In less than two minutes he had brought his ship down and was bounding across the moon’s surface toward the signal, a flashlight in one hand and a tracker in the other.

He seemed to run forever, though later he would find that it was only a forty second sprint. Finally, he spotted the survivor lying on a boulder. The pilot bounced to him and stopped on his heels in a cloud of dust.

Immediately the pilot knew that something was wrong. The survivor was not crumpled over, and his suit was undamaged. He was lying on his back, hands folded over his chest. Too peaceful for someone who had barely escaped certain death.

And then the pilot noticed the wires.

The bastard had blown the base. Killed everyone inside and tried to wreck his suit’s signal so no one would find him.

For a long moment, the pilot considered leaving him to die. But then he remembered his training (and, more importantly, the consequences from the corporate prosecutors), and he heaved the dying man over his shoulder. There were antidotes in the ship’s medical kit. They would save him.

 ***

John Zhao was not a happy man. Most prosecutors weren’t. In this case, Zhao had good reason: he was the one assigned to try the Daedalus bomber. It hadn’t been twenty-four hours since they had found the guy, and still the story had leaked. The damned autobloggers had caught it immediately, sent it to every major news site on the web. This trial was going to be huge.

Zhao would be working long into the morning today. Already, it was past midnight in China. That meant it was nighttime here, too, no matter what the moon’s late afternoon sun told him.

Past midnight, and Zhao hadn’t even talked to the guy yet.

The bomber had woken up only once, briefly. He was under constant suicide watch, and the guards on duty had immediately begun to question him. But he had said nothing. Hadn’t even looked up from the floor. He just cried, mourning his failure to die.

Once, with trembles of guilt in his pale face, he had started to spill his story. But every time his mouth started to open, a look of terror came across his eyes, and he shut it quick. He did not look tough; he did not act tough. But fear of something greater than prison or execution kept him silent.

Zhao was looking through the prisoner’s effects now: A flashlight, a watchlens computer, a photograph of his wife. His wife. It was that photo that had almost cracked the guy while he was awake. The guards asked him about it, he got ready to speak, then fell back into his silence. What was the reason? Was he just afraid of hurting her? If so, seeing her picture should have convinced him to remain silent, not urged him to speak. Anything he said would only incriminate him.

Zhao sighed and rubbed his eyes, glad that he had thought to grab a cup of tea. This would be a long night.

There was nothing to the light or the photograph. The computer, maybe. It would take awhile to search, but it was all they had to go on.

Zhao strapped on the dual wristbands and set the glasses on his face. With a quick tap of his fingers, the stereoscopic watchlens screen filled his vision, and the start-up sounds rushed across his ears.

He took the opportunity to sip his tea while the computer was booting. Once it was up, he poked around in a few of the documents with the most recent timestamps. Strange… nothing earlier than a week ago. In the recycle bin, perhaps?

Nothing there either. Zhao knew a few tricks for recovering old data. He used a few of them now.

Got it, the prosecutor smirked. One file, not too big, created yesterday and then destroyed immediately. When Zhao opened it, a virus alert came up; the guy had thought of this possibility. Zhao reacted quickly enough to freeze the screen, not quick enough to save the computer. But it would be enough. He could read the whole thing, he just couldn’t save it.

Zhao scanned the unfamiliar characters for a moment before recognition hit him. Formosan. Taiwanese aborigine, Zhao mused. He’d seen it in the prisoner’s background information but hadn’t given it much thought. No matter; Zhao’s mother had been Taiwanese. He knew Formosan well enough.

Zhao settled into his seat, took a sip of his tea, and started to read.

 ***

I know that this is a mistake; someone might find it before it’s gone forever. If you’re reading this, please stop. Don’t let anyone know you found it. I know the consequences you’ll face, but damn them. Trust me: You can’t understand what you’re getting into. I write this only because I need to vent, to put my thoughts down once and then forget them forever, just as the rest of the world no doubt has forgotten them already.

There were seventy of us at Daedalus station. There are two good reasons they have trouble getting people to come here. Only I know the first; the second is obvious. We’ve all seen the pop-ups, watched the I2 presentations, and heard what the recruiters say: Come to Farside, you’ll get to race low-grav moon buggies, find new nebulae, climb sheer lunar cliffs in your spare time. It’s a load of crap, and everyone here knows it. We should have known it was bad karma to admit it, but… damn it, we couldn’t help ourselves. We were bored.

When we’re not watching the skies, we find any excuse we can to go outside. This time, the major, a couple operators, one engineer, and I decided to go check on the solar panels. We don’t like to do it when the sun’s up—no point in losing our power just because someone pulls the wrong switch. Out there, deep in the northern crater with no sun to provide a solar current, you don’t even get the electrical noise that you’d find inside the base.

We were at the northeast edge of the crater when it happened. The message came in the dead of lunar night. The station got it first by a fraction of a second, but with the generators running, it got drowned out and no one noticed.

For us, the signal came in as a faint crackle over our radio headsets. Emergency! Ship down! Rescue needed immediately! Send help at once! We all thought it was nearby. We hadn’t seen a ship in the sky recently, but at night you can’t see them at all when their engines are off.

Major Ming, our base commander, did the responding. Only they didn’t acknowledge. Apparently, they could send, but not receive. We decided to head back to the station and triangulate their position.

Halfway back we got a response.

“Acknowledged, Major Ming. We are somewhere in the Arabian dunes. Not familiar with your station’s designation. Please clarify.”

Ming wrinkled her brow and looked around at all us. I know what she was thinking. We were all thinking it. Arabia? They were on Earth!

Ming responded. Arabia, we are on the lunar farside. Repeat, we are on the moon. Not sure how we’re receiving your signal.”

The caller didn’t acknowledge. He just kept asking for clarification on our station. Ming decided we’d better get back fast and figure out what the hell was going on. For once, we actually had permission to race the $10,000,000 cars you always see on the pop-ups. The engineer and I exchanged grins… oh, God! How many dead men did I exchange grins with that day?

It’s hopeless, hopeless! How many times did they think of it? How many times did they fail?

*** 

Zhao wrinkled his brow and scanned ahead. This section was full of nothing but the incoherent rambling of a madman.

 ***

Back at Daedalus station, we filtered out the signal and started the triangulation. That’s when we first found something disquieting: Three remote sensors, each fifty kilometers from the base, were all receiving the signal at the same time.

The signal had to be coming from inside.

Ming shivered slightly and turned to Luo, our security chief. I had known him for forty years, and while he was the best security man I’ve known, he never seemed quite right for the job. Then, most people at Daedalus didn’t seem right for the job. “Luo, do our sensors show any door breaches while we were out?”

“No, ma’am,” Lieutenant Luo responded with unusual hesitation. “It is possible that they sent the signal to lure us back, then followed us inside.”

“Damn Americans,” one of the operators hissed.

Ming glared straight through her subordinate. “This is no time to start making accusations,” she warned him. “Until we know more, we cannot say for certain who is inside our base.” This wasn’t just cultural sensitivity on her part. The unspoken portion of her message was, “Maybe the corporation is testing us again. Don’t say anything that might upset foreign investors.”

Luo was beginning to suggest a strategy for rooting out the invaders when the Arabian finally replied. “The moon? You’re on the goddamned moon? Why the hell isn’t anyone in Acidalia responding?”

We looked at each other quizzically. Arabia, we knew. Acidalia sounded fictitious.

They guy kept talking, knowing something about our communications delay that we didn’t. “Okay, if you can get a signal out, here’s the story: We were mining the glaciers in Deuteronilus when our flybuoy spotted something to the southeast. Looked like a half-buried mining ship, same class as our own. We took off…”

And that was it. We never heard the signal again.

It didn’t take us long to realize that there was an alternative possibility to simple invasion. The signal might be reaching all three receivers simultaneously because it was coming from directly above, or directly below.

On Farside, you don’t get internet or I2 access. You can, if you want to launch a couple recyclable satellites to set up a relay with Earthward, but the signal delay makes it almost pointless. Still, we do have searchable local computer records. A quick scan through those, and we’d figured out that there’s another place in this universe than the one on Earth that’s called Arabia, and Acidalia’s not far away. They’re both in Mars’s northern hemisphere. And Mars just happened to be directly above Daedalus at that moment.

We figured the signal was too quiet to be heard above Earth’s cacophony. Some quiet inquiries later proved our assumption correct. But then we were faced with a conundrum.

Our first thought was that the whole thing was a hoax, but no one in the base would fess up. An Earthward ship might have flown over and done it, but only corporate ships are allowed to fly this way. Since corporate ships are constantly recording all radio traffic, anyone who used one for a prank would have been punished very publicly for the waste of valuable time and resources. The next possibility was that it was a corporate test. They wanted to see if we would report everything, or just the stuff we thought was important. A strange test, perhaps, but the corporation was known to conduct strange research. Maybe they were planning something and wanted to know if we would acknowledge any signals that came our way.

The last possibility, the one that no one was crazy enough to consider, was that the signal was real. We haven’t colonized Mars, of course, and the only four guys who ever set foot there never got back off the surface. If the signal were real, it must have come from the future.

Major Ming weighed all the evidence and made the somewhat questionable decision to delay our bimonthly report a day so we could think about it some more. Commanders weren’t supposed to delay reports, and Ming was no slacker, but she just felt like the rule needed to be bent for this case.

That’s when the problems started.

Within the first day, people started having dreams. Vivid dreams. Normally, not a big concern. But our dreams were all the same.

I’ve heard there’s a trend in human psychology where, if someone doesn’t want to believe some concept, and you give them all the facts, they tend to quickly forget or ignore the ones that support the concept and remember the ones that weigh it down. "Cognitive dissonance," I belieive it's called. I guess we weren’t above this trend, because not a one of us associated the dreams with the message. Seventy people were thinking about the same problem all day, and no one even suspected the truth.

The next day, Ming decided to delay our report yet another day so we could think a little more on the dream problem. Then the dreams started coming harder, even when we were awake. We’d be standing there, focused on some problem, and suddenly everyone would have this dislocated feeling, like they didn’t belong. God… how many people? Thousands? Millions?

***

Delusions, Zhao reflected. Guy had gotten extreme cabin fever. Wasn’t the first time it had happened in Farside.

*** 

I haven’t written about the dreams yet… I fear them. I loathe them; they are evil, and they poison my mind. I never had them until the night we got the message. Now I know they’ll never stop, as long as I live. Yet I must explain them. I must get them out if only to cleanse my soul before I go to die.

The dreams were simply visions of everyday life on the station. We worked with people we’d known for years, helped them solve problems, and they sent our bimonthly reports. Then the dreams always ended, and we woke up abruptly.

The strange part was that the people we dreamt about didn’t actually exist.

I think we suspected it on some level, but no one consciously admitted it until the fourth day. That was when we dreamed about the Nyugen twins. Mao was the the engineer; Will was the researcher. Normally, when we wake up, we don’t remember names. But Mao Nyugen was a real person, and he had a brother named Will who died at birth. He’d never told us before. But after the dreams, he knew, and we knew. Will Nyugen had lived.

In the dream, Will had been the first one to get the signal from Mars. Major Shiao—the base commander in the dreams—had given him permission to write up the report, and as a result, the report had been delayed four days. As soon as the report was sent, we had all awoken to find that Will Nyugen had died at birth. Since then we’ve looked through our archives and found three other people from our dreams who died young or were miscarried.

I suppose they don’t all need to die. Certainly, some must suffer injuries, or be tempted away from the sciences. I’d guess most of them aren’t even conceived. It’s just whatever happens to be the most probable alternative to their ending up at the base.

If you’re reading this now, and you’re just some fool who managed to recover the file without destroying the hard drive, I suppose it’s too late to undo to the damage. I owe you an explanation.

Our theory is that the people from the dreams were actually at our base when we heard the signal. When those people reported the message from Mars, the whole world found out about it. No matter how confidential the report was kept, secrets don’t last long. Someone posts an anonymous leak, and every autoblogger on both worlds picks up on it. When those poor souls from the dreams let the c


© Copyright 2020 Old Abe Burke. All rights reserved.

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