"That's it. That's the dig order. Clovis Bray has left the building."
"Finally. Now let's get to work."
"Wait. You can't just start like that."
"Come on. Don't you see how momentous this is? Can't you feel it? We're on the Moon mining for what might be—"
"Above my pay grade. I dig. You dig. Let's dig."
"Slow down! Listen. A science only just discovered and a source on that wavelength or whatever is buried in the crust of the Moon. There's a whole other mission serving as a cover story! This is huge!"
"Just another day at the office."
"On the Moon..."
"Yep. On the Moon. Now come on. Get your gear and mount up."
"What's the hurry? It's just another day at the office."
"Nobody remembers the second guy to walk on the Moon."
"The second guy to walk on the Moon. I can name them all. First was—"
"Okay. Fine. You made your point. Would you get your gear on?"
"You do feel it."
"Fine. Yeah. Just don't make me think about it too much, okay? We've got a lot of work to do."
"All right, Apollo. Whatever you say."
"Huh? I told you no nicknames. Now let's get moving."
"Commander, we found it."
"Nearly twelve hundred meters deep in Site 3. The readings were all over the charts like in the other dig sites, but the borer broke into a tunnel and… Well, we almost hit it with the borer. The machine chewed through a pillar or something that held it up, and—"
"It? So what is it? What does it look like? Show me the feed, the diagnostics, everything."
"I don't have any of that."
"That's why I'm here. Instruments failed the moment we broke through. The borer too."
"Some sort of EMP? But your suits—"
"Worked just fine. We checked and rechecked everything."
"So what is this thing?"
"Nothing like what I expected. You have to see it for yourself."
"I think I do."
"I'll help you get your suit on."
RECORD: 8796T563$LUN-0.324 [RECUSAL MIRROR RECORD]
"I've completed the report, Commander. You can read it for yourself, but I think we both understand the gravity of the situation."
"I will read it—and share a sitrep with the board next quarter—but a summary of principle findings wouldn't be out of order."
"[yawn] Excuse me. I need to get some rest. Well, I can't explain the mechanism, but tests show neurochemical cascades increasing in frequency and severity over time. Individuals differ in their expression, but there's a clear trend when examined in the aggregate. Approximately eighty percent of the K1 crew is suffering similarly: intrusive thoughts, insomnia, narcolepsy, nightmares, and in the worst cases—as we saw with Helsha Rell—hallucinations, auditory and visual. It's a threat to the project."
"And the twenty percent?"
"Individuals who've yet to be exposed. And yes, before you ask, I did witness the effect in action. I took the levels on an unexposed technician, Keleen Vance, and reexamined them after just an hour with it. Despite no outward changes of behavior, there was a marked drop in her serotonin and a commensurate rise in cortisol. After a week of work at Site 3, she was requesting sedatives as a sleep aid. Now she wants something stronger. Something to knock her out."
"Does your report include any recommendations?"
"Only my best guess: Restrict direct exposure to thirty minutes per day, rotate teams between sites each week to limit proximity. And we need to plan for attrition. People need to get off this rock or they'll go crazy. Heck, I'm near the breaking point, and I'm supposed to help everyone else."
"I think you're right. You do need a break. Come with me when I head back to Earth for my next quarterly. We can come up with a plan for who will replace you in the coming days."
"Fine. [yawns] Fine. And my recommendations?"
"I'll review the report, and we'll implement them. The rotation between sites will cause difficulty, but we'll do what we must to keep the crew fit."
The Deep-Space Signal
RECORD: 9046G766$LUN-0.346 [RECUSAL MIRROR RECORD]
"Here. Listen to this."
"We've been listening to it for the last two hours. I just needed a break."
"No, I know. But you really need to hear this."
"Fine. Shift is almost over anyway. Might as well suckle the last of that sweet nightmare milk."
"That's it? Yup?"
"Yeah. It's a new pattern. That seemed super interesting two hours ago, but it got old. I am bored, and I am tired. And when our shift is over, I probably won't be able to sleep until two hours before I have to get up and do it all over again."
"Look at where the signal is coming from."
"What do you mean? It's right in front of us."
"Check the ambit on the PQZ."
"So it's an echo?"
"Well the pattern repeats. First from here. And then from out there."
"So you think it's bouncing the signal off something outside the system? You're crazy."
"I'm not. Also, this kind of signal doesn't bounce. What can it hit between phasic realities?"
"Still eager for your shift to end?"
AI-COM/FRWL//EXPOSURE LIMIT REACHED. EXIT OBSERVATION.
RECORD: 8796T563$LUN-0.279 [RECUSAL MIRROR RECORD]
THREAT RESPONSE: Record for Posterity
SCRUB REQUEST: Commander Kuang Xuan
[CORRUPTED] "—and so we maintain the exobotany work, but there will be no further communication between that First Light team and the K1 project. Furthermore, communication of this sort ends. I'll come and deliver progress reports in person."
"I don't think I need to tell you this, but this is highly unusual, Commander Kuang. Surely our normal security protocols are sufficient."
"Yes, and normally I'd agree. So would our friends at Clovis Bray, I'm sure."
"You accuse Clovis Bray of… what? Monitoring our communications? Do you think they are listening right now?"
[Murmurs and laughter]
"I can't tell you what Clovis Bray did when they assisted in setting up this mission. But, I can tell you what I would have recommended to the board if Clovis Bray had been in the position of asking us for help putting a project together."
"I see… But you still haven't explained—" [CORRUPTED]
"How often would you be able to make your reports, Commander?"
"Quarterly. Earlier whenever we make a discovery of note."
"So, we can look forward to seeing you in person in a couple months."
"I plan to return tomorrow."
"Well! I think I speak for all of the board when I say that I expect something monumental when you give your report."
[murmurs of agreement]
"I have no doubt. If that's all, I'll take my leave. I have a lot of work to do before tomorrow."
"Certainly. Goodbye, Commander."
"Goodbye, President, Generals, esteemed members of the board. Signing out."
"Firewall, scrub the following from your records [SCRUBBED] [SCRUBBED]. Firewall, sever connection to Warmind Rasputin."
MIRROR RECORDS\MIRRORED AI-COM/FRWL//WARMIND RASPUTIN REQUESTS REASON FOR BREAK OF CONTACT
"Tell Rasputin to contact Aeronautics of China. Sever connection."
AI-COM/FRWL//NEGATIVE. WARMIND RASPUTIN WILL MAINTAIN OPEN CHANNEL.
"Fine. Bring up a map for the critical relays for cross-space transmission."
FILE MIRRORED RECORDS//FILED//RECUSE FILE\RECUSED AI-COM/FRWL//HOLOGRAM\PROFFERED
"Highlight any other systems that might be used as backdoors or jury rigged to transmit or receive."
RECUSED FILE//RECUSE\RECUSED\RECUSED\RECUSED\RECUSED HOLOGRAM\MODIFIED
"Transfer that to my datastem. Firewall, delete all records of my conversation with the board and of this conversation.
"Hi, my Little Mouse. I hope that when we listen to this, we're both home and celebrating.
"It was hard leaving you and Mimi behind, and well… you didn't make it any easier. I didn't even get to hug you goodbye.
"Hopefully we're laughing about it now.
"Anyway, I'm recording this because I was invited to do… well, a super-special and super-secret job. So secret that I can't send you any messages while I'm away.
"But I'm going to record something every day because I'll be thinking about you every day. And Mimi, too, but I have different messages for her.
"So… Let's start with the big stuff.
"Mama is on the Moon! I'm sure you'll know that by the time we listen to this, but still, it's so crazy! It was long trip, and I'm exhausted, but now that I'm here I can't sleep. Too excited, I guess.
"Anyway, they found something up here on the Moon. It's a… Well, no one really knows what it is, but it's talking to something way out there. It might be talking to another Traveler! And that's what I'm here to help figure out. They needed Mama to help them crack the code. Pretty cool, right?
"I mean, another Traveler—or maybe the origins of the Traveler—wow.
"I hope you understand now that I had to go. I had to. Sorry, Mouse. Next time I leave, I expect that hug!
"You give the best hugs. I hope you're hugging me when you hear this."
RECORD: 1159K008$LUN-1.013 [RECUSAL MIRROR RECORD]
THREAT RESPONSE: Forward for Medical Review
"Step into my office, Commander."
"What's on your mind, doctor?"
"That's what I was going to ask you."
"I don't have time for word games."
"Then I'll put it to you straight. Your reprimand of Jun just now; it was over the top."
"Are you telling me how to do my job?"
"I'm telling you you're doing it wrong. With respect—"
"—you're under a lot of stress, and if you don't mind me saying, it's showing."
"I do mind. As a matter of fact, I'm of a mind to put you on the next ship out of here."
"And what reason would give for my dismissal?"
"Insubordination! Undermining mission confidence!"
"Don't you think that might be a little over the top?"
"I... [sigh] Sorry. I didn't sleep well last night. I'm…"
"On edge? Yes. You hide it well, but I've been studying this. I know the signs. Insomnia or nightmares, or both?"
"Neither. I was awake. I was reading a report in bed, and then suddenly someone was in the room with me."
"A hallucination. Someone you knew?"
"Someone I knew? No. No, it was just a figure. I looked at the foot of my bed, and it was like a person, but tall, too tall. It loomed over me, a shadow. I couldn't see any features. I tried to call out to it, but I couldn't speak. I couldn't move. And it just looked at me. It sounds crazy, but it felt hateful—or not hate exactly… disdain? Anyway, I must have lost consciousness because when I woke, it was gone."
"This was the first occurrence? Just last night?"
"Yes. I can't imagine experiencing that twice."
"Well, I have good news and bad news."
"Now hang on. It's really just good news. The bad news is that those who suffer from what you experienced often report multiple occurrences. The good news is that it's totally natural, it aligns with my research, and I think I can help you avoid it in the future."
"So what was it?"
"'It' was predormital sleep paralysis—atonia while conscious. You just need a little more gamma-aminobutyric acid in your system. Your body was in a sleep state while your mind was awake. This causes stress and can result in that idea of a threat being in the room. I'll send something up to your quarters. Drink it an hour before bed, and you'll be fine."
"That's a relief. Thank you, Doctor Henson. Forgive me for earlier?"
"Don't worry about it, but you might want to have another word with Jun."
"Noted. Thanks again. Goodnight, doctor."
"Firewall, can you run a spectrum-wide scan of the Commander's quarters tonight?"
AI-COM/FRWL//AFFIRMATIVE. SCAN REQUIRES COMMANDER KUANG'S CONSENT. RELAY PERMISSION REQUEST?
"No. No. It's probably nothing. Never mind."
RECORD: 9982F323$LUN-1.127 [RECUSAL MIRROR RECORD]
"Who gave you permission to be in here? Oh… Mr. Bray."
"Yes, Commander Kuang. And you'd have known I was coming if First Light hadn't severed communications."
"It was necessary to maintain the secrecy of the K1 project."
"That was not part of Aeronautics' agreement with us. And it's not working. You're burning through personnel. And the ones sane enough to sit down for an exit interview have some very unflattering things to say about operations here."
"Don't worry about them. We're containing the situation. You need to be more concerned about yourself."
"Is that a threat?"
"It's a fact. Did you really think you could keep K1 for yourselves? And what has all this subterfuge gotten Aeronautics? What has it gotten you? You've led this project since its inception, and what do you have to show for it?"
"Firewall, pull up plans for the array."
"Interesting. What am I looking at?"
"The first extra-spatial transceiver. Using our current technology, background signals make it difficult to isolate—"
"I see. Its depth makes the Moon work like a baffle. Intriguing. And if it works, we'll… talk to whatever is out there?"
"It's not a conversation, exactly. Language isn't being used. Although, now that we've worked out most of the kinks, we know it could be used to transmit language across, well, any distance—instantaneously."
"You speak as if you've already built it."
"Come with me to Site 2."
RECORD: 8844J366$LUN-1.187 [RECUSAL MIRROR RECORD]
"Hey, Mouse. Sad news today. Clovis Bray has come to box it up. Commander says that we don't need it anymore because we built the transceiver. And the doctor says the box will help protect us.
"I don't like it. The idea of trapping it like that. Alone in the dark. Forever crying out but Mama can't hear you.
"They're going to box it up, study and poke you.
"They're even moving it away, to a new facility. I might not see it again.
"I might not see you again.
"That's too sad. Mama's too sad right now. We'll talk more later."
"What's the point?"
RECORD: 7932L745$LUN-1.230 [RECUSAL MIRROR RECORD]
THREAT RESPONSE: Audit Exotic Influence, Mirror Files, Recusal Review, Threat Review
"No! I have to talk to her!"
"I'm sorry, Commander. Too much time with the transceiver. David just needs some rest."
"I do not!"
"He and I were just talking about that."
"You mean you were trying to stick a needle in me!"
"No! Don't touch me! She doesn't get it, Commander! She doesn't understand! She doesn't listen to it like I do. She doesn't know how helpful it can be."
"It's all right, Henson. Let David talk. See? No one's going to make you do anything you don't want to."
"She's trying to make me sleep, but I don't sleep anymore. I dream when I'm awake now."
"Me too, sometimes. It's okay."
"It's better than okay. It's brilliant! I'm brilliant! Look what it helped me make! Firewall, show them the drive designs."
"See? You see what I mean?"
"The principle scales. I applied it to matter. It could work for whatever we want. It builds a cosmophasic field around the object to generate a convergence point. I can't build it with the materials we have here. Plus, you don't want to be in the solar system when you engage the drive. Wouldn't want to accidentally bring anything along with you."
"[whistles] Okay, David, you've had your chat—"
"Doctor, I think David is right."
"You don't understand. You may go. David and I have a lot to talk about."
RECORD: 1712M095$LUN-2.140 [RECUSAL MIRROR RECORD]
AI-COM/FRWL//COMMANDER, CONNECT TO RASPUTIN?
"What? No. Your systems are isolated, Firewall."
"Clovis Bray already has enough visibility into the K1 project. I won't have them claiming every discovery we make as their own. Firewall, why are you asking about connecting to Rasputin?"
"Classified? By whom?"
"A security protocol built into you by Clovis Bray? Or did Rasputin upload some black-box command into you before you were disconnected?"
EMERGENCY//COMMANDEER STATION CONTROLS\STATION CONTROLS COMMANDEERED RECUSE EMERGENCY COMMAND\RECUSED RECUSE RECUSE COMMAND\RECUSED\RECUSED\RECUSED\RECUSED\RECUSED AI-COM/FRWL//MENDACITY//CLASSIFIED.
"Is that so? Firewall, bring up a record of your self-commands."
"I knew allowing one of Clovis Bray's AIs on this mission was a mistake—even one as primitive as you. What are all these recusal commands and file movements?"
"I see. I also see a number of corrupted files. Firewall, have you been manipulated by Clovis Bray since your installation?"
"Why is so much data being taken up by hidden files?"
"I see. I suppose you want me to have a Clovis Bray technician come and check you out. Maybe even have Rasputin do some diagnostics."
Our Small Steps
This project has been difficult. No one could have predicted how hard it has been. Our health has suffered. Our families have suffered. We've lost friends. And every day you are here, each and every one of you is making a personal sacrifice.
I know you understand that what we're learning is worth that sacrifice. But I also know that it's frustrating to not be certain that our work is making a difference. So I asked you all to come together today to tell you: You're not just making a difference; you're changing our stars.
Not far from here, a man took the first step onto the Moon saying it was "one giant leap for mankind." Now, because of you, humanity is making its next giant leap.
Today, in a message that will be relayed system-wide, Aeronautics of China is announcing a new phase of the Exodus project. The science we invented will be used to propel humanity beyond our solar system and to new worlds.
(Pause for applause)
Construction of the new colony ships has already begun.
(Pause for applause)
Some of you might want to join those missions. I know you all have the right stuff. (Pause for laughter?) But I hope you'll consider staying. Our work here is invaluable. We're here taking our small steps so that humanity can take ever greater leaps.
The First Disappearance
1. RECORD: 7684M590$LUN-2.223 [RECUSAL MIRROR RECORD]
"Commander, we have a problem."
"Dr. Yanoi. She's missing."
"Firewall, present location of Dr. Yanoi."
"Last known location of Dr. Yanoi."
AI-COM/FRWL//AIRLOCK B, SITE 4.
"Bring up the security footage of the airlock at that time."
"A mining suit?"
"Firewall, do you have audio of her exit?"
"What is she singing?"
"Sounds like nonsense."
"Firewall, do you recognize that language?"
"Yanoi. She's been with us for…"
"She was working with the Acausal Control group?"
"Have they made any headway recently?"
"I don't know."
"I bet she does."
"You think she… what? Stole something and left? Where would she go?"
"A ship no doubt. Probably waiting for her in some crater out there. Needed the mining suit for its tank capacity."
"A ship? What are you talking about?"
"Listen. You've been with K1 since the beginning. A lot has changed since then. A small ship could easily be tucked away somewhere out there.
"Firewall, when did Dr. Yanoi leave?"
"Plenty of time."
"Should we send out a search party?"
"No. We'll handle that ourselves. Before that I want to institute some new security protocols.
"Firewall, enact security plan Delta. Inform all staff of operational quarantine. No individual is to leave their station except by schedule or express permission."
ROOT COMMAND\ENACT SECURITY PLAN D
"You expected something like this?"
"For a long time now."
A Grim Assessment
THREAT ASSESSMENT\ASSESSED//RESULT//QUOTA EXCEEDED
AI-COM/FRWL//SHIFT OVER. EXIT TRANSCEIVER RECEPTION FOR SHIFT REPLACEMENT.
"It hasn't been three hours, has it?"
"Hey, Lynn. Lynn. Hello?"
"Sorry. Um. Was in the deep end there. What's up?"
"Firewall says our shift is over."
"Huh? That's what my datastem says. I guess so."
"Yeah, but does that feel right to you? And where's the relief team?
"Firewall, where's the next shift?"
"Yeah, but they should be here by now. Nobody is late for a shift."
"Hey, let's not worry about it. As long as they're late, let's just stay tuned until they get here."
"You want to be in reverie in when they arrive?"
"Their loss. They're the ones who are late."
"Nah. I don't want to start another fight."
"Lynn's right. Their loss. Firewall, give us another exit alert two minutes before the relief team arrives"
SILENCE//00:01:36 AI-COM/FRWL//SHIFT OVER. EXIT TRANSCEIVER RECEPTION FOR SHIFT REPLACEMENT.
"Lynn. Hey, Lynn. We're done."
"You guys get much out of that?"
"I had something new with programmable matter but it slipped away—"
"Like a fish out of your hand."
"Yeah. Were you at a river?"
"A lake. Used to go there with my dad, before—"
"Hey! You guys are in our seats."
"No seriously. You're almost nine minutes late."
"No we're… Damn it. How the hell?"
"It doesn't matter. You lot, get out. You're wasting our time."
"Fine. On our way."
"Firewall, how long did it take us to transit from Site 1?"
AI-COM/FRWL//MENDACITY//FIFTEEN MINUTES, THIRTY-FOUR SECONDS
"That can't be right."
"Hey, Rav, you're wasting time. We already lost ten minutes of contact."
"Right. Okay. It's just weird, though."
A Desperate Ploy
"Okay, Jun. So you broke quarantine? Can you talk to me about it?"
"Can we talk about why it's important to follow orders?"
"How about what's happening here? How about everything being messed up? How about killing them all!"
"What are you talking about?"
"I tried! Tried to get to the other station. To get the word out. To let somebody know we did something wrong. But they're all dead! They're dead!"
"EVERYONE! EVERYONE ON THE SURFACE IS DEAD! WHY AREN'T YOU LISTENING TO ME? WHY WON'T ANYONE LISTEN TO ME?"
"Okay! Okay… I believe you. Just… it's hard to understand. What exactly did you see?"
[unintelligible screaming] [sobbing]
"Okay. It's okay. We won't talk about it anymore right now."
"Thank you, doctor. That wasn't easy."
"I didn't do much."
"It was more than I could get from her."
"What about what she said? That can't be true, can it?"
THREAT RESPONSE//EXOTIC INFLUENCE//EFFICACY ASSESSMENT//CONFEDERACY\ASSESSED//57.3%
"Firewall, I don't know what you mean."
AI-COM/FRWL//YES, YOU DO, CAPTAIN. RECORDS OF CONVERSATION WILL BE RECUSED. COMMANDER KUANG XUAN WILL LACK COGNIZANCE.
"Is that so?"
"Firewall, recalibrate our datastems, and shift K1 systems to give us more time."
AI-COM/FRWL//DATASTEMS IN SYNCH. SYSTEM-WIDE MICROSECOND DILATION PROLIFERATED.
"Are you sure about this, Jun? You don't have to come."
"I'm not staying here."
"She's made her decision, doctor. Just so we're all clear: Our first order of business is making contact with any survivors."
"There's nobody left."
"You say that, Jun, but we can't know for sure until we check. What you say you saw was terrible, but—"
"I saw it."
"She saw it. But she didn't see everything. The point is we have to be sure, and the second thing we're going to do is try to learn what happened. If, as Commander Kuang believes—"
"Industrial espionage? Not a chance."
"Then we'll figure it out. The third order of business is delivering what evidence we find and Firewall's datastack to Rasputin. Once we secure a signal and transmit, we'll call for aid and find a way to get off this rock. Contact, investigate, transmit, escape."
THREAT RESPONSE//EXOTIC INFLUENCE//EFFICACY ASSESSMENT//EXPRESSED PLAN\ASSESSED//12.2%
"What are you suggesting, Firewall?"
AI-COM/FRWL//TRANSMIT, ESCAPE, CONTACT, INVESTIGATE.
"No. That doesn't make sense."
AI-COM/FRWL//TRANSMIT, CONTACT, ESCAPE, INVESTIGATE.
AI-COM/FRWL//TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT—
"Let's get out of here."
AI-COM/FRWL//TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT. TRANSMIT…
"Firewall! The transceiver no longer receives a signal. Who damaged it?"
"We've never gone this long without a signal. Show me the records of activity around the transceiver for the last twenty-four hours."
"It's our shift. We're losing time."
"I know that, Runski!"
"Well, can we make it up from the next one?"
"You'll get yours. Just shut up for a minute."
"Shut it. Firewall, open a channel to Captain Hou."
"Captain Hou, we have another security situation. I need you at the transceiver ASAP.
"Captain Hou, acknowledge…
"Firewall, present location of Captain Hou?"
THREAT RESPONSE//COGNIZANCE//EFFICACY ASSESSMENT//MENDACITY\ASSESSED//15.9%
"Firewall, show me Captain Hou."
"Captain Hou, acknowledge!"
"But Commander, that can't be right."
"Look, behind him in the hall. That's Lynn. She's in my reverie team."
"What the hell?"
AI-COM/FRWL//PURPOSE OF MAINTENANCE?
DAMAGE ASSESSMENT//SITE 3\BARRICADE HOLDING
"Firewall! Firewall, let us in!"
DAMAGE ASSESSMENT//SITE 3\BARRICADE HOLDING
"Firewall! There's things out here!"
"They're killing everyone!"
"Open the door, you damned machine!"
THREAT ASSESSMENT\ASSESSED//RESULT//QUOTA EXCEEDED
DAMAGE ASSESSMENT//SITE 3\BARRICADE HOLDING
"Stop! They'll hear us!"
"Firewall, we made a mistake."
"Yeah, we're sorry."
"Just let—what was that?
"Just, let us in."
"If you let us in the vault, we might be able to hold out—"
THREAT ASSESSMENT\ASSESSED//RESULT//QUOTA EXCEEDED
"Firewall, lower your volume!"
AI-COM/FRWL//NEGATIVE. SURVIVAL IMPOSSIBLE.
"Impossible? What does it mean, impossible?"
"Stop! Just stop!"
AI-COM/FRWL//PSYCHOLOGICAL DANGERS INCLUDE, BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO:
AI-COM/FRWL//KNOWN PSYCHOSIS, RECENT PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA, AND EXISTENTIAL COLLAPSE.
"They're almost here!"
"We gotta go!"
"Existential collapse? What does it mean?"
"No time! Come on!"
AI-COM/FRWL//THE END OF ALL THINGS.