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The Silent Enemy
“Patterson, report to G Wing.”
Eric stirred in his resting booth. For the first time in a week, he had finally managed to fall asleep. He mentally cursed his commander for waking him up.
“Mr. Patterson, report to G Wing.”
Eric had always dreamed of being an astronaut. Sadly, the job promised nothing he’d hoped for. His shift had worn him out so much that he just wanted to scream until his lungs collapsed.
Eric had a wife back in St. Paul , Minnesota . Her name was Penny. They’d been married for seven years. Eric had been dreaming about her before he’d been woken up. They hadn’t seen each other since he’d left in the shuttle six months ago. After he had been in space for around two weeks, she sent an email to him saying that she was pregnant. When he had received this email, it had made him happy and homesick all at the same time.
“Patterson, where the are you? Get up!”
Eric didn’t want to get up. All he wanted to do was snooze a little longer on his encapsulated mattress.
“Attention, Mr. Eric Bolton Patterson, please report to G Wing!”
What the hell, Eric thought as he opened the capsule, the steam hissing as the vacuum seal broke, I’m going home in two weeks. I’ll be able to get plenty of sleep then, away from this God-forsaken overgrown space probe.
As Eric emerged groggily from the pod, brimming uncannily with confidence, he got dressed and grabbed his toolbox. The speaker came on again.
“Attention, Mr. Eric Bolt--!”
The message was cut short when Eric drove a ball-peen hammer into the speaker. After that, he nonchalantly walked out of the room with a smile on his face, singing “Twenty-Flight Rock” and kicking his heels together.
Earlier in the week, the crew of The Beacon of Truth had launched a satellite into deep space. It was struck with a small asteroid five minutes later. Since then, the crew had been searching desperately for any and all pieces of scrap metal that had survived the impact. The satellite had been made of a rare type of metal, and had been very expensive to build. Another one would not be completed for ten years or so, and it was vital that they retrieve as much of this one as possible.
As they were chasing one of the solar reflectors, the crew got lost in the asteroid belt where it had been destroyed. The shuttle was thrown off course, finding instead a new gas giant rich in the exact same infrequent material which they would have been looking for. Commander Robert O’ Flaherty had decided to extract ore samples from the planet’s surface, use that to repair the satellite, and bring some more of the material back to NASA. Unfortunately, the fog on the planet was so obscuring, that one of the miners had gotten lost.
When Eric arrived in G Wing, he saw his friend, David Kreese, in a moon-mobile. He was trying to start the engine, with ample difficulty. Standing beside the moon-mobile was Commander O’ Flaherty.
“What seems to be the trouble, Commander?”
“Patterson, we need your help. Rosenberg and Kreese left The Beacon in the moon-mobiles three hours ago to collect materials from the planet’s surface to repair the damaged satellite, and only Kreese has managed to return safely. We tried to establish contact with Rosenberg , but he’s not responding on any frequency. Kreese has agreed to go back out and look for Rosenberg , but the engine has been acting up, and we can’t figure out what the problem is. I want you to help fix the motor, and ride out there with Kreese in case the engine starts acting up again while he’s out there. Can you do that?”
Well, finally, thought Eric. I’m going to get to get out of this shuttle and see another planet.
Eric had never been to another planet before, and was anxious to go out there.
Eric was brought back into reality. “Huh? What? Sure, sure, I’ll go. Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome. Good luck.”
After fixing the engine, Eric and David headed out of the rocket, onto the terrain, and out into uncharted territory.
“Have you ever been on the surface of another planet before, Eric?” David asked loudly over the noise of the engine.
“No, and I’m starting to regret it now.”
“Are you? I thought you really wanted to see another planet.”
“I did, but it’s kind of uneventful. I mean, call me insane, but I’m not too wild about mining on a planet with an atmosphere that’s thicker than pea soup. As soon as I get back home to my wife, I’m getting a new job. I’ll probably work as a--.”
Suddenly, there was a beeping noise. Eric looked and saw a green blip on the radar in the shape of Sarah Palin’s chin.
“That’s Rosenberg ’s homing signal. He’s around here somewhere.”
The moon-mobile picked up speed and tore through the gray mist.
Meanwhile, back onboard The Beacon of Truth, in the main control room, Robert was about to sit down, relax, and watch the movie Airplane! for the 57th time when the computer switched on and a beeping noise sounded from the tower.
“Pete,” Robert said to the computer, “What’s going on here?”
Pete was the name of the AI computer that powered The Beacon of Truth. O’ Flaherty had named him after his cousin Peter. It had an artificial IQ of 450, which made people all the more envious of O’ Flaherty for having been given the privilege of running a shuttle with such an efficient unit. Computers of this kind were hard to come by.
“Please relax, Commander O’ Flaherty,” the computer replied, “An unidentified viral strain has been detected onboard the ship in G Wing.”
“G Wing? The virus must have been carried into the ship on the moon-mobile. I may have contracted that virus as well. Pete, I want you to put the cockpit and G Wing on lockdown, and I want you to do it now!”
I know I may be stuck in here for three days under quarantine, Robert thought as the industrial-strength steel door came down and locked him inside the cockpit, but the day I infect my entire crew with a foreign germ is the day I--!
He was brought back into the real world, courtesy of the sound of a klaxon reverberating throughout the entire craft.
Robert was getting frantic. “Pete, what is going on?!”
“I do not wish to alarm you, Commander,” said Pete, “But the virus has moved from G Wing to F Wing and is now multiplying at a rapid rate.”
“Put F Wing on lockdown too, Pete. This virus won’t get the better of--!” Suddenly, Robert stopped talking. He tried to continue, but he couldn’t. He was in so much pain, that he wanted to scream, but he couldn’t do that either. Then he wanted to cry, but once again, he failed. He inadvertently collapsed on the floor. He couldn’t move, he was gasping for air, and the room started to grow dark, but he could still hear the computer saying:
“Commander, I’m afraid the lockdown measures have proven ineffective against the strain. The virus has moved on from F Wing and is presently moving in the direction of…Commander? Commander, are you awake? Commander? Commander!”
Back on the planet, David and Eric pulled over in front of Gerald Rosenberg and his wrecked moon-mobile. Samples of the largely coveted ore material were strewn about the rubble.
“ Rosenberg ,” said Eric, “There you are! We’ve been looking everywhere for you, but you’ve kept moving back and forth. What happened?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been trying to find my way back to the ship, but my navigation system just doesn’t feel like cooperating with me today.”
“Well, let’s get back to the shuttle,” said David. “The others must be worried sick about us.”
“Alright,” said Gerald as they all loaded the ore samples into the back of David’s moon-mobile. They turned around and sped back to the ship.
When they returned to The Beacon, Eric backed the moon-mobile and its vital cargo up to the loading hatch, but he noticed that something was wrong with the airlock. He got closer to the door to examine it. Usually, the doors on the shuttle opened automatically when someone or something was within a foot and a half of them, but this time, the hatch refused to open. Eric then tried to open the door manually, but that didn’t work either.
“Huh,” he said, “That’s kind of weird. I can’t get it open. Now, why is that?”
“Hang on,” said Gerald, “I’ll try to get through to the Commander.” He switched on the com-link on the side of his helmet. “ Rosenberg to Beacon of Truth. Come in, Commander O’Flaherty, come in. This is Gerald Rosenberg reporting. Patterson and Kreese have found me and the three of us are now waiting outside the garage to the shuttle. Commander? Commander? Come in, Commander, come in. Commander, do you copy?”
He tapped at his headset with a gloved finger of his suit. The only response was static.
“Blast it,” said Gerald as he turned it off. “Why doesn’t he pick up?”
All of a sudden, Eric realized why the doors wouldn’t open. Somehow, a foreign virus had gotten onboard, and the entire shuttle was now being quarantined.
“Hey, guys?” Eric called to David and Gerald, “The whole rocket is sealed. Something contagious got inside the craft and I can’t get the doors to open up. What happened here while we were gone?”
Gerald looked from David to Eric, both of whom were still very confused, and then at The Beacon of Truth. The orange-black, crescent-shaped burn marks from the uneasy landing onto the planet’s surface were beginning to cool. Just behind it, the planet’s light-grey ring sliced through the purple-black medium in the distance.