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Science Fiction

My name is Sarai Dallen, and I was the last person to be transferred to the lunar colony. All the others are dead. Of course, the record-keepers aren’t proud of this unfortunate thread in the tapestry, but I’ve written it down anyway, in the hope that someone will find it. A small hope, I know, but it’s possible. 

I don’t need to remind readers of problems that, by the time this record is found, will be almost as distant as the first moon landing was to me. But it’s enough to say that the upheavals of the 22nd century warranted the recommission of the lunar colony. What had been marked by the record-keepers at the first landing morphed into the expected resort, and then into a substandard section of space. When the planners in the stratosphere decided to bring back the colony’s marker status, they used the old automated resort shuttles to send us there. 

“You’ll be doing great work for the planet, Dr. Dallen,” they told me. “Even in these trying times, we’re sending only the best to revitalize the colony.”

I knew they were lying. The others, the trusting ones, they could convince—but not me. Why send a single-occupant shuttle to the moon for a recolonizing mission? As they strapped me into the shuttle and double-checked my preset destination coordinates, I debated asking them when the latest transmission from the colony had been received. 

“We don’t have time for questions, doctor,” they insisted, the words crackling through my intercom. “Once you reach orbit, contact ground control with your query.”

I remember looking through the shuttle shielding at the blood-orange curve of the moon. Why they decided to initiate the transfer at night, I never found out. But I switched off the static from communications, and I decided not to ask for the latest transmission. Whatever I found at the colony would be there, whether I inquired about it or not. 

I don’t remember much about the transfer itself. Shuttle transfers, even single-occupancy automated ones, were too routine. Aside from that, I’d done enough work with my father’s antique to know my way around a shuttle. I toyed with a plan to recalibrate the automated program to a different destination, but the shuttle had been rigged to self-destruct pending course changes. Once I reached the colony, I also discovered that the shuttle had been rigged to self-destruct within twenty minutes upon landing. 

“Another concession to the planners in the stratosphere,”

I thought, as I scrambled out of the shuttle and ran for the base. I knew the temporary atmosphere would only be maintained until I reached the dome, and I didn’t want to risk extinction at this early stage—not until I’d explored the base. 

Under the safety of the dome, I watched the shuttle return to the elements. The temporary atmosphere around the shuttle collapsed, and I watched fragments join the rest of the space dust scattered across the surface. 

“Time to join the other colonists,“ I muttered. “Looks like we’re going to be stranded here for a while.“

I could have activated the scanners to locate the other colonists, but I wanted to find them without machines, if possible. I’d spent my life around computers—even my enemies recognize my expertise—but I wanted some old-fashioned exploration for once. Maybe that was my mistake. Before I exited the pressurization chamber, I did check atmospheric and gravitational conditions for the rest of the dome. They registered normal, so I stepped out into one of the observation stations. 

“Hello?” I called. “It’s Dr. Sarai Dallen, the newest colonist. Anyone here?”

No one answered, even when I repeated the message on the intercom. It didn’t take me long to search the rest of the stations. They were just as empty. 

“Hello?” My voice was beginning to sound like an echo. “Hello, control?”

As I stepped into the control room in the center of the dome, the temperature dropped. Not too cold for a regulation suit, but cool enough to notice. At least the computer was running in control, drowning out the eerie silences in observation. 

“Voice recognition Sarai Dallen, code six epsilon William four.” I took a deep breath. The code was familiar, a stabilizing factor in what was obviously becoming an atypical transfer. 

“Recognition successful,” the computer announced. “Specify information required.”

“Location of other colonists on base,” I said, even though I already knew the answer. 

“No other colonists on base.” After a pause in the relay, the computer added, “Dome is automatically maintained from the surface of the planet.”

“I don’t need a machine to tell me that,” I said. “What other maintenance is possible, if I’m the only one here?” Before the computer could formulate a reply, I resumed command tone. “Release all colony logs to control center.”

The computer didn’t respond, so I repeated the command. Finally, the relay dropped through. “All colony logs require decoding. Please offer encryption code.”

“I wasn’t the one who encrypted these logs! How am I supposed to know what the—“

“Encryption codes of the programmer are required to confirm decode. Without encryption codes, the logs will be erased.”

The computer whirred, and I took another deep breath. I almost flipped the switch to send a query to ground control, but, fortunately, I decided to run some of my own thoughts first.

“They know I’m a computer specialist. They know I could crack codes with half my brain, if I wanted. So they want to encode the logs? Fine. Call up coded chains!”

I directed the last words to the computer, which took three relays to display the coded chains. I studied the data for no more than a minute, my brain automatically clicking the patterns into place. Another minute, and I fed the proper encryption codes into the computer. 

“Almost too easy,” I whispered, as the logs blinked into shape on the monitor. “The planners wanted me decode that.”

But I scrolled through the logs anyway, until I found one stamped with identification for a prominent scientist. 

“So that’s where Crayfe disappeared to,” I said, watching his visual pixelate. “I wonder if he—“

“I’m here alone,” his record cut in. “Don’t know if there should be other colonists here. Sent to work on artificial atmospheres, they told me. Systems are holding by automation, but—“

Dr. Crayfe’s record disintegrated to gray pixels. I searched for another record, a minor planner who had been a childhood friend of my mother’s. 

“Georgia Marr here,” she said, the flickering record still picking up the catch in her breath. “I’m not sure why my colleagues sent me here. I’m not a scientist or a technician, but the dome seems unstable. Every time—“

Her record faded like Dr. Crayfe’s. I scrolled back to the most recent log and selected the entry, one by a record-keeper. 

“Thomas O’Sheen, to the next colonist. If you know anything about me or my fellows, you know we like records a bit more—concrete. Good luck, whoever you are.”

His record didn’t fade, but it didn’t continue, either. “End of record,” the computer beeped. “Dome temperature dropping to specified range.”

“Dome temperature dropping?” I echoed. “Where’s that in the program?”

The computer didn’t answer, and I shivered. Last day I was this cold, I leaned they had singled me out for the shuttle. 

“Forget about sitting and waiting,” I reminded myself. “Do something here, now.” I redirected my focus to the monitor. “Engage thermal reaction.”

“Thermal reactors are locked,” the computer informed me. “Further commands of this nature will decrease dome temperature.”

Ignoring another shiver, I activated the reserve thermal circuit in my suit. Once I could bend my fingers, I accessed the computer’s data stream without a verbal command. 

“Temperature dropping into second specified range,” the computer droned. 

“But I didn’t ask—never mind. Send data stream to observation station four.”

“All observation stations have been sealed. Data stream is locked.”

I dropped into the chair adjoining the control panel, my elbows bent against my knees. “The planners must have locked it. But without the data stream, I can’t stabilize the dome.” 

I didn’t intend to vocalize my thoughts, but the computer picked up my audio. “Correct. Dome will destabilize in—“

“No, wait!” I tried not to shout, but the words echoed. “What command triggered the temperature drop?”

“Log decoding triggered temperature drop. Destabilizing in—“

“So delete the logs,” I snapped. “Reverse psychology on a computer, or nothing will work.”

The computer didn’t appear to process the psychological remark. After an unusually long relay, it confirmed deletion of the logs, adding, “Temperature rising to former range.”

I switched off my suit’s thermal regulator. If any attempt to recover information meant destabilization of the dome, I was going to need that regulator at some point. Of course, not even a thermal regulator would keep me alive for long, pending the level of destabilization. 

“The planners must have rigged the dome,” I whispered, indifferent to the computer now. “But if I can’t get records—“

In retrospect, I’m more than surprised that I didn’t make the connection sooner, but it finally clicked. Thomas O’Sheen, record-keeper, hadn’t stored his logs in the computer. 

I assumed command tone. “Location of any concrete on the base?”

“No concrete on base,” returned the computer. 

I stifled a sigh. “Concrete is antiquated. Maybe—alternate ‘base’ connotation from ‘center of operations’ to ‘foundation.’ Give base composition.”

After reeling off the expected metallic compounds, I registered ‘lunar rock’ from the computer’s list.

“Analyze lunar rock under control center,” I said, holding a mental breath. “Restrict to location of hollow spaces.“

“One, under sigma plating panel. Temperature rising to specified range.”

I almost laughed. “So you’re trying to keep me from finding the written records now? Just what are you hiding?”

The computer didn’t answer, and I knew the coolant in my suit was limited.   

“Freeze lunar rock analysis,” I called, “and eliminate command sequence.”

I felt the temperature stabilize. At the moment, I almost abandoned hope of survival. If the computer threatened me at every command, how practical was resistance? Still, I wanted one last attempt. 

For now, I’m leaving these pages here, in the spy-worthy notebook from the sole of my space boot. If my reprogramming gamble breaks the bank, I’ll come back to write it down. Instructions may be obsolete,  pending I’m still alive by the time the next colonist lands. If not, at least you’ll know that the planners sent you here, nonconformist single file, to be eliminated. 

There’s probably a poet among the planners who decided to send us here when the moon shows a sunset. 

July 31, 2020 16:04

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23 comments

Pragya Rathore
13:09 Aug 17, 2020

Hi Emilie! This is fantastic (unintentional pun) !! I love sci-fi and fantasy! You put in a lot of scientific jargon, which made it seem very realistic. This story was honestly fabulous. You should write more often, I'd love to read more of your work! Great going! Please check out my stories :)

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18:46 Aug 17, 2020

Thanks so much! I'll give yours a read

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Philip Clayberg
02:50 Dec 31, 2020

Wow. That was an amazing story. I really felt like I was there (and equally frustrated with the computer's reactions). I can almost hear Dave Bowman saying, "Open the pod bay door, Hal." And Hal replying, "I'm sorry, Dave, but I can't do that." Will there be a sequel or is this it? It would be nice to know if Dr. Dallen survived or not. Maybe she was still alive when the next shuttle and its occupant arrived? One editing question: I leaned they had singled me out for the shuttle. [Did you mean "leaned" or "learned"?]

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16:42 Dec 31, 2020

Hi Philip! Thanks for commenting. I'm not 100% sure whether she survives. There may be a sequel in the near future! To answer the editing question, it was supposed to be "learned," but I must have missed that in the process of proofreading

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Philip Clayberg
21:41 Dec 31, 2020

You're welcome. I hope there's a sequel. There has to be at least *one* person who survives until the next "colonist" arrives. Maybe together they'll be able to solve the overall mystery (and, afterward, send a message back to Earth, explaining what's been happening and how it got fixed). Right now it feels like the Greek myth of the 7 maids and 7 youths being sent every year to the Labyrinth on ancient Crete (their parents never knowing this "tribute" is actually providing live food for the Minotaur in the Labyrinth). But your story la...

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22:51 Jan 02, 2021

I feel like Dr. Dallen might be too independent to accept the help of a Theseus, but she is racing against a slightly sinister computer--so perhaps an unlikely collaboration is in the works!

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Philip Clayberg
02:22 Jan 03, 2021

The computer probably uses the Minotaur OS (Operating System). It's probably quite a maze of programming code whenever debugging needs to be done. (grin) The computer might have to adapt if it realizes that there are now *two* "colonists" on the Moon. Would it become nastier, or maybe diplomatic, or maybe it would pit each "colonist" against the other? What if there's *another* computer on the Moon? And the first computer (the one Dr. Dallen had to deal with) has done its best to hide the existence of the other computer? Maybe Dr. Dall...

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00:09 Jan 04, 2021

Thanks for the ideas! There's so many possibilities I hadn't even thought of. I may call the computer's maze of code the Labyrinth ;) And I think I figured out who the next colonist is, so a sequel will (hopefully) be forthcoming

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Maya W.
15:34 Aug 24, 2020

This was awesome! I loved the concept and the writing! If you can, would you check out my stories here? Thanks!

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17:12 Dec 31, 2020

Hi Maya! Yes, I've just been reading a whole bunch of yours--the mythology retellings especially. Sorry I didn't reply sooner--this comment must have got lost in the shuffle somewhere

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Maya W.
18:56 Dec 31, 2020

Oh, wow, this was old, lol. Thanks for reading those stories, though! I really appreciate it! If sometime you could check out some of my more recent stories, too, that'd be great - Her Emerald Eyes is my most recent myth story.

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19:09 Dec 31, 2020

Sure, I'll check out "Her Emerald Eyes." And you're welcome!

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Sayani Sarkar
21:37 Aug 06, 2020

Firstly I have to say that this is the first story in this prompt which I've found different. In the sense, the ones I've read, all of them are spun around what happens after they've been nominated and before they take off. This is the first one where one has actually spun a story of what happens after take off. Which I love. I love the idea of maintaining a notebook because in a situation as such where you're alone and there's an uncertainty about tomorrow, that seems like a good idea. And lastly, I don't know but I am very impressed and ...

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23:01 Aug 06, 2020

I'm glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I thought the notebook was necessary--even in a technologically advanced society, pen and paper are always good things to have :)

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00:34 Aug 06, 2020

I really enjoyed this. However, I have the same thought about yours that you had about mine: it ended too soon. I like the idea to leave the record in the boot, but I wish it were more clear what she planned to try, which would be relevant for the next person because if it does not work, it could eliminate that choice. Also, I really like the idea of the last line, but something about how it is phrased leaves me off balance.

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01:11 Aug 06, 2020

Thanks for the feedback! Yes, I agree, especially with your first point. I was trying to type it on my phone, but I got impatient and finished it in a hurry. I think I'll write a companion story at some point to try and clear things up, if the right prompt comes up. The last line wasn't perfect either--I was trying to make a connection between the blood-red moon and the people who had died, and it didn't come out quite right. So there's always next time! Thanks again for being honest

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Pamela Abwao
04:29 Aug 02, 2020

A chilling one to be precise. Intriguing and interesting Good work

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12:42 Aug 02, 2020

Thanks! I may have to write a follow up to explore more

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Pragya Rathore
17:10 Aug 09, 2020

So intriguing! This is a very original take, and I must admit rather enviously that it ended up being a lovely read! (JK!) Awesome job! ;) Please check out and let me know what you think of my stories :)

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Keep it up! 👌👌👌 ~Ⓐⓔⓡⓘⓝ (ℙ.𝕊. 𝕨𝕠𝕦𝕝𝕕 𝕪𝕠𝕦 𝕞𝕚𝕟𝕕 𝕔𝕙𝕖𝕔𝕜𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕠𝕦𝕥 𝕞𝕪 𝕞𝕠𝕤𝕥 𝕣𝕖𝕔𝕖𝕟𝕥 𝕤𝕥𝕠𝕣𝕪? 𝕋𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕜𝕤!

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