Moscow on Neptune

Moscow on Neptune was released recently on the 600 Second Saga podcast.  You can also listening to the 600 Second Podcast using your favourite podcast tools:

Maria Cooper sat in her small quarters with the lights off, reading her assignment from the orangish-reddish glow of Jupiter through the tall vertical slit-like windows. She had long grown accustomed to the turbulent world below, and was thinking forward to where she might go once this tour ended in a few more months.

Her door chimed, and slid open. She looked up from her computer,  “Yes?” There was only one person who would just walk in after chiming.

Captain Aron Shepherd wasn’t particularly tall or imposing, but had the air of command that made him a natural captain. “Excuse me, Commander, I don’t mean to intrude.”

Commander?  That meant this was business. Normally when they were alone, the captain just called her by her name.  Maria closed her laptop and sat up slightly straighter.

“We’re being redeployed. We’re cutting our stay around Jupiter short.” There was a serious undertone to his voice.

Maria nodded, “I understand. We have just arrived though. Is something wrong?”  She knew that this was important, and her own work could wait.  She stood up, joining him.  The Captain turned, leading her through the ship towards the briefing room – talking as they walked.

“Command has been having trouble with the deep-range telescopes out by Neptune.  Last week they went black.” the captain explained.

“Why us?  Why not one of those new ships that could get there in an instant?” Maria asked. The next generation of ships were coming off the line now, and the first generation ships like the Moscow would soon be obsolete.

It was obvious that Maria’s statement had struck a cord in Aron.  His face tightened. “The Tokyo is still finishing her shakedown cruise, and isn’t supplied yet.  Even with their new engines, we’d still be there first.” He lowered his voice, his tone becoming sincere, “This might be my chance to make a mark with the Moscow before she’s eclipsed by the new ships.”

Maria smiled, and reached to touch the captain’s arm. “Don’t worry Aron.  You’ve made your mark on all of us.  I’ll go notify the crew.”

Maria studied the image over the shoulder of Lieutenant Cho. On the screen was the computer-enhanced image of the long range sensor platform. The platform hung like a large spindly arachnid between the moon of Triton and the swirling blue clouds of Neptune. The nearby moon and distant planet were sharply defined, but the platform was fuzzy – it’s long spindly arms blurry.

“Can you clean up the image? Why is it fuzzy?” Maria asked.

“That is cleaned up.  There is something on the platform causing that. Can’t make out any more from here.” Lt. Cho responded.

Maria studied the image a moment longer before coming to a decision.“I’ll get the captain.” Maria announced, going to the command chair and pressing the comm’s button to buzz the captain’s quarters.

“Shepherd here.” came the commanding voice over the comms.

“Captain, we’re close enough to get some visuals.” Maria replied. “I think you should see this.”

“I’ll be right up.”

Maria returned to look at the display, turning when the captain walked onto the bridge. Captain Aron Shepherd wore his dress uniform.  Maria looked at him for a moment, knowing that the captain wanted to savour this moment. She smiled and called out, “Captain on the bridge.”

The bridge crew turned to see their captain, several stood and saluted before returning to their posts. Maria also saluted, smiling at the captain.  She could see that the captain appreciated the formalities.

“At ease. Okay Cooper, what are we looking at?” The captain smiled and walked over.

Maria moved to the side so the captain could see the screen. “I’m not sure, sir. There is certainly something physically on the platform.  We’re still too far to see details.”

The captain considered for a moment, moving over to stand in front of the command chair. He turned to the helm station and ordered, “Change course – take us into orbit around Triton.  I don’t want to get us too close to whatever the hell is causing that.  Send out one of the shuttles for a closer look.”

Maria stepped forward, approaching the captain. As she opened her mouth to speak he turned to look at her, and a silent conversation exchanged between her and the captain.

“Fine, but be careful Cooper. We don’t know what we’re dealing with.” The captain said at last. His voice had a concerned tone – it was obvious he was concerned about her.

Maria turned and smiled, exiting the bridge heading towards the hanger-bay.

Maria monitored the co-pilot controls, and glanced sidelong at Corporal Higgs, who was piloting the shuttle. Designed to carry crew or cargo, and with an angled front and stubby little wings, the shuttle reminded Maria of a bus.

“Shuttle, we read you as away. How are things over there, Commander?” came the captain’s voice over the comms.  Maria stiffened slightly at his formality. It was obvious the Captain was concerned.

“We’re doing fine. Although I’m picking up some strange interference on the sensors.” Maria responded as she focused on the strange readings. There seemed to be spikes and phase ghosts around the UWSS Moscow.

“We’re picking that up too. Probably interference from Neptune’s magnetosphere.  Keep an open channel.” came the reply.

The shuttle slowly crossed the gulf of space towards the platform, with Neptune becoming a large backdrop as they approached. As the minutes ticked by, the interference seemed to lessen – either the magnetosphere was calming down, or the interference was localized back near the Moscow.

“Captain, there is definitely something here.  I hope you are getting these images.” Maria stared at the platform. “It appears to be some sort of shiny metallic looking growth. It sort of looks like algae or coral – if it was made out of tin-foil. Wait… what is that?”

She reached to zoom the sensors in, and then felt something cool on her fingertip.  Looking down, she saw a glint of metal in the cockpit. There was the slightest bit of silver on the black glass of the control panel.

Corporal Higgs looked down, momentarily jumping back in surprise, and then reached out towards it.

Maria called out, forgetting for a moment that the channel was open. “NO! Don’t touch it.” She kept her eyes locked on the control screen as she reached for the gloves of her pressure suit. Outside the window, now visible to the eye, there was activity on the surface of the platform. “Captain!  I can see movement.  We’re not alone out here…”

Suddenly the communication was filled with a crackling static discharge.  There was a flash outside from behind the shuttle, momentarily casting a shadow against the platform.

“Turn us around!  What’s happening?” Maria called out – momentarily forgetting about the strange silvery growth on the controls.  As the shuttle turned, the Moscow came into view – no longer alone. A large black craft had materialized in the space around the UWSS Moscow.  Shaped like a razor-armed crustacean, the black craft gripped the prow of the Moscow as if it was eating her. Smaller black crafts materialized and spread out from the ship – their bodies lost in the inky black of space.

Corporal Higgs suddenly cried out, holding up his hand – the silver which had started to spread across the console was on his hand.  Higgs pushed back into his chair, holding his hand. The silver started to spread over his glove.  He looked at Maria in horror, trying to remove his glove but it was too late. With a scream, Higgs collapses in his chair, the silver moving both over his suit and over his skin, slowly crawling up his neck.

Maria quickly unbuckled herself, pulling on her helmet – hoping it would give some protection against this strange alien fungus. Through the front window, she could see the Moscow – no lights in any of the windows, being dragged towards the large blue clouds of Neptune – a feat which should have been impossible.

She was stranded and probably the only survivor. With a gulp, Maria Cooper started to compose herself, to record a final message to leave for the rescue team sure to follow. She needed to record it and get the message someplace safe – someplace the silver fungus couldn’t reach.  “This is Lieutenant Commander Maria Cooper of the UWSS Moscow. Our ship has been compromised, and I am the last survivor…” She had made her way to the airlock – having planned on throwing herself out of the ship.  At least her suit, and her body, could be recovered.

Suddenly a clang filled the shuttle as it was gripped in black talons. Maria watched in horror as the door cycled open to the jaws of one of the black shuttles.  She knew there would be no survivors.


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