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Book
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Welcome to the
Outside

Chapter
0
Prologue

Mission control was silent, the only sound being the low hum of computers. Massive monitors took up the entire wall: one displayed a rectangular, squashed projection of the planet, and another showed what the television stations were showing the public. It was about 30 minutes behind, just in case something needed to be cut out. One screen in the lower right corner was a camera pointed to the sky. The moon.

The black of space, then, white. Only a small sliver of the moon was visible, a crescent thinner than paper. And soon, it would be red. Yellow of a blinking button on the side of the screen.

The enormous room looked like an amphitheater for humming computers, and the scientists & engineers who operated them. For now, only a few remained. Weary and exhausted, those gone were taking whatever precious time there was to relax. Two of the ones who remained, both wearing white button-up shirts and black dress slacks, were reading printouts and sipping coffee.

A third engineer came running in with a coffee in one hand, and a tiny slice of chocolate cake in the other. She was a blue Ixi, with long hair, little black horns, and thick rimmed glasses.

Hooooo-wee! Guys, are you coming to the party?

A red Kacheek with black hair spoke, but didn’t look up from his papers: Not now. Too early for that.
Come on y’all, they’re about to go behind the moon, you won’t even have anything to do. And they haven’t said anything in minutes.

The red Kacheek adjusted his own glasses, then looked up from his work. His eyes darted around the screens on the far wall. He sighed.
I suppose. You’re right. Still gonna have to pass on the invite. I don’t really feel up for it. I can’t relax.

She shrugged and nodded: That’s fair. I just can’t wait to see it though.
See what.
The eclipse! Oh man, have you seen a lunar eclipse before?
I uh, sure, yeah.
Not like, in a book, I mean in real life!
Oh, uh… no.

There was a few seconds of silence where all three watched the screens. The blue Ixi turned to the third neopian, a green Ogrin.
How about you? she asked.
How about what? he said back, almost monotone.
What?
The moon or the party?
Oh, the party.
Nah, they replied I’ve uh… I’ve been up for about two days.
Oh goodness. Uhh, well I guess that just leaves Arastū.

The other two glanced at each other, and then back to her. She’d scanned the whole room, but hadn’t found him.
Hey… she looked back down at the green Ogrin …where the heck is Arastū?

I don’t know, he said in the most facetious tone professionalism would allow, as he turned to look at the Kacheek …where the hell is Arastū?
Do I look like his dad to you?
You’re his manager.
Yeah, well, I don’t control what he does with his life.

The blue Ixi sipped her coffee and raised her eyebrows, not realizing she’d brought up some sort of office conflict, and regretted it. She turned and looked back to the wall of screens, to the moon. She’d known Arastū.

I didn’t think he’d miss this for the world.
The Kacheek looked towards her. I thought so too… but, hell, what do I know.

Someone a couple terminals over stood up slow, chair scraping against the floor, and started pressing the controls. The Kacheek and the Ixi looked over to him. The room was so still and quiet that even the slightest movements or sounds were impossible to ignore. He spoke:

Florin 12. This is Brightvale. Would you verify that your radar transponder is off?

The question hung in the air somehow. Silence. Four seconds. Five seconds. She felt a bit of a chill, even though the room wasn’t cold. Eight seconds. She swallowed and lowered her coffee, staring at the standing engineer, then at the control panel below him. Twelve seconds. Thirteen seconds.

…It’s not, but I’ll get it off.

A faint crackling had broken the intimidating stillness. It was Michael O’Cullane, one of the astronauts. His voice was distorted, but calm. She exhaled, not even realizing she’d held her breath. Why was I stressed out so suddenly, over such a simple question?

Roger, Micheal. the engineer replied We were seeing some… believe it or not, we were seeing some… funnies on the lander’s radar.

She looked more closely at the screens embedded in the panel. Something strange was happening on it, blobs and geometric patterns were outlining themselves in the sweeping line. Was it broken? she thought to herself.

…and it was the only theory we had. It looked like it was a good one.

We? she thought. She realized that he was wearing an earpiece with microphone. She turned her head up towards the large glass panel behind her, in the opposite wall. This room was two stories tall, and where the room ended, there was a sort of observation deck behind a picture window on the second story. It was filled with important computers and more engineers. And someone else. There was a desert Lutari, in a beige trenchcoat and flat cap, with long blond hair and intense blue eyes. He had a severe expression, and was staring at the same radar screen she was looking into earlier.

There was a moment where the button was held down without Micheal saying anything.

…Good theory.

She could tell by his voice that he was busy with something up there in space, but nothing stressful. The strange patterns on the radar were most likely nothing. she reasoned. She kept staring at the Lutari. He was holding one of those headphone-with-mic-s up to his right ear, instead of actually wearing them. He sighed. That must have been the we he was talking about. she thought.

His eyes darted directly to her. She almost jumped out of her shoes, and her breath caught in her throat. She forced her eyes away, and stared at the wall of screens. He knew. she shuddered, He knew I was looking at him..

Hey. Are you okay? The red Kacheek had noticed her reaction.
Hm? Oh! Uhm. I’m fine. Who’s that…? Who’s that up there? In the observation room?
He turned, nonchalant, and looked up. Oh. That guy. I dunno who he is. The guys around the office have been calling ‘em the g-man.
She raised an eyebrow.
It’s short for government man. he clarified, He must work for somebody way higher up in the government. I think. He’s been talking to a lot of important people, so I hear.
I… see.
He’s been here even before the launch. Just lookin around all the time. Maybe he’s an inspector. Did he freak you out?
No… well, yes. But it was more than that. He just distracted me from the other thing. Did you feel it?
…Feel what?
That. As soon as that guy over there got out of his chair and started talking, I just… she looked over to the Kacheek I’m not the superstitious type, ya know, but I just got a really, really bad feeling. Like something was about to happen.
Yeeeeesh. Don’t say that, you’re gonna freak me out.

She looked back to the g-man. He wasn’t looking at her anymore. She tried to steady her breathing. He looked right at me. It was too quick to just be a guess. She tried to put it out of her mind. The camera pointed at the moon caught her eye. The eclipse was going to start just as they were to go around the moon. It went completely dark, and then… it was beautiful. The moon glowed with the brilliant red of every sunrise and sunset in the entire world, simultaneously. Then, an even more saturated red outlined the moon in a thin circle.

That… tht can’t ▓▓ normal. Brightvale I’▒░seeing s▒▒methin░░.

Static. Everyone looked back to the console.

Ther▒░s ░▒s░▓▒▒▒ —
The message was garbled by noisy interference. The engineer leaned further forward as he pressed the button to speak. Micheal? Mr. O’Cullane what’s happening up there?
— in▒░s oing on. Ev▒▒▓thngs red. I▓░░▒▒░t’s from thlunar s▒▒░▒▒░. There’s some k▒▒▒ of r▒▒… wall ▒▒ light c▒▓░░▒

The room turned cold. She could feel her knees get weak.

Micheal I read you, please slow down. Can you hear me?
W▒▓▒▒▒░th░▒traj▓▒▒▒░▒▓▒s▒▒oing t▒░▒▒▓▒us through it. Brightv▒▒░▓▒▒re yo░▒▒eading th▓▒░▒▒▒ightva▒▒░
…Do you read? Micheal, do you read?

▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒

Static. There was a crackle, as the public affairs officer’s scheduled voice fell from the speakers embedded in the ceiling.

This is Florin Control. We’ve now had our scheduled Loss Of Signal. At the present time, we show Florin 12 in an orbit with a high point of about 115 point 9 kilometers and a low point, or pericynthion, of 101 point 7 kilometers. The spacecraft is traveling at a speed of 1,632 meters per second. We’ll reacquire the spacecraft in a little over 45 minutes on the 29th revolution. At 131 hours, 3 minutes, this is Florin Control, Brightvale.

The Ones
Who
Remember