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.
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.
The eclipse! Oh man, have you seen a lunar eclipse
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
How about you? she asked.
How about what? he said back, almost monotone.
The moon or the party?
Oh, the party.
Nah, they replied
I’ve uh… I’ve been up for about two
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
heck is Arastū?
I don’t know, he said in the most facetious
tone professionalism would allow, as he turned to look at the
…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
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
Why was I stressed out so suddenly, over such a simple
Roger, Micheal. the engineer replied
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.
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 she
we he was talking about.
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
Hm? Oh! Uhm. I’m fine. Who’s that…? Who’s that up there? In the
He turned, nonchalant, and looked up.
Oh. That guy. I dunno who
he is. The guys around the office have been calling ‘em
She raised an eyebrow.
It’s short for government man. he clarified,
must work for somebody way higher up in the government. I
think. He’s been talking to a lot of important people, so I
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?
That. As soon as that guy over there got out of his
chair and started talking, I just… she looked over to the
I’m not the superstitious type, ya know, but I just
got a really, really bad feeling. Like something was about to
Yeeeeesh. Don’t say that, you’re gonna freak me
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
Static. Everyone looked back to the console.
The message was garbled by noisy interference. The engineer leaned further forward as he pressed the button to speak.
Mr. O’Cullane what’s happening up there?
The room turned cold. She could feel her knees get weak.
Micheal I read you, please slow down. Can you hear
…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.