For the first eight months of confinement in the tube, all had gone well. Squeak had transmitted a daily televised message to Earth, where it was projected three-dimensionally on wall-sized screens. The young captain had made witty comments about the state of his body and mindconfessing that he missed hot coffee more than anything elseand had explained the progress of his pet project. The project was concerned with the decoding of periodic radio signals Squeak claimed to be receiving from intergalactic space somewhere in the vicinity of several rapidly receding quasars. It was his firm belief that the signals came from a weird form of intelligence which was trying to establish contact with him. The computerized decoder had been unable to translate these signals satisfactory, but Squeak had been certain that he would be successful before Major Mason and his trained crew returned to the moon. The Nucleus One expedition had orbited a communications satellite from the Satellite Launch. It enabled Squeak to keep in close contact with control stations on Earth. During Squeaks period of isolation on the moon, JoAnn Harvey and Major Mason faithfully conversed with him via two-way microwave radio, at the same time watching Squeaks face loom large on a gigantic receiver. Then everything went to pieces. Squeaks face gradually became taut. His normally self-confident eyes became remote and frightened. When asked what was wrong, he merely mumbled that he had been hearing strange sounds and feeling odd vibrations. The sounds forced their way from outer space into his earphones, he said, and the vibrations came from the lunar rock and dust surrounding the thermal tube, making the floor tremble.
"What do you mean by strange sounds, Squeak?" Major Mason had asked curiously, leaning forward in his bucket seat at Number One control station. Captain Otto Harvey had stared at him numbly from the screen, tapped one of his cup-shaped earphones with the tip of his shaking index finger, and muttered, "It sounds like caged lovebirds making loud cooing noises over and over and over ." "Take it easy, old man. There arent any lovebirds on the moon!" "I tell you, Matt, I hear cooing sounds! I really do!" "Easy, dear." Jo Ann had tried to soothe her stricken brother. Major Mason had felt the muscles of his face stiffen. Though the Nucleus Two blast-off for the moon was not scheduled for another three weeks, the timetable would have to be radically shifted ahead. Otto Harvey must be rescued from his lovely vigil. Without hesitation Major Mason decided that the lift-off would be staged in one week. "Steady, Squeak Ill be there in seven days!" Major Mason had promised his former roommate. Then it happened. "Help! Moon worms! Theyre coming after me!" With a scream Jo Ann Harvey leaped to her feet beside the major and clenched her fist with such force that her fingernails bit into her flesh. The picture on the screen was suddenly topsy-turvy, rocking back and forth as though a gigantic landslide had viciously slammed into the thermal tube outpost. Squeak careened violently against a wall, fell heavily to his knees, and groped toward the screen with his fingers fanned out. Then the picture became a blurry and finally disappeared altogether, leaving the horrified audience staring at a blank wall. Amid the commotion that followed, Mason had jerked a microphone from the back of the seat in front of him and had barked into it, "Take your hibernation pill, Squeak! Take the pill!"
"Having nightmares again?" It was Major Masons voice, gently elbowing her dream to one side. Jo Ann opened her eyes a slit, then sat up on the comfortable space station couch. "I must have dozed off, Matt! Im sorry. Weve got so much to do. None of us can afford to sleep yet!" Mason nodded grimly as he removed his space helmet and sat down beside her. "Lets rescue your brother immediately," he said, rubbing his strong hands together. "All structural and scientific operations are in motion again. Im putting Captain McAllister in general command until we get backwhich should be sometime tomorrow." "How will we get thereby Space Sled, Space Crawler, or Jet Pac?" "Jet Pac. Its the fastest way." The girl slipped her small feet into her clumsy space boots and zipped them up. Her mind ranged over the many projects in which Nucleus Two was engaged. They included photographing the other side of the moon from the Recono-jet, boring a shaft toward the moons center to analyze the specific composition of its core, finding the most favorable sights for building domed cities, and establishing permanent blast-off stations for interplanetary and intergalactic flight. "Do you think Captain McAllister can handle everything?" Jo Ann asked. "Certainly. Hes a fine officer. The only thing he cant do is make tasty algae cakes!" Once outside the space station and in the intense glare of the lunar day, they wasted no time in further conversation. Mason made sure that everything was proceeding according to plan. Then he snapped, "Lets go." After adjusting the thrust of the rockets in their antigravity Jet Propulsion Paks, the tight-lipped twosome skimmed over the bleak lunar landscape. Normally they would have "locked-in" on a laser signal beam, But all signal beams from Squeaks isolation station had been cut off. Now they were guided to the distant thermal tube by means of infrared horizon sensors. Nine hours later they crossed the crescent-shaped line of demarcation between lunar light and lunar shadow, instantly passing from a scorching 224 degrees Fahrenheit to a minus 243 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of their temperature-regulated space suits, however, neither felt the slightest discomfort. At this point, both automatically clicked on their bright helmet beacons. After a few moments Mason caught Jo Anns attention with a slight beep from his microwave transmitter. "Were here," he told her, motioning toward a jumble of craggy rocks a thousand yards ahead. Now, if all went well, and Captain Otto Harvey had swallowed his hibernation pill, they would simply slip into the tube, force the helpless man to swallow a "wake-up" pill, and carry him back with them to the space station. Flicking on their paired retro-rockets, the pair slowed, descended fifty feet, and hovered over the grid opening of the thermal tube. Slowly they directed their helmet beacons downward. Jo Ann Harvey sucked in her breath at the sight. Then she snapped her eyes tightly shut. The interior of the thermal tube was an unbelievable shambles. Her brother was not there.
Copyright © 1997
All rights reserved.