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PROJECT MOONBASE

A Pro Se Productions Publication


All rights reserved under U.S. and International copyright law. This book is licensed only for the private use of the purchaser. May not be copied, scanned, digitally reproduced, or printed for re-sale, may not be uploaded on shareware or free sites, or used in any other manner without the express written permission of the author and/or publisher. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.


We Take Care of Our Own by JC Crumpton

Lunar Ruse by Kevin Findley

The Mummies of Tara al Bay by Neal Privett

Missing by John Holmes

Halloran’s Mine by Aaron Bittner

Editing by AJ Johnson, Tommy Hancock, Taylor Bray, Tara Dugan, David Gilmore, Kathy Samuels


Cover by Larry Nadolsky

Book Design by Antonino Lo Iacono & Marzia Marina


www.prose-press.com


PROJECT MOONBASE

Copyright © 2017 Each Respective Author








WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN


By
JC Crumpton



“In my opinion, sir,” Chief Carter said into his mic after thumbing the channel, so that only his supervisor and the system recording could hear, “you’re a damn fool.”

He watched as the ensign’s suit stood up from behind the control station. The way his limbs jerked, overcompensating for the moon’s weaker gravity, indicated to him that the boy was getting ready to let loose with one of his tirades. Not only did he have to deal with the sudden work stoppage because of some anomalous graviton readings, but he also had to play nice and deal with the snot-nosed Ensign Theodore Rae and his inane ramblings.

Chief Carter continued reviewing the latest findings from the Digger on his heads-up display. Calculus and trigonometry had never been his strongest subjects in training, but his experience with structural integrity and station design more than compensated for any ignorance. And in spite of that experience, the ensign never let him forget who had the better education and superior rank.

“None of the physicists or civil engineers at Alpha Base mentioned anything about odd readings in their reports this morning, Chief,” Ensign Rae said as he bumbled over to the Digger where Chief Carter stood with two of his crew.

“I don’t know about that, sir,” the chief explained while he tapped his supervisor’s email address into his comm-pad to send the latest readings from the Digger.”This is just what the machine is reporting. In my experience, I would suggest shutting this operation down until we can get a better fix on what is happening.”

The link remained silent for a few breaths, and then Chief Carter saw that the ensign had opened up the comms for the entire hull maintenance tech team.”Chief,” Ensign Rae began,”I have a structural engineering degree from Illinois Institute of Technology and have been admitted into the Advanced Astro-engineering program at Stanford for this coming fall.”

Chief Carter waited for the other shoe to fall, and the ensign never disappointed.”Do you have credentials like these?”

“No, sir.”

“Then you probably don’t understand the math behind the readings about which you are so concerned.”

“Not completely, sir.”

“Are you a physicist, Chief?”

Carter snorted.”Not in the slightest, sir.”

“Then how would you even know what a graviton reading looks like?” the ensign said.”Leave the heavy thinking to people like me.”

Chief Carter waved at the Digger.”Because that’s what the console says.”

“Don’t get flippant with me, Chief.” The ensign tried to move his right hand across his body in a motion meant to signify an end to the conversation, but it looked more like some child’s animatronics giant teddy bear getting ready to begin some broad, exaggerated dance.”I would suggest that you and your team get back to work clearing out this section of tunnel and getting the hull plates set in place.”

Exhaling slowly after he muted his mic, the chief tried to relax and control the shaking in his hands. Red warning lights flashed on the Digger’s main screen, indicating the presence of an energy source which had an unknown stability. He went over the numbers again quickly. The density of the next section of rock could not be determined, and the chief didn’t want to break through into something that could either delay the project even more or be dangerous to any of his crew.

They had started late on the job of building the first darkside lunar base after the negotiations between the United States’ Department of Defense and the United Nations had stalled six months ago over a disagreement in the terminology of the neutrality treaties attached to the moon and near-Earth objects. Administrative bureaucracy couldn’t get the project back on track in time, and even after it had been green-lighted, Chief Carter wasn’t able to bring his crew in for another three weeks.

The chief licked his lips and opened the link.”How many low-gravity construction projects have you worked on yourself, sir?”

“I fail to see the relevance, Chief.”

“I’m just wondering, sir,” he answered,”how many projects outside the Earth’s atmosphere and gravity well you or any of your professors have physically worked on, rather than just theorizing about them.”

“If you continue, Chief,” said the ensign, his voice coming across the link clipped and strained,”I will be forced to write you up for belligerence.”

“I understand, sir.” Another warning signal sounded from the Digger, and the chief pulled it to his HUD. The gravity fluxes had increased.”However, the crew standing in front of you has over fifty combined years of practical application of all those fancy theories you’ve read about and had classes on.”

“This is your last warning, Chief.”

“Then I would like it recorded in the duty log that I am following this order under duress and against my experienced judgment.”

“Noted, Chief,” the ensign snapped.”Now get digging.”

Six weeks ago, the Construction Battalion received orders to begin excavating the tunnels beneath the Alden Formation. After they broke ground, Chief Carter and his crew of four hull technicians came in to install permanent polypropylene bulkheads so that atmosphere could be pumped in and military and scientific personnel could start populating the base. But the project hit a snag about a klick beneath the surface under one of the eight spokes that radiated out from a central shaft leading back up to the domed surface.

He stared at the Digger’s console and used his gloved hand to tap repeatedly on his faceplate. It recommended not proceeding further due to unrecognized energy signatures. Chief Carter had told Skeeter to call for a quantum engineer from the surface. What he got instead was his immediate supervising officer.

Seven months fresh out of Annapolis hadn’t mellowed out the boy’s arrogance one little bit. And Carter did not know how much more incompetence he could tolerate. Still awkward in the lower gravity, Ensign Theodore Rae’s form half-stumbled, half-fell down the corridor back to the safety of the mobile comm-cen so he could monitor their progress from its protected atmosphere.

After the ensign had finished retreating to the comfort of the MCC, Chief Carter toggled the link to his crew only. He waited a few moments before they all noticed on their HUDs that they were on the private channel.

Chief Carter nodded. He licked his lips, which always seemed to dry out quicker after breathing the canned air for a few days.”I don’t like this one bit, guys.”

“We’re with you, Chief,” Skeeter piped in up.”This smells like a major screw-up.”

He turned his left hand top to bottom, signifying a shrug to his men and those that had experience working in EVA suits.”I know you like working in these Z-series suits because of their pliability, but this doesn’t feel right. We’re all going to wear the heavy suits.”

“I hate them damn D-Vac EVA things, Chief,” Weezer protested.”They’re a bitch to get in and out of. The shift’s half over by the time you get started workin’.” From the hills of West Virginia, Chief Carter knew that Petty Officer Second-Class Frances Weasley had come from a long line of coal miners. He had this excavation job in his genes.

“My grandfather didn’t use special equipment back under the Appalachians,” Weezer complained.”I don’t see why we need to waste half our shift gettin’ in-’n’-out of them things.”

Skeeter’s sharp laugh came across the comms.”That’s because they were too pickled from moonshine or too busy porking their hillbilly sister.”

Weezer shifted and stepped away from the Digger, his face reddening beneath the faceplate, but Carter put his hand on the young mech driver’s arm.”Take it easy, Weezer. He didn’t mean anything mean by it.”

Nodding, Weezer turned back to the Digger, but Skeeter called after him,”I know you wouldn’t bone your sister, Weezer. No hard feelings?”

Weezer only grunted.”Besides,” Skeeter added,”I’ve seen your sister.”

“That’s enough of that, Skeeter,” Carter snapped before Weezer could do more than spin around.”We’ve got a job to finish.” He looked over at the rest of his crew.”I know. But I need to worry about your safety before your comfort.” He switched over to the open channel and began recording audio.”You heard Ensign Rae. We need to double-time it to get this job back on schedule. That means if we’re going to break through this next section against the recommendation of the Digger, then we are going to be properly equipped to handle any unknown event.”

Several of his crew touched their helmets with their fingertips in the equivalent to an EVA suit nod.”Yes, Chief,” a few muttered.

Forty minutes later, Chief Carter made sure everyone had their Deep Vacuum EVA suits on properly and were all jacked into the proper comm channels. They made their way through the sections they had already completed, lumbering slowly like a line of armored giants marching to some unknown war. He didn’t like making them wear the heavier equipment, but this whole thing felt like it had the potential to explode into a storm.

They came to the end of the finished tunnels and stepped into the corridors of raw rock. Chief Carter asked Weezer to go over to the Digger so he could get it warmed up and ready to chew through the next section.

“I ain’t likin’ this, Chief.”

“What’s up, Weezer?” the chief asked.

The man turned his left hand up and over.”The readin’s have changed, and the SI is still recommendin’ that we don’t dig any deeper.”

Chief Carter coughed and started to drop a few words that wouldn’t go over in a review of the audio very well, but he remembered they were recording.”Sometimes I wish these semi-intelligent processors were fully intelligent.”

He turned back to the Digger and motioned Weezer forward. Ensign Rae had positioned the MCC at the end of the completed section where the seals would adhere to the polypropylene bulkheads and he could watch them in comfort.

“Move it forward, Weezer,” the chief commanded.”Let’s chew through this and get back up topside for some R&R.”

“You got it, Chief,” Weezer said over the channel.”Hammerin’ down.”

Even though the vacuum couldn’t carry sound waves, Chief Carter imagined the machine growling as it bit into the solid rock in front of it. But he felt the tremors that rumbled through the ground and up into the metal of the D-Vac suits. It set his teeth on edge like he had bit onto a piece of vibrating metal. He started to sweat inside his suit. In all its infinite wisdom, the Navy issued undergarments of slicker material to each sailor to wear next to their skin under the suits. He wondered what senator or former president had a controlling interest in the industry that made them for and sold them to the government at an exorbitantly jacked up price. He always believed that to be the reason they didn’t just wear old-fashioned cotton t-shirts that could soak up the perspiration.

His link to the Digger chimed in his ear and another warning came up on his HUD advising him to hold position and evaluate the next six meters of rock. He motioned for Weezer to shut the machine down and waved HT Second-Class Myri Guzman over.

“Yes, Chief.” Her northern Mexican accent, straight from Guadalajara, always sounded to him as if she could break out into song any second.

The message indicator popped up on his HUD, telling him that Ensign Rae was busy trying to connect with him, but he tagged it for later retrieval.”Punch this with the GPR. I want to see if it can reveal anything beyond this next section yet.”

“Sure thing.” Guzman touched her hand to the top of her faceplate.”But I’m just going to tell you. The SeaBee techs couldn’t find anything either.”

The chief tapped the side of his helmet twice. I know.”I just want to be thorough. No room for error. This is unknown territory.”

She had already started walking back to the materials shed at the beginning of the raw portion of tunnel. He could see the ensign pacing back and forth inside the MCC, waving his hands around in broad sweeps. Guzman tapped her helmet once, and he knew the officer had opened a private channel to her. He obviously didn’t like what she had to say because he continued his strides and had turned red in the face.

Chief Carter tabbed open a private channel and asked Guzman what that had all been about, but she just turned her hand top to bottom and back. Beats me.

She walked up to the wall five minutes later with the portable ground-penetrating radar generator and grabbed both controls with her gloves.”No guts. No glory.”

“No glory without guts,” several of his men answered over the open comm channel.

Guzman activated the machine. The chief watched the screen over her right shoulder and grimaced when it came back with nothing but static. His message indicator pinged again, and he let out a long sigh before answering.

“Yes, sir?”

As strained and as high-pitched as Ensign Rae’s voice squealed across the channel, Chief Carter wondered just how long ago the boy had gone through puberty.”I thought I gave you a direct order to punch through this section, Chief. Correct me if I’m wrong, but did I not give you specific instructions that we were to do our utmost to get this project back on schedule?”

“Yes, you did, Ensign.”

“Then why did you stop the Digger to take yet another reading with the GPR?”

Chief Carter turned around to his men with his back to the MCC.”Just following standard safety protocols, sir. We needed another reading to make sure we wouldn’t be breaking across any fault or unstable seam. If we didn’t follow USNA Navy regulations on this, we would have to file it in an Exceptions Report DOC-1USNA, sir. And if we did that, then the review could put the operation behind even more.”

He waited for a few seconds, and when Ensign Rae only answered him with silence, the chief asked,”Would you like for me to fill out an Exceptions Report, sir?”

He heard the link click off. The ensign hadn’t even demeaned himself to respond. Chief Carter motioned with his right hand. Oh, well.

“Crank her up, Weezer,” he said into his mic.

“You got it, Chief,” the driver replied.”No glory without guts.”

“No guts. No glory,” the rest of the crew responded.

The Digger rumbled to life, and it inched forward. The dull gray bit immediately spun up so fast that the grooves and sections blurred into a haze as it chewed into the rock face. Sonic generators emitted focused beams of sound into the rock, vibrating the material to a point the Digger poured through it like water breaking before a keel. Smoke and dust mixed together in the hole dug out of the wall, powdered bits of debris and stone.

By the time the machine had mined through three meters of rock, the entire wall disintegrated and crumbled into pebbles on the floor. Where the wall of stone should have been, a wall of opaque, blue energy crackled and separated the tunnel from what appeared to be an empty, round chamber on the other side of the shimmering curtain.

Chief Carter motioned for Weezer to cut the engine, shouting quick commands through the open channel. As soon as Weezer shut down the Digger, the energy field appeared to bulge briefly, covering the entire drill bit before it contracted into a spinning blue ball. They all stared at the rotating energy. Chief Carter felt his stomach tighten. He barked into his mic and ordered his crew to retreat back up the tunnel.

Before any of them moved, the ball of energy expanded faster than any of the sailors could react. It swelled from the ball barely a meter in diameter to fill the worksite nearly instantaneously. The sudden expansion hurled Chief Carter away from the room, slamming him into the wall before the first bend in the tunnel. Vibrations shuddered through the ground and into his D-Vac suit, and pieces of stone plinked against his faceplate. Chief Carter rolled his head over, staring in disbelief at where cracks radiated up the corridor sides from where the energy pulse had driven the Digger into the wall a few meters away. Debris from where it had shattered the rock had been thrown at the chief.

He pushed himself to his feet and lumbered back to the dig site. The energy had shrunk back into the spinning ball, suspended a meter off the floor and throwing off an occasional blue spark. The sparks raced through strange patterns carved into the floor like mice in a maze, moving though through some Escher-designed warren of corridors.

Leaning against the edge of the new chamber, he thumbed his mic open.”Sound off.”

One by one his crew reported in except for one, and from the wreckage, he feared what he would learn. Skeeter cleared his throat and walked towards the chief from the other side of the Digger.

“Sorry, Chief,” he began.”Weezer didn’t make it.”

“Damn it!” Chief Carter shouted, slamming his fist against the wall and freeing a few bits of debris that tumbled slowly until coming to a rest near his feet. He stared at the pebbles and slowed his breathing until he could no longer hear his own heartbeat in his ears.

Ensign Rae stumbled down the hall in his own D-Vac suit. The young officer looked strained through his faceplate, sweat slipping down his forehead and across the bridge of his nose.

Pushing himself away from the wall, Chief Carter turned towards the ensign and started in his direction. He could still hear the rushing of blood in his head and knew that he was about to commit an offense for which he would very likely be drummed out of the Navy and thrown into a dark brig for a very long time. But he couldn’t find it in himself to care until Guzman called him on the crew channel.

“Chief!” her voice broke through his intense concentration on Ensign Rae.

“What is it, Guzman?”

He looked around and saw the young woman standing next to the opening into the chamber. The whirling ball of energy shed blue light in shimmering waves over one side of her suit, casting a long shadow that reached down the tunnel.

She held her right hand palm up and turned it back down quickly.”I don’t know, Chief. But it ain’t good.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, tapping the side of his helmet with two fingers.

“I can’t raise topside to get a medical unit down here.”

Chief Carter stopped in the middle of the rubble scattered across the corridor. After thumbing through various channels without a response, he switched to Extra Low Frequency and broadcast there, hoping the longer ELF waves could punch through the rock to the surface. A feedback squelch blasted through his earpiece and forced him to reach out to regain his balance. Nothing but static answered his repeated calls.

His crew all staggered or limped back to edge of the chamber. Ensign Rae waved his arms back and forth standing in front of the chief and then the other crew members one by one, but they all tapped the sides of their helmets and shook their heads. Chief Carter opened the crew channel.

The indicator on his HUD flashed to let him know the ensign was pinging away, trying to get anyone to answer him. Chief Carter started to respond, but the sparks racing through the patterns carved into the floor began to coalesce in the center of the chamber and drip up into the rotating ball. The energy whirled about like an opaque tornado of blue light and dust.

“Skeeter?”

“Yeah, Chief?” the man answered.

“Is your suit cam working?”

Before Skeeter answered, the ball expanded into a broad pillar three meters across and reached from the floor to the ceiling.

“Rolling, Chief,” Skeeter said.

“Good.”

“This is going to win me a golden statue.”

Chief Carter finally opened the channel to the ensign. But before he could say anything, Ensign Rae shouted,”Clear this chamber, Chief. This is a new discovery, and the last thing we need is for you or your crew to be screwing things up before the scientists get here to study this phenomenon.”

Studying the pillar of light and trying not to look at him, Chief Carter asked the ensign,”You’ve heard of those gravitons, right, sir?”

“Don’t be a wiseass, Chief,” the ensign said.”They’re particles emitted from a wormhole or singularity. Sometimes they can be detected as stray objects racing through the solar system. So? Did you need me to help you out with this?”

Chief Carter nodded at the pillar.”Because I believe that is where the energy readings were coming from and why the rock seemed more dense before we breached this chamber.”

“I didn’t know you were a physicist, Chief.”

The chief put his hand palm up and turned it over.”Just a hypothesis, sir.”

He turned to his men.”Skeeter.”

“Yes, Chief?”

“You and Wilson double-time it back to the locker and get the pulse rifles and all the frags you can carry.”

“Aye, Chief,” Skeeter said. He and Wilson turn and skipped down the hall as fast as their suits and the lower gravity let them.

“What do you think you’re doing, Chief?” Ensign Rae asked, waving down the hall after the two men.”You are not authorized to carry weapons on a construction job.”

Carter tapped his helmet with his gloved hand.”This isn’t a construction project anymore, sir.”

“Then what is it?” the ensign sneered.

“This is a defensive countermeasure.”

“A what?”

Chief Carter pointed a finger in the ensign’s direction.”Listen, sir. I can either take the time to explain this to you in simple enough terms that you can understand, or you can just pick up a weapon and prepare to repel invaders.”

“What…?” Ensign Rae began.

“I don’t have time, sir. Either man up, or better yet, hustle back up topside and warn the base. Get a company of marines down here.”

“How do you know this, Chief?”

He held up his terminal display so the ensign could see it for himself.”Because from the moment we breached the chamber, comm-links to the surface have been down. And this field of energy has been emitting regular pulses that are growing closer and closer together. If I’m right, it’s getting ready to be awfully crowded in here when an Einstein-Rosen Bridge opens on this spot.”

“Maybe they’re just explorers, Chief,” the officer suggested.

“Sure, Ensign,” Chief Carter said.”Explorers contacting another species always feel it best to visit them by announcing themselves secretly.”

The young man clicked off his comm unit, and Chief Carter sighed inwardly. He flipped through the channels again, trying to get a signal through to the surface, but even with the power turned up, he knew he wouldn’t be able to reach anyone. His HUD readings told him everything he needed to know. Some burst of energy had overwhelmed all the sensors throughout the entire tunnel system.

He checked his suit readings and pulled those of his crew up on his HUD, making sure that they all still functioned. His back, along the spine between his shoulder blades, ached from where he had been slammed into the wall. The suit couldn’t work fast or hard enough to filter out the stench of his own sweat, and the acrid odor forced him to breathe through his mouth. He hoped the waste reclamation system still functioned and that his body wouldn’t be found later with him having crapped his pants.

His earpiece chirped, and he looked back up the tunnel to see Skeeter and Wilson loping down the tunnel carrying several pulse rifles each and leading a squad of four armed and armored marines. Skeeter and Wilson pulled up in front of the chief while the marines fanned out to either side of the pillar of energy, with their rifles aimed and ready.

“Where’d you find your friends, Wilson?” Chief Carter asked the junior crew member, just two months out of”A” school.

Wilson fumbled with the loading mechanism on the pulse rifle. The young man, born and raised on a lunar outpost and used to spending much of his time in EVA suits, obviously felt flustered because he started moving his hands and arms in the signals meant to simplify communication in hard vacuum. Carter stepped over to him and put his hand on Wilson’s shoulder. When he looked up, Chief Carter put his own hand over his sternum for a second before lowering it palm down to his waist. Calm/center yourself. Slow down.

The young man tapped his helmet twice. Understood. He flipped on his comms.”They had just arrived on routine patrol, Chief. They said the energy surge knocked out all their comms as well as the elevator.”

“Thank you, son,” Carter said. He turned and looked at the squad leader, nodding as the marines filed into the room.

He opened a wide channel on his comms.”I want everyone to charge up and fan out around this chamber. Your field of fire will be centered on the bridge opening. Do not position where you can hit a friendly accidently should you miss. And ignite your IR probes. We don’t want anyone mistaking us for hostiles.”

Beside him, Guzman charged her rifle and joined the marines in the room, her helmet turning back and forth between the chamber and the tunnel where Ensign Rae paced back and forth. Chief Carter powered up his own weapon and stepped into the chamber with Skeeter and Wilson flanking him on either side.

The channel with the ensign opened, and Carter heard the officer’s ragged voice between gasps as if the man were about to hyperventilate.”You will stand down, Chief. And that is an order.” He watched through the edge of his faceplate as Ensign Rae walked towards one of the marines.”You will stand down, marine. Do you hear me?”

Chief Carter chinned the command channel open and asked,”Did you spend any time studying military tactics at the Academy, sir?”

“You know I did, Chief,” Rae said.”What does that have to do with the fact that you are all disregarding a direct order from the ranking officer? You will all be written up.”

Stifling a snicker, Chief Carter said,”Then you should know, sir, that what we have here is an attempt to establish a beachhead.”

The channel remained silent, and the Ensign stopped his progress into the room and started to slowly back out slowly. He coughed once, and his voice cracked when he tried to say something. The sound of him swallowing and clearing his throat came clearly through the earpiece.

“Then we need to fall back,” Rae began.”We need to…um…form up in a more defensible position.”

“No time, Ensign,” Chief Carter said.”We sure could use some help down here, though. If you want to get back up and try to repair the elevator so you can warn the base, that would go a long way to saving lives.”

Before the ensign could respond, the blue light shimmered, deepening in color. A long metal tube held by two gloved hands came out of the column of energy, seeming to materialize from nothing but the light. Without thinking, Chief Carter charged forward and threw himself at whatever was coming through. The moment his forearms contacted something solid and pushed it back into the beam, the light expanded to fill the room.

Everything in his stomach tried to force its way back up his throat, but he swallowed it down. His intestines felt like they had emptied into his suit, and pressure on his eardrums forced him to squeeze his eyes shut. A hammer pounded against the inside of his skull. Blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth where he had bitten the inside of his cheek. The ground shifted under him, and before he could regain his balance, he toppled over and took the landing hard against his hip.

He opened his eyes, feeling sluggish, as if he had just awoken from a long nap. But he quickly snapped his head around, looking for whatever had been coming through the wormhole. Rolling to his feet, he saw a suited figure a few meters from him climbing to its feet. It wore a suit similar to his own D-Vac equipment, with motors at the joints and heavy plating overlapping each other like scales. Carter vaguely heard voices coming over the comm, but he ignored them as he brought his weapon to his shoulder and fired a blast of concentrated electrons. The pulse caught the alien in its chest plate and bore straight through it, shorting out a power pack it carried on its back and engulfing it briefly in flames before it exploded into pieces.

He shook his head, trying to clear it. The persistent voices in his earpiece pulled his attention back to the situation. A quick glance around revealed the forms of all five sailors and four marines. Everyone appeared no worse for wear and either climbed to their feet or were already up and ready in the case of the marines.

“Sound off,” he shouted into his mic.

Skeeter and Guzman answered right away, along with the marines. He was about to call out again, when Wilson grunted.

“Ensign?” Carter asked.

“Here, Chief,” Rae responded finally.

The ensign was the last to gain his feet, and when he looked up at the chief, his eyes widened and his gasps were audible over the comm-link.”What did you do, Chief?”

Chief Carter shrugged and looked around. The chamber beneath the surface of the moon had been replaced by a stone platform beneath a sun that radiated light as bright and intense as on a desert noon day.”May have been some sort of backlash. Matter trying to travel both ways, or something like that, must have caused the field to grow and brought us here through some sort of Einstein-Rosen Bridge.”

“And where is here, Chief?” Ensign Rae snarled.

A long valley opened up below them, surrounded by gray, ragged rocks that crowned the ridges around them. Trees with bluish, narrow leaves on branches reaching to the ground like ankle-length grass skirts covered the mountainsides and the valley floor.

“Who joined our little party?” he asked the marines.

One of the four looked around at the others and then stepped forward. Pointing to the others around him one at a time, he answered,”PFC Martin, Corporal Hart, and Lance Corporal Strickland. I’m Gunnery Sergeant Warrow, but you can just call me Red, Chief.”

“Will do, Red,” Carter said.”Thanks for tagging along.” He looked around at their surroundings.”Let’s try to find out what we’re going to do before we run out of air.”

The stone area they had appeared on had been carved with similar designs as the one they had found in the chamber, and stood in a clearing perhaps fifty meters across. Chief Carter didn’t have time to see if the patterns matched the ones back on the moon, because his HUD flashed movement in the sky down the valley. His visor focused on three flying vehicles heading up the valley at high speeds.

“Incoming, Chief,” Skeeter warned him.

“Got them.” He looked around the clearing.”Any sign of a welcoming party?”

“Besides the three coming up the valley?” Wilson asked.

“Yeah, sailor.”

Wilson grunted in the mic.”Looks like the energy surge smoked anything that had been here waiting for us.” He motioned with the end of his rifle towards what looked like a large stone lectern a couple meters away from the patterned stone. Lying beneath it was the charred and smoking husk of something that had been roasted to nothing more than a pile of ash.

“Then we need to fall back to that tree line and get out of sight,” Chief Carter said.”We don’t know what level of technology they possess.”

“Really, Chief?” asked Skeeter.”We’ve just been flicked who-knows-where in the universe by a pillar of blue light, and we’re wondering if they have advanced technologies?”

Carter tapped the side of his helmet and answered,”Point taken, Skeeter. Drop the smartass attitude and hustle to that tree line. It doesn’t mean anything anyway until we recon. Now, move it!”

Chief Carter led them to a stand of trees twenty meters from the energy platform on the opposite side of the control panel. Not unlike trees on Earth, they stood fifteen meters tall but had branches covered with thick greenish-blue foliage from ground level all the way to the top. They crashed into the woods, and he imagined that if they hadn’t been wearing the suits, that it would have felt like they had barged into a thicket of wire bushes. A low ridge drifted down to the right, and Chief Carter motioned everyone down behind it after the marines took up position at its top.

They had just settled out of sight in the woods when Carter felt a pressure against him, as if he were standing waist-deep in the surf off Coronado Island. Ripples shimmered like summer heat off a highway through the air above it. The three vehicles circled the plateau once before hovering over the clearing. Rather than being powered by flame and combustion as most Earth vehicles, the alien ships appeared to operate on concentrated pulses of air that sent out the disturbances that he felt. An unseen engine or power source sucked the air in through an intake located on the sides of the vessels and it pushed it out in alternating rhythms from exhaust portals both at the rear and underside of the vehicles. Chief Carter noticed the design allowed them to land vertically as two of the ships settled to the ground at the edge of the stone platform, while the third hovered for a few more seconds in a cover pattern before landing.

Putting his hand on Skeeter’s shoulder, Chief Carter held up five fingers and then pointed to the side of his helmet. He chinned his comm unit to channel five and waited for Skeeter to give him the thumbs up.

“I hope they don’t have access to the same frequencies we have,” he said,”but we have to take the risk.”

Skeeter just nodded, and motioned to Guzman to turn to the correct channel. While she passed the command on, Carter looked up at the top of the ridge where the four marines all had their weapons aimed and ready at the platform.

Chief Carter said to the marines,”Make sure your suit cams are on. If they operate those controls, I want to be able to duplicate it so we can get home.”

“Got it, Chief,” Red answered.

He looked over at Skeeter.”I need you to transmit your recordings of the platform back on the moon to the ensign.”

“Aye-aye, Chief.” Skeeter pulled a cable from his suit forearm and handed it to Ensign Rae.”Plug me in, sir. We’ll get this uploaded into your system.”

“Red?” Carter called.

“Yes, Chief?”

“Can you shortwave what your cams are picking up to the ensign?”

“Not a problem.”

Ensign Rae turned his head to look at Carter.”What are you planning, Chief? If we are going to start any confrontation, I will need to lead.”

Carter flattened his right hand and swept it across his body in front of him.”Negative, sir. If we can capture the sequence on the control panel, we need you to analyze it and get us out of here.”

The only thing Chief Carter heard was the hum of his open comm channel because the ensign just sat there blinking. After a few uncomfortable moments, the ensign tapped the side of his helmet.

“We’ve got action up here, Chief,” Red said.

Hugging close to the ground, Carter made his way up until he could see over the ridge. Two suited figures already stood by what he took for to be the control panel, their arms waving about. They pushed aside the pile of charred debris and returned to the panel where they started running their hands over it.

Sparks of blue light started to run through the patterns on the platform, gathering in the center before jumping up to coalesce into a spinning ball of energy, just like the one back beneath the surface of the moon. Seconds later, it flashed into a broad wall of light.

“If this is an invasion, Chief,” Red began,”then how come there are only three ships?”

Chief Carter turned his hand top to bottom and back.”I was just thinking that. It is probably just a scouting mission. I don’t think they realized that we would have been digging beneath the surface.”

Red rapped his helmet.”That’s the way I’d do it, Chief. A little recon never hurts.” He pointed to the three ships.”But if those are carrying troops and they go through the wormhole, or whatever it is, they could catch a lot of people by surprise and wreak some havoc before we have time to warn them.”

“I agree,” Carter replied.”Let’s hope we can get back.”

He turned around and slid back down the slope.”Can you get us back, sir?”

Rae tapped the panel on this forearm, watching as the two aliens in front of the controls waved their hands through colored beams of light that came up twenty centimeters off the surface of the panel.

“I believe so, Chief,” he answered.

“Good,” Chief Carter said.”When we go over this ridge, it will be fast and hard. I want the marines on either flank in a pincer move with Guzman, Wilson, and me bearing hard down the middle. Ensign Rae and Skeeter will bring up the rear behind us. When I give the command, everyone launch their frags between them and the wormhole in a spread from left to right.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Chief,” the ensign said.”As ranking officer, I think we need to discuss what would be the best possible scenario. What do you think, Gunnery Sergeant Warrow?”

Red motioned across this chest with his flat hand.”Negative, sir. Chief has the best plan.”

“Why would you say that, marine?” Rae asked, his voice rising in pitch.

“Because of that, sir.” Red pointed to the SEALS trident etched into Chief Carter’s chest plate.”I’d rather follow a SEALS into combat than an engineer, sir. Not meaning any disrespect, but Sea, Air, Land and Space gets my vote any day of the week.”

After grunting once, Ensign Rae waved his hand in a dismissive gesture and waited for the others to move into position. Strickland and PFC Martin nodded at Red and moved down the ridge to Carter’s right. The gunnery sergeant and Private Hart moved to the left, setting up and carefully watching the platform.

Chief Carter peered over the top of the ridge and watched the two figures in front of the control panel as they walked back and forth. They motioned towards some of the debris they had left after Carter had shot the first alien. Broad doors on the ends of each of the three vehicles swung down and hit the ground, stirring up pieces of dirt and clouds of dust. Twenty figures in armored suits trotted out of each ship and moved towards the portal. The first few moved up to the wall of light and stepped through without hesitating. They simply walked into the energy wave and disappeared.

Chief Carter looked to the right side of their line.”When we go, I want Strickland to put two quick shots through the two at the panel. We can’t let them shut it down.”

“I can get us back,” Ensign Rae said.

“I know, sir,” Carter said.”But I’d rather not have to worry about it.”

When he looked back towards the platform, the entire group from the first ship had already gone through the wormhole, and half the second squad had disappeared as well.

“Now!” he shouted.

They exploded up over the ridge and through the wiry foliage at the edge of the clearing. He couldn’t hear it, but Chief Carter saw the two aliens at the control panel take compressed energy bolts through their helmets before they crumpled to the ground. The far side of the platform erupted in gouts of fire and shrapnel when the frags exploded. Firing his own pulse rifle, he caught three of the aliens in the back before they realized the direction of the attack. Beside him, Guzman fired her rifle several times and dropped at least two more of the armored aliens.

One of them turned and fired its weapon from the hip. The bolt streaked across the clearing and hit Guzman in the right thigh. She grunted over the open comm, and Chief Carter heard her gasp and quickly suck in air through gritted teeth. He glanced at her but knew the D-Vac suit would release liquid carbon over the suit breach, creating a temporary seal to protect her against both the vacuum back on the moon and whatever microorganisms floated around in the alien atmosphere.

Chief Carter put a shot of compressed energy through one of the aliens that had turned around to face them, and he noticed that the rest of the second group had already gone through the wormhole. He swallowed a quick laugh when he realized that he and the others were actually the aliens here. One of the armored figures fired at the two marines on Carter’s right, and he heard one of them grunt in pain as a bolt slammed through the chest plate of his suit. The marine went to one knee but fired at two more before toppling to the ground.

“We lost Martin,” Strickland said over the comm.

“I saw,” replied Red.”And he took two of those assholes with him. Tighten up and sweep left. Let’s meet in the middle.”

The marines turned up the barrage of energy pulses, with Carter adding his own quick and accurate strikes. It wasn’t long before they reached the edge of the stone dais. Breathing hard, Chief Carter stepped onto the platform and shot the remaining alien just as it turned and attempted to escape through the wormhole. He looked around and saw the ground littered with over twenty of the armored figures. Other than Martin, all the others joined him on the platform. A quick glance at the display panel on the inside forearm of his suit told him that the attack had lasted less than fifteen seconds.

“Do you have any explosives, Gunny?” Carter asked. He pointed over to the control panel as he trotted back with Strickland to retrieve Martin.”We need to destroy that so no one follows us through.”

Red patted the right thigh of his suit and opened a little compartment.”Wouldn’t leave home without ’em.”

“Belay that order, Gunnery Sergeant,” Ensign Rae said. He walked over to the control panel, avoiding the two corpses, and looked down at its surface.”This is important technology that the United States government could use.”

“Disregard, Red,” Carter said. He raised his right hand when Ensign Rae whirled around, his face growing red through the visor.”I understand what you want to do, sir. But if we leave this open, we’re just inviting them to send reinforcements through behind us.”

Ensign Rae frowned before he returned,”The risk is worth it, Chief.”

Carter slid his flattened hand across the air in front of him.”Sir, we have all this recorded. We have everything we need for the scientists and physicists back on Earth to reverse engineer it,” he pointed out.

“Okay,” said Ensign Rae after a second of silence.”Carry on.”

Red pulled out a pack of high-intensity explosives and knelt down. He opened the pack and spread the strip out over the top of the panel, unrolling it like a roll of paper towels. While he set the charges, Hart and Skeeter stood by the wormhole and kept their eyes and weapons focused down the valley.

Strickland shouldered Martin’s pulse rifle and then grabbed the marine’s legs. Chief Carter bent over and put his hands under Martin’s arms. Together they carried him back to the platform and set him down in front of the shimmering wall of energy.

“We’ve got two minutes,” Red said as he came up to the wormhole.”We do not need to be here when this goes off.”

Ensign Rae held his hands up.”Wait. How do we know that destroying the panel here won’t collapse the wormhole while we’re in transit?”

Carter turned his right hand palm up and back.”We don’t. But I believe travel through a wormhole is instantaneous. My biggest worry is that the blast will come through after us. But I think that’s unlikely, since the panel is almost twenty meters from the wormhole. Once the controls are destroyed, I’m betting that the singularity will collapse.”

“I thought you weren’t a physicist, Chief,” Rae said, and Carter could hear the sneer in his voice.

“On-the-job training, sir,” Carter replied. He motioned towards the flickering wall of energy in front of them.”Let’s get going instead of pissing in the wind.”

Red and Strickland picked Martin’s body up between them, holding their rifles ready in their free hands. Chief Carter pointed for Hart to go through first with Skeeter beside him. Wilson stepped in beside him, while Ensign Rae let Guzman lean on his shoulder at the rear behind Red and Strickland as they carried Martin’s body.

Carter watched as Hart and Skeeter stepped into the wormhole. The air around them flickered briefly, and then they faded away to single points of light like an old television tube being turned off. He and Wilson followed.

As soon as they stepped into the curtain of energy, Chief Carter recalled a program he once watched that said travel through a wormhole would be instantaneous as it sidestepped time and space. To him it felt like the eternity of a dream-filled sleep – no time at all seemed to pass from the moment he shut his eyes and the moment he opened them, but he could remember the events that took place with vivid clarity as if he had lived a lifetime.

His skin tingled like his tongue would when he touched a 9-volt battery to it in his youth. Waves of cold and warmth washed through him so he didn’t know whether to shiver or sweat. A featureless gray tunnel narrowed his vision for that brief moment he stepped through the singularity. He blinked and then stepped out of the energy into a scene of pure chaos.

His heart started racing and adrenaline coursed through his veins, driving out any remnants of chill. The first thing he saw was Skeeter dragging Hart over to the side of the room. They had returned to the chamber beneath the surface of the moon. Directly in front of him, over twenty armored aliens were caught in a fight to get out of the stone cavity into the tunnels. Chief Carter could hear chatter over the comm channels the moment he stepped out of the wormhole. Though he couldn’t hear it, his HUD revealed that the aliens had encountered an armed platoon of marines when they had entered into the tunnels.

Chief Carter pinged the defenders to let them know they were friendlies and lifted his rifle, shooting the alien heading towards Skeeter and the injured Hart. The alien fell, dust puffing up around his form when it hit the ground. Beside him, Wilson ran low towards Skeeter, firing back at the entrance without looking. Together, they started pulling Hart behind some debris. Carter skipped towards the rear of the aliens, firing as he went. Red and Strickland joined him as soon as they stepped through the wormhole.

The three attacked the rear of the alien force, catching them by surprise and pinching them into a crossfire between themselves and the defending unit of marines. Carter patted Red on the shoulder when his rifle was out of energy and rolled behind a boulder to reload. After he shoved the new energy pack into his weapon, he stepped back into the fray. He heard Wilson cry out in pain. When he looked back, he saw that the left side of Wilson’s D-Vac suit had a gaping hole, but the liquid carbon had already covered it and had started hardening. Behind Wilson, the wall of energy blinked out of existence as if it had never been there to start with.

The fight was quick but fierce. When Red called the all-clear, Carter could see other marines moving down the tunnel towards him with their rifles held out cautiously in front of them. Chief Carter pinged the approaching squad and received an answering chime a second later.

“This is Captain Adam Holyfield,” a gruff voice barked in his ear.”Who are you?”

Chief Carter tried to swallow but realized that he hadn’t taken a sip of water since they had first encountered the shimmering ball of energy.”HTC Chief Carter. Crew leader of excavation crew Echo 6-Victor.” He paused and looked to his side where Red waited.”And this is Gunnery Sergeant Red Warrow, sir.”

“Glad to see you guys made it out, Chief,” Captain Holyfield said.

The marines stopped in front of Carter and Red but didn’t lower their rifles. Chief Carter waved his hand behind him.”We have wounded, sir. Can we get them topside?”

A marine in combat D-Vac armor stepped out of the group. Gold captain bars were etched into his chest panel.”Of course, Chief.”

Ensign Rae helped Guzman down the hall from the chamber past the marine captain. Behind him, Skeeter and Wilson had an arm under Hart’s shoulders as the three dragged themselves down the tunnel.

Red and Strickland returned to the wormhole chamber to retrieve Martin’s corpse while Carter gave Captain Holyfield a shortened version of the events that had led them to another planet and back. The marine listened silently as Carter revealed their adventure and their decision to return in hopes to warn the lunar base.

Captain Holyfield contacted the base nearly a kilometer above their heads. Ensign Rae and Strickland, along with Skeeter and Wilson, helped take the wounded and dead topside. Holyfield had lost four from his squad, and another three had severe enough wounds that they were evacuated as quickly as possible. Red and Carter stayed in the tunnels for nearly an hour, helping to set up blockades and electronic surveillance drones in the wormhole chamber. The remaining marines barraged them both with questions, but Chief Carter suggested to the captain that they keep everything close to the chest until Naval Intelligence and the Commanding Officer had a chance to debrief them. After power had been lost to the elevator, base command had sent Captain Holyfield and his marines down to find out why no one was answering all the hails.

Every joint and muscle in his body ached with sudden fatigue the moment Carter stepped into the lift and it began its ascent up into the base. He and Red enjoyed the ride in silence, each alone in their thoughts.

Four military police burst into the carriage as soon as the lift doors opened, grabbing Chief Carter by the arms and informing him that he was under arrest. He looked over at Red and saw the marine frowning behind his faceplate. Carter turned his palm up and down and walked with the MPs down the halls to the small brig. They allowed him to cycle out of his suit and freshen up in a shower before assigning him to an isolated cell. He watched silently as two NCIS investigators came in and grabbed his suit, leaving without saying a word or even looking in his direction.

Though he remained silent, his mind raced through all the different scenarios that could have happened or that did happen as he rested on the narrow cot and stared up at the ceiling. Obviously, Ensign Rae had followed through with his threat to have him court-martialed for insubordination. The fact that the sniveling little rodent would rather play politics and protect his own ass than realizing that together they had all insured the safety of the moonbase and possibly the entire human race sickened him.

He figured he had been there a couple of hours when he heard the voices of Skeeter and Wilson down the hall. The two sailors were soon standing outside his cell, their mouths peeled back in wide grins.

“It’s going to be even longer before you make senior chief now,” Skeeter joked.

He looked over at Wilson, who added, nodding,”Yep. Hell, they might even drop you back to first class.”

The two men laughed, and Chief Carter couldn’t help but smile.”Probably. It’s happened before.” He put his legs over the side of the cot and sat up.”What’s going on? Have you heard anything?”

Skeeter shrugged.”Not much. The ensign has been behind closed doors with the big brass all day.”

“They commandeered all our suits and the footage we shot,” Wilson added.

“What do you think will happen, Chief?” Skeeter asked.

Carter wrinkled his nose.”I don’t know. Probably a hearing to see if I will stand before a court-martial.” He scraped his bottom teeth over his top lip, and then sucked in a quick breath.”How’s Guzman?”

Wilson grinned.”She’s going to be all right. She’s just as worried about you as we are. Plus, the corpsmen are having a hard time getting her to stay in the hospital.”

“I can imagine,” Carter grunted.”Good for her.”

The two sailors exchanged looks, and the smiles faded from their faces.”They only gave us a few minutes, Chief,” Skeeter said.”But we’ll come back and see you.”

“Thanks, guys.”

“That is, if they don’t ship you back to Earth or vent you out an airlock,” Wilson added, grinning.

After the two men left, he lay back down and tried to nap. He only managed a couple of hours’ sleep before two military police opened his cell and put him in restraints. Carter took comfort that they cuffed him with his hands in front rather than having his arms bent at an uncomfortable angle behind his back. They led him down the halls to Admiral David Watters’ office, Commanding Officer of USNA Moonbase Lunar One. A couple quick raps on the door elicited instructions to come in.

When he entered the room, Carter saw Admiral Watters behind an ornate desk of cherry wood, lit with a brass lamp. Two manila folders lay on the top to his left, and six books on the history of various Western conflicts stood between two bookends – one an anchor and the other a globe – at the right corner. A plain wooden frame rested on the top left corner, but Carter could not see the picture.

Two other officers sat on either side of the Admiral between the desk and the shelves behind them that covered the wall and that were lined with rows of books, obscure historical titles, and treatises on leadership and military operations. The officer on the Admiral’s left was Captain Frank Ladd, the base executive officer, and the other was Commander Kurt Bisel, head of the NCIS division on the base. Ensign Rae stood at one side of the desk, moved far enough away that he wasn’t blocking Captain Ladd’s view of Chief Carter as he came into the room.

Admiral Watters motioned for the MPs to remove the handcuffs. As soon as his hands were free, Chief Carter snapped to attention and saluted the admiral and the other two senior officers. The admiral returned the salute while the other two officers were studying datapads in front of them. Ensign Rae never moved, but remained standing casually to the side, silent and watching. Chief Carter glanced over at Rae and thought he detected a slight sneer from the corner of the ensign’s mouth.

Chief Carter remained standing, silently. He saw Ladd and Bisel thumb through their datapads, occasionally writing notes, and the Admiral looked back and forth between the two.

“First off, Chief Carter,” Captain Ladd said, and looked up,”I want to commend you on a job well done. If you hadn’t acted with assertiveness and foresight, we very well could not have had the opportunity to be here today.”

From the corner of his eyes, Chief Carter saw the ensign’s brows furrow into a deep frown.”Be that as it may,” Captain Ladd continued,”Ensign Rae reports that you willfully disregarded several orders that he issued to you over the course of your little adventure to parts unknown.”

Carter didn’t respond and waited for the XO to continue, but it was Commander Bisel that spoke up.”We have taken the liberty of looking up your service record, Chief Carter.”

“Yes, sir,” Carter said.”That would be prudent.”

Bisel nodded.”It is littered with not only commendations, but it appears that you sometimes have a problem with authority. Is that an accurate assessment, Chief?”

“If that is how it read, Commander, then I will not contest anything that is written in it.”

Admiral Watters nodded, and held up his hand to keep Commander Bisel from continuing.”I have a couple of questions for you, Chief.”

“Yes, sir.”

Looking down at his own datapad, Admiral Watters asked,”Is it accurate that you called Ensign Rae a damn fool?”

Chief Carter shook his head.”Not exactly, sir.”

“We don’t have time for a dance with semantics, Chief,” the admiral said, shaking his head.”What exactly did you call him?”

Still standing at attention, Carter replied,”I said that in my opinion, he was a damn fool, sir.”

Admiral Watters nodded.”You have played this game before, I see, Chief.”

“Yes, sir.”

Commander Bisel chuckled while the other two senior officers made no attempt to hide their smiles. Carter clenched his jaw tightly, preventing him from breaking out in a grin of his own.

Ensign Rae spoke up, his voice timid and quiet.”Admiral Watters. If I may ask a question?” The Admiral nodded once, and Rae continued,”I fail to understand why this enlisted man is not being reprimanded for his intentional disobeying of a direct order and for his disrespectful conduct towards a superior officer.”

Captain Ladd looked over at Admiral Watters.”May I answer this one, Admiral?” Watters nodded, and Captain Ladd glared at the ensign, his face muscles tightening and the left corner of his mouth twitching.”Listen here, Ensign Rae. You would be dead right now if Chief Carter had listened to your orders. And you obviously weren’t paying attention at the Academy the day they taught ethics.”

Darting looks back and forth between Carter and Captain Ladd, Ensign Rae’s brows furrowed to a narrow point above the bridge of his nose and he licked his lips three times.”Even an enlisted man is allowed an opinion,” Ladd continued.”But one with the service record of Chief Carter has a valued opinion.”


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