In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream. The Alpha-Roera Incident

Posted on: October 24, 2009
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By Terry Voyle
 
 

“Peeeeeeep,” the intercom in my compartment shrilled. I shook the sleep from my mind and pressed the connect button.
 

“Chief,” it was my control operator Jervis.
 

“What?” I answered, testily.
 

“May-day, from Alpha-Reora 2”, he shouts excitedly. “It’s the distress beacon.
 

“Be right there”, I reply. I dress rather hurriedly. This is the first May-day we’ve had, no-one puts out a beacon unless things are desperate. There’s a code of levels of emergency, rated 1 to 5, May-day is code 1 the most urgent.
 

I reach the control room in double quick time, read the Signal, no doubt about it, Alpha-Reora 2 (AR2) is in trouble. AR2, a scientific team made up of 5 men. Pilot, Geologist, Mineralogist, Engineer and Surveyor. Their mission on AR2, a moon, circling the planet Pluto, is to try to find materials and a suitable site for a base to be built. The construction of the station on this moon would enable Pluto to be explored for possible colonization. Now the Earths resources were quickly being exhausted, due to overpopulation, colonization was the paramount reason for space exploration.
 

Resources had to be found on other Terrestrial bodies to enable this policy to take place. Earth could no longer supply materials to create colonies. So the Space Commission engaged companies to explore and exploit potential habitat.

 

AR2 is one of many teams exploring possible bountiful targets. As well as the exploration teams, the construction sites already underway on other planets and moons in the solar system, need policing. That was our job. I’m Chief Ed Morrow, my team is, Jervis my communications officer and Slim Burtram, a district constable. We are based in the space station, Lunar Explorer. A very large piece of hardware stationed slap bang in the middle of the Galaxy. It serves as maintenance base, rest and recuperation center, as well as the cargo handling facilities, which had enormous capabilities. Over I Billion metric tons passes through this city in space every Lunar year.
 

Our role on this outpost is rescue and law and order. We are the away team if called and we’ve just been called. We inform H.Q. and head to our F.P.C. (fast patrol craft), all kit is loaded and ready, waiting for the shout. We leave the space station and in fifteen minutes were 1000 times the speed of sound, three days to target.

 

The time is spent checking gear, sleeping, trying to get voice contact with AR2. Finally we have communication, a very frightened scientist, blurts out the story.

 

The team had gone out to survey a site near a very large crater. The pilot, left behind, was in communication with them, he last received a signal from them 7 days ago. Of course he can’t do anything except send a distress signal, as space exploration policy dictates, one person to remain on base at all times. We roger his communication, pass it back to lunar Explorer, reassure him and prepare a search and rescue mission.
 

We have arrived and are now in orbit around AR2, I decide to leave Jarvis in the control module. Slim and myself will take the Ranger, a vehicle designed to shuttle back and forth between mother ship and planets or moons. The Ranger also has a capability to travel, when landed, over rough terrain. It can accommodate ten people or 1 metric tonne of cargo, so plenty of room for evacuation and or medical treatment. We leave our FPC and in 10 minutes we can see the target site, in twenty minutes, we’re landed. We are about a half-mile from AR2. The low white buildings shine in the solar light. The usual configuration, accommodation sphere, materials storage bunker and a large rectangular scientific building where the suitability of the materials is tested. At the one end of the camp is parked a shuttle, the teams transport to supply ship or mother ship.

 

We don’t need full suits or helmets, as there is natural atmosphere on this moon, which made it an attractive prospect to set up a base. But the oxygen levels are low, much the same as being on top of a mountain like Everest, so we wear nasal attachments which allows a top up supply of oxygen, to keep us going. We carry side arms, per regulations and personal radios, we are in contact with Jarvis on the FPC and with AR2. We see the figure of a man hurrying toward us.

 

He looks disheveled, his eyes wild, wide, frightened. I’ve seen this look before; we call it Space Fever, a sort of psychosis. Brought on by stress and isolation.

 

“Help, help, help,” he repeats, over and over.
 

We calm him down; our very presence seems to help to do this.
 

He explains. “I’m Duggie Combs, I’m the pilot, I sent out the May-Day. The team has been gone for a week, I’m going nuts with worry, There’s no way I can raise them on communications network, I can’t leave the base as we’ve only one rover and the team’s taken that.
 

“How much Oxygen have they got?” I ask, time is of the utmost importance out here.
 

“Oh enough for 21 days each”, the pilot explains. “ They have enough of everything for 21 days, as is standard on survey. But, the scheduled operation was only for 24 hours, reporting in every 4 hours, that’s rigid, that’s standing orders.”
 

“Have you received any radio contact at all?” I ask, trying to form a picture of events.
 

“Yes”, the pilot answers. “The first scheduled call after 4 hours, they reported to be at the large crater, North North East of the base. They reported all well, a beautiful sight and named the crater Manhattan”. As is usual for teams to name geographical landmarks after the team captains’ home city or state.
 

“OK Slim, that’s where we start,” I say in a nice calm voice, but inside I know, 7 days can be a lifetime in space.
 

Slim and I leave the pilot at base, he ‘s too far gone to be of any help on the mission. We set off in the Ranger and set co-ordinates N.N.E. for Manhattan crater. We are 3 hours into our journey; we see the tracks of the scientist’s rover. Soon we see in the distance the vehicle, in ten minutes were alongside. Slim and I look all around the rover, inside is empty, tools and supplies gone. We follow their tracks, four distinct sets of footprints, clearly defined in the dust of the moon.

 

The prints lead to the edge of the huge crater, there they stop. We look in awe at the magnificent site of the crater, fully 3 Km’s across, 1Km deep, sides and bottom unnaturally smooth. In the center of the crater is a hollow, I look through magni -glasses a hole, not very wide, maybe 30 metres. What it is we have no idea, geologically it shouldn’t be there, the crater should be a hollow bowl. But the strange part is, its sides and bottom are so smooth, like a well-scrubbed dish. Stranger still the footprints stop right at the edge and do not return.

 

We see Pluto rising over the horizon, a huge purple ball glowing, intensifying, passing in its unalterable orbit. Slim and I can feel it’s gravity’ pulling at us like a pin to a magnet.

 
Quite suddenly, the ground trembles beneath us, the noise is getting louder. We hang on to the Ranger. The hole at the center of the crater, erupts, not molten rock though, water, the torrent spouts a hundred feet high. It spills into the crater scouring and swirling in great waves. The water spouts in the center of the crater then eases and water flows like a sea, cascading into the crater. Within 30 minutes the bare terrain of the crater is filled with millions of gallons of dark viscous liquid, an ocean filling the void to the brim.
 

Slim says.” I’ve never seen anything like that.”
 

I answer. “No, neither have I”.
 

But it does answer some questions. If this is a regular occurrence, the planet passing over this close. The gravity causes the sea of liquid in a reservoir deep in the bowels of the moon to be sucked through the hollow in the center of the crater, causing a tidal surge. Unfortunately the scientists didn’t know of this phenomenon and were caught on the floor of the crater when it flooded. As we watch in awe at this spectacular sight, Pluto’s pull passes over the crater. We feel the force of gravity returning to normal. The waters recede at a tremendous pace, within 45 minutes the crater is empty again, the surface drying almost immediately The scientific team wouldn’t have stood a chance; the water scoured away all traces of the men, their equipment, footprints not a trace. If we had ventured into the crater earlier, we would have met the same fate.
 

The survey of this planet could not have seen this phenomenon. The fact that there was water on this moon was never realised. The reservoir of water hidden deep in the moons interior was invisible to initial photographs and robotic surveys. The orbit of the moon and its configuration when it closes to Pluto was overlooked. So this tragedy happened.

 

Slim and I make our way back to base camp, we didn’t speak, each wrapped in his own thoughts. We picked up the pilot at AR2 and told him of the tragedy. We secure the base, collected whatever belongings the lost men had, for their relatives and loved ones.

 
We call Jervis, were on our way back, to dock.

 

Back on board our FPC, I informed base of our findings. They acknowledged, in that cold official speak.
 

“AR 2 party. Four dead. One survivor. Confirmed. Understood. Lunar Explorer out.”
 

My report will recommend a more thorough initial survey on any new explorative sites. It won’t make any difference. The Space Commission is in a hurry. Earth is on its last gasp. Speed is of the essence, people are expendable. Still I’ll write my report, I’ll hope for the best and I’ll be here, we’ll be here.

 

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