Abyss & Apex : Fourth Quarter 2009: Lake Of Dreams

Lake Of Dreams

by Christopher Lockhart

 

I must have been dying.

Hands clenched to my chest, perspiration coursing down my face, I made a feeble motion off the shuttle that was far more stumble than step and promptly collapsed. While my personal items rushed around me in a flurry of grimy hands and fatigues, I struggled to rejoin the Homo Sapien world. Soon there was only a lone figure with me in the airlock, one Xavier Mathers, Captain, Security.

“What’s that odor?” I mumbled, eyes and throat burning.

“Excuse me?”

I gulped, then barked, “The stench?”

Mathers smiled, or rather, I glimpsed him smiling down at me. “We dig and process ilmenite here, Inspector. You must have been briefed on that.”

“Yes, but does it have to smell so bad?”

Mathers snickered. “Besides breaking the mineral down into oxygen for shipment, we utilize a sulfur-based reagent to extract residual titanium from process waste.” He savored a deep breath. “Despite the scrubber system, we’re never rid of its smell.”

“Great chemistry lesson,” I managed, after a grunt.

“Why don’t you try some deep breaths?”

That wasn’t the intuitive thing to do, but after following Mathers’ suggestion, I was up and walking, albeit at a slow pace. My stomach and senses on the other hand had settled down in exchange for a headache that begged for treatment. Take what you could get, I thought.

“How long to…?” I began and then trailed off, wiping the sweat from my throbbing forehead.

Another damnable snicker. “Oh, acclimation will take a few standard days. Exercise helps with the systemic effects. Medical will give you a protocol, the usual stuff: stick to light fare in the mess, drink lots of water, get plenty of sleep…” The list went on until he brightened and said, “Welcome to Lazlo Station, Inspector Cavendish, one of the first permanent settlements on Luna.”

“Thanks,” I offered. Barely.

 

#

An automated tram carried us toward the Main Complex through tunnels festooned with corroded industrial piping, over vents hissing their noxious volatiles. Floodlights guided our way from above, many of them malfunctioning, winking on and off, a nice touch, I thought. Meanwhile, the prevailing stench found new ways to attack my senses. Mathers was beaming. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut about the place.

“Been here most of my adult life,” he said, and then droned on about how many cubic meters of oxygen they produced per month, about the tonnages of refined metals they shipped out. About the modified Sowell-Mattson process for ilmenite digestion, whatever the hell that was. “Yes, Lazlo is truly one of a kind. We run an important operation here, work with our own priorities.”

I smiled at that. “Well, your priorities have changed for the time being, Captain,” I said, leaning into him. “Daniel Hennessy’s disappearance has put Lazlo under intense scrutiny.”

Mathers smirked, waved at a pedestrian passerby. “Let’s face it, Inspector, the lunologist is dead. That’s what happens at Lazlo when you wander from your exploration detail.” Another passerby, another hearty wave. “We’ve turned the area around Luther crater upside down since he was declared missing and haven’t found anything more than his rover. There isn’t the slightest trace of him out there, not even the transponder signal from his hardsuit. What more do you want?”

“Better answers, less excuses,” I said. I leaned over the side of the tram and spat out a stringy mix of saliva and grit. I was hopeful that my innards wouldn’t follow.

Mathers removed his hardhat. “I will apologize in advance, Inspector Cavendish. You will find that we are like a cloister here. The nearest settlement is over a thousand kilometers away. We don’t like dealing with the outside.”

I looked at him sideways. “You mean to tell me that Lazlo is a bed of nonconformity? I admit that I already have my suspicions. I’m surprised this place passed audit.”

Mathers’ eyes fixed on my shoulders. It wasn’t the badge of the Security Forces that had caught his attention but the insignia of the Cultural Ministry. Most people, when confronted with that authority, tended to keep novel opinions to themselves.

“We’re a strategic mining facility, a community of over six hundred people. As long as the quotas are met, no one bothers us. I happen to take a hands-off approach to security and let people do what they want for the most part, talk like they want, Inspector. The dictums of the Cultural Ministry have never been a high priority at Lazlo. And as for how we handle our investigations…”

I admitted that Mathers wasn’t like most people. “I realize your isolation has put you out of touch with things, Captain, but Hennessy is the son of a very wealthy Luna senator. Filling in the blanks and checking off the appropriate boxes on this one will simply not do. People up the ladder want answers. Understand?”

Mathers frowned and played with his hardhat. Only the whirring of the tram and the incessant thumping of the distant processing equipment broke the silence between us. If anything, the man was a product of his environment. He was in his late forties, but his grizzled appearance added another twenty years to his age. He looked as weathered and soiled as his uniform.

“And there’s another matter.” I slipped off my datapad and keyed it on, nudged it to Mathers.

His frown deepened. “I don’t understand, Inspector,” he said as he thumbed through a slew of pictures and their accompanying reports. “I thought your investigation was limited to the scope of Hennessy’s disappearance…not these…others.”

“Sixty three missing people in the last twelve months,” I said. “Any explanations for what happened?”

A smile blossomed on Mathers’ face. “Lots of accidents in our vocation, Inspector. Lots of unforgiving, heavy machinery roaming underground that can do nasty things to a human body. And that’s not mentioning the dangers our exploration details face. People routinely go missing for obvious reasons. And those that are found…” He stifled a laugh. “Hell, you get the idea. Not much left to inspect.”

“Actually, I would like to focus on what happened with the investigations.” I thumbed through the reports for an example, but frankly, I didn’t know where to begin. “It’s shoddy work, Captain, with reports half-filled out, half-followed up with loads of questions remaining–questions that could possibly be answered with interviews or queries into Lazlo’s database. Hennessy’s case is no different.”

Mathers faced me. “The whereabouts of our lunologists are more closely monitored than production regulars, Inspector, so we’re fortunate that we have any information at all. And I did query the station’s database regarding his time allocation for the last three months. The only detail I can add is that he had been putting in a great deal of overtime lately, even spending most of his recreation hours in the area he was declared missing.”

“Alone?”

Mathers didn’t hesitate. “Alone.”

I recorded that revelation. “Isn’t that out of the ordinary?”

“Not particularly,” he replied. “And besides, with the bonus cycle coming up, I wouldn’t think anything of people putting in extra hours. Fatigue likely got the better of him and he slipped and fell. Or perhaps a cave-in claimed him. There have been a lot of tremors lately.”

I stopped recording, fingers hovering above my datapad. “And?”

“And that’s as far as it goes, Inspector. With so much to do, I’m afraid missing people never get the kind of attention they probably deserve. Production quotas, you know?”

Probably? I had just arrived, and I already felt like turning everything around here on its head, beginning with Mathers. An audit was in order, one that would clean up Lazlo, but presently I needed cooperation from the captain to get my job done. It would have to wait.

“He was claimed by Luna,” Mathers said now, waving a perfunctory hand. “Open and shut.”

I gritted my teeth. “And I say the case is still open, Captain. I will not tolerate Lazlo’s status quo on this one. Policy must be adhered to. Procedures must be followed. That includes the dictums of the Cultural Ministry by the way. I will be looking for deviations from accepted norms that may have played a part in his disappearance.”

Mathers shook his head. “Please understand, Inspector,” he said, smiling without humor, “that Lazlo Station was constructed before the Accident. We’ve been granted certain allowances, grandfathered in, so to speak. You will find many strange things here.”

“I see that we are finally in agreement.”

We rolled to a stop inside of a transparent dome. Nothing had prepared me for the spectacular view. Eyes widened, speechless, I exited the tram. Unfortunately what little acclimation I had acquired quickly evaporated.

Lacus Sominorum,” Mathers said.

The absolute black sky reigned overhead while Luna’s features–craters, highlands, plains–surrounded us out to at least fifty kilometers, all dotted with mining infrastructure twinkling in the near, silvery dark. Even through the dome’s (protective?) shading, the two-day-old sun glared bright along the horizon, outlining everything it touched in harsh relief. Familiar sights, yes, but never all at once like this, never dangerously bathed in it on Luna’s surface. My shoulder blades hunched at the thought of all that radiation pouring in on us.

Mathers now gestured at the airless landscape beyond. “Lake of Dreams,” he said, matter-of-factly.

Despite my condition, I chuckled. “Really, Captain, I knew there were some romantics around that still called the lava plains lakes and seas…but by name?” I closed my eyes momentarily and thought hard. Or at least gave the impression of doing so. “I vaguely remember some speculative ditties about Copernicus and Plato from childhood. The names of craters, you know, before the Reforms did away with such nonsense. Ancient history best forgotten.”

Mathers looked liked he was going to spit. “Not that ancient, Inspector. Did you know that Farside has a wealth of names from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?”

“Okay, something that expired about a century before the Accident. But honestly, Captain, no one knows what the hell that was either. It may as well be ancient history. In any case, I prefer sector thirty-three, grid twelve. In keeping with the accepted assignments of the New Lunar Survey.”

I gestured at the landscape with no less pageantry than Mathers had earlier. “Luna has its own beauty, Captain. Only nonconformists cling to such earthly anachronisms.”

As Mathers led me down a neighboring corridor, a bell began to ring rhythmically through the complex. He stopped underneath one of those fickle lights, his head glistening on and off with it. Something like relief crossed over his face.

“Shift change,” Mathers said. “I’ll drop you off here at Medical for the standard entry physical and return in an hour.”

With only monotony built into the corridors of Lazlo thus far, I hadn’t realized I was standing in front of a door. “Did Hennessy have any associations at Lazlo?”

“He was a quiet fellow. Kept to himself. I guess the only person closest to a friend would be his assistant, Carl Addison. You’ll want to talk to him.”

“Is he a miner?”

“Data miner, actually.”

“Which is?”

Mathers examined his dirty nails. The bell droned on as he said, “Addison collects data from the production and exploration details, crunches the numbers, analyzes trends, predicts where the sweet spots of ilmenite are. Damn good with tables and numbers and such. That boy is a real asset.”

“Can you think of any other associates?”

My second question caught Mathers a couple of steps away from slipping out of sight. He sighed and shook his head, looked back at me with eyes that had been reduced to pinpoint lights in the dark. “Did I mention there are over six hundred people at Lazlo, Inspector?”

It really wasn’t a question. Mathers tipped his hardhat and disappeared into the bowels of the station. We were going to get along wonderfully, I thought.

 

#

I sat partially naked on a cold, stainless steel table for at least an hour while the medical examiner ran me through a battery of tests and inspections: the ear, nose and throat routine, some blood work, and a less than gentle probing in the rear with an antediluvian tool. Datapad entries took up most of the examiner’s time. Standard procedure for new arrivals, I was told.

There was a body several tables down from me in this cavernous ward, its hardsuit mangled along the right forearm, a scarlet streak smearing its faceplate. The scent of decaying flesh filled the air, rivaling Lazlo’s more primordial scents.

“That wouldn’t happen to be Daniel Hennessy?” I asked, readjusting my gown for the hundredth time in a vain effort for warmth.

Seated at an untidy table, the doctor looked around as if I had been speaking to someone else. When he realized I had asked him the question, he replied, “Was he a loader grunt?”

“No, a lunologist that’s been missing for three days.”

He smirked at the body. “Guess not.”

“And the cause of death for this individual?” I realized that the doctor could have easily been Mathers’ twin.

“You’re kidding, right?” the doctor said, plodding on with datapad entries, avoiding my eye.

“Afraid not,” I said, glaring at the doctor, the weak lamps in the room beating down on him, turning his weathered face to a sickly yellow. At that point, my gaze could have done worse to him.

The good doctor made eye contact, huffed, then shouted to the rear of the infirmary, “Hey, what cracked the egg on slab four?”

A voice came from somewhere, which indicated that Lazlo, a station of six hundred-odd souls, had at least two medical personnel. “That’s the rotary feeder mishap on Mining Engine Twelve off Poseidonous…severed the radius and ulna…”

My examiner nodded as his unseen colleague trailed off in doctorese. “Yeah, we see this all the time around here,” he said. “Machinery gets jammed with raws and idiots ignore standard procedures and take short-cuts, sticking body parts where they don’t belong. Use your imagination for the rest of the story. Real cause of death for this individual–stupidity. Case closed.”

“There has to be more. Any witnesses? Could it have been murder? What about evidence? Hell, what about corrective actions?”

“It’s a little late for all of that now. What you would call evidence is either churned up in a loader or buried forever. I guess we’ll never know. And as for corrective actions…I have a feeling he won’t be a repeater, so why bother?”

I pretended I hadn’t heard him. “Perhaps it was a suicide. How did the individual fair on his last psych evaluation? You do conduct psych evaluations around here, correct?”

The doctor slammed his datapad. “Look, Inspector, we ship out the goods and management ships in the hard cases as needed. Medical’s responsibility is to keep the grunts up to snuff with regulation stims, to maintain quotas, you know? They either fit into Lazlo or end up in this infirmary. The lucky ones, that is. Others disappear. I think your boy must have been in that last category.”

This conversation had a familiar flavor. “Daniel Hennessy wasn’t a hard case, Doctor. His last documented psych evaluation was nearly two years ago, just before he took an assignment to Lazlo, and indicated that he was smart but an underachiever, a loner trending towards further introversion. Wandering from job to job appeared to be a pastime with him. Issues with wealth and family status. A more recent psych evaluation may shed further light on his mental state at the time of his disappearance.”

The doctor drummed his fingers on the desk and sighed. “I’ll see what I can do.”

I didn’t believe him, but I said thanks anyway.

The good doctor handed me an identity card and went over the acclimation protocol. Nothing that Mathers hadn’t mentioned. While I got dressed, he doled out some psych advice free of charge. His eyes wandered free of charge as well. “Cheer up, Inspector, and get with the program. If you let the mines do their thing, Lazlo can be a pretty quiet place. And a fun one.”

I fastened my tunic and nodded at the corpse on slab four. “Until somebody takes a shortcut.”

The doctor licked his already moistened lips and offered what passed for a smile. “Precisely.”

 

 

#

Dinner was in the officer’s mess with Mathers and Lazlo’s management. The light in there was dimmer than it should have been, so it was hard to see everyone. Introductions were made, and I used my investigator’s mind to file away names and impressions. Director Sikes sat to my right during the meal, talking incessantly between bites. He must have been more starved for conversation than food.

“What you see out there, Inspector,” he said, pointing his empty fork around until it landed on me. “What you will see is a station whose history goes back nearly two hundred years.”

I nodded, looked down at my plate. I had tried sticking to lighter fare–as per doctor’s orders–but this station was a meat and potatoes kind of place. The work here probably demanded the high-calorie diet. The foods were heavy and heavily seasoned, creating a wall of mildly pleasant aroma that temporarily drowned out Lazlo’s stench.

Sikes continued his flourish and said, “Lazlo swelled to two, maybe three hundred thousand refugees from Earth after the Accident. Construction was rampant and haphazard across the Lake, some on the surface, some below it. No one knows where the station really ends these days. After twenty years and change, the population moved on to greener pastures on Luna, leaving Lazlo to dig ilmenite. Are you following along here, Inspector?”

I had been sampling the station’s rotgut. Technically Lazlo was supposed to be dry, but since the liquor was terrible and terribly diluted, I didn’t think anything of it. I rested my cup and looked at Sikes. “I’ve never seen a green pasture, Director, let alone a greener one, but I get the idea.”

Sikes smiled, an uneven row of stained teeth lashing out at me. “Anyway, in the following decades, automation took over and shrunk the population further. Most of the station is uninhabited these days. Our little contingent either explores for new ilmenite sources or keeps the machines running.”

“Captain Mathers shared much of that with me,” I said, seeking to make polite conversation more than anything else.

Despite the low light, I noticed that the officers seated around me possessed physical abnormalities I had never seen in one group of people. For starters, everyone was missing something: an eye, an arm, a hand. Intact sets of ears were also absent. Some had heads that were not quite round in the low light, more oblong and adorned with curious “protrusions” that projected strange shadows onto the walls. These folks had seen their share of mining accidents, I thought, the lucky ones that had lived long enough to mature into management. I chalked up the deformities to a combination of long-term exposure to radiation and metals. But those heads….

I snapped out of it. “Yes, it seems like a smooth operation here at Lazlo.”

“And we want to keep it that way,” said a man named Spiro. His eyes were misaligned; only one of the cloudy orbs focused on me. He drummed what fingers he had impatiently–nervously?–on the table.

Sikes coughed. Maybe he was laughing. “What my colleague is trying to say, Inspector, is that things work best at Lazlo when they are free of outside influence.”

“I can assure you that the scope of my investigation is limited to the whereabouts of Daniel Hennessy. Mining operations at Lazlo will not be impacted.”

“Glad to hear that, Inspector,” he replied, looking at the agitated Spiro, but speaking to me. Turning now to Mathers, he said, “See to it, Captain, that the Inspector has all resources available for his investigation. We don’t want to keep him here any longer than necessary.”

Mathers nodded and follow-up nods went around the table.

After dinner, Mathers escorted me to my quarters located in one of the habitat sections. Along the way, the corridors and stairwells were thick with people, heads bobbing single file, waning into the darkness ahead and behind, above and below. The working class at Lazlo appeared to be in better physical condition than management, but, then again, they probably hadn’t been here as long. Shift change proceeded like a whisper; I heard no names, saw no nametags. Just numbers on drab fatigues. I wondered if Lazlo was a mining station or a prison. It looked more like the latter.

My quarters were small but practical, with an adjoining bathroom and kitchen area. A small porthole looked out to a conveyor transporting raws to a processing facility. I couldn’t help but think about radiation exposure here so close to the surface. I also wondered about the negative effects it’s had on the mental state of the station’s inhabitants. Medical should have documentation, but I knew better than to ask. I was still waiting for Hennessy’s psych evaluation, if one existed at all.

“I will send a guide for you at the beginning of first shift tomorrow,” Mathers said, standing just outside my quarters. I must have been out of sorts again for he was smiling. “To see that your stay here is no longer than necessary,” he added.

“I’ll be fine on my own,” I said, waving my handy datapad. “Before I arrived, I also downloaded a map of Lazlo. If this place is to be my home for the foreseeable future, then I’d like to get to know it on my own terms. Besides, I could use the exercise. Doctor’s orders, I’m afraid.”

Mathers chuckled. “Honestly, Inspector, I can’t remember when that map was last updated, but suit yourself. If you need any help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

I didn’t hesitate. “I will need access to Hennessy’s quarters.”

Mathers nodded. “I will see to it that your identity card gives you access to all parts of the station, including Hennessy’s quarters.”

“And please put out a contact for Carl Addison. I’d like to speak with him as soon as possible.”

Mathers sighed. I wondered if I was keeping him up late. “I will forward your request to lunology management.”

I plopped on my bunk. “Thank you, Captain.”

“Good night.”

Mathers closed the door and left me to bathe in radiation.

 

 

#

I should have opted for a guide when I had the chance. Lazlo was a labyrinth. No other word came to mind as I navigated the maze of corridors, stairwells, domes, and concourses. I had every intention of inspecting Hennessy’s quarters first thing, but, alas, the station had other plans. The address to his quarters seemed simple, my datapad supplying simple enough routes, but as Mathers had guessed, the map hadn’t been updated in years. The station had contracted since the last update, and I struck dead ends more often than not. The seemingly endless kilometers of Lazlo were today chiefly uninhabited, cordoned off, abandoned.

Hennessy’s quarters was located on Concourse D, Section Q, room number 1553. When I finally got there, I swiped my card in the entry reader and the door clicked free, swung open. I entered and found that I wasn’t alone.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Who are you?”

The individual faced me, dropped his papers. The flurry of scrap joined other pages of hardcopy littering floor. More of it was stacked neatly around the room, mostly bound, and even claimed a portion of the unmade bunk. There must have been thousands of titles. In one corner, a clock–an actual pendulum clock–ticked away the seconds. Odd representations adorned the walls throughout, scenes from another world, another time; more remained in half-opened crates. I had never seen such a collection of illicit reproductions.

“I’m Addison,” he said, trying to hold his voice firm, “associate lunologist.”

I immediately noticed his eyes, two pinpoints of blue and bloodshot white, quivering. Mathers yesterday had called him a “boy” in passing, but the fellow of twenty-eight years and change really looked the part. I amusingly wondered if his mother knew he was way the hell out here playing scientist.

“And I’m Inspector Cavendish.” I stepped inside, closed the door. “I’ve been looking for you, Addison. I’m investigating Daniel Hennessy’s disappearance. Do you know that you’re standing in the middle of evidence vital to this case?”

Addison cocked a boyish smile and looked around, not quite knowing what to do. “Sorry, Inspector,” he said, gangly arms gesturing, “but I was just packing up Hennessy’s belongings, putting his things in order.”

Nothing was packed, and as far as order….

You were looking for something, weren’t you?

I went to a nearby desk. “None of this gets packed for now, understand?” A cursory inspection of the hardcopies on it revealed nothing but work related items–explorations logs, assay results and other internal publications. A literal mining-fest for those interested.

“His family will want these things.” Addison picked up what he’d dropped.

“His family wants him back.”

Addison smiled. “Daniel’s missing, Inspector.”

“That may be the case,” I said. “For now.”

Addison shook his head, sighed. “Look, Inspector, I know you have a job to do, but if Hennessy wanted to be found…” He broke off suddenly, and our eyes met. He turned away and stacked the papers neatly on a shelf.

“Do you think it’s suicide?” I asked.

“He didn’t kill himself. That much I know.”

“Then what?” I swiped some, but certainly not all, of the sweat from my forehead. My little jaunt and lack of conditioning had caught up with me.

Addison turned back abruptly. “Would you like some coffee, Inspector? It helps with the conditioning.”

“No, thank you,” I said. “I tried the synthetic here this morning. Need I say more?”

“Oh, I’m not offering Lazlo’s synthetic.” He entered the kitchen and slid over a stack of books on the counter, revealing a brewer. He opened a side drawer, lifted out a fiber-packet, slipped it into the machine, and hit a button. Gurgling sounds emanated from the brewer, and its pot began filling with steaming black liquid. The pleasant aroma quickly found me.

“That’s real coffee?” My mouth watered for the first time since I had been at Lazlo.

Addison said nothing and handed me a polished cup. While waiting, I toured the room, sifting through piles of hardcopy, mumbling titles and authors to myself. I didn’t recognize any of them, but they were clever replicas nonetheless, even down to the imitation leather covers on some, the yellowing paper on others. Within a minute, Addison drifted back with a full pot and filled my cup.

“The best I’ve ever tasted,” I said, after a sip.

A smile flashed across his face. “You certainly don’t see quality like this anymore.”

I sat at the desk. “Hennessy must have had it shipped in?”

“Shipped in?” Addison’s smile didn’t waver.

“With Hennessy’s status and connections, I’m sure he lived better than the rest around here. Like these hardcopies. It must have cost a fortune to have them made. Even more to keep them out of sight of the authorities.”

Addison poured a cup and sniffed it. “All of this is Lazlo’s own, Inspector,” he said.

I froze, the cup halfway to my mouth. “I don’t understand.

Addison put the pot down and toured the room, pointing out different items with his cup. “Hennessy collected all of this during forays into the abandoned parts of the station. The coffee, for instance, was freeze sealed, brought up right after the Accident, meant to last for ages. He retrieved relics, too, some for trade, others to keep, like that clock over there. The books he always kept, of course. He loved books.”

A chill ran up my spine; I’m glad I was sitting. “You mean all of this is from Earth, that they’re not reproductions?” I shook my head, closed my eyes. “No, the Reforms cleansed Luna of such things.”

Addison didn’t blink. “Sorry, Inspector, but you’re looking at the bona fide originals. Lazlo was a repository after the Accident for earthly leftovers. Hennessy told me that there was more of this stuff just waiting in deeper parts of the station. Lots more.”

Nauseated, I put my cup down. I was sitting in a toxic soup. And I had tasted it, too. Anything that came from Earth was dangerous; such artifacts could gravely disturb the sanity. Even kill. The Cultural Ministry had preached as much since my childhood.

“You see, Hennessy loved all things Earth…” He broke off again and looked away. “I’m sorry, Inspector, but I know the Cultural Ministry wouldn’t be pleased with this kind of talk. And they sure as hell wouldn’t condone the collecting all of this…”

“Contraband?” I managed.

Addison nodded and stood before the bunk. He cautiously sipped his coffee but never did his eyes leave me. My first thought was to arrest him and box up the contents of Hennessy’s quarters for incineration. But I didn’t. For now, Addison was my only link to Hennessy.

“This isn’t your fault,” I said. “Management deserves the blame for lax policy. Nonconformists, the lot of them. I don’t need psych tests to tell me that. But you still know what is right and wrong, Addison. That means there’s hope. You wouldn’t be at fault.” I gestured at the legion of hardcopy. “And besides, it’s a little late for upsetting the Cultural Ministry, wouldn’t you say?”

Addison chuckled. Some of the tension drained from his face. “Hennessy wasn’t passionate about much. But when it came to books–“

“It’s Hennessy that I’d like to talk about. You were his best friend.”

Addison shrugged. “I wouldn’t go that far,” he said. “I worked with him for over a year but to be honest the man always remained an enigma to me.”

“But you know enough about him.”

His eyes searched the room. “Well, I know that he had never given up his dream.”

“What dream?”

“That we could go back…to Earth.”

I licked my dry lips and barely got out my next words. “Excuse me?”

Addison was too caught up in his thoughts to notice my displeasure. “In fact, he often said that Lazlo, with all of its stored artifacts, would be the perfect training ground for–“

“Impossible,” I said flatly, cutting him off. My voice was a little unsteady. “You know Earth is uninhabitable. Luna is humanity’s home now and forever. We’ve built the perfect society here, and the Reforms, under the administration of the Cultural Ministry, have preserved it. Thinking otherwise can cause psychosis. You’ve been taught this. Don’t allow the fantasies of a nonconformist like Hennessy to get you into trouble. People have failed psych tests for less.”

Addison squinted at me in the low light. “But how do you know Earth is still uninhabitable? That globe is so blue, so white and fresh. Maybe it’s been…”

“Not long enough,” I barked. “It will never be long enough.” I felt the layers of metal plating and rivets overhead, the towers of hardcopy all around, closing in on me. I had never heard such talk, even in the most extreme cases of psychosis I had encountered.

“I once thought like that, too, Inspector, but Hennessy changed that.” He glanced to the nearby porthole. “Don’t you ever look up at that blue ball and wonder, just wonder maybe a little bit?”

“I ignore it,” I snapped, regaining some composure. “Lazlo is old architecture with its domes and waste of space so close to the surface. You shouldn’t even be able to see the sky. Only a race of insane people would have built this place.”

Addison shrugged, drained his coffee, and sat on the bunk. A couple of hardcopies bound with elastic slid from underneath a pillow. He did a poor job of hiding his astonishment when he saw them, feigning a series of stilted coughs to throw me off.

“May I see those?” It wasn’t a question.

“Oh, these?” he said, picking them up and handing them over. “I think one of them is Hennessy’s journal.”

And probably what you were looking for.

I sat back down, released the hardcopies, and studied them. The first, as Addison indicated, was a handwritten journal with pages of tables and maps detailing the local grid. I dismissed it as more of Hennessy’s mining related fieldwork. The other hardcopy was completely different. It was the oddest one I had ever seen.

“Hennessy really liked that one,” came a whisper from behind.

The hardcopy could have been about as heavy as any given stone that I had seen the automated conveyers lugging around the station. Indeed, the hardcopy’s ornate cover of crimson and gold leaf felt heavy when I lifted it, as if it didn’t want to open. I detected a faint scent from it as well. Not Lazlo’s to be sure. For some reason the mangled body I had seen in the infirmary just a day ago came to mind. When I leaned into the hardcopy, the pages of strange script took on added dimension, glistening in the weak light. Overall, the work, despite its apparent age, seemed vibrant, indestructible.

“What’s this?” I asked, more to myself than to Addison.

“Hennessy never shared much of that one with me. Supposedly it’s written in dead languages. What it says exactly, I don’t know. I don’t think Hennessy really knew. He hinted occasionally that he had tried to translate it.”

I continued looking through the text and found pages that were highlighted with handwritten notes in the margins, barely legible, trailing off into scrawls as if the writer had succumbed to a fever. Of the phrases that I could make out were “tunnels of mist,” “mysteries of light,” and “lost holes.” References were made to the pages of another text, Hennessy’s journal perhaps. On that thought, I began looking up the pages in it he had noted in the strange hardcopy. I looked over the tables and maps again with increased scrutiny.

“TLPs,” Addison said.

“Is that associated with mining?” I looked up to find him even closer. I gave him a stern glance.

“No,” Addison said, snapping out of it and backing off. “Just another hobby of Hennessy’s.”

“And just what are TLPs?”

“Transient Lunar Phenomena,” Addison said. “Mysterious lights that appear on Luna’s surface…and vanish.” He added a creepy flair to the word “vanish.”

I laughed. “Nonsense,” I said. “Apart from some minor tremor activity, Luna is barren, dead.”

“Yes, but Hennessy was sure that TLPs had been observed from Earth for centuries before the Accident. He even showed me books on the matter.” Addison glanced around the room but was at a loss for where to start. “He mentioned a couple of fellows, like William Herschel for instance…” He closed his eyes and snapped his fingers. “And Charles Fort.”

“A natural phenomena, yes?”

“Some of the locals say they’re just tricks of light and shadow, that shafts, fissures, out-gassings, even tailings from old digs can glow when the sunlight catches them just right.”

“Seems plausible.”

“But Hennessy hinted that…” He gulped and looked away.

“Hinted at what?”

“Nevermind.”

I shrugged and turned my attention back to the data in the journal. Timetables for what Hennessy had called “apparitions” accompanied each map. They always occurred in pairs separated by minutes to hours. I flipped towards the last entry, overshot, then flipped back. The last map detailed the area near what the locals called Luther crater, where Hennessy disappeared. I scanned the accompanying timetable and found that the last apparition in this area was seventy-eight hours and change prior his disappearance and almost the same for the ones before that. Approximately an hour and a half separated the pairs. I had been at Lazlo for nearly a day and a half, so some quick figuring gave me the plausible time left until the next apparition: about forty-two hours. My fingers scanned the remainder of the page to find these enigmatic words, Hennessy’s last entry, some fancy drivel by a fellow named Coleridge:

 

From the sails the dew did drip
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horned moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.

 

I snapped the hardcopy shut.

“What do you think?” Addison asked. I found him close again, eyes trembling. Another stern glance and he took a few steps back. I was left wondering just how much data he had digested in those moments lingering over my shoulder. Mather’s mentioned he had a knack with tables and numbers, right?

“Well?” Addison pressed.

I allowed the silence to linger a little longer. Then I said, “The ravings of a nonconformist. I’m quarantining Hennessy’s quarters and belongings. Exposure to this material is too dangerous. Management should have taken care of this problem long ago.”

“Did you really expect that, Inspector?” Addison asked. “You’ve seen what they look like.”

“Yes, the result of advanced radiation poisoning from living on the surface for too long.”

“Or from living with too much radiation in one place,” Addison added. “That was Hennessy’s theory.”

I sighed. “Theory?

“That the radiation exposure here was far more than it should have been. He said that the intense radiation was peculiar to Lazlo, that it was coming from this sector of Luna itself. Amazing, huh?”

More nonsense, I thought. “Without empirical evidence, who knows?”

“Perhaps you have it in your hands, Inspector.”

“Excuse me?”

“The TLPs,” Addison said. “If they’re not a natural phenomena but something else entirely, then they could be causing the radiation surges locally. Hennessy never said as much, but I’m sure he made the connection.”

“Something else entirely?” I echoed back. “Hennessy suffered from a number of delusions, Addison. Best not to concern yourself with them. As I’ve said, they’ll get you into trouble.” I almost added the word “more,” but I didn’t let that slip out. “I recommend you seek counseling off this station immediately. Don’t worry, I’ll expedite your transfer.”

Addison sighed as I stood up. “What do you think happened to Hennessy?”

More questions from someone that I felt had answers of his own. I matched his sigh and tossed the journal and hardcopy aside, shook a finger at them. This occasion called for a stock-Mather’s response. It just happened to be the truth. “He went looking for his phantasm and Luna claimed him,” I said. “It’s that simple, really. A slip on a rock and an unrecoverable fall. Or maybe his curiosity got the better of him and he ran out of air. Unlikelier things have happened to even the most seasoned explorers.”

Addison shook his head and looked down. “Unlikelier things have happened,” he mumbled. I was sure that was what he had said.

“Pardon?”

Addison’s face soured now. I got the feeling he had expected something more profound of my musings, something more mysterious, but after mulling it over for a few moments with his mouth half-open, ready to spring a retort, he decided to keep quiet and end the matter. He brightened and said, “Would you like some more coffee?”

I didn’t smile back. “I’ll pass, thank you.”

 

#

 

I slapped a wide-field ocular into the spotting scope and scanned the plain just north of Luther crater from my vantage point in one of the observation domes around Lazlo. I saw nothing but a scattering of unremarkable rocks tapering into the walled highlands, where automated sampling stations blinked under the glare of the four-day-old sun. Ribbed wheel tracks littered the dust; they swirled, crossed each other, and disappeared into shadow. Nothing out of the ordinary.

“You can stop bugging medical now, Inspector.”

Mathers had found me. I didn’t take my eye out of the lens. “Then you have Hennessy’s psych report after all.”

“You’ll find it uploaded into your datapad.”

I shook my head. “I’m a little busy here. Just give me the short version, please?”

Mathers grunted. “Nothing more than what you know already. The only difference is that he initiated the psych test, not Medical.”

A gray blob obstructed my field of view. I looked up and Mathers was standing in front of the scope. I leaned back and folded my arms. “At least he knew enough to get help.”

Mathers nodded. “I think the place was getting to him.”

“Too bad you couldn’t have done more for him, but, then again, production quotas, you know?”

Mathers grimaced and looked out into the plain, his Lake of Dreams. “I talked to Addison, Inspector. You’re entertaining TLPs now?”

“You know about them?”

Mathers scratched the back of his head, sending flakes of skin onto his shoulders. He absently wiped them away. “They’re no more than local curiosities, a peculiar hobby among some, I believe.”

“It was more than a hobby to Hennessy, Captain. Close to an obsession based on what I found in his quarters, one that led him to his death out there.”

Mathers shrugged and then suddenly searched his person and pulled a round, fist-sized object from one of his many pockets. “Oh, by the way, Addison wanted you to have this.” He handed over what appeared to be a hollow stone.

“I see Addison is a rock collector,” I said, taking the object, studying it. “If only he had spent more time in that pursuit instead of Hennessy’s fantasy.”

Mathers cupped his stained hands next to his left ear. “It’s a seashell,” he said. “Listen.”

Another earthly artifact. I honestly wondered why I hadn’t been struck dead by now. My first instinct was to recoil, but I really wanted Mathers out of the way. I obliged and raised the relic, more than a little hesitantly, to my ear as instructed. I heard faint, rumbling sounds. They made me dizzy.

“The oceans of Earth,” Mathers said.

I handed it back, unimpressed. “I told that boy to get help.” I shrugged and checked my chronometer. “Now if you will excuse me, Captain, I have observing to do.”

Tossing the shell from hand to hand, Mathers headed for the nearest exit. “Suit yourself, Inspector,” he said. “If you need backup…”

“I know just who to call,” I said as he disappeared. I really didn’t expect any help. Nor did I want it. Solving this case was going to make my career, and I didn’t want anyone tagging along for the ride. Mathers had his chance; now it was my turn.

So I counted down the minutes and after a few more I saw the first hint of light emanate from the area under surveillance. It brightened quickly, so much so that I had to remove my eye from the ocular to escape the glare. The light’s intensity leveled off and pulsed rhythmically in green. It would have been obvious to anyone watching, but Lazlo’s mining activities went on in the foreground oblivious to the display. The enigmatic light lasted for about ten minutes, then wavered and winked out. I brought up a map of the local grid on my datapad, zoomed in to the vicinity of the apparition, and made a best guess as to which shaft it had originated from. Approximately an hour and a half remained until the next apparition.

And I would be there. The location of Hennessy’s body.

I slipped down the corridor to the nearest airlock. I suited up, checked my air supply, and headed outside to the rover I had parked there earlier. I took the rover down a main thoroughfare, passing trams full of mining crews, and then turned off the beaten path towards Luther crater. I was there in my allotted time, with minutes to spare.

I exited the rover and headed up to the target shaft along a ridge. Getting there by hardsuit didn’t present a problem since the favorable terrain allowed me to bounce most of the way. When I reached the shaft, I stopped for a breather and looked back at Lazlo and realized how sprawling and bleak it looked from this distance, how depressing it appeared in the white light. A part of me understood why Hennessy sought escape from that forsaken place. I activated my headlamp and entered the cave.

I progressed quickly, noting that the floor had been well worn, as if it had seen a great deal of foot traffic. When I stopped to get my bearings, I discovered that the ground wasn’t the only thing that had been worn. The wall was covered in names. Names? There must have been hundreds there etched into stone. I recognized some of them from the missing persons file. Others I didn’t.

But Hennessy’s was there, no doubt about it. He had taken the time to carve the largest and boldest signature of all. But he hadn’t completed it; no, he had barely gotten down the second ‘s’ when he had stopped, as if something had interrupted him. I ran my fingers along name, struggling to understand what had happened here. And that’s when I found the most bizarre thing of all. In smaller script, just below Hennessy’s moniker, I found an obscure footnote, “And Addison, too.” At that point, I may have taken a step back.

A weak glow from deeper in the cave caught my attention. My hardsuit sensors detected increased radiation levels; I squelched the irritating alarms and made my way towards the growing light, taking care not to stumble, barking obscenities when I did. As I neared what appeared to be a fissure in the rock large enough to admit a hardsuit, the light resolved into thousands, if not millions of luminous particles. This wasn’t a trick of sunlight and shadow or a play of shafts and tailings but something far beyond my everyday experience. I remembered Hennessy’s note about “tunnels of mist.”

I pressed on only to find a figure crystallizing out of the luminous hoard, sending glorious shards of light at me in kaleidoscopic majesty. The person was a single footfall away from the fissure. Now that person turned and looked at me. That unmistakable boyish smile from behind the visor of a hardsuit greeted me across the span of a few meters. My mouth moved to say Addison’s name but nothing came out.

I made a motion for him, but a curious wave of sensations stopped me in my tracks: a salt-tinged breeze, the smell of moistened vegetation–and sounds, roaring sounds, like those echoing inside of Addison’s shell. A picture of surf crashing on rocks flitted through my mind. The ocean, I thought, but how could that be? Heart pounding, I searched my memory for something, perhaps a video or picture I had seen before the Reforms that could explain the vision, perhaps a visit to the hydroponics farm as a child that could explain the smell. But nothing.

I reeled away, convinced that my experiences at Lazlo had driven me mad. Even the local gravs suddenly felt oppressive, and I stomped in place, eyes closed, wondering if the field generators in my stickboots had malfunctioned. What was happening?

Voices trailed the sensations now. Dry lips moved, and I recognized a new voice–my voice–in a chorus of preschoolers singing about the likes of Plato and Ptolemy, of Aristarchus and Gagarin. The songs ended in laughter. I laughed, too. I opened my eyes to find Addison, all smiles and nodding, staring at me from the fissure–lost hole?–as it pulsed in mystical silence. I don’t know how Addison managed his composure, but he looked at home. No, he looked as if he were going home. After a slight wave of his hand, he took a deep breath, set his teeth, and stepped through. In an instant, he was gone. Beyond the mystery of light.

The cave waned into darkness save for my headlamp. I half-walked, half-crawled my way out onto the silvery surface while enduring the maddening screams coming from around me and through me and within me. Of course, I knew that airless Luna couldn’t support such crazed banter. A few moments elapsed before I realized that the screams were mine.

Unable to catch my breath, I collapsed, wondering all the while just where Addison, Hennessy and the others had slipped to. I rolled over and acknowledged the blue ball floating in the dark. I haven’t been able to take my eyes off of it since.


 


Christopher Lockhart, a synthetic chemist for a large pharmaceutical company, lives in southwest Michigan. His short fiction has appeared in AlienSkin, Jupiter Magazine and Atomjack. When time permits, he enjoys the classical guitar, reading, and, of course, writing. His present offering spawned from his love of two genres–mysteries and Lovecraft–and he’s very happy to have found it a home at Abyss and Apex.


 

Story © 2009 Christopher Lockhart. All other content copyright © 2009 Abyss & Apex Publishing. 





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