Lunar Escape - Part 10
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Lucas took a deep breath, he wasn’t in his space suit anymore. His limbs had weight, sinking into the pad beneath him, and there was breathable air. But where was he?
He opened his eyes. A light flickered above, reminiscent of the dying fluorescent lights in the period horror vids Camila loved. The tempo of alternating light and dark turned his stomach. He rolled to his side and vomited onto the floor beside the cot he lay on. Rolling onto his back, he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to block out the smell.
An off-centre ventilation fan somewhere in the ceiling above made a regular thumping sound in time with his beating heart. He focused on the sound as he continued his attempt to piece together what had happened and where he was. A few minutes later, his stomach settled, and he pushed himself up to sitting.
The light above died, leaving his surroundings dark. The faint remaining light came from bioluminescent algae growing along the edges of the ceiling above. Its fractal growth pattern was mesmerizing to stare at and, for a moment, Lucas did.
“Where am I?” His voice sounded off kilter and shaky.
He continued to study his surroundings. In the dim glow, he could just make out a door in the wall at the foot of his bed. After carefully standing up, he tried the door handle. It wasn’t locked. He opened it and bright light flooded in and blinded him.
Blinking, Lucas stood in the doorway and waited for his eyes to adjust.
“Lucas Ordaz.” The unfamiliar woman’s voice came from the room beyond. “I’ve been waiting for you to wake up.”
“Who are you?” Lucas’ eyes adjusted. Beyond the door was another room, bigger than where he woke up. The space had the vibe of hospital waiting room, but only a single woman sat in the row of chairs. She smiled at him.
“My name is Amelia Droon.” The greenish lighting reflected on her brown skin, highlighting the laugh lines criss-crossing her face. Her eyes sparkled when she smiled at Lucas, immediately setting him at ease. “I’m in charge here.”
“And where is here?”
The short crop of Amelia’s salt and pepper hair combined with her utilitarian clothing and stout boots suggested she had a practical mindset. “We’re on the moon. An abandoned military facility.” She gestured to the seat across from her. “Why don’t we sit down and have a chat?”
Lucas nodded and took the seat. His limbs felt heavier than normal, leaving him wondering how long he’d floated in zero gravity. His space suit had five days of air and he had a fleeting memory of a low air warning. He swallowed and focused on Amelia. “How did I end up here?”
“Your ship crashed into the asteroid.” She looked him in the eye. “Funny thing was, even though The Conglomerate had plenty of time to mount a rescue, they didn’t even try.”
Lucas scrubbed a hand over his face before looking around. On a closer look, the waiting room was dilapidated. He couldn’t believe it was actually in use. He swallowed and turned back to face Amelia.
“How can you be living here?”
“I’m leading the first wave.” She leaned back into the green vinyl chair and crossed her legs. “We’re optimistic that this place will be habitable for us in the long term.”
She smiled with the same know-it-all smile his grandmother used to use. “How about I answer that after we get some food into you?”
As soon as she put food into his mind, his stomach rumbled. He nodded and Amelia stood.
“Wait.” He sprung to his feet. “What about my crew? Did you rescue them too?”
“We found two women,” she said. “They both woke up a couple of hours ago and are in the cafeteria now.”
“What about Lt. Werner?” His heart sank. In that moment, he realized he didn’t know what his pilot’s first name was.
“I’m sorry.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “We didn’t find him.”
A knot formed in Lucas’ gut. Werner’s death was his fault—he should have done more to keep him safe. “Why didn’t he put on his space suit when I told him to?”
“Don’t beat yourself up over it,” Amelia said. “The Conglomerate is the one responsible. If they hadn’t sent you out there, none of this would have happened.”
“Right.” He ran a hand through his hair.
“Why did they send you out there?” Her question seemed so innocent, but the way she studied him suggested otherwise.
Lucas swallowed, suddenly aware he was a pawn in something he didn’t understand.
“I’d like to see my crew,” he said.
“Of course.” Amelia led the way out the door.
A beefy guard waited in the hallway. As Lucas followed Amelia, the guard trailed a few paces behind them.
Lucas glanced back at the man. “Hi there,” he said as casually as he could. The guard frowned in response.
“Don’t worry about him,” Amelia said, drawing Lucas’ attention back to her. “He’s just here to make sure we’re safe.”
“What do you fear out here?” he asked, glancing up at the algae-infested lights. The aquarium scent was worse here.
She shrugged and unlocked a door. “Soups on,” she said, waving him through the door.
Inside, a series of tables suggested a place to eat, yet it wasn’t exactly a cafeteria—more like a hastily put together replica of one. After a quick glance at the still frowning guard, Lucas went in.
Amelia remained in the hall. Without another word, she closed the door behind him. The scrape of the metal lock told him the door was locked again. Before he could worry about it, Ash pushed back from her chair and rushed over to him.
“Lucas,” she said with a grin. “You’re okay.”
“Yeah.” He returned Ash’s smile before glancing at Paxton. The other woman still sat at a table. Then he realized all the tables, and the chairs were the folding kind—as temporary as they could be. “Are we prisoners here?”
“I think they just don’t trust us,” Ash said, returning to her seat.
Amelia had been right, soup was on in a crockpot along a counter on the far wall. Lucas served himself a bowl before sitting across from Ash, beside Paxton.
“Who are these people?” he asked. The soup turned out to be a reconstituted type that tasted more like salt that anything else. His hunger dissipated, but he slurped it up anyway.
“I think they’re insurgents,” she said.
Lucas set his empty bowl down. “The ones we see on the newsfeeds?” He was sympathetic to their cause—someone needed to stand up to the corruption in their government and how corporate interests kept trumping peoples needs.
“Yeah.” Ash leaned back in her chair. “The Combined Nations have been hunting down their safe houses on Earth. I suspect they’re just trying to set up a safe place to bring their families.”
“Here? On the moon?” Paxton jumped in. “Why would anyone want to live out here?”
“It’s remote and already built,” Ash said. “This place is a move-in ready hideout. All they need is to—”
“We don’t have time for this.” Paxton cut off Ash. “We need to figure out how to get back.”
Ash huffed and stood. She paced over next to the counter and leaned against the wall. With her arms crossed over her chest, her posture oozed annoyance, yet she held her face neutral.
Lucas swallowed, glancing back and forth between the two women. A thought of Camila rose, and he ached to get back to her instead of dealing with his current situation. With a sigh, he fixed his gaze on Paxton.
“Look, I want to get back to Earth too.”
“It’s more than that for me.” Paxton’s disturbingly blue eyes bore straight into Lucas. “I’m needed.”
Ash snorted. “We’re all needed.”
“Yeah, but...” Paxton’s words trailed off and she bit her lip. “It’s my mom. You see she’s sick and The Conglomerate is providing her care.”
“They’d cut her off?” Lucas asked.
Lucas scratched his head and looked around the room. “Okay, we’ll focus on getting out of here. I’m just not exactly sure where we are.”
The generic, well-aged room gave no sign to where on the moon they were. Most likely underground, maybe in a lava tube.
Paxton frowned and gestured around. “Nowhere in Lunar City looks like this.”
She was right. The citizens of Lunar City prided themselves on how pristine their environment was. He glanced up. Escaped algae taking over the lights would never happen there. Then he stared down at the chipped flooring—something else he wouldn’t expect in the domed city state.
“One of the old facilities?” Ash suggested. “But which one? There are dozens of abandoned mining, scientific and military facilities scattered over the moon.”
Lucas slid his chair back and stood. He took a deep breath before starting to pace. It would be more convenient to the insurgents to be close to the major hub—but more dangerous.
“Are any of them close to Lunar City?”
“I’m not a walking atlas,” Ash said.
“We need to convince these people to let us resume our mission.” Paxton stood and pulled herself up to her full height before facing Lucas. “I need to recover that cube.”
“It’s too late for that. I’ve lost track of time, but I’m certain Earth Defences have obliterated that asteroid by now.”
Paxton stared at him with wide eyes for a moment. “Maybe the scans we took will be enough.”
“All that data was lost with the ship.” Ash’s tone was slightly more sympathetic.
The colour drained from Paxton’s face, the tough veneer gone. Her shoulders slumped and her eyes became watery.
Afraid she might fall apart, Lucas walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “Can you remember anything they might find useful?”
Paxton stared at him and bit her lip. “Maybe, but it wouldn’t be what they asked for. I was supposed to bring them the artifact like a prize. You know how they are about failure.”
Lucas nodded, watching Paxton rub her left pinky—the finger The Conglomerate would take for her failure.
Paxton spun around, faced the door and put her hands on her hips. “We need to get out of here. They can have my finger, but I need to get back and try to explain before they cut Mom’s care off.”