by Ivy McKnight, Age 13
Cockeysville Middle School
© 2022 by the author
Solis Komitis wasn’t the type of person you’d think would die unexpectedly. She was the Commander of the Astrologus Base, the first human outpost on the moon. She’d survived space travel, being stranded in the desert for a week after her plane crashed, and a trek through what was left of the Amazon. But when I saw her being wheeled in on a stretcher, unresponsive, blue from lack of oxygen, her heart monitor as flat as a pancake, it was obvious she wasn’t coming back this time.
My name is Stella Locus. I’m eighteen years old, I’m from Maryland, and I’m currently trapped on space station with a murderer.
Astrologus Base an “innovative concept” NASA cooked up a few years back, around 2030. It was a big deal at the time. The construction was super dangerous and in the five years it took to build it, four members of the construction crew died. About a year after they sent up the first people to man the base, NASA set up an intern program so (according to the PR department) “The next generation can see the base into a prosperous future!”
I signed on for the free trip to space and because they said they’d pay for my college if I stayed on base for three weeks and helped in the labs. My family would never be mistaken for being well-off, so this was a blessing. And I could use my skills in astrophysics to help back home on Earth once I returned home.
As part of my job as an intern I was up early to prep the labs for experiments later that day. The labs are the largest rooms on the base and serve anybody from the astrophysics team to the doctors in medical. I was busy readying the equipment to analyze some data that astrophysics team would examine that afternoon when a huge commotion started.
Commander Komitis went out on a regular space jaunt early this morning to retrieve some lunar samples. It’s routine stuff that I learned on my sixth day on the base. It’s a bit of chore up here. The Commander went out on the surface alone today, which wasn’t unheard of for senior officers. Interns typically have to go out to the surface with at least one other person so we can check each other’s suits for rips, leaks, and other faults. If there is something wrong with either of your suits, the mission is a no go until the fault can be fixed.
I was in just the right place at the right time to witness the cause of the chaos. Commander Komitis had returned from the lunar surface, but she came back with a shattered helmet, a huge gash in her suit, and no heartbeat.
Komitis was rushed into the lab on a stretcher, unresponsive, being pushed by Chief of Medical, Doctor Cura Auctor, and then the base’s Second in Command, Captain Jim Deinde. The medical night shift who, through most of my time in that labs that early that morning had been drinking coffee and talking about season forty-eight of Doctor Who while waiting for the day to start, instantly snapped into action, and started bombarding Dr. Auctor with questions about Komitis.
“What time was she found unresponsive?”
“Did she go out onto the surface alone?”
“Did she have a pulse when you found her?”
Dr. Auctor remained undeterred by this barrage of questions. “I’m going to need her on a ventilator now,” she said forcefully. “We found her unresponsive on the surface and with her suit and helmet severely damaged. We don’t have much time.”
The team rushed into action gathering all the necessary supplies. The doctor gestured to me. “Ms. Locus stop lollygagging, run down to the bunks and wake up the rest of medical team and anybody else you think will help. Tell them I don’t care what time it is. Go!”.
“Yes ma’am!” I shouted back at her while running out the door in the direction of the bunks.
Astrologus Base is large, but the bunks weren’t that far away. When I got to the bunk room, the lights where dim to stimulate a sleep environment. I turned them on and shouted “If you have any brain function, get your rear down to medical! Commander Komitis is in danger!”
There were about seven people sleeping in their bunks. They began to wake up with groans and yawns.
“Stella, I swear if this is a joke, I’m putting fertilizer in your bunk,” yawned Terra Lutum, one of the interns from the biology department.
“Why would I joke about something like this, Terra?” I replied. “They found the commander on the surface with a broken helmet and a ripped suit!”
After that pointed clarification, everyone got out of bed and ran toward the med lab, not even bothering to put on their uniforms. When we arrived what I heard made my blood run cold.
“She’s dead, Jim.” Doctor Auctor was saying to Captain Deinde. “You have to take command now.”
It was true. The commander’s heart monitor didn’t lie. She had breathed her last breath.
Shouts of disbelief came from Caedes Occidere, who was an intern in the engineering department.
“When did you all get here?” asked Captain, I mean Commander Deinde. He was clearly choked up. Komitis had hired him personally and they had worked together for many years.
“Locus told us the Commander was in trouble and we needed to get to the med bay fast,” said Terra.
“Assistance won’t be necessary anymore. Go to your bunks, breakfast, or morning shifts. I’ll contact ground control and they’ll notify her family,” said Deinde, taking his first steps toward command.
Terra, Caedes and I headed down to the mess hall for breakfast. On our way down, we debated the circumstances surrounding Komitis ’s death.
Terra was convinced the commander had tripped and smashed her helmet. “It’s completely possible!” she argued. “These suits are so clunky. Everybody trips in them!”
“Yes, but Komitis had a slash in her suit, too. Tripping doesn’t cause that, and the helmets are nearly indestructible unless you are actively trying to destroy them,” I countered.
“Maybe it was suicide, then?” Terra hesitantly suggested.
“Don’t be a fool, Terrarium Girl,” Caedes gently teased to lighten the mood. “Solis Komitis had a spouse and two toddler kids back down on Earth. She loved this job. And if she wanted to end it all, why go to such lengths? My bet is Deinde did it.”
“I told you not to call me that nickname!” said Terra. She was understandably agitated.
I jumped in, “Why in the name of Spock would Deinde murder the person he looked up to the most? The man has a stick up his butt and once reported himself for taking an extra packet of mustard at lunch. And if we are going to talk murder, then everyone is a suspect!”
“Whatever, Stella.” Terra said “You watch too many thrillers. Same goes for you, Caedes. Let just get breakfast, do our jobs and pay our respects to the Commander.”
The topic was dropped, but I noticed Caedes looking at me suspiciously.
The rest of the day went by horribly. Everyone was in shock and could barely focus on their work. I saw Commander Deinde come out of the communications room, crying, after notifying Komitis’s family of her passing
That night while processing the events of the day, I was in my bunk getting ready to go to sleep. Just as I was finally dozing off, a hand crept over my mouth and nose. I couldn’t breathe and started to struggle. It was too dark to see anything. A low sinister voice said to me, “Go to the back airlock with me if you want to live to see tomorrow. If you alert the others, everyone on this base will die.”
I nodded in cooperation. The mysterious figure retreated from the room. They appeared to be quite muscled and very tall. It was too dark to see who it was or even how old they were.
There are two airlocks on the base, the main airlock and then the back airlock. The back airlock is only to be used in the case of an emergency, and in all my time at the base we only used it once during a Level 4 evacuation drill. As I walked through the hallways it was mostly dark except for the lights in the laboratory on the other side of the base.
When I reached the back airlock, and caught sight of the mysterious figure, in the most advanced space suit I had ever seen.
This thing was straight out of Dune. It was incredibly sleek, dark silver colored, and the helmet, which obscured their face, blended seamlessly with the suit. It made our suits look like marshmallows with a spaghetti of wires stuck in them. In my captor’s hand was a wickedly sharp knife which they promptly pointed at my chest. As they held it closer and closer, I glimpsed the words, “Sidera tanges, et ardebis”, inscribed on the hilt.
The words gave me pause. If my translation skills were correct, that was Latin for “If you touch the stars, you will burn”. It was an odd saying for someone wearing a space suit on a moon base.
The figure spoke with a low, scratchy voice. Nobody on the base spoke like that. “What do you know about Project Alter Munder?” they said while pointing the knife at me.
I had never heard of any project matching that name. All I knew is that I better say something quick, or I was going to get stabbed. “I’m an 18-year-old astrophysics intern from Maryland. What would I know about this “Project Other World”? You have the wrong person,” I spoke.
“You’re lying!” the figure exclaimed “Everyone in that department knew about it. Do I have to make my way through each of you before I get answers?”
“You killed Commander Komitis!” I shouted. I tried to make a dash to the door to alert the others, but I was tackled before I could reach the exit. It nearly knocked the wind out of me.
I tried to escape their grasp, but they were built incredibly strong, and they still had that deadly sharp knife, which was again pressed against me.
“Not so fast, Ms. Locus. I have other plans for you,” they said with a mocking tone while holding the knife to my neck.
“Are you planning on killing me like you did with the commander?” I spat.
“Get your suit on. I’m not planning on killing you yet, Ellie,” the figure replied.
Ellie. There was only one person on the base who used that nickname for me. Everyone else called me Ms. Locus, Stella, or my full name. Caedes was the only one who called me Ellie. He made up nicknames for everyone on the base.
“Caedes? Is that you?” I said as the figure dragged me to the suit lockers by the airlock. “Why would you do this?”
He stayed silent and forced me towards the airlock.
“Get your suit on and get in the airlock, Ellie. I don’t want to have to hurt you anymore than I need to,” said Caedes. Caedes. I kept repeating it in my head with disbelief.
I got suited up. I didn’t have much of choice with that knife pointed at me. We put our helmets on and I was forced into the airlock.
As we were stepping out onto the surface Caedes said to me; “If you try to escape, or fight back, you’ll be joining the Commander in the afterlife.”
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I don’t know anything about Project Other World! Nobody tells the interns anything! You should know this!” I shouted over the helmet communication systems.
Caedes said, “If you’re telling the truth, it doesn’t mean you won’t be useful. Now follow me.”
He directed me towards an asteroid crater about half a mile away from the base. I found it odd he had selected a location so close to the base to murder me.
“So, what’s up with the fancy space suit?” I stalled, trying to get him talking.
“You know I’m in engineering. I built it. Now be quiet.” he said.
When we arrived at the crater it was obvious that Caedes wasn’t done with me yet. In the center of crater there was a dwelling no bigger than the base’s med lab. It was built in the same fashion as Astrologus Base with very sleek walls that where bright white against moon’s dusty surface, an antenna on the roof for communication and a distinct hexagonal shape. It was also concealed from outside view by the walls of the crater.
Caedes dragged me to the building and punched in the code to open the door. The inside wasn’t that impressive. There was a communications database in one corner, a small cot in the other and box filled with what looked like food rations in the middle of the room next to a chair.
“Why did you take me here? What is going on? Why are you doing all of this?” I shouted at him.
“This evening Commander Komitis was going to make an announcement that would change the world. Most likely for the worst. I decided to stop her.” Caedes responded in a disturbingly matter of fact way.
“What information would be worth killing someone over?” I asked.
“It’s simple. Information that would cause chaos on a universal scale. The commander received a transmission from another world,” he declared.
“You mean she found aliens? That’s amazing!” I said, my excitement making me briefly forget I was in danger.
“No, it’s not!” Caedes screamed at me, like I should understand why this was a terrible thing. “Have you met humanity? We could be on the brink of war with a species that has ten times the power that we possess. I’m saving us!”
I briefly wondered how he was so certain of this, but I needed to regain focus.
Instead, I yelled back, “By killing people!”
“It’s for the greater good.” Caedes said with deadly calmness, removing his helmet “Once I kill you, the base will be evacuated due to the danger. Humanity won’t go touch the stars for at least another twenty years. I bought us time!”
“Yeah?” I said sarcastically. “Well, I’m buying myself some time too.”
I punched him in the face. The clunky gloves on my suit provided a bit of a boxing glove effect, causing Caedes to stumble backward and grasp at his face.
He made the move to stab me, and I grabbed the chair in the middle of the room, hitting him in the face once more. He was knocked out cold.
I grabbed his helmet, put it on him and prepared to drag him back to Astrologus base, when the communications database in the corner of the room dinged.
“Who would contact this murderer?” I said, moving toward the device to check the screen.
On the screen of the device there was a sentence that made my head spin, and my hands shake.
WE WILL ARRIVE ON EARTH SOON.
Moments, I’m not sure how many, passed. Then I slowly began to type my response.