2. Phobos the First

There was amazing pain, greater than anything she had ever felt. But, she reasoned, the fact that she was feeling, and for long enough to think about meant she was still alive. She opened her eyes to see him leaning over the console examining the display. “What happened?” she said, through the thankfully subsiding pain. “It worked!” his shock not even slightly hidden “I didn’t actually think it would work, it was absurd. Even if we successfully translocated I expected us to be dead or merged with a chair or something.” “And you didn’t think that was worth mentioning” she answered, her mind coming up with some vivid images of possible outcomes. “And what would you have done if I’d have told you?” Despite the look of smugness, she recognised it as one of his most downright sensible actions and decided not to argue. “Is any of the equipment still working?” she asked “Can we get a message through to the launch pad, get them to send a hopper?” “A few panels are working on internal power, no computer access though, I guess we’ll have to walk” They were just heading for a door when a person stepped through unexpectedly. The individual was wearing a hooded robe and mask. As well as pointing a vicious looking handgun at them. “Do what I say and no one will get hurt.” The voice, although clearly feminine, had a strange artificial quality to it. “Who are you? What do you want?” he said, clearly trying to get some control over even this situation. “Would I be dressed like this and using one of these…” she said, pointing to a device attached to her mask “…if I wanted you to know who I am?”. Despite the dangerousness of the situation, Liisa found him missing a piece of simple logic oddly amusing. “Let’s just say I’m a friend. Now move it, we don’t have much time,” she said, motioning towards the door. They shrugged and walked through the door. The corridor outside the room looked like a bomb site, large holes in the wall and bits of debris everywhere, a result of the translocation process only being able to pull half the of it with them. “Wait in here.” The visitor had led them to a small storage room. There was only one door, but there was also one external window which might provide a possibility for escape. “You still haven’t told us…” he began before the door was closed and they were locked in, “…anything…” his voice trailing off. But at least they were unsupervised and had a chance for escape. “Can we get through that window?” Liisa asked, thankfully thinking the same was he was. “I don’t know. That’s an external window so it’s obviously not designed to open. But, it might have been damaged or weakened.” He picked up a metal pole from a collapsed shelving unit and was about to swing it towards the window when he realised what he was seeing outside. There were four people in spacesuits talking to each other. One was a civilian; the others wore markings identifying them as part of the Martian security force. What was strange though was the hopper behind them. A hopper was a small spacecraft about the size of a house capable of making short journeys within single planetary systems; in this case that meant between Mars and her moons, Phobos and Deimos. For some reason the hopper bore the insignia of the research facility and not the Phobos landing pad as he would have expected . “That’s odd,” he said, motioning for Liisa to look “Why is our security force here? They couldn’t have gotten here in time if they detected our arrival.” Whatever the people were talking about it was settled. The security personnel returned to their hopper and the civilian turned and headed towards the torn mass of rooms and corridors. The door opened again to reveal the woman standing, aiming her weapon. “This way,” she said stepping back and pointing down the corridor. “Look, are you going to tell us what the hell is going on?” said Liisa, following him down the corridor. “I’d love to,” the mysterious woman replied “but you really wouldn’t believe me. But everything will make itself clear and I guarantee you’ll understand.” Liisa wasn’t reassured. They were led to an airlock, surprisingly still intact. Through the window they could see a hopper on the other side. “Erm, isn’t that yours?” asked Liisa. “My god it is!” he replied “But there’s no way you could have gotten that!” The woman just shook her head while the airlock opened. “Just get inside.” Not wanting to argue with the pistol she still pointed at them, they did as they were told. The stranger walked quickly to the pilot’s seat and tapped a few buttons on the panel. Before they could react a forcefield appeared seperating her from the aft compartment. A few seconds later and the small craft began to rise. “Are you going to at least tell us where we going?” demanded Liisa. “Sure,” replied the woman, “Back to the facility. You have important work to do”. “The facility? That will have been destroyed. The only work to do there is salvage.” he said. “Yes, I know it’s been destroyed. I know better than you could imagine, but you still have important work to do.” she said. Although her face was completely obscured Lissa could swear she was grinning. Well it was nice to see someone doing to him what he constantly did to her. Although she’d still rather know what was going on. “You’re right. I probably wouldn’t believe you,” he finally answered and slumped into a seat. A few minutes passed as the large red form of Mars got larger through the main viewport. Something was wrong though. There were no ships visible at all. Some of the science team should be returning by now to mention any number of corporate vessels desperately looking for answers to give their shareholders. He didn’t have long to think about before something far beyond “surprising” caught his attention. “The facility!” he said “It’s still there!” “But how can that be?” Liisa said, straining to get a better view without touching the forcefied. “Well I suppose there’s a chance we managed to capture all of the reactor output as it went critical but it’s very unlikely. And if we had then…” he trailed off. The ship had begun it’s descent towards the main labs. Not a gaping hole where the labs should be, which is of course what he was expecting, but the labs themselves. Still intact. Still with power. Not a single sign of damange. “Now you’d better start explaining” “You’ll understand shortly. I promise” she replied and tapped a few buttons on her console. A bulkhead immediately shot up between them and the forcefield. “She jettisoned us!” “Don’t worry, these things are designed to work as escape pods. And at least on the surface we’ll find some answers.” She didn’t look convinced as she opened a locker with spacesuits in. The escape pod landed next to an airlock, presumably part of the strange woman’s plan. “These suits have had their communications equipment removed. You’ll have to override manually” she said pointing towards a small panel next to the airlock. “Who knows what other parts of these suits have been sabotaged. We could suffocate any moment.” he replied, walking towards the panel. “If she wanted us dead she could have killed us”. “She just might be trying to do it in interesting way. Look at this.” The panel was a showing a display that was so familiar she almost didn’t react. She’d been seeing it on various panels and computer screens all day. In large, red, flashing letters the words “Emergency, reactor overload. All personnel must immediately evacuate”. “Is it possible we just delayed the reactor overload?” Even as she said it she knew it couldn’t be true. “No. It’s more likely just been left on.” he said, but didn’t sound convinced. A simple answer with no arrogance or smugness nor any contempt at an obviously stupid question. Something must really be bothering him. “We have to get in there.” he said and began the security override procedure. Once inside the airlock the inner door opened immediately. He headed over to a console on the wall. “So what’s the plan?” “What the?” “You do have a plan?” “The plan is to head over the science labs now.” he said and started running off down the corridor. “Come on!” “What’s the hurry?” she shouted after him “Is the reactor going to blow for real this time?” “Yes. And it blew for real last time. But of course there was no last time.” he shouted back at her. He saw her confusion and for once seemed concerned. He grabbed her arm and pointed at the wall. “Look.” On the wall was a small digital display showing the time. 2:10 MST. “Two ten? That can’t be right.” she said as she started running after him yet again. “Besides common sense, give me one good reason why not? The facility is obviously still here, ships have moved to a minimum safe distance and everyone has been evacuated. Well amost everyone.” They had arrived at the science labs and headed inside one. “Remember lab alpha was locked?” He said grinning as he tapped his authorisation into the door panel. “Where do you think I should set the coordinates? Phobos again?” he said, but got no reply. “Liisa?” he tried to ask as he turned around but was interrupted by her fist.