My thoughts were mixed about the job I was about to take on, but the stories I heard on Droidon Station Seven had peaked my curiosity and I was anxious to get to it. We were in orbit over the planet and just about ready to descend.
“Damn!” said my grungy pilot Bingo. Yes, Bingo was his name and I didn’t have the nerve to ask him how he got it.
“What’s wrong back there?” I asked
“It’s this damn hatch…we’re losing pressure.”
“What?” I asked with a concerned tone to my voice.
“Nothing to worry about.” He came back to the cockpit and sat down beside me. “Everything’s under control.” he said. “Get Ready…we’re goin’ in.”
I strapped myself in and prepared for a rough landing. Instead it was the gentlest touchdown I had ever experienced.
“You’re some kind of pilot Bingo.”
“Yeah…let’s suit up.”
We got up and headed to the airlock. “You’ve been to M-119, right Bingo?”
“Is it true that if you breathe the air without a filter, you’ll drown?”
“And is there a constant aurora in the sky?”
“Wow…well thank you for all the information Bingo.”
We put on our cold suits and he showed me how to put new filters in the facemask.
“Remember, these filters last only about eight hours.” he said, as if he was my mother.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I replied with rolling eyes.
When we were ready, he tapped me on the shoulder and pushed the button to open the hatch. A blast of cold air rushed in as we stepped out of the ship. All around us, nothing but snow, and then I looked up to see the incredible aurora. It was mesmerizing. I stopped to look.
“Lets get going.” Bingo said, grabbing my arm and pulling me forward. “It’s not a good idea to look at it.”
“Don’t give me a hard time boy, now come on!”
We started walking and we could see someone coming our way. “Hello there.” he said. “The complex is just ahead so follow me.”
It took only a few minutes to get to the complex and we were immediately taken to the locker room where we changed from our cold suits to the project uniform. I could not determine what Bingo thought about all of this but I was sure that he was not impressed. Suddenly a tall man appeared at the doorway.
“Hi there, I’m Don Richards, I head up this project, so who better to take you on a tour of the place, so if you’re ready, let's get this show on the road.”
I couldn’t believe he said that, but the worst was yet to come. His palaver was extremely annoying and shortly into it, I asked if this was necessary. He ignored me and continued on. I could see that Bingo was bored with this farce and his patience had been taxed to the limit. Fortunately, we were interrupted by a gentleman who asked us to follow him to the conference room.
“What about the tour?” asked Mr. Richards.
“We’ll catch up later, Don.” I said as sarcastically as I could.
We were led to a large room with a big table, bar, coffee maker, and all the comforts of home.
“Gentlemen, help yourself to anything you’d like. Mr. Anders will be along momentarily, so I’ll leave you to your meeting.” the young man announced very officially and then walked out of the room.
“I’ll bet you take your coffee black.” I said to Bingo.
“Cream and two sugars kid.”
I wanted to ask Bingo what he thought of all this, but before I could say anything, we were interrupted.
“Gentlemen, my name is Jack Anders and I’m here to get you up to speed, so if you’ll have a seat, we can get started.”
“We were told by Mr. Richards that he heads up the project. “ I said.
“The only thing Don Richards heads is the visitors tour that he likes to give to our guests. He sometimes gets carried away. Make no mistake Mr. Jennings, I’m in charge here.”
“Well I’m glad we’re clear on that.” I said. “I’ve been sent here by the company to evaluate the practically of this project and it is my report that will determine the future of this endeavor, so if I may borrow a phrase from Mr. Richards, lets get this show on the road.”
“Well Mr. Jennings, I cannot stress enough, how important this operation is to the company. We are indeed fortunate to discover such a rich source of an important basic material.”
“And what is that, Mr. Anders?”
“Air.” He said once again. “We discovered a substance that produces oxygen.”
“How does it do that?”
“It takes carbon dioxide and makes oxygen.”
“You mean like plants?”
“No, it’s much more efficient.”
“So, we have an incredible source of air production.”
“Is that what creates the atmosphere on the planet?”
“Yes, but something else in the air allows it to maintain high moisture saturation. The filters in the complex separate the oxygen and water, so we have a more than ample supply of both. Deep space travel depends on the efficient production of oxygen on board long term space exploration vehicles. We have a lock on the most valuable substance in the universe, so we have a unique opportunity.”
“I have heard about some problems.” I said and looked for a reaction.
“What problems?” he replied. I could hear a nervous quality to his voice and I knew he was hiding something.
“We received a transmission.”
“What kind of transmission?”
“A distress call.”
“Yes, from someone named…”
“You know about this then?”
“What can you tell me about this?”
“I want to see Mr. Borden immediately!” I said with a degree of authority.
“I’m afraid that’s impossible.”
“And why is that?”
“He grabbed a cold suit and left.”
I could not believe the total lack of concern he showed for the welfare of another human. He seemed more interested in covering his own ass. I continued to probe and see if I could shake him up a little.
“Why did he go out, Mr. Anders?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Jennings.”
He was obviously becoming annoyed with my questions so I pressed on further.
“You don’t seem to know much about the goings on in your own complex. I want you give me a full written report on this matter within the next two hours and you can consider yourself confined to your quarters for that period of time."
I made official sounds like I was in charge, but the situation was getting scary. I motioned to bingo and we both headed down the hall, back to the locker room.
“What now?” Bingo asked.
“I’m not sure, but I need you to keep an eye on things while I go outside."
“You don’t expect to find Borden do you?”
“I don’t know, I must do something and this seems like the best place to start.
“You can’t do that!”
“I’ve got to.”
“Then let me go with you.”
“No, you’ve got to stay here and keep an eye on things."
“Well.” he said, quite concerned. “Stay sharp and get back safe. I wouldn’t want you to be the first passenger I ever lost.”
He shook my hand like a good friend and I was moved by his sincerity. I felt better knowing he would take care of things while I was gone. As I finished suiting up, he handed me a rifle.
“You might need this.” He said.
“Thanks Bingo, I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
It was quiet outside and I was not sure what to do so I just walked forward. The terrain was so strange with the aurora and nothing but a blanket of snow to reflect the colors. It was like walking in a fantasy, mesmerizing, and creating an incredible sense of well being. It was tempting to be swept away by this false sense of security, so I had to keep my wits about me. Walking in the snow was surprisingly easy, due to the slightly lower gravity. It did not take much time to cover several miles.
Ahead of me were a few small hills that turned out to be more difficult to climb than anticipated and it became necessary to rest for a moment. As far as I could see, the same beautiful aurora, hypnotic and distracting. It was difficult to concentrate and the cold was beginning to take effect. My movements were becoming labored with every step. I knew it was important to find something soon. I picked myself up and started again.
As I reached out to grab a ledge, I was startled by what I saw. There in the snow, just a few feet in front of me was a severed arm. I recoiled in horror and fell back into the snow. Quickly though, I was back on my feet looking down at the gruesome sight. It was obviously pulled from the socket and still had the jacket sleeve and glove on. I started to walk away, but no, I had to take it with me. I tried not to look at it, for the urge to vomit was getting hard to fight off. When I picked it up it was frozen stiff and felt like a mannequin.
My heart was about to pound out of my chest as I found myself running. It seemed like forever till the lights of the complex came into view. I could see someone coming towards me. It was Bingo.
“Hey partner.” He said. “We’ve got to get back, there’s a storm on its way.” He reached out to help and grabbed the severed arm by mistake. It dropped to the ground and he recoiled. “What the hell is that?” he said with a frightful look in his eyes.
“It’s Carl Borden’s arm” I replied. “We’ve got to take it back.”
“What ever you say sport.” he said as he picked it up and then grabbed my arm to help me back to the complex. He was silent for a few minutes and then he spoke “Where’d you find it?”
“I was just climbing a hill and there it was.”
“Anything else there?”
“No, just the arm.”
“What do you make of it?”
“I don’t know, but someone at the complex does.”
As we approached the air lock door, the location light went out. “My God they locked us out!” I said.
“No they didn’t.” Bingo replied confidently.
“But you need the code.”
“And a card.”
“Got that to.”
“Where did you get that?”
“Carl Borden’s locker.”
“I know what you mean.” After putting the card in and punching in the proper code, the door slid open. Bingo helped me to the locker room where we planed our next move.
“You’ve been busy.” I said, like a proud parent.
“Just trying to keep out of trouble.” he replied as he started assembling weapons.
“I’ll bet that’s harder than it sounds.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“Then fill me in.”
He looked at me with a sly grin on his face and paused momentarily. “We seem to have stumbled into a nest of vipers that are in business for themselves. They’re original purpose was to explore the planet for mining, but they found a lot more and they collectively agreed not to report any of their remarkable findings to the company.”
“But why would the company keep them here?”
“The CEO knows what’s going on and it’s his operation.”
“How did you find out all of this?”
“They keep real good records of their illegal activities.”
“I didn’t know you were so good with computers.”
“I’ve picked up a few things along the way.”
“You're just full of surprises.”
“Well we’d better get ready for some other surprises…catch.” he said as he threw me a rifle.
I could see the urgency in his actions so I hopped to it. We collected a wide variety of weaponry, anticipating the worst and it was not long in coming. From the hallway came sounds of quick steps.
“They are getting ready to blast us.” said Bingo in a whisper. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
“To the ship, we’ve got to get off this planet before they blast our asses to tiny bits.”
We heard more activity in the hallway and Bingo grabbed the backpack he had been loading and ran to the doorway.
“We’ve got to make a move now.” he said as he looked back at me.
I picked up my rifle and crouched behind him and waited for his next move. I may have been in charge, but he was giving the orders for I was clearly over my head. He peeked out and saw that we had a chance. We scurried down the hallway until we came to the outer door. We could hear voices coming so we quickly made our way to the outside. We were about fifty yards from the camp when they started firing on us. Bingo returned fire and that seemed to slow their pursuit. I could see the ship just ahead so I summoned up some adrenaline and ran faster.
“Get on board and start this thing up!” I yelled. “I’ll stay here and return fire.”
He threw me his rifle. “Don’t stay too long!” he yelled back.”
They were coming fast and I fired over their heads and they dropped. I could hear mechanical things going on inside the ship and then I heard Bingo. “Get your ass on board!” I fired a few more quick rounds and jumped aboard.
“Close the hatch!” I yelled as I pulled myself through the access tube to the cockpit.
“Is everything all right?” asked Bingo.
“Not yet!” I replied. “Get us the hell out of here!”
Just before he fired the rockets, I could hear the bullets hitting the side of the ship. We both felt the pull of the gravitational forces as we lifted off and I blacked out.
I woke to Bingo standing over me, trying to revive me. “Wake up boy…you can’t die on me now!”
“I’m awake...I’m awake!” I said.
“Oh!” He said. “I thought you were a goner.”
“I guess we got away?”
“Of course we got away.”
“I heard the bullets hitting the side of the ship.”
“Bullets can’t penetrate the hull of this old bucket, now drink this.”
“What is it?”
“It’s my own recipe. It’ll revive anybody.” I took a sip of the vile brew and wondered how anyone could have concocted anything that nasty.
“Oh...what is this?” I asked
“None of your business. “Just finish it.”
“I can’t drink this.”
“I would like a cup of coffee.”
He pointed to a small coffee unit and I poured myself a cup.
“Yuck, does everything you make taste like battery acid?”
“No.” He replied. “Some things I make aren’t as tasty.” Bingo made a few computer entries while I sat back and tried to relax for a few minutes. This trip certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.
“We got away too easy.” he said.
“Too easy?” I said surprised. “They didn’t want to kill us there.”
“What makes you think that?” I said, anxious to see what he had to say.
“The bomb they put in our ship.”
“We have a bomb on board?” I said as I stood up.
“No I left it back at the complex. And it’s about to detonate.”
“You’re going to detonate it?”
“No, they are. They still think it’s aboard our ship, and it is just about time.”
He pointed to the ships monitor and we both stared at it for about fifteen seconds. I looked at Bingo with a measure of doubt, only to look back at the screen and see a tremendous explosion.
“I knew they were all a little slow.” he said with rolling eyes.
“Wow, they certainly wanted to obliterate us.” I said.
“Wait till they hear about this at Droidon Station.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” He said in a serious tone. He came over and sat down. After a sip of that stuff he called coffee he looked me straight in the eye and spoke. “You can’t go back to Droidon Station.”
“They will kill you.”
“How do you know that?” I said surprised.”
“I’ve got a micro-disc.”
“Where did you get that?
“While you were out looking for Carl Borden, I did a search of the records.”
“But they sent me out to investigate.”
“No, they sent you out to be eliminated, and I was also considered expendable.”
I was so shocked that I poured myself a cup of Bingo’s coffee and took a few sips without making a face.
“Why would the company want to eliminate me.” I said.
“You became aware of Carl Borden.”
“Borden was about to expose the illegal business practices of the company. They found out he had reported them so they threw him out to die.”
“To die of what? His arm was pulled out of the socket.”
“Oh, that’s another thing they kept secret. There is a Yeti-like creature on this planet.”
“And since you are a new employee whose records have not yet been processed and there is no record of my landing on Droidon Station….”
“We were marked for termination?” I said reluctantly.
“If they wanted to stop the activities out here, they would sent a platoon of soldiers.”
I found it hard to believe that I was nothing more than a pawn in this whole affair, but everything he said made sense. He ran the micro-discs and everything fell into place. It was obvious that the company was corrupt to the core and I was set up. It was a lot to take in. My career as an industrial investigator was just getting off the ground and now it was over.
“What am I going to do? Where am I going to go?” I said aloud.
“Droidon Station Seven isn’t the only place to live” I heard from across the deck.
“But I have friends there.”
“How many friends do you have kid?”
“Any legal problems?”
“No, what do you think I am?”
“Free as a bird.”
“I have no job, no home.” I said, with more than a little self-pity.
He stepped to the ships control console and started entering data. I sat back and took another sip of the coffee that I was actually beginning to like. He made a few course corrections on the navi-computer and then turned to face me.
“Why don’t you join me here? I do pretty well for myself, but I wouldn’t mind a partner to watch my back. You did good, keeping those guys on the ground while I was getting the ship started. Sometimes I get into some tough situations and I could use an extra hand.”
“Are you offering me a partnership?” I asked with surprise.
He looked up and for a few moments as if he just realized what he had said. Then he smiled, looked me in the eye and said. “Bingo.”