McCauley activated Aphrodite’s last second hail-marry. A failsafe experimental weapon system known as an Ionic Projectile Saltation Accelerator, IPSA. A blast of accelerated particles powered by the Zeta radiation. The concussion had knocked the approaching probe clear of Aphrodite, but in so doing caused Aphrodite to wobble off kilter.
The incoming probe was successfully deflected and sent hurdling back into the depths of space. Unfortunately, the recoil force for the IPSA had been drastically underrated. The blast caused Aphrodite to spin wildly, and begin awkwardly plummeting down towards Mars in a gyrating flux. A frenzy grew in the lab and from the crew as everyone attempted to mitigate the chaos.
Warning sirens erupted into a symphony as a flurry of panicked voices attempted to communicate through the radio. Aphrodite’s hull quickly became compromised, leaving the crew with no option other than to board the lander module and abandon ship. All while attempting to salvage vital equipment, stave off imminent terror and navigate through a zero-gravity environment.
Gaskins, Novak and Rusakov soon managed to get on board. Peverley and McCauley continued to struggle as the rotating craft flung clutter about the cabin. With Aphrodite continuing to accelerate and racking up dangerous momentum Peverley and McCauley tried desperately to reach the lander.
Gaskins reached a hand out while being held down by Novak and Rusakov. McCauley lunged off the far wall and snagged Peverley, using his momentum to hurl her towards the lander module port. The intense centrifugal force threatened to tear the entire craft apart. McCauley then grabbed onto one of the several seats as the craft around him began to crack.
He glanced to his team, before a grim realization struck. The rest of the team beckoned for him, but McCauley turned, instead scrambling towards the control terminal.
“Go, I’ll be alright.” He shouted back to the team, strapping himself into the pilot’s seat. The team stared back, staring with forlorn faces.
“Go!” McCauley slammed on the door switch, shutting the airlock between them and cutting them off. With nothing else to do be done, the rest of the crew strapped themselves into the lander module despite the vehement protests from Peverley.
The four members on board the lander jettisoned away from Aphrodite. At the helm, Gaskins and Novak battled to level out the lander’s trajectory. They could do nothing, but watch helplessly as their captain went down with the ship. Aphrodite continued into the atmosphere of Mars, slamming into the highlands of Tharsis Rise and exploding into a ball of blue flame.
The rest of the crew held steady and began descent into the thin Martian atmosphere. Everyone in the lab was in a sort of stunned silence, as the transponder on Captain Peter McCauley cut out.
The lander module performed adequately, and slowly drifted down to the surface. After several minutes, touchdown was complete, and the lander exhaled a plume of red dust.
“Aphrodite do you read me?” Wolf spoke through the comms. A faint crackling sound was heard before a response came through.
“Affirmative command. We made it. We’re here.” Gaskins replied.
“Not all of us.” Novak added. “Command, any word on the captain?” Wolf turned back from the monitor and glanced around the room. A defeated sigh escaped his lips as he met the gaze of the others.
“Negative Novak. He’s gone.” The room held a momentary silence to commemorate the valor of the prestigious captain and his heroic sacrifice. I felt a familiar pain enter my chest as my heart ached for yet another lost comrade.
“What’s your status Lieutenant?” Wolf asked.
“Oh, we are just dandy command. Can’t you tell?” Rusakov suddenly cut in.
“It would’ve been nice to know that Nazis were out to get us before you sent us out here though.” Rusakov was audibly enraged, and I didn’t blame him.
“Can it, Rusakov. We’re good command.” Gaskins responded.
“We had no knowledge of the probe beforehand. We are looking into the matter.” Wolf replied.
“Oh, that’s a relief. I was certainly hoping you’d say you have no idea what’s going on, makes me feel much better.” Novak replied with a grunt.
“We’re looking into it now Novak. There is no need to panic.” Wolf replied.
“No need to panic? We are marooned a million miles from home and our captain is dead. How should I react command?” Novak fired back.
“Novak relax.” Gaskins bellowed, trying to alleviate the growing tension. I exchanged a quick nervous glance with Klein as von Braun stepped forward to Wolf’s terminal.
“Aphrodite this is Commander von Braun. We are incredibly sorry for the loss of your captain and ship. The techs are already well at work at prepping the rescue probe. We can have you out of there in a months’ time. For now, you are to continue the mission as planned. Lieutenant Gaskins, you are now presiding captain of this mission. Peverley you are now lieutenant. How are your systems reading?” A pause fell upon the crew and the lab as we awaited a response from Gaskins.
“All green. Vital systems, nourishment supply, O2 all good to go.” Gaskins replied.
“And the rover?” von Braun asked.
“Fully functional, as far as I can tell.” Peverley spoke. Von Braun stepped away from the terminal and Wolf once again assumed the comms. Before speaking Wolf turned to von Braun.
“What of the payload?” von Braun shook his head.
“No way it survived that crash. We’ll figure something else out.” Von Braun stepped away and Wolf returned to his mic.
“Carry out as planned Captain. We will have a return flight for you within the month. Godspeed Aphrodite.” Von Braun tapped Wolf, beckoning him to follow. He gave the same signal to myself and Klein. The group of us, with a few others left the lab and went into a private room down the hall.
“How in the hell did that damned probe get out there?” von Braun demanded as he closed the door behind him. His brow was furrowed, anger and confusion swirled upon his face. No one gave an answer, as all of us were much too astounded to even formulate a possible explanation.
The impossible had become reality, Dritter Forscher had returned. The third probe that had launched from Munich, and been lost after a communication malfunction. A storm grew in my mind with a torrential rain of questions.
“You’re sure the Munich program has been disbanded entirely?” Wolf asked. Von Braun sighed and rubbed his temples.
“Yes, there is nothing left. All operations ceased when the Americans stormed the city.” He paused and folded his arms.
“Maybe it’s a rogue unit. Someone who salvaged the comms technology and regained control.” Klein responded. Von Braun laughed. One of disbelief and not at all humorous.
“I’d say that’s about as likely as Reisender2 still being alive.” Von Braun bent over the table, leering at each of us.
“Which she is, in case any of you have forgotten. And clearly, this is something which we have neglected to account for.”
“What of Hans Scheffler? And the Soviets? You said he was with them now.” I added. Von Braun turned to me, a peculiar twinkle in his eye. Klein seemed to stir at the mention of Scheffler as well.
“What of it?”
“Hans safeguarded the radio relay after our lab was ransacked. Maybe he and the soviets managed to establish a connection to the probe.” Von Braun did not seem convinced, nor did any of the others present.
“Even if that were the case, navigating a probe that close to another probe at those speeds? You’d have better luck hitting a bullet mid-flight with an axe.”
“Well then maybe something else is controlling it…” Klein said, staring daggers at Von Braun. Klein then stood from the table and the two men exchanged distrustful glares.
“Where is she?” Klein asked, eyes deadlocked with his. Before von Braun could answer, Klein added another question.
“What happened that night we saw her?” Von Braun took a long look around the room, as a silence blanketed the team. Finally, he sighed and spoke.
“That is still under investigation. What happened with Harrison… we don’t know yet. We watched her for awhile after that. She just stood there for hours, completely motionless. Eventually we think she began singing again, but the audio was off. There was a sort of interference with the camera feed that disrupted visual contact. It dispersed after a few seconds, and she was gone.” I wanted to ask what exactly he knew about her, but before I could Klein spoke again.
“So it could be her onboard that craft?” Von Braun thought for a moment and then gave a nihilist chuckle.
“She wouldn’t need to be.” He cleared his throat as all of us awaited an explanation.
“The Zeta radiation. It’s unique, not naturally occurring, but you already knew that. We believe that the craft recovered from Deisenhofer was in fact of Soviet origin. How they were able to construct it remains a mystery, as does the pilot that was onboard.” My eyes widened at the mention.
“He was long dead by the time we found it. Parts of his body were almost fused with the craft itself. Thought it was some terrible accident at first, but that was quickly forgotten when they saw the eyes. There were dozens of them, on the pilot’s body and internal cockpit walls of the craft itself. They were still moving, watching and blinking. Some sort of black flesh held it together, like it was some ungodly symbiotic relationship between man and machine.” All of us just remained silent, as suddenly my friend’s words – and the last words uttered by Harrison before his self-inflicted demise made sense.
‘Eyes shouldn’t be that big. Stop the eyes, stop the eyes.’
“What you probably didn’t know – and what I have been attempting to learn more about is the master uplink.” Von Braun paused and allowed another uncomfortable silence to permeate the group before adding one more detail.
“We theorized it were possible, and now I’d say it’s all but confirmed.” The air seemed to drain from the room as we all contemplated the answer. I had begun to partially suspect it myself, but there it was in black and white. The probes, satellites and rovers we had replicated, they were never really ours to command. It was all on borrowed time. At the whim of whatever was synthesizing the Zeta radiation.
“Why were we never told about the craft?” I asked.
“Command deemed it unnecessary. They seized the remains for testing at a private facility. Nothing ever came of it though, and no one was ever able to identify either him or the tissue that had enveloped his body.”
Most in the room seemed at a loss for words, most except for Volker Klein. He leaned over the table, anger palpable in his expression.
“So, you let us create machines based around a technology you didn’t fully understand knowing full well that it could be used against us at any time? For what? To explore a dead planet and send the Aphrodite team to their doom?” Klein seemed to almost surge with anger, and I couldn’t help but feel for him. We had been in the dark for the entire operation, just as it was in Munich. Some things truly never change.
“Not a dead planet.” Von Braun quickly retorted, refusing to make eye contact.
“There is something there. Something big. And we have to find it. The Deisenhofer craft was a scout.” The room fell silent for a moment as all of us contemplated his words. Von Braun then gave a loud sigh and reared back from the table.
“I cannot possibly emphasize enough how important this all is. Nothing that any of you or I have done in our entire lives is as important as this mission. We must push onward, no matter the cost.”
Von Braun is a man with an iron will and with a face carved from granite. Rarely does he laugh or show much of any emotion at all. So, when I saw his wide-eyed expression, and felt the urgency of his words burrow into my bones, it terrified me. He was absolutely petrified by the thought, and I suddenly shared his sentiment.
He dismissed us and we returned to our stations, and once again reestablished our bearings.
By that point the crew had dressed themselves in their protective suits, and opened the main hatch on the lander. As decided previous, the newly-appointed Lieutenant Charlotte Peverley was the first to step off. She descended the ladder, vibrant American flag in hand, making her the official first person to step foot on another planet. At least as far as AVION was concerned.
She paused as her foot sunk into the red Martian soil, and looked skyward with a deep breath.
“For all those who we have lost, and those whose sacrifices the world will never know. This step is for you, this flag, a commemoration of the things you have done. May your legacy never be forgotten. For this may only be one small step for me, but for mankind it is a monumental leap. Our future is painted in the stars, and now our purpose is realized.”
Peverley took the flag and thrust it downward into the crimson soil. Most in the lab cheered as the mission recorded it’s first success after a string of failures. I however, remained silent.
The crew held a small ceremony to mourn the loss of their esteemed captain: Peter McCauley. He was a noble man, truly. Wise and intelligent, driven and kind. Truly the best among us. The crew constructed a makeshift cross from materials onboard the lander, and bid their captain, farewell.
The mission was initially designed to scour the base of Olympus Mons in hopes of finding something of interest. However, after the unfortunate events, death of McCauley and subsequent crash landing, the operation was adjusted. The crew was to split into two groups; Gaskins and Novak in Alpha team, and Peverley and Rusakov in Omega.
Alpha team was to travel east and rendezvous with Remus in hopes of repairing the damage to bring it back online. Romulus on the other hand – was still very much active yet still stuck on it’s back in a dune at the base of Olympus Mons. Omega team was to journey southwest to it’s location and attempt to free it from it’s sandy shackles.
The main objective of course was Olympus Mons itself. Our mission statement was to use the two rovers to explore the exterior and interior of the mountain. The interior thesis had not yet been confirmed, but it was suspected that there were access points to allow travel inside the mountain. For this reason, and because journey of the crew up and in the mountain was considered an unnecessary risk, the maintenance of the rovers was given top priority.
The two teams departed for their destinations after a day of milling about the landing site and taking soil samples, testing the air and formulating a plan of attack. Omega team took the large Martian rover and departed soon after for their specified destination.
This Martian rover was eons beyond what NASA had used in their lunar missions. The Lunar rover was little more than a golf cart in functionality, while the Martian rover was more akin to a tank, minus a Howitzer cannon.
It was designed to be a mobile laboratory, one capable of housing the crew for weeks at a time. It used a sort of breathing process to extract the CO2 from the Martian atmosphere and convert it into oxygen. It was modeled after the photosynthesis of plants, using the photons from the sun’s rays and water molecules to extract O2. Distilled water tanks and the urine of the crew was collected, diluted and refined to assist in the process and provide the necessary conversion methods.
Alpha team was to take the lander module itself and hover over to Remus’ last known whereabouts. The two teams split and both began their journey. Peverley and Rusakov traversed the windswept desert in their behemoth rover while Gaskins and Novak hovered away to the east. For days Omega team travelled, seeing little aside from the red desert expanse all around them.
Alpha team reached Remus’ location a few hours later and began the arduous recovery process. Gaskins and Novak exited the lander and made their way over to the site. The strange rectangular area that Remus was investigating had collapsed, leaving an impressive deep pit where the pattern had once been seen. Gaskins peered into the chasm, and saw nothing but darkness below.
Novak cracked a glowstick and dropped it in. The video feed showed the green light descend downward for a few seconds, hitting the bottom soon after. The pit must’ve been at least 20 meters down.
“I’m going in.” He called over the radio. No response was issued, as the lab team exchanged a series of nervous glances.
“Lieutenant… err… Captain are you sure about this?” Novak questioned.
“Somebody’s gotta do it.” Gaskins replied, prepping the harness and rope to begin his descent.
“Unless you’d rather go.” Novak gave a huff, but said nothing. The two of them began prepping him for the dive. Novak anchored the repel rope and began preparing secondary gear bags with tools for Gaskins to complete the repair. Gaskins stood, ensuring the line was snug and looked to Novak.
“Hope you’re not afraid of the dark.” She said, grinning. Gaskins gave a chuckle, padded his supply of glowsticks and gave a salute before plunging into the abyss. Novak peered over to watch as he repelled his way down the sidewall. The lights on his helmet were seen bouncing in and out as Gaskins pushed on. He touched down some thirty seconds later and gave a satisfied sigh.
“Made it. Command you guys still reading me?”
“Loud and clear captain. What do you see?” Several seconds of grunting and labored breaths passed before Gaskins replied.
“Not a whole lot. It’s dark, give me a second.” The monitor displayed the view from Novak as she watched from above. Gaskins was seen shining his light back and forth around the area. Several times the cavern walls were illuminated, indicating the sheer size of the room he had entered.
“This place is like a tunnel command. It just keeps going. I can see maybe 100 meters but the path twists after that.”
“Any sign of Remus?” Gaskins continued muddling about before his light gleamed off something metallic.
“Ahh… Here she is.”
“Can you confirm her condition?”
“She looks a bit beat up. Partially buried, chassis is a bit bent and at least two of her wheels are wrecked. Gonna be rough but I’ll see what I can do.” Gaskins continued rummaging around for a moment before calling out again.
“Hey Novak, drop me down a shovel would ya?”
“Aye aye captain.” Novak’s video than turns as she begins prepping to drop the tool bag.
“Probably gonna take a while command, but I’ll do my best.”
“Keep us posted.”
Gaskins and Novak continued working for several days on the repair. The two of them switched between resting, digging and monitoring their partner at regular intervals. I split my time between monitoring what was going on there, and working in the lab with the other techs to continue work on the rescue probe. Luckily for all of us, there was no shortage of materials for us to build with. Some way or another, AVION had secured a large rhenium supply from somewhere.
I worked harder and longer than ever before in my life, determined to bring the crew home and prevent history from repeating itself.
Five days after the team was dispatched, another mysterious finding was discovered. I had just entered the lab in the wee hours of the morning, only to find the AVION team gathered around a single terminal. No one even noticed as I entered the lab.
My eyes scanned the screen seeing the two teams now a great distance away from one another, then I saw it. The transponder beacon on McCauley had moved. Somehow, it had apparently survived the initial crash landing of Aphrodite, but now it had inexplicably moved some 5 klicks away from the site. No one on the team had any explanation for how it happened.
The notion was of course ridiculous, as no one could’ve possibly survived so violent an impact. We tried raising McCauley on comms several times, but he never gave a response. It was quite unnerving, but we chalked it up to some technical error or weather phenomenon causing it to move. The beacon moved day after day, slowly and never when anyone was watching.
Hera was tasked with investigating the development from orbit. Time and time again it passed over McCauley’s transponder location, but it never saw anything. We kept a close eye on it, but did not inform the teams of the anomaly.
Meanwhile Omega team arrived at Romulus’ location a day later. To the collective relief of everyone, Romulus was in tip-top shape. Peverley and Rusakov were able to free her from the sandy tomb in only about an hour’s time. Command then was able to once again resume their original mission. That was when Rusakov made a startling discovery.
“Ay command. Do you see what I see?” We glanced at the video feed from Rusakov’s helmet. He was staring at the slope which Romulus had fell from while trying to ascend. The ensuing mini landslide had altered the terrain slightly, and something came into view. It appeared to be a rather large, rusted rectangular shape embedded into the slope of the mountain.
“That looks like a door to me.” Rusakov said.
“Can you get closer Rusakov?” The comms operator responded.
Peverley and Rusakov made their way up the slope until reaching the object a minute or two later. Before them stood an impressively large vaguely-metallic door. Had to be at least fifteen meters tall and ten wide. It was worn and rusted, but several weathered, ornate runes were etched upon it’s hide.
Rusakov moved in for a closer look. They looked like nothing I had ever seen, almost hieroglyphics but with obtuse curved strokes. Like Japanese Kanji mixed with Ancient Egyptian, but looking nothing like either of them. I find their appearance impossible to describe.
“You ever see anything like this Lieutenant?” Rusakov asked. Peverley stepped closer to the door, running a hand along it’s rusted surface.
“No… It’s incredible. Command are you seeing this?” She responded.
“Affirmative Lieutenant. We are running pattern recognition.” Peverley continued to graze the door with her hand. In the center of it was a small octagonal indentation. A warning alarm then began to sound in the background of the lab, indicating a mounting storm that was heading towards Omega team.
“Omega you’ve got a storm inbound. Return to the rover and hunker down.” The comms operator instructed.
“Any bets on what’s behind door number 1?” As soon as the words left Rusakov’s lips, Peverley placed her hand within the octagon. The door itself seemed to almost quiver at her touch. A faint grinding noise was then heard. Peverley and Rusakov backed away as the rumbling grew louder.
Suddenly the door shifted and fell straight down into the sand below, disappearing in a split-second with a cloud of dust. The storm moved closer in the background as the flurry of red sand cascaded around the vicinity. Peverley peered through the door way and shined a flashlight into it. A long empty tunnel then came into view.
“Guess we know what we’re doing tomorrow.” Rusakov said. Peverley shook her head in disbelief.
“Who could’ve possibly…” Peverley quietly muttered.
Sand began whipping around the area as the storm loomed ever closer.
“Omega return to the rover, the storm is about to hit.” Peverley and Rusakov quickly made their way back to the rover, opening it and crawling into the top hatch a few moments later. Both members were safely inside as the wind bolstered into a whirlwind around them.
Sand began to obscure the vision on the cameras and was heard slamming endlessly into the body of the rover. Peverley deployed the rover’s anchor as the storm raged around them. She and Rusakov sat back and began removing their equipment, while discussing the astounding find.
“You ever expected to find something like this Lieutenant?” Rusakov asked.
“Not in a million years. I mean… I had a feeling there was more to this planet than we were aware of… but this… this is incredible. This changes everything. Do you guys realize what this means? Some body was here…”
“Maybe they still are.” Rusakov said shooting a curious glance to Peverley.
“Sir…” A lab tech suddenly called out. I turned to him at his console and could scarcely believe my eyes. On his board, a blinking light was seen rapidly traversing through the desert. The dot appeared to be moving towards Alpha team’s location. The blip was a familiar signature though, not a radar scan. It was the transponder belonging to McCauley.
“Everyone out.” Von Braun suddenly entered the room and commanded from behind. The man at the console turned, disbelief etched upon his wizened face.
“Sir but… they need…”
“Out. Now. Everyone.” Begrudgingly the team began to do as requested as Von Braun approached the comms terminal. The Bald men then approached the others and quickly ushered the lab personnel out the door. Klein and myself turned to leave as well when Mr. Green instructed us to remain.
The other personnel were filed out the door as the blip continued towards Alpha’s location. It had now reached ungodly speeds, far faster than any astronaut hampered by their gear could hope to reach.
“You think the storm picked him up?” Wolf asked. Von Braun shook his head.
“Captain Gaskins, do you read me?” Von Braun spoke through the radio.
“Affirmative command, go ahead.” He responded a few seconds later. Von Braun then paused and glanced back to us, that now oh-too-familiar look of uncertainty upon his face.
“You have a contact approaching you.” He simply replied.
“A contact? What contact? What are you talking about?” Novak asked.
“Never mind that. It should be within visual proximity within a few seconds. Keep an eye out.” Alpha team was located approximately 87 kilometers to the east of Omega. The storm was rather large, but wasn’t projected to reach them. It also was nowhere near McCauley, making his sudden burst of speed rather disturbing. A nervous feeling permeated my gut, as I began to wonder whether he had suffered the same fate as Reisender2.
Gaskins and Novak prepared themselves for the contact, but reported nothing. The blip on the map continued moving towards them, but then the radio onboard Omega team’s rover began to broadcast a familiar sound.
“Ja, schön ist die Nacht, die lauschige Nacht.” That same damned song, once again with the familiar almost ethereal female vocals. Reisender2.
“What the hell is that?” Rusakov asked. Both he and Peverley took to the windows on the Rover and began glancing about the area. All that was seen was a flurry of red sand raging about in the torrential winds.
“Command… what is this?” Peverley asked. Von Braun and the bald men said nothing, only stared in disbelief at the monitors. A loud bang then thundered against the side of the rover as if it were struck by a boulder. Peverley and Rusakov franticly looked around, dashing from window to window, but still they saw nothing. Another loud thud rang out as the singing was momentarily interrupted.
“Omega, get on the ground and cover your ears.” Von Braun commanded.
“What? But why… what is that?” Rusakov asked.
“Get on the ground! Do not look outside. I repeat do not look outside.” Von Braun had begun shouting through the radio, with all semblance of composure absent from his voice. Peverley and Rusakov did as instructed, lying face down on the ground with their hands clasped tightly over their ears.
For several minutes the storm continued to rage on, with the loud bangs striking the rover at intermitted points. Peverley and Rusakov grew visibly more nervous which each subsequent bang.
The transponder from McCauley got within 10 klicks of Alpha team, before suddenly stopping altogether. Gaskins and Novak remained on high alert in their lander, but they never saw anything.
For an hour and a half, the storm continued, as did the intermittent banging noises and faint singing. The roaring winds finally began to subside and the endless stream of sand blasts finally died down. With the dispersing storm also went the ominous singing. Never once was Peverley, Rusakov or anyone in the lab able to obtain a visual of Reisender2.
Omega team was understandably nervous about the events, but were assured that all was normal. I was never entirely comfortable with how little was shared with Aphrodite about the more, unexplained circumstances. But in the heat of it, the last thing we wanted from the crew stranded millions of miles away was panic. Even if that meant leaving them oblivious to the approaching danger.
Things settled down a bit after that. Peverley and Rusakov were still nervous from the events, but soon resumed their mission. Romulus was given a diagnostic test and was found to still be in prime condition. Some minor repairs and cleanings were made, and Romulus was finally able to resume her mission.
Peverley and Rusakov returned to the strange door they had discovered before the storm. It had been partially filled in by sand, but after a few hours of digging they were able to clear a path large enough for Romulus to skirt over. The little rover was then ushered up the slope by the team. With a bit of prodding, and the lab operator’s maneuvering technique, Romulus soon entered through the door and into the tunnel.
Romulus travelled deep into the tunnel, chugging along without much in the way of discovery for several days. All the video feed seemed to show was an endless expansive tunnel. For all we knew at the time, the tunnel itself could go on for hundreds of miles. Romulus definitely had her task cut out for her.
I was in the lab with the other techs working on preparing the rescue probe for deployment. That was when Volker Klein suddenly entered the room. I turned as he walked inside, and immediately became aware of the unnerved look upon his face.
“What is it?” I asked as he reached my side. Klein said nothing, only beckoning me to follow him. I pardoned myself from the other techs as they stared with perturbed glances. Klein led me away from the development lab and down the hall to the lunchroom, of all places.
“You could’ve just told me you wanted to get some lunch…” I quipped, feeling unusually chipper in the moment. Klein however had no such demeanor about him.
“No no, it’s not that, look…” Klein made his way to the hallway and glanced both directions to ensure no one was around. He then returned to my side and put his hands on his hips.
“What is it?” I asked again, stomach beginning to anxiously churn.
“You remember that signal? The one that Reisender1 and 2 encountered?”
“Yeah, the high-pitched migraine-inducing one? Who could forget?”
“Right so… everyone thought the sound file was lost after Munich…” I cocked my head to him.
“Hans Scheffler kept a copy. I’ve been talking to him.” My eyes must’ve betrayed my surprise.
“What?” I asked.
“I know, I know it’s stupid, but I had to…” His head slumped, as if realizing what his action could do to him. I looked around the room and hushed my voice.
“He’s been compromised. You do realize AVION could charge you for treason, right?”
“Yes, but I don’t care. This is too important.” I sighed and wiped my face.
“What did he say?”
“Nothing we don’t already know, but finally, I got him to send me the file. I’ve been messing with it. Adjusted the audio and changed the pitch so it’s not an instant headache…” Klein reached into his coat and pulled out a tape recorder.
“Listen…” He pressed play. The sounds of what can only be described as poorly-recorded grinding sound began rasping out from the cassette. It was faint and heavily-distorted and at first, I heard nothing. Interlaid within the sound however, another noise soon became audible.
My heart sunk as I recognized what I was hearing. Screaming. It sounded like the combined calamitous pain-stricken voices of hundreds of people reveling in absolute torment. It was like how I imagine a biblical hell would sound, absolutely haunting.
Klein hit pause on the recorder and I stared to him wide-eyed.
“So, you heard it too? The screams?” Klein took a deep breath and put the player back in his coat.
“I was kind of hoping I was the only one.”
“Who knows about this?” Klein shook his head.
“Me… and now you. And possibly Hans Scheffler and whoever he works for.” I thought for a moment, mind wracked with a fresh deluge of impossibilities.
“Reisender2. She makes the same sound?” Klein nodded.
“As far as I can tell…”
“So, she’s the source of it all?” Klein shook his head.
“No… I think she’s just the conduit. But did you hear…” A man then stepped out from the hallway and into the room before Klein could finish. He was dressed in a standard black suit, with fedora and a clean-shaven face.
Klein turned around to face him. His eyes narrowed on us, but as per usual, there was no emotion within his gaze.
“The commander has requested your presence.” Klein looked to me slowly, and I nodded back to Mr. Green. The two of us followed him back down the hall and into the main laboratory once again. There awaiting our arrival was von Braun and Wolf. Both of them stared, enamored with something upon Romulus’ relay monitor. I looked up to it, and felt my knees grow weak beneath me.
Romulus had stopped due to an apparent cave in which prevented her further travel. In the midst of the dark sands that blanketed the path, I saw it. They didn’t need to say anything, for I recognized immediately what was partially buried within the rubble. Two eyes and a mouth.