Alec sat in the cold blue glow of the steel chamber, monitors projecting their indecision between camera views outside the small compound. Each switch depicting the bright white of the lunar sands under floodlight, and the unrelenting black of the empty space above.
Life in the small research station was similarly dark, oppressively quiet, with nothing but the clicks of recording equipment, inconsistent hums from computer systems, and faint-
The sharp noise from down the hall pierced the envelope of sound that had wrapped Alec in the monitoring room, and the startle had his heart thumping up in his throat. The dizzying adrenaline surge started to calm as he figured one of the backup tapes had probably been vibrated off a shelf by the machinery nearby. Solitary life in a research station had eroded Alec’s sense of tidiness and piles were the easiest sorting method for his work.
He turned his attention back to the screens. The widescreen to the left was depicting a grid of all camera views in small format. Something on feed 42-A caught his attention.
42-A. A form was standing below the camera, looking up. Motionless.
Humanoid, by the looks of it, what would be the head seemed slightly tilted. Alec brought it up on the center view to get a better look, and felt his stomach twist violently in fear.
It was standing still, staring with empty sockets amid a freeze-dried and cracked face of blue skin. It was morbidly recognizable, just enough facial features of his late assistant to make him remember the accident, the airlock seal and the guilt, the attempt to bury the evidence, and the endless solitude that had resulted.
The tilt–obscenely fatal in its arrangement–was due to a neck fracture that had been sustained when the compartment depressurized. The eyes had burst or shriveled with the change, Alec was never sure.
He didn’t want to think about it when he had put on his suit and driven the corpse out into the dunes, the direction faced by camera 42-A. He had looked at the flash-frozen skin and abhorrent shapes from the pressure change as little as possible.
But now… now he was staring right into the same grotesque death that had decided to come back. Why? And why was the body just standing there, staring, so motionless? So frozen?
Frozen! It wasn’t standing still, the feed was frozen! The time stamp on the video wasn’t moving, it was stuck at 16:25. Alec’s fears and mind raced as he looked to the right to check the current clock.
The noise. The time. The rest of the feeds, those that were live, hadn’t shown anything. Alec began to panic. There was an airlock near 42-A, one of a pair, the sister airlock had been his assistant’s coffin. He brought up the access logs, noting with dread that all access keypads had been left active as there had never been anything to keep out. No one knew the codes but the two researchers…
16:28. Access granted, login SRichards, code ******
Inside. It had gained entry twelve minutes ago.
No, wait, not inside, breathed Alec with limited relief, there was no subsequent entry for the inner door. It was still in the airlock. The noise must be it beating on the door! He knew he had to engage the manual lock, keep it out, maybe it would leave.
Summoning up any shred of courage he could manage, Alec stepped out of the monitoring room and turned to face down the sterile metal hallway that ended at the twin airlocks. The black sheen of the thick internal security barrier covered the left entry, while the functional right door sat uncovered, naked and foreboding. The frosted, thick plexiglas porthole …was empty. No hollow eyes, no broken neck or blue flaky skin staring back at him like with the camera. Just silence and solitude.
The silence… the staccato death knell had stopped.
Unsure of what this meant, Alec walked towards the door, an undecided pace between hurriedly reaching the lock mechanism and freezing in place with fear. Every step expecting the face–that horrid, cold, unliving face, bent at the wrong angle–to reappear in the dark transparent circle of the door.
He finally reached the door panel, and with unsteady hands engaged the manual lock. He even dared to peek out the porthole to confirm that it had left.
Nothing to see, just the empty airlock and open expanse of sterile lit moonscape outside the external hatch, which sat halfway ajar. A light breeze crept down the hall and stirred Alec’s unkempt hair ever so slightly against the back of his neck as he continued to stare out in fear and disbelief.
It dawned on him as he heard the approaching shuffle of ragged boots on the metal planking back down the hall. The only breezes in the pressurized facility came from airlock use. Rooted in fear, catching hints of ragged research uniform and broken skin behind his own reflection in the porthole, he began to reach again for the airlock door panel…