The Incident: Six Days After Landing
My excitement was booming. How could it not? After chatting with Zaria, I almost flew to Refinery Module One, located in Norak’s Pod. Today should be the day when the first batch of Sero would be completely refined, stripped of its dark matter and daetrite sand bonds, leaving it as a pale blue liquid.
This is the stuff of dreams. The drink of gods, the enabler of magic, and the driving force of our civilization, all distilled in small but sturdy glass vials on a moon forty-seven light-years from our home.
I open the outer air lock door of Norak’s Pod that houses one of the Sero Refinery Modules, wipe the surprisingly sticky moon dust off my boots and wait as the nitric oxide reaches breathable levels. As I open the second, interior air lock door, a familiar face greets me.
“Mr. Hufkin, you have found my diabolical lair and I truly hope you enjoy the sight, for it will be your last!” Norak let out a cliché laugh, quoting a terrible but popular moving picture back on Torohol.
“I’m truly glad you never took up acting, Norak. I heard that your “lair” has some Sero in it? The last time I held pure Sero in my hands was almost a thousand years ago! And that’s not a hyperbole,” I chuckle. A smile widens on Norak’s face. It is great to talk with someone who loves science and shares the same curiosity for Sero as I do.
“Indeed! I’m still working on trajectory analysis of a few objects, but I’ll be with you shortly. I’m eager to personally see some exciting experiments with Sero just as much as you are,” he replies.
As I make my way to the Sero refinery, I see the famous sign on one of the module entrances. The observatory! It is such an incredibly complex and expensive module. We only have two of them available to us out of the initial three; another is in Zaria’s Pod (Joranna was supposed to operate it, may the gods guide her), and the third used to be in the Backup Construct. I know that all astrophysicists had to spend many a grueling years training with these observatories, figuring out the paths of stars, moons, comets, asteroids and whatever other space nonsense that might challenge our mission. I wonder if Norak can handle such a vast amount of work and data all by himself.
I enter the Sero Refinery Module, and there I see at the end of the room, inside the refrigeration unit, a small vial with the blue Sero. Floating through space for 970 years was worth it only for a glance at such a beautiful sight. I take the icy cold glass vial in my hands and look deeply into the pale sapphire liquid. Norak is in the other module, working on figuring out which asteroids and comets are likely to kill us, so I am all alone with the stuff of magic.
A full vial. We have found a good deal of the unrefined black ice under the bridges a few days ago, and at the rate of extraction, we will bring enough to astound even the Overseers of the Tessian Civilization. Norak as well as the other exochemists have concluded that there is a very large amount of Daetrite-seronotium hidden deep under the surface. So much so that Zaria sent out a wide broadcast today to all Explorers in a fifty light-year radius to help continue the extraction after we leave. This moon could power our civilization for thousands of years to come. Dare I say millions?
That being said, I am sure no one would notice the difference if a few milliliters went missing. If we are talking about hundreds of tons of this stuff, I am sure I can get away with drinking half of a small vial. We still have a lot remaining for our experiments. Plus, I can treat this as an experiment of sorts, for science. I’ll title it ‘Sensory experience of biological effects of pure Sero under controlled conditions’. It has been so long since I have tried Sero that I have almost forgotten the feeling of the power that it gives.
I unlock the top of the chilled vial by pressing and twisting the sides of the cap that keeps the vial sealed. It is pure genius; this bulky cap will keep the Sero vial at the proper pressure and temperature for a day or two should refrigeration fail. The cooling liquid in the Backup Construct must have eaten through this like a litner eats lymegrass.
I let half of the vial drip into my mouth. At first, I only feel the cold liquid slide down to my stomach, but I did not have to wait long for the true effects to feel noticeable.
Oh my! The fire in my bones, the lightning in my breath! It is almost overwhelming, this is a lot of magic circulating through my veins…Heavens, just relax—I can easily control this. I have done this before when I was younger, but I can still manage this now. Oh gods, I cannot keep still, my entire body is trembling! What is this? What a curious thing. A wispy strand of purple, Hmm… Some kind of plasma-like substance, emanating from my hand. What a peculiar substance, it is filling the entire room, and it is getting brighter, I wonder what this is? Looks like it is glinting over there—
Ugh. I feel so incredibly dizzy. I open my eyes, and I see horrible landscape of destruction surround me. Debris was strewn across the dusty lunar landscape, pieces of the bleached Pod module walls here and there, and I lie here not knowing what in the three hells just happened. I quickly realize I don’t have my suit on, and there is no nitric oxide for me to breathe. Even though I cannot breathe, I feel no need to. My lungs should have popped. I should have frozen to death. I am outside, lying on the surface of this barren moon without a suit on, but I am not dead. What happened?
That bright purple plasma flowing from my hand, it must have been some type of magic. If it pulsed… yes, it must have pulsed. So that’s how we would deflect comets and asteroids, with those magical pulses; I must have triggered a violent explosion. Is that what happened to the Backup Construct? Think, Danbir! My head is spinning, and I cannot keep my eyes still. The Sero in my blood must be protecting me, keeping me alive somehow. If the situation were not so dire, this would be a prime time to document all of this and research… what happened to Norak? He was in the Pod at the time, but he was not wearing his suit. I need to get to safety before my body starts to process and remove the Sero, or there will not be much left flowing through my veins to keep me alive.
I lift myself up, and I make a series of jumps towards the epicenter of the catastrophe. The explosion absolutely obliterated the Pod. That means a third of our collected Daetrite-seronotium is gone as well. Searching through the debris, there were pieces of the celestial observatory littering the site. There, under a Pod panel lying on the ground, I could see something out of place. Oh no.
Trying to run in this gravity is more like high speed hopping, but I’m still moving as fast as I can. A few members of our group are outside already, heading towards the explosion site in mutual curiosity and apprehension.
I arrive at my Pod. The exterior door opens slowly, and I rush through the airlock procedure, and breathe knowing I had escaped Death’s clutches. The God of Death has instead chosen to take another soul today. Norak… your journey ends; may the gods guide you. I am still absent-mindedly clutching the half-vial of Sero that I drank at the Refinery. Standing in front of Rodhir’s photo of his wife and daughter on the wall, I take out the removable panel behind it and hide the vial there. There, it is safe, at least for a day or two before it will become unstable. A worry for another time.
A few moments later, with my suit on, I come out of my Pod’s airlock. I turn on the short-range MPCS on my suit, and hear a flurry of voices.
“His short-range radio is on.”
“Danbir, are you there?”
“No radio contact from Norak.”
“Has anyone got word from Danbir?”
Everyone is speaking at the same time. “Danbir here,” I answer. “I assume all responsibility. What happened was—“
I did not know what to think anymore. This mission is falling apart. Jorana, and now Norak, both of our astrophysicists gone; may the gods guide them.
“Danbir, tell us what happened to Norak’s Pod, you were there last,” commands Zaria.
I explain the sad, ugly scene to her.