While the "hurry up and wait" process of finalizing the last design stages of The Crying of Ross 128 continue, I've been plotting a second novel that picks up where Crying leaves off. Part of the plot was inspired by this short story I wrote in the fall of 2017 called "Echo in the Grey". Over the next few days, I'll be sharing it with you. If you enjoy it, please support the writers in the publication "Tales of the Maestro Moon" available on amazon. Thanks!
Here's part 1...
Echo in the Grey
© David Allan Hamilton
The small reconnaissance spacecraft orbited the blue planet’s moon, scanning the surface for a suitable landing site. A solitary pilot had engaged the ship’s cloak light years ago, rendering the craft’s tracking beacons inoperative so none of its kind knew where it was.
All he wanted.
His scans indicated the moon was in a synchronous orbit with this planet, so he chose a site on the edge of sunlight where he could enjoy its remarkable beauty. He named it Blue. The sound of Blue is gentle, he thought.
Over the millenia, dust and rock fragments covered the ship until only the Black remained.
The sound of Black is not a sound at all.
It is perfection.
* * *
John Sarangan wiped the moondust off his visor, secured the hovering LunaScoota against the lab wall and cut its power. The one-man vehicle nestled gently down on the Moon’s surface. He’d just finished deploying the remaining thumpers in the latest seismic mapping survey – this one out in the Grey – and was preparing to run the array for the next couple of hours.
He entered the lab and removed his yellow enviro-suit. In the control room, he checked his monitors, cameras and remote sensors and smiled. When Sarangan was broken years ago after his partner betrayed him, he vowed never to get close to anyone again. So accepting this assignment with the Terran Science Academy allowed him the pleasure and security of complete self-reliability. The isolation he coveted professionally mirrored the rest of his life. It crept through his thoughts, shunting his emotions back and forth in a jumbled slosh of lost friendships and stunted relationships until everything he ever felt for anyone else was rendered inert. There was just the man and his work, and the 384,000 kilometres separating him from the nearest human being was almost enough.
He clicked the thumpers online, keyed the initial survey frequency into the imaging algorithm, and hit the flashing RUN button. The array monitor captured several thumpers coming to life, pounding the lunar surface in variable bursts and generating the seismic signals necessary to map near surface structural anomalies. Within seconds, the filtered data were constructed tomographically into three-dimensional colour images, and the first grainy 500 metres of surface depth ripened into clearly defined strata as more information became available.
The beauty of this work is in the imaging.
When Sarangan adjusted the frequency of the thumpers to survey structures closer to the lunar surface, something in the data grabbed his attention. Quite unexpectedly, a curved anomaly appeared out of the noise. Sarangan fine-tuned the filter’s dampening parameters to improve the signal to noise ratio of the anomaly, but what he saw appearing on the monitor left him second-guessing the integrity of the algorithm. He stood up and leaned toward the screen to get a better look. There, buried just a few metres below the Moon’s surface where the Light meets the Dark, a perfectly spherical dome-like structure emerged within the rock and silt.
Sarangan felt his skin flush and his shoulders tighten. He adjusted the filter parameters again and again and verified that the software was functioning properly. He was familiar with dome structures from his younger days as a geophysicist searching for oil and gas deposits, but this was different: extremely small relative to other geologic structures, and perfectly symmetrical. Nature, he knew, could be full of surprises, but to his trained eye there was no mistaking that what he saw buried in moondust out in the Grey was anything but a natural occurrence.
* * *
He’d put his faith in science a long time ago. Clearly, there was something artificial buried out there, but before allowing his imagination to get the better of him, he knew enough to investigate further. Gather more information, more evidence. Two questions came to mind: one, what was the nature of this dome-like anomaly and, two, what was its origin?
First things first, Sarangan thought. He wanted to get a better understanding of what was out there in the dust. He continued imaging the object, varying the frequencies of the thumpers to improve the resolution. He determined the anomaly was about three metres below the surface and its diameter was a little over eight metres. The dome itself was imaged cleanly; however, the area below the dome remained unclear. Despite his filtering efforts, he was unable to mitigate the noise in that data. If he wanted to know more, he would simply have to go out and have a closer look.
Sarangan checked the air tank on his enviro-suit. Five hours of oxygen was more than enough to get out to the Grey, run a targeted ground-penetrating radar survey, and get back to the lab. He strapped the box-like GPR instrument across the little trailer on the back of the LunaScoota, and whirred away.
It took forty-five minutes to arrive at the survey site. Sarangan checked his coordinates against the imaged data and was confident he stood right in front of the target. He placed reflective survey posts at half-metre intervals to form a twenty metre square grid over the dome. Then, rolling the GPR over the dust, he began imaging the areas along each line and feeding the data into the processor built in to his enviro-suit. The resulting image was projected on his visor along with crucial data continuously being updated beside it: depth to target, chemical composition of the overburden, reflectivity of the target, surface temperature, GPR frequencies, and remaining oxygen.
As the dome image crystallized, Sarangan was close to answering the first question on the nature of the anomaly. He knew the scientists and engineers back in New Houston would be utterly excited about this find for, indeed, the data he collected would ensure additional funding and profile within the TSA. And yet, with an increased profile there was little doubt the TSA would send more people to the Moon which meant more noise, more smell, more having to get along. That's when the idea of hiding this find from others floated into his thoughts, backdropping itself into his work the way the weather did on Earth when you were planning a day out.
He would still need to consider the second question: where did this anomaly, this thing, come from?