03. What do you not see? | The Bug

August 16, 2020 Sujay Sarma

“We have found some older footage that we find… strange.” Was all Lawley had told him on the phone. Dickson wondered what it could be as he held up his badge to the officers at the gates as he drove into Ames. What was so strange? When he arrived, Angela met him at the check-in…

“We have found some older footage that we find… strange.” Was all Lawley had told him on the phone.

Dickson wondered what it could be as he held up his badge to the officers at the gates as he drove into Ames. What was so strange?

When he arrived, Angela met him at the check-in desk and walked him to the debriefing room. She was beautiful. He had known her since their training days. Unfortunately she had a few minor conditions that prevented her from being selected as a space-faring astronaut. After a couple of months of moping around, battling minor alcoholism and some excellent peer support, she had joined the Ames center. She now worked on the Mars missions. Dickson and Angela had had a small fling in those early days. But life had taken them separate now.

“There are a few other people waiting.” She whispered as she opened the bulky sound-proof doors to the conference room.

He took a deep breath and went in.

“Commander Dickson.” Lawley greeted him from his chair at the head of the table. “Have a seat.”

Someone signaled the projection assistant to play the video. The lights dimmed and they all saw footage of the Isolation Pod in the Gateway. At the beginning, they could see Commander Valteri moving around his pod, occasionally exiting to eat and drink or use the toilet. Then, half-way through the video, he stopped moving. He had fallen asleep and then never woke up.

A hush fell over the audience.

“Is that when he died?” Dickson asked in a whisper.

Lawley put a finger to his lips and motioned him to be quiet.

The video continued, the timestamps jumping forward a few hours at a time. They saw to their collective horror that slowly, the pod started to disappear in place. As if it was being slowly dissolved.

A mask of terror gripped Dickson’s face.

In the final frames of the video, they saw Dickson enter with food, water and medicines and leave them on the table. As he entered, the position of his head showed that he had never looked in the direction where the Isolation Pod had been. He left the items on a table and left the compartment.

“So…” Lawley said as the lights brightened.

Dickson was aghast. Something had eaten Valteri alive and the entire Isolation Pod, he had no idea that it had!

“I…” Dickson stammered. “I have no idea what to say.”

“Now,” Lawley interjected. “Interestingly, the Engineering team has come up with another worrying aspect.”

Zakir from the Engineering team stood up. The projection assistant pulled up a PowerPoint presentation onto the screen.

“This is the sequence required to eject the pod.” He said.

Momentarily, they could see a sequence of controls being changed on the control panel in the Command Center of the Gateway.

“Now, this is the sequence required to prep for arrival and depressurize the arrival bay when a new Soyuz capsule docks at the station.”

Another sequence of controls played out.

“Do you notice anything?” Zakir asked the puzzled crowd.

It took a moment for Dickson to eject himself from the previous shock and register what Zakir was showing them.

“Oh my God!” He cried.

“Yes.” Zakir continued, without waiting for Dickson to explain his exclamation. “Almost exactly identical, except for three switches.”

The presentation highlighted the three he was talking about.

“If you add these three, then the Arrival sequence turns into an Ejection sequence.” He finished.

“There is, unfortunately, nothing we can do about that.” Lawley sighed. “We would have to rewire the systems on the Gateway and reprogram its computers.”

“Of course,” Zakir said with a wan smile. “There is no Isolation Pod anymore on the Gateway.”

That was true. There was only one and it was now gone.

“We were planning to send a replacement pod in the next rotation.” Akira from Mission piped up. She consulted her notes and explained. “That would be Mission P250, we guess.”

The discussion changed direction into a dissection of whether you could put an Isolation Pod in a Soyuz capsule that was designed to basically function as a short-trip “space boat”.

Lawley motioned Dickson to join him and left the room. Dickson followed. Lawley stopped outside the door and waited for the other man to shut the doors behind him.

“So, you are off the hook.” He said, lighting his cigar. “I expect to see you back in Mission Control tomorrow.”

“What about Valteri…” He mumbled.

“We have no idea what happened. Some of the more paranoid suggest that it was some form of a space bug that ate the Pod.”

“If they are right, that bug could still be on the Gateway.”

“By all measurements.” Lawley nodded.

“Shouldn’t we warn the Gateway, then?”

“And tell them what?” Lawley asked incredulously. “Hey, you may have a space bug that is eating your ship?”

Dickson shrugged.

“I mean.. What would you do, if you had been up there and you got that call? Would you take it seriously?”

Dickson nodded and walked away thoughtfully.

About the author:

Sujay Sarma is an IT industry veteran, about 43 years of age. He has spent 25 years in the IT industry and has done it all, and seen it all. Now, his passion is writing [blogs, stories, novels] and music. He has his own YouTube channel called "Sujay Sarma's Musical Adventures" where he posts his covers and originals, and a Podcast named "Interesting People Interesting Stories".