Science Fiction Short Stories


 "Outpost Seven"
      Roy John Fuller


    The year is 2117. Mankind has explored most of the Solar System in search of intelligent life, but has so far only discovered complex microbiological life in the deep oceans of Saturn’s moon Europa and under the frozen ice of Pluto. NASA scientists predicted the discovery of extrasolar life for centuries to justify the expenditures of trillions of dollars searching on Mars, and several other planetary moons in the solar system, but they never disclosed any earth shattering alien life discoveries. As it turned out NASA was under the influence of internal military suppression. There have always been underground theories that NASA was keeping their discovery of Alien life a secret from the public for some philosophical, military, religious or scientific purpose. It took the unbiased efforts of The Unified Civilian Space Exploration (UCSE) pronounced U-See, to find and report the actual discovery of life on Europa at first and then again on Pluto. The explorations by UCSE were not the result of scientific curiosity but rather financial motives in the hopes of discovering Gold, plutonian and other precious metals on the many asteroids and moons in the solar system. The Earth’s natural resources were becoming depleted of fossil fuels and there was secret concern from the government that the gasoline automobiles and diesel delivery trucks would run out of fuel. Without mass transportation and local food deliveries from suppliers all over the planet they feared public unrest and possible revolt against the government leaders.  Although UCSE did make significant mineral finds on several rock worlds in the tiber belt the real jackpot came with the discovery of frozen life in the lower levels of Europa’s ice clad world. UCSE successfully recovered a sample of hibernated microorganisms from the moon Europa where NASA has spent Trillions of taxpayer dollars and never announced any discoveries of life organisms. NASA was eventually defunded by Congress and the exploration of Space became a private civilian endeavor. UCSE was not subject to military over rule as NASA had been and operated more as a profit and loss business.  


  Burt McCartney and Alex Fernandez were in the middle of performing general maintenance on the advanced meteorology & weather detection system “Predecta Alpha Four” on Lima Seven in an equatorial district on one of Earth’s most distant planets Pluto. Pluto once declassified as a Planet was re-instated again in the 22 Century along with several other more distant cataloged objects. The solar system now consisted of thirteen cataloged planets. Lima Seven was Earth farthermost outpost in the Solar System. Planetary outposts were self-contained biospheres made from very resilient materials and containing an array of advanced electronic mineral detection equipment. They operated automatically and only needed occasional maintenance performed by their tenants, the maintenance men.


   Burt was a short, stocky man who rarely bothered taking a bath or shower and hardly ever found the need to change his greasy UCSE issued uniform while on a mission. Although a small man of stature he carried himself and asserted himself upon others as a man of action and experience. He had seen everything there is to see. He had served as the lead maintenance engineer for the first remote outpost on Europa in the middle of the 21 Century. He never imagined he would still be in service for the Company fifty years later in a similar capacity. Advances in modern medicine had upstaged space exploration by many factors. The average human with gene enhancing capabilities had increased the normal lifespan to well over 150 years. Now with micro bots swimming around in their blood circulation system for potential problems and the abilities to make genetic changes, man may one day truly achieve an eternal lifespan.


  Alex, at six foot tall and a slender build was a “newbie” to this business. Sure he had all the training, the theory and physiological conditioning UCSE had to offer, but at the end of the day he had never been deployed. His young manner and appearance was a total contrast to Burt’s untidy apparel, fatherly nature and balding hairline.


          “Alex, what do you make of these reading on the Pre 7?” A nickname for the Predecta Alpha Seven advanced weather warning system. “I have never seen storm magnitudes on this level before”. The stress becoming more obvious in Burt’s voice.


          “There must be a calibration issue with the main computer interface. Let me run some more checks before we get too alarmed. I’m sure this is just a malfunction of some kind”.


  Pluto was subject to massive surface wind and dust storms that could exceed 1,200 kilometer per hour. Storms like this could be devastating to anything in its path including the Lima Seven outpost. With modern advancements in building technology, outpost seven was designed to withstand maximum wind storms up to 2,000 kilometers per hour for a limited time. Pre 7 was registering an incoming storm with winds in excess of 5,000 kilometers per hour.  An event of this magnitude would erase outpost seven from the planet surface. Wind storms like this were commonplace on the gaseous planets Jupiter and Uranus, but planetary satellites in orbit around Pluto for decades had never detected anything like this before.


   “Burt, all calibrations are checking out a-ok. I have routed the telemetry to UCSE but doubt we will get a response before the storm arrives. I suggest we initiate emergency lockdown procedures and prep the ground pod while we still have some time. According to radar we only have about 30 minutes before we start feeling the effects of this monster.” Alex also gravely concerned with the approaching storm.


  “I’m not sure we can both hold out in the Gpod long enough for rescue with the surface outpost damaged or destroyed.” Burt responded.


          The Gpod was UCSE’s contingent plan for situations like this when the outpost was in danger from surface storms. In theory, similar to a below ground cellar for protection from a killer tornado, the Gpod was designed to allow the station maintenance men to lock themselves in an underground bunker and ride out storms. Gpods may not be in danger with winds of 5,000 kilometers per hour, but they were designed to provide temporary shelter from surface storms, not for extended survival purposes.


  Burt and Alex used their time wisely by moving everything possible down into the Gpod. The more food and electronics they stored below the better their chances of survival would be. The Gpods, like the surface outpost, had climate control features so freezing was not the immediate threat. Provided they could get all the food supplies transported down to the Gpod, starving should not be an issue. The Gpod was a more confined space however and was not equipped with elaborate sleeping arrangements. They would have to make do with the Gpod quarters however considering there may be nothing left of the surface outpost after the storm.


 “Burt. I have never been in a situation like this having to rely on a Gpod.” Alex nervously informed Burt


 “No one has ever been in this situation!” Burt responded back. “Listen kid, we’ll be OK as long as we get all the surface supplies transferred to the Gpod. We’ll just wait for the storm to pass and see what’s left of the outpost afterwards.”


 “And we still haven’t heard back from UCSE”. Alex added.


    “Nobody’s going to help us now but ourselves, forget about UCSE and focus on doing all we can before that storm hits.” Burt tried to comfort Alex but knew it wasn’t working. The truth was he was scared shitless himself, but didn’t want to alarm the kid more than he already was.


   “UCSE will be sending a rescue ship as soon as they get the emergency message you sent.” Burt said trying to soften his response. “We just have to stay alive until they get here. That could be within the week if they’ve got that new magnetic drive engine working on the Graff Deep Alpha Probe. It was in final testing when we left the Mars Space Station for Pluto.”


  The new magnetic propulsion drive on the Graff Deep Alpha Probe promises to allow astronauts to travel beyond our Solar System in less than seven days.  This genius propulsion system was the child of Stanford Professor Miles Graff, a Swedish inventor with UCSE. Basically he solved the riddle of moving object with magnetism and repulsion. Scientists and scholars had speculated how the ancient builders of the Egyptian, Persian and other advanced civilizations had transported such huge granite stones. However Professor Graff solved the puzzle and UCSE found an application for his technology powering space craft. By utilizing the repulsion principle of magnets, Professor Graff was able to adapt the magnetic repulsion technology as a gravity accelerator. This enabled space travel at tremendous speeds in the vacuum of space that would never have been possible with chemical fuel rockets. The magnetic repulsion technology could be used to travel in spaces where the effects of gravity are present such as on a planet or moon with an iron core. The Graff Deep Alpha Probe would be the first craft to utilize Professor Graff’s new technology.


    Burt and Alex lock themselves in the underground pod. The pod is designed to support one person for seven days, or two people for fourteen days on limited rations. It is a horrible ordeal when the storm passes by. The ground trembles, shakes and squeaks for several days. During the storm they lose contact with the surface pod and all readouts go flat line. By reducing their food and water intake to bare minimums, they are able to make it forty one days. However Alex is looking very poor. Bruce can see his ribcage protruding through his skin. His face is drawn in a horror expression and his eyes are mostly black. Burt is not looking much better. The pod has very limited space and it is difficult to move around and stretch out. Their muscles ache and they both have migraine headaches all the time. It becomes very difficult to think clearly. They have no reason to believe anything survived the storm on the surface. They are totally cut off from above, from Earth and UCSE. They can only assume UCSE did not get their emergency transmission, or the magnetic Induction engines did not pass the initial test run back on Earth.

On day forty two Alex decides he cannot do this any longer. He tries to reason with Burt about opening the hatch. It can’t be any worse than what they are going through now with the hunger, thirst and confinement. But Burt will not hear of it. He is sure the rescue is on the way. He describes all the torture that waits on the surface. The frigid cold, the colder winds, the lack of an atmosphere, not to mention what will they do? They have no communications, no food, and no water on an alien frozen planet where the night time temperatures reach 500 degrees below zero.

That night when Burt doses off to sleep, Alex works his way over to the hatch and pulls the manual release latch. The sound is deafening. There’s a loud sucking noise that ends in a high pitch whistle. They can feel the air inside the pod escaping as the internal air pressure of the pod decreases. By now Burt is awake and screaming at Alex that he’s killed them! Why did you do such a stupid thing? However as the pressure equalizes they realize they are still breathing. Alex pushes the escape pod door completely open and it flips over with a thud on the pod. He carefully extends his head out of the pod and looks at the sky. It’s not purple as before, it’s blue and there are white clouds in the sky. It is such an amazing sight. He hops up on the door frame and steps out onto the Pluto surface and stares in disbelief. There’s distant mountains, and trees. Where the hell did all the vegetation come from? These mountains and vegetation were not here 41 days ago. Nor was the blue sky.


  “Burt you have to come out here and see this!” yells Alex.


   “See what? Has the storm passed us” yells Burt back.


   “You are not going to believe this Burt. Something has changed the planet. It has changed Pluto into something beautiful”. Alex stared at the overhead sky and started mumbling something.


   “Alex, what the hell are you jabbering about? UCSE didn’t send a rescue mission to Pluto and transport the pod back to Earth. Nor did that freeking monster storm transform Pluto into a paradise. Anytime I’m looking at such completely ridiculous conclusions I know there must be another explanation. Maybe Aliens saved us. After all we are the furthermost outpost in the Solar System. Aliens could have transported the pod to another planet or created these safe harbor surroundings to protect us from the storm. The storm may not be over yet and that’s why we’re still in this protected space.” Burt surmised out loud.


And you thought my theories were way out there! That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard. This is not an alien paradise, its Earth I tell you.” Alex responded.


  At that moment Burt’s eyes started searching the distant horizon. He tilted his head sideways slightly, listening carefully and said…


  “My God, that’s a military helicopter approaching. I know that sound well. But what the hell is it doing here….Wait a minute!’ And then it dawned on him. The true explanation made perfect sense now. “This was just a dammed military/UCSE operation.” Burt exclaimed in anger.


    He and Alex had only been an experiment to see how humans coped with a disaster and deep space confinement. There had been no mission, no trip to Pluto. They had been on Earth somewhere in the desert for the past four years instead of traveling to Pluto. And the time they had spent in the outpost time was just an endurance test. Nothing of the experiment had been revealed to Burt or Alex. UCSE wanted them to truly believe things were hopeless.

   Burt and Alex felt a great relief come over them. They were home. They would have a hot meal tonight and a long overdue bath. Their disappointment of not having been on a great space adventure was quickly overcome by their anticipation of a few of the nicer comforts of home. Just like watching a great action Sci-Fi movie. When the movie ends the audience goes home. Burt and Alex were glad to be home.


 The End 


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     (c) Copyrighted by Roy John Fuller