by Iulian Ionescu
The crew came out of cryo seven days prior to reaching the target destination. Frank woke up at the sight of his son and wife and he felt good, but just for a brief moment. As soon as he had to move out of the metal cocoon, the pain in his back became unbearable.
“Quickly, everyone to the training deck, we need to get our bodies back in shape,” said the doctor.
Frank touched his face. The chemicals and cryo slowed the general metabolism of the body, but his face was still covered with a thick beard and his hair was like a bush.
McAvoy came up to Frank. “Sir, may I point out that we all look like savages, sir?”
Frank laughed. “Let’s get cleaned up, soldier. Seven days should be enough for that.”
Over those seven days, the spaceship’s computer adjusted the trajectory to approach the M74 planet. The red dwarf shone in the dark void like a never-ending candle.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Frank nodded. “How are you hanging in there?”
“I’m okay,” Jessica said. “Much better since I showered.”
Frank chuckled and pointed to the screen. “We are getting closer. We have a landing space, we should touch ground in twenty-four hours.”
“I can’t wait,” Jessica responded. “I hope it’s worth sixteen years of our lives.”
Is anything worth it? Frank thought.
* * *
The ship landed smoothly and adjusted itself in a perfectly horizontal position. The crew met on the main deck and Frank stood proudly in front of them, wearing his perfect uniform.
“Crew, we are the first humans to step foot on a planet farther than any expedition has ever been before. I’d like to say it is a large step for humankind—”
“But that’s already taken!”
Frank laughed. “Exactly. So, let’s do our work and see what we can find. Our mission will last five days and then we shall return to Earth.”
“Amen!” Jessica said.
McAvoy stepped forward. “Sir, the chemical analysis shows no signs of radiation or toxic gases. There are low levels of oxygen so I recommend we wear our gear, but overall the atmosphere should be acceptable. There are high winds and low temperatures.”
“Thank you, McAvoy. Geography?”
McAvoy turned toward a bearded man wearing a pair of square glasses. “Smith?”
“Yes,” Smith said and nodded, “based on the imagery and the scan, the terrain is covered with buildings and what appears to be some sort of infrastructure. The buildings’ heights indicate that most likely there are no earthquakes or other similar phenomena. The heat scanners didn’t pick up any moving entities, but we really don’t know what materials these structures are made of.”
“Okay, so Team One will follow me to the surface. Team Two will stay put and monitor our every move. Let’s go!”
One of the cadets gave a quick salute. “Sir, I will prepare a transmission and have it ready for whenever you are ready.”
“Thank you, Dimitri. Have it ready and I will add something later on.”
The cadet spun on his heel and disappeared through a door.
* * *
Frank leaped in front of his team, enjoying the low gravity that allowed him to jump ten feet at a time. His heart slowed down and he felt a strange sense of calm. An uncanny heat covered his skin.
“Do you guys feel this?”
“Yes,” Jessica responded, “it’s like a tingling in the skin, right?”
Frank winked at her and she smiled back. “It’s probably the low gravity, it affects the body’s circulatory system.”
“I am not sure if that’s it, but it’s darn relaxing.”
Frank continued to leap forward and eventually reached the edge of the hill. He stopped and looked down toward the buildings. The others stopped next to him.
“It’s an alien city, folks.”
He admired the giant buildings, shaped like pyramids, and the complex infrastructure of roads and bridges connecting the buildings between each other.
“It seems dead, though,” McAvoy said.
Frank nodded and activated his video camera. Jessica grabbed his arm. “Look!”
In the distance, between two of the pyramid buildings, a vehicle appeared, gliding over one of the suspended roads, projecting a beam of light forward.
“What is that?” McAvoy asked.
“Not sure,” Frank responded, “but have weapons ready. Let’s get closer.”
They walked downhill toward the city entrance, and Frank kept his eyes on the approaching vehicle. It switched lanes and roads, obviously trying to get closer to them.
Frank stepped on the road and stopped for a moment. He squatted and touched the surface. Metal. Metal roads, he thought.
By this time the gliding vehicle popped behind a corner and was headed straight in their direction.
“It’s floating,” Jessica said.
“Probably magnetic,” Frank said in a low voice.
The vehicle stopped short, less than twenty feet away. Its side doors opened upward and out of the vehicle came four men. Frank’s eyes widened and his heart skipped a beat. They were men, no different from any other man he had ever seen. One of them appeared to be in his sixties, the others maybe a bit younger. The older one walked first.
“What the hell,” McAvoy whispered.
The man stopped in front of Frank. Frank measured him up and down and looked deep in his eyes. He had a strong, straight jaw and a certain warmth that made Frank relax and let his breath out. The man smiled and extended his hand.
Frank grabbed it and shook it. “Colonel Frank Hicks, United States Army.”
The man gave a quick nod and squeezed back. “Gagarin, Colonel Yuri Gagarin, Soviet Cosmonaut.”
Frank froze and for a moment, and his knees turned to water. He then coughed and cleared his throat, still clenching the man’s hand.
The man nodded again. “Yuri Gagarin, Polkovnik, Soviet Air Force.”
Frank listened to his strong Russian accent and wondered if the atmosphere was playing a game on him. The man let go of his hand and pointed to the other three.
“Andrey Titov, Nikolay Bykovskoy, and Alexei Popovich.”
The three men gave a quick salute.
“Soviet Air Force,” the man added.
Frank shook his head. “I don’t understand, the Soviet Union disappeared some one hundred and forty years ago, and Yuri Gagarin” — he paused and looked the man deep in his eyes — “the first man in space, died about two hundred years ago.”
The man scoffed and put his hands in his pocket. “It sure seemed that way, it sure did. Come, come to vehicle. We explain everything at headquarters.”
Frank looked back at his team and gave a quick nod to McAvoy. “McAvoy, Jessica and Smith, you come with me. The others, return to Equinoxii and await orders.”
Frank then turned his head to the Russian. “Let’s go then... Colonel Gagarin.”
* * *
After a ten-minute glide over the intricate streets and bridges, the vehicle pulled inside one of the buildings. After a brief pause, the craft shot up through a vertical shaft that led upwards for a few levels. Frank exited first and looked around what looked like a warehouse packed with electronics.
“Please, please,” Gagarin said and motioned them toward a table, “have seat in our humble office.”
The four Russians sat across the table and Frank joined his team on the other side.
“You can take your masks off, your body will breathe.”
“But the oxygen—”
“Trust me” — Gagarin cut McAvoy off — “we’ve been here for one hundred and fifty-three years. You can breathe.”
Frank looked at his team and gave them a quick nod. They took off their helmet and disconnected the breathing tube. Frank took a deep breath and felt dizzy.
“Give it a bit of time, it will adjust to you.”
Frank coughed and swallowed a few times. “One hundred and fifty-three years?” Frank said watching Gagarin with narrow eyes. “Could you explain that?”
“I wish I could...” Gagarin began. “Tea?”
“No, thank you.”
Gagarin shrugged. “As you wish.” He poured himself a cup and sipped it with pleasure. “We can’t explain, but our biologist, Alexei was able to identify that on this planet the metabolism is decreased and cell aging is slowed so much that a human ages the equivalent of one year in about fifteen Earth years. We arrived here in 1983. I was 49. That makes me about sixty or so.”
Frank took another deep breath, trying to wrap his head around it.
“I’ve never heard of a Russian mission in space during the 80’s, and that still doesn’t explain why you are alive.”
Gagarin took another sip of his tea and looked deep into Frank’s eyes.
“Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia.”
Frank tilted his head and raised his brows. “Yes?”
“1908, Tugunska River—”
“Second largest meteoroid strike,” McAvoy said looking at Frank, “after the Turkish asteroid of 2093.”
“Tz-tz,” Gagarin shook his head, “only that it was not meteoroid strike...” Gagarin paused and looked at each of the Americans one by one. “It was Russia’s best-kept secret. It was an alien spaceship.”
Frank recoiled and pursed his mouth. “Alien craft?”
“Yes, like your Roswell.”
Frank shrugged and shook his head.
“No time for games now, Mr. Hicks. We both know you also had a craft, the only difference is, your craft was part of a mothership and was unable to fly on its own. The Tugunska ship was a mothership.”
“Okay,” Frank said and leaned over the table, “so how does that explain anything?”
“Well,” Gagarin said leaning back in his seat, “you see, the Roswell ship had information on board, information that we needed and got from our informants.”
Frank’s skin started to crawl and he felt a knot in his stomach.
“We were able to activate the alien ship in the sixties, I think around sixty-three, just two years after I made the first step in space.”
Frank watched his face glow as he spoke and for a moment saw his eyes fade away into a distant space. Gagarin shook his head out of memory lane and pointed his finger at Frank.
“Khrushchev himself created the Russian Space Conqueror team, and any member of the Russian Airforce was happy to join it. We four are a part of that team.” Gagarin looked at his team mates and they all nodded.
“You see, we had to disappear, so we all ‘died.’ I mean, I flew into space, do you think I would really crash down and burn in a simple jet?”
Frank tried to jog his memory and remember what he had learned in space history.
“No, I wouldn’t. But I chose to be dead,” Gagarin added getting red in the face. “It was our decision, for our country.”
Frank lifted his hands. “I see, then what?”
Copyright © 2013 by Iulian Ionescu