by Iulian Ionescu
“1975, late spring. We were doing tests and suddenly the ship came alive. I remember like it was yesterday, the entire ship vibrated and there was a sharp sound. So the team went on board to check the status and all I can remember was a bright light, nothing more.”
Alexei leaned over the table and tapped his finger. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven, but I woke up next to a wall.”
“So, what happened?” Jessica said.
Gagarin shrugged. “We couldn’t figure it out, but we did realize that the ship took off and disappeared somewhere far away. It landed here and we found this land void of any life, but clearly host to life before.”
“So,” Frank said rubbing his chin, “you think the ship leaped here by itself?”
“Returned to base,” Alexei said. “That’s what we thought. Somehow we activated the ship’s mechanism and it simply returned home.”
Frank pouted his mouth and took a deep breath. “Okay, so, why didn’t you come back?”
“We couldn’t,” Gagarin said. “First of all, we had no idea where we were in time or space. Second, we were surrounded by all this foreign technology. It took us a really long time to decipher their tools, to understand the technology.”
Alexei tapped his palm on the table. “Do you even realize how difficult is it to understand where you are in space, once you no longer have a point of reference? And, believe me, we are all men of science here.”
Gagarin laughed and pulled up his left wrist. “This was our best tool for years: Pobeda watch, Russian made, 1960. We had no idea what time it was, but we did know to keep track of time with this mechanical marvel.”
Nikolai elbowed Gagarin and scoffed. “Remember how we used to take turns making sure it was always wound and never stopped?”
“We were scared, you know,” Gagarin said. “But soon we started to dig through the materials here. We discovered vehicles, sky mapping tools, communication tools. We just didn’t know how to use them.”
Frank shook his head and took one deep breath. “Wow, I can only imagine. So, what is the source of energy here?”
Gagarin got up from the chair, took a final sip of his tea, and started to walk around the table with hands behind his back.
“Before we left, our scientists removed a metal tube from the ship. We didn’t know what it was, we couldn’t open it, we couldn’t cut through it. None of the existing scanners showed us anything. It was literally a closed box. Only after years of research here, we came to realize that whoever lived here, whatever civilization existed on this planet... they ran away. We can’t possibly know why, but they ran away. The Mothership carried that cylinder, and we found a place here, where we think it fits.”
“What do you think it is?” McAvoy asked with wide eyes.
Alexei raised his bushy eyebrows. “We believe it is the switch.”
“The switch?” Frank asked. “What do you mean?”
“You see,” Nikolai said with in a rusty voice, “there are things that work here. Some transport vehicles, some electronics. They all run on a peculiar energy that comes from a material unknown to us. But almost all of this entire city, of the planet, is dead. We think that the entire secret lies in that metallic cylinder that made its way to Earth.”
Gagarin returned to the table and rested his hands on it. “We think that if we can get that item back here, we can light up this entire city. It can be the very first human colony, and it’s already built and ready to run.”
Frank felt a chill and his heart raced. “And can you imagine how much we can learn from here?”
“Exactly,” Alexei added, “it’s just a stepping stone for so much more.”
“The boundaries of the Universe will be so much closer.”
Gagarin’s eyes opened wide and he looked toward the ceiling. “We can explore other worlds, far-away galaxies.”
Jessica clapped her hands together. “We can finally be the kings of our Universe.”
“Exactly,” Gagarin answered and pointed his finger toward her.
“And you can use our ship to return to Earth! It will be the greatest project ever!”
Frank looked at Jessica and grinned. “The most unexpected turn of the first human expedition into space.”
Gagarin laughed and shook his finger. “Not the first, not the first,” he said.
“Well,” Frank shook his head. “Right, your expedition was the first, but ours is the first known to the people. But imagine the shock that everyone will have.”
McAvoy wiped his forehead of sweat. “I can’t even think of it. So, when are we going back?”
Gagarin put his hands behind him and straightened his back. “I think you got this all wrong, my American friend.”
“What do you mean?” Frank said and wrinkled his forehead.
“You...” Gagarin answered with a nod of the head, “you are never going back.”
Frank jumped up from his chair but before he got a chance to speak an elevator opened loudly at the far end of the room.
“What is this?” Frank yelled when he saw Dimitri coming out of the transport.
Dimitri approached the table and gave a short salute.
“What are you doing here?” Frank barked. “You are supposed to be on the ship.”
Dimitri looked in Frank’s eyes for a brief moment, and then turned toward Gagarin. He clicked his heels and gave a straight salute.
Gagarin extended his hand and shook it forcefully.
“You...” Frank said, breathing heavily.
“Colonel Frank Hicks,” Alexei said rising up from his chair, “you still underestimate the efficiency of Russian infiltrators.”
Alexei turned toward Dimitri and gave him a short salute.
“General Karpov, at your service,” Dimitri responded.
Frank kicked his chair, jumped back and pulled out his laser gun.
“And you underestimated the strength of an American laser gun, and my ability to torch you to pieces.”
McAvoy jumped up as well, pulled his gun and pointed it toward Gagarin’s head.
“I too was once a fan of Western movies,” Gagarin said with a grin. “Too bad we don’t have the music.”
Frank pulled the trigger, but nothing happened.
“Colonel Hicks, look at that screen,” Gagarin said and motioned toward a wall-mounted monitor. “That is your entire crew, currently in a deep sleep, locked down in a secret location. If you do not want them all dead in the next ten minutes, you will put down your weapons and join us in a little training session.”
Gagarin walked slowly around the table and approached Frank with small steps. When he got close, he leaned forward and whispered directly in his ear. “We always wanted to learn how to pilot a true American space ship.”
A loud laughter echoed in the metallic room and Frank felt sick.
* * *
Andrea put her arm around Danny’s shoulders. He was taller than her now, and looked so much like his father she felt a sting in her heart every time she looked at him.
The street was overly crowded and they found a good place next to a bus stop, where they could lean against a pole. The parade just started to pass in front of them. Danny turned his head and gave his mother a kiss on the forehead.
She sighed loudly and grabbed the medal in her hand. “Danny, I can’t do this. Can we please go home?”
Danny nodded. “We can mom. No parade can ever bring him back.”
* * *
Back home Danny went into his father’s office. It was the only room in the house that had never changed in the last seventeen years.
Danny sat in his father’s chair and looked at the dreaded letter they received that day, ten years ago. He glanced over it, even though he knew it too well.
‘We regret to inform you that the spaceship Equinoxii has been declared lost as we were unable to establish communication for ten years and two months. Please contact your local U.S. Army...”
Danny cleaned a tear from his cheek and turned on the TV. He switched to the news he had set to record earlier and reclined in the chair.
“The Russian Space Academy announced today the launch of a new space station. The destination is undisclosed, but the Russian commander declared that it will be one of the very first true human space colony. Here he is, as recorded earlier today.”
Danny watched an old man appear on TV. Straight jaw, kind eyes. He must have been in his late seventies.
“The Soviet Union launched the very first man into space in 1961. Today, in the year 2154, the New United Russian Federation will create the very first human colony in space.”
* * *
Ted drank a full glass of red wine and chuckled while reading his retirement card. The team could barely fit all the signatures into the tablet space.
The door opened and one of the lab technicians stepped in.
“Yes,” Ted responded.
“I know this is your last day and all, but we have received a strange message—”
“Why don’t you hand it to Mr. Trent, that’s a good way for him to start.”
“I think this message is particular to you, sir?”
Ted spun in his chair. “And you say that because?”
The technician opened his arms wide and smiled awkwardly. “You see, sometimes in the past you set up a rule in the mainframe. It was never triggered until today. The rule stated that if we ever received a message that falls under the rule’s filters, we should let you know immediately.”
Ted felt his face becoming red and a knot tied in his throat.
“What’s the message?”
“It’s in Latin—”
“What’s the message?!” Ted screamed squeezing the chair.
The technician pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “It says: Adhuc viveret. Eripe nos.”
Ted’s heart started pounding. “Still alive. Rescue us,” he whispered.
Copyright © 2013 by Iulian Ionescu