Fathermoon

This story, Fathermoon, scored me second place in the Swancon 36/Natcon 50 Short Story Competition sponsored by the Australian Science Fiction Foundation.

I thought I'd share it here to give you something to read. I hope you enjoy it because you know, it's award winning and stuff...

 

 

Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel…’

“Was ist denn das schiess?”

 “The Doors.”

Helmut let the name hang in the air. Tim wouldn’t like that he used English but Die Türe just didn’t sound right, even to him. The man on the top bunk showed no recognition.

“Jim Morrison?” Helmut added.

“Who?”

“Hell Tim, they haven’t made music like this in a hundred and fifty years.”

“I don’t understand your fascination with Americans Helmut,” Tim said as he swung his legs around and jumped from the top bunk, “they are so backwards and English is such a vulgar tongue.”

“I don’t have a fascination with Americans,” Helmut said, “I just like some of their music; you have to admit it’s a lot fresher than what comes out of the Reich.”

“One hundred and fifty year old music is not fresh.”

Tim touched the glass table, returning the display from standby. He dragged across the music player and touched the illuminated stop button. The dulcet tones of Jim Morrison stopped mid-sentence.

“Give me Lulu Handel any day,” Tim said as he moved his hands over the glass surface. Helmut heard the electronic drum beat of the Third Reich pop-superstar’s latest hit from Earth.

Helmut walked into the small bathroom of their shared apartment. As he brushed his teeth a window popped up on the mirror in front of him. One new message, the red outline indicated it was urgent and should be read immediately. He touched the message with one hand while moving his toothbrush vigorously across his bared teeth with the other. As the message maximised across the mirror he instinctively tapped the small voice icon.

“Good evening Maschinebauer Oberleutenant Helmut Meyer. Please report immediately to Reactor Three for urgent assessment of a malfunction in the inertial electrostatic confinement field. Station power output is currently being compromised.”

“God dammit,” Helmut said.

“What?” Tim called out from the other room.

“I just finished my shift and now I have to go back out again. Can’t they get someone else to look at it?”

“You’re the genius,” Tim called back. Helmut could tell he was smirking. He spat out the viscous toothpaste-saliva mix and rinsed his mouth. God dammit.

 

The elevator doors opened onto sub-level 3, the part of the station where Helmut spent far too much of his life. This moon-base, owned by the Deutshce Group but manned by Wehrmacht personnel, existed solely to extract helium-3 for fusion reactors on Earth. It was pitiful that up here they were constantly unable to keep their own reactors going.

“Oberleutenant.”

Helmut turned to see Feldwebel Gerhard Schmidt coming down the corridor towards him. Helmut felt some relief; he was new, but one of the better Technicians they had. Schmidt snapped his right arm out in an aggressive salute.

“Heil Mein Fuhrer.”

“Heil Mein Fuhrer,” responded Helmut as he returned the gesture, though he was less elbow-jarringly dramatic. “What seems to be the problem?”

“The monitoring systems picked up fluctuations in the confinement field about twenty minutes ago.”

“How far from normal?”

“Plus or minus twenty percent at first, but rose to more than fifty percent and the reactor went into shutdown.”

Helmut began walking along the corridor towards the reactor control room.

“I’m going to assume you wouldn’t call me down here without running the diagnostics?”

“Of course not Oberleutenant,” Schmidt said, “I’ve narrowed down the malfunction to the main computer control system. I don’t think the problem is major but accessing the computer requires officer confirmation.”

Helmut placed the palm of his hand inside the white bordered section on the glass door. Green circles appeared like halos around the tips of his fingers and the door slid open. The lights brightened. The room was empty. The reactor systems required little human input.

Helmut sat down in front of the single computer terminal. He was temporarily blinded by the familiar flash of blue as his retinas were scanned.

“Good evening Machinebauer Oberleutenant Helmut Meyer you have been logged on with administrator privileges.”

Helmut looked up at Gerhard who stood at his shoulder.

“I’m a Mechanical Engineer Schmidt,” Helmut said, “you are better with code than I am. Can I leave you to find the issue?”

“Yes Oberleutenant.”

Helmut rose, leaving Schmidt to sit in his place. “I’ve been on sixteen straight shifts and I’m going to get some sleep, if you don’t have a solution in an hour call me back down.”

“Yes Oberleutenant.”

 

Helmut changed in the dark and slid into his bunk. Tim was already snoring on the bunk above him and wouldn’t appreciate him raising the room’s lights. He touched the screen at the head of the bed, setting it so that if Feldwebel Schmidt contacted him he would be woken. Helmut lowered the thin sound-proofing barrier beside his bunk and the deep rumbles of Tim’s sleep vanished. He closed his eyes, knowing that tomorrow, for the first time in weeks, he could relax.

 

When Helmut opened his eyes again it was morning. Disappointingly the first thing he thought was that Schmidt hadn’t contacted him. He hoped he managed to fix the problem, but he must have otherwise he would have been contacted. He had ordered him to do so after all. Then Helmut reconsidered his line of thought, it was his day off and this wasn’t his problem right now.

The sound shield beside his bed retracted and he climbed out. Tim was gone. Strange, he didn’t think his infirmary shift was until later that afternoon. For a moment Helmut considered that there something was strange about the room, something different that he couldn’t quite pick out. He looked at the glass table: 9:03 am. Tim was probably having a late breakfast. Perhaps he would do the same. He showered briefly, dressed and went to leave. As he touched the panel beside the door it lit up red.

“Oberleutenant Helmut Meyer,” a computer voice-over began, “your access to this area is restricted please step back from the door.”

“What,” Helmut said. That was impossible - he just wanted to get out of his room. He placed his hand on the reader again. The almost sensual tones of the female voice-over repeated the same message. On his third attempt the lights in the room dimmed and every computerised glass surface, which was almost everything, turned a dull illuminated red.

“Oberleutenant Helmut Meyer, please remain where you are, a response team is on route.”

Some kind of malfunction then, Helmut thought. God dammit, did anything on this station work? It was a surprise they managed to survive here at all. This close to the north pole of the moon the station was in near permanent sunlight but the weather outside was still minus fifty degrees Celsius and a vacuum. It wasn’t the type of environment you wanted to be exposed to and the walls of this station were the only thing between station personnel and death. As an engineer Helmut knew how the failsafe systems worked, but the way Deutsche Group had been slashing the maintenance budget, he wasn’t filled with hope.

There was a knock on the door, three heavy thuds. At least the maintenance crews were quick to respond.

“Oberleutenant,” called a voice from outside. “Step back from the door.”

Helmut had expected them to begin cutting through the door with an arc blade, instead the lights in the room rose and the door opened normally, sliding sideways into the wall. What Helmut saw was not what he had expected. In fact, it was the last thing anybody wanted to see at their door – the SS. There were two soldiers, both SS-Oberschütze and an officer, an SS-Obersturmbannführer – a man that severely outranked him. Helmut felt a sudden rush of guilt; the same nervousness felt by everyone when approached by the SS, whether they had committed a crime or not. Helmut remembered himself and snapped up a salute.

“Heil Mein Fuhrer,” he said.

The SS-Obersturmbannführer did not return the salute. This, Helmut knew, was not a good sign.

“Oberleutenant Meyer,” the man said in the steel tone all SS seemed to share, “if you will follow me please.”

 

Helmut sat in a small ash-grey room lit by dim lighting that bordered the roof. He had been led through a section of the station he didn’t know, every door topped with the two Sig runes of the SS. Helmut drummed his fingers on the table in front of him. Helmut, two chairs, and the table were the only things in the room.

The SS-Obersturmbannführer entered the room. Helmut stood, saluted and said his Heil, again it wasn’t returned.

“Sit,” said the Obersturmbannführer.

Helmut did so. The SS officer sat opposite him.

“Oberleutenant Meyer, Helmut, may I call you Helmut?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Helmut,” the Obersturmbannführer placed his hands, fingers interlocked on the table in front of him, “my name is Obersturmbannführer Alexander Brandt. You may call me Alexander.”

Helmut said nothing. He could not call an Obersturmbannführer by his name, was this some kind of trick?

“Helmut,” the Obersturmbannführer said, “you are responsible for many of this station’s mechanical systems no?”

“That’s right Sir.”

“Please,” Brandt smiled at him, “relax and call me Alexander. We are just having a discussion.”

Helmut nodded, he realised he had been squeezing the fingers of his left hand with his right hand, the knuckles were pale. He released his fingers and tried to place his hands casually on the table.

“You are here,” Brandt continued, “because I’m hoping you can clear something up for me.”

Helmut swallowed, so he wasn’t in trouble after all.

“Of course,” he said, “anything I can do.”

“Good,” Brandt said, “last night this facility’s fusion reactors went into an unrecoverable shutdown. The life-support and essential systems are currently running on solar backup power but these have also been compromised. As I’m sure you’re aware, without power life support will go offline.”

“What?” Helmut said, “How is this possible? What about the failsafes? The backup gens?”

Helmut realised then what he had found strange that morning. The ever-present hum of the station, distant mining equipment and the power that throbbed through the walls was gone.

“This surprises you?”

“Yes Sir,” Helmut said, sharper than he should have addressed a superior officer, “there was a slight malfunction but I had a technician working on it, nothing serious enough to cause complete shutdown.”

“We believe there are saboteurs at work in this station, cells of an organisation calling themselves the White Rose Orchestra. Do you have any knowledge of this?”

“No Sir,” Helmut said.

“At 21:14 last night you went into the fusion plant control room to check on a reported malfunction. You logged onto the system at 21:28 and then left the control room at 21:30. What happened in those two minutes?”

“I,” Helmut steadied himself, “I logged on to allow Feldwebel Schmidt to run diagnostics on the system.”

“Feldwebel Schmidt?”

“Yes Sir,” said Helmut.

“Please, let’s not be too formal, it’s Alexander.”

Brandt’s voice was light, but he leaned forward, close enough to be uncomfortable.

“We know the message calling you to the control station was faked,” Brandt said, “and no other person’s tag was recorded entering or leaving the control room.”

“What!?” Helmut realised he sounded desperate. He didn’t even know why. Schmidt had been there with him. “The cameras,” he said, “have you checked the cameras?”

“Deleted.”

“I don’t understand,” Helmut said.

“I was hoping you would understand Helmut,” Brandt said, “you see, at approximately the time you were there last night a virus was loaded onto the computer network from the terminal in the fusion reactor control room.”

“Sir,” Helmut said, his voice reduced to pleading, “I didn’t do that I swear! Feldwebel Schmidt, it must have been him!”

“I told you to call me Alexander,” Brandt said as he brought his black gloved fist down on the fingers of Helmut’s outstretched right hand, crushing them with brutal force against the table. Helmut cried out in anguish, it might have been swearing but left his mouth as an unintelligible slur. He brought his fingers back to his chest so fast that he fell backwards in the chair. He stayed on the ground, sprawled on his back, nursing his fingers, the sudden shock of the impact now giving way to throbbing bursts in time with his escalating pulse.

Brandt moved around the table to stand over him.

“I attempt to be nice,” he said, “be civilised, speak man to man, ignore the uniforms but always, always it comes to this.”

Helmut spoke through clenched teeth, “I didn’t do anything.”

“Tell me Oberleutenant,” Brandt continued, “what do you know of Sonderaktion 1005?”

“Nothing!”

“I don’t have time for this,” Brandt said as he kicked, with steel capped viciousness, into Helmut’s ribs. Helmut felt a crack and he folded around the point of impact like wet paper. He wanted to call out but a gagging cough was all that would come.

“Are you a member of the White Rose?”

Helmut shook his head.

“No.”

“Are you a member of the White Rose?” Brandt asked again, apparently ignoring that Helmut had spoken.

“No,” Helmut said louder, the movement in his diaphragm pulled at his ribs and his gasped.

Brandt looked down at him for a long while, seeming to consider him. His upper lip lifted in disgust. He pulled his tongue away from his teeth in an exaggerated suck.

“Oberleutenant Meyer,” Brandt said, “We do not have much time. Who do you claim was in the control room with you?”

Helmut chest rose and fell with short, sharp breaths.

“Feldwebel Gerhard Schmidt.”

Brandt ran his fingers down his jaw. He touched a small implant on the side of his throat.

“Find me Feldwebel Gerhard Schmidt and do it fast.”

Brandt looked down at Helmut.

“Alright Oberleutenant,” he said in a sullen voice, “We will bring this Feldwebel Schmidt in for a similar discussion if we can find him, if we have time. I must apologise for my rashness, this has been a very stressful investigation.”

Helmut pulled in a ragged breath through his nose. This was a disgrace but there was nothing he could do, the Schutzstaffel had almost unbridled political power across the Third Reich.

“Why don’t,” Helmut groaned, “why don’t you evacuate the station?”

“If we can eliminate the cell we will.”

Helmut took some time to breathe.

“You’re going to let hundreds of people die just because of your suspicions of some terrorist group?”

Helmut knew he was out of line but he couldn’t restrain himself, if the station was so close to energy collapse then staying here was ridiculous. It was suicide.

“Night and Fog,” Brandt said.

Brandt unclipped the holster at his waist and pulled out his Luger Shock Pistol.

“What are you doing!?” Helmut yelled, even against the pain in his chest. This couldn’t be happening. It wasn’t like this anymore. The lies, the secrets, the Einsatzgruppen, Reinhard, it was all in the past.

“Again Helmut,” Brandt said as he pointed the Luger at Helmut’s face, “I must apologise.”

As Helmut stared up at Brandt, past the barrel of the pistol and into his uncaring eyes the station went dark. The lights flickered once, and then were gone. Helmut felt the gentle movement of the air from the circulation systems stop and go stale. It was too dark to see anything. He couldn’t see Brandt. He couldn’t see the Luger.

“This is the end,” Helmut said.

And outside the cold and the vacuum waited for them all.