Pluto forward research laboratory — nicknamed “moon Two” for its presence upon Pluto’s second moon — appeared not much different than any of the forward labs upon earth except for the fact that the walls of the former laboratory were painted in shades of vanilla, and the air conditioning vents silently hissed out conditioned air inside day and night, continuously.
Immediately after landing and docking of rocket ships upon any of the planets within their solar system — numbering sixteen in total at 5040 C.E., including unconditionally of course, Earth — all visitors, guests and personnel were required to enter via screening and scanning chambers of forward research space laboratories. Decompression and acclimatization procedures followed thereafter “mainly to counter the effects” of various atmospheric levels experienced by travelers whilst upon different planets and the internal air pressure of the rocket ships. Only after completion of such procedural formalities were people allowed access to individual or personal choice of visits to the cities.
Fast, zero-gravity space cars raced across the sub-city based upon Pluto’s second moon and a criss-cross diagram of a seventy-five foot wide maze of roads suspended seventy-five feet above ground level provided swift access to various places or “junctions” from where one was enabled to descend by open lifts to ground level only.
Their foursome group descended gradually into the forward lab cafeteria zone located about five miles further inside from entrance level of the lab, and which area was restricted to entry, except by space personnel.
Earth stations had ensured that plenty of hotels, motels and inns be constructed prior to development of the main sub-city upon Pluto’s second moon. This policy was adhered to during initial phases of sub-city development, keeping in consideration a population boom, and which was nonetheless, anticipated.
A usual round of space greetings between them and other personnel in recreation mood formed a conclusive basis of their initial, hour-long acclimatization schedule, after which process they began to relax, ordering individual tastes of Plutonian delicacies. A series of sorties between the main planet and its moons had resulted in the hour-long schedule. For a single trip however, not more than five Earth minutes would elapse for the same acclimatization procedure to complete itself.
As he relaxed further into his steel chrome chair, the investigator glanced upward, noting an upward curve very high overhead and further observing that the twelve-foot thick transparent glass-plastic dome encircling the sub-city forming a neat semi circle above ground level was not relative to the high walls tapering off at less than twenty-five feet in height. This portion of the glass dome appeared higher in comparison to the portion immediately above forward lab cafeteria.
Beyond, far beyond the glass walls, he was able to faintly distinguish the end of their solar system limits, beyond which existed charted and uncharted star fields of the universe, beckoning all and sundry in an invitation to discover billions of stars, the nebulae, the black holes, galaxies.
Almost hesitantly he lowered his gaze from the expanse of star-filled skies while concentrating upon matters preoccupying him at the present.
He must unravel the facts, for at most a few days remained before the cities of Pluto — the entire six hundred and fifty miles in diameter main space colony — would be “submerged” underneath Pluto’s ground levels roughly five hundred feet underground. Simply, the glass-plastic dome would remain fixed to its original position as the so-called artificial surface level tectonic plates of Pluto — comprising a diameter of six hundred miles as measured from any one end to the exact opposite end — safely carried the mammoth space city combining scores of smaller cities, to safer limits under ground.
Earth stations presently in control of all primary activities upon Pluto had directed Earth Forward Space Research Labs to correlate with their Pluto counterparts, to ensure that the outer surface of the glass dome remain unaffected whilst experiencing those thirty-six days of untamed gale force winds, which inevitably and temporarily altered the surface contours of Pluto.
A secondary transparent glass-plastic dome equal in dimensions though lesser in height, was scheduled to encompass Pluto Colony, immediately as it descended and vanished from top soils level. The mammoth air-conditioning machines, totally controlled by computers and situated miles deeper inside the planet, were activated to perform unconditionally.
Journeys during such phases even inside advanced versions of space rockets, would prove to be of negligible factual value for reconnaissance of surface levels was not possible, not of Pluto soils. He was made aware of all such data several years ago.
“You are the investigator? The semi-remark combining a half-certain question was anticipated, and it jarred his senses back to reality as he quickly observed the supposed deputy chief of interplanetary field counter-intelligence Pluto looking at him squarely while beginning to converse.
“Well, I am from Earth stations. I represent my field.” His reply was wary, cautious.
IPFC Intel never committed mistakes. They, one amongst Earth’s highest of organizations, could not afford to make mistakes. The personnel were highly trained individuals in matters of counter intelligence.
Seventy-five million earth humans occupy the famed inner solar limits of Pluto. Beyond this jurisdiction, exists the second-last of our planets, the fifteenth. The former began on a different note.
“And beyond that?” He asked the question mainly in order to gain time, rather than for other purposes.
“The sixteenth planet. Neptune one.
“At the very beginning when this planet was under consideration — and being traced in the unchartered heavenly skies, perhaps by the end of the seventeenth century of our Earth time — our ancestors were undecided upon making formal conclusions relating to this planet. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, Neptune one was almost in process of being classified as a satellite of Neptune, and only about one century later, did our ancestors procure foolproof evidence and relevant data. This set of confirmed information led to a final confirmation that one particular moon, revolving around an unnamed planet in our neighboring galaxy — inside one of its solar systems, as a matter of fact — was gradually beginning to drift away and across, out from the internal limits of that solar system
“Perhaps the relative internal gravitational forces at work within that particular solar system, and which held this moon in check to the planet in question, were beginning to wane; or it could have been likely that this particular moon was beginning to rotate or rather, spin, on its own axis at a much faster speed than before. However, whatever the reasons applicable and prevalent then, this moon took more than a century of our Earth time to break off from all forces at work — gravitational or otherwise — existing within our neighboring galaxy and, further, began to travel on a steady route determining a galactic path which veered out from the inner limits of that solar system. From computer telescope readings derived in the early twenty-first century, one could easily gauge the fact that this moon in question was heading straight to our solar system, within our galaxy.” The deputy chief in supposition halted his continuous speech for a moment.
“You are now required to conclude our topic.” The female personnel escorting him spoke up, directing her speech to the investigator.
“That procedure forms an integral process of confirmation and delivers proof of identity.” The male personnel, her companion added rather doubtfully.
The investigator, now in a process of studying every movement and each spoken word with total scrutiny, needed no further explanations to unravel the truth. Holding back his deductions, he decided to play up to their word game, beginning to add his knowledge of the facts.
“Two hundred and sixty-five light-years formed an explicable time span that this former moon belonging to an unidentified planet forming part of a solar system inside our neighboring galaxy took to cross over from the outer boundaries of that galaxy towards the near inner limits of our own galaxy.
“Further, a somewhat ‘brief’ time span of five hundred and sixty-five light-years may be correctly theorized as a time journey for this moon or rather, a planet by now, to cross over through the inner star walks of our galaxy and enter the outer boundaries of our solar system. Barely a few light-years away from and almost out of stellar reaches of Uranus, Neptune One — as this moon turned planet was already classified by our thirty-sixth century Earth ancestors — came to an unexplained and abrupt halt just barely inside the outer reaches of our Solar System. It slowly commenced upon a rotational path around the sun — rather, our Sun — though at one of the farthest distances from it, finally forming the sixteenth planet in question.” He spared no hidden terms while completing a rather brief factual information exchange. They were aware such factors formed the very basis of modern astronomy, in 5047 C.E. Yet, the sequence of events was made to break off at certain pre-set limits, and this discussion formed their part of recognition patterns. Pattern breaks were inevitably announced each week and subject matters were variant, however.
“You sir, are an intelligent agent.” The elderly gentleman spoke up finally, after a brief halt of verbal duels.” I however, take orders from the deputy chief of IPFC Intel Pluto.”
“Do you therefore classify the rocketship following us as your back-up party?”
“We have yet to confirm your identity. We do not know who the investigator is, in reality.” The voice reflected traces of doubt, but was flat toned.
“Do you know what I know?”
“Well, sirs. I do have total feedback of your identities and you happen to be the hangar-astronaut coordinator. Your deputy chief has been following me ever since I met you in the cab. You have been enabled to trace me to this location mainly through the complex situation in which, the gentleman talking with me just outside the hangar doors, had been placed. He, obviously, simply happened to be an ordinary bystander trying to keep himself warm, and managed to reach the hangar entrance doors by sheer coincidence.
“You tried your utmost to match his identity to mine and were unable to. Now, you represent an advance team sent to intercept me, and your behavior bears much resemblance to your senior’s. You however, did fail to register to the fact that it was I who sent coded messages through the unsuspecting listener, and it was I who arranged to meet you in the taxi. I spent one entire day trying to locate you in the cabs of Pluto.”
“Sir, next you shall be stating that we all are wearing masks. I do recognize the investigator!” The man sounded quizzical. He had never met the investigator face to face, ever earlier in his life.
“No. Considering from your appearances, you all have just about managed to alter your facial features very recently. Your team has recently undergone the process of superficial surgery — temporary phase one — a reversible phase of surgery yet efficient enough to alter the major lines of your faces for a duration of six earth months.
“That is one basic reason why you were unable to contact me in time, and also the primary reason why I have been unable to recognize you. Your surgery was performed immediately after I landed upon Pluto. You spent one full Pluto day recuperating from a superficial and temporary facial uplift.
“You are intelligent. Yet that does not end our session. We are required to ascertain your identity before our briefings exchange more pleasant notes.”
He avoided the answer as if it was not uttered, staring at them eye to eye for few seconds, aware that none of them were in a position to decipher facts from looks alone. Eye expression readings were no longer accepted factors now and formed closed chapters about two thousand five hundred years ago. They noted that his eyes were devoid of expressions as they attempted to read any change of expression, and he too knew that they were old professionals at playing this game.
“One of our latest interplanetary spaceships has been ‘lifted.’ It has been stolen. No sir, not hijacked. The occupants are unaware of its potential and capacity in matters pertaining to deep space flights. This particular ship also happens to be our latest design model, and Earth Command was not speculating about making any attempts at approving preliminary intergalactic travel. As a matter of fact, Earth Command has primarily okayed all decisions for a special crew to operate it and embark upon such a journey.”
That voice belonged to another person not within their immediate foursome group, and he did not bother to turn around. He required no further confirmation to ascertain that the deputy director of interplanetary field counter-intelligence Pluto, was standing behind him.
“Why on earth are we made to bypass the countless number of solar systems that await to be discovered in our own galaxy?” He made an attempt to talk whilst ensuring that the person or persons standing behind him, would catch his voice.
* * *
“I’ve got to reach Earth in time. My lessons in higher learning await me, and the IPFC Intel chief shall appreciate my return within prior and pre-determined schedules,” the investigator replied to the deputy chief at the end of a brief half hour spent in total verbal sorties.
“The extraterrestrials. I was made aware of those facts about a year ago. However, I was unaware of your identity. They seemed to have favored you as the first human contact vis-à-vis Earth! Do you know why? Please, this is a personal question.”
“I do not know.”
“Do you believe that this group of people in control of our latest interplanetary ship, now parked and docked upon Neptune One and making preparations to blast off beyond our Solar System’s outer limits are in any way, making attempts to contact the extraterrestrials?
“Ah! It’s not their choice. Neither is it their prerogative. Our aliens shall contact only pre-selected humans!” He countered casually, leaning back upon the cafeteria chair.
Astronaut waitresses walking upon silver polished floors, assisted by zero-gravity skates provided with inbuilt air brakes located just below toes level, noiselessly screeched to a full stop beside their large snacks table; and within a minute, their second round of earth banana pulp mixed with artificial Martian Milk decorated the table top. Twelve tall glasses. The waitresses withdrew silently, requiring no further instruction to leave the engrossed group alone.
Formal instructions were issued one day prior at all likely and official places within moon Two sub-city and also upon Pluto: “Do not approach such a table until you are invited.”
The deputy chief continued, “I was referring to this so-called space group personnel now docked upon Neptune One. Well, we have been following their coordinates in outer space since minute one, when they blasted away from Pluto Hangars, until the present time. A duplicate tracker system has been installed, whereby every mechanical and computer function performed inside this spaceship happens to be recorded into our base monitoring rooms. This process occurs very many seconds prior to their activation of control mechanisms inside the spaceship.
“It is as if a double pattern of space flight data happens to exist but at different places: one such set of data is therefore found inside the computer banks of the ship, and the second set of details, in the base monitoring rooms set up on moon Two, here, upon this moon. There is a difference, however. The original set of data is primarily recorded upon the moon — two labs first, few seconds prior to imprint of these very same data and the activation procedures, upon the spaceship mechanisms.
“We have access to their projected trajectory: their flight paths, which the spaceship shall accept if and when it resumes an outward journey. Our inferences of the same reveal the fact that their intentions are devious. They, it seems, are insiders, part of an inside network of personnel who can obtain total access to every detailed information chart that we have stored upon Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Pluto. Needless to state here that we suspect involvement of intelligence personnel or counter-intelligence people!
“Protonic nuclear fuel, upon which base this spaceship is designed for maximum acceleration thrust, is capable of carrying it beyond, to the uncharted fields of our neighboring galaxy; and rest assured matters pertaining to suspended animation during extraterrestrial flights are nevertheless taken into consideration, even if such matters are things of a past era and now no longer viable. Provision for inclusion of the same method favoring deep space travel has been included in the forward sections of the ship. Personally speaking however, such reasoning escapes my rational concept of space travel.”
The astronaut-hangar coordinator spoke up for the first time since his deputy chief entered. His tones carried traces of doubt and were subject to suspicion. “There exists one basic reasoning.”
The members of the entire group reverted their gaze upon him in unison as he completed uttering the sentence, and as if unison, except for the investigator, they pounded upon him for matters to be made clearer now.
“Basic reasoning? Would you mean to imply that we have got to reason it out with them? They are almost out of the zodiac patterns; they happen to be prepared to exit towards deep space!” The deputy director appeared unable to control his fury.
“It was you, after all. You allowed them use of the spaceship.” A flat toned accusation by another male personnel accompanying the deputy chief.
“Yes.” A short reply.
“But... why?” Exasperation reflected in the heavy voice.
“I had been authorized by the chief of IPFC Intel to allow this group to indulge in such fanciful flights.”
The space personnel almost made a move to surround him rather than take him by surprise and were halted in their initial movements by the investigator, who began in a controlled voice.
“I have been into this game from the very beginning. However, are you confident you have got your bearings correctly?”
“As sure as you are of this... game? Was I therefore, led into this war game?” The hangar coordinator had almost lost his voice.
“Well, my presence here upon Pluto has been personally okayed by our IPFC Intel chief and I also perform on his direct orders. He is the very same gentleman who ‘allowed’ you to be accommodative while the spaceship was actually lifted away. However, my presence here is related to the fact that the very same ship has to be brought back to the hangars of Pluto.” His comments simply raised the eyebrows of those listening attentively. They were taken by surprise.
“Well, I wouldn’t comment any further.” The hangar astronaut coordinator shrugged his shoulders.
“All this does not make sense to me.” The deputy chief stated.
“Yes it does. You sir, are not made aware of the circumstances leading to this showdown, and — allow me to be explicit — a limited and select number of members from within top level hierarchy are aware of this particular game. The hijackers are, however, nobody evenly remotely related to the IPFC Intel. Allow me to proceed.”
To be concluded...
Copyright © 2003 by Deep Bora