Originally, I wrote this chapter to have a cliffhanger ending as well, but this time the ending is simply ominous, I think. I've incorporated a few more real historical people/events/whatnot into it, and I hope that you all continue to enjoy. ;)
Oh, also, I figured I'd tell you who people are named after. Governor Armstrong is perhaps the most obvious, being named after Neil Armstrong. The main character is named after Virgil Grissom, the pilot of the Liberty Bell 7, the second manned suborbital flight. Dr. Jack Stewart is a portmanteau of doctors Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, a biologist and mathematician, respectively. That's it for now. =)
Virgil: Chapter Two
With nowhere to go and his curiosity piqued, Virgil waited near the Governor’s office for the doctor to emerge, but not so close that he could be accused of eavesdropping.
At one point, he heard the doctor’s voice raised in a shout, but the nature of the altercation was inaudible. It was only a span of approximately five minutes before the doctor burst out of the Governor’s office.
“Doctor!” Virgil said. “I was wondering if-“
“You’re still here?” the doctor snapped at him. “Hmm, fine. You’ll do. Take me to the mine, immediately.”
“The mine? But I don’t think-“
“No, you don’t think. That’s why you’re perfect. Now go, and I shall follow.”
Virgil bristled again on the inside. No one had spoken to him like that in a very, very long time and he had half a mind to simply clock this doctor in the jaw. But on the other hand, what did he mean by ‘saving the colony’? If there was truly some danger, then the doctor could be the colony’s only hope.
Resigning himself to acting meek for the good of the colony, Virgil acquiesced and led the doctor back toward the underground railway. If the doctor truly was the only hope for the colony, what did that mean? He was a doctor of xenobiology, which had to be similar in nature to astrobiology, which was the study of the potential for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, a word that everyone living on the Moon had heard at least once. Did that mean that there were aliens on the Moon, after all? Moon men? The very thought sounded ridiculous to Virgil, but yet here was this strange doctor who seemed so very sure of himself. The best way to find out more about it, he decided, was to do as the doctor said and help him in whatever ways he needed, despite his abrasive manner. After all, what were a few more sacrifices from someone who had already lost so much?
On the train ride to the mine, Virgil fidgeted. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, he spoke up once more. “Doctor Stewart, I don’t mean any disrespect, but this whole situation is rather, well, rather extraordinary. You said to the Governor that our colony needed to be saved, but saved from what?”
The doctor gave him a long, cold look. “You are simply one cog in a much larger machine. Cogs don’t ask what the machine does, they simply do their jobs. I suggest that you play your part well and not involve yourself any further, for your own sake.”
“Like I said, no disrespect intended, but you’re just a cog, too, doctor. ‘There’s always a bigger fish,’ as my mum used to say.”
“Are you trying to impress me with your idiot-savant proverbs and working-man wisdom? I required your assistance because you happened to be convenient to me. If you cease to be convenient, I’ll find someone else capable of performing the sort of simple tasks that a chimpanzee could do. It’s that simple.”
“You don’t even know my name, do you, doctor?”
“No, and I don’t care to in the least.”
Virgil sighed and made a mental note to avoid drawing the doctor into any more conversations.
A minute later they arrived at their destination and when the train capsule opened, the smell of ore filtered into Virgil’s lungs. They could use calcium oxide, or lime, to clean the carbon dioxide from the oxygen, but there was no way to overcome the smell of mining in the air.
Virgil led the doctor up from the station and toward the mine opening. The entire facility was enclosed in a dome, but the entrance to the mine itself had its own airlock. The mine was airtight and had a breathable atmosphere, but the airlock existed in case they happened to meet another cave that was exposed to the surface or the mine depressurized in some other way.
The mine was a busy anthill of activity, and it ran at full steam both day and night since it was the primary reason for Luna Colony’s existence. The miners used pneumatic drills and large digging machines, several of which were lying near the entrance of the mine because they were in need of repairs.
Virgil turned around to the doctor. “What do you need to accomplish here?”
“I need to go down into the mine. Take me there.”
“Wouldn’t you rather have one of the-“
“I didn’t ask anyone else, I asked you. Now go.”
He hadn’t asked at all, but Virgil refrained from pointing that out. Instead, he shrugged and made his way to the airlock. The two men picked up space suits from the rack near the entrance and began putting them on.
Catching sight of them, the day shift foreman approached them.
“What do you two think you’re doing?” he asked. He was a stocky man with what looked like a recently-broken nose.
The doctor pointed at Virgil. “You,” he said, then pointing at the foreman, “take care of him.”
Virgil shook his head with a wry smile. He was actually starting to get used to the doctor’s manner.
“My apologies, Mr. Foreman, sir. My name is Virgil Grissom, and my ward is Dr. Jack Stewart. He was sent here from Earth to deal with some sort of problem, apparently, and my understanding is that he has the Governor’s permission, or perhaps blessing, to do as he wills.”
“Oh, thank God,” the foreman said. “We’ve been waiting for someone to tell us what to do with it. By all means, you two go and do whatever you’d like.”
“With… it?” Virgil asked. “What is ‘it’?”
“I… I don’t rightly know. But I’ll tell you this,” he said, lowering his voice and leaning closer to Virgil, “it gives me the willies, it does. I’d just as soon bury the damned thing back up and be done with it. It’s just not… right, you know?”
“I don’t know, but I suspect that I soon will. Doctor?” he said, turning around to address Dr. Stewart. However, the doctor was gone. Virgil looked around quickly and saw him disappearing down the shaft of the mine. “I should go after him, I suppose.”
The foreman nodded. “Make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.”
Virgil finished putting his suit on and carried both his and the doctor’s helmets with him, since the doctor had simply left his lying on the floor.
The mine shaft was lit by lanterns and had canaries placed at regular intervals. Canaries were actually living all over the colony, since if there were a small air leak, the canaries would die more quickly than anyone else, giving the colonists the vital time necessary to save their own lives by putting their suits on.
Near the top, the shaft was dry and almost sandy, but as he went deeper and deeper, the shaft became moist and slick, making the footing treacherous. The only reason they had been able to found a colony on the Moon at all was because they had discovered ice under the Moon’s surface. Without water, there would be no feasible way to support a colony of several hundred people on another planet.
Occasionally, on the way down, he passed a miner who was headed to the surface, to whom he would wave and exchange a polite greeting. The floor sloped at only about 15 degrees, because they were limited by their ability to pull carts of ore back up to the surface. As he walked down, he saw that the tunnel diverged to the right, and that the miners were coming from that fork. He caught sight of the doctor’s form ahead of him down the left fork and hurried to catch up.
Suddenly he realized that there were no canaries down this fork of the mine, and he tightened his grip on the helmets. The doctor, however, had come to a stop up ahead of him.
“Extraordinary!” the doctor said.
He was standing in front of the end of the tunnel, staring at the wall in front of him. But the wall wasn’t simply a wall... It wasn’t the same kind of rock as the surrounding tunnel. In fact, it may not have been rock at all, and it was covered with delicate, intricate designs of a sort that Virgil had never seen before. There were swirls and whorls, making a pattern that hurt his head to look at.
“You,” Dr. Stewart said, turning to face Virgil, “where are we? What are we under right now, on the surface of the moon?”
Virgil thought about it for a minute, trying to figure out exactly where they were. “If I had to guess, I’d say that we’re below the double impact crater to the southwest of the colony.”
“Incredible,” the doctor said softly, turning back toward the wall, “exactly as I suspected!”
“Is it true, then? Is it… aliens, doctor?”
“Of course it is, you ass,” he snapped. “Does this look like the sort of thing that those miners could make? We have to excavate this immediately!”
“I don’t understand. How is this saving the colony? I’ve never been a particularly religious man, so finding proof of alien life is all well and good. But you made an awful fuss to get here, and this is just a rock, or something. It doesn’t look like it’s doing anyone any harm.”
“Are you familiar with what they call the Great Fire?” the doctor asked, softly.
“The big explosion at Newcastle and Gateshead in the 50’s? Everyone knows about that. Why?”
“You people only think you know about it. You see, I’ve seen these patterns before.”
“How is that possible?” Virgil asked.
“It was when I was a small child. I grew up in Newcastle, you know, and my father was a bobby, the first in a new line of law enforcement officers, in the very image of Sir Robert Peel. I only pieced together what had happened much later, but it inspired me to become the world’s first xenobiologist, a name that I coined myself.”
“What is a xenobiologist?”
“You know how the Earth has animals and humans, yes?”
“Astrobiology is the study of human-equivalent intelligences from other worlds. Xenobiology is the study of animals from other worlds. Intelligences are rational, and can be communicated with. We could trade with them, learn from them and both of our cultures could benefit. But that’s not what I do. I study monsters.”