tranquility4

– Part III –

Blackstone has always been the world’s foremost supplier of advanced weaponry to armies all over the globe. From powerful governments to guerilla factions – it didn’t matter. Blackstone was an equal opportunity arms dealer. The company built its fortune from the ground up, one bloody conflict at a time. And when it came to protecting its own corporate interests, the company was unmatched in the lengths it would go to ensure a hefty return for its shareholders.

Manufacturing their weapon systems required a steady supply of rare minerals that were getting increasingly scarce on Earth. So once the deposits in Siberia and East Asia began drying up, the company had to look elsewhere to feed their supply chain. Scientists have known for decades that Luna has a fair concentration of these same rare minerals locked away in its bedrock. And when the demand overwhelmed the dwindling supply on Earth, Blackstone Industries established the first mining operation on Luna, keeping the namesake of the original moon landing site.

While there’s technically no official government on Luna, it resides under the jurisdiction of a regulatory body known as the ILC – the International Lunar Consortium. This collection of representatives from various countries oversees affairs on Luna – including, but not limited to, land use regulation, occupational safety, and criminal law. In typical bureaucratic fashion, however, no ILC personnel are actually based on Luna.

A buzzer broke Harvey’s concentration as he pulled a fresh tee shirt over his head. He didn’t remember even getting out of the shower. He had been locked in thought since the conversation earlier that morning with the coroner. His body seemed to be on auto-pilot for the last several hours.

The buzzer chimed again.

“Are you decent?” came Gwen’s voice from the COM panel on the wall.

Harvey shook off the daze and walked over to the panel. He tapped the screen and spoke into it.

“Yeah, just hopped out of the shower,” he said.

“Well?” Gwen replied. “Are you going to let me in?”

Harvey turned from the panel to look around at the condition of his combination living room, dining area, kitchen and bedroom. Loose clothes covered virtually all of the seating and overflowed onto the floor in some spots.

“My pod’s in pretty rough shape right now,” Harvey said. “You’ve officially been forewarned.”

“Can’t be that bad,” she replied.

“Suit yourself,” he said as he tapped on the control panel.

A latch clicked and Harvey opened the door to his pod. Gwen strolled by him and stopped just inside the door and looked around at the messy space.

“Typical bachelor pad,” she remarked with a playful scoff.

“Thanks,” he replied sarcastically, as he cleared the clothes off one of his chairs. “Make yourself at home.”

Gwen took a seat and Harvey plopped down on the under-sized couch, not bothering to remove any of the clothes first.

“So is it just me, or has this not been the strangest day ever?” Gwen said.

“You’re telling me,” Harvey replied. “I can’t stop thinking about everything Nafal told us this morning. What do you think is going on here?”

“I honestly have no idea,” Gwen said. “I’ve been trying to run through scenarios in my head of any possible explanation for what we found. And how it got here in the first place.”

“I know,” Harvey replied. “I have too, and everything that I’ve considered sounds like something straight out of a science-fiction novel. I’m beginning to wonder if this is all just some elaborate hoax.”

“I highly doubt that,” Gwen said. “The advanced suit might could be reasonably explained.”

Gwen leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees, rubbing her temples in a circular motion with her fingers.

“But it being on a two-thousand-year-old body buried in some remote crevasse is what I can’t figure out,” she continued. “What do you think Blackstone is going to do?”

Harvey leaned back on the couch and propped a leg up on the equally under-sized coffee table.

“Hard to say, really,” he started. “I’d have a hard time believing that they actually report this to the ILC.”

Gwen looked up and met Harvey’s gaze.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“They’ve got too much at stake here,” he said. “If they report that body and the ILC decides to investigate, this place will be crawling with forensics before word even hits the news feeds.”

“You think they’d try to hide it?” Gwen asked incredulously.

“I wouldn’t put it past them,” Harvey replied. “Which is why I’m going straight back to Nafal’s lab as soon as possible.”

“Good,” she said. “Then I’m going with you.”

Gwen started to get up from her chair. Harvey started to do the same.

“I feel like we should probably get Roger involved,” she began. “If things get sticky, we’ll want somebody with the security team on our side.”

Harvey stopped as Gwen started for the door. She turned back when she realized he wasn’t following her.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked. “We can’t waste any more time.”

Harvey looked at Gwen. She returned the gaze, with an eager face.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Harvey said.

“And why the hell not?” Gwen replied.

“Because Roger can’t be trusted,” Harvey replied, without a moment’s hesitation.

“Of course we can trust him,” she began. “Look, Harvey, I know you don’t like Roger but now is not the time for some grudge. We have to –”

“It’s not that,” he replied, cutting her off.

“It’s –” he began, but stopped.

Gwen made her way back over to where she had been sitting.

“Harvey,” she said, a perplexed look on her face. “What the hell is going on?”

Harvey sat back down on the couch. He dropped his head and took a deep breath.

“Gwen,” he said. “I need to tell you something, and you’re not going to like it.”

Gwen slowly sat back down in the chair, keeping her eyes trained on Harvey.

“Harvey –” she began, before getting cut off.

“He’s cheating on you,” Harvey replied.

Her expression didn’t change. She just continued to stare at Harvey. They both sat there in silence for several moments. Then the look on her face shifted, no longer confused.

“Harvey, you’ve got some nerve,” she said with clear disdain. “It’s one thing to be jealous, but it takes an entirely different level of asshole to just accuse Roger of something like that.”

“Gwen,” Harvey said. “I’m not lying to you.”

“Well I don’t believe you, Harvey.” She replied. “I think you’re full of shit.”

Gwen shot up from her seat and turned back towards the door. Harvey rose quickly in response.

“Gwen, I swear,” he said. “It’s the truth. I caught him in the act.”

Gwen glared at Harvey.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“This morning,” he exclaimed. “When I stopped at the bathroom on our way to Nafal’s office. He was in there, Gwen. Fooling around with some woman.”

Gwen continued to stare down Harvey, but she didn’t have a response.

“Look, Gwen, this is the last thing that I wanted to have happen right now,” Harvey said. “To be honest, I didn’t even want to tell you. I knew it would just make things worse.”

Gwen’s stupor was shaken now.

“What?” she barked. “You’ve been sitting on this all day and you weren’t even going to tell me?”

“Gwen, I’m sorry,” Harvey replied. “With this whole body incident and the talk with Nafal, it’s been a blur since it all happened. I just didn’t want to complicate things, Gwen. Not right now. Not on top of all of this.”

“Well that’s a lame-ass excuse, Harvey,” Gwen replied. “I thought you had even a little more respect for me than that. I thought we were friends.”

“We are friends.” Harvey exclaimed, wincing inside at the categorization. “Which is why I didn’t want this to come between us. I didn’t want you to get hurt.”

“Yeah, well friends don’t keep something like this tucked away. No matter how much it hurts. You should have told me about it the second you saw me!”

Harvey lowered his head.

“I know, you’re right,” he said. “I should have.”

“You bet your ass I’m right!” Gwen replied in outburst. “Now, is there anything else you need to tell me?”

Harvey looked back up at Gwen.

“Actually, I do,” he replied.

Harvey paused for a moment, but knew exactly what he had to say. He didn’t even have to search for the words.

“Well?” she said.

“Gwen, I’m in love with you,” he said. “And you deserve better than that.”

Gwen stared back at Harvey in silence.

Harvey bent down and plucked a thin jacket from the layer of clothes on the couch cushions. He brushed by Gwen as he walked toward the door. Gwen turned, her eyes following him.

“I’ve got to go see Nafal,” Harvey said. “Before something happens to that body.”

The door to the coroner’s lab was wide open, but the lab itself was empty. Harvey glanced around the space, not sure what exactly he was looking for. He approached the wall of stainless steel cadaver drawers. One by one, he opened the airtight doors and peeked inside. Each one empty.

“It’s not here,” came a voice from behind, as Harvey shut the last door.

Harvey wheeled around to find Nafal standing on the opposite end of the lab, just inside the open entryway. The man looked defeated.

“What do you mean, it’s not here?” Harvey asked with urgency.

“It’s gone,” Nafal replied. “They took it.”

“They?” Harvey followed up.

“Four security guys,” Nafal replied. “Said they had direct orders from corporate to take possession of the artifact.”

“Son of a bitch,” Harvey snapped under his breathe. “They’re going to get rid of it.”

“Yes, most likely,” Nafal said. “Word gets out to the ILC and the entire Sea of Tranquility becomes an archaeological dig. Blackstone would lose everything here, have to start over somewhere else on Luna. And we both know they’re not going to let that happen.”

“I can’t believe this,” Harvey said. “We have to do something.”

Nafal walked several steps toward Harvey. He lowered his voice.

“I’m afraid my hands are tied,” Nafal said. “Chances are they’ve got taps on my computer and any communications linked to my user ID. Last thing they’d allow is a chance for me to blow the whistle.”

Harvey looked down at the floor, slowly shaking his head.

“I can’t let them do this,” Harvey said through gritted teeth, looking back up at Nafal. “That body is the key to something much bigger than you and I, bigger than all of us. It could change everything.”

Harvey began to push past Nafal, heading for the door.

“I know,” Nafal replied. “I might not be able to do anything about it –”

Nafal grabbed Harvey’s wrist forcefully, stopping him.

“– but you can.” Nafal said as he reached into the pocket of his lab coat with his other hand. He placed a small plastic bag and an even smaller data storage card into Harvey’s outstretched palm. He let go of Harvey’s wrist.

Harvey looked at the two items he was now holding. The plastic bag contained a short strip of material, roughly an inch long and half an inch wide. It took him a moment to realize exactly what it was.

“The suit-skin,” Harvey said softly. “This is the sample that you took from the body.”

Nafal was looking intently at Harvey.

“It is,” he replied. “And the data card has my entire report that I submitted to Blackstone. Photos, test results, everything. It’s all there.”

Harvey just stood there, unsure of what to say.

“When this gets out,” Harvey began. “They’re going to know it was you.”

Nafal gave the same slight smile that Harvey had detected in their conversation earlier that morning.

“Yes, they will,” Nafal replied. “But like you said, this changes everything. And to me, that’s an acceptable consequence for uncovering the truth.”

Harvey looked at Nafal, realizing this is probably the last time they will ever speak to each other.

“Thank you,” Harvey said.

He turned and walked out through the open doorway.

The incinerator room was located on the far side of the base, and even at a brisk walk, it took Harvey almost a full five minutes to reach it. He slowed his pace as he got closer, and rounded the corner of the final corridor. He stopped instantly when he caught view of the four security personnel at the far end of the hall. Two of them were standing on either side of the door to the incinerator room, and the other two were wheeling a gurney through the open door. He began to slowly walk toward the men as he felt the rush of adrenaline shoot into his veins.

As he got closer, one of the men standing guard at the door turned to see him approaching. It was then that Harvey could see that the man had an assault rifle slung over his shoulder. Harvey’s heart rate quickened.

“Hey,” the guard barked. “You’re in a restricted area. I suggest you turn around right now and head back the way you came.”

Harvey continued to press forward, closing the gap even more. When the guard saw this, he stopped and unslung the rifle from his shoulder and held it down at the ready.

“I can’t do that,” Harvey replied. “I know what you guys are doing down here and I can’t stand by and let that happen.”

Harvey stopped once he got within a few meters. The guard was standing square in the center of the hallway, both hands on the rifle.

“You’re interfering with official Blackstone operations,” the guard announced forcefully. “I’m authorized to place you under corporate arrest and detain your ass!”

Harvey continued to stare down the man, not moving from his position.

“Hand over that body,” Harvey said. “Or I’m reporting you and your entire department to the ILC. This is breaking the law and you know it.”

“I don’t give a shit what you threaten to do,” the guard replied. “My orders stand and I’ll be damned if I let you get in the way of that.”

Just as Harvey was about to reply, he felt something hard and swift connect with the base of his skull. He crumpled to the floor, almost knocked unconscious.

“Jesus Christ!” he heard the guard say, the voice distant and muddy. “What’d you do that for?”

Dazed, Harvey rolled over to his side and looked up at a tall figure looming over him. His vision was completely blurred and the figure appeared as triplets, each swimming in and out of sync with each other. After a few moments, his vision cleared enough to make out the face of the tall man. It was Roger.

“I told you not to fuck with me, Harvey,” Roger said with a sneer.

Just as the words registered with him, Roger sent the toe of his magnetic boot forcefully into Harvey’s gut. In an instant, all the air rushed out of his lungs and Harvey heaved in agony. He could feel himself fading, but he tried to fight it. It was too much though. Harvey slipped out of consciousness.

The shuttle was smaller than Harvey remembered. He recalled his initial trip to Luna, remembering how nervous he was. The prospect of living on a barren rock for six months at a time was unsettling to say the least. The most unsettling, perhaps, was the knowledge that the only thing that separated himself from the cold lifeless vacuum of space was a base that was hastily constructed, with safety systems that were largely untested. But none of that outweighed his excitement. The thrill of the adventure. And in the course of his two years on Luna, Tranquility base had become home. It felt like home. And now, it was all over.

The thirty-six hours spent in the infirmary after the run-in with security was strictly a formality. The minimum required observation period, to legally protect the company if he had an aneurism on the flight out, was all that Blackstone was willing to provide. Harvey prodded at the sore spot on the back of his skull. Luckily, the blow from the rifle butt hadn’t cracked it open, and only left a welt the size of a golf ball.

Harvey sat quietly in his seat, waiting for the shuttle to depart. Everything from his pod had been stuffed into three garbage bags while he lay in the infirmary. He hadn’t even been given a change of clothes, he still had on the tee shirt and thin jacket that he wore two days ago.

“You look rough,” Gwen said, standing in the passenger doorway of the shuttle.

Harvey looked up and couldn’t help but feel some relief.

“I’ve had better days,” he replied.

“I came to see you, you know,” Gwen said. “When you were in the infirmary.”

“I appreciate that,” Harvey said. “Wish I had been awake.”

“They told me you sustained a head injury,” Gwen replied. “Also said that you had been fired for insubordination.”

“I guess that’s one way to put it,” he said.

“I know what happened, Harvey,” Gwen said, as she walked over and took a seat next to Harvey. “I confronted Roger.”

“And?” Harvey replied.

“Said that you attacked the security team,” she replied. “So they had to neutralize the threat.”

Harvey gave a derisive snort under his breath.

“I know that’s not the truth, Harvey,” she said. “He lied about everything. The confrontation with you, the woman in the bathroom, he lied about it all.”

Harvey looked at Gwen with a soft expression.

“I’m so sorry, Gwen,” he replied.

“Don’t be,” she said. “You were just trying to protect me.”

“You would have done the same for me,” he said.

“You know,” she began, “I’ve thought a lot about what you said the other day. About you loving me.”

“Gwen, I –” he started.

“Shut up, Harvey,” she said playfully, cutting him off. “The truth is, I’ve always known that. For as long as we’ve been friends.”

“Was it that obvious?” he replied with a chuckle.

“Maybe a little,” she said with a smile. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Gwen reached over and took Harvey’s hand.

“I’m leaving too,” she said.

Harvey furled his brow. “What?” he replied, “Why?”

“I can’t work for Blackstone anymore, it just doesn’t seem right,” she replied. “After everything they’ve done to hide the truth about the body. After they fired you to protect their own interests. I just can’t do it.”

“But,” Harvey said. “This is your entire life, everything that you’ve worked for.”

“And it all means absolutely nothing, knowing what I know now,” Gwen replied.

“So what are you going to do?” he asked. “You’re just going to start over?”

“I don’t really care about any of that right now,” she said. “The only thing I’m interested in is finding out the truth about that body.”

Harvey continued to stare into Gwen’s eyes, in disbelief that she would be willing to give up everything she had. This is why he cared about her so much. He was ready to lean in and kiss her, when he remembered the contents of his jacket pocket. He took his free hand and retrieved the two items and held them in his open palm, showing them to Gwen. Her eyes went wide.

“Is that what I think it is?” she said.

“It sure is,” Harvey replied with a smile. “All of Nafal’s findings too.”

“I don’t believe it,” she said.

“You want to find out the truth?” Harvey asked. “What do you say we find out together?”

Gwen just stared at the two items in Harvey’s hand for several moments, then she looked up at him with a smirk.

“Under one condition,” she said. “You reconsider that offer for dinner.”

Harvey looked down and smiled, a warmth radiating outward from his chest, spreading over his entire body. He looked back up at Gwen.

“I think I can work with those terms,” he replied with a smile.

 —

T R A N Q U I L I T Y

A SHORT STORY BY MICHAEL SCOTT ALDEN