Looking down into the top of the pool through the clear cover, all that could be discerned is that first, the pool was deep, and second, there were formless blobs of darker blue moving a long way down. A number of large cables ran from various pieces of equipment in the room, some substantial-looking, across the concrete and down into the water, six on one side and ten or twelve on the other, some large, some small. Two large cables came from openings in the ceiling high up and ran straight down into the water.
Through the infrared camera in the control room upstairs, it was apparent that a significant amount of powered equipment was arranged on the floor of the pool, mounted on the sides of the pool at various heights, and also on a pedestal in the approximate center of the pool’s floor odd shape. Among and around the equipment, and above it, writhed snakelike figures about the size of a human being, but longer. They lacked legs completely, but had arm-like appendages in front, with which they manipulated the equipment.
On a raised platform in the back of the control room, two uniformed men looked at one of the infrared monitors. “Are you sure this is going to work?”
The one closest to the screen turned. “No. I told you, there’s no guarantees.”
The first man stood up and turned his gaze to the large monitor at the front of the room, looking for the readouts concerning Lunar Habitat 3831 and the forty-five humans trapped inside it, using up the limited oxygen by the minute. “‘No guarantees,’ he says. We let these creatures come down here and ‘no guarantees,’ he says.”
There were a number of uniformed men and women on the floor under the raised section where Ted Solano and Mark Strasser were watching the Europans in their pool. One of them, younger, turned to catch Ted’s eye. “Colonel?” Ted nodded. “Sir, we’ve got a report from Hab 8 that there’s some interference on the local channel up there–”
As the technician was speaking, Mark called Ted’s name. Ted turned, eyebrows arched. “I think they’ve got it going,” Mark said.
The voice from the floor spoke. “Colonel, lost comm on Hab 31.”
Ted moved back around so he could see the monitor. The image showed that the Europans had formed a circle with their bodies and were swimming around and around just above the central pedestal on the pool floor. “How’s the speaker doing?” Ted asked.
Mark clicked a switch on his panel and an adjacent monitor flickered. The image stabilized to show the view of an underwater camera. A young woman’s naked body, young and muscular, filled the screen; she was treading water with her head, which could not be seen, above the shimmering surface. Her movements were graceful and efficient. Mark pressed a panel. “Lieutenant?”
“Yes, sir?” the woman responded, breathing lightly around her words.
“They’re circulating.” Mark said.
“No word yet, sir,” the woman responded. She stopped moving her body and sank under the water, her chestnut hair forming a halo around her head as she remained still and slowly sank.
“You’ll try contact?”
The woman’s eyes were closed, but she nodded. A moment or two went by and the woman continued to sink slowly, still in the water. Just as the top of her halo of hair was moving out of the camera range, she kicked and rose, surfacing, and the view on the monitor changed to a camera that was mounted on the edge of the pool so that the woman’s head and hair, now plastered around her face, was now visible. “Okay, they’ve got them slowed to 40 percent and still dropping,” she said. “They’ll hit the target in a couple of minutes.”
Mark turned to Ted. “So let me get this straight,” Ted said. “The Europans have slowed time down in Hab 31.”
“That’s correct,” Mark said. “We won’t be able to communicate with them while they’re out of sync, but their resources will last longer now.”
Ted looked out on the floor and barked. “Transport! Where are we at?”
A woman sitting at one of the workstations on the floor called over her shoulder. “Eleven hours, forty-one minutes, sir.”
“It’s right on schedule, Ted,” Mark said. “We’ll even have a little bit to spare.”
“You’ve checked the math on this?”
“No,” Mark responded. “I couldn’t if I wanted to and I don’t want to.”
“Sir, we’ve got some contact re-established with 31,” a voice said from the floor. “Video on seven, no audio.”
Mark, still seated at the monitor, moved a control on his panel and the view changed to a grainy black-and-white video feed. The camera was apparently mounted up high, where two walls and the ceiling meet in a corner, and it looked down on one of the rooms of the habitat. Ted recognized it as Storage B; Mark did not. The view showed a variety of closed storage containers lining the walls, some boxes stacked haphazardly in the approximate center of the room, and what looked like packing materials strewn here and there. There was a figure in the camera’s view, a man, about 50 years old, wearing station uniform, a lightweight jumpsuit with a service insignia patch on the left breast and a name tape on the other side. The tape was illegible, but Ted recognized the man. “That’s Hadrickson,” he said.
“Don’t know him,” Mark responded.
“What the hell is wrong with him?” Ted asked. Then, he called to the floor. “This isn’t live, is it?”
“Yes sir, it’s live.”
Hadrickson appeared to be moving across the room, but his movements were absurdly slow. He was in midstride, his left leg raised and slowly moving forward as his weight similarly moved forward. “What are they down to?” Ted asked.
Mark looked up at a large display on the wall of the control room. “Twenty-two percent and dropping,” he said.
Then as the two of them were watching, Hadrickson’s actions assumed normal speed, and the audio suddenly came on. “…find the second medpack and get the oh-two out of it.” Hadrickson finished his sentence; apparently he was speaking to someone ahead of him, out of camera view.
“What the hell?” Mark said. He moved his hand and the monitor view shifted to the pool, where the Europans were now floating on the surface of the pool. “What the hell?!” Mark said louder.
As Ted opened his mouth to ask for status of the Europans, several voices from the floor shouted at once. The officer who had given the report about interference said “Problem here, sir! The Europans have stopped–” The officer who had given the transport ship statue said, “Sir! The speaker’s in trouble!”
Mark responded to the ‘speaker in trouble’ report by clicking the view on his monitor over to the young woman in the pool who could communicate with the Europans–she was lying face down in the water, just below the surface. Ted had activated a second monitor to view the Europans, who were in a similar condition in their own pool.
“Code Orange, Code Orange,” Ted shouted. The lights in the room immediately turned from bright white to a dull red; mechanisms in the doors turned to lock present personnel in, and a series of sophisticated filters and seals activated to trap whatever potential contamination from the Europans or any other source and keep it in the building.