“Polaris, something’s not right here.”
Those words haunt me. They were the harbingers of something I could not have imagined at the time.
“What do you mean? What could possibly be wrong?”
“Well, we lost the cargo carrier.”
“Alright, well, screwups happen. We’ll just have the factory build another and send it to you via Sector 7.”
“No, I don’t mean that we borked it, I mean that it just disappeared.”
Of course, all of us at mission control thought he had lost his mind at the time. I wish we would have known then what we know now.
“Dammit Jake, put Mike on the radio. You’re not making any sense.”
“Sure, hold on a sec…”
“Yeah, this is Mike. He’s telling you the truth. We had our Animas out getting ready to unload the gear and we took a break for lunch. There’s a nice river about three minutes away, so we took off the helms while we went to check it out. Had a wonderful picnic by a small wonderfall, and I tell you it was just the prettie–”
“Damn it Mike, get back to the point.”
“Oh yeah, right, when we came back, everything was gone. It was the same clearing, but the frames and the cargo container were gone. The headsets were still sitting on the same big rock we left them at.”
That was when we knew. Mission control had a problem. Was it aliens? Did some giant beast just come by and swallow everything? We obviously haven’t fully explored this planet, so it was a possibility. It turns out that we were right, but we had no idea just how wrong it could be. We should have abandoned them both to the planet. They agreed.
“Well, come home then. Not much you can do without supplies.”
“10-4, on our way. Be there in thirty.”
And they were, they packed what little they could find, hopped in the ship and came home. A few days later, everything started to go wrong. People across the station were starting to find it very difficult to breathe, even though everything seemed okay. We had the doctors look at everyone who presented symptoms, which across the next few days lead to a hundred people being examined before they told us all that there was nothing physiologically wrong with us.
On day eight, Jake died. The autopsy report showed hypoxia as the cause of death. He had a history of sleep apnea and died overnight, so we didn’t think too much of it. It’s unfortunate, but certain medical conditions are dangerous.
On day nine, Mike died. The autopsy report showed hypoxia as the cause of death. He had no history of apnea, and died screaming in the middle of the night alone in his room. His neighbours heard it and tried to pry open his door, but it was locked. It took a while to get in using unconvential methods. That’s when we found him clutching his sheet in the corner of the room, eyes wide open. Of course, rumours spread quickly. We’re not military, we’re pretty much all civilians that just happened to get sent on a cruise. Order was difficult to uphold after this, to put it lightly.
Roughly three quarters of our population has been off station since this started. Most of the time, people prefer exploring the wide range of locales with the extensive gate grid that has been created. We radioed each and every group that was exploring through the grid that they were not to come back to Polaris until the situation was resolved.
That was six months ago. Things did not get better. Many people chose to leave the station, saying that if they were to die they wanted to do it on land under a bright sun. As people decided to go on, they evacuated back to the planet where Josh and Mike picked up this… bug, or whatever it is. We’ve turned the LZ into a leper colony. The skeleton crew that is left here on Polaris is tiny and growing smaller daily. We’ve tried increasing the O2 amounts, we’ve tried walking around in space suits, and nothing seems to be helping us breathe. We don’t know what’s causing this disease, but once a person decides it’s time to go to the planet we’ve decided to call Hansen, we don’t hear from them for long. There is no permanent colony there, people go there to die and the autopilot brings an empty ship back. I’ll probably be heading there soon, every day I wake up it takes so much more energy to draw breath.
Every day I wake up, I think back to the day Mike and Jake came back. What happened to that cargo container? What happened to those frames? Maybe I should go down to Hansen and look around, it’s getting really hard to breathe, and I am getting old…