The gate clicked open.
This is chapter 1 of Celeste Rising, a SciFi pirate yarn. Have fun!
They stepped out of the hatch, slowly, carefully, floating to the ground in their heavy suits, like paper aeroplanes or fairground balloons. The comet's surface was stone covered by a thick layer of dirty brown ice. Soon it would begin to melt as Celeste moved closer to the sun, flaking away, a kilometres-long trail of dirt following the stony core as it hurtled towards the distant star, then around it, and then out of the solar system again, not to be seen for another eighty years.
There wasn't much dust. The rock was too small for its gravity to hold on to small particles, and whatever might have been lying around was still frozen under their feet.
The old bunker was just a few metres from their landing spot. It was a low building built with plastic bricks that had been shipped here on army container ships. The same green bricks the military used for all its temporary structures: space Lego. It was the fastest way to build something at any spot in the solar system. The bricks could easily be carried even by one person, even in a spacesuit. They locked snugly together, and a bit of glue kept the structure airtight. The traditional problems of plastics here became advantages: the bricks were indestructible. They'd last for centuries in the heat or cold of space without ever decomposing, without cracking, until one day they were taken apart and shipped to some other place.
Not these, Luigi thought. These would never leave Celeste.
He looked at his Geiger counter. Nothing. I knew it! He couldn't suppress a feeling of triumph. It had all been a lie: the nuclear accident, the melted core inside the bunker. The military had built and then abandoned this bunker eighty years ago, when the comet had last flown by. On the navcharts, the comet had been marked a radioactive hazard. None of the soldiers who'd built this bunker had come back alive. And then the story had been forgotten. Almost.
Forgotten stories were Luigi's speciality. He heard the heavy breathing of the small man in his headset. Carruthers! He couldn't stand the gnome, and Carruthers had left no doubt that he felt the same towards Luigi. It didn't matter. Carruthers's people had the money, and Luigi would play along. If they came out of this one alive, he'd never have to work again.
He took a few more steps towards the structure. If we ever go extinct, he thought, this is what we'll leave behind: a handful of bright green toy bricks.
"There's a door here." Carruthers’s high voice piped up inside his helmet. "There's a lock. Numbers."
Ah. Numbers. Luigi smiled. That one had cost him years of research. In the end, he’d got his reward at the deathbed of the old man who'd piloted one of the shuttles eighty years ago. With the help of some memory pills from Dione's labs, an EEG visualiser and a hypnowave generator -- smuggling that thing into the hospital had cost him three days in preparation and quite a number of saturnians for bribes — he had extracted a sequence of numbers from the brain of the dying man. He hoped that it would work.
He approached the locked, fortified door. Radiation signs all over, warnings. A camera that wasn’t likely to record much after eight decades in interstellar space. The keypad was still there, made of the same indestructible plastic stuff the military used all over the solar system.
No need to look the numbers up. He had memorised them better than his first childhood address. On his own deathbed, he was certain, he would still be able to recite this sequence, long after he had forgotten his own name.
His fingers moved slowly, deliberately, over the keys. Carruthers gasped. The gate clicked open, revealing a sliver of dark emptiness inside.
Go. Don't be shy. Give it a push.
Luigi held his breath and peered into the darkness.
"Holy God," he said.
When the next chapter has been published, it will he here.
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See you again next Wednesday for the next chapter! If this seems too long, you can buy the whole story as a book on Amazon: