Open the Airlock

The surface of the moon was a dull, dusty gray, but the view from the lander window was still the most beautiful thing I had seen in my life.  The earth shone brightly in the distance on a canvas of pure black, surrounded by legions of stars.  I and my four other crewmates had just landed on the moon’s surface a few hours ago, cementing ourselves in the history books alongside only twelve others who had witnessed the same majesty in person.

“Crazy, isn’t it?” a voice asked from behind me.  I turned, knowing well the voice of the man whom I had worked closely with for the past two years in preparation for this mission.  It was Andrew Ratcliffe, the crew’s geological specialist.

“I can hardly believe it,” I said breathlessly.  “I’m looking at it with my own eyes, and even still I can’t believe we’re here.”

“Decades of staring up here wondering what it looks like will do that,” another voice chimed in - this one belonging to Diana Figueroa, our mechanical engineer.  “Doesn’t seem real.”

The other two members of the crew - Noah Thornton, our medical specialist, and Amelia Shah, our Commander and pilot - were still working on donning their spacesuits, but I was certain they shared the same sentiment.

With all of the post-landing checks complete, the crew was preparing to set off on the first lunar exploration since 1972.  The commander had asked me to stay behind and follow protocol of having one person in the lunar lander at all times - I’d reluctantly agreed.

Having secured her helmet, I heard Commander Shah’s voice come in from one of the speakers on the control panel in front of me.  “Testing comms. Test. Test.  Can you hear me?”

I nodded and gave her a thumbs up.

The others responded with their confirmation, each voice coming through the radio on the panel - clear as a bell.

I pressed the mic button and spoke.  “Loud and clear.  Can you hear me?”

Again they all responded in the affirmative.

“For this first outing, it only seems fitting that we visit Taurus-Littrow and pay our respects to the flag erected by our predecessors.” Commander Shah said through her radio.  “The valley isn’t far, especially if we take the rover, so overall I think we can plan on a modest three-hour tour.  Agreed?”

Everyone agreed.

“We’ve got enough oxygen for an eight-hour expedition, so there shouldn’t be any concern there.  If we run into trouble, Bellamy will manage comms and visuals fed in from the rover and will be able to assist us from the lander.”

“Just don’t be gone for too long,” I said.  “I can’t wait to get out there and it’s gonna kill me to watch you all having fun.”

“Don’t worry, Cinderella,” Noah said.  “You’ll get to the ball.”

“Yeah, Noah knows all about getting to balls,” Drew quipped, earning himself a stern response from Commander Shah, although I thought I could see a faint smile on her face through the reflective glass of her helmet.

We said our goodbyes and I watched from the window as my four crewmates piled into the LRV and drove off into the distance.

The LRV was equipped with several cameras, all of which ran a constant feed into a series of monitors at the control panel.  With that and with the radio communication, it was almost like I was there with them.  I wasn’t suited up myself, sure, but it was just enough to satiate the excitement I’d felt growing in my stomach from the moment we’d left earth.

I watched as the crew approached the valley where the last lunar crew had planted their flag in 1972, and as our crew assembled and planted their own.  My heart broke a little as I watched this all take place, wishing desperately that I could have been there, but I knew that someone would have to stay back had I gone, and I wanted that for my colleagues - my friends - as little as I wanted it for myself.  It was enough just to be where I was.

After about two hours had passed, Commander Shah started to shut down the party.  “Alright everyone, finish collecting your samples and taking measurements and let’s get back to the lander.  We promised Bellamy that we’d…”

Her voice trailed off.

“Did any of you just see that?”

Normally I would have expected a poorly-timed joke from Drew or Noah, but the sudden sharp tone in the Commander’s voice was so off-putting that I knew at once something was wrong.

“Noah?” Commander Shah said in a tone I liked less than her first question.  Was that concern in her voice?

“What’s going on?” I asked into the mic.

Silence answered.

“Commander?  Do you copy?”


I looked over at the video feed and saw someone - I couldn’t distinguish who, walking past one of the cameras, then every single feed went black.

“Guys what’s going on?” I asked urgently.  “Amelia, Noah, Diana, Drew, can any of you hear me?”


“I’ve lost comms and visuals.  Repeat.  I have lost comms and visuals - I’m totally blind over here.  If you can hear me, return to the lander at once.”


On the screens in front of me, white text flashed reading “SIGNAL LOST.”

The silence I was then plunged into was so total, so isolating, that it sucked the air from my lungs and threatened to suffocate me.

For a moment, I teetered on the edge of sanity, and then it was gone.

I sprang into action, immediately running troubleshooting processes and reboot protocols.  If both the signal from the rover and the comms were down, that was more likely to be an issue with the lander than it was with the team.  And if it was an issue with the lander, it was something I could fix.

I spent the next hour running diagnostics and trying everything to get comms back, all while repeating my message into the mic, hoping that the team would return sooner than planned.

As their arrival time approached, I found myself looking out the window several times a minute, anxious for my comrades to return and assist me with this growing catastrophe.

The next hour passed with terrifying speed as I spent more and more time staring at the horizon, praying desperately to see movement.  

Still nothing happened.  

Nobody came.  

Nothing moved.

Where the hell were they?  Being late was unlike Amelia.  Being an hour late was downright impossible.

Unless something happened to them.

I took a deep breath.  Nothing happened to them.  What could possibly happen?  They were the smartest people I’d ever known - the likelihood of them getting into trouble was impossible unless there was something outside of their control, and there were very few things outside of their control.

I ran through the reboot protocols again for the communications systems, not expecting anything to work, but wanting something to help pass the time.

Another hour passed, and still no communication from the team and no sign of anything along the horizon.  I did everything I could to focus on the problem with the comms instead of trying to speculate why they were so late.  There was very little I could do until I either made contact with them, or they came back to the lander.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that the only way the signal to the lander could be down was if there was physical damage to the antenna, because not only was I unable to receive messages from the crew, I also couldn’t make contact with NASA or the ISS.  In order to fix that, I would have to climb to the top of the lander and investigate it for myself.

I donned my suit, feeling only a twinge of excitement as I did so, because while I was about to fulfill a lifelong dream, it was not remotely lost on me how utterly desperate my situation was fast becoming.

When I stepped outside the lander, I was, for a moment, twelve  years old again, lying on the grass in my backyard, listening to the crickets chirp and staring up at the big white rock in the sky, promising myself that I would touch that rock one day.

It was a perfect moment - one of the very few each of us are allotted in a lifetime - and just as quickly as it came, it was over, and I was climbing up the ladder to inspect the antenna at the top of the lander.

Had I been further away, I would have been able to easily see that the antenna was broken, but because I hadn’t stepped far enough away from the lander, I didn’t make that discovery until I was nearly at the top.

The antenna and dish were misshapen and bent, and, upon closer inspection, I saw a series of small cracks and scratches around some of the narrower parts.

Had I not known better, I would have guessed it had somehow been damaged during landing, however that was impossible because the antenna hadn’t fully deployed until after we were safely on the moon’s surface.

I did what I could, which was admittedly little considering the state of disrepair the antenna was in, and returned to the lander.

I was able to get a few garbled sound bites, which was better than what I had been getting, but nothing that I could count as distinguishable communication.

I was just about to take my suit off when I heard it.

Coming through the radio in my helmet was the faint, staticky voice of Commander Shah.

I felt stupid for not thinking about it, but didn’t chide myself too badly because given the distance the crew was from the lander it likely wouldn't have worked until now anyway, but the suits were all outfitted with their own radio networks so they could communicate with one another without having to bounce signals off of the lander.

I nearly screamed in delight and relief when I heard hear voice.

“Do…. inside… repeat…”

“Amelia, I can hear you, but the signal is bad.  Where are you?”

“Inside…. Bellamy…”

“Amelia, what's your location? I’ll come get you.”

“No… I’m coming… are… inside.  Stay inside.”  Her voice was coming over more clearly now.

“I’m inside the lander,” I said. 

“Good.  Do not… enter the… er.”

“I can almost read you,” I said.  “Try again.”

“Do not let anyone enter the lander.”

I frowned.  I heard what she’d said, but that didn’t make sense.  “Do not let anyone in the lander?  Why?”

I looked outside the window then, and far off in the distance I could make out a shape, presumably Amelia, hurrying toward the lander.

Her voice was clearly out of breath when she spoke again.  “You cannot let anyone inside.  The team is contaminated.  Unless we can purge the contaminant, nobody can enter the lander.”

I looked at the clock and did some quick math.  “Amelia, where are the others?  There’s no way any of you have much oxygen left - ten minutes, maybe fifteen or twenty max.  I can come out and bring you-”

“No,” she said sternly. “Do not come out here.  The others are coming, but I think they’ve all been exposed.”

“Exposed to what?”

“Something got into Noah’s suit,” the commander said, breathing heavily now.  “I…. I saw it in his face mask back in the valley.”

“Something got into his mask?” I asked, struggling to believe what she was telling me.  “Are you talking about an extraterrestrial life form?”

“I don’t know,” she said.  By this point she had stopped a few yards away from the lander and took a moment to catch her breath.  “Maybe.  Probably.  That’s the only explanation I can think of.  I saw it moving around in Noah’s mask, then I thought I felt something in my suit too.  I tried to get it off - I could feel these little pins and needles moving around my body, like the tiny needlepoint legs of an insect.  I panicked and stumbled into a crater - smashed myself up pretty good and blacked out for a second I think.  

“When I came to, I noticed a small tear in my suit.  I patched it up with tape, but I can’t be sure if the tear was there before or after I fell into the crater.  I think that’s how whatever it is got in, but-”

The commander was cut off by other voices then, choppy and indiscernible at first, but soon I could confirm them to be the other three members of the crew.

“Thank God,” I said into the mic.  “I’m picking up your signals now - Diana, Drew, Noah, I read you.”

“Bellamy, listen” the commander said desperately, but Diana’s voice cut her off.

“We lost communication, then the commander fell down into a crater.  We think she may be concussed, because when she came around, she was experiencing disorientation and paranoia.

I looked down at the camera that was positioned toward the front of the lander where Commander Shah was now sitting. She stared up at the camera and shook her head slowly.

“We need to get her inside so we can take a look at her,” Noah said.  “Open the airlock and we’ll get her taken care of.”

“She said you’d been contaminated,” I said, feeling my pulse quicken with every passing moment.  This was not the time to mince words because if I didn’t let them in soon my colleagues would suffocate.  “How were you contaminated?”

“She’s concussed,” Drew said.  “There’s nothing but rocks and dust up here.  There’s nothing here to contaminate us.”

“She said she saw something in Noah’s suit,” I pressed.

“Bellamy,” the commander said, gasping now with every word she spoke.  “Listen… to…. me….”

I stared at the monitor, feeling the weight of the decision before me pressing down into my chest.  At the rate Amelia was gasping for air, she had minutes left at best.  She had probably used more oxygen to rush to the lander before the others, but even still I doubted they were far behind her.

“Where’s the rover?” I asked, voicing one of several questions that were rapidly firing into my brain.  “Why didn’t you drive it here?”

Noah and Amelia answered at the same time.  Noah’s explanation had been that the rover lost power, Amelia’s had been a single word: escape.

The others had reached the lander now and were banging on the side of the airlock.  “Bellamy, open the door!” they yelled desperately.

“I need to understand the contaminant,” I pressed.  “Noah, what was in your suit?”

“Nothing was in his suit,” Andrew fired back angrily.  “She’s sick and if you don’t let us in she’s going to die.”

Amelia was on her side and I could hear a rattle in her throat with every labored breath and word she spoke.  “This is… Ameliah Shah… final transmission…"

Over the commander’s final words, the crew continued banging on the side of the lander, screaming at me to let them in so they could save her.

“God dammit Bellamy, open this door!”

My stomach twisted in knots with the decision I was faced with - to save the lives of my fellow crewmates and risk contamination of myself and possibly of earth, or to keep them locked out and let them die of asphyxiation.

Kill them all and save my own life, or save them all now and condemn myself along with them.

I nearly did it.  

I nearly opened the airlock to let them in.  I nearly saved Amelia’s life and, in doing so, killed us all.

What stopped me was a realization I hadn’t come to until I’d given myself a moment to think.

The airlock could be opened from the outside.  Of course it could - I’d done it myself just a short time ago.

So why weren’t they opening it for themselves?  And why was Amelia the only one gasping for breath?

My decision was made - the airlock would remain closed, and I would condemn my friends to death.

The minutes fell away like the tears on my cheeks as I mourned the loss of my dear friend and commander while the sounds of fists beat against the side of the lander.  This carried on for an hour or so, maybe longer, and still none of them gasped for breath even once.

I went on about cycling through the reboot protocols again, something I hadn’t done since I’d repaired the antenna.  I hadn’t expected any results - it was simply something to do to keep my mind occupied away from the incessant sound of the banging at the door - so I was surprised when I picked up a series of grainy images of the video feed from the rover.

The images weren’t great given the poor signal, but I was able to make out all the detail I needed - the bodies of Diana Figueroa, Andrew Ratcliffe, and Noah Thornton.  Diana was draped over the front seat of the rover, Andrew was leaning against a rock about ten yards away, the glass of his helmet smashed, and Noah was lying face-down in the dust, half of his body hanging over the edge of a crater.

In the distance I could just barely make out another trio of what looked like bodies that bore a striking resemblance to the space suits worn by the last men that had walked across the same ground just over fifty years ago.  Men that I had read about, seen videos of, idolized. 

Perhaps one of whom had heeded the calls of his other crewmates and opened the door.


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