Life on Tyre station followed a very specific pattern: the scientists that manned the station woke up, collected the samples that the automated rovers dropped overnight, tested said samples, found nothing of interest, complained to each other about it, and then went to bed. Any deviation from routine was met with immense disapproval from the station’s residents.
It came as a shock to many when it word was leaked that one of the top scientists, Holden Graves, was whisked away in the night without a word. Holden was the stations leading biologist and was acting head of Project Phaethon, whose mission statement was to find life among the moons of Jupiter. It was long before the station was abuzz with rumors.
Alexander Howse never paid attention to rumors. He was there to find proof of life outside of Earth. Anything outside of that was a distraction.
“Alex, old buddy, you here about Holden?” Alexander’s fellow scientist, Jordan Pelios, held no such aversion to rumor mill.
“I heard he’s no longer on the station. Beyond that I haven’t heard anything.”
“C’mon now,” Jordan said. “I know you had to have heard something. You’re practically Holden’s number 2! I know you’ve gotta know something”
“I know nothing.” In the back of his mind, Alexander was praying that Jordan would pick up on his tone and leave him alone. He knew odds were low, but he could still hope.
“Well, if you’re not going to confess to knowing anything, I’ll at least tell you what I heard. The prevailing theory is that Graves actually found something, something big, and was carried off into the night to be debriefed before they let the whole system know.”
“What?! That’s impossible,” Alexander replied. While not official, Jordan wasn’t wrong when he said Alexander was functionally Holden’s second in command. The two of them had been out on the edge of space together for decades, and if one of them had found something they would have told the other.
“We live in a space ship that jumps from Jovian moon to Jovian moon and you want to talk about stuff being impossible? That’s a good one,” Jordan laughed at Alexander’s naivety.
know what I mean. There’s no way they could keep something like
that secret from the rest of us.”
“Technically, if he did find something, they didn’t keep it secret because that’s all everyone is talking about.”
“Whatever you say,” and with a dismissive waive, Alexander chose to end the conversation and went back to his work. Try as he might, the nagging thought that Jordan might be right wouldn’t leave Alexander’s head.
Over the next several days the rumor mill began to burst at the seams: Holden had discovered alien life, Holden had discovered advanced alien life, Holden discovered advanced alien life that originated from outside the solar system, Holden found proof that the various governments that sponsored their endeavour were actually using their research to develop some kind of biological super weapon. All of these rumors found their way back to Alexander despite his best efforts to stay out of him. His friendship with Holden made him the prime target for anyone looking to get more information. After a couple days of practically screaming at people to leave him alone, he had finally had enough, he decided to commit himself to finding out what happened to Holden.
Inquiries to the shipmaster were met with stoic glares. Despite his assurances that he was merely concerned for the safety of his friend, the individuals in charge of the expedition refused to comment. Despite his best efforts at getting them to understand that their silence was only adding fuel to the fires of speculation, he was forcibly removed from the command deck and told to stop asking questions.
Against his better judgment, Alexander decided to visit his old friend’s quarters. As he rounded the corner, he saw the door flanked by two guards. Without a pause, Alexander kept walking. Being manned by mostly scientists, it was odd for the guards to actually be utilized. The only time they ever saw any action was when someone occasionally had too much to drink and were needed to break up a drunken “fight”. Hackles raised, Alexander went straight to Jordan.
“I need you help,” Alexander said to Jordan, catching the latter by surprise.
he said pensively. “What do you need?”
“I need you to try and access Holden’s logs. Look for anything that might shed some clues as to what might have happened to him.”
“I thought you said it was impossible that Holden could have discovered anything,” Jordan replied with a smug tone.
“I don’t know what to believe right now. I just walked by his quarters and they had guards stationed outside.”
“Are you serious?” Jordan asked.
“Unfortunately. I don’t know if he discovered anything, but he definitely didn’t leave the ship of his own volition. We need to find out what happened to him.” Alexander gestured to Jordan’s computer in an attempt to have him get to work.
“Alright, I’ll help. If they can make him disappear in the middle of the night, God only knows what they could do to the rest of us.” With that, Jordan went to work. Being the computer system’s architect, Jordan had full access to all the ships the logs. This wasn’t the first time he had gone snooping, but he knew that if he got caught, this could be the last. After a couple hours of fruitless searching, he resigned himself with a heavy sigh.
“I hate to say it, but I got nothing.”
do you mean?”
“I mean,” Jordan sat up, “that there is zero trace of what happened to Holden. There isn’t even a record of a shuttle launch that would have carried him off the ship! One day he was here, and the next he wasn’t.”
“Well, what about his research logs?” Alexander couldn’t believe that his friend had just disappeared.
“All up to snuff and nothing special in them. The only thing out of the norm that I could find was a message between captain and someone back on Earth talking about Holden and something called the d’Anconia Protocol.”
“d’Anconia Protocol? What’s that supposed to be?” Howse thought he knew all the different governing protocol’s that outlined their mission, but he had never heard of this one.
“You’re about to find out,” a voice behind the pair said. They jumped and turned around to find the chief of security and several guards now standing in the room.
“Chief! How’s it going?” Jordan tried to remain calm but the tremor in his voice gave away his bluff.
“Do not try to be friendly with me Mr.Pelios. You and Mr.Howse are several worlds worth of trouble.”
“Look,” Alexander said, “we weren’t trying to cause trouble. No one could give us a straight answer as to what happened to Holden and we were just trying to make sure our friend was okay.”
“That’s the problem with you scientific types,” the chief said. “You ask too many questions and don’t know how to leave well enough alone. Mr.Graves was unable to accept the chain of command, he constantly questioned decisions made by the leaders of this expedition. In his mind, he felt he could take over the ship. Sedition is not something that’s generally looked upon very kindly.”
“So what does that have to do with us and this d’Anconia Protocol?” At this point Jordan was no longer able to keep the fear out of his voice.
“The d’Anconia Protocol is put into affect when elements of the crew feel the need to take the burden of leadership upon themselves,” the chief said. “If any crew member begins to stoke anti-governmental sentiments, calls for a general labor strike, or just gets too uppity overall, we make sure that person is no longer a member of the crew. Guards,” with a waive of the chief’s hand, the guards raised their weapons and fired.
Alexander awoke to find himself drifting in the void of space. Years of spacewalks kept him calm, but he could feel his heart rate rising. Directly in front of him, Jupiter was visibly growing.
see you’re awake,” the voice of the security chief crackled in
“What’s going on?! What did you do?” Panic overtook Alexander.
“I merely did what was within my rights to put down a potential rebellion before it even started. We know how much you science types enjoy the gas giants, so we decided if the time ever came, it would be a fitting end to send you into their embrace.” With those words the comm went silent.
Alexander Howse struggled against the inevitable. His suit had no thrusters, no way to alter course. He flailed wildly as the king of the solar system grew larger and larger. After a time he accepted his end and stared calmly into the swirling mists of the rapidly approaching planet. As he hit the outer edges of the atmosphere, he could feel the temperature of the suit increase. After less than sixty seconds, he was no more.