Descent into Darkness

The Lunadyne Incident and Other Stories

Descent into Dark­ness is a fea­tured short sto­ry in the col­lec­tion The Luna­dyne Inci­dent and Oth­er Sto­ries by Torn MacAlester, a near future sci­ence fic­tion short sto­ry that is part of a col­lec­tion,  is now avail­able at


Excerpt from Descent into Darkness by Torn MacAlester

A New Mission

It took some time for Nils Carmike to process the shock of the events of the past month. Mon­day had been on the first. Not an unusu­al occur­rence since one sev­enth of all months begins on Mon­day. Though Mon­day the first draws spe­cial atten­tion as hav­ing both the start of the week and the start of the month activ­i­ties hap­pen­ing, as well as new projects tend to either start on the first day of the week or the first day of the month. Mon­day the first draws spe­cial atten­tion because of it. But this Mon­day the first didn’t mark a begin­ning for Nils. This Mon­day marked an end for Nils, as Cy Mac­In­turn­er dropped him from the Moon mis­sion. Cy’s deci­sion sent rip­ples into the sched­ule since Nil’s back­up end­ed up with the posi­tion, and Cy want­ed anoth­er six months added to the already sig­nif­i­cant sched­ule to retrain his crew and back­up. It meant only one thing: Nils was being pushed out of the agency.

By the end of the month, which was on a Tues­day, Moses Crane, Chief Astro­naut and one of the most expe­ri­enced astro­nauts remain­ing in the space agency after the reor­ga­ni­za­tion cre­at­ed by the Yel­low­stone dis­as­ter, grabbed Nils to become part of his crew. The des­ti­na­tion was the Moon. As a result, Nils and Mose were the talk of the space cen­ter. The Chief Astro­naut select­ed them for the third mis­sion to the Moon. Some­one had already dumped Nils from one mis­sion. To sud­den­ly have a reprieve gave Nils hope. The Moon was his.

“What’s the mis­sion, Mose?” Ask Nils.

“Sim­ple,” said the old­er Astro­naut. “Land at Shack­le­ton Rim. Extract an ice core from a PSR.”

“PSR?” Nils asked, then sud­den­ly remem­bered it was the short­hand for ‘per­ma­nent shad­owed region’, a loca­tion on the Moon that nev­er saw sun­light. It was a term that he’d not quite got­ten used to since he orig­i­nal­ly learned the term ‘dark crater’ to describe the same thing.

“You know what the PSR is, don’t you?” The old­er astro­naut asked.

“Oh, I do. I was think­ing about some­thing else when you first used the term.” Tak­ing an extrave­hic­u­lar activ­i­ty or EVA to the bot­tom of one had been on the list of activ­i­ties on the pre­vi­ous mis­sion that Nils had lost. It was a reprieve, in a sense. Los­ing the seat — but gain­ing the activ­i­ty seemed like a win for him. “How many EVAs? Or are we focused on the one task in the dark crater?”

“No, we’ve got three planned by the back room,” said Mose. “The sur­face exper­i­ment set­up, the PSR, and a geol­o­gy traverse.”

“Is the PSR sec­ond, or can we go after it first?”

“We can do as we wish,” said Mose. “I got the guar­an­tee from the Astro­naut Office before I agreed to take this mis­sion. What I say goes.”

“So that applies––”

“All across the board, includ­ing crew selection.”

Nils knew Mose had the expe­ri­ence and rep­u­ta­tion to pull it off too. He’d been an astro­naut for near­ly forty years. Nils admired the old-school approach dat­ed from the ear­li­est of the Shut­tle mis­sions and he’d flown in every class of vehi­cle the agency had been using since. When Cy Mac­In­turn­er want­ed to reor­ga­nize Moon flight three, Mose stepped for­ward at 71 and took com­mand of the mission.

“Are you sure you want me, Mose?” asked Nils, anx­ious because of the rep­ri­mand dur­ing his sup­port of a failed Moon mis­sion and the recent dis­missal from another.

“Yeah, Nils. You aren’t a rook­ie. You’ve flown to the space sta­tion a few times, and you’ve done your rota­tion as a back­up crew for a Moon mis­sion. Since you’ve stud­ied the PSR ice retrieval, you’ve got the skills that make you the only one qual­i­fied for this mis­sion. So, what part of ‘what I say goes’ didn’t you get?”

“Sor­ry boss, I got it.” Nils felt vin­di­cat­ed, though he was ner­vous. Mose was the best. Nils only hoped he could meet that level.

“Good. As of now, I want you to for­get that rep­ri­mand asso­ci­at­ed with your back­up stint—your mind needs to be on this mis­sion and noth­ing else. Now let’s get busy and plan a mission.”

“Yup. I’m all set, Mose.” The past would be a bur­den, but Nils did his best to push it aside.