“Happy Halloween!” Maggie called out as she entered on to the ship’s flight deck.
“You’re late,” Felix said. He turned from his station, jumpsuit half zipped, still sipping his coffee and saw Maggie wearing an over sized black sweater, over her jumpsuit, adorned with bright, almost glowing, orange lettering that read “Happy Halloween” arching over an equally bright orange jack-in-lantern.
“That’s hideous.” he said.
“Don’t be a sourpuss. It’s festive.” Maggie took her seat at the station opposite his and began running through the morning checklist. “Did last shift leave you alone?”
“I told them to go grab some sleep.”
“There’s supposed to be two people in here at all times.”
“I don’t know why. The autopilot could take us all the way to Mars orbit. I heard about a ship- ” he cut himself off and returned to his checklist.
“You heard about what ship?” Maggie asked.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Come on, you have the best stories. Please?”
Felix sighed knowing she wouldn’t let it him drop it. “Ok, this was about twenty years ago. A cargo ship, same class as this one, was making a cargo run from Earth to Mars. Phobos base was ten years old and Mars Colony One was seventeen years old so it was fairly well mapped at that point. This particular ship leaves Earth and half way to Mars it disappears.”
“What do you mean it disappeared?”
“Its transponder went silent and no one could raise the ship over radio. Now, you can’t just send out a search party when a ship goes missing in the black. So, they marked its last known position and wrote it off as lost. Three years later a ship enters Mars orbit. No transponder and the crew aren’t responding over the radio. It’s the missing ship. Phobos Base sends a shuttle to intercept it. They still can’t raise the crew so they preform a manual dock with one of the airlocks and go inside.”
“What did they find?” Maggie leaned closer to Felix.
“The ship was decompressed. Crew dead in their bunks.” Felix took sip of his coffee.
“All of them?”
“But how did the ship get to Mars with a dead crew?” Maggie asked.
“The autopilot brought it in.”
“But Earth to Mars is only five months and you said it was half way there when it disappeared. Why did it take three years for the ship to make it to Mars?”
“I heard there was some damage to the thrusters so it might have wandered off course on its way to Mars. I heard this story from a guy who heard it from a guy who knew the cousin of one of the shuttle crew or something like that.” Felix turned back to his station.
Before Maggie could continue questioning Felix about the story, the lift door behind them opened. Felix zipped his jumpsuit up to the neck before turning toward the newcomer.
“Good morning Captain,” he said.
“Good morning Felix. Good … Maggie what are you wearing?” the Captain said as she sat down at the forward station between the two crew members.
“Happy Halloween,” Maggie said meekly, while turning to show the front of her sweater.
The Captain pursed her lips and squinted before smiling, “Happy Halloween, Maggie.”
Maggie relaxed and turned back to her station. “A some of the crew are having a Halloween party. Nothing fancy, just drinks and Nancy said she had the fixing for s’mores and I have a bag of candy I’m going to give out. Also, we’re going to tell spooky stories. Are you going to come Captain?”
“I might swing by for a couple of s’mores,” the Captain said.
Felix harrumphed, “Makes no sense.”
“Is there a problem Felix?” the Captain asked.
“No, I just don’t see the point of celebrating Halloween when we’re off Earth.”
“It makes as much sense to celebrate Halloween in space as it does to call this the morning shift,” she replied.
“Morning is a real thing. I hate mornings,” he said and took another swig of his coffee. An alarm began to sound on at Felix’s station. He slapped the silence button. “Deck three is showing zero pressure.”
“Did something hit us?” the Captain asked.
“No, pressure went from one atmosphere to zero in less than a second. Might be a bad sensor,” he said.
“I can’t see deck three on the internal cameras. Light’s aren’t responding. It’s just black on the feeds. Exteriors look fine,” Maggie said.
“What about the other decks? Is the rest of the crew alright?” the Captain asked.
“I don’t see anyone in the common areas. They’re probably just in their rooms,” Maggie said flipping through camera views showing off the empty game room, tv room, and kitchen.
“I don’t like this,” the Captain said. She put on a communications headset, flipped a few switches and began speaking over the ship’s intercom, “This is the Captain speaking. All crew members report.” The three waited for a reply. After a minute, the Captain spoke again over intercom, “I repeat this is Captain Reyes. Anyone who can hear my voice respond.”
After a few minutes of no response the Captain said, “Someone needs to go down to deck three and find out what is going on and someone needs to check on the crew. Maggie, Felix; suit up. Felix will go to deck two and check on the crew. Maggie will go to deck three and get us a first person look at the problem.”
Several minutes later the two, wearing full pressure suits, entered the lift and went down to Deck Two. The doors opened on to the familiar hallway leading past crew member quarters to the common areas. Felix stepped out of the lift.
“Ok Captain I’m on deck two,” he said over the suit’s radio.
“Copy that. I see you on the cameras,” the Captain replied.
Felix switched to a private channel, “I’ll be down as soon as I check on the crew.”
“Why don’t we both check on the crew and then go down to deck three together?” Maggie asked.
Felix turned around to face Maggie. “Captain’s orders. I’ll be down right after you.” The door closed and the lift stared moving down again.
This time the doors opened on darkness. Maggie turned on the lights attached to her suit. Deck three was the first cargo hold level of the ship. Stacks of cargo boxes created hallways and side passages. There was air but her suit couldn’t tell her if it was safe to breath.
“Captain, I’m on deck three,” she said over the radio. She turned to the side of the lift and hit the manual light switch. Nothing happened, which she had expected. She opened up the access panel nearby and began looking for damage. The sensor relay was unplugged, an easy fix.
“Captain, I found an unplugged relay. Has that fixed the sensor problem?” she said over the radio again. There was no response. She switched channels. “Felix, I’m have trouble reaching the Captain. Can you read me?” Silence. “Captain do you red me?” Maggie waited for a minute and then went back to the lift. She hit the door button. Nothing happened. The lift hadn’t moved from deck three but the doors wouldn’t open. She pressed the button a couple more times.
“Ok, not a problem. I’ll just use the other lift,” she said to herself. The second lift was at the other end of the deck near the aft of the ship.
What should have been a straight march across the deck was actually a winding path through cargo pallets that had been placed for easy unloading rather than easy navigation. She turned and began walking through the stacks of cargo boxes. In the maze of cargo boxes, she was forced to walk in a zigzag pattern to make forward progress. Twice she found dead ends and had to double back but eventually she made to the other side of the cargo hold.
The lift was right in front of her now. She pressed the button and the doors opened. There was something squatting inside. It stood up, all black, humanoid, with long arms and tentacles hanging off every bit of it, and roared at her. Its face split open to reveal a maul of dagger teeth.
Maggie jumped back and screamed. The creature lunged at her, roaring again as it did so. She jumped back again and fell on her back. It stalked forward. She scrambled backwards until she hit a wall of boxes. It stood over her and roared again and again bringing its head right up to her faceplate. Maggie screamed again. The creature’s roars dissolved into chuckles and then full blown laughter. It reached under its neck and pulled its head up revealing Felix’s smiling face underneath.
“Trick or treat, Maggie,” he said. The lights snapped on as Felix stepped away from her and offered a hand to help her up.
“What is going on!?” Seeing Felix wasn’t wearing his suit anymore, she began the process of taking off her helmet.
“Just a little trick before the treats tonight,” Nancy said stepping out from the cargo boxes with a camera.
“You were filming me?” Maggie finished unsealing her helmet.
“Me and Nancy were,” a third crew member, Mark, stepped out of the cargo boxes also holding a camera, “You almost ran into me a couple of times in the stacks. You have a lousy sense of direction,” he said while still filming Maggie.
She pulled her helmet off. “But the sensors and the lights… You did all that?”
“George helped,” Felix said. It the light, his monster costume was not very impressive. A black tarp was tied around his body to mask his shape and pieces of black plastic tubing were taped on. The best part was the head which looked “realistic” and had a working mouth and voice changer.
“What is the Captain going to say?” Maggie asked.
Behind the pranksters, the lift doors opened and the Captain walked out. Everyone stopped talking and stood a little straighter as she walked behind the group. As she passed behind Felix, she lifted one of his “tentacles” and let it drop. She glanced around at everyone and said, “So, did you get it all on tape?”
“Are you ok with all of this?” Maggie asked.
The Captain smiled and said, “This was all of this was my idea. Happy Halloween.”