Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
I don’t work for NASA. I’m a lowly office tech at a company affiliated with NASA. We store data off-site mostly concerning their many, secret unmanned missions to the moon, including the countless ones that took place in between the Apollo launches. There are regular landings, even today. As you can imagine, we’re not on the books. Still, we are a necessary facet of the space administration’s delicate infrastructure.
Now that you’re up to speed with where I work, I can tell you about the room. Room 371 to be precise; the overseer’s office.
It always had an air of mystery about it. I, and other staff members, had been inside before; tasked with leaving behind flash drives filled with sensitive information for the overseer to upload to our database. You see, the sole computer in that room is an offline archive containing almost every one of NASA’s dirty little secrets. Stuff that we can’t risk getting out in the event of a data breach. If anyone were to hack our online mainframe, they would only find decoy files – outlying pieces of data that have already been in the public’s eye.
Most of the information I dealt with amounted to mundane statistical analyses. The real interesting, controversial stuff was sent directly to the overseer, bypassing the prying eyes of entry-level employment.
That brings us to yesterday.
It was a normal drop-off assignment. Bring the flash-drive to Room 371, leave it on the desk, and shut the door on your way out. I had done it countless times before. This time, however, was a little different. After placing the drive on the desk, I noticed a faint glow on the wall behind it. The computer was on. This was strange. It was always shut down by the overseer after a data dump. The only times I had ever seen it turned on were days when he was in there, still working.
I admit, my curiosity got the better of me.
With a slight spike in adrenaline, I walked around the desk and sat at the chair, ready to take back at least one mystery to the hive-mind on the main floor.
The convenience in this moment cannot be understated. I later discovered that the overseer was sick and had rushed to the bathroom, where he remained for at least forty minutes. Not only was the computer on, but it was unlocked. Even our personal workstations required a series of passwords that changed, daily. Passwords we had to spend the first ten minutes of any given work day decrypting. This was the one and only chance I had to placate my curiosity and dig for the buried treasures of NASA. I knew there just had to be something in the confines of our database that would elicit a gasp or mouth drop. Something I would remember for the rest of my years.
In settling in at the desk, my heart pounding at the thought of the overseer’s return, I noticed the computer was calibrated just like the rest of our PCs. Because of this, I knew just what folders to open and what digital stones to turn on my hunt for secrets. Most files were your run-of-the-mill storage vessels; data pertaining to the boring truths of the trade; statistics and physics predictions. After a few minutes of searching, I almost called it quits, but one document caught my eye. It was titled Project Burial at Sea. This was what I wanted. A classified NASA project, never before released to the public.
In this moment, secrets were revealed to me. Ones I soon wished I had never unearthed.
As is common with these types of documents, the jargon was very straight-forward and low on description. As such, I had to piece together bits of information to form a clear picture of the proposal and subsequent missions that apparently started at the turn of our current century. What I discovered did indeed elicit a gasp. It also made my skin crawl.
Project Burial at Sea was, ironically enough, a fail-safe against information leaks. It implemented the pre-existing infrastructure of NASA’s unmanned missions to dispose of “cracks” in the system. That is, individuals likely to come clean about privileged information.
Yes, you heard right. Individuals. NASA was killing off would-be whistle blowers to protect their assets.
The initial proposal called for sending the bodies into deep space, but too many unknown variables presented themselves. If even one probe was knocked back to earth by an asteroid or unforeseen space event, the entire operation would be done for; especially if it landed in enemy territory. At that point, another country could use it to blackmail our government for aid and financial gain. Burying the bodies on the moon prevented this, and eliminated all potential evidence tying anyone to the crime. The people who vanished made up a very small portion of NASA, so the ratio of missing persons in relation to their workforce was barely disrupted, deflecting any potential suspicion.
After a rigorous sterilization procedure, the bodies are stuffed into the hollow spaces of the previously unmanned probes. Once they reach the lunar surface, they are collected by rovers (of which there are many more than you’re aware of) and buried in the craters of a specific section of the moon’s dark side. In other words, mass graves. The rovers later collect samples to determine the long-term effects of the soil on human decomposition. This was not the purpose of the project, just an added benefit.
I was floored. This document was not what I expected. I couldn’t believe this sort of thing would happen in our country, and at NASA of all places, an organization I was involved with. After closing the file and navigating back to the home-screen, I left Room 371 and shut the door, my worldview shattered.
Upon returning to my workstation, my co-worker, Bill, questioned me.
“Jack, where were you? Did you hear the overseer retching in the bathroom? Poor guy has that stomach bug that’s been going around.”
I politely nodded but offered no response to the initial query, still shaken. Bill buried his face back in his work.
Eventually, the overseer returned, the sound of Room 371’s creaky iron door slamming shut behind him as he resumed work at his desk. Beads of sweat formed above my brow as I wondered if he would notice something amiss and know I perused the archive. My heart began racing as the paranoia took hold. I had to tell someone about my discovery. Perhaps I misinterpreted the information. Maybe Bill could put my mind at ease. He was a nice guy. Not the type to break a promise or betray his fellow worker.
“Bill,” I whispered, “Have you heard anything about NASA sending corpses to the moon?”
He stared at me a moment, an overly serious expression painted across his face. Then he laughed.
“Jack, you are a card. Where do you come up with this stuff, anyway? You should write a book.”
Without so much as a sound to alert his arrival, the overseer put his hand on my shoulder. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
“Jack, I’ve been meaning to talk to you. A big promotion in the works. Meet me in my office in ten minutes.”
With that, he loosened his grip and traveled back to Room 371. My eyes widened and my heart sank. Bill noticed something was wrong.
“What’s wrong, Jack? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost. Promotions are a big deal around here. Only one every few months or so. Lisa was promoted last year and went on to supervise one of the unmanned probe launches. Haven’t heard from her since.”
I turned to Bill and met his gaze.
“Bill, it’s been nice working with you.”
He smiled before turning back to his computer.
“You too, Jack.”
Ten, torturous minutes came and went. I hesitantly made my way to Room 371 and slowly opened the door. The overseer gestured for me to come in.
“Have a seat, Jack. And close the door.”
I unwillingly obliged. The thought of making a run for it crossed my mind, but I knew the security detail at the front gate would stop me. Drawing attention to myself would only serve to expedite my demise.
“So… what is this about?” I asked, my breathing now labored and sporadic.
“Like I said before, it’s a promotion. NASA is recruiting from its affiliate outfits to supervise some of their unmanned launches. You’ve been selected.”
I tilted my head in disbelief.
“But sir, why me? I haven’t done anything to warrant such a promotion, to my knowledge.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Jack. We’ve been watching you. We know what you did. You can’t deny it any longer.”
With a wicked smile, he stood up from his desk and walked over to me, his arms outstretched in my direction. His shadow covered the entire room. Or at least, it seemed that way in the moment. Without realizing it, I had backed myself into the corner, almost cowering in fear. That’s when the door opened and my co-workers flooded the room.
I stood upright, shocked.
“What’s going on?”
“Don’t you know what day it is, Jack?”
The overseer pointed at his wall calendar. It was September 18th, which according to them, was my hire date.
It all made sense now. It was a ruse. A practical joke at my expense. The overseer sometimes did this on workplace anniversaries – but not for many years at this point, and never to this elaborate extent. I didn’t even realize what day it was until they pointed it out.
“Did you really think I would leave my computer on, unattended?”
Bill chimed in.
“Bodies can’t even decompose on the moon, Jack. There’s no air!”
They both let out hearty laughs. I laughed too, thoroughly relieved.
The rest of the afternoon was nice. After all was said and done, we returned to work, invigorated by the positive surge of energy and morale. After finishing my leftover tasks, I left with a smile on my face, happy to be earth-side, alive and well. This mood would follow me the whole way home, but it wasn’t alone.
When I parked in my driveway, someone pulled in behind me. The overseer stepped out of the car and greeted me with a friendly wave.
“Jack, can we talk?”
House calls were unorthodox in our line of work, but not unheard of.
“Of course, Colter. Please come in.”
He followed me inside and joined me in the living room. I sat down, but he paced at the fireplace, looking over my family photos on the mantle.
“You know, what Bill said was true. Bodies don’t decompose on the moon. That bit was added by NASA. They put falsehoods in all of their classified documents. It’s another fail-safe; a detail they can point to in the event of a leak to make it seem illegitimate.”
I was utterly confused.
“I’m not sure I follow. What are you getting at, exactly?”
He turned to me, a stern look painted across his face.
“It’s all real, Jack. The dead bodies, the craters; everything. You should have never sat at my desk.”
“Come on, Colter. The joke’s over. No need to drag it out.”
He wasn’t laughing.
“This is no joke. You were hired in July, not September. I sent out a last-minute memo to everyone in an attempt to avert your suspicion. Here, we can discuss things privately.”
“Very funny. You’re forgetting about my wife and daughter.”
A smirk touched the side of his cheek. He tossed me an envelope. Inside were photos of my wife picking up our daughter from school. My heart sank.
“What the hell is this, Colter? Are you following my family around?”
“We’ve intercepted them. Let’s just say they’ll be late getting home, tonight.”
The gravity of the situation was beginning to sink in. If everything I saw was indeed real, then I was now a target. I would soon become the next NASA casualty buried at sea. If I didn’t escape and get help, Charlotte and Leslie would never be saved.
My eyes darted for the door. Colter noticed.
“I wouldn’t run if I were you. I didn’t come alone.”
My blood boiling, I was tempted to lash out in anger.
“Don’t worry. They’re safe.”
I remained silent, but livid.
“There are things in the universe you can’t begin to understand. Things not only above your pay-grade, but above your understanding. Things human words could never hope to describe.”
“Human?” I asked, perplexed by the wording.
“Yes, Jack. Let me show you.”
What happened next was enough to put my mouth on the floor.
Using his right hand and a single circular motion in the air, Colter opened up a portal. A fucking portal- one that seemed to connect my living room to the moon. I could even see Earth off in the distance.
“WHAT IN GOD’S NAME IS THAT?!” I shouted.
“Come, Jack. Get a closer look.”
As his hostage, I had no choice but to humor his demands. Upon stepping up to the void, still frazzled, I saw it. A crater, filled to the brim with corpses.
“Why… why are you showing me this?” I asked in a shaky voice.
“Just watch, Jack.”
I looked back to the scene and noticed something at the edge of the crater. Three, shadowy figures, far too tall to be human. They extended their arms and a glow rained down from the space above the crater.
The corpses… they moved.
I watched in horror as the bodies were re-animated- but these were not living things. They were shells controlled by a puppeteer, bent to its sinister will. The three shadows became one and formed an archway, a blinding brightness pouring out from within. One by one, the corpses walked into the light until, finally, the crater was emptied. Then, the light dissipated, and the shadows spun in unison, taking off at great speed into the abyss of deep space.
With another wave of his arm, Colter closed the portal. I was speechless.
“You see, Jack, Project Burial at Sea is more than a safety measure. It’s a necessary sacrifice to them.”
“So… all those bodies?” I asked.
“No, no. Only some were would-be whistle blowers. The rest; John and Jane Does, left at morgues across the country with no relatives to claim them.”
“Where did they take them?” I asked.
“To the place where they live. There, they are forced to build. Stuck in the space between life and death for an eternity, slaves of an alien race. It’s a truly terrible fate. We would all be there right now, if not for the deal we struck back in 1947. These creatures don’t bode well in our atmosphere. We placate their every need to keep them from a developing a technology capable of mitigating the effect our air has on their bodies and spacecraft.”
I couldn’t believe it. Everything I knew up to that point was a lie.
Colter walked to the door.
“I like you, Jack. That’s why I’m telling you all of this. I want to keep you on. You’re a good man, and a good worker. If you don’t want to end up like the poor souls up on that hunk of space rock, you’ll keep your mouth shut.”
I heard a car pull in outside.
“Looks like your wife and daughter are home. We just took them out for ice cream.”
Before closing the door on his way out, the overseer turned back with a smile.
“See you on Monday, Jack.”
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