Friday, March 18, 2011

And Go Home

When they returned to the alcove, the bar in the middle of the timer was still turning. Their estimation had been accurate, just two dots on the inner ring remained now. The rest had faded out, faint blue ghosts against the flat grey material.

"Just in time" Alex turned his suit's recorder back on and swept the video camera mounted on his shoulder over the arch and timer. The portal was still frosted over but he could make out the Kshlavo gleaming in the distance.

"Yes, less than eight minutes remain." Carbon appeared to be doing the same thing, slowly twisting her torso from left to right. The second to last light flashed and then seemed to evaporate, turning translucent like the rest. She looked over at Alex. “Four minutes.”

“Good, I’m ready to get out of here.” He blew out his breath, ragged and uneasy as he played what-if in his head. What if it wasn’t counting down to open, but rather to go to a different portal? What if it was shutting down? What if it just didn’t open? They were going to have a hell of a time surviving on seasonal fruit.

They waited in silence as the timer spun down. Alex shifted nervously from foot to foot as Carbon just stood, face placid but otherwise unreadable. He knew her well enough to know she was covering something up - that was one of the two expressions he had seen her use during the first few months on the ship.

The bar stopped suddenly, sitting vertically as the final dot faded like the others. Nothing seemed to happen at first, then the frost-like haze covering the portal thawed and disappeared, leaving it clear. Alex heaved a sigh of relief, looking over just in time to see Carbon relax and break into a grin. She reached out and took hold of his arm, “let us go now, before this closes again.”

He didn’t need to be told twice and they stepped through the portal together. No surprises going this way, no searing pain. One foot after the other and they were done, back in the landing area with the ship. It didn’t frost over again, but it only took one shared look to know they didn’t intend to go back through just yet.

Carbon retrieved her weapons from the outer arch and set about reattaching them while Alex looked around. Nothing had changed, which wasn’t surprising. They hadn’t even been gone for a day. That wasn’t even long enough for dust to settle.

But that was the problem: nothing had changed. He looked up at the portal ring embedded at the top of the dome, as empty as it had been when they left. He balled up his fists and glared at it up there. “Shit. Just... fucking shit!”

Carbon’s head snapped up from re-affixing the holster to her armor, startled by his tone. She stepped out of the arch and stood next to him, not yet seeing the problem. “What is- Oh, no.”

He seethed in silence, unable to form a cohesive thought that wasn’t just profanity. Finally, words returned to him. “What the hell does this thing want? Do we have to go all the way up to that building at the top of the shell? There’s no way for us to do that!”

Carbon started to speak, picking her words carefully. “Perhaps... this has a timer as well? It could just open at a preset interval.”

Alex gritted his teeth and tamped down on his temper. “Why would they do that? They could turn the thing on whenever they wanted when they brought us here.”

“I do not know. I am just offering it as a possibility. I think we could also create a powered sled of sorts from parts of the ship to make overland travel faster, if need be.”

“Are you insane? That would take a decade, at least.” Alex spun on a heel to face her, finger leveled at her nose and anger in his voice again. She looked back at him, somber blue eyes filled with worry shut him down before he could get any further. His arms dropped and shoulders slumped, the fire in him dead. “I’m sorry. I just... I just want to go home.”

“I understand that, but be-” Carbon stopped abruptly as the floor started to vibrate, as though the entire dome had been rung like a bell. It grew to an audible drone and rose to a roar, ending with a massive clap of thunder as the portal activated.

It wasn’t the dusty mess of the globule they had taken refuge in this time. Space as black as ink with a few winking specks lay on the other side of the portal now. As they stared up at it, Carbon was the first to speak. “Where do you think it goes?”

“It couldn’t... Come on.” Alex turned and started running to the ship as fast as he could manage in the suit.

“What is it?” She only managed two steps before she stopped and dashed back for her swords. Alex was almost to the ship when she started after him again.

He hadn’t responded at all, possessed by what had taken root in his mind. He stumbled through the airlock and was sprinting down the passageway before Carbon had even gotten back inside.

“What is going on?” Her voice came in over the com link, anxiety in it clear as if she were standing next to him.

“Just need to see something.” Alex finally replied as he plowed through engineering, breathing hard from the run.

She followed him back to find him sitting at the backup console, fingers tapping a rapid beat across the control surface. “Alex, what are you doing?”

“Nav’s back on, and this...” He brought up an live scan on the display and slumped back into the chair, gesturing at a little yellow speck. His chest still heaved as he looked over at Carbon, surprise creeping out around exhaustion. “This is Sol.”

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