“Are we there yet?” asked Doubletake. His boots were propped up on the high back of a steel chair. He was maybe twenty. had a runner’s physique, and dark spiky hair. A visor rested over his eyes.
A massive suit of armor turned to reveal the aged face of Paladin. She was in her early fifties. A crimson scar ran the length of her face. An unlit cigar hung from her lip. She rolled her eyes at him.
From the back of the room, a trio of identical women playing cards turned their attention to the man. They were all wiry with short curly hair. Each wore a bright red jumpsuit that matched their eyeshadow. The cards hung in the air, spinning slowly. They said in unison, “You can see the base right there!” They pointed toward the glass canopy in front of the pilot.
Powdery white mountains were laced with black craters and valleys. A series of domes connected with bridges clung to the side of a crater. A series of tube-bridges stretched out from the main facility with landing lights. The ship hovered close to one until an automated system took over docking.
The co-pilot turned in their chair to face the group. Ichaival’s appearance was a cross between a cuttlefish and a 50’s monster movie. A fleshy cone was propped up in the seat. Ancient stone bracers adorned each of their several arms that draped over the chair. Their large bulging eyes looked over the crew while their tentacles made an arch over their mantle. The creature’s voice rang in the heads of the crew, “While we wait on final docking procedures, I need to brief you on our mission.”
“Finally!” the man said.
The creature’s face twisted in agitation, it thought out to the group, “I would have no qualm, Doubletake, in saying there was an accident and you were shoved out of an airlock.”
The man laughed nervously hoping it was a joke. The creature did not laugh. “Yes, sir, Ichaival.”
“Thank you. As I was saying,” it motioned to the facility, “We are meeting Dr. Drake here at the lunar sation. He is researching recent interdimensional disturbances. We are here to ensure the work is completed without incident and that anything relevant is given to our envoy from the Commonwealth.”
The armored woman nodded her head, “Thank you, Ichaival. Additionally, the technology being tested is based on your powers, Split.” The three woman in the back collapsed into a single woman her mouth agape.
She asked, “Did he figure out how I got my powers?”
“We may have a lead ,” Ichaival thought out. “The doctor needs your expertise in Megaforce Shifting.”
“So why am I here?” Doubletake asked.
Paladin eyed him, “You’re here just in case we screw up.”
“Wait, screw up? What would an interdimensional screw up look like? Hey, wait!” Doubletake was fiddling with his restraints as the cabin door hissed. It opened to reveal a young woman in a lab coat. Her name tag read ‘HAYDAY’.
“Hello! You’re the envoy from Aegis, right?” the woman said.
“And the Commonwealth,” said Paladin stepping out of the shuttle.
Ichaival glided in the low gravity out of the pod. They thought out to the woman, “Indeed, sorry to keep you waiting.”
“It’s no trouble,” the woman said, “I’m Dr. Drake’s assistant. Welcome to Faustini Three. Please let me know if there is anything I can assist you with.”
The group rode a buggy down the polished steel corridors. Ms. Hayday asked them about ultra-ball scores. Ichaival rattled off player statistics from the past season for the Santa Fe Sentinels. They told the story about the time when their team, the Atlantis Admirals, made playoffs, twice.
Paladin nudged them, “Too bad you lost to the second runners-up, twice.”
Ichaival gurgled at her. Their skin shifted from green to red.
Split interjected from the back seat, “Hey, Ichi.”
“Ichaival,” they corrected.
“Yeah, sure, listen, is coming here, like, nostalgic?”
“Why would it be?”
She gestured to a viewport, “You know, like, cause we are in outer space?”
“I only know about space from my inherited memories. From past Ichaivals that is. They left Mars thousands of years ago. It’s hardly similar to Luna. So, no. I do not feel nostalgic here. Once a pain is that old it’s hardly yours anymore.”
The buggy stopped at a door. Ms. Hayday jumped out, “We’ll have to walk from here.”
Doubletake hung back and caught Paladin by the arm. She tensed and turned to face him.
He said, “Anything about this seem off to you?”
She looked at the Martian, then to the trio of identical women lifting machinery off the buggy, and then to the lunar lab assistant. She shrugged. “This is a pretty typical work day for me.”
He scratched his head. “Sorry, nerves. I’m not a heavy hitter like you or fish face.”
She put a hand on his shoulder. Paladin said, “You’ll do fine. It’s just a research mission. What could go wrong?”
Warning klaxons echoed off the polished metal surfaces of the lab. Doubletake had one Split by the collar. Two other Splits were tightly wound around his arms. He yelled, “Is this your idea of being funny? What did you do?”
“Me?” the Splits squeaked out. “What did you do? You were watching the containment field levels! We were monitoring the energy fluctuations.”
Purple clouds pulsated in the middle of the room. Wind whipped towards the nebula. The inside of the clouds were shapes and colors reflected infinitely.
“Wait, listen to me. Please, we must be civil.” Dr. Drake held out a pair of withered hands. “If you do not stop arguing, we will all die.” Split and Doubletake gritted their teeth but let go of one another. The scientist eyed them while holding a finger to his wrist. He mouthed numbers. The man took a deep breath. “As I was saying, we must remain calm. If my heart rate exceeds 160 beats a minute, it will not matter which of you was right or wrong. We must work together to get out of this.”
Paladin took a step forward. Her cape trailed behind her. “Why are we on lockdown, doctor?”
The old man removed his glasses and cleaned them obsessively. He said, “Someone has signaled the facility using the containment protocols. The communication grid is offline as well.”
Split crossed their arms. The trio of identical women collapsed into one. She asked, “So what? We can’t make a call. What’s the problem?”
“The problem,” Doubletake pushed his visor up the bridge of his nose, “is that means someone locked us in here. So which one of you is a traitor.”
Paladin rolled her eyes, “Shut up. None of us are traitors. We’re just stuck in a room for a bit. Worst case scenario, we wait it out.”
Dr. Drake shook his head, “Except that won’t be the case.” He turned a floating drone monitor around to face the group.The security footage showed the six of them in the lab working on the experiment. “This false feed was purposely left on. This is a tap of what the facility believes is occurring. To the facility, we are working as planned. Unless we close this fissure,” he gestured to the swirling clouds, “we will suffocate in this room within the hour. No one is scheduled to check on us until this evening.”
Ichaival pushed themselves off the steel floor. Their tentacles lifted their mantle to eye level with the room. Their skin shifted from a pale steel blue of the ground to a bright red. They gurgled something then pushed a thought out to the group, “Then we take a spacewalk.”
“I wouldn’t suggest that,” Ms. Hayday said. She pressed a key. The blast shields raised to show the dead lunar landscape. The sun peered from behind the crater wall. “Unless you can survive 100 Kelvin at the bottom of the Faustini Basin. Any attempt to leave contamination drops the laboratory into the crater.”
Ichavial’s brows communicated the idea that it was still considering trying. They thought out to Ms. Hayday, “Don’t give me that look. I’m an extremophile. I could survive in a mucous membrane for a few months.”
Doubletake paced the room in short strides blinking in and out of existence. Split multiplied to pace in different directions. Paladin remained against the wall. From inside her helmet, there were intermittent flashes of light. She reviewed maps of the facility, the powers of the group, and tried a few different communication channels. Dr. Drake checked his pulse again and sat down.
“Yeah, what is it, Paladin?”
She said, “Could you phase through the doors back to the main facility?”
He scratched the back of his head. “No, that’s not how my power works.”
Her facemask slid back. “Your file says you are a speedster?”
Doubletake removed his visor. “And my file is purposely misinformed. I guess that doesn’t matter since we are all going to die though. I don’t move fast. I travel fast. I can travel forward or backward through time, but only thirty minutes along my own timeline in either direction. I can change my past but only what just happened. I can alter my future, but only to what is about to happen.”
Split muttered, “Could you have mentioned that thirty minutes ago?”
He shot back a terse glance. “I didn’t want to register as a time super. With how limited my powers are, I can’t keep up with real travelers. Besides, time travel is a lot of paperwork.”
“Which is why you are insurance on this mission.” The Martian motioned to the fissure. “How do we look?”
Doubletake started to shimmer out of reality but solidified. “You knew?”
The alien pointed to his head. “Telepath. Duh.”
The man made an annoyed face but disappeared. A moment later he reappeared. “It’s not reassuring.”
Split asked, “But we make it right?”
“Oh, we die. So far we either we get sucked into the fissure or fall into the basin.” Doubletake blinked in and out a few more times.
Dr. Drake cut in, “I believe we will find all of our powers have been accounted for. Whoever planned this knew who would be assisting me today. Whoever planned this also sent the containment code from this room.”
Ms. Hayday asked, “Wait, you’re saying-”
“He is saying it was one of us,” said Split. A pair of heads materialized on either side of her head as she watched the others.
“Don’t consume too much extra air, Split,” warned Paladin. The trio frowned but rejoined. “Dr. Drake, I understand how Split and Doubletake were planned for but what about Ichavial and I? We could survive outside the lab,”
Dr. Drake considered this but gasped. He grabbed his arm. His skin became a dark blue and scales formed on his hand. Ms. Hayday rushed to a medical refrigerator and withdrew a syringe. She tapped the needle and drove it into his neck. He grimaced but thanked her. His skin paled and returned to normal.
Ms. Hayday said, “That… was the last one.”
“I thought it might be.”
“But, but, I counted them this morning…” Hayday was flipping between screens on her tablet frantically.
“My guess is the best way to keep Paladin and Ichaival in this room would be me in my dragon form,” said the old man.
Ichavial ran a tentacle across their temples. They changed from dark red to yellow. They thought out loud, “Mr. Dragon would hamper my protective hibernation.”
Dr. Drake laughed. The old man said, “As I remember it, the last time he was loose, he did not care for you.”
The Martian turned green and nodded. It thought out, “How long before you change?”
“Not long with how much air we have,” said the scientist.
Doubletake snapped his fingers. He said, “I’ve got it. This is an assassination. The killer couldn’t finish off any one of us but in this situation, they can use us against one another.”
“Oh, bravo, detective.” Split said. Doubletake took an infinitely fast step toward her. His eyes an inch from hers before he realized she was smiling.
“For one,” began Doubletake, “That’s not funny. Additionally,” he held a hand by the side of his mouth and gestured at her whispering, “my money is on her.”
Paladin shot him a look. She held up armored fingers as she counted, “So, an assassin set a trap for us with limited air inside, cold outside, a mystery portal, and possible big monster attack. Anything else I’m forgetting?”
Dr. Drake calculated on his floating drone. “Only one more thing. How many people are in this room?”
“Easy, six, er, five and a Martian, er, how many people are you Split?” Doubletake said while flashing around the room.
“According to our oxygen levels, at least one of us is synthetic,” said the doctor turning the screen around. “Adjusting for the limited amount of breathable atmosphere that Ichaival requires, one of us is most likely not who they say they are. One of us is a cyborg.”
To be continued!