“No!” I said, defiantly. No matter the situation, I wasn’t going to give up and I wasn’t about to let my friends give up either. Yes, we were trapped on Mars with no clear way off and a rabidly decreasing amount of air, but we still weren’t out of options. “I won’t believe that. I can’t believe that. There’s always a way. Nothing is impossible. We’ve just got to keep trying! First step, ALAN activate a distress signal across all wavelengths and in all languages in your database. Second step, we need to find shelter. A cave or something somewhere we can hold up. From there, we’ll be able to work on the next steps.”
“Ok, Frank,” Jamal said. “We’re with you. We were trapped in the past and we got out. My daughter was held prisoner and we saved her. We were staring down a giant death machine and we escaped. We’ll get out of this, too.”
We all started to our feet, but we got little further before ALAN’s alarms went off. “Warning! Warning! Incoming Vessel!”
“What?” I surveyed the Martian landscape for enemies, but I found it barren. Where could there be incoming? Then I looked upwards and saw the space ship coming toward us. “We’re saved!” I gasped.
It was the once optimistic Tilly who asked, “Are we?”
“Should we run?” Jamal asked.
“No,” I replied. “We’ll let them come to us. If they want to kill us, we won’t be able to escape them. We can’t outrun them. If they want to imprison us, at least we’ll be off this planet.”
“And what if they want to eat us?”
Unfortunately, the masks we were wearing kept Jamal from getting the full impact of the look that I gave him. “Does anybody else recognize the design of this ship?” Doc asked.
“Huh,’ I grunted. “It does kind of look familiar.”
“You’ve seen one space ship…” Jamal mumbled.
By then, the vessel was already landing about twenty feet away. It was about the size of a small bus. The doors opened. We waited for something to emerge, but nothing did. Eventually, I decided they wanted us to come inside. I took that for a good sign and started walking in. As we were all connected by ALAN, the others followed me. The doors closed behind us and the room repressurized. ALAN displayed a readout on my mask, probably on the others’ as well. It was not an Earth-like atmosphere.
Then an interior door slid open and a figure stepped forward. There was no mistaking this figure for a human. It looked like a cross between a squid and a tiger, if it looked like anything. Strangely, I had seen it’s kind before. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Clay,” the Xian said, its words translated by the chip they had implanted into my head in a previous meeting with its kind. ALAN provided his own translation.
“How’d you find us? It couldn’t have been our beacon. Not so quickly.”
“We have been looking for you. That is why we came prepared. We have scanned your body and the instabillity seems to be at a high level. We have recreated your chamber.”
“You recreated my Quantum Stability Chamber?” I asked, stunned by this news. “How long have you been looking for us?”
“Questions can wait,” the Xian said. “First, let us get to your chamber.”
The rear door opened and we could see we were no longer on Mars. The transport had quietly lifted off and docked into a larger Xian vessel. We had no more choice any more. We were now on their ship.
We were led through the ship to the Xian Quantum Instability Chamber. The door sealed behind us. The Xian placed a mask over its face. “We will fill this room with an atmosphere breathable for humans so that you may enter the chamber.”
The readout ALAN provided on our masks showed that the Xian was telling the truth. When ALAN ruled that it was safe. He extracted his arms from our faces. It was a much welcome relief. We all stretched our necks and backs, but despite the new freedom we remained close together. ALAN and I did a full inspection of the Xian chamber. The Xian, for its part, didn’t seem to mind our caution. Or at least it didn’t comment on it.
When we felt secure that the chamber was neither a trap nor poorly constructed, I got in. As I stepped inside, I felt a reluctance that had nothing to do with the Xian. It had been years since I spent more than a few days in one body. I’d been in this one for over a month. I was getting used to it. I was starting to think of it as mine. I was just starting to get it into shape. But no matter my personal feelings, my instability was growing and the daily Stabilizer shots were not a solution. I needed to use the chamber before things became dangerous for myself and the people around me.
The door closed behind me and I held my breath waiting for it to go on. As always, the change started slowly. The pain began as a tingle and built from there. Every molecule in my body shook and I screamed in pain. Just as the pain seemed to reach a crescendo, my body went numb. That meant the process was over.
The door opened and I picked myself up from the floor. The first thing I noticed was how much bigger everything looked. I stepped out of the chamber.
“You ok, Frank?” Doc asked.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “How do I look?”
“You look even younger than me,” Mathilda laughed.
“What?” I asked. The Xian pointed me to a monitor of a twelve year old skinny Asian boy. “That’s me?”
“That’s the new you,” Doc said with a grin. “Best get used to it.”
“Very helpful, Doc,” I replied. “I mean it.”
“You want to tell us why you were looking for us?” Jamal asked the Xian, changing the subject.
“Not yet,” it replied.”Let’s wait until everyone is here.”
“Everyone…?” I started to ask, but then the door opened. The woman that walked through the door was gorgeous. She had long black hair and full pouty lips. Her figure was simply to die for. I couldn’t remember ever seeing a more beautiful woman. “Hey, there,” I said, smiling with as much charm as I could muster. “What’s your name?”
The woman cringed. “Ew, Frank. Are you kidding me?”
My body tensed up. Who was this? “Do I know you?”
“Do you know me?” she repeated. “You idiot, I am you.”
“Whaaaat!?” I suddenly felt very nauseous.
“Trust me, Frank,” the other me said. “It’s a lot more disgusting on this side.”
to be continued…