ALAN flew out of the destroyed seal. “Well, that was quick,” I said, moving away from Doc toward the reopened well. I looked down and saw the others looking back up at me. Mathilda and the Xian were in the level below us and beneath them stood Jamal alone where ALAN had left him. “Is everyone ok?”
Then the whole building began to shake. As I lost my balance, I reached out for something to grab, but there was nothing around. There were no hand rails here. With nothing to hold onto, I fell forward down the well. I fell past Mathilda and the Xian, who stared at me with wide eyes, its tentacles reaching out too late to be of any help. I was already past them, falling through the second well.
I saw Jamal race out to catch me and I knew I would crush him. I doubted his raptor arms would be strong enough to hold me, but Jamal didn’t care. He stood over the sealed well and braced for impact. But it wouldn’t come. ALAN had once again come to the rescue. He flown down after me, catching me just inches away from Jamal.
ALAN carefully placed me on the ground. I could feel the building was still shaking. Jamal came over and held tightly to my arm. “What’s going on?” Jamal asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe the platform has retracted back into the ground.”
“Negative,” ALAN replied. “We are not moving downward.”
“But we are moving?” I asked, astonished at the thought.
“Affirmative. We are moving upwards.”
“Upwards?” Jamal turned his head skyward, looking up through the stairwell. “You mean this building is still rising from the ground? It’s even bigger than we thought?
“Negative. The building has been launched.”
“Launched?” Jennifer gasped, still a level up, having climbed down to join Mathilda and the Xian, who was currently climbing down to my level. “Like into space?”
“Affirmative. We are exiting the atmosphere of this planet.”
“Does that mean,” Mathilda asked from her perch above, “that this building is actually a rocket ship?”
I didn’t like that idea. It sure hadn’t resembled a rocket. “If it’s not, I think we’re in for some serious trouble. If this building isn’t built for space travel, who knows which way we’ll die first, freezing, suffocating…hell, if this thing isn’t made for it, we might just get torn up by the atmosphere.”
“Encouraging as always, Frank,” Jamal grumbled.
I shrugged. “Just dealing with the situation that I’m given, Doc. The best thing we can do right now is try to find the control room so we can accurately gauge the situation.”
“Ok. Which way?”
“Well, we came from the top, so I guess we better keep going down.”
And down we went, destroying the seals as we needed. We finally reached what could be called the control room. There were gems that flashed in almost random patterns that might’ve been controls. “Where’s the screen?” Jamal asked.
“ALAN,” I said, “Can you get us a shot of our exterior position?”
“Scanning…Affirmative.” ALAN projected a hologram onto the floor. There was the building, a tube floating in space. “Registering a secondary vessel.”
“The Xian ship,” Jamal said, matter-of-factly.
“Show it to us,” I said.
The hologram’s viewpoint began to shift until it showed the large vessel. “That is not my ship,” the Xian said. “Where is my ship?”
“There are no other vessels within range,” ALAN replied.
Doc pointed at the hologram. “Then who is that?”
“Probably the people who launched us into space,” Mathilda said. “And I doubt they want to come shake our hands.”
We watched as the alien ship came toward us. “Can we get away from them?” Doc asked.
“ALAN?” I asked.
“Negative. I have been unable to access the controls. I also estimate that this ship would be incapable of outrunning our pursuers.”
“So,” Jamal asked, “we just sit here and let ourselves get captured?”
“What else can we do, Jamal?” I asked him. “That ship is way to close for us to do anything. Way too close…ALAN? Am I wrong or has that ship not opened its cargo bay?”
“Affirmative. It has not.”
“Are we caught in some kind of tractor beam?”
“Negative. The other vessel has made no effort to detain us.”
I stared at the screen and then suddenly realized, “They’re going to ram us!”
“They just shot us into space in a ship we can’t control,” Jamal said. “They could just leave us to die. Why would they ram us?”
“I don’t know. They’re aliens, Jamal. It’s hard to psychologically analyze aliens.” I turned to the Xian, apologetically. “No offense.”
“None taken,” the Xian replied. “I find it very difficult to figure out what you’re thinking.”
I left the Xian’s comment unremarked and got back to the matter at hand. “I think we’re going to have to send ALAN out there and use him to maneuver us, but the question is which way? We could have him move us out of the other ship’s path, but then what? We just float out here? Instead, we could have him push us back toward the planet, but the problem with that is I don’t know if we could even survive reentry. I don’t know ALAN’s full capabilities in what remains of his Jotun body, but I doubt he could bring us down safely to the surface.”
“Or C,” Jamal said, “we could board that other ship and take control of the situation. That’s what I vote we do.”
“I don’t like that idea at all,” Doc said. “That just seems dangerous.”
Mathilda disagreed, “Just sitting here is dangerous. And going back on that planet is dangerous. There’s nothing here and there’s nothing down there. We need to find out what’s on that ship.”
“She makes a good point, Doc,” I said, surprised to be saying that about Tilly. “Exploration is always going forward. Going back gets us nowhere. ALAN, go to the top level, reseal the well, then head outside and reposition this ship so that we dock with the other vessel. When that’s done, search the other vessel for an entry way, a door or an airlock. Find us someway that we can board that ship. When you find it, come back for us.”
“Affirmative.” ALAN flew upwards through the stairwell to carry out my command.
“I guess the conversation is over,” Jennifer said angrily, “and we just do what you say.”
“We just don’t have the time, Doc. I wish we did, but if we don’t act and act quickly that other ship is going to tear us apart.”
to be continued…