ALAN flew up through the stairwell, destroying the remaining seals until he reached the top. There he resealed the well and disappeared from view. After a minute, Mathilda said, “This would be much better if we could see what he was doing.”
“We just have to be patient,” Doc said.
“Screw that.” Mathilda walked to the stairwell and began climbing back up.
“Where are you going?” Jamal demanded.
“What does it look like?” she replied over her shoulder, hanging from the handhold. “I’m going back up there.”
“You heard me! I’m not going to just sit here and wait. I’m going to go back up there and find out what’s going on. I know you need ALAN to save the day, but I can survive in space. Thanks, mom. And since I can, I’m going to go out there and find out what’s going on with that other ship. I’m not going to let ALAN have all the fun.”
Jamal turned to me. “We need to stop her!”
I shrugged. “She’s your daughter.”
He held up his raptor arms. “I have these hands!”
Mathilda had already climbed two levels up and was moving quickly to the third. “She’s going way to fast. Without ALAN, there’s no way I could catch up to her. Not in this body.”
Jamal turned to the Xian. “What about you? You can catch her.”
“And when I do,” the Xian replied, “then what do I do?”
“You bring her back,” Jamal said.
The Xian replied, “I don’t think I can do that.”
“We can’t just stand here!” Doc said and began climbing. I sighed and followed. We tried to climb as fast as we could, but we were still four levels below her when Mathilda reached the sealed top. I thought we could catch up to her there. It wasn’t as if she could go any further. It wasn’t like she was going to destroy the top seal and risk exposing us all to the vacuum of space.
I could see Mathilda standing by the seal fiddling with something. I started to worry, but we were now only a level down. “Tilly!” Jennifer called.
Mathilda looked down at us and winked. Then she turned back to the seal and jumped right through it. How was that possible? She passed right through the metal seal as if it didn’t exist. I almost fell from the shock. There must be some kind of trick. We climbed the rest of the way up and I placed my head against the seal. “It’s solid.”
“How’d she do that?” Jennifer asked.
“How do you think?” I replied. There was really only one answer. “Freyja.”
We didn’t dare follow. Even with the nanites in our bodies, we couldn’t survive out in space. So, we were forced to wait. It was tough not knowing what was going on out there. It was toughest on Jamal. Not only was it his daughter out there, but he was also unable to climb up with us. The Xian had enough tentacles to hold him and climb, but he didn’t have the strength. Jamal was just too heavy.
Ten minutes passed when suddenly the seal began to open. Mathilda was standing on the other side, grinning down at us like a maniac. “Come on. I had ALAN bring us into the other ship. It looks empty.” She walked away.
While ALAN flew down to get Jamal, the rest of us climbed up to the top floor. When we got there, we were in for another shock. Mathilda appeared to be standing on the wall. ”Be careful when you transfer over. The building’s and the ship’s gravity aren’t aligned. It can be hard to deal with for the inexperienced.”
The Xian transferred easy enough, but the rest of used ALAN to help us. The sudden adjustment in gravity was upsetting. We were in an extremely large cargo hold, but we were the only ones in it. There were no people, no ships, nothing. “Where is everyone?”
“I haven’t seen anyone,” Mathilda said. “ALAN’s scanned it too. Nothing. That’s why I told you to come out here. It’s clear.”
“The whole ship?” I asked.
Mathilda made a face. “Well, I can’t be sure about that. It’s a really big ship.”
“I guess we’re going to have to find out. It’s not like we have any other choice.” We walked through the empty hangar to what appeared to be a door. It irised open into a hallway. The air was cold. We searched the ship but it appeared to be abandoned. Where was the crew? Why would they leave?
After a few hours of searching, we found what looked like the bridge. “What’s this?” Jamal asked, pointing at a glowing red button. Before I could stop him, he pressed it.
I was about to yell at him when a hologram of a bug-eyed monster appeared. “ALAN, can you translate?”
“Negative. This species is not in my database.”
“I have never seen this race before either,” the Xian said.
“Well,” Jamal began, “he’s not saying anything good, I can tell you that.”
I was about to reply when ALAN announced, “I am receiving a transmission.”
“A transmission?” I asked. “From where?”
“From the Xian ship.”
“From the Xian ship, but I thought that w…?”
But my thought got no further before the Xian interrupted, “Play it.”
ALAN projected a hologram of one of the Xian crew. “Captain? Captain? Can you read me? Captain?”
“Prepare to transmit,” the Xian told ALAN. “I am here on the alien ship with Frank Clay and his team. Where have you been?”
“I am sorry, Captain. But when the unknown vessel appeared, we hid to avoid detection. It is must too large. We would not have been able to defeat it in a firefight. We, however, maintained contact with the planet through our scanners. When we noticed a vessel launched from the planet, we scanned it. We identified your lifesigns, but we were unable to intercept in time.”
“This vessel is vacated. We are the only ones on board. Board the ship so that we can determine the vessel’s origins. It may prove fruitful in our mission. It’s existence cannot be a coincidence.”
“As you command, Captain,” the other Xian replied and cut the transmission.
“I will meet my crew at the hangar,” the Xian said and left the bridge.
“The Xian are back,” I noted. “Maybe things aren’t as bad as they seemed.”
Jamal laughed, “When is that ever the case?”
I ignored him. “The real question is where does that leave us? What clues do we have? There was a distress beacon down there. Why? Who put it there? Was it a trap? What were those worm things? Where did they come from? What was that platform? Why did it send out a signal to keep the worms away? And why did it launch us into space? And now there’s this ship? Where is the crew?”
“Doesn’t sound like a lot clues,” Mathilda said.
“Too many questions and we don’t have enough answers.”
“What are you saying, Frank?”
“Well, Doc, I don’t think we have much choice. We need to find out what’s going on and there’s only one place to find it. We need to go back down to the planet.”
to be continued…