David Nash had accomplished a lot of things recently.
The first commander on Explorer One, the first man to walk in the upper levels, and now he was in the lead for the fastest disassembly of a spacecraft ever recorded. He was still bragging about this to Flynn when he pulled one of the last exterior panels away to reveal a devastating twist.
He cursed, he yelled, and he threw a tool into the soft surface at his feet.
“Welded bolts?” Flynn asked.
“Welded!” David confirmed. “I thought they decided against welds?”
“Probably after they built that manifold,” Flynn said, chuckling slightly. “You ready to move onto finding the source?”
“No,” David replied. “I’m getting you out.”
“I’ve got coordinates,” Flynn said. “You have a bit of a walk.”
“I’ll go as soon as you’re out.”
“David, you need—”
“How are you feeling in there?” David asked, clearly done with the topic.
“Honestly? I feel hot,” Flynn answered. “Really hot.”
“I’ll break the weld lines,” David said. “If I break the weld, I can get to you.”
“Flynn, I’m not—”
“I need some alone time,” the pilot said, his voice suddenly sounding tired.
There was silence for a long moment, then Flynn continued. “It’s time for you to go, buddy. I sent the coordinates to your suit. Go find the tower. Send a message. They’ll come to rescue us once they know we’re up here.”
“I can’t just leave,” David started. “You’re hurt. You need help.”
“What I need is some time to think,” Flynn said. “Please.”
David had arrived in town years ago.
He was not one of the main six, or even the first twenty. He had shown up as number thirty-two. He had only been introduced to Flynn after he demonstrated his skill at using a computer while being spun around in circles. He had an innate resistance to gravitational forces, that was what Olivia said. Flynn had attempted to break him in the simulator, but David had outlasted the pilot’s best moves.
They became fast friends after that.
Now, as he trudged across the soft terrain of the upper levels, he wept for his friend.
Meanwhile, the ground was unforgiving. His legs sank easily and he found himself frequently trying to force his way through it rather than trying to stay on top of it.
All the while he worried about Flynn.
Deep down, he worried about his own life too.
He knew the truth.
Mission Control couldn’t send rescue. He had seen the latest progress on Explorer Two just before he left on this mission. They wouldn’t be in a position to launch anything for months.
He was starting to feel angry at her, at himself, at everyone.
They weren’t explorers. They were blind fools.
He used the anger to fuel his steps, moving closer to his goal.
Flynn’s eyelids were getting heavy.
The temperature in the cockpit had been climbing steadily for the last few hours and now he felt like he was on fire. He had removed as much of his uniform as he could, but none of that had helped much. Internally, he knew it was his body’s temperature rising in an attempt to fight off any possible infections from his injury. Soon enough, he’d pass out and he might never wake up again.
He reached to his journal and flipped it open to a blank page.
There were a few things he needed to write down. A few secrets that he needed to tell before it was too late. David had proven himself worthy of the truth. He would read the tale that Flynn was writing, and in that tale, he would understand the truth.
David would know what Flynn knew.
He wrote as quickly as he could, aware that it was growing dark outside and the backup power had been drained. He dared not close his eyes as he wrote, and when he started to feel a slight vibration he thought he might be losing his mind.
He went still as the feeling grew stronger and then the familiar hum of repulsors grew louder just outside the cockpit. It lingered for a time, then faded away, leaving him wondering what it could have been.
He waited for ages, but nothing happened. Then, just as he turned his focus away from the strange sound, he heard something on the hull.
*thud thud thud*
There was a sound of something being dragged and metal clanging together, then a whirring sound echoed for a few moments before coming to an abrupt end with the entire cockpit window and roof being ripped away from the craft, leaving Flynn completely exposed.
The force of the pull also ripped the heavy panel away from his crushed leg. It was likely the most painful thing he had ever experienced. He grimaced and wriggled, but dared not make a sound for fear that it would be his undoing.
There was this strange moment where time seemed to slow. He felt cool air sweeping over his feverish body while the large lights blinded his vision and his suit dampened any ambient sounds.
Then, at last, he saw a dark silhouette take shape in the light.
“Hello, stranger,” a deep voice said. “You look hurt.”
Flynn felt adrenaline rushing through his veins. His mind jumped to fight or flight, but he could do neither of those things.
Instead, he only nodded. “I am. Badly.”
“Well, don’t you worry, friend. We’ll take care of everything.”
When David finally reached the source of the broadcast, the last of the light had faded. From what he could tell, there wasn’t any lighting in the upper levels, so as the light faded in the lower levels, it grew ever darker here.
He switched on his suit’s built-in flashlight as he approached.
Upon initial inspection, he was surprised to see that it looked less alien and more like something he might have built. The entire thing was painted in a high gloss yellow and had a small ladder that led into a tiny room at the top. He climbed inside and started making out some of the mechanics, thanks to the user interface, which he could read.
He entered a few commands and found that it seemed to recognize his programming language as well. All of this was a mystery for another time. He dared not question his luck here and instead started testing to see if he could configure this station to broadcast a distress message to Mission Control. It would be a long shot, for sure, but if he—
David locked up at the sound.
“Stay where you are!” someone said, their voice amplified over a speaker.
“I’m not hostile,” David shouted, making sure not to move a muscle. “My name is David Nash. I am part of the Explorer One team. I mean no harm.”
“No harm, eh?” the voice behind him asked. “So why are you jacking up our station?”
“I’m trying to create a distress call. We crashed here.”
“Climb on out of there.”
David did as he was told, slowly climbing out of the transmitter. He couldn’t see much at first, but it became obvious that the people behind the voices were inside some kind of vehicle… a vehicle that was hovering in the air.
“Okay, David Nash. Now, put your hands in the air.”
David followed the orders.
“You working with Thresher?”
“Who? No, I’m from the lower levels.”
“The lower levels? Impossible.”
“No, it’s true,” David said. “Look, I don’t know who you are or where you’re from, but—”
“No more talking,” the voice said. “You’re coming with us.”
From the darkness, David was terrified to see a metal arm lash out. A clamp at the end closed around him in the blink of an eye, locking him in place. He struggled against it as best he could, but the cold steel wasn’t going to budge under his resistance.
“You guys don’t understand!” he shouted. “I need help!”
“We understand more than you think, David Nash.”
“Then you know my friend is in danger. He’s hurt. He’s dying! You have to help.”
“Pull him in,” the voice said.
The robotic arm that held him retracted to the vehicle, lifting David into the air and then dropping him into a black room with a metal floor. As the arm retreated, the opening where he had been dropped snapped shut, leaving him trapped.
“Welcome aboard,” someone said, causing him to spin around.
David saw a man. Not an alien or monster. It was just a normal looking man, wearing some kind of uniform and strange glasses. The dull lighting inside this room made it hard to make out much else.
“Who are you?” David asked.
“My name is Trevor.”
The room started to lean ever so slightly and David felt movement.
“Where are we going?” David asked.
“To your crashed ship,” Trevor answered. “You said your friend is in danger.”
The room rattled ever so slightly, then David felt the firm impact of them touching down on the ground. The door to the room opened again and David could see the wreckage of Explorer One ahead.
“Whoa,” he said. “There’s no way we went that fast…”
“You coming?” Trevor asked, stepping outside and moving toward the ship.
David followed, but when he got closer, he saw that the Explorer One wreckage looked different than when he left. The cockpit glass and roof had been ripped right off the ship.
Most importantly, Flynn was gone.
“This can’t be right,” he said, looking to Trevor. “He was trapped. He was right here.”
Trevor stopped, grabbed David’s shoulder, and picked up his radio. “Mike, keep an eye on the radar. They might be close.”
“Wait, I don’t understand” David said. “He was hurt. He has to be here.”
“Not if they got him,” Trevor replied. “We have to leave. Right now.”
David hesitated. “I can’t just—”
“I’m not asking,” Trevor said. “Let’s go.”
David still didn’t move.
“Never the easy way,” Trevor grumbled. “Alright then.”
Without another word, the robotic arm from before lashed out once more, grabbing David before he could react and pulling him back to the black room where he’d been dropped before.
In all of this chaos, David was forced to make one dramatic conclusion.
He was a prisoner now. Nothing more.