Last fall I wrote this science fiction story for the Imagining Indigenous Futurisms contest. It ended up being too long for the contest and I never finished trimming it down because I was super busy with school and my baby. Plus, once I started writing it, I discovered I actually liked the characters a lot and maybe wanted to turn it into something longer. It's about a lot of things: planets, water, failed relationships, the importance of ceremonies and taking chances. Feel free to let me know your thoughts and if you think that someone else might like it—please share! You can also read it here, on Wattpad.
by sara kathryn general
Sirens were going off. Ian bolted upright in his bed and looked over at the bunk next to him. It was empty. Covers were thrown back, pillows lying on the floor. His roommate had already woken and left.
Ian hurried out of bed, grabbing his uniform and pulling it on quickly. As he reached for his boots he glanced at his clock.
It was almost six o’clock in the morning. His alarm hadn’t even had the chance to go off.
Through the door he could hear the muffled sound of voices and footsteps in the corridor outside his room. Whatever was happening had stirred up the entire compound like bees in a hive. He pulled his vest on over his shirt, grabbed his ID card and slung it over his neck. Picking up his palm pad, he pressed his thumb against the power button and waited. After a moment, the screen lit up. It was blank.
Ian stared at it. He turned it off and then on again. Still nothing appeared. This had never happened before.
What the hell was going on?
He slid the device into his pocket and stepped into the hallway.
He caught the eye of a man in a white lab coat hurrying by and offered him a curt nod. “Morning.”
“Morning,” the man said.
“What’s going on?” Ian asked, falling in alongside him. “My palm pad’s blank.”
“They all are,” he replied wearily. Ian looked at his nametag. It read Richard Smith. “We’re under attack.”
“What? By who?”
“I don’t know. There’s a briefing in five minutes. Get to the conference room.”
They came to a T in the corridor and then Richard turned left into the hall that led down to the labs.
“Thanks,” Ian said.
Moments later, he squeezed his way into the conference room. The entire place was packed, standing room only.
Ian turned and saw his friend Jim, a man with curly brown hair and light green eyes behind him.
“Hey,” Ian said. “You know what’s going?”
“All I heard was there was some kind of attack on the research base in Quadrant Four.”
Ian frowned. “Why’d anyone want to attack the archives? Just a bunch of old papers, ain’t it? Nothing there anyone would want.”
“Beats me. But there must’ve been something there that someone wanted.”
“Yeah I guess,” Ian said. “But what?”
Jim didn’t have a chance to answer him. Quadrant Two’s commander had just entered the room flanked by two scientists, one of them a short man with long grey hair and the other, a tall girl with dark brown hair worn up in a bun. Even from a distance, there was no mistaking her. His mouth tightened and his heart drummed in his chest. Summer Moses. It had been two years since he’d last seen her.
Commander Adams tapped the microphone. “Thank you everyone, for your quick response. I’m going to call this meeting to order.”
A hush fell over the audience.
“As most of you probably know by now, approximately one hour ago our entire communications network was brought down by a series of attacks from an unknown enemy.”
“Late last night, Quadrant Four’s research team signalled other research facilities in the Quadrants to let them know that a major breakthrough had been made in Project Prospex.”
“What the hell’s Project Prospex?” Ian muttered.
“Prospex was a classified mission given to a select group of scientists by the Council. Their mandate was to begin exploratory research on finding a suitable planet for us to inhabit.”
“What a load of shit,” Ian said. His voice carried through the room. Faces turned to look at him and Summer narrowed her eyes. He grinned a little. He’d forgotten how much fun it could be to piss her off.
Commander Adams had finished talking. “Dr. Moses and her colleague Dr. Lansing were both apart of the Quadrant Four research team, as well as Project Prospex. Dr. Moses? Would you like to say anything?”
“Thank you, Commander.” Summer stepped up to the microphone. “Just this. After many years of searching, we were successful. Our team has identified an exoplanet in our solar system, one which meets all our prerequisites for human occupation and is within travelling distance—although in this case, that still means upwards of a hundred light years away.”
“So what’s the big deal about finding another planet if we can’t even get there?” Someone called out from the audience.
“People have been searching for a host planet since I was a little boy,” Commander Adams said. “If someone found one, it’ll be the biggest race in the history of mankind to get there.”
“So what? You found it, then you go and tell the others about it so that they can get there ahead of us?”
Summer shook her head. “Not exactly. We only meant to inform the other Quadrant leaders. It wasn’t our intent that the transmission would be intercepted. But it was. The important thing is this: there’s another planet out there waiting for us. We need to act quickly. Everyone else will.”
“Bull shit,” Ian said.
“It’s not bull shit,” Summer said sharply. “The attack we suffered last night is evidence of that.”
“Evidence of what? That we’re idiots who have insecure communication channels?”
“Evidence that we’re right!” Summer slammed her hand down on the podium and looked around the room. “Our researchers succeeded in making the most important discovery in the history of mankind—a planet with the right conditions to support human life. This is a huge deal.”
A murmur broke out across the room as people turned to one another, whispering. If what Summer said was true, it would change everything. No more fighting. No more hiding. No more war. He balled up his hands in a fist. Though he desperately wanted to fight it, he felt it too—the stirrings of hope.
“But all of that stands in jeopardy now,” she said.
“Here’s what we know,” Commander Adams said, stepping back up to the podium. “Yesterday afternoon, the lead scientist of Quadrant Four sent out a confidential memo to all other research teams indicating that there had been a major breakthrough. Quadrant Four planned to broadcast an in-camera session to update everyone on their progress.”
“At approximately twenty-one hundred hours last night, the communications at the research facility were knocked out. The research team managed to issue a distress signal on a back-up network. That’s how we found out about the attack. But as of an hour ago, that too has been disabled.”
“Our mission is to help bring the communications network back online and find out if any of the other Quadrants have been hit. A small team will accompany Dr. Moses back to the research facility in Quadrant Four.”
“That’s a suicide mission if I ever heard one,” Jim said.
“Parker. Green. Bates. I want to see you in my conference room immediately. Everyone else get to your stations. Your commanding officers will tell you what to do.“
Ian swallowed. It was a suicide mission. One he had just been recruited to.
Ian had never been to Quadrant Four but he knew it was on the other side of Lake Ontario. It was the only one of their bases that dared to be as close to water as it was. The rest of them were hidden in plain sight, amidst ruins of major cities or small towns that no one remembered the names of.
After the war, there had been a massive migration to warmer climates. Those who didn’t want to go south went east thinking the ocean would save them. Desalination and advanced filtration techniques dominated the research agenda of these coastal populations. But progress wasn’t happening fast enough. Thousands of people were going without clean water. Thousands had already died. It was a miserable state of affairs.
Through some great mystery, the Great Lakes were still a viable water source for Indigenous peoples. The elders attributed this to work that was done by their ancestors to feast the water spirits. They said those water spirits remembered the Ogwehoweh people and were being generous at a time when their generosity was sorely needed. This information, known to all members residing in the Council protected Quadrants, was also classified from the rest of the world.
Ian gathered up his things and went to the briefing where Commander Adams waited to greet him.
“Good to see you, Ian.”
“You too, sir,” Ian said.
“Wish it was under better circumstances.”
“Me too, sir.”
“You know Dr. Moses?”
Ian didn’t answer. Commander Adams glanced sidelong at him.
“You know she requested you especially?” Commander Adams asked.
“Did she?” Ian was surprised she wanted anything to do with him at all.
“I told her you weren’t our most experienced operative,” Adams said wryly. “She didn’t care.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence, sir.”
“You should. Show her some respect, son. These people are going to save our lives.” He opened the door and gestured Ian inside.
The two other soldiers, Green and Bates, were already waiting. Bates was a short woman with shoulder length black hair. Green was about Ian’s height, with a muscular build and dark brown eyes. Ian smiled at him. He did not smile back.
“Hope we haven’t kept you waiting,” Commander Adams said.
“It’s fine,” Summer said. “I know we’ve come to you at the last minute.”
“Nonsense. I appreciate you asking for our help. Well, this is the team. Ian Parker, Donnie Green, and Emily Bates. The best operatives we have. This is Dr. Summer Moses, the principal researcher of Quadrant Four’s research base. And this is her colleague, Dr. Lansing.”
“Nice to meet you,” Dr. Lansing said.
“Let’s get started,” Summer said. “Unless anyone has any questions?”
“Yeah, I gotta a question. If you’re the principal researcher, why weren’t you with the others when the attack happened?” Ian asked.
Commander Adams shot him a warning look but Summer intervened before he could issue a reprimand.
“No, Commander. It’s a fair question. It’s one I would have asked,” she said.
Her words caught him off guard. Was it his imagination or was she looking at him with something resembling respect?
“Being the principal researcher also means it’s my responsibility to report to our funders and try to get additional backing for our research. It’s not a pretty job but someone has to do it. We need investors.”
“And that’s what you do?”
“It’s one of the things I do, yes.”
“Any idea who’s behind the attacks?” Green asked.
“It could be any number of people. The Council has a lot of enemies.”
“Ain’t that the truth. So what exactly is the plan?” Ian asked.
Commander Adams signalled Green and a holographic map appeared above the briefing table. “This is the research base in Quadrant Four. The last we heard, the entire base was completely wiped out. All personnel and research staff were killed. The place has been tossed.”
“So if the place is cleaned out then what do you want us to do?” Ian asked.
“The place isn’t cleaned out. Obviously, whoever went in there didn’t find what they were looking for. Why else would they attack the other Quadrants today? They’re looking for information,” Summer said.
“So you want to go back and get your research?” Green asked. “How do you know it’s even still there?”
She opened her mouth and then closed it again. “I’m the principal researcher. I’m the only one who can access everything anyone would have been looking for,” she said.
“Good enough,” Commander Adams grunted. “Your mission is to escort Dr. Moses to the research base. Make sure she gets in, gets what she needs and gets back out safely. Dr. Lansing and I will stay here and brief the other Quadrants. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Green and Bates said in unison.
Commander Adams looked at him. Ian looked at Summer.
“Get Dr. Moses in and out safely,” he said. “I understand.”
Despite the initial flurry of excitement, the trip across the valley to Quadrant Four’s research base was short and uneventful.
Green and Bates sat in the front, steering the hovercraft towards the peninsula. Ian stayed in the turret with Summer, his eyes glued to the radar screen as he watched for possible enemy attacks. He didn’t expect any. There was nothing out here but cold, dead land.
He switched over to the video feed for a better view. As he did, a memory floated to mind; so fleeting he couldn’t be sure it was real.
In it, he was small; so small he could barely see over the door. His forehead was pressed against the car window. It must have been his parent’s, though he couldn’t be sure. They hadn’t had a lot of money and that was before the Ascension, when everyone had just begun to realize how bad things really were. But he hadn’t known that. All he knew was the happiness of the day and vast swathes of green whipping by as the car flew along. It was a good memory.
Ian sighed. It had been a different time then. The world had still felt young and humanity hadn’t felt so hopelessly stupid. He had been young, too. He hadn’t known what love was, let alone heartbreak.
But despite this and despite what he saw through the window now: the thin trees and the brown grass, Ian still loved this land. He still felt connected to it, made from it.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Summer came and stood next to him. “I forget that it’s been a long time since you’ve been out here.”
“It is beautiful,” he admitted. She always had been good at guessing his thoughts. No point denying it.
“It’s good to hear someone else say it. I like the lab and everything, but the best part of my job is the time I spend out here.”
“You spend a lot of time outdoors, do you?”
“Not as much as I’d like. But yeah. There’s a lot of knowledge out here.”
“Knowledge? What kind of knowledge?”
“Pictographs. Maps. Sacred sites.”
“Sounds cool, I guess. Although I don’t see what that has to do with finding another planet,” Ian said.
Summer smiled. “More than you think.”
He started to ask her what she meant when Green’s voice crackled over the intercom.
“We’re here,” he said. “Prepare to dock.”
The research lab was not at all what Ian had been expecting. It was a large building that reminded him of a museum, complete with glass displays and an old gift shop whose open sign still hung on the door. It wasn’t until Summer led them to the elevator that he realized it actually was a museum—the real lab had been built above it.
“The records housed in the museum were what first drew us to this location,” Summer explained. “They had an impressive archive. Lots of old transcriptions of the stories we were looking for.”
The door opened onto the next floor and Ian followed Summer into the hallway. Now this was more what he’d pictured. The main lights had been knocked out in the attack but auxiliary lighting revealed shiny floors, white walls and high-end equipment.
Ian wrinkled his nose. A bad smell burned in his nostrils, reminding him that people had been killed here.
“Jesus Christ,” he said before he could stop himself. “This is where you work?”
Summer turned around to look at him. Her face had regained that haunted look he’d caught a glimpse of back at the base. “It’s not as bad as it looks. Or at least, it wasn’t,” she said quietly.
“Where’s the lab?” Bates asked abruptly.
Ian looked at her in surprise. “Take it easy, Bates. We’ll get there.”
She glared back at him. “We have our orders, Parker. Get the girl to the research lab and return. I’m just doing my job.”
“I’m doing my job, too. Summer’s colleagues died here. Most of them were probably her friends.”
Bates’s mouth tightened. “My apologies, doctor. I wasn’t trying to be insensitive.”
Ian frowned at her deliberate emphasis of the word ‘doctor’. He stepped towards her.
Summer cut him off. “She’s right, Ian. We didn’t come here to mourn. We came to recover the data.”
“Fine,” he said, backing off. “Lead the way.”
They came upon a set of bodies in the very first lab they entered. They lay on the floor like jigsaw puzzle pieces; limbs contorted and stiff. Summer’s hand flew to her mouth and her shoulders tensed but she did not say a word.
“Poor bastards,” Ian said, kneeling down to investigate.
Clean, precise shots appeared on more than three of the victims. He picked up one of the shell casings from the floor.
“Find something?” Green asked, stopping next to him.
Ian looked up at him, holding out the casing. “This is military issue. One of ours.”
“Just trying to get an idea of who was behind this.”
“What and you think a bullet’s gonna tell you? It probably belonged to one of these guys, didn’t it? Firing back.”
“Yeah,” Ian said. “I guess so.”
Green rolled his eyes. “Let’s just keep moving.”
Ian stared at him for a moment, then shrugged. “Sure,” he said. But as soon as Green turned around, Ian pocketed the shell casing.
Summer was standing at a computer terminal when he and Green finally caught up with her. Screens of data were moving quickly on the screen.
“Can you actually read that?” Ian asked. It looked like a bunch of random symbols to him. Only a small percentage of them seemed to be letters or numbers.
Summer flashed him a weak smile. “Yes. Security protocols. I designed them myself.”
Ian whistled. “Show off.”
“Is this the data you came to recover?” Bates interrupted.
“No,” Summer said. “It’s the code to my personal room.”
“You live here too?” Ian asked.
“I had to live somewhere. This just seemed like the easiest place.”
“So you kept the research in your bedroom?” he asked.
“No.” Summer said, typing furiously on the keyboard. Upon her last stroke the screen flashed a brilliant blue that lit up her face. She turned and looked behind them. A section of the wall had begun to move. It slid open slowly, finally revealing a small corridor and the unmistakeable outline of a door.
“A hidden room…” Bates whispered.
Summer nodded. “Yes.”
They fell silent as the door opened. Something moved in the shadows beyond it.
Ian raised his gun.
“Put that down,” Summer said firmly, placing her hand on top of the barrel. “She’s not going to hurt you.”
And then he saw her, a woman, creeping past the doorway and down the hallway towards them. Ian’s eyes widened. She was beautiful like her sister, with skin paler than most Indians he knew. Her hair was light brown, almost bronze and it hung to her waist in a great wave. She was heavily pregnant. Her belly bulged out from her thin frame, as if she’d swallowed a watermelon seed.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. “Alice…”
“Summer!” the girl cried, rushing across the room.
“Alice! You’re all right!” Summer threw her arms around her sister, squeezing her tight.
Ian glanced at Green and Bates. Neither of them seemed as surprised as he was to find a young girl hiding in a secret laboratory with a pile of dead scientists.
“You remember my sister?” Summer said, turning around to look at him, one arm around Alice’s shoulder.
“Yeah. Shit. It’s been years.”
“Is that Ian?” Alice said, her face brightening. “It is you! Oh it’s so good to see a familiar face.”
She reached out and embraced him. He hugged her back awkwardly, her stomach making it difficult to get very close. “Long time, no see.”
“I never thought I’d see you again,” Alice said.
“That makes two of us.”
“I’m pregnant,” She told him.
“No!” he grinned.
She laughed and linked arms with Summer. “It’s true. Summer’s been taking such good care of us. I don’t know what we’d do without her.”
“I can’t believe you were here through all of this,” Ian said.
Alice shuddered, her smile disappearing. “It was awful. I could hear the whole thing happening. I should have done something to help them but…”
“It’s okay, Alice,” Summer said. “They probably would have hurt you, too.”
“Did you see who did this?” Bates asked.
Alice shook her head and rubbed her belly. “I didn’t want to look. Not with the baby. I should have, I know. I just couldn’t bear to.”
“It’s all right, Alice. No one expected you to.” Summer reassured her. “Let’s get your things, sweetheart. Then we can get out of here. We also need to bring the communications system back online.”
“We can handle that,” Bates said. “You and Lt. Parker can go get the research.”
“Fine. The network panel is in the server room. You can get to it through the first lab that we came through. We’ll meet you back at the entrance when we’re done.”
“Yes ma’am. We won’t be long,” Bates said.
Once they had gone, Summer turned to her sister. “Go get your bag Alice, then come to my lab.”
Alice smiled and nodded, waddling back down the hall. Ian watched her with an easy smile on his face. When he was sure she was out of earshot, he turned on Summer.
“What the hell is she doing here?” he hissed.
“It was the safest place for her. Clean water. Food. Family. Where else was she supposed to go?”
“Jesus Christ, Summer. She was here when the attack happened! She had to listen to all these people die! She’s pregnant for crying out loud.”
“I’m well aware that she’s pregnant.”
“What’s going on Summer? Where’s the father of her kid? Where’s your folks?”
“They’re dead, ok?” Summer snapped. “All of them. It’s just me and Alice left.”
He fell speechless. Summer sighed.
“There was an attack on South River late last year,” she began, looking more tired than he’d ever seen her. “I’d already been stationed here when it happened. They were raided by a settler war party trying to figure out how they managed to have water post-Ascension. No one talked but they had supplies. The settlers killed everyone and took them.”
“I’m sorry,” Ian said. He meant it.
“How’d Alice manage to live when everyone else was killed?”
“She was staying with me.”
“She knew water songs. We were studying them.”
“I thought you were studying other planets?” Ian asked.
“We were. But it wasn’t the only thing we were looking at,” she said.
“Why water songs? That doesn’t seem like something that belongs in a lab.”
“It’s not. But given the situation, we couldn’t ignore the one thing that was helping to make the water drinkable. So we started talking to the people who were cleaning the water through ceremony. We were trying to see if it was some special ability they were born with or if it was something that could be learned.”
“And which was it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. We didn’t finish the research. We found planet SN 40 and our entire focus shifted to that.”
“Why? Big deal. You found a planet. It’s still going to take forever before anyone’s going to be able to live there. Water’s way more important.”
Summer didn’t answer him right away and he got the distinct impression that there was something else she wasn’t telling him. “What now?” he asked.
“You were right before when you said I wasn’t telling you everything.”
“What a surprise.”
She ignored this. “We didn’t just find a planet, Ian.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“We found a way to that planet. Or rather, we made one,” she said.
“You made what…a portal?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Shut up. You made an actual portal?”
“Something that goes from one place to another. Yes,” she said.
“Stop saying that,” she said angrily.
“Then why did you lie to Commander Adams? Why did you only tell him that you discovered a planet?” he asked.
“I didn’t lie. We did discover a planet.”
Ian laughed mirthlessly. “Oh right, I forgot. You’re not a complete liar. You do tell a part of the truth, however small it is.”
Summer’s eyes flashed in warning. “Don’t make this about us, Ian. This is bigger than us.”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. Our history is the furthest thing from my mind. So that’s the real reason the base was attacked, isn’t it? It wasn’t because you’d found a planet, it’s because you’d found a way out of this hellhole. This is all your fault.”
Summer closed her eyes and he felt a rush of guilt. God, you’re an idiot, he thought furiously. Of course she had already been thinking, fearing that same thing. He’d just confirmed it.
“Come to my lab? I can show you. I need to recover the data, anyways. What’s left of it, at least,” she said.
“Fine. Show me what you found.”
Ian was staring at the most precise hologram of the Milky Way he had ever seen. Summer’s equipment outstripped anything he’d ever seen in the military. Stars and galaxies appeared in exacting detail. He stared at it mesmerized, while Summer stood behind yet another computer terminal, her fingers flying across the keyboard. As she typed, the images in the hologram shifted.
“See this? This is SN 40. At first we thought it was just an anomaly. People had seen it before after all. Scientists first discovered it back in the early 2000s, a Goldilocks planet. But no one thought that it was possible to get to and no one knew for sure that it was actually possible to live on. Then we found this wormhole. And the whole game changed. One of our researchers, Adriana, specialized in wormholes. She was also a seer.”
“So she found a wormhole to another planet. What difference does it make? You said it yourself, there’s still no ship that could make the trip,” Ian said.
“It wasn’t all she found. She also had ideas about how to get there that would make travelling by ship obsolete,” Summer replied.
“The portal,” Ian said.
“Where do you guys come up with this stuff?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Try me,” Ian said.
“Fine. It came to her in a dream.”
For a moment, Ian just stared at her. “You’re kidding right?”
“No.” Summer blushed. “I knew you wouldn’t believe it. But yes. She dreamed it.”
“Like she actually had a dream that there was a portal that led to another world and so you decided to build it?”
“Pretty much,” Summer said.
“No, it isn’t. It’s who we are, Ian. Our people are dreamers. Visionaries. Trusting our gifts and our knowledge is what’s saved us all these years. It’s why we still have water and no one else does.”
“But isn’t the whole approach a little, I don’t know, unscientific?”
“I don’t know what it is,” Summer said. “What I do know is that it helped us build a portal to another world. A place where our people can go and start over again.”
“How do you know we can start again there?”
“Oh my god,” Ian said. “You’ve been there, haven’t you?”
“Not me, no,” Summer admitted. “But others. Members of our team, yes.”
“How many?” Ian demanded.
“How does it work? The portal?”
“Through this program,” she said, gesturing at the hologram.
Ian shook his head. “I can’t believe this.”
“It’s a lot to take in, I know. This program is the single most important breakthrough we’ve had in the last five years.”
“The last five years? Try the last five hundred.”
“No, Ian. You mustn’t see it that way. This whole program was built by mimicking the gifts we have. People—regular people like you and me could recreate this portal if we tried. It involves mass amounts of energy, singular focus and exceptionally good information. Knowing the easiest and fastest route to SN 40 was a huge breakthrough, yes, but it’s still possible to get there even without the program. Our elders knew this.”
“Forgive me if I’m wrong here, but weren’t you attacked because of this program? I don’t see anyone knocking down the door for our ancestral knowledge.”
“Yes. But only because those people think the program’s the only way to travel to SN 40.”
“And it’s not?”
“No,” she said. “It isn’t.”
“So why did we come back here—” It hit him before he finished the question. “Right. Alice.”
Summer stared at the galaxy in front of her, not speaking. He watched the lights move across her face. She was changed from the last time he saw her. The Summer he knew had cared more about her work than she’d cared about people. Or perhaps he hadn’t known her as well as he thought. Maybe his own feelings over being left behind had gotten in the way of him being able to see this side of her.
No, he thought. When she told me she had to leave me, I respected her decision. I believed in her. I saw her. But it still hurt to see her go.
“That’s it,” Summer said, holding up her data pad. “I have what I need.”
“All right. Let’s go.”
“I want to thank you for coming,” she said, as she crossed the room.
“Why did you ask me to?”
“Because,” she said, pressing the button on the door. “There’s something I need to ask you.”
But before she could say anymore, the door slid open.
Alice stood there, flanked on either side by Green and Bates. One of their guns was pointed at the back of her head; the other was trained on them.
“Summer…” Alice said, sounding afraid.
Summer didn’t hesitate, raising her pistol and firing. Her first shot took Bates completely unaware, catching her in the shoulder. The woman cried out in pain and dropped her gun. Summer flew at her, kicking the gun away and knocking her to the ground with a single blow.
Ian launched himself at Green, forcing his arms up into the air. Gunshots sounded in the hallway as they fell to the floor, both of them struggling to regain control of the weapon. Ian swore. It had been a long time since he’d been in a fight.
It didn’t last long. Summer’s boot came flying out of the air, connecting with the side of Green’s head, knocking him out cold. Summer glared down at the fallen soldiers, looking more furious than he’d ever seen her. Where had she learned to fight like that?
He climbed to his feet, bewildered.
“Alice!” Summer said, turning to her sister.
“Summer, what the hell is going on?” Ian said, as Alice stumbled into Summer’s outstretched arms, tears pouring down her face.
“Alice!” Summer ignored him, wrapping her arms around her sister. “You’re okay.”
“I can’t do it. I can’t do this, Summer.” Alice was crying.
“Shh,” Summer said, stroking her sister’s hair. “You did great, Alice. You were perfect. Now come on, remember what I told you. You can’t stay here. You have to go, for you and the baby.”
“No, no!” Alice sobbed.
“Why can’t she stay here? Summer, what’s going on?” Ian said. He was confused. Nothing was making sense.
“Alice needs to go through the portal, Ian.”
“What? Why?” he asked.
“Things are going to happen on Earth. Things that humans won’t make it through. We have to leave now.”
“But everything’s stabilizing. It’s in the news all the time,” Ian said.
“Oh Ian,” said Summer gently. “You don’t believe that do you? Things are not stabilizing. That’s just what they want you to think so you won’t panic. But they’re panicking. And this is what they do when they panic.” Summer gestured at Ian’s fallen comrades. “Your bosses sent these people after us. They sent them here to steal our work and use our discovery for themselves. But I won’t let them do that. Not before I get our people out first.”
His people? His bosses? Who was she talking about? Then he remembered Commander Adams, remembered him asking how he knew Summer. He thought about Green and Bates’s strange behaviour for this entire mission, and the bullets he’d found on the floor. Military issue. Just like his.
He looked up at Summer’s face, disbelieving. And then he saw it, a magnificent light looming in the room behind her. Large and circular, it swirled there in the middle of the lab looking exactly like he’d always pictured a portal would.
“You weren’t copying the program,” he said.
She shook her head. “I was running it.”
“Do you even have to ask? I came to you because I needed your help. Don’t you see? You’re the only one I can trust to take care of Alice.”
“Oh Summer,” he said. “It can’t be me. She needs her family. She needs you.”
“I can’t go with you. Who will make sure the rest of our people make it to SN 40?”
He didn’t answer her. He had no idea who else would help them. “I should stay here with you. Help you.”
“No. I can’t send Alice to SN 40 alone. I wouldn’t be able to stand it. You said you’d help me. You can’t change your mind now.”
“Summer,” Alice whispered. “Look.”
A red light was blinking on Summer’s data pad. She picked it up and tapped the screen.
Figures in black were entering the front of the gallery. Ian recognized the uniforms. He wore the same one. “Why? Why are they doing this?”
“People are desperate to survive, Ian,” Summer said. “Especially people with power. But they won’t give up their power to make sure everyone else survives too.”
“Except you. You’re giving up a lot to do this. Too much. It’s crazy.”
She smiled, reaching out to touch the side of his face. He closed his eyes as her fingers brushed his cheek. She had always been determined. Nothing he could say would change her mind.
“Sometimes I really hate you,” he said.
He grabbed her hand, pulled her to him and kissed her. She didn’t try to stop him. It was a gentle kiss, warm and deep. His hands gripped the back of her head and he inhaled her in. Her scent was already imprinted on his memory from the last time they’d said goodbye. This was just until he saw her again, he told himself.
“Take care of my sister,” she said, as she pulled away.
“More will be coming,” she warned.
“You’d damn well better be one of them.”
She smiled weakly and then backed away from them. “Go now. Aim for the hard drive. That will shut down the program and close the portal.”
It was what he’d always wanted, the chance to be the one to leave her. Now he realized he would have given anything to be staying. He looked at Alice, at her belly, at the promise of life somewhere else, somewhere new.
“Come on, kid!” he said.
“I love you, Alice,” Summer said, as the door slid shut between them.
No sooner had it closed then there was an explosion of gunshots on the other side of the door.
“Summer!” Alice screamed, rushing back towards it.
“Come on,” he said, catching her by the arm and pulling her across the room. She struggled against him, trying to get back to her sister. “Think of your little one, now. Be strong! Or am I going to have to push you through?”
Tears streaked down Alice’s face. She took one shuddering breath and shook her head, no.
“It has to be you first,” he said to Alice. “Go on now. Don’t look back.”
For a moment she stood there, weeping silently, a bright vortex of light swirling behind her.
“You’re coming?” she asked him uncertainly.
“I’m right behind you.”
Wind caught her hair as she stepped into the light. He watched her disappear, sparks of white emitting from where it had swallowed her up whole.
He blinked. Just like that, she was gone.
The hallway was silent now save for the voices. One rose above the others, strong and defiant. They hadn’t killed her. She was still alive. And as long as she remained the only one who knew how to get to SN 40, they would keep her alive and safe. He took a step into the portal and raised his gun. Light swam like fog around his feet. He felt a curious sensation, as if he had suddenly become weightless.
Then he felt it. It was happening—his body was being pulled through the portal. He felt it, like someone invisible had grabbed onto his vest and was tugging at his chest, yanking him forward. He gave in. There would be no turning back.
He trained his sights on the hard drive and pulled the trigger. The shot blasted through the air and he let go of the gun. It fell to the floor. He didn’t hear it drop.
He didn’t hear anything at all.