“– Making interplanetary travel possible at last –”
Ree carefully lowered the lid of the black box over her head, shutting out the sound of the droning speaker. She stood on the ladder below, thinking.
What had gone wrong?
The plan had been carefully thought out. It was time for the earthlings to learn about other planets, and the Intel division had devoted considerable time to the problem. Their black box, with the most advanced technology built cleverly into it, had been deposited on Earth a week ago, carrying the only existing portal between Earth and Ree’s home planet of Cardin. No one had descended through the box between then and now. Ree was certain of this, having watched carefully the entire time. Even when she was asleep, the door behind her remained locked at all times. No one could have made it through without her knowledge.
But somehow, the earthlings had divined what the box was and were now holding what Ree knew they called a “press conference.” They were advertising interplanetary travel to the world of Earth with no idea of what actually lay through the box . . . unless the earthlings were more clever than they’d been given credit for.
A hand touched Ree’s shoe and she whirled around, her hip-length blonde braid flying. At the bottom of the ladder, looking startlingly out of place in jeans and a t-shirt, stood a male earthling.
He gaped at Ree. “Hullo.”
Ree swept a cursory glance around the room. The Intel division, in case of threats from Earth, had decreed that the Cardinian end of the box had to be placed in a spaceship. The ship currently rested on the ground but could take off at a moment’s notice. Consequently, the room in which Ree now stood was extremely bare. Curved white walls blended into a white floor and white ceiling. The only object in the room, besides the ladder with the open-bottomed box hanging in midair above it, was a bench-seat by the opposite wall.
The bench seat’s lid was open.
“Have you been hiding in there?” Ree demanded of the earthling.
“Yes,” he said, faltering slightly.
“And you’re the one who told them about the interplanetary access?”
“Yeah. With my Comm device. I was surprised that it works here.”
“They sent you? You’re only an adolescent.”
“So are you.” The earthling sounded annoyed.
“I’m ninety-three,” Ree informed him.
The earthling blinked. “Wow . . .”
“I have a question for you. What are they doing up there?” Ree jabbed a finger in the direction of the box.
“I wouldn’t know! I’m only an adolescent, as you put it! And I do have a name!”
Ree’s eyes narrowed. “Oh. You’re an expendable. What’s your name?”
“My name is Aldrin. What is ‘expendable’ supposed to mean?”
“They send in the least important people to do the tough work when they don’t want to lose trained hands. And I’m Ree.”
Aldrin huffed. “Are you an expendable?”
Ree shrugged. She was well aware that she could not be too valuable, despite her years of training, or the Intel division would not have placed her here. She’d been fully aware of the risks, accepted them anyway.
Ree knew she should return to monitoring the box, but had one more question. “How did you know you were off planet?”
Aldrin looked at Ree’s bright green eyes with their slit-shaped pupils, the only indication that she was not from Earth. “My UPS told me.”
“UPS?” Ree hadn’t learned about this.
“Universe Positioning System.”
There was a loud bang from overhead. Ree shot up the ladder and cracked the lid open very slightly.
The announcer’s voice boomed through, “And now our volunteers will be the first to experience this new world!”
Ree stared at Aldrin. “Your idiotic state is sending volunteers?” This was all wrong. Volunteers would cause mayhem. Intel had expected highly-trained scientists or government officials.
Aldrin opened his mouth, looking as shocked as Ree felt, but before he could speak, the lid swung upwards. A face peered into the box, inches from Ree’s.
Just as Ree had expected, instant mayhem broke out. More screams issued through the lid, attended by the sounds of a full stampede.
“Let me go through,” Aldrin volunteered quickly.
Ree jumped off the ladder, waited for Aldrin to ascend, and followed him cautiously up again. Aldrin pulled himself through the opening and started to walk away, shouting, “Everything’s fine!”
Apparently, they hadn’t commissioned him for his public relations talent.
From her narrow point of view, Ree saw him stop abruptly and put his hands in the air. She inched up a little further and peered over the edge of the box, getting a full look at the box’s Earth surroundings for the first time. The box had been dropped in the middle of an agricultural district somewhere, but now sat on the stage of an enormous auditorium.
Aldrin – and the box – were surrounded by a ring of scared security guards who were all pointing their guns straight at him.
“Back up slowly,” Ree hissed.
Aldrin moved backward as the circle closed. He reached the box, faked a convincing stumble, and slipped inside before the security guards could react. The lid slammed behind him.
Ree sighed and pulled a large blaster-gun out of her belt; the gun’s sleek black surface resembled an Earth pistol, but the weapon contained a completely different kind of ammunition. “Get down and stand back.”
Aldrin complied with speed.
Ree aimed the blaster and fired once at the box. It promptly burst into flames, then seemed to collapse inward on itself and disappear.
The ladder now led to nothing.
Aldrin turned to Ree. “What did you just do?”
“Destroyed the portal,” Ree answered grimly. “That did not go well. Your government is an association of imbeciles.”
Aldrin laughed shakily. “That’s true . . . but how do I get home?”
Ree shrugged. “We’ll have to build a new portal. It could take a while. I hope you’re ready for a long vacation.”