Aldrin hesitantly followed Ree to the door, where she stopped to look at him. “Remember, you belong here.”
“What?” Aldrin blinked. “No, I don’t.”
“I mean that you are officially the delegation from Earth.”
“But I’m just a newbie from Recon –”
“It doesn’t matter. Intel won’t be happy with me for flunking the mission, and they don’t appreciate excuses. I’ll need you backing me up if I want to make it through this.”
“Make it through?”
“You’ve got a lot to learn,” Ree said dubiously. “You’ll see. Just provide the necessary verbal support.”
Ree turned back to the door. “Let’s go.”
“But where are we going?”
“Intel. Best to leave off questions for now, too.”
“What about . . . bathrooms? And lunch?”
Ree looked pointedly at the ceiling. “Intel first.”
The door was white like the rest of the room, a rounded oval in the wall. Ree placed her right palm in the exact center of it, and Aldrin watched in baffled astonishment as the door dissolved beneath her hand.
Aldrin slipped through after Ree and stifled a gasp. The pristine white interior of the spaceship yielded onto the strangest landscape he had ever seen. The ground underneath his feet was dark purple and hard as compacted rock; purple mountains rose into the distance. As far as Aldrin could tell, the two of them were the only living things in the middle of a vast purple plain, with the monumental spaceship jutting up behind them.
Aldrin gulped. “Um . . . I don’t see Intel.”
“This way.” Ree pulled out a string that hung around her neck and pressed a small metal sphere dangling from it.
Before Aldrin could finish his question, the ground trembled and he felt it drop beneath his feet. Then he was falling, shooting downwards at a breakneck speed. Too startled to even scream, it took him a moment to realize that not only was he still alive, but Ree was next to him and there was still ground underneath his feet. Purple walls blurred past on either side.
“It’s called an elevator,” Ree explained.
“We have elevators on Earth!” Aldrin said breathlessly.
“Not this sort, it would seem . . .”
“Are we going underground?”
Ree pointed upwards. “We’re on an earth-drop elevator, and yes, it leads underground.”
Looking in the direction of Ree’s finger, Aldrin saw a long shaft with a small patch of black sky at the top instead of a ceiling.
“So this whole shaft is hollow, and all you need to do is stand in the right spot and press a button?”
Aldrin frowned, clutching his stomach and trying to ignore the churning inside it. “Why is Intel underground?”
“Surface level gases contain trace elements of poison. Short exposure does not cause problems, but extending exposure results in mutations. The air goes through a number of filters before reaching our city complex.”
The ground was still dropping fast, and Aldrin began to feel nearly as nervous as he had at the beginning of the strange descent. “How much farther?”
Only a moment later, the elevator began to slow. Then they came to a complete stop and Aldrin rubbed his eyes, dizzied and disoriented from watching the rock walls fly past. When his vision cleared, Aldrin saw that the purple wall had been replaced by some kind of silvery metal, and a ring of doors now surrounded them.
Ree scanned the ring briefly and selected a door. It opened onto a small room with a low ceiling, only a few feet in length. Two seats faced each other in the tiny space, but there was no door on the other side.
“In here.” Ree seated herself in the farthest chair and waited for Aldrin to take the other. No sooner had he dropped into it than the door reappeared, sealing them inside.
Aldrin opened his mouth to ask what this was. Before he could get the words out, the entire room began to move.
This time, nothing of the passing world could be seen, but their speed was so much greater that Aldrin found himself glued to the seat, retching. As if the earth elevator hadn’t been bad enough . . .
Ree, not in the least affected by the motion, looked concerned. “Are you alright?”
“No,” Aldrin gasped out.
Fortunately for him, it was only a few minutes before they slowed to a stop. Aldrin slumped in his place, too drained to even sit up straight.
Ree looked at him and sighed. “We’re at Intel. Can you get up?”
Aldrin staggered over to her. “No . . .”
Ree shrugged and placed her palm on the doorless opposite wall. It evaporated under her hand, revealing a long white hallway. She stepped through and beckoned.
Aldrin followed, hugging his stomach. As he passed through the exit, an abrupt shock gripped his body. Though the feeling did not hurt, Aldrin found that he could not move. He was frozen in place. In fact, he was unable to even open his mouth.
Ree raced back. “You set off an alarm. I forgot this zone was under high security.” She passed her hand over Aldrin’s head. “I’ve never been here with someone else.”
Aldrin felt his body suddenly released. Without the support, he collapsed forward on hands and knees. “Can we please go see your Intel people?” he moaned.
“If you can walk.”
Aldrin heaved himself up, accepting Ree’s offered hand. “So where is it again?”
Ree pointed to a door at the end of the hallway. “In there.”
“What do you have to talk to them about?” Aldrin grumbled, taking a tottering step forward and trying to ignore his stomach again.
“I need to inform them how the mission concluded, and then they will decide if I’m going to die.”