The Sequels to Syrrah's Game SGSequels




CHAPTER 24

 

OCTOBER 7TH, 3:44 PM (2:44 PM MOUNTAIN TIME)

 

Lang’s mind felt cluttered.

But everything Colonel Stevens had just told them, before they arrived in this new, larger examining room, was definitely worth reliving mentally, and analyzing. Colonel Stevens promised that his team would work harder than ever to find a way to release them from the hull and to prevent undue duress in any hull communication processes. Yet, could they, really?

It was easy to understand why this was emphasized - a distraction. After General Tauring had declared they couldn’t leave, that their condition was a matter of national security and that they needed to be patriots for the country, by staying here, of course something sugar-coated would come next.

But, didn’t matter. If that psycho general ever attempted to touch Evan in a manner that was anything but polite and benign, Lang promised himself he would find some way to escape, to protect Evan, no matter what, from this God-forsaken place and from that obnoxious Tauring.

Yes, the citizens of this country mattered, but he didn’t fully believe he and Evan were a threat to the country.

But Evan mattered very much.

Pushing Tauring to the floor yet haunted. Sure, Evan was happy with it. Outwardly, Evan could rejoice in seeing Dad behave protective and strong, unlike the troubling, bereavement-induced episodes of dear Deidra. But that empty feeling, just like from that ridiculous prayer before all this started, filled within. Weakness. Yes, all it showed was weakness, with the Savior, with God, with everything. And that warmth in his chest was barely noticeable right now.

Forget all that. Too depressing.

He looked around the spacious room. Colonel Stevens had explained they moved all the examining beds in this room to the walls, to make the room’s center more open. He didn’t say why.

Though the white walls, polished wood floor, and soft, yet bright lighting from the ceiling gave the room an overall cheery mood, Lang just had a gut feeling that this room, especially with its numerous beds, was used for creatures from another world.

And now they were in it. How fitting. And disturbing.

Motion by the doorway caught his eye. Major Ko and Captain Indalo were greeting General Tauring who slowly lumbered into the room. Behind him were Colonel Stevens, the other hull people, and the new guy Colonel Stevens had mentioned. Dr. Maplen, yes, that was his name. Head of black hair with some gray streaks. Stood about Colonel Stevens’ height, and he wore a dark blue tee shirt and blue jeans. But mostly he looked very lost and out of place. Maybe since he was a Christian, and even believed God could be behind all of this?

Lang sighed. Could such hope even seep through now?

And Dr. Maplen had to be that man Colonel Stevens mentioned earlier.

General Tauring walked to the room’s center, standing about fifty feet away in actual measurements from the far right corner where Lang and Evan leaned against one of the examining beds.

Without even thinking about it, Lang gradually stepped around to the bed’s end closest to General Tauring, creating a barrier. After Tauring had approached them unannounced while meeting the hull people, though he left promptly, yet slowly, with Colonel Stevens, the guy was just too unpredictable.

“Dad. You don’t need to do that. There’s nothing he can do to me.”

Was it that obvious? But Lang stayed put anyway. “Yeah, well, humor me. He needs to know I mean to keep you safe. I just wish I had used more tact, before, when he--”

“You did the right thing. He deserved it. You should stop beating yourself up about it.”

Lang let out a disgruntled sigh. “Sorry. I’m just upset with myself.” He became quiet for a moment, thinking. “Evan. Have you been praying at all?”

“Not really. I’m sorry, Dad…but…but I’m really starting to wonder if God even exists anymore.”

“No, Evan. Please, don’t think that. Like Colonel Stevens said. It’s a matter of faith.”

“Yeah, well, if God’s doing this, then it’s pretty mean, to have us scared of shrinking all the time, until we disappear into nothing, or me being sent through walls to other places. But I don’t think it’s God, after you saw that alien ship…so, it’s aliens, and that doesn’t make sense with the Bible.”

“But why are you scared? I thought you believed we’re like super heroes.”

“Yeah, I did, until I saw the other hull people. We all look so pathetic. Sure, we’re superheroes. The incredible shrinking superheroes.”

Lang smiled. “All right, I see. But like I told you before. Even when things don’t make sense, sometimes prayer is all we have.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll keep praying.” He took out his PSP and began playing a game, obviously signaling he didn’t want to discuss this further.

Fine. It was probably for the best. Lang ignored the pending, faith-encouraging lecture in his mind.

“Why do you think they didn’t let us visit longer with the other hull people?” Evan asked. “We barely had time to talk to them much.”

“I don’t know. But maybe we can now.”

“At least we found out all of our cell phones don’t work right. No one can make or receive calls, and no one’s camera works, just like yours, Dad. And Nahas and Akina took photos of their copy vehicles before the hull wrapped around them, and now they’re gone too. The hull is doing all of this, for some reason. Weird.”

“Yeah, it sure is.”

“And why do you think Colonel Stevens wanted to know if the hull has communicated psychically with me? I didn’t with it. I’m not sure why it brought me to those places.”

“I’m not sure too, Evan. But I wish you would discuss those places with me.”

Evan sighed. “I will, Dad. Just not yet.” He stopped playing and relaxed his arms, simply holding the PSP. “Or what’s up with wondering if we feel less fear than them? They’re not the ones shrinking!”

“Probably because of those repeating words.”

“Oh yeah. I kinda forgot about that.” He began playing his PSP again, but then leaned forward and stared intensely at Lang. “Did you feel your face yet, to see if Nahas is right?”

Lang removed his hand from the hull arm sleeve and slid his fingertips across his cheekbones and chin. “He is right. I don’t feel any stubble.” He looked at his watch. “I have 10:14 pm Central Time, October 8th. Which means it’s actually 9:14 pm Mountain Time.” He looked at the clock on the white wall. “It’s about 2:30 pm their time, but a day earlier.” Lang added up the hours in his head. “Wow. We’re about thirty hours and forty-five minutes ahead of them. So I should definitely be feeling stubble. Must be like Colonel Stevens said. The hull wants us remaining the same as when this started, for some reason.”

“But how is it possible we’re so far ahead?” Evan asked. “We’re only two seconds faster.”

“I know what you mean. I’ve wondered about it too. But, with each decrease event, time is adding on, and then more time is added on with the next one.”

“Yeah. Like Major Ko explained, I guess. If a racecar is two minutes faster than another car for ten minutes, then it gains more distance. And if the racecar is four minutes faster than the same car for another ten minutes, it gains even more distance.” Evan shrugged. “Eventually, the car’s driver can’t even see the racecar anymore.”

Uneasiness filled Lang. “I’m not sure I like the way you said that.”

“Yeah, but why does the hull want us so far into the future?”

“I don’t know, Evan, I just don’t know.” Lang shook his head unconsciously; maybe his mind just wanted to flick that thought away.

Evan stared across the room to where the hull people were standing. “Dad. I have to tell you something. Kyleigh keeps looking at you. She’s even doing it right now.”

“Really?” Lang looked across the room too. Kyleigh leaned against a wall free of examining beds, a welcoming sight to his exhausted soul, even with the stupid hull surrounding her. He smiled at her. She smiled back. What a pretty smile. Actually, her entire appearance was very pretty.

“They’re introducing Dr. Maplen now,” Evan said. “And look. Dr Maplen’s using one of those tablets. He’s probably using the program Colonel Stevens told us about, that text-to-speech program that speeds up his words. But I don’t know why they’re trying to record our voice. It’s only if the hull lets it.”

 “I know what you mean. I guess they’re hoping to hear us better at least some of the time.” Lang took a quick look around at all of Colonel Stevens’ men. “Actually, they’re all holding those tablets.” He listened a moment. Slowly Colonel Stevens spoke, explaining the need and usefulness of the tablet, and then he mentioned that Dr. Maplen taught at NDSU in Fargo. Small world, for sure. Colonel Stevens continued speaking, detailing Dr. Maplen’s credentials.

Lang watched Evan. His face was calm, but serious, listening.

A realization hit; he could only protect Evan for so much, what with all of the insane hull bizarreness and cruelty. If they survived this, Evan was only getting older and had to adapt to whatever life tossed his way. Evan was no longer a little boy; he was firmly on the path to becoming a man.

But this realization didn’t subtract much. The desire to shield Evan from Tauring and the horror of the hull just wouldn’t be suppressed. A difficult road lay ahead, at least in this regard. Never mind everything else.

Lang eyed Dr. Maplen again. He definitely seemed a fish out of water here, though thankfully he appeared to be a kind, understanding man.

Colonel Stevens finally finished stating Dr. Maplen’s background. He said Dr. Maplen would come around to each hull person, using the tablet’s program, and ask some questions.

“Why does he want to do that?” Evan asked.

Dr. Maplen headed toward Robert first.

“I don’t know. Seems like he wants to help. Maybe he’ll ask things the others haven’t done yet.”

“I hope you’re right.”

From his eye’s corner Lang could see Kyleigh approaching. He suddenly felt jitters in his stomach. Did he like her that much? No, he couldn’t do this to Deidra. He would be polite. And friendly. That was all.

“Lang,” she said, when finally near, “what do you think he wants to ask us?” Her Australian accent really added a nice touch to her warm personality.

“Ha, funny. That’s exactly what Evan and I were just discussing. But seriously, we’re not sure.”

She watched Dr. Maplen use his tablet to interact with Robert. “It’s probably gonna take a heap of time before he gets to us, even with that tablet program.” She spoke a little fast, but Lang could grasp her words. She looked at him with her pretty eyes. “I can’t believe how much slower they talk and move now.”

“I know! Evan and I just figured out that we’re thirty hours and forty-five minutes ahead of them.”

“Really?” Her relaxed, pleasant demeanor turned somber. She stared at her cell phone a while, obviously thinking, calculating. “I stopped looking at the time lately. It made me too upset. Besides, Robert lets us know how far we are ahead…sometimes. But all three of us try not to think about these things. I think Nahas and Akina feel the same.”

Evan was nodding in agreement, looking up at her, but he didn’t say anything.

“I’m sorry, Kyleigh,” Lang said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

She smiled. “No worries. No need to be sorry. You didn’t know. So…who gave the name to this beastly stuff around us?”

“I did,” Evan said eagerly. “I know, it’s not so appropriate and all, but they gave me some choices and I chose ‘the hull’ because it seemed to fit the best. What did you guys call it in Australia?”

With a funny, amused face, she shrugged. “They didn’t. Just used scientific jargon to get by.”

“Same here,” Lang said. “That’s why they wanted a short name, to make conversations about it a lot easier.”

“Well, I can tell you we’re all rather happy to use it too. Does make conversations easier.” She stared curiously at Lang for a moment. “Can I ask what ethnicity you are?”

Seemed it had been so long since anyone questioned him about it, save for Major Eiken, he nearly forgot it could be an issue for newer acquaintances. “I’m a quarter Chippewa Indian, from Minnesota, if that’s what you mean.” He looked down at Evan. “And Evan’s three eighths, since his mom…um, my wife…well, she, um…she was half Chippewa.” That was torture to get out.

Concern was in Kyleigh’s eyes. “Where is your wife now?”

Lang looked away, trying to hide his shattered heart, his tearing eyes. Dr. Maplen was still communicating with Robert, while Alan walked closer, listening. Nahas and Akina were talking with each other, and would most likely be next after those two.

Lang knew he had created an uncomfortable silence, but didn’t know what to say.

“My mom died about three months ago,” Evan said abruptly. “And my dad still isn’t over it. It’s been really hard on him.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said. “I had no idea.”

“It’s all right,” Evan said. “You didn’t know.”

Okay, this needed to stop. Lang blinked hard a few times, forcing the tears away. He looked at her. “You mentioned you were a bus driver in Melbourne.” Her blond hair distracted his sad thoughts - a lovely cut, layered gently to just below shoulder length, with some wispy strands a little wayward, as blown out by a wind. But he settled his gaze on her outfit. “Is that why you’re wearing the blue uniform?”

“Yeah, my blue single suit. I wear it sometimes, not always. Usually I wear a button shirt and pants or a skirt.”

 “Oh, I see.” Whatever she wore, Lang imagined it would look good. She was medium height, maybe about five feet six inches normally, when not shrunk by the hull, and she was quite slender. “I guess it gets the job done.”

She smiled. “Oh yeah, it works.”

Evan stepped closer to her and stared up at her intently. “How did it happen to you guys?”

She squinted in seriousness at him. “You mean, when this all began?”

“Yes, that’s what I mean.”

“Evan,” Lang said, “she may not want to discuss this. Kyleigh, you don’t have to.”

“No, it’s all right. Akina, and Nahas, we discussed some of it already. Did you know that those of us driving, Nahas and I, were praying before it happened, and then the vibration occurred? Even though Akina was just riding, she had prayed first too. This has to be from God, Lang.”

Memories of that terrible darkness, and the distant silver disk shoved into any hope she supplied, and reinforced Lang’s intuition that Dr. Maplen had to be wrong too. But he didn’t want to crush her optimism. “Really? I was praying too, before it happened.”

She smiled. “I knew it.”

“Are you…are you a Christian, a believer in the Savior?”

Her face lighted in warmth, kindness. “Born again in him, mate.” But then seriousness returned. She looked at Evan. “Let me continue. Won’t forget it. Was driving west down Holden Street, between Byme and Brunswick streets. It was around 11:40 pm. I prayed silently, and then that earthquake feeling happened.”

“Wow,” Lang said. “So all of us driving felt some sort of serious tremor or explosion?”

 “I believe so, from what they’ve told me. So, I pulled over and parked. I turned around, expecting to see Robert and Alan, my only two passengers, shook up like me, about the quake. Instead they were looking out the back window. When I walked back to them, I thought they were crazy, since they kept saying they saw a second bus that somehow peeled away from mine and parked behind us. I looked out, and I saw a bus, its lights, but I didn’t believe them. It had to be some other bus I hadn’t seen in the mirrors yet.”

Intense interest covered Evan’s face. “What happened next?”

“I told them to stay in the bus, that I would check it out. But I’m so glad they didn’t listen. I went out. Cars were honking their horns because of both buses blocking lanes. It was night, you know, but street lights were lit, and the inside of the other bus was lit.” She breathed in deeply and swallowed. “When I looked in, and saw myself sitting there, in the driver’s seat, like a taxidermy copy of myself, I nearly collapsed to the ground. But just then Robert showed up. I told him to help me, and he held both my hands, supporting me.” She looked over in his direction, and smiled. “He might be an atheist, but he’s a caring bloke.”

This didn’t affect Lang; he was used to it. Several atheists worked in the office. “And then Robert and Alan saw themselves too?”

“Yeah. And freaked. See, it’s significant that Robert held my hands. Shortly after, that second bus moved, and then, you know, merged with ours.”

“Oh yeah,” Lang said. “Believe me, I remember very well when our Suburban did.”

“And then, like Akina and Nahas, we all saw our doubles come out, and repeat our motions and all. And I wasn’t sure, at first, if that’s what was happening. But then, when I saw my double begin sinking and then grab hands with Robert’s double, I knew for sure. It sent massive chills up my spine, let me tell you.”

“And then they started speeding up?” Evan asked.

“Well, yeah,” she said. “About the time I called the police. Couldn’t even talk to them, seeing the doubles speed up. Robert took my phone away and talked instead.”

Lang felt curious of something. “Did the police come right away?”

“Well, about the time our doubles were catching up with us, two police cars arrived. We ran up to them, but it was too late. We were a sight to see. The poor neighbors, watching. We were screaming, yelling, kicking, fighting, trying to get it off. And then the cops pointed their guns at us, thinking we were the bad guys. They were totally confused.”

Evan let out a brief chuckle. “Wouldn’t have mattered. Their guns couldn’t do a thing to you.”

With Akina and Nahas walking ahead of him, Dr. Maplen came closer. All eyes and attention turned to him. Kyleigh didn’t say anything else.

Dr. Maplen, his fingers stumbling somewhat, texted a message. Like Colonel Stevens’ men, his typing seemed to be quicker than his speech. He held the tablet outward and electronic words came at a faster, understandable clip. His message was he now wanted to ask everyone questions at once, instead of separately. He requested that everyone speak slowly, since he knew the tablet’s recorder may or may not function. He asked if besides no hunger, thirst, or the need to excrete bodily wastes, was there still no need to sleep? He kept the tablet outward, hoping to record everyone’s answers.

“Was that why General Tauring wanted us to participate in a laser experiment?” Nahas asked.

What? That scumbag psycho.

Dr. Maplen simply spoke, “No.”

Maybe things needed to be let out more, Lang realized. “Well, I fell asleep once.”

“You did?” Kyleigh asked.

With the other hull people gathering closer, Lang explained about the darkness test and the subsequent images Captain Indalo then saw. Lang didn’t given any details of the images. No need to stir up anything worse, for now.

The hull people didn’t seem too bothered about the images, but Dr. Maplen was looking rather grim. Maybe try cheering him up? Lang thought a moment. “Dr. Maplen. All of the drivers of the vehicles, and Akina on the subway car.  We’re all born-again Christians.”

He swallowed, and twitched his neck slowly. “I know. Colonel Stevens told me,” he said, not using the tablet. “I’m a Christian too.”

From behind Nahas, Robert let out a disgusted sigh and walked away a short distance.

 “You are?” Kyleigh asked Dr. Maplen, her voice emanating surprise.

“Yes, really.” Again Dr. Maplen didn’t use the tablet.

“Many university professors are Christian,” Nahas said. “Many of mine were. I am not surprised.”

It was music to Lang’s ears. And Akina smiled, her eyes joyful.

But maybe Dr. Maplen had an answer to the worst fear from all of this. “Can I ask a question?”

Slowly Dr Maplen placed the tablet nearer to Lang.

“Please, tell me, what it was that I saw” – Lang swallowed, recalling the scene, and the fear –“when the hull took me into outer space, and showed me a silver oval spacecraft.”

Kyleigh stepped closer to Lang’s right side. “You saw a spacecraft?” The former serenity in her voice was much diminished. She was scared. “Why didn’t you tell us already?”

He gently gazed into her troubled eyes. “I’m sorry. I…I didn’t want to alarm anyone, right away.”

Dr. Maplen began typing a response into the tablet. Hopefully it would be some good news

From his left eye’s corner, Lang noticed General Tauring approaching.

“Sounds like a lot of shenanigans have been happening here to you two, more than the rest of us,” Robert said, walking closer. Alan was following right behind him. Both men had curiosity and intense interest fixing their faces. “What else happened here, mate?”

Lang didn’t want to lie, but it probably wasn’t a good idea to mention the hull’s terrifying communication attempt, and Evan’s disappearance into the wall, at least not now. “Some other things did happen, but…” He glanced sideways toward Evan, then stared back at Robert. “What went on with you guys?”

Thankfully Robert picked up on the cue and mellowed his intensity. “Sitting around rotting. Australian authorities and scientists couldn’t do much. Apparently that’s why we’re here.” He looked at Akina and Nahas. “What about you two? Anything else happened you forgot to mention?”

Okay, now his tone was a bit demeaning. Maybe Robert had some pent up anger?

Before Akina or Nahas could answer, or Dr. Maplen could complete his message, General Tauring stood nearby. Again. He positioned his own tablet to be heard. “Questions and answers will be addressed at another time. For now, simply answer Dr. Maplen’s questions and cooperate with any simple tasks he might request.”

Robert let out a frustrated sniff, and turned away. “Americans,” he spoke under his breath.

Lang looked up at Dr. Maplen. Evan and the others did too.

Dr. Maplen held out his tablet. “Though I believe I know the physics of what is happening to all of you, beyond that, I can’t explain any of this. We are completely in unchartered waters here. But, that said, I do have an idea.”

Knowing the physics? Lang wanted to ask, and it looked like Robert did too, but they both said nothing.

The tablet’s words continued. “For my idea, I would like everyone to stand in a circle. I know all of you feel repulsion from each other at about six inches in your size frame, but this confuses me, since you are all obviously in the same dimension. Something is amiss, and hopefully this gives me some clues.”

With Dr. Maplen in the middle, directing, the circle formed. Evan stood to Lang’s left, while Kyleigh stood to Lang’s right. He gave her another smile, and she smiled back. He wondered – was her smile one of pity, for his bereavement, or one of compassion, or maybe friendliness?

Didn’t matter; at least she gave him one.

The circle’s order then went from Kyleigh to Akina to Nahas to Robert to Alan and then back to Evan.

Dr. Maplen then slowly moved toward Robert and Alan. Both Australian men quickly moved to allow him space to step out of the circle. “Thank you,” he said vocally. “Don’t want to get trapped in here.”

Evan let out an awkward laugh. “That’s a joke! You obviously don’t know enough about the hull. The general blasted a night stick right through me and I didn’t feel a thing.”

Lang gave Evan a stern look. “Evan. Now is not the time.” Though mainly concerned for the well-being of the hull people, Lang cast an eye towards Tauring; the general’s tablet was facing toward them and he slowly typed away on it with one hand.

“You could walk through any of us,” Evan said, ignoring Lang. “We don’t exist here.”

Silence filled the room. Not only did many of the hull people have their mouths dropped in shock, but worry and shock covered Colonel Stevens’ men too. No one said a word.

Lang looked into Robert’s stare. The Australian man’s dark eyes communicated comprehension.

General Tauring approached closer, his demeanor assured yet slightly unnerved. He held out his tablet. “No need for alarm. It was only a show of proof, for myself, and our doctors, that the hull did exist in another dimension. Please, proceed with your test.”

But studying the hull people’s expressions a little more, Lang detected remorse and fear. Not a great announcement Evan had made to foreigners from distant countries coming here for help.

General Tauring backed away and quietly spoke with Captain Indalo standing nearby.

“All right,” Dr. Maplen’s tablet spoke. “Everyone hold your hands against the person on each side of you, until the repulsion is felt. Once feeling it, hold steady.”

Lang moved his hands toward Evan and Kyleigh. Immediately he felt the repulsion kick in from both sides.

He held the pose, as requested, like the others were doing. Periodically he glanced at Evan and Kyleigh. Evan laughed a few times, even joking with Alan. Kyleigh smiled now and then, but it wasn’t the warm smile from before. She held distrust now. Lang hoped it wasn’t at him. He smiled back, kindly, hoping to calm her anxieties.

“Hey,” Alan said. “Anyone know what’s the longest time the repulsion ever took place?”

Maybe only fifteen seconds their time had passed by. Lang looked up at the clock on the wall. Not good. 3:02. “Dr. Maplen. Colonel Stevens,” he called out, remembering the 3:07 possible decrease event. “Shouldn’t we--”

In a flurry of color and shape changes, Lang’s hull sprung off him. Everything looked very different. And the repulsion was gone.

Garbled, slow motion words of surprise and excitement began to spring forth from Dr. Maplen, and Colonel Stevens and his men.

Blinking to see clearer, Lang took it all in. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Everyone’s hull had somehow flung together to create a one unit enclosing hull space, like a large, clear-plastic enclosed pod, or transparent, smooth-edged tent.

Evan grabbed Lang’s hand. “Dad. I can touch you again!” He looked down. “Look at the floor!”

Lang did. The hull tent’s floor was flat, and its surface underneath just jutting up against the examining room’s floor. The hull floor’s expanse was more of a slightly oval circle, conforming to all the hull people’s positions.

“Look up at the ceiling of this thing,” Kyleigh said, pointing upwards. “It’s just a few inches above Alan’s height, I suppose since he’s the tallest.”

“Yup, that’s me. Tallest here.” Alan pressed his hands up against the ceiling. “Still that cushion of air.” His palms could only get as close to the hull itself as when they were in a regular, single hull enclosure. Probably less than one and a half inches now, in hull dimension measurements. Alan looked down and took a few steps. “Same on the floor.” He walked on a cushion of air.

Lang took a few steps and felt the same. He gazed around. The sides of this larger hull jut straight up from the floor’s oval circumference and curved sharply, though smoothly into an arched ceiling, its highest height about two inches above Alan’s head. Air space and roominess existed abundantly.

Walking a few steps more, Lang quickly looked back. The hull’s curved wall did not encase against his body. “So, the airspace is staying the same below our feet, but the sides and ceiling don’t want to form against us?”

“Wow, you’re right, Dad.” Evan spun around a few times near the center of the hull tent, holding his arms out. “We’re actually free to move around now.” He stopped and rushed up to Lang, throwing his arms around him. “I can finally hug you!”

Lang hugged him back, closely. Thank you, Savior, thank you. But then troubling thoughts came. He patted Evan on the back a few times and released him. “I don’t think we should get too happy about this yet.” He looked up and around. “This could all collapse upon us, knowing the hull’s trickery.”

“You’re right.” Nahas stepped closer to them and scanned around. “I don’t trust this. Why would the hull permit it?”

 “Well, you two can have your distrust,” Robert said. “I’m taking this opportunity.” He walked over to Alan and thrust forth his hand. “How ‘bout a handshake and a high five.”

Alan came back with a rather weak reciprocating handshake but a strong high five.

Kyleigh drew closer to Lang and held out her hand. “I’m Kyleigh Behrend. Now we can have a formal introduction.” The distrust she exhibited previously had diminished. She was smiling.

“And I’m Lang Turrone.” He took her hand gently, securely. “Nice to meet you.”

From all around the hull tent, the other hull people were either speaking to one another or handshaking, and otherwise ignoring anything occurring outside in the examining room.

Well, that didn’t seem like a good idea. Lang looked outside. Kyleigh did too. Captain Indalo had moved closer, video recording only inches from the hull tent’s surface. But Dr. Maplen, Colonel Stevens, and Major Ko were talking to Tauring, and all four weren’t looking too happy.

Tauring approached and held out his tablet. “We have a dilemma. As I told Dr. Maplen, now that you’re all together, how will you separate? Or should you all squeeze through the doorway, or pass through a wall?”

His sarcastic words grasped everyone’s attention. All the hull people became quiet. Yet Evan showed the least concern.

“Well he’s not the most encouraging person,” Kyleigh said, giving Lang perplexed, distrustful eyes.

Lang scowled. “Oh, you have no idea.”

Hands slowly shaking, his eyes and face distressed, Dr. Maplen walked closer. He looked all around the hull tent.

Tauring held out his tablet again. “Dr. Maplen needs to hurry, since we’re due for another decrease event at 1507 hours, that is, 3:07 pm for you civilians.”

“What?” Kyleigh eyed the clock.

The distress in her voice slashed through Lang. “That’s right. I nearly forgot about it.”

“Me too.”

Dr. Maplen slowly breathed in deeper, heavier breaths. He typed into the tablet and held it out. “Maybe one of you would like to try separating from the hull. I apologize for not anticipating the consequences of this better.”

“Quite the dilemma,” Nahas said. “What will happen if a decrease event occurs now?”

This wasn’t feeling good at all. A rush of adrenaline surged through Lang, heating his body. But Kyleigh. And Evan. He breathed in quietly, and smiled at both of them. She smiled back at him, though her lips trembled ever so slightly. Evan patted Lang on the back and didn’t show much concern at all. The others were either smiling or joking, probably covering their true feelings.

Alan stepped over to the hull tent’s wall, nearest where Dr. Maplen stood. “I’ll give it a try. Who knows, maybe I’ll get free. Should I just push here?”

“But what will happen to the rest of us?” Nahas asked. “Could the seal break on the hull?”

Well that just helped everyone feel a lot better. Lang’s core burned warmer.

Dr. Maplen slowly shook his head and spoke vocally. “I don’t know, Nahas. But Alan, just try pushing gently, but not too hard, right where you stand now.” His words came far too sluggishly, but Lang made sense of them nevertheless.

Robert and Nahas moved away from Alan, giving him space. One by one everyone else did too. Funny, really. Everyone wanted to break free, but the unknowns were just too disturbing and frightening.

Evan’s body tensed. “But Alan. We’re probably going to shrink soon!”

Alan looked back at Evan. “Don’t care. I’m getting out of here. I’d rather shrink like I did before.” Alan faced forward and pushed against the hull’s wall, making it bow outward like a stretched balloon. Similarly to when he pressed up against the hull tent’s ceiling, the hull still only allowed that same air space distance between his palms and the hull’s sides. 

Suddenly, in a flash of motion, the hull flung a layer of itself behind Alan, sealing around his backside from ceiling to floor. Yet caught up in the momentum of his forward push, he was then smoothly popped out of the hull tent until he stood stably upon the floor, his balance intact. Alan now stood in a separate hull surrounding only him, just as before.

He walked over and stood near Dr. Maplen.

Evan clapped his hands and launched up a fist. “All right, Alan! You did it!”

The others called out their praises too.

“Sometimes, I think it knows exactly what we want,” Kyleigh said quietly. “And I’m not sure I like that.”

“I know what you mean.” Lang looked around the new hull tent. It had gotten smaller, but still had the same general shape.

Dr. Maplen’s eyes were wide as headlights. “Thank God, Alan,” he said vocally. “Wasn’t sure you could.” Colonel Stevens patted Dr. Maplen on the back, the pat’s reverberation so drawn out and disturbing.

Major Ko smiled and Tauring nodded approvingly. Captain Indalo kept the camcorder over his face, so it was hard to tell his feelings.

“I just think this happened too easily,” Lang said. He looked up at the clock. 3:07. On the dot. Oh, no.

The light flash came instantly, and brightly, far brighter than it had ever been.

Moaning, Lang yanked his hand inward and covered his eyes, even though he had shut them tightly. “There’s more…of us.” His eyes hurt more than usual. “Much brighter.”

“Hey, what the heck,” Evan called out. “Now I’ll be blinded for even longer.”

Kyleigh complained too. Lang’s heart sank; her distress momentarily brought back Deidra’s last days in the hospital. No. Push that away! He concentrated on those outside the hull. Greenish blue light, they said. Very bright. But he saw deep yellow with a touch of orange.

He opened his eyes. Not again. But should he be surprised? To make certain, he studied everything carefully between the flash spots marring his sight. Compared to Dr. Maplen, two to three inches in real measurements had been chopped off his and the other hull people’s heights. And worse, Dr. Maplen and the other men were now about three times taller than Lang’s height. Slow moving giants, they were.

“I’m hating this more than ever,” Evan said.

“I know, believe me.”

“But we have to keep going,” Kyleigh said, her brow gently crumpled in worry. “We can’t stay like this.”

“You’re right. I agree.”

Dr. Maplen, more shook up and more of a fish out of water than before, verbally requested each hull person to do what Alan had done.

Robert agreed to be next. Lang watched closely this time. As with Alan, once Robert pushed his hands against the hull’s wall in a deliberate, sustained manner, bowing it outward, some of the hull shot off, from both the left and right sides of Robert, and instantly melded together. It happened lightning fast, but that did seem to be what occurred. And strangely, the whole process barely made any noise. Robert was then smoothly thrust out. He stood on the examining room floor, near Alan, in his usual one unit hull. And the hull tent instantly returned its wall’s structure to how it was previously.

The hull tent became smaller again, but still maintained the same overall shape as before.

Of course. What would you expect from a technology advanced beyond anyone’s dreams?

Nahas looked at Akina. “I want to go next, but I want to make certain you leave before me.” An obvious bond had formed between those two, she from Japan, and he from Ghana. They had been talking a lot with each other.

But thinking about Nahas’ words, a sudden disturbing thought hit Lang. Who would be last in this hull tent? And then what? He didn’t want Kyleigh or Evan to be that one.

Kindly Nahas instructed Akina to push on the hull’s wall, on the same side that Alan and Robert had pushed. She did, and soon effortlessly left the hull tent as they had.

Nahas eyed both Kyleigh and Evan. “Women and children first.” He held out his hand in the same direction that Akina had exited.

“I agree,” Lang said. He looked at Evan, and then at Kyleigh. “Who wants to be next?”

Kyleigh gave a fragile smile. “I’ll go next.”

Lang smiled back. “All right.”

As with Akina, Kyleigh pressed on the hull’s wall, bowing it outward, until the hull’s lightning-fast sheets engulfed around her. Soon she stood outside in her own hull as before.

Now the hull enclosed just three of them. The hull tent was much smaller, but still had the same general shape. But, no matter. Lang was getting Evan out now. “Evan. Your turn.”

Evan eagerly turned, faced the hull’s wall, and pushed with gusto. In an eye blink, he was out. He went and stood near Kyleigh.

And now the hull tent was much smaller.

Lang stared at Nahas, a distance of about one and half feet separating the front of their bodies. “It’s just us now.”

Nahas looked down, then left, right, and up. Lang did too. “Amazing, this hull,” Nahas said. “Extraordinarily advanced, yet a highly disturbing and fear-producing entity.”

Lang snickered. “Funny. Those thoughts have crossed my mind a few times too.” Lang kept looking around. Again, the shape was similar, only much smaller, a small oval tent with a rounded roof about one to two inches above their heads. Contemplating how to exit this was getting confusing, ominous. But Evan’s need for a strong father and Kyleigh’s furtive, hesitant dependence grew strength in his heart. “You go. I’ll be the last to remain.”

“Nonsense. It is not my custom. You go, I’ll remain.”

Lang leaned closer to Nahas and whispered, “I want to impress Evan. He needs an uplift.”

Moving back a little from Lang, Nahas gave a sideways grin. “All right. I will leave before you.” But then Nahas’ expression became serious. He looked around, not sure what to do.

“Maybe try turning around,” Lang suggested, “your back facing me. It’s probably best.”

“Smart idea, Lang.”

Before Lang could register the trepidation rising from within, the unknown darkening his thoughts, Nahas turned around and pushed.

Lang closed his eyes. He just simply didn’t want to see this.

“Dad. You can open your eyes now. It’s all right.”

Lang did. He was surrounded by the one-unit hull as before. And Nahas stood nearby in his own similar hull.

Dr. Maplen held his tablet near all of the hull people. “Good job, everyone. I believe the hull has your best interests, since it didn’t release any of you. The pressure differences alone between our two dimensions are very troublesome.”

Lang looked up at Dr. Maplen “Thank you, regardless.” He made sure to speak slowly. “I have not been able to hug my son in days.”

For the first time since visiting with all the hull people, Dr. Maplen smiled, though only briefly. “You’re welcome,” he said vocally.