In the unit next to Crowley's, Aurora opened her eyes.
Shaking, Drake backpedaled.
"Time to find out whether the truth will set me free," he gritted.
He spoke before she could do more than part her lips. “We’re not going down the rabbit hole again. I don’t give a damn if you’re on my side, their side, your own side. I think you’ve been just as played here as I have.”
“Forced to do things I don’t want to do,” she whispered, her lips blue. As the door to the unit opened, she half fell into his arms. “Do you even remember what we came for, sir?” she asked as he prevented her from collapsing.
He shook off the faint voice in his head, blathering on about the red cross, the yellow doors…fuck it. Whoever was running this show wanted him to reset. Well fine, time for the blue ouroboros, eating its own damn tail. Which is what the Unknown They had him and his team doing for days, months, years maybe. Chasing their tails like demented dogs. Taking a step back, he shot out the controls of Arthur’s unit and the door flew open. His partner fell onto the floor, landing with bone jarring force on his hands and knees, shaking with dry heaves.
“We’re getting out of here, people,” Drake said to Aurora and Arthur. “We’ve lost Crowley, at least for now. Who knows how real any of this bullshit is? Get up, soldiers, follow me. It’s only twenty paces to the doors, we can make that. One of us has to get into the room behind the blue snake.”
He left them assisting each other to rise. Going to the door of the cryo chamber, he peered cautiously through the window, staying as low as he could. “Hall’s empty, let’s go.” Not waiting for backup, he burst through the doors, sprinting for the three symbols painted on otherwise blank panels at the end of the corridor. He angled toward the red cross but at the last second slid on the slick floor like a panicky quarterback and went crashing feet first through the door bearing the endless blue snake.
Opening his eyes, Drake realized he was suspended in a vast star field, no up or down, nothing but the black of space all around him. Off to the left he watched a supernova explode in slow motion, while on the right planets coalesced from a dust cloud. “What the hell?” Time is really screwed up.
Arthur and Aurora bumped into him a few seconds apart. The three soldiers clung together, rotating slowly in space, protected by some invisible shield.
“How do we get home from here, sir?” Arthur asked, voice eerie and thin in their strange cocoon.
Muscle memory meeting his unspoken command, Drake maneuvered in the lack of gravity to see what lay behind them.
A giant ship of some kind. Ours? Theirs?
“We – we went to explore that derelict, didn’t we?” Aurora said.
He twisted so he could look at her face. “I think so.”
“But there were twenty of us.” Arthur’s voice was gaining strength. “I’m remembering. We all volunteered for the duty.”
“And then when we got on board, we became someone’s playthings. Or lab rats.” Drake saw it all now, the coldness of space bringing clarity.
“This may still be the experiment.” Aurora sounded close to tears.
“Well, I know one thing – I love you. I don’t know if we were in love before we set foot in that house of mirrors and horrors but I sure the hell can’t live without you now.” Drake’s heart beat faster as he made the declaration, feeling to the core of his being the statement was true.
For answer she gave him a blinding smile, tugging him close for a kiss.
“Uh, guys, this is all very heart warming,” Arthur said a few moments later, “But I think we need to get out of here before the keeper tries to repossess its specimens. Isn’t that our ship over there?”
“How do we--” Drake had barely begun the thought when the bubble or whatever it was sheltering them, moved toward the small ship they’d ridden to these co-ordinates. “Maybe all that poking and prodding and experimenting they did on us gave us some abilities we didn’t own before, you think?”
The trio reached the open airlock on their own vessel and tumbled inside, delivered by the bubble, which seemed to dissipate as the ship sealed in response to Drake’s hasty command.
He was up and running for the control chamber a moment later, Aurora and Arthur right behind. Vaulting into the center seat, Drake said a silent prayer as he flipped switches and punched buttons, lighting the engines and demanding full emergency power. The ship responded with a shudder, accelerating into hyperspace, leaving the alien derelict drifting in its wake.
Experiment Concluded…… 85% mortality rate
Remaining Subjects returned to their natural habitat……
Follow-up: Not required
Recommendation: Subjects too willful and self-directed to be useful for Program. No further need for testing in this quadrant. Moving on to next assigned location. Have identified potential population for sampling.