Asylum Preview Book 1, Part 1



Chapter 1

Michelle Knight


Only a psychopath could sleep through that.


In what must have been a desperate attempt at escapism, Michelle remembered with a laugh how her university friends had said that about her. It was back in the 21st century, back on Earth, back when she watched the entire Saw series with them. Or, more accurately, when her friends had screamed their heads off every time Jig Saw appeared on the screen. Michelle slept soundly on the couch the entire night.


The second she woke up the next morning, that’s what her friends told her. Michelle, only a psychopath could sleep through that! It was a joke of course, the sort of thing young women squeal when they’re teasing one another. Although, being privileged middle class women, there was also an air of truth to it. Those movies had the worst, most grotesque, images they had ever seen.


Michelle sleeping through it was the most morbid addition to that night, which gave her friends nightmares for weeks to come.


Even though Michelle had laughed at their joke, deep in the back of her mind was the worry that maybe, just maybe, she was a psychopath because she had slept through it—and woke up pretty well rested.


How Michelle wished she were back in that time and place. The thought of her friends and their innocence made the tip of her mouth go up into a smirk.


If only Michelle’s friends knew, as Michelle herself knew now, what psychopaths really looked like. What morbidity actually was.


Even though Michelle already knew the answer, she tested the restraints again. She lifted her left arm, where a cool, thin metal band was tightly keeping her bicep in place. The answer: she was bound to the hospital table, if it could even be called that. It was more like a metal slab that was equipped with the bare minimum for scientific mutilation: restraints.


Michelle couldn’t see if there was anything else on the table, or anything nearby for that matter. The room was sanitised to the point where the white walls, cabinets, and everything else was blinding.


Being in this room was the opposite of being in darkness. After a few minutes, her eyes adjusted so she could see, but just barely. The lights reflected off the white surfaces, obliterating every detail by the time her eyes saw it. Every time Michelle visited this room, it was tiny daggers piercing her pupils.


It had only slightly improved when the Ants gave her new eyes.


Only now could Michelle vaguely make out the shapes of the Ants in the room. Not the kind of ants you would find on Earth, but a kind of alien that Michelle found reminiscent of that particular insect. The alien species in question had a name for themselves, no doubt one impossible for Michelle to pronounce. But, with the universal translator being what it was, there was never any need for Michelle to attempt it.


The second Michelle had arrived in this experimental facility, roughly five months ago (by her estimation), the Ants had installed a universal translator into the base of her skull. Connected to the auditory complex in her brain, it helped her communicate with the Ants, her bunk mates, and the Blue Skins. What it didn’t do—what it couldn’t do—was pull English words out of thin air.


The names of other species, especially the unpronounceable ones, caused a buzzing sensation in Michelle’s head. When Michelle heard unfamiliar names, her translator buzzed, and a substitute name got produced based on Michelle’s current lexicon.


As a result, most of Michelle’s bunk mates had names similar to whatever animal or organism Michelle thought they looked like the most. Again, not because that was actually the name of their species, but because the universal translator provided the closest English word for Michelle’s benefit.


As far as substitute names went, “Ant” actually did fit Michelle’s captors.



From what Michelle could see, the Ants walked around her slab with sharp instruments in each of their eight hands. Occasionally, Michelle noticed them looking down at her the same way a child looks at a birthday present before they rip the wrapping open.


Roughly human sized, they had the same jet black exoskeleton as an Earth ant would have. Attached to each of their four thoraxes were a set of arms. It didn’t appear these arms shared the same brain, as the sets of arms would work independently of the other arms. It was jarring every time Michelle saw them working.


There was one Ant in particular that stood in the corner, each of its four sets of arms completing a different task. One set was signing off on a report, another set typing results into a computer console, and the final two sets testing what appeared to be a hand saw.


This multitasking Ant was called A431-B. Or B for short. She was the Ant who appeared to run this experimental facility. Kind of the equivalent of a queen ant in an anthill.


Barely looking up, B ordered another Ant to tighten the restraints on Michelle’s forearms. No doubt, she’d noticed Michelle testing their limits, and wasn’t satisfied.


B casually mentioned, “We don’t want her flailing about like last time.”


Her voice sounded both gravelly and robotic. Like, if a rock was thrown in a blender and given a mechanical voice box. Amused, Michelle imagined what that would actually look like. Probably a cartoon . . .


But, in real life, the voice belonged to B.


Now,” B added for emphasis. If Michelle didn’t know any better, there was a modicum of fear in her voice. But why? Michelle had a theory . . .


Roughly a month ago, again by Michelle’s estimation, she had been tied to this very same table, with the same restraints, and the same swarm of Ants around her. B leaned over Michelle with a spoon.


The first eye came out with a sickening POP which Michelle was somehow able to hear over her own screaming.


Before B could reach in and scoop out the second one, Michelle had managed to get her arm free and knock the spoon onto the floor. From the TINK TINK TINK sound it made against the floor, Michelle estimated it went across the room.


B was not in good spirits to say the least.


Michelle’s free hand flew to her empty eye socket, and she panicked as she felt the wet blood on her fingertips. Fearfully, her index finger explored a centimetre into the socket . . . there was nothing to stop her finger from going all the way in.


One of B’s underlings rushed to sanitise the spoon again, while several other Ants swarmed to restrain Michelle’s arm again. Michelle could only see half of what was going on in the room, as her field of vision abruptly ended where her lost eye should be. She had to turn her head to the blinded side to see B backing up slightly, surprised by the sudden lack of control.


The underling brought the spoon back. Michelle knew they only sanitised it because they didn’t want to deal with infection. Nothing humane about that, just being practical.


With more zeal than the first, B ripped out Michelle’s second eye, and Michelle heard the terrifying sound as the ball plopped into the basin beside the slab.


Shortly after that, Michelle felt poking and prodding at her scalp, as they jammed new, bionic eyeballs into her sockets, hooked them up her optical nerves, as well as the bionic portions of her brain.


The migraines that followed that month were blinding, a little bit ironic considering they had gone to all that effort to give her new eyes. The migraines themselves had subsided earlier that week, and she hadn’t noticed a large difference in her vision. As far as she could tell, her vision was still 20/20, and nothing special . . .


She had theorised with her bunk mates what the Ants were planning, although no one was certain. If anything, it seemed like a failed experiment up until this point.


Was that why B sounded a bit frightened? Because the experiment might be a bust? Or because when Michelle had broken free of the restraint last time, she had shattered the illusion of control B had?


An Ant named A534-F approached Michelle, implementing B’s orders. Everyone called her F, and she was famous among the other detained subjects. Unlike the others, she actually seemed to . . . care? Not that it was worth much.


F used her second and third set of arms to tighten the restraints on Michelle’s upper arms. She tightened them so much Michelle could feel her blood circulation being cut off. Her fingertips started to tingle.


When she was finished, F looked over her shoulder at B. It reminded Michelle of the way a preschooler checks to see if their teacher is watching before doing something mischievous. She pulled a little needle out of her lab coat pocket. From previous experience, Michelle knew it was filled with a mild sedative. Michelle and her bunkmates rarely got any form of compassion like this, and Michelle was positive F wasn’t allowed to give her any relief. In what can only be described as Stockholm syndrome-induced thankfulness, Michelle conflated these tiny milligrams of kindness to almost saintly proportions.


After F injected the sedative into Michelle’s neck, a sense of haziness started to overcome her. The world gently circled around her in a pleasant dance, swirling the pain away from her body. She forgot her anger and resentment at how she had been abducted from her time three centuries ago. From a planet thousands of light years away. Brought here to be a human lab rat.


Even in her drugged state, Michelle knew B could know what F had done. So, summoning as much thankfulness as she could, she stared into F’s eyes. All the thankfulness she could muster was in that stare. It might have been the drugs, but Michelle could have sworn F smiled back at her.


Another Ant circled around to Michelle’s neck and put a cold brace over her throat to hold her in place. The sense of peace she had dissipated into panic. Even though Michelle willed herself to calm down, her body had an involuntary reaction, associating everything around her with inevitable pain.


Many Ants circled around, each with a set or two of hands placed somewhere on her body. There were at least four hands on her head, detaching the metal plate that was placed over the bionic portion of her brain.


A tear fell from one of Michelle’s new eyes. Removing the skull plate shouldn’t have hurt, but the sensation of a metal plate scraping along her scalp sent ghost pains all throughout her body. Pain might have been worsened by the knowledge something was going to happen. It was going to hurt. They were going to mutilate her.


They were going to play with the bionic portion of Michelle’s brain. Parts of her brain were chopped up with knives and replaced with metal and circuitry. She couldn’t feel her fingers. They were numb. Tingling gone. She had no idea what was going to happen. Her eyes were scooped out with spoons. Lost. She was broken. Damaged. The sense of peace from the sedative had already gone away. It wouldn’t even eliminate the pain entirely. She was going to get mutilated.


Had no idea how. Uncertainty led to panic which led to pain.


“She ready?” B asked as she walked over to Michelle.


The others in the lab nodded. There was one Ant on either side of Michelle’s body, holding her hands so her forearms were slightly lifted off the table. If the Ants weren’t cold blooded, Michelle would have felt comforted, having her hands held like she was a little girl.


Suddenly, Michelle’s leg kicked up. B took a surprised step back, no doubt remembering the one time Michelle’s arm got loose.


“Sorry,” one of the Ants at Michelle’s head said. No doubt, the one prodding at her head had hit one of the nerves, causing her limb to move involuntarily.


Before B even had to order it, there were Ants at Michelle’s feet, pushing them into the table. Michele felt lightning hot pain course through her body as the Ant working on her pain stabbed and prodded the electronic connectors in her skull. No doubt making sure the bionic portion of her brain was still connected to the natural part.


Then, like the calm before the storm, everyone in the lab went quiet. The pain in Michelle’s limbs subsided. If this were Saw, Jig Saw would whirr in right now to deliver an ultimatum of some form.

This silence was broken when B turned the saw on. As the saw got louder, Michelle thought this sound was much more ominous than Jig Saw’s scooter. The Ants holding Michelle’s hands gripped them as tightly as they could.


Michelle’s legs started kicking for real this time, but the Ants restraining her were surprisingly strong. Considering there didn’t appear to be muscles under their exoskeletons. Granted, Earth ants could carry up to 50 times their body weight, so . . .


When B’s saw contacted the skin on Michelle’s forearm, just below the elbows, she wondered just how much worse the pain would have been without the sedative. The feeling of slicing metal, combined with the prodding at the head, mixed with the sights of black Ants swarming around her in the bright white room, created pain so intense Michelle’s new eyes went pure white, blocking out all stimulation.


Michelle wished that she could sleep through this the same way she had slept through Saw.


Only a psychopath could do this to Michelle.


Chapter 2

Hope Gardentender

Hope’s mind reeled as she walked back to the bunk she shared with several other test subjects. They had been planning an escape for as long as Hope could remember, but it was still far from ready.


The Blue Skins escorting Hope took pleasure in pushing her every couple of steps, taunting her, saying she wasn’t going fast enough no matter how quickly her steps picked up. Their species were almost cousins, but the Blue Skins had sold themselves out to the Ants, becoming minions who appeared to take joy in whatever pain they could deliver to others.


Then, there were the Dactyls. Hope’s species lived on a planet called Dactylia, which was within a half hour of this facility. The details about the Ant’s home world was a mystery, but many assumed it was either far away or nonexistent. Many space station facilities like this one were set up in locations near worlds where they could easily find subjects. Species helpless to fight against imprisonment from the Ants. Species that were to the Ants what cocknells were to Dactyles.


Back when she lived on Dactylia, Hope wasn’t terribly fond of cocknells. But as she thought of the way the restauranteurs would pull the vegetables directly from their water tanks to prepare fresh . . . sliced up into fanciful shapes and slices, Hope felt homesickness, and a sudden craving for cocknells.


The Ants needed species like the Dactyles—unable and unwilling to fight back. The Dactyls were treated like an infestation. An orange-skinned, winged, infestation. The only joy that Hope found in her current situation was that least she wasn’t a Blue Skin.


Any fate was better than being cruel like them.


One more turn, and Hope would be back in the bunk. She would have questions to answer, as her bunk mates always wanted details.


Hope’s bunk mate, Michelle, typically got the most morbid of experiments. Being a human made her a delicacy, and the Ants loved nothing more than to cut her open in any way they possibly could.


In comparison, Hope’s experiments were almost humane. They injected her with needles, measured her pulse, tested her increased cognitive abilities. Michelle was like a pin cushion, while Hope was like a pet they were training to do tricks.


People in Hope’s bunk theorised they were genetically modifying Hope with improvements they wanted to give to the Blue Skins. They needed to test the experiments on Hope first to see if they were safe or not. Then they might make an army of genetically enhanced Blue Skins . . . that was a nightmare Hope repressed, hoping she would only have to deal with it another day. Today, she just had to deal with her appointments, which were always unique.


Not because of the experiments themselves.


What made Hope’s appointments unique, was how once every two weeks they coincided with Merri Sun’s. Merri was also a human, just like Michelle, but with one large difference: she was from 4 million years into the future. The Ants had abducted her from a small colony that had gotten lost on its way to relocate on a planet far away.


Being humans made Merri and Michelle sisters in the pain they suffered at the hands of Ants. While it was unclear what they were doing with Michelle, Merri was under observation for what they had already done to her.


Merri was a subject in the temporal department. The Ants, by pulling people to their present from different times periods, were able to manipulate their cells so they could consciously exist in a state of temporal flux. That is, existing in the present, and existing simultaneously for an indefinitely amount of time in the future.


Merri, of everyone Hope had seen, had been the most successful. She could see the future—and all possible timelines—for more than a million years into the future.


Despite the success of the Ants’ experimentation, the experiment itself came with risks. Although Hope didn’t know the details, Merri had explained to her that seeing more than 1, 500, 000, 672 timelines was enough to give anyone brain aneurysms if the stimulation was prolonged for a long period of time. Even with the bionic implants, which helped with processing the incredible amount of information.


To give Merri a longer shelf life, the Ants put an inhibitor on the base of her skull. It was to prevent Merri from seeing the future during her day to day life.


But, to make sure Merri didn’t die from the buildup the inhibitor caused, once every two weeks, she needed it removed it in a practice known as “the release”. The Ants would take the inhibitor off, and Merri would see all the possible timelines for an hour. Then, the inhibitor would get put back on, and Merri would be healthy for another two weeks.


When Hope’s lab appointments overlapped with Merri’s release, Hope would sit for an hour, listening to Merri’s screams, as the timelines she saw multiplied exponentially, eventually getting to the point where the pain was excruciating. Then, beyond excruciating.


Then, after the buildup had cleared and the release was finished, sometimes Merri would share a tidbit about the future. Never anything with much detail, as the amount of information given would affect the timeline they went down.


Just enough they would think, and have a greater chance at survival should they follow Merri’s prophecies.


These experiments were a curse to Merri, but the prophecy from today just might save the lives of Hope and her bunkmates.


That is, and only if, they could speed up their plans for escape.


Finally reaching her bunk, the Blue Skins pushed Hope through the threshold. There were little laughs from her Blue Skin guards when they saw the way she almost tripped and fell onto the floor.


One reached his hand out to push her again, but the other said, “Next time.”


The door closed behind Hope, and she felt all eyes of her bunk mates staring at her.


After a quick survey of the bunk, Hope saw that Michelle was missing. “Did they take her?” Hope asked.


Geni, a Dillo, nodded her head. “Did Merri see anything?” she asked, never one to waste time with small talk.


“We should wait until Michelle gets back before I tell you all,” Hope said, buying herself some more time to think about how she would break the news. For now, she needed to calm herself.


Hope walked over to her bunk bed she shared with Michelle. Absentmindedly, she rubbed her arm where the Ants had injected her with five different needles just ten minutes earlier.


The bunk was covered in bloodstains, despite the efforts the Ant took to keep it sterile. The Ants were always cutting their subjects open, and sometimes the stitches broke leaving blood on the floor.


Infections were an inconvenience, so cleaning was necessary.


But stain removal was optional. Hope was unsure if it was the Ant’s laziness, or the Blue Skins’ cruelty. It was in the realm of opportunity they just liked torturing them with the memories of those who had died before.


Hope shuddered.


There were too many experiments gone wrong. Looking at every bed in the bunk, Hope could remember the names of all the past occupants. Although, shamefully, she never wanted to remember them for fear she might join them. Going to sleep and waking up to a Blue Skin stuffing her into a black body bag.


Since coming here, that was her recurring nightmare, staring up at the ceiling of the bunk as the zipper closed over her face.


Hope shook her head. She had to stay focused.


The others wanted to know what Merri had seen, and Hope was thinking about how best to phrase it. There was added pressure because whatever she said would affect the outcome. I need to think of how best to phrase it . . . what to lead with . . .


Granted, the thinking was more for her benefit than anyone else’s. The others weren’t as easily upset as she was. They were, however, more eager to know. Hope could tell they were just keeping themselves busy, hoping Michelle got back before their impatience got the better of them.


On her bed, Geni was playing with her fingers, as she usually did these days. Geni bent her index finger back, as if expecting a different result. She bent the finger so far back the bone should have snapped . . . but didn’t. The Dillos were a little smaller than humans, but a lot smaller than the Dactyles. They had a long, impenetrable, tan coloured shell along their backs. When a Dillo was afraid, they would roll up into a ball, using their shell as armour.


Geni was tested to see if they could make her entire body impenetrable.


As far as everyone could tell, the Ants had succeeded. So Geni would sit, bend her fingers back, poke her eyes, pull at her toes, all with a look of wonder in her eyes as she adjusted to the lack of pain . . . and the inability to break.


Dillos, like the Dactyls, lived close to the Ants. They had recently become a species of prey, just like the Dactyles. Hope respected the Dillos. They were a species that prided themselves in technology, but they never built weapons.


The Ants took whatever they wanted from the Dillos. The Ants also never made weapons, although they were good at weaponising anything the Dillos created. Stealing was their specialty. The Ants even stole Dillos like Geni.


Then, just a couple feet beside Geni, was the chronically furious Finn.


He was the largest and most aggressive of everyone in Hope’s bunk. His species, the Grillaz, were little better than the Ants. They were militant and had colonised all the planets near theirs. The only thing that made them a modicum better than the Ants was that they didn’t conduct experiments.

But the brute force was no match for the intelligent cruelty of the Ants.


Michelle once said Finn looked like a gorilla. Hope had never seen a gorilla, but if they were anything like Finn, she hoped she never would. Finn was doing pushups, as he had been doing every day since he was captured.


It might have been the lack of freedom driving him to release so much pent up energy, or maybe it was a side effect of the experimentation the Ants did on him. They were working to increase his strength, so Geni hypothesised that maybe he had to keep the muscles engaged, or else they would decompose.


No matter the reason for his incessant exercise, nobody wanted to make him angry. He was itching to destroy something, so everyone wanted to make sure their face and bodies weren’t it.

Last but not least was Soul, who stood in the corner facing one of the walls, the bright red from her eyes flashing against the white.


Her species, the Necromancers, never slept. They had an exoskeleton similar in size and shape to a human skeleton, although their skulls had more sharp features around the eye ridges. There was no skin or hair. Soul’s electrical voice box was gravelly, and the mechanical eyes glowed red.


Of everyone in this bunk, she had fallen the farthest from grace. Necromancers were the horror of many galaxies, the stuff of nightmares. They had an unusual tactic for taking over, but it was effective.


They made large ships with adjustable mass, and the ability to generate a variable amount of sunlight, the combination of which allowed them to destroy a sun with inhabited planets around it . . . and then replace that sun with themselves. Effectively, the Necromancers made their existence vital to survival, which was ironic since they were the greatest threat.


This position gave them free reign to do what they wanted, the Necromancers did their own experiments, just as bad as the Ants. Maybe worse. The Necromancers collected the dead, and they did . . . Things with them. Turning them into drones to do menial labour, be foot soldiers, and once Hope had heard they simply put bodies into a dam to make sure the water wouldn’t overflow.

If there weren’t enough corpses, the Necromancers would wipe out all life on a planet, and just use however many they needed. Often, leaving at least 80% of life dead just because wastefulness was more convenient than sparing lives.


It was no wonder Soul had no friends in the bunk.


Necromancers were the only species in the entire galaxy who could have been a match for the Ants. No one knew how the Ants could have gotten a Necromancer. Just like nobody knew what experiments they were doing on Soul.


No one cared to ask.


The door to the bunk opened and two Blue Skins escorted a half conscious Michelle in. She could barely walk in a straight line, and Hope had no doubt F had given her more sedatives.


The Blue Skins practically threw her onto her bed. Hope heard her head hit the hard wall behind her, but the Blue skins didn’t care about avoiding injury. If the Ants knew how reckless they were with their property, no doubt they wouldn’t be pleased. Anything that would cause injury to their precious subjects was avoided, even if they only did the bare minimum to be humane.


Hope would have yelled at the Blue Skins to be careful, but by the time it was over they had left, chuckling gently amongst themselves. “Hey, did you hear the sound her head made?” one of them asked when they were just outside the door.


Hope thought to herself, at least I’m not a Blue Skin . . .


With more gentleness and empathy than she gave any of her other bunk mates, Hope leaned over Michelle’s barely conscious form. She grabbed her hand and held it gently, slightly taken aback.

Michelle’s hand and forearms were no longer flesh, but rather prosthetics with veins that glowed electric blue.


Hope put her other hand on top of Michelle’s forehead. Gently, she lifted Michelle’s eyelids to reveal her new eyes that were glowing the same electric blue as her prosthetic arm veins were.

Hope looked around. Everyone in their bunk knew what that electric blue meant: Michelle was a temporal subject, just like Merri. Hope looked to see if Michelle had an inhibitor at the base of her skulls, just as Merri did. All Hope could see was a little bump where the universal translator was implanted.


With even the gentlest touch, Michelle’s barely conscious head nodded wherever it was led. Why, today of all days, did F have to give her a sedative?


“Did Merri give you anything?” Michelle asked quietly. Hope only heard it because her face was so close to Michelle’s, and a wave of relief washed over her. Michelle wasn’t dead. Hope had to suppress the yet that was forming in the back of her head.


Even though she didn’t know that much about human anatomy . . . something in the serotonin gland of Hope’s brain stopped flowing, like a giant plug was put there. It told her something was wrong, even though she couldn’t put a name to it. She felt it was wrong with the flowing chemicals.

Hope must have paused, because Finn suddenly roared from the back, “It’s time for you to tell us!”

“There’s no need to yell,” Hope said. But, despite the aggression with which it was said, Finn was right. It was time for Hope to reveal the prophecy that Merri had shared with her.


“We’re getting transferred,” Hope announced. “And whatever escape plan we have, we need to implement it. Tonight.”


Hope looked down at her friend Michelle, and had to push back thoughts about if she would . . .


Hope shook her head. Of course she would.


Hope was only thinking this way, panicking, because Merri never went into many details about prophecies. Any information known about the future could send everyone down a different timeline.


Merri would never tell me if Michelle wasn’t going to make it, Hope thought to herself as she stared at Michelle’s pale face. Then, she pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind.


They had an escape plan to implement.



Chapter 3

Bunk One Escapes


Getting “transferred” was the worst thing that could possibly happen to them.


It was what Ants did when they were all finished with their experimentation. They had reached the end with one group of subjects. They made room for new ones by recycling the old ones. All the parts, mechanical, bionic, etc. were stripped to be recycled in the new test subjects.


The leftover organic matter was turned into mulch that the Blue Skins used on their home world to grow food.


Everyone in Hope and Michelle’s bunk knew it was only a matter of time until they got transferred. Long before Merri’s prophecy, they knew it was a race against the clock.


But now, with the prophecy, it was like a bomb was ready to go off and they had to deactivate it before everyone exploded. Possibly literally. They were all in the dark about how the “transfer” actually worked. But the Blue Skins liked to taunt them, going into details about the excruciating pain. The Blue Skins account wasn’t exactly reliable, but it was enough to fuel the nightmares.


Geni, of everyone in the bunk, was the best at suppressing her fears to focus on piecing together an escape plan. Michelle couldn’t move, so everyone gathered around her bed, leaning over a notebook with scribbled notes.


F, in one of her displays of possible compassion, had allowed Michelle to keep one of her university notebooks and a pen. The first two pages of the notebook were filled with criminology notes from Michelle’s Intro to Criminology class. The next fifty pages were filled with diagrams, writing, and scribbles.


Everyone had contributed ideas to this notebook at one point or another. Luckily, their universal translators were also able to decipher writing.


That is, everyone’s writing but Michelle’s.


Her writing was “chicken scratch,” as Michelle often put it.


Geni was frustrated more than anything else because . . . how could Michelle go to higher education without even being able to read her own writing? Clearly, humans didn’t quite have the same standards of education . . . but Geni tried to be understanding and respectful of other cultures.


Today was trying her patience, though.


With only so much time to plan an escape, being able to read Michelle’s contributions would speed the process up. The notebook was passed around to everyone as they went through the plans they had thought up.


Finn’s writing was somehow better than Michelle’s considering his penchant for brute force. He had suggested many ideas about fighting techniques. His military training had made him think of roughly three ideas to get out, using terms like “flank” and “stratagem”. To be honest, the others hadn’t really listened when Finn shared, since his plans seemed the least feasible.


Even today, Finn had to admit it wasn’t going to work. “None of you have the training to pull these off,” he said. It was true. Finn had tried to conduct some basic training in the cell, although everyone else was too afraid. What seemed like a gentle beginner’s class for Finn might break everyone else’s bones.


Soul stood quietly. She hadn’t contributed any ideas, but every time the notebook was out she listened. No one knew how much she retained, but everyone felt . . . an uncomfortable amount.


With Finn and Soul out, it was Hope, Michelle, and Geni. Granted, Michelle was practically unconscious, and Hope was too preoccupied.


Why don’t the two just mate already? Geni thought to herself resentfully as she pulled the notebook over.


It was half a suggestion, mostly taking control of the situation, but Geni declared, “I think the simplest escape plan is the best.”


Finn nodded. “Smart. It might be all you can manage.”


Was that resentment? Geni asked herself. But she shook her head and walked over to the door.


The first part of the escape plan was the easiest: opening the door.


Which was ironic because it was also the most complicated. As she had several times before, Geni took the panel off and looked at the different wires that intertwined behind there. Geni had taken meticulous notes about which one she theorised did what.


Geni looked at her fingers, the sharp fingernails that were invincible.


Then, she looked at the notes.


Dammit.


One day when she had both her hands behind the panel, looking at the wires that were far back, she had asked Michelle to write notes as she dictated.


This was long before Geni figured out Michelle was a lost cause when it came to writing.

And Geni’s skills as an engineer and inventor were useless if she couldn’t read the notes. Or, at the very least, it would take her far more time to open the door.


Possibly more time than they all had.


It would be hard enough to decipher words in her own language, but . . . the universal translator just made things harder and . . . more confusing. The universal translator at the base of Geni’s neck wouldn’t just admit it couldn’t decipher the language. So, the chicken scratch started appearing like random words: serenity; grains; pink flower.


Nothing about which wire she had said to cut.


She wished she could curse at Michelle, but she knew Michelle was suffering enough. Hope turned around and asked pathetically in any direction, to anyone who would answer, “Are the veins still as blue as they were?”


Sentimental creatures, the two of them.


“Are we getting out or what?” Geni jumped at the sound of Finn’s loud voice. This wasn’t even his angry voice. Still, it seemed like he only had one volume: as loud as possible.


Even though she was, at most, a third of his size, Geni turned her head and glared at Finn. It was enough to shut up down. “We won’t get out if you announce to all the Ants and Blue Skins what we’re doing.”


Halfway between a grunt and a scowl, Finn turned and walked away.


Geni looked at Michelle. “Is she conscious enough I can ask her a question?” Geni asked Hope.


“You can try,” Hope replied softly.


That was enough for Geni. She walked over slowly to Michelle’s bed, and showed her the page in question. She pointed to the note she needed deciphered: which wire to cut? Come on Michelle . . .


“Which one did I say to cut?” Geni asked quietly.


Michelle’s eyes flickered. In frustration, Geni shoved the book under Michelle’s nose. “What did you write?” she asked again in frustration when Michelle didn’t answer.


Geni surprised even herself with her impatience, since she wasn’t prone to emotional outbursts. The room went quiet, expecting an outburst like this from Finn. Geni shook her head, going back to rational, level headed, and logical.


“Please . . .” Geni said politely, almost pleadingly.


Michelle’s voice sounded like she was suffering from a fever dream. The word “blue” was enough.


“Thank you,” Geni said, giving Michelle’s prosthetic hand a gentle tap. Geni stopped listening and walked away, so she didn’t notice the way Michelle winced a little in pain.


Michelle was too out of it to notice Geni had left, and couldn’t hear her saying, “I remember because human veins are blue . . . And if you cut them, we bleed out . . . kind of how you explained the door working if we cut the main source of energy.”


There was roughly another ten minutes until the Ants changed shifts. There weren’t any clocks in the bunk, but after months being stuck there, everyone could feel the time passing, and knew instinctually the movements of the Ants. With the consistency in their shifts, and how they were always on time, it was a substitute for a time device.


The Ants worked in two shifts. The first shift, the Ants conducted their information. The second shift, other Ants came in and inputted the data. When the second shift Ants finished their work, the first shift Ants returned and did more experiments.


They (meaning Geni) decided leaving just after second shift would be the opportunity to leave.

The Ants who handled second shift were very quiet, often cooped up in their labs. The first half hour of this shift was the quietest.


Any longer and people might be roaming the hallways to top up supplies. Getting something or other. Whatever they might need to input data.


Hope knew full well the new shift would be starting any minute, and in her impatience wanted to remind everyone . . . get some help with carrying Michelle, since she still hadn’t regained consciousness . . . but Hope feared speaking would distract Geni, who was kneeled next to the door, ready to . . . do something.


To escape, they needed to make use of whatever tools they had, or were forced to use because of what they didn’t have.


Unfortunately, the Ants didn’t leave many materials in the bunk that could be converted into anything useful.


But, they theorised that Geni’s nails would be a substitute for tools. Using time she didn’t have to spare, Geni looked at her sharp index fingernail, as if assessing it would be up for the job. She must’ve felt the others staring at her, as she immediately got back to work on the panel.


What Geni didn’t want to say, for fear it would make everyone nervous . . . wait, my nails are sharp enough . . . but will I get electrocuted?


Geni’s hands dug further and further into the panel, going exactly where she remembered they should go.


But, now knowing the colour of the wire, Geni was ready to start cutting the sequence of wires. First, a light green wire, at the same time as a light red one.


SNIP!


No electrocution, so Geni could start breathing again.


The lights in the bunk immediately went out, then turned back on again, as the system restarted itself.


This was unexpected. Geni, after looking at the way the wires flowed, hypothesised that the power would be directly cut to the door, opening it immediately without affecting the other systems in the room.


Geni cursed at herself, feeling she should have known. Of course all the power would go out as a safety precaution. Setting off an alarm because if one system went out, it must mean they were trying to escape.


“Get her on her feet,” Geni said, pointing at Michelle. “If something in the facility has gone down, we will have maintenance Ants or Blue Skins heading over here any minute.”


Even though Geni said it with the same matter of a factness an engineer does when talking about basic maintenance, everyone jumped into action.


Hope put her arm under Michelle’s back, and propped her up. Her head lolled from side to side, unaware of what was going on.


“Just leave her,” Finn muttered. Geni rolled her eyes.


Soul walked quietly to Michelle’s other side, but just as she leaned forward, Hope said with a soft, kind voice, “I’ve got it.”


Silently, Soul retreated and approached Geni. As always, Geni was somewhat confused about Soul’s behaviour, so she pushed that attempted act of kindness out of her mind.


She had work to do.


Under her breath, Geni said a little prayer from her home world: Have faith in yourself. Have faith in technology. Have faith in others.


When she finished, she used her sharp index fingernail to cut the final blue wire.


No one in the bunk had to be told that it was time to run.


It was obvious by the door to the bunk opening.


Geni and Fin took the lead, Geni holding the notebook where they had written down a general map of the facility. Although none of them had ever been to the shuttle bay, Michelle swore she had seen a sign for it on her trips to the lab. Piecing it together, they figured that two right turns, and then a left would bring them back to that sign, and they could go from there.


One right turn . . .


Two right turns . . .


And then . . .


“We need to get Merri and the others,” Hope said. She was bringing up the rear with Michelle, and she stopped. Hope had been thinking about rescuing the others, but it didn’t solidly become a plan until she passed the turnoff to their bunk. Her thankfulness for Merri’s prophecy—and her friendship—made abandonment impossible.


If she didn’t go, she wouldn’t be any better than the Blue Skins.


“We’ll come back when it’s safe,” Geni said, stopping only a moment to think about it. Like everything else, she thought through the situation quickly and made a precise decision. It was too dangerous, and going would risk everyone’s safety.


Geni turned to keep going. Whether she liked it or not, she felt the burden of leadership on her. The duty to help everyone in their bunk escape.


Geni and Finn continued walking, turning the corner, and disappearing. Hope paused, her arms tired from carrying Michelle . . . and her mind conflicted. Soul stopped beside her, and said with her electrical voice, “You take Michelle. I’ll get the others.”


Hope shook her head. Against every fibre of her being, knowing only she knew where the other bunk was, she passed Michelle to Soul.


Soul, basically a walking skeleton, was surprisingly strong. She lifted Michelle effortlessly, and was surprisingly gentle and loving . . . with her other hand, she took care to support Michelle’s head, adjusting it so her neck wasn’t at an awkward angle.


After Soul left to follow Geni and Finn, Hope stood alone, coming to terms with her choice. The footsteps of her companions faded away in the distance.


She stared down the adjoining hallway, the one which led to Merri’s bunk.


With the sudden sound of an opening door down the hall, probably nothing, Hope set off at a run, racing against time, yet again, to try and save her other friend.


Geni and Finn were the first to feel foolish. Beaten. Taken advantage of. Not exactly the ideal way to feel during an escape attempt.


Understatement of the entire millennium.


We don’t think like the Ants do, Geni thought to herself. When all of them envisioned escaping, they thought it would be a quick race to the shuttle bay, the Ants hot on their heels, a large fight. If this had happened on any other station, with any other species, they would be racing to contain them.


But now, seeing the way the Ants positioned themselves at the shuttle bay entrance, it all made sense.


To the Ants, they were just pests and, instead of chasing them, they had just positioned themselves at the exit. Geni realised they weren’t even worth the effort to the Ants.


Geni and Finn quickly backtracked, before they were seen. Geni smacked her head. Often, she would have found a modicum of satisfaction from a sting of pain. A quick shock to bring her from frustration back to logic.


But the Ants had taken that from her, too.


She couldn’t even feel pain anymore.


If everything the Blue Skins said was true, how painful the transfer would be, she’d be thanking them for that later.


How could Geni have been so stupid? They should have had a distraction, or a detour to grab weapons so they could fight, or . . .


Any number of scenarios that would have help them to get past this wall of Ants and Blue Skins who intended to round them up . . . Round them up just like Geni used to round up her screwdrivers and electrical wiring when she was a child finishing playtime.


No, round them up like lab subjects, not even worth the effort if they could just . . .


When Soul came up with Michelle, she stopped, noticing her two comrades had stopped. And Soul figured it was most likely not for her sake.


Something was wrong.


Geni put her fingers to her lips, and the bright red from Soul’s eyes was the last thing she saw before the world got hazy, and the four of them passed out.


Chapter 4

Bunk Two Escapes


If it had been before the surgery, Hope would have never remembered which room the others were in. In the typical style of the Ants, there were too many numbers, and too many letters.


Seriously, why couldn’t the Ants just start at zero like a normal culture?


If nothing else, this escape made Hope realise just how much she changed.


Even without the map in Michelle’s notebook, she was able to visualise every turn, every hallway, and every room in this facility.


Her mind was like having a three dimensional guide. Above and beyond anything else, she remembered the 13 digit code for Merri’s bunk: AF134F7661RS. How did the Ants remember something that long? How did Hope remember something that long?


Oh, right . . . she was genetically modified.


Hope stared at the door. How was she going to open it? It was the same indestructible material bunk was made out of, but without Geni, there was nothing that Hope could do . . . Geni had all the notes, mechanical know-how, and a strong body, to theoretically open the door.


But . . . how to actually open the door?


What Hope couldn’t see was Merri on the other side of the door, with a giant board she held high overhead, and brought down the door’s locking mechanism.


Little finesse, lots of brute force, but effective.


Having seen this scenario in 78% of timelines, Merri knew Hope was on the other side of the door, ready to let her and her bunk mates out. And, more importantly, that the door would work only if hit just right.


The crack opened just enough to let clammy white fingers pop through, and forcefully pull it open.


Hope was relieved to see Merri’s smiling face. At least . . . Hope thought this was Merri? Seeing the alien in front of her, Hope remembered that she had never actually seen Merri before . . . They were always separated by a dividing wall and curtain. They could only hear each other.


Merri was a human, right? Hope had always thought that meant she would look like Michelle, but Merri had skin almost as white as the lab walls. And, protruding out of the top of her head, was a long antennae that held up a pale yellow light. What had the Ants done to her? Was this the Ants’ work?


Or are there different types of human? Evolution? Environment? Gender?


Hope was confused, but she pushed those thoughts aside.


“Time to go,” Merri said in a voice that Hope recognised instantly. A kind of sweet voice, overwhelmed with a thin quiver . . . a quiver that always made Hope want to protect her. It sounded like she was always a little scared.


Seeing all future timelines could do that to a person, Hope figured.


Merri noticed Hope wasn’t moving. “Come on, you know the way. It’s time to go to the shuttle bay.”


Hope wondered how Merri knew. Then she remembered: Merri saw the future. From every potential timeline, Merri knew the skills Hope had.


But, just as Hope was about to turn around and lead them through the hallways, she noticed a familiar face.


There were four people in Merri’s bunk, including her. Hope had no time to learn who the other two were, but she made the time to hug her cousin, Noble Gardentender.


When had he been abducted? How long had he been here? How were the Ants experimenting on him?


All these questions raced through Hope’s head as she breathed in deeply. At least Noble smelled the same—almost reminiscent of the soil from their home world. Sweet, with the scent of promi, a fruit they grew on their family farm.


Noble was always able to make anything grow, in any kind of soil. It was a talent Hope was sure came from a seemingly endless supply of love.


The embrace made a wave of homesickness wash over her.


“We don’t have time,” Merri said with as much strength as her voice was capable of. The same voice that implied she had just been through a lot of pain, and was weakened by the process. Her eyes conveyed a sense of hurt. Everyone in Hope’s bunk suspected that Merri withheld information from them. Important information.


Merri’s voice made Hope wonder, as she led the second bunk to the shuttle bay, just how much she was keeping to herself . . .



Geni woke up to see that Soul and Finn had already regained consciousness and were looking around yet another sterile white lab.


“Finally!” Finn said. “We should have been faster. We should have taken the time to get weapons. You all should have trained a bit harder —”


“Shut up,” Geni said quietly. Even her soft voice was enough to silence him. “It wouldn’t have made a difference. That door was too easy to open . . . they didn’t even bother to lock us in very well. They know they’re one step ahead of us. Our attempted escape wasn’t alarming, concerning, or frightening. It was just . . . inconvenient.”


Geni sat in the corner quietly.


She knew what was coming next.


Until the Ants were ready to transfer everyone, they would no doubt be put into little isolated bunks.


Ones where they couldn’t collaborate with each other. Again, not to lessen their chances of getting out.


Just so that they couldn’t inconvenience the Ants yet again.


Where Geni was concerned, if there was one thing worse than being trapped in this facility, it was being trapped alone.


Somehow, despite the prophecy, none of them had fully considered the possibility they would fail.


They had feared it. They hadn’t wanted it. But the possibility somehow hadn’t seemed fully real until now.


It was quiet. Michelle was still unconscious. Soul as quiet as usual. Finn refrained from doing any form of exercise. In the stillness, Geni thought he looked the most defeated of all.


There was something peaceful about just sitting in the quiet, embracing their last moments together.


Now that they realised their escape attempt had failed, their thoughts were drowned in the knowledge they would soon be separated and, later, transferred.


There was nothing left to say.


The sound of a single Ant walking to the lab broke that moment.


It was over.


When the footsteps stopped, everyone turned to see F standing at the door, her front set of arms holding a tablet. “Geni Lightmaker? It’s time to move you to your individual bunk now.”


This was it. Giving everyone one last look, unable to vocalise a goodbye, Geni followed F out of the lab.


“Need one of us to escort you?” one of the Blue Skins guarding the lab asked.


Of course there were Blue Skins watching their failure. A treat on top of dessert for them.


F shook her head and waved the concern away with a hand on her second thorax. “You two need to guard this door in case the others try to escape again. I can handle this one.”


A quick look, and Geni could see F was carrying a small pistol. No wonder they couldn’t predict what the Ants were going to do, Geni thought. Their minds and bodies were a mystery, complete freaks of nature. Each set of arms governed by a different brain, different sets of opposable thumbs . . . they were able to multitask, gaining information and formulating plans four times faster than any other species here.


They started walking.


As the silent procession continued for a few moments, Geni debated fighting F. Something was appealing about going down fighting, to take one of the Ants with her. If she were killed, the Ants wouldn’t be able to finish their experiment. That would be the ultimate way to spite them.


Since she wasn’t a fighter, that death is what would have happened.


But Geni decided against it.


She also decided against asking why F was leading her back to the shuttle bay.



Hope led the second bunk directly to their destination. Once or twice, they had to turn a corner and hide when they heard footsteps.


But, besides one or two sounds of footsteps, the entire journey was quiet.


Except for the Dillo member of the second bunk. Unlike Geni, who only talked when she had an idea of some kind.


Tren, this Dillo, was the exact opposite. She was talkative, and that wasn’t exactly the best thing during the escape attempt. Hope just figured she was nervous, but as the energy and the volume climbed . . .


Noble would politely ask her to stay quiet every few metres.


Only Noble could do that. Get what was needed out of people without being mean. Or cruel. The Blue Skins could take lessons from Noble. If they were more like Noble, then this facility would . . .

Still be insufferable. But slightly less so. Maybe Michelle wouldn’t have cracked her head and been practically comatose.


Focus, Hope thought to herself, as she continued leading them to the shuttle bay. The three dimensional map in her brain worked whether she focused hard on it or not.


A few side glances, and Hope tried to read Merri. She couldn’t glean much from her face. It wasn’t like she wrote the prophecy verbatim on the side of her face. But worries about what Merri hadn’t shared floated around in Hope’s mind.


The last member of the group was the quietest. One of the quietest people Hope had ever met. She was all pink with three large, long ears that stuck out the top of her head. Her head had three eyes, giving her a 360˚ view of everyone around her. Her eyes glowed electric blue, meaning she was the subject of temporal experiments. Same as Merri and Michelle.


Unlike those two, she looked suspicious, each of her three eyes moving at the slightest sound. Her ears twitched every time footsteps from distance were audible. Judging by the size of her ears, most sounds were audible to her that weren’t audible to the others.


“That’s Todori,” Noble whispered into Hope’s ear. “She intense, but jumpy. It doesn’t help that she can see five seconds into the future, so she’s constantly overwhelmed.”


Hope nodded acknowledgement. Based on what Merri had told her, Hope understood that five seconds into the future was only two or three timelines. Not even enough for a headache, even if prolonged forever. But, there was 100% accuracy with her power. Whatever good five seconds could see.


They were almost at the shuttle bay.


In their excitement, they picked up their pace, not as worried about the sounds their footsteps, or Tren, were making.


They weren’t expecting for Todori to lunge past them—powerfully, violently, raising her arm high enough to deal a death blow.


A second after Todori’s strike, they all saw what Todori was attacking: an Ant who had just turned the corner. Clearly, that was what five seconds into the future could do: know to attack an assailant who wasn’t even visible yet.


“Stop!”


Hope turned to see Michelle, leaning against the wall, her electric blue eyes staring at Hope. “She’s helping us escape . . .” Michelle said, before she fainted. Hope couldn’t catch her before her head hit the floor—hitting her head a second time that day, after it had been tinkered with by the Ants. That can’t be good, Hope thought.


She could only cradle Michelle’s head, checking the bruise that was forming on her forehead.

Todori thought a moment, her arm still raised. She must have seen five seconds into the future, far enough to know Michelle was telling the truth. She lowered her arm and stood up, leaving F to clumsily get to her feet. She needed to use arms on all her thoraxes to stand, and Hope wondered for a moment if Ants were meant to lie down at all . . .


“You’re all lucky I was working tonight,” F said. “I don’t usually work this shift.”


“Trust me,” Merri said, “Luck had nothing to do with it.”


“Ah,” F said, nodding. As someone aware of Merri’s abilities, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to her. Not that Merri knew her whereabouts. Hope wondered how many timelines had F as a helper. “The others are on the ship and ready to go already.”


“Ship?” Hope asked. They were thinking about commandeering a small shuttle . . . but a ship?

F nodded. With the hands on her fourth thorax, she motioned for everyone to follow her. She took them down the final corridor to . . .


An even larger shuttle bay, where a single, large ship’s engines were powering up. Even though it was much larger than they were expecting, it was also a . . .


To Hope, it looked like someone had taken the roofing off an old house, and thrown it overtop a giant tractor. The name and class of the ship was so worn out, not even their universal translators could figure out what it said. Not even any guesses. Is that old thing going to fly? Hope wondered.


Shaking the doubts out of her head, she pulled Michelle closer to her, and ran to the shuttle. Finn was sticking his head out of the ship, waiting. Hope could tell he was doing his best to refrain from talking. It looked painful judging by the way his foot was tapping.


Todori turned around and, started going in the exact opposite direction.


Where? Why? Hope wondered what Todori was —


BANG!


Everyone jumped. Tren curled up in a little ball, an involuntary impulse for Dillos when they were surprised or scared.


No one had ever heard a pistol go off in the facility before. So that’s why Todori was running towards them. She saw the bang go off a few seconds before it actually happened.


“Todo —” Noble was cut off midway by Todori turning back around. Why was she turning back around?


“Thanks,” Todori said to F as they passed each other. Todori walked straight to the ship, without acknowledging anyone else.


F turned around to the others who stood, confused by Todori’s behaviour. “For those of you who can’t see five seconds into the future—as Todori can—I was going to say, ‘I’ll handle it, you all go to the ship.’” F understood Todori’s ability and why she turned around twice, responding to bangs and statements that hadn’t happened yet.


Hope looked up at F. She hadn’t ever trusted her, and was even wary about it right now. “Why are you helping us?” Hope asked, knowing there wasn’t time for talking like this, but needing an answer.


“Long story,” F said. “Just know there’s more like me.”


BANG!


F ran out of the shuttle bay to head off the Ants and Blue Skins who, in the distance, were growing in volume. That loudness was signal that . . . that they actually had a shot at getting out of here.

Why else would the Ants be panicking like this? Chasing them? Firing at them?


“What are you waiting for?” Todori called as she jumped into the ship. Finn laughed, no doubt happy to finally meet someone as aggressive as he was.


Merri scooped Michelle’s other arm. Hope and Merri practically dragged Michelle, although the imminent danger seemed to give her legs a bit more strength. One step after the other, the three of them ran to the ship, with Noble hot on their heels.


He had picked up Tren and carried her under his arm like she weighed nothing.


Is F coming with us? Hope wondered as she passed Michelle off to Todori and Finn, who pulled her into the ship. Pistol shots fired in the distance.


In the next five seconds, Hope saw five different things.


Hope got pulled into the shuttle, which looked worse on the inside than out.


Merri ran to the helm, where Geni was already standing.


Tren got thrown into the ship like a ball, and hit the opposite wall.


The Ants and Blue Skins had already ran into the shuttle bay.


Finn shut the door behind Hope.


“Are you a pilot?” Geni asked Merri.


“I was trained, but got abducted before I could actually fly,” Merri answered, the bright light on her antennae illuminating the helm. “Which button gets this up and running?”


Geni shrugged, and could barely vocalise a, “How should I know?”


Several pistol shots hit the side of the ship. Finn and Todori stood at the door, physically holding it shut. The Blue Skins on the other side of the door were shouting orders at each other.


Using a blow torch to get the door open?


Merri cursed softly under her breath, looking down at the helm. She had hoped it would be intuitive which button to press, but the helm on the archaic Ant’s ship was completely different than the old human shuttle she had practiced on.


During her release earlier today, at least 10 000 different timelines had formed from this very moment, depending on the sequence of buttons she pushed.


Merri could easily figure out the sequence of buttons to press, based on timelines. The problem was, it was a tedious process, that might take an hour. Somewhere in the bionic portion of the brain, the sequence of buttons was catalogued. If she went into a deep meditative state, she could access the information.


“What’s our probability of getting out of here?” Geni asked. “And no sidestepping the question, this time.”


Merri knew Geni was a logical person who took comfort in statistics whatever they were. “0.001%” Merri answered, just loud enough for Geni to hear. That wasn’t hard because the amount of commotion in and out of the ship had gotten very loud.


“Any time now!” Finn roared.


“Come on!” Todori yelled.


Merri debated . . . what would give them the greatest chance of survival? Guessing which buttons were right, or going into the archive? Random chance with the buttons, or a gamble they’d run out of time while she found out for certain?


Merri didn’t have to figure it out.


Michelle walked up to the helm and pressed both of her prosthetic hands onto the flat surface.

If it was possible, the electric blue in her arms and eyes got brighter. Michelle’s eyes stared at the wall in front of her, and it was like she was in two places at once: the present . . . and a different time altogether. Merri recognised that glow, that feeling, from her bimonthly release.


“Thruster . . . steering . . . faster . . . cloak . . .” Michelle said and, without even looking, she moved her hands over the helm, opening the shuttle bay doors, starting the thrusters, and pointing to Merri which button did what.


Even with her release, Merri could never do this, let alone this quickly. Further . . . how did Michelle do that? This hadn’t happened in any of the timelines. What did the Ants do to you? Merri thought to herself, as she watched Michelle prep the ship for takeoff. A 21st century woman knowing how to pilot an archaic Ant shuttle? That was the least likely thing to happen . . . What does that mean for my prophecies if I can’t see you in any of them?


Merri’s hands started to follow Michelle’s as she listened to what everything did.


“You got it?” Michelle asked, suddenly looking like she was going to pass out. The electric blue in her prosthetic arms and eyes started to flicker. Merri would have been happy to let Michelle fly the ship herself, but she looked in bad shape.


“I got it,” Merri said.


Michelle left the helm, and Merri took over.


As the ship rumbled to life, the shouting on the outside of the ship turned from determination to get the shuttle open, to screams of, “Get out of here!”


Finn and Todori relaxed at the door, not having to force it shut any longer.


The ship started to move forward, and Merri felt a little bit of joy over her fear: she was finally flying a ship! Her lifetime goal, in this moment of pure terror, was finally actualised.


The blackness of space enveloped the ship, and Merri got ready to go as fast as the ship possibly could—activating the Byeol Drive, that would go faster than light speed. Fast enough to get them out of here before the Ants could even send anyone after them.


Ready, Merri thought, as the ship took off, and the stars turned into blurs as they raced past the ship. We’re safe!


They were free.


The yelling from before was replaced by the peaceful hum of the ship’s engines.


Hope took a deep breath, and looked around the shuttle. Everyone was calming down. Even Tren was starting to unroll from her ball.


Wait . . .


“Where’s Noble?” Hope asked, looking around frantically. Had he gone to another level of the ship? Was he hiding behind something?


Tren fully unrolled and looked around. “I don’t know . . .” she said.


Hope looked over at Merri, who was focused on steering the ship. Or, who was avoiding eye contact with Hope and the others . . . You knew Noble wasn’t going to make it Hope thought to herself.


“I think she’s dead,” Hope heard Todori say behind her, in an almost desensitised, matter of fact voice.


She? So not Noble . . . Hope turned around to notice Michelle lying still on the floor. Her eyes were wide open, but the electric blue had fully gone out.


Was anyone on board a doctor?




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