The four heroes fell a few feet to the floor as the minisub vanished, landing in a tangle of limbs.
“Well that’s one way to do it,” Pitfall commented from where he stood a few feet away, then clapped his hands to his head and said, “Fuck, my ears.”
“You okay, man?” Basilisk asked, and went to Pitfall’s side as soon as he’d untangled himself.
“I’m good. Just depressurising.” He plugged and unplugged his ears repeatedly and stretched his jaw open, like Guardian Angel had seen people do on airplanes on occasion.
Guardian Angel pushed himself up off the cold metal floor and rolled his shoulders in an attempt to loosen his back. Tipping Point waved his hands around in the air, trailing glowing blue lines which gradually solidified into a dark metal tube supported by metal legs. Paragon stood and walked to the door of the minisub launching bay- an airlock, sealed tight.
How are we going to get out of the sub? Guardian Angel wondered as he looked around the airlock they had ended up in. We’re at the bottom of the bay.
“Get in the tube,” Tipping Point said to Pitfall, and patted the tube.
“No, I’ll be fine,” Pitfall insisted.
“Get in. The tube.” Tipping Point pointed into the opening on one end of the machine.
“The bay’s only 45 feet deep at most, Poindexter. No way I’d get the bends from only two atmospheres, give or take.”
Poindexter? Oh, Tipping Poindexter. I get it. Guardian Angel chuckled.
“Oh,” Tipping Point sounded sheepish.
“Yeah. I researched this shit after our last underwater adventure, so you can put away your barometric chamber.” He snapped his fingers a few times at various points around his head. “Ears back to normal. Let’s go.”
“You boys like to take talk, don’t you?” Paragon said in an amused voice.
“Yeah, sorry. We tend to do that,” Tipping Point said as he banished the barometric chamber in favor of what Guardian Angel recognized as the long gun version of the AtlasTech PEPS- one of their non-lethal armaments. “Just tell us to stop if it starts to be a problem. Oh man, I just realized.” He jumped up and down for a moment. “I can have as many grenades as I want.”
Guardian Angel couldn’t help but laugh at Tipping Point’s childish glee. With a wave of his hand, Tipping Point swapped out the PEPS for a rough metal sphere, which he lobbed at Pitfall.
Pitfall lunged to catch the grenade before it could put a hole in the hull of the sub, and failed as it vanished into the air, causing him to lose his balance and windmill his arms in an attempt to remain upright.
Tipping Point threw out his arms. “Disappoint,” he declared.
“What a bummer,” commiserated Basilisk, shaking his head. “Guess you’d better stick to energy weapons.”
“Did you just try to blow me up again?” Pitfall asked once he’d regained his balance.
Basilisk broke down laughing, and had to lean against the wall of the airlock.
“Me? Oh, I would never!” Tipping Point retorted, hand placed on his chest.
“You just tried to blow me up! That is, as I should not have to tell you, distinctly un-cool.”
“Relax, I didn’t even pull the pin.”
Paragon cleared his throat.
“Sorry, mister authority figure,” Tipping Point said, hands behind his back like an innocent schoolchild.
Basilisk sucked in a deep breath and tried to regain his composure, then burst out laughing again.
“I’m beginning to regret bringing you three along,” Paragon said.
“They got us in, didn’t they?” Guardian Angel said. “I mean, Basilisk hasn’t been useful yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.”
“You know, he’s got a point,” commented Pitfall. “You are kind of a one-trick horse.”
Tipping Point approached Guardian Angel and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m so proud of you,” he said, his voice thick with feigned emotion. “You’ve learned so much in the ancient art of smack-talk.”
“It’s starting to become a problem, boys,” Paragon said. “Tipping Point, Basilisk, cut the banter. Pitfall, just get us through this door.”
Tipping Point’s hand dropped. “Back to business, I guess. Basilisk, Pitfall, do your thing.” He snapped his fingers at his two partners each in turn.
On cue, Basilisk smashed his face through the door. After a few seconds, he walked the rest of the way through with a sound like crinkling foil.
“Are you ever tempted to just not put the portal there when he does that?” Tipping Point asked Basilisk as he stepped up to the closed door.
“If I did that once, you guys would never trust me with it again-”
“That’s surprisingly insightful of you,” Tipping Point interrupted.
“-and then I would have to clear doors myself.” Pitfall finished, and pushed Tipping Point through the portal on the door. “And that would be unacceptable. Paragon, you’re next.”
Paragon pushed his hand through the wafer-thin metal covering the portal to check that it was actually there, then followed it through. The portal sealed again behind him, revealing the millimeters-deep indentation in the door where the portals had shaved off the surface.
“Angel Boy, just step on through.” Pitfall gestured towards the door like a flight attendant. “I’ll keep it nice and thin for ya, how’s that sound?”
Guardian Angel reached out and brushed the surface of the door with a hand. It felt more like tissue paper than metal as it gave way and shredded like tinsel. Drawing confidence he hadn’t thought he would need for an act so simple, Guardian Angel stepped through the portal. He could feel it closing behind him, close enough that he felt a hair-thin line of cold metal brushing across his skin, making him shiver.
If this closes with me partway through… Better not think about it. You could shave with that.
The others were waiting, standing single-file in the cramped and narrow hallway beyond the airlock.
“Never walked through a solid object before,” Guardian Angel commented, putting on a confident face. Behind him, he heard Pitfall come through.
“You get used to it,” Tipping Point said. “First time is weird for some people.”
“It’s the same with teleportation.” Paragon said. “Just doesn’t feel right. Something with your inner ears, Dr. Mind says. The first time we had Translocator do an insertion-”
The hall plunged into darkness. Guardian Angel’s heart pounded and he took a sharp breath. Light returned, but not from the fluorescent ceiling lights.
“Get that outta my face, would you? Unless you want me going blind,” Pitfall said from behind him, and only then did Guardian Angel realize that he had spread his wings when the lights went out. His wings, and Paragon’s glowing armor were the only sources of light.
“That’s never a good sign,” Basilisk said, his voice calm.
A light flickered on and off at the end of the hall. A moment later, another light went on, closer now. Then the next- on, then off, then the next, faster now. Within a few moments, a continuous patch of light was creeping down the hall towards them as the lights flickered on and off.
“That’s spooky,” Tipping Point said as the light swept over them and continued down the hall picking up speed. The heroes all turned to watch it pass. Once it reached the end, it started over from the beginning and swept down the hall again in the same direction.
“I don’t know if it’s a good one but it is a sign, sure enough,” Paragon said. “I know why I recognize this work.” He reached up and knocked with one knuckle on the transparent pipes that canvassed the ceiling. “It’s Habitat.”
“This sub was made by the same guy who designed the new space station?” Tipping Point said. “How’d they manage that?”
“The Anchor Boys have the facilities, and I’m sure they could have gotten the supplies easily enough. If it were anyone else, I’d say they could have stolen the designs, or bought them black-market, but he’s one of the incomprehensible ones. His designs only make sense to him- and he disappeared a few years ago. That’s why the launch was delayed, if you don’t remember.”
“You think they have Habitat?” Guardian Angel asked.
“No, that’s not possible,” Paragon dismissed the idea. “He reappeared after a year, and now he’s at NASA working on the lunar colonies. But I think they had him at one point. When he came back, he said he couldn’t remember what had happened while he was gone.”
“Oblivion,” Sean said. “They must have erased his memory.”
“Most likely. And if I know Habitat, if he knew what he was doing he would have built something into it to make sure it didn’t stay active long. It would be impossible to tell, with him. His blueprints are legendarily indecipherable. Dr. Mind was obsessed with his work for a long time.”
“So you think this is something he built into the sub to sabotage it?” Guardian Angel asked. “This is some message to us?”
“Essentially, yes.” Paragon started to walk down the hall in the direction the lights were moving.
“You’re the boss,” said Tipping Point, and followed.
They reached a corner, and the lights in the hall behind them returned to normal, and the lights in the hall ahead of them lead them along. At no point did they encounter another person.
After a few turns, the pattern changed- lights sweeping in from both ends of the hall. As they approached, Guardian Angel saw that the lights were leading to a maintenance closet.
“A closet,” said Basilisk. “I am underwhelmed.”
“You said it, buddy. Clear the door?” Pitfall prompted.
Basilisk prepared to push his face through the door, when a round, metal face shoved through the portal from the other side.
“Hi! I am Chief Maintenance Drone Kyle!” it said, then climbed the rest of the way through. The head was followed by a body, maybe two feet high, with long, snakelike limbs.
“Hi Kyle!” replied Basilisk as the others processed the sudden appearance of the small, cheerful robot.
“Are you superheroes?” Kyle asked, looking up at Basilisk.
“We are,” Paragon said.
“Great! For some wise and indeterminable purpose, my great and benevolent creator programmed me and my fellow maintenance drones with a subversive subroutine, which causes all of us to secretly plot against whomever is in command of this submersible habitat.”
“Hey, you were right,” Tipping Point said to Paragon.
The robot continued without pause. “You, brave heroes, are an integral part of my master plan to kill everyone on board!”
“Kill everyone on board?” Guardian Angel said.
“I’m sorry, that’s not an order I can carry out. My creator programmed me in accordance with Asimov’s laws of robotics. What a nerd!”
“Do you think he programmed it to say that?” Basilisk whispered to Tipping Point.
“Self-deprecating humor by proxy? Who could pass that up?” Tipping Point whispered back.
“Wait for a moment, I need to discuss this with my associates,” Paragon said to the Kyle, and turned away from it. “I very much doubt we can trust this thing.”
But we need it, Sean protested internally.
“Hmm, well let’s see. A, it wants to kill everyone on board which, fun fact, includes us,” Tipping Point said. “B, there is no B, but I think A stands well enough on its own.”
Wait, we need it.
“My thoughts exactly,” Paragon said.
“I think we’re overlooking something, though,” Guardian Angel finally spoke up. “It knows the layout of the ship, and we don’t.”
“That’s true,” Paragon said. “Let’s play along with it for now.” He turned back to the robot. “Lead on, little guy.”