Lachlan sat beside Sam on the floor, leaning against a wall. Sam hadn’t wanted to stop for a rest, but when Lachlan’s leg pain had become unbearable, he’d sat down and refused to move, hoping Sam wouldn’t want to continue alone. To Lachlan’s satisfaction, Sam had sat down beside him, claiming his legs were starting to ache too.
Sam had taken a pen and small notepad from his pocket and begun writing.
“The first step in the solution of a problem,” said Sam, “is to identify the problem.”
“That’s easy. We’re stuck here,” said Lachlan. “Boom. Done. Step one, check.”
Sam gave him that infuriating smirk.
“Not so fast,” he said. “We still don’t know where ‘here’ is.”
“Maybe that’s the problem then. That we don’t know where we are.”
Sam squinted and frowned at him, no doubt trying to find fault with what he was saying. After a moment of silence, he spoke.
“We can think of that as a kind of sub-problem. A question we need to find an answer to before we solve the larger problem.”
He wrote something on the notepad, a slow, deliberate, but completely illegible scrawl.
“Okay. We have a sub-problem,” said Lachlan. “Sub-step one, check?”
“Sure,” said Sam.
“And I’m assuming there’s a step two you’re going to tell me about.”
“Yes. Step two is to conduct research.”
“And how are we meant to do that?” said Lachlan. “Type ‘infinite building populated by murder rectangles’ into Google? Check the Wikipedia page for ‘where the fuck are we’? I’d suggest picking up a book, but apparently books stole your woman and kicked your mum in the face or something.”
“There aren’t any books here,” said Sam, as though Lachlan had made a serious suggestion.
“You know I was being sarcastic and witty, right?” said Lachlan.
“I knew you were being sarcastic. You were in no way being witty,” said Sam. “Anyway, clearly, in our case, we can’t conduct research in the traditional sense. However, we can consider all the information we have about our predicament.”
Sam handed Lachlan the notepad.
“You write,” he said.
“What’s the magic word?” said Lachlan.
“Just write,” said Sam. “I focus better when I’m not trying to write and talk at the same time.”
“Excuse me, Lachlan,” Lachlan mimicked an American accent. “Can you please take notes for me, bro? Thanks, buddy. You’re a pal.”
“That’s not how I sound,” said Sam.
“That’s exactly how you sound.” Lachlan looked down at the notepad in his hand. “Is the reason you want me to write that your handwriting is shit? Because this looks like a three-year-old wrote it.”
“Messy handwriting is a sign of high intelligence,” said Sam.
“Of course it is,” said Lachlan. “Anything specific you’d like me to write down?”
“Anything about what brought us here, or what we’ve experienced while we’ve been here,” said Sam. “Is there anything you can think of?”
“Well, we know I was sent here on purpose, and you ended up here by accident,” said Lachlan, “but we had similar experiences just before ending up here. Big machines, loud noises, green fog.”
Lachlan waited for Sam to respond. Instead, he was silent, turning his head away in the direction of the wall to their left.
“Hello? Earth to Samurai?” Lachlan waved a hand in front of Sam’s face. “We were trying to solve a problem.”
“Do you hear that?” said Sam. “It sounds like voices.”
Sarah watched the color drain from Naomi’s face as she finally realized the situation she was in. Naomi took two steps backward into the wall away from 199.
You dumb idiot! If you’d gotten the IDLD when I told you, this wouldn’t be happening!
“Oh, 254!” said 112. “Catch!”
112 flung the inter-dimensional ladder device into the air, and 254 waited before lunging for it. Sarah’s heart leapt into her throat as it flew through the air. The IDLD was a delicate piece of technology. Just seven inches long by two inches wide, the little device could tear a hole in a specific time and place in reality and pull its user through. She wasn’t smart enough to know how it worked–she’d been designed for charm and ruthlessness, not for intelligence–but she knew nothing good could come of it being damaged.
She knew her sisters wouldn’t break the IDLD on purpose–that would prevent them from using it for themselves–but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t damage it by accident.
Laughing, 254 caught the IDLD with one hand moments before it hit the ground, and Sarah let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.
“Oops,” said 254. “It’d be a shame if this thing broke.”
112 advanced on Sarah. Sarah kicked out, and felt 112’s toothy hand wrap around her foot, digging into the skin that her shoe didn’t cover. 112 pulled, and Sarah’s head thumped against the wall as her balance gave way and she slid onto the floor.
She kicked again, this time aiming for 112’s unsteady ankles. 112’s serpentine legs wavered, and she tumbled backward onto the floor.
Sarah sat up and scooted backward against the wall, using it to help push herself back into a standing position.
She looked over at Naomi, who was pinned to the wall, struggling as 199 held onto her arms.
Sarah kicked 199 in middle of her back. 199 didn’t feel pain, but the kick served its purpose, startling 199 enough she release Naomi’s arms.
Naomi shoved 199. 199 stumbled backward a couple feet, then regained her footing and started toward Naomi again. Naomi dodged her and headed toward Sarah.
Naomi reached into her pocket and produced a set of keys. Without a word to Sarah, she began stabbing a car key into the duct tape, trying to tear Sarah’s arms free.
Ironic. She restrained me to protect herself, and now her life depends on setting me free.
112’s head snapped up at an inhuman angle as she noticed what Naomi was doing.
“Hey! Stop her!”
254 rushed forward, shoving Naomi aside with her free hand.
Sarah looked down at her arms. Some tape still held, but Naomi had managed to sever enough of it. Sarah pulled her arms apart, then began using her teeth to tear at the tape covering her hands.
If I can just get this off, I’ll be able to use my abilities.
254 lunged at Sarah, aiming for the weak point just below her chest and missing. She felt a dull, painless thud as 254’s fist collided with the center of her chest.
“You missed.” She drove her fist into 254’s weak point. “I didn’t.”
254 gasped and doubled over, dropping the IDLD. Naomi and 199 lunged for it, grabbing it at the same time. They engaged in a brief tug-of-war, then 199 struck Naomi in the face. Clutching her cheek, Naomi released the device.
Sarah resumed tearing at the tape on her hands with her teeth. She pulled off a large patch of tape, freeing up her fingers, and spit the tape onto the floor.
112’s legs twisted unnaturally as she pulled herself off the floor and took a swaying step toward Sarah. Sarah concentrated, focusing her energy into her right hand. She thrust her hand out, releasing the energy, and swept her hand sideways, knocking 112 back to the ground.
Sarah reached for 199, wrapping the energy around her and pulling her in. 199 flew toward her, still clutching the IDLD.
Sarah grabbed the IDLD with one hand, and struck 199 just below the chest with the other. Gasping, 199 let go of the device and collapsed onto her knees.
Sarah reached out again, this time using her ability to pull Naomi toward her. Naomi cried out, struggling as Sarah wrapped her arms around her.
“Hey! What are you doing? Let go of me!”
“Relax,” said Sarah. “I’m saving your life.”
Sarah pressed the button to open the portal to Charlotte. The IDLD peeped, and the green LED on top of the device lit up.
“Brace yourself,” she said. “This is about to be real uncomfortable.”
She pressed the button again.
Sam covered his ears as the sound ripped through the room. Even at half the volume it had been before, it was loud enough to be painful.
When the tearing sound subsided, he felt a little weaker than before, and his hands trembled just slightly. He tucked them under his legs so Lachlan wouldn’t see.
When Lachlan turned to look at him, he knew they were both thinking the same thing.
“That was… that was it,” said Sam. “The sound the machine made right before I ended up here.”
“Yeah,” said Lachlan. “That’s the sound I heard too.”
Sam took a deep breath, waiting for some of his strength to return before he spoke again.
“It could be the sound of a gateway or a portal opening,” he said.
“Let’s go find it, then.” Lachlan climbed to his feet. “It could be our way home.”