The alarm woke them all from their slumber. First, Derek had awakened from his nap. He was on watch, but as the group had come accustomed to the complete lack of problems overnight, being “on watch” meant sleeping on the bed that had been set up in the communications chamber, precisely for those “on watch.” The alarm going off wasn’t abnormal, and the others only awoke because Derek increased the volume and shouted at them over the intercom. “Guys, this is serious! Everyone get in here now!”
The rest of the small crew, Virginia, David, and Jean, joined Derek. They knew something was wrong since there was the faint odor of smoke in the air. The filtration system would only miss smoke particles to this degree if it were overwhelmed.
“What the hell is going on?” Jean shouted as she entered the room. Although all members of the crew were on equal standing, she had assumed the role of leader. It had become easy to live together in such tight quarters with one person assuming the function of final arbiter on any disagreements, and Jean was reasonable enough that it worked for the group.
“Oh, it’s bad! Really bad! I have no idea how our sensors missed this and why it was able to breach our shell! I think it hit the intake grill on the south wall, which would explain the filtration system’s failure,” Derek cried.
They all took a look at the cameras and diagnostics on the screen. It quickly became clear what had happened: a small storm had suddenly kicked up within the outer protective shell and quickly developed a micro-cyclone that shot a small stone straight through the protective grating where fresh air was brought in, filtered, and separated to help replenish the recycled air in the base as needed. This was Mars, after all, and the weather was always unpredictable.
“The stone must have penetrated very deeply and somehow struck an oxygen storage tank, generating a spark. Why aren’t the fire suppressors working?” Virginia asked.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think it matters right now. We need to get out of here immediately. Do you see how quickly the safety walls are failing? It’s not long until the fire spreads to us here.” As David said this, a loud explosion rocked the room, and the camera trained on the vehicle hangar went blank.
“Gamma base is too far away to make it here in time to save us. There’s no way that fire takes more than 30 minutes to get to the door here, and the smoke is likely to take over the ventilation ducts before that anyway. Wait – can we close the vents off? Isolate ourselves? At least that will give us a chance to figure things out. We should have 45 minutes of oxygen in here, and the fire doors should last double that, though it won’t matter at that point,” Virginia said.
“The vents are already closed,” Jean said as she finished moving some manual levers near the door. “What now?”
They all looked at each other confused. Jean was not only the natural leader here, she also knew this base inside and out. They were all trapped in this room and no one knew how to get out. They had one option, the keyhole, but it only mattered if any of them remembered about it. It had been placed in the storage room so long ago that Jean had never even seen it. It was only through having to go through a complete accounting of all supplies on a monthly basis that she knew where it was and what it was, but had never given it a second thought. It had never even been tested.
“What about the keyhole?” Derek asked timidly. They all showed a glimpse of hope and fear at the same time.
The keyhole was part of a teleporter prototype that had been deposited at the base when it was first built, partly for a situation like this one. The working model for a teleporter only required significant power and equipment on one end, thus making it easy to drop a smaller receiving portal anywhere in the universe. The technology and development rather interestingly seemed to have it right on these smaller receptacles, referred to as “keyholes” not just because it meshes well with calling the larger halves “gates,” but because structurally they resembled an old-fashioned keyhole. All of the problems in development were related to the gate, and the keyholes hadn’t changed in years. While the keyhole here was an earlier prototype, it was physically and functionally identical to the newer ones being made. It had not, however, had its self-diagnostic tests run in a long time and never actually used to transport matter, let alone living, organic matter. The first successful tests involving living animals had just occurred, and the process was nowhere near perfect. This keyhole, for now, was to be used only in case of emergency, and that time had come.
“Remember how the transporters in Star Trek worked? These ones work almost precisely like them. Matter enters into one end, gets transformed into energy, and then put back into matter on the other end. You just get converted, but in an odd way, you stay intact,” David said, hurriedly. Until arriving at the station, he had made transporter technology his intellectual hobby. “With how successful the recent tests have been, there’s a good chance it will be safe and we’ll come out the other side. We know what our fate is if we stay here, so I’m going to use it.”
He ran into the storage room and carried out the keyhole. As he started to set it up, he asked Jean to contact the International Moon Research Base and ask for Dr. Okeda, the leading researcher on the organic matter transport experiments. David powered up the keyhole and it all looked good.
“I don’t care if I use this thing, so you all must go before me. I know how these things work, and they are death. I won’t be coming out the other side; it will just be some odd copy of me. I’m fine with my fate here, and I can accept my fate since the outcome will be the same no matter what happens,” Jean said as they waited for acknowledgment from Dr. Okeda.
“But that’s crazy! You just get transformed into another state for an instant, and you don’t even notice or feel it. The same energy stored in your body right now is what makes you up on the other side. You must come if you can,” Derek pleaded.
“Look, I know you all don’t agree with my faith, but I believe my body and soul – yes, I still believe in those – were given to me by God and that even if I made it through the transporter process, my body will have gone through a state that changed so much, it can’t be me that comes out the other side. I don’t believe my soul would come with my either, but it doesn’t matter. My body is sacred to me as it is, and the transporter would destroy that sacredness. You all know this, this isn’t the first time we’ve ever talked about the potential of transporters. I said I wouldn’t use one myself even if my life depended on it, and I meant it. I’ll stay here and ensure everything works for you all,” Jean said.
“We’re sending the gate information over right now,” Dr. Okeda interrupted as he appeared on the screen. It looked as if he had just been awakened, which was very likely as the moon was also on “space time” that aligned with Greenwich Mean Time on Earth, and it was the middle of the night for him as well.
“I see it. I’ll enter it into the transporter right now,” David replied.
“We’re not ready for this, and it may not even work. I’m uncomfortable attempting this, but someone above me has ordered this to be tried out of desperation. We have been having storage battery issues here at our base and are operating at only 30% of our normal power supply. We have just enough energy to spare to transport all four of you, but if something goes wrong, we won’t be able to give it another try. I won’t jeopardize the safety of this station to run this emergency experiment,” Dr. Okeda said sharply.
“Understood, of course. This is our only hope, and I have faith in your research, Dr. Okeda. I have been following your work for years,” David said excitedly, despite the direness of the situation. The fire was progressing faster than they had anticipated, and David hurried to ready the transporter.
“There is no time for inorganic testing, doctor. I’ll go through first on your go. Are you ready?” David asked through the screen, finally showing his nervousness.
“We are clear. Proceed when ready,” Dr. Okeda replied.
David pressed some buttons on the keyhole and nothing seemed to change, except the screen indicating it was ready. All one had to do was enter the keyhole shaped alcove, which was approximately 6 feet high, 2 feet wide at the bottom, 3 feet wide at the top, and about 3 feet deep. It was open on both ends, and there was one button on the inside that matched one on the outside labeled with a bright, green glowing “GO.” Without saying a word, David walked into the keyhole, turned around, smiled, and pressed the button. He was gone in an instant and all eyes darted for the screen broadcasting the gate on the moon.
“Woohoo! That was amazing! I didn’t feel a thing!” David shouted as he instantly appeared in the gate. It appeared to have worked, and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. Their relief was short-lived when the video feed went blank.
“Wait, what happened?” Derek asked. There appeared to be no signal coming from the moon, though all other sensors seemed to suggest nothing else had changed. After a few seconds, the video feed restarted.
“We had a small glitch – the drain on our power was more than anticipated. Transporting a whole person takes more energy than we had calculated. We only have enough for 2 more rounds of transportation, so two of you will have to go together,” Dr. Okeda said as he reappeared on the screen. As the fire consumed the pure oxygen contained in storage tanks throughout the base, it burned stronger. Time was running out.
“I’ll go next,” Virginia stated. “Whether or not this works again is irrelevant – it’s our only option. As long as something comes out the other side, it’s the best shot at any part of me surviving. If it all goes well again, we’ll know in a few moments. If not…well, you all know how I feel,” Virginia finished, choking back some tears. She stepped through the keyhole, disappeared, and in a few instants, she appeared right where she was, in the keyhole on Mars.
“What happened?” Derek shouted at Dr. Okeda.
“We lost the signal somehow. Is she OK?” Dr. Okeda asked.
“Yes, I don’t feel any different,” Virginia replied. “Let’s do it again. Ready?”
“There was minimal power loss, so we’re good to go again. Ready when you are,” Dr. Okeda stated.
Just like last time, she pushed a button and disappeared. In an instant, she appeared in the gate and collapsed. After a collective gasp, she stood up and waved at the camera, teary-eyed.
“We have just enough energy for one last transport with the two of you. Things should have stabilized now, so you should go when ready,” Dr. Okeda said.
“Wait. I need to ensure we have the backup of our research. We shouldn’t lose everything we have now, especially the current data on what the hell is happening to our base,” Jean said as she began typing hurriedly on the computer. “This will only take a few seconds.”
As she worked, Derek took in everything that had happened, and then began thinking out loud.
“Remember all the episodes of Star Trek where things went wrong with the transporter? Since we’re simply stored in energy, there can be a gap between being digitized and being re-created, like with what happened to Virginia, and she luckily reappeared here. This means there is even the possibility of duplication. There was that one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Commander Riker was accidentally duplicated in a transporter accident. The episode was called ‘Second Chances’ because for the one that remained stuck on a planet, it was like 8 years literally flew by without anyone knowing he existed, so he got to pick up where he left off while the other one that it made it off the planet had continued to live. There was also that one time Scotty was caught in a beam for a long time and then came out of it. What if this happens to us?” Derek said, mostly to himself.
“There’s only enough energy for one more transport, and even that is questionable. We shouldn’t push it – only one of us should go at a time, and hope there’s enough left for the other. You must go first, and I’ll follow if you’re fine. I know that I won’t come out the other side regardless of what you think. Now, hurry! There’s not much time!” Jean ordered.
“You have to come. But we would still have you, even if you don't think it's you. That's got to be worth something,” he pleaded.
“Like I said, I’m dead either way. If I got through and it works, that won’t be me. I’ll stay behind – my fate has already been sealed,” she replied.
“I can’t leave you back here. You have to come with me. There’s only just enough energy for one more transport – we must go through together. It’s the only way,” Derek pleaded again.
“Stop wasting the time you have left to go!”
“I’m not going anywhere without you. I can’t bear to live knowing you got left behind instead of me. We must go together right now.”
Jean thought for a second, took a deep breath, and said, “Fine. If it’s the only way you’ll go, we’ll do it together,” she said as she kissed him on the cheek and calmly grabbed his hand. As they walked toward the keyhole, she shoved Derek into it, alone, and pushed the button. She then looked at the communications screen and said, just before it went blank, “‘'Tis too much proved, that with devotion’s visage And pious action we do sugar o'er The devil himself.’”
“What does that mean?” David asked.
“It means she’s not coming,” Virginia replied. “You know how much Jean adored Shakespeare. It’s a quote from Hamlet when Polonius is convincing his daughter to deceive Hamlet in order to try and save him,” she continued through tears.
Though Derek had entered the keyhole, he did not appear through the gate. The fire had consumed the communications room only seconds after Derek entered the keyhole. It wasn’t clear what was happening, but he had definitely been energized. While the scientists were trying to figure out what happened, Derek appeared in the gate in what felt like an instant to him.
“It worked! Wait, Jean still needs to come through!” Derek shouted as they shut down the gate behind him. “What are you doing? There’s still time!”
“Sorry, it’s over,” Virginia said, in a state of shock. “It took almost two hours for you to come through, and Jean never made it into the keyhole. You made it out of there just in time.”
“Did I? What happened in those two hours? Where was I?...what was I?”
“We don’t know. There were complications – you know something like this has never been attempted before,” David said from the corner, sitting in a daze staring at the gate.
Just then, the gate shook and trembled again. Someone else was coming through. Derek was waiting with shocked anticipation, hoping to see Jean come through. No one was prepared for what happened next.