Ballard appeared behind him. “No,” he said. “You heard what Amena said before they went down. If they get in trouble, leave and don’t look back. They understood the risks.”
Gilmore shoved him off the platform and walked away.
Ballard plunged into the gravity-less center of the ship, but he climbed right back up. “We have a whole planet to think of, remember? Our whole planet.” He followed Sela and Mariana into the lab. “We have a duty, don’t forget, a duty to mankind.”
The lab was a mess, as Sela tended to juggle a few extracurricular projects at a time. Pieces of metal, wire, circuitry, glass, and more were everywhere, cluttering long tabletops and packing the many levels of shelving that made full use of both vertical walls.
The crevice where the angled wall met the floor provided additional storage space. She wedged several stalled projects in there, and she may or may not have intended to resume them someday.
The rest of the floor wasn’t much better. Outside a narrow walkway, no square foot was spared. Those chemical barrels had to go somewhere, after all.
Basically, if you blindfolded some poor sap and turned him loose, two steps later he’d either find himself an unwitting guinea pig for some cutting-edge prototype, or he’d trip and break his neck.
Nevertheless, Sela knew where everything was, and what everything was. She even knew why the air retained faint traces of burnt plastic, but she preferred not to discuss the matter.
A sturdy oak table served as her main workbench. There, she picked up a fat squirt gun. It wasn’t actually a squirt gun, but it sure resembled one—a fake-looking sci-fi rifle with a storage globe connected to its top.
Ballard continued his pest-like ways. “Amena would want us to think of innocent civilians first. That’s what I’m doing. That’s what you should be—”
Sela pointed the fake-looking rifle at Ballard and fired. Blue energy enveloped him, and he disappeared.
Mariana squinted at the empty air where he previously stood. “Whatever that was, I like it. Working on your own teleport?”
Sela pointed to the floor, pleased with her work.
Mariana squatted and found Ballard, only now he was the size of a tiny insect. He shuffled about on the hard metal floor, taken aback at the tremendous sights that surrounded him. He squeaked something and was quite animated about it, but neither she nor Sela could understand a word the little guy was ranting.
“I approve,” Mariana said, highly amused. “Can I—?” she asked her, reaching forward. Tiny Ballard recoiled.
“No,” Sela said, whispering as she grabbed her arm. “He’s particularly fragile at that size. Even the slightest pressure could potentially crush every bone in his body. Also, noise that’s normal to us must be agonizing to his teeny ears.”
Jem barged into the lab. “Hey! So, time for a rescue mission, ri—”
“Jem, don’t move,” Sela warned.
“Huh? Why?” Jem, slow to respond, took another small step forward, and the much smaller Ballard ran to steer clear of the largest gymnast he ever saw.
“Stop means stop!” Mariana snapped. “Learn English!”
“I also said quiet,” Sela reminded her, seeing Ballard clutching his ears.
“A-ha!” Jem said, triumphantly and even louder. “You didn’t listen either!”
Ballard collapsed to his knees, squeaking away, but he got right back up and sought cover.
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