Author : Michael Jagunic

Brick stands motionless as mechanical arms snap the exosuit around him: torso first, then limbs, weapons, and finally helmet.

“It’s like God creating life, you know?” he says. “You start with a soul, slap a body around it, and then send it shrieking into the harsh light of the world.”

He’s trying to lighten the mood. He’s failing.

Outfitted in my own exosuit, I lead Brick down the dimming corridor. The dying lights are on purpose—no reason to maintain full intensity up here. Still, power has been ebbing for weeks. A few weeks more and the rest of the lights below will be just as dim. And then dark.

We waited as long as we could. We hoped as long as we could.

“Think they’ll be waiting for us?” Brick asks.

“Yes,” I answer. “And they’re legion.”

At the end of the corridor, we come to the hangar, where the last three Hoppers loom like dusty dragons before the hangar door. The hangar once housed twelve Hoppers, but the other nine are no more than scraps of mangled metal now, lost somewhere out there beyond the bunker walls. No matter. The only Hopper I care about is the one Maddox was flying when he tried to save us.

Maddox, Brick, and I had been thick as thieves even before the Solar Army landed this planet, and we stuck together through everything: the Door opening up, settling this bunker, the Anti-Event. Them pouring through from the other side, slaughtering us in droves, clawing our Hoppers out of the sky and cracking our tanks as easily as they did our skulls.

When it got down to just the three of us and our distress calls were still going unanswered, Maddox couldn’t take the waiting anymore. He offered us a quick goodbye, and then flew a Hopper directly into the Door. I watched the whole thing in the control room while Brick said a prayer in the chapel. The vidlink showed a view of Maddox’s cockpit as he took one last run at them.

And that’s when I saw something.

“Brick. We need to talk about the plan.”

“I remember. Stay stealthy, sneak away.”

I look at him, knowing that all he can see is my black visor. “No. That used to be the plan. Not anymore. You remember when the Door first opened? Solar Army tried to pass a drone through.”

“Drone just kept on flying like the Door wasn’t there. It’s a one-way door, for them.”

“No,” I reply. “It’s not. When Maddox flew into the Door—”

“He passed right through, just like the Drone.”

“His Hopper passed through. But when Maddox hit the Door he disappeared. He didn’t pass through…he passed through. His ship crashed, but in the second before it did, I saw. He wasn’t in it. The door, it must have to do with organic matter or…or I don’t know, but…”

“Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“Because I know how crazy—”

“Yeah, it’s crazy. They came from that side.”

“You have a better plan? If we have to die, don’t you at least want to see what’s on the other side first?”

“The other side? Those things came straight from hell!”

“Maybe. Or maybe they’re guarding the gates of heaven.”

Seconds pass. An eternity.

“Okay, Johnny,” Brick says. “Doubt it matters whether we die in this universe or the next.”

“Right,” I smile. “Let’s go take a peek behind the curtain.”

With the slam of a lever, the hangar doors yawn open. In the distance, the first of them takes to the sky.

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