GENRE: Sci-Fi. LENGTH: 17,784 words. SYNOPSIS: Two very bright teenagers, Riley and Rachel, who are thrust into a treacherous situation by a reclusive, dying scientist. In a last ditch effort to validate the capabilities of his cutting-edge inventions, Doc Himmel uses the teens as guinea pigs, sending them to a planet that’s light years away from Earth.
Their mission is to gather data about the planet Sorella Uno and somehow survive until he brings them back to Earth. He has equipped the teens with slightly different bodies so they can fit in with the planet’s inhabitants. But it may take a while for Riley and Rachel to adapt to having extra arms.
However, that’s the least of their worries because even if they manage to stay alive long enough to complete their mission, there may be no way to return to Earth.
The story is posted here in eight chapters.
Fourteen year-old Riley Rangle told his mom he was going to Jake’s house to shoot hoops. He couldn’t tell her the truth. She never would have allowed him to go to crazy old Doc Himmel’s house. And Riley had never wanted to go near the creepy-looking place until now.
He’d never met the man, or even seen a picture of him. But he’d heard the stories. Years ago, Hilbert Himmel, a dentist, who was surprisingly also a chiropractor, claimed he could cure just about any medical condition by working on your teeth and gums. But if that didn’t do the trick, he’d lay you out on his chiropractic table and start popping your bones. His last resort was to inject you with some voodoo concoction he’d mixed up in his lab.
Most people thought Doc Himmel was a quack—yet he’d stayed in business for nearly forty years. Obviously, a lot of people believed in his strange methods of doctoring.
Riley didn’t know what to believe. After the doctor retired twenty years ago, he became a hermit. Nobody had any idea what the crazy old man was doing alone in that big house.
But Riley was about to find out.
His property occupied a huge corner lot, bordered on the back and sides by an eight-foot iron fence. In the front was a large pond that provided twenty-five feet of separation from the street. It was like a moat, protecting the castle from the king’s enemies. But there was no drawbridge—just a wooden bridge that looked like it might collapse if you were foolish enough to try to walk across it.
Riley paused. Was he really going to do this? He instinctively reached for his phone. Why? To check with his mommy? He was not a kid anymore. At fourteen, Riley was well on his way to becoming a man.
He wished he could have called Doc Himmel and talked to him about this. Maybe that would have reassured him. But Riley didn’t have his phone number, and he wasn’t even sure he had the correct email address. When he’d replied to the doctor’s email, it had bounced.
Maybe this was a prank, and he’d being an idiot for taking it seriously. Some buttheads from his school were probably hiding in the bushes, capturing his gullibility on video for all the world to see.
Riley decided to put those thoughts out of his mind. Dr. Himmel had emailed him about some cool inventions the doctor was working on. He said he’d read about Riley’s science fair project, and how it had won first place in the national competition. According to his email, Riley was just the kind of smart young man with whom the doctor wanted to share his amazing inventions—that had something to do with space travel. Riley would be the first one to see them.
He took one step onto the bridge and it creaked. With the second step, it began to sway slightly. What was the worst thing that could happen? The bridge might collapse and dump Riley into the water. So what? He would swim to the other side, climb up to the grass, and run to the front door. The doctor would commend him for his bravery, and offer him a towel and a change of clothes.
Riley took another step. The board under his foot felt spongy. Could it hold his weight? He took a deep breath. Don’t be a wimp—be a warrior. He charged forward at full speed, knowing he was putting more stress on the old bridge by running, but he couldn’t stand the suspense. If it meant he would fall into the water, so be it. An image flashed across his mind: dozens of snakes wrapped around his arms and legs, pulling him under—to a harrowing watery death.
When he was nearly to the other side, a board cracked and his leg fell through, stopping him dead in his tracks. The bridge swayed from side to side, creaking and popping. He held his breath and carefully pulled his leg out of the gap. Riley tiptoed the rest of the way across the bridge, and rolled onto the grass.
He breathed a sighed of relief. Home free and bone dry. He jumped up and ran to the front door.
The two carriage lamps at either side of the door were covered with spiderwebs, and projected monster-sized spider shadows onto the enormous front door. Riley knocked. The wooden door felt like concrete, as though it were petrified.
If the email was real, this was gonna be cool. But if it was a joke—if some clown from school had set him up—the old doctor might yell at him or call the police or pull out a shotgun. But he’d been well aware of the dangers when he’d lied to his mom. The best case scenario would leave him grounded for two weeks after witnessing some amazing, cutting-edge technology. Totally worth it.
The worst case—
The hinges groaned as the door opened. The man was tall—well over six feet—with a full head of gray hair, down to his shoulders. If this was Doctor Himmel, then Riley had to agree: he did look crazy—more like a wino than an inventor.
“Hello, Riley.” His booming, crackling voice sounded like it was coming from the bottom of a barrel that hadn’t been opened in fifty years. It was the lowest-pitched voice Riley had ever heard, delivered in syrupy-slow motion. It was as if the doctor’s words had been recorded earlier and were playing back at a much slower speed.
Riley shivered. It freaked him out that this weird-looking old man had just called him by name. Apparently the email had been real, but now Riley kinda wished it hadn’t. He quickly calculated that he could make it to the street in thirty seconds—assuming the bridge didn’t crumble under his feet.
“I’m Dr. Himmel. Come in, son.” He pulled the door open farther.
“Good to meet you, Dr. Himmel.”
“You can call me Doc. That’s what my patients always called me.”
Riley walked into the foyer. “Okay, Doc. Thanks for inviting me.” When he got a good whiff of the place, he nearly gagged. It smelled like mildewed tennis shoes filled with rotten banana peels, covered with cigarette ashes.
Doc closed the door. “You know I picked you because of your science fair project. That was good, solid work you did with that robot.”
“Thanks. I plan on winning first prize again next year.”
“Not if I can help it.” Rachel Oliver was standing at the other end of the foyer.
“What are you doing here?” Riley asked.
“I invited Rachel too,” Doc said. “She got here a little early.”
“We don’t need her, Doc,” Riley said. “Her science fair project came in a distant second.”
“The judges screwed up,” she said. “My robot ran circles around yours.”
“That’s about all it could do—run in circles,” Riley said. “Besides, you wrote your controller application in Java, so most of the work was already done for you. All you had to do was plug in a few lines of code. I created my own programming language from scratch.”
“Which was a complete waste of time,” she said. “How are we supposed to make any real progress as scientists if we keep reinventing the wheel? Right, Doc?”
Before he could speak, Riley said, “My code is highly sophisticated—unlike yours.”
“So said the judges,” Rachel said.
“Then we’re in agreement,” Riley said.
“No, we’re not, because when the judges awarded you first prize they judged themselves to be inferior,” she said.
Riley looked at Doc. “That is so bogus.”
Rachel got in Riley’s face. “Why don’t we borrow one of Doc’s computer and show him our code. Let him decide who’s is better?”
“Stop!” Doc’s booming voice shook the walls.
Riley and Rachel froze.
“I don’t have time for this bickering,” Doc said. “I selected both of you for a reason. Now, follow me.”
He turned and walked out of the foyer.
Rachel stuck out her tongue at Riley.
He responded with a conceited grin.
They followed Doc through the living room. The coffee table was covered with dust and the couch and chairs looked like they hadn’t been touched in years. Then they went down a long hallway and through a door that led into what must have been the doctor’s dental office at one time. The room was so bright that Riley had to squint for a few moments until his pupils adjusted.
There were several dentist chairs in a row, bolted to the floor. Only remnants remained of the inner walls that had at one time partitioned the large room into patient stalls.
“This is my lab,” Doc said.
To the left, in a corner was a heavy-looking metal desk with a computer workstation on it. Riley recognized it as an old DEC Alpha workstation from the 1990s. “You running UNIX, Doc?” Riley asked, before Rachel had a chance.
“Programming in C?” Riley asked.
“No, I use my own language that’s built on top of C.” Doc said.
Riley smirked at Rachel. “See? Doc doesn’t use Java either.”
“Okay,” Doc said, “I’m gonna show you a video that demonstrates my advanced 3D scanner and 3D printer.”
“I know all about 3D scanners and printers, Doc,” Rachel said.
Doc gave her a cold stare. “You’ve never seen one like this.”
“You mean you brought us here just to show us a video?” she asked.
“You could have just emailed us the video, Doc,” Riley said.
Doctor Himmel’s face turned red. “I’m not gonna take a chance on my inventions getting out there on the web where idiots can scrutinize them and criticize me. The scientific community rejected my ideas twenty years ago, and I am about to make them choke on their own superiority complex. But not until I’m ready.” He started coughing, and quickly went into a full-blown coughing fit.
By the time he finally he got it under control, his eyes were red and watery. “Whew, that was a rough one.”
“Are you sick?” Rachel asked.
“No,” Doc said. “I’m dying. Lung cancer. Cigarettes. Four packs a day for seventy years.”
Riley didn’t know what to say.
Doc went on. “So, I haven’t got much time left. But, hell, I’m 87 years old, so I can’t complain. Never thought I’d live this long. But while I’m still kicking, I’m gonna push my new technology to limit, and with your help, prove that it works. I’ll show those dumbasses. It’ll literally blow their pants off.” He grinned.
Riley wondered how he and Rachel were going to help Doc prove anything by simply watching a video.
“Before I show you the video…follow me.” Doc took them outside and down a sidewalk that led to what appeared to be a large warehouse. Inside, the only source of light came from a small lamp sitting next to a computer workstation on a desk.
“Aren’t you gonna turn on the lights?” Rachel asked.
Her voice echoed, leading Riley to surmise that there were no inner walls in the building—no division of the space into smaller rooms—just one big, open area with little or nothing in it. But as he stared into the darkness, he thought he could see a large object in the middle of the room. Perhaps it just the afterimage of a dental chair, temporarily burned into his retina during their brief visit to the Doc’s bright lab.
Doc walked over to the computer, logged in, entered a few keystrokes, and the entire room lit up. A very large, open-ended glass tube was pointed at the ceiling. It was ten feet tall and at least twelve inches in diameter. The bottom of the tube was mounted to a huge metal apparatus covered with electric cables.
“Is that a laser?” Riley asked.
“An extremely powerful laser,” Doc said, still typing at the keyboard. “I’m way ahead of NASA.”
NASA? Riley remembered reading that NASA scientists had built a high-powered laser that could transmit data to and from the moon at super-fast speeds.
The roof opened to a clear sky.
“Nice,” Rachel said.
Riley pointed. “There’s Alpha Centauri.”
“How would you like to go there?” Doc asked.
Riley whipped around. “What do you talking about?”
“Well, not to Alpha Centauri specifically,” Doc said. “Let’s go back inside.”
“Aren’t you gonna tell us what you do with this laser?” Rachel asked.
“Inside.” Doc walked toward the door.
“Don’t you need to close the roof?” Rachel asked. “What if it rains?”
Doc ignored her.
They followed him back into the lab.
“Have a seat,” Doc said, offering two of the dentist chairs.
Riley and Rachel sat down in the chairs.
Rachel looked nervous.
“You’re not gonna drill our teeth, are you, Doc?” Riley said, trying to lighten the mood.
Doc stood in front of them holding what appeared to be a custom remote control. “My advanced 3D reproduction technology is like nothing you’ve ever seen. It can reproduce about anything—including the human body.”
“You’re joking,” Rachel said.
Doc touched the remote, and the wall became a video screen. He stepped aside as the video began to play.
In the video, Doc Himmel was sitting in a dental chair. In a second dental chair that was facing his, a copy of Doc’s body began to gradually appear.
“So, the copy of you being produced by your 3D printer?” Riley asked. ‘This can’t be real.”
“Quiet!” Doc said.
When the copy was fully formed, it opened its eyes and saw Doc sitting across from it. “Who are you?” It asked.
“I am the original,” Doc said. “I’m the real you. You’re just a copy.”
“That’s impossible.” The copy slid out of its chair and stood up.
Doc clicked the remote, which paused the video.
“What are you doing?” Riley said. “It was just getting good.”
“No,” Doc said. “That’s when it got bad.”
“What happened?” Riley asked.
“He died,” Doc said.
Riley looked around. “What did you do with his body?”
“I buried it in the back yard,” Doc said.
“He died?” Rachel asked. “No, you killed him. You pulled the plug on him, didn’t you? How could you do that? He was walking and talking. He was real. He was you.”
Riley said, “Doc, you could have manipulated the data inside your 3D system and removed your cancer before you made the copy.”
“Yes,” Doc said. “I could have.”
“Then why not do it?” Riley asked. “Then you could go on living—as the copy.”
“It’s not that simple,” Doc said.
Yeah, Riley thought, because the video was a fake. None of this is real. Doc was delusional.
Doc said, “The enormous laser I showed you a few minutes ago is part of my high-speed digital, Full-Duplex, Laser Communication System, or FuddleCuz, as I call it.”
“FuddleCuz?” Rachel asked. “Why do you call it that?”
Riley jumped in. “Because that’s what scientists do with acronyms, Rachel—they make them into funny words so it’s easier to say them and remember them. The acronym for Full-Duplex, Laser Communication System is F D L C S, which Doc has turned into FuddleCuz. Get it?”
“Yeah, sure.” Rachel smirked at him, probably wondering why Riley was still playing along with Dr. Nutcase.
“Very good, Riley,” Doc said. “So, once the 3D scanner has created a digital copy of the subject, the FuddleCuz can send that data to another planet and—”
“Another planet?” Riley asked. “But that would take years.”
Doc grinned. “When I say high-speed, I’m talking about speeds you’ve never even dreamed of, son. A few minutes ago, you looked into the sky and pointed to Alpha Centauri. How long do you think it would take for the FuddleCuz to transmit to that star system? Take a guess.”
“Are you kidding?” Riley asked. “Alpha Centauri is 4.37 light years away.”
“That is exactly right,” Doc said, “but you haven’t answered my question.”
Rachel piped in. “The fastest speed I’ve ever heard of would get you there in about 85 years or so. But that was just theoretical stuff.”
“Yeah,” Riley said, “using the best technology we’ve got right now, it would take something like 80,000 years.”
“Correct,” Doc said, “which is why my system is such a breakthrough. Of course, in fairness, I’m not sending up a physical spaceship. The FuddleCuz only transmits the data needed to make a copy of the subject.”
“And how many years does that take?” Riley asked.
“It can reach Alpha Centauri in approximately ten minutes,” Doc said.
Riley now knew for sure that Doctor Himmel was completely out of his mind.
“That’s impossible,” Rachel said.
Doc smiled. “No, dear, it is not impossible. I’ve already done it. Actually, I blew right past Alpha Centauri because it’s way too hot for mammals: about 1200 degrees Celsius.”
“I’m sorry, Doc,” Riley said, “but do you realize how crazy that sounds?”
Doc walked over to a metal cabinet and took out something that looked like a bowling ball. “This is another one of my inventions: the Auto-Maneuverable Camera Ball.”
“So, what’s your cute name for it?” Rachel asked.
“I just call it the camera ball,” Doc said.
“So, it takes pictures while it’s rolling around?” Riley asked.
“Right,” Doc said. “But it does a lot more than that. It can travel at speeds of up to sixty miles per hour. It can traverse mountains. Leap over obstacles. And it even has a stealth mode.”
Yeah, right. Riley was beginning to wonder if this was even the real Doc Himmel. Maybe he’d died several years ago, and now Ashton Kutcher was using this place to punk nerds like him and Rachel.
Rachel cocked her head. “That ball can turn completely invisible?”
“Very close,” Doc said. “I send it to other planets and let it take pictures and videos, and transmit them back to me through the FuddleCuz.”
“So, you’ve tested it?” Rachel asked. “Where’s the video? I’ve got to see this.”
Doc ignored her questions. “There are more than eight billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy that may be capable of supporting human life. I have selected seven of them to investigate.”
“But even if you can transmit to another planet at ridiculously high speeds, what are you transmitting to? Riley asked. “How do you get a receiver and a 3D printer to that planet?”
Doc grinned. “That, son, is the most amazing aspect of this whole thing. But, unfortunately, I don’t have time to explain it right now.” He pressed a button on his remote.
“Shit!” Riley felt his body being sucked down tight against the padding of the chair. He couldn’t pull away from the armrests, and his legs were glued to the leg rest. “What are you doing to us, Doc?”
“Let me out of this thing!” Rachel said.
“Sorry to bring you two here under false pretenses,” Doc said. “But I’m dying fast, and before I kick the bucket, I’ve gotta prove that my system is capable of sending humans to another planet.”