Betrayal at Onyx Island
by Faith Van Horne
|part 1 of 3|
By the time Min arrived, Greg had nearly convinced himself that Cynthia was, in fact, an evil mad scientist. Only a firm hold on spouse-loving denial, coupled with the absence of sane outside input, kept him from admitting the inescapable.
Even though Greg had propped open the heavy steel security door with a block of silver, Min did not step into Cynthia’s lab. Instead, she curved her head around the open doorway, her face like a round, pale apricot with coppery freckles flanking a stripe across its middle. She squinted her wide-set, seawater-green eyes as she swiveled her round head back and forth across the cluttered work lab.
From his perspective atop the primary workstation, Min was a pale, black-haired giant.
She tilted her head, taking a step backward. “Greg? This is a private, personal lab space. I’m not coming inside unless you’re in there.”
“I am.” He shouted the words, but there was no way she could have heard him from there, could she? How loudly did sound travel through lungs the size of kidney beans?
She flinched backward in a lightning-fast move, darting out of his line of sight for the moment. “Greg? You needn’t shout.” He saw the tip of her nose, then; it was long and turned up at the end, but somehow the look fit her. Her eyes followed, and she said, “I can hear you, but where are—”
Her gaze fixed on the table where Greg stood, waving both arms over his head. She stopped, and her eyes widened until white surrounded the irises. “My god, you’re...”
Greg had not been tall to begin with, or handsome, or particularly bright (at least compared with the literal island of genius scientists that surrounded him). But now, since his mishap of moments ago, he stood perhaps half a foot high. He couldn’t help but feel unmanned. It didn’t help that Min carried an aura of loveliness wherever she went. Most might find her plain, and he couldn’t figure why such an obvious redhead would choose to dye her hair black, especially when the lighter hue would suit her so well; nonetheless, when she was near, Greg swore he could almost hear angelic bell tones singing out.
But those were not details for him to mind. Not a happily married man like him.
He stepped to the edge of the packet of papers he’d been standing on and hopped down, edging to the corner of the table. To his left was Cynthia’s keyboard; behind him, her holosplay computer.
Transfixed, Min picked her way over the balled-up papers and beakers with congealed substances inside, her eyes never moving from Greg’s tiny face. “Good graces,” she said, staring, “How can anyone get any work done in here?”
Greg shook his head as Min’s giant visage swooped down less than a foot from him. Her nose, impressive to a man of normal size, overwhelmed him. “You’d have to ask Cynthia. This is the first time I’ve ever been in here.”
Min blinked again, then jutted out her giant finger, touching Greg’s midsection. The touch felt like a battering ram being eased into his stomach. “Hey,” he called, backing up, “watch it!”
Min’s coppery eyebrows knit in the center. “What happened to you?”
As Greg motioned his arm behind him, Min’s eyes trailed backward to the drink bottle-sized grey gun. She looked from the gun to Greg, then back again, as if forcing a connection. “Not a shrink ray.”
Greg waved his arms. “I know bupkis about any of this stuff. That’s why I called you.”
Min reached for the gun, and Greg jumped sideways. “Careful! That thing is dangerous! If it hits me again, I might disappear.”
Turning the barrel away from herself, Min lifted the handle between her thumb and forefinger. “Why didn’t you call your wife?”
“I did.” Now that Min had aimed the barrel at the far wall, Greg inched back toward her. “Cynthia got called away, again. Work, she said. That’s what she always says.”
Min poked at the handle, turning the gun upside down. “You didn’t believe her.”
“I don’t know. Sure.”
“You’re lying.” Min’s eyes scanned the walls. “There are screws on the bottom of this gun. Where’s a screwdriver?”
“I told you, I’ve never been in here before.”
“Never mind. I see one over here.” Greg turned his whole body to watch Min walk to a pegboard wall of tools. She grabbed the smallest screwdriver from between a set of metal pegs and walked back to the table. “So you thought she was having an affair.”
“I knew it!” Greg smacked his bead-sized fist into his opposite palm. “You’ve heard some rumors, right? Are the other geeks gossiping about it in the Big Dome?”
The Big Dome was Greg’s nickname for the primary research facility on Onyx Island. The stuffy types all called it by its official name, the Onyx Institute. Apparently they were too distinguished for a sense of humor.
Cynthia’s lab was not in the Big Dome. Each scientist had a private research area in his or her home unit. The man-made island was laid out in a cross shape with the main research facility, the Big Dome, in the center. Four arms jutted out from that center, each arm containing a length of two smaller geodesic domes.
On each arm, the closest building to the Big Dome was a housing unit. The corporate handbook, required reading for all residents, pointed out this was a “purposeful construction for maximum efficiency.” No home unit was more than two minutes away from the Institute on the automated walking platforms. Of course, with the in-home labs, scientists didn’t even have to stop working when they got home. Cynthia often didn’t.
The corporate handbook also said something about special confidential projects. Of course, none of that affected Greg. He was just the mechanic who tuned up the hover boats when the brain boxes needed to zip to one of the other segments of the island, and kept the people movers running smoothly. He didn’t have to worry about confidential projects.
Min rolled her big green eyes, a sea wave crashing over an obstinate shore. She worked the screwdriver expertly, turning loose one of the metal filament spirals. As she worked, her lambent bracelet tinkled, the multi-colored stones brushing her wrist. She always wore it, and Greg always admired it. Now that each stone was the size of his head, he noticed the smoothness, the shine of them. On her opposite hand, a large green stone in a silver ring caught the light.
She turned to him. “There’s no gossip, Greg, because there’s no affair.”
“But you just said.”
Min let the screw fall inches from Greg’s foot, which was like several feet to him, but still.
Skillfully unwinding a second screw, Min said, “Sorry. Men have a tendency, when something is wrong between them and a woman, to assume the matter is somehow sexual. I assume you didn’t tell her you thought something was wrong. Instead, you called me, and let me barge into her confidential space.”
“I told you, I called her first.” Greg grabbed a handful of his hair. “Oh, man, I didn’t even think of the confidential bit! I’d get into so much crap, especially with that spy supposedly running around. Hey!”
Greg jumped backward as Min dropped the screwdriver on the table. He hunched in his shoulders, instinctively covering his body. “If you’re trying to kill me, you’re making a good start.”
“Sorry,” said Min. “What was that about a spy?” She picked up the screwdriver and returned to her delicate work. “That sounds more exciting than the lab work I’m saddled with every day.”
“Who knows?” said Greg. “Just a rumor, you know.” Min worked quietly at the gun for a moment. Greg sighed; he tried pulling at his arms, hoping they might stretch like rubber, but no such luck. He said, “How is this even possible, anyway?”
Greg motioned his arms up and down along the length of his body. “How can I even get shrunk like this?”
A snort escaped her. “You’re asking that in a world where magic heroes can fly about and shoot flames out of their hands.”
“Yeah,” said Greg, “but there are no magic heroes around here. This is science, right? So how’s this scientifically possible?”
“It isn’t.” Min squinted at him. “Except that it is. So much of super science is like that, and the division between it and magic is not always clear. But I’m not the one to ask. I’m just a lab tech.”
“Please, I know you’re more than that. I see what you do every day.”
Greg knew Min from the Southwest Quadrant Jetty, the one attached to her home dome. Greg and Cynthia’s dome was in the Northwest, and he maintained all the hover boats on the west side of the island.
Min’s boss, whom Greg knew only through her unflattering descriptions, often sent her for supplies in the far northwest storage dome. That’s how they met; Min had a blown motor, and kept Greg company for the twenty minutes it took to fix it. He found her funny and approachable, not like the other stuffed shirts on the island. The higher-ups were too good to talk to him, and the lab assistants acted as though they were. Min was different.
“You seem to be working pretty hard on that gun there, for not knowing what you’re doing.”
“I have an idea of what might be inside.” Min’s eyes moved to the stack of papers next to Greg, the one he had been standing on earlier. “What’s that?”
Greg leaned over, making out the big letters and symbols. “Some kind of top secret document. I didn’t open it.”
“I gathered that from the big words stamped ‘Top Secret’ in red on the front of it.” Min set the gun down and picked up the pile. “Hey,” said Greg, “what are you doing?”
“Investigating.” Min flipped open the front page.
“But you don’t have the right! That’s Cynthia’s stuff!” Greg reached out his arms, fruitlessly grasping at the pages before Min pulled them away.
“And Cynthia’s gun is the thing that shrank you,” said Min, “and you called me begging for help, leaving me with no clue what I would find here. I’m trying to get this sorted before something unsavory happens.” She flipped open the page. “Hello.”
“What? What is it?”
“Oh, it’s top secret, I can’t tell.”
“Come on. At the least, she’s my wife! You barely even know her.”
Min let out a sigh and set the paper packet back on the table. “What made you think your wife was having an affair, Greg?”
Greg ran up to the papers and flipped open the top sheet. He pointed to the big atom-shaped logo in the top left corner. “AtomoTech. I thought they were one of those evil science conglomerates. What is this?”
“Wait,” said Min, “you thought AtomoTech was what?”
The pages showed formulas and instructions beyond Greg’s mechanical understanding, but the images looked familiar. “My god, this is the gun that shot me. This is what Min’s been spending all this time on.” Greg fell backward, sitting on his legs. “Oh no. No.”
Min leaned over him. “What?”
“This must mean...” His eyes moist, he turned toward Min. “It’s Cynthia. She must be the spy.” He beat his fist against the papers. “She’s working on this for those murderous bastards at AtomoTech!”
Min grabbed up the papers in one hand and scooped up Greg in the other. She grunted. “Good graces, you’re heavy!”
“Hey! You calling me fat?”
“That’s ridiculous. Let’s get out of this lab.” Min put both hands under Greg. “I meant proportionally. You’re small, but your molecules must be much denser, making you much heavier than you would be at your normal size and cellular density.”
Greg lay back in Min’s palm, defeated. “This doesn’t make sense. None of this makes sense.” He crossed his arms on his chest; at least Min’s palm was warm and comforting. “This is insane.”
“I agree, this is hard to comprehend.” Min exited the lab, set Greg upright on the near-spotless living-room table (he was in charge of the cleaning in the public spaces), and brought the paper packet close to her face. “You’re tiny,” she said, “yet I’m able to hear your voice clearly. Also, you seem to be able to breathe without difficulty. If you had been proportionally shrunk, air molecules would suddenly seem huge to your system, and you would no doubt have a near-impossible time breathing.
“This implies that, while your molecules have been reduced in size, you are protected by some form of barrier, which automatically reduces the size of incoming molecules, while expanding—”
“That’s not what I meant!” Greg’s head fell forward. On the edge of the table, his peripheral vision caught a coffee mug, the same one Cynthia forgot to put in the kitchen sink when she left for work every morning. It bore the words “Oakdale, Kansas” across the top, with a picture of that town’s steeple below. A displaced pang of homesickness mixed with his fear and confusion then. How had it come to this?
* * *
Copyright © 2010 by Faith Van Horne