Hope clenched at the muscles of his heart again. He used his well trained mind to push it away... he couldn't let her see.
Then his mind changed. Of course he could let her see. That is what she expected to see. She expected him, in these few moments of freedom she had given him, to live. And so he would. And he would hope that she didn't know the one thing this whole plan was hinging on, the one thing that had made escape even the slightest bit possible.
He pushed the little machine to its fastest speed and grinned widely, flipping the small vessel in wild arcs. The woman behind him grabbed the supportive bars on either side and hung on.
"I said--smell the roses--not kill us on their fumes!" she shouted.
He just laughed and went right on spinning.
But beneath the wild front Nabel was a sea of concentration and careful calculation. This had to work. Two more rotations, and left a little and---there!
In the flash of that instant, the stars were gone. The viewing screen before them was completely dark, as was the inside of the ship. None of the little lights that usually illuminated the control panels glowed. They were still on, but there was no light coming from them. The two humans were in darkness more complete than any Nabel had ever imagined.
In the silence of the small space vessel, Nabel chanted an ancient rhyme:
"Star light, star bright
Look this way, I have no fright
For I will go, despite your might
To the only place it is truly night"
When he had finished, the woman behind him exploded—not literally, of course. “You’re crazy! Mad! You took us into a hole! Nobody ever comes out of holes! They say you float inside endlessly in darkness until you die!”
Nabel winced as she yelled in his ears. “Calm down, calm down,” he tried to sound confident and soothing. “Nobody’s ever come out, so how could they know that, eh?”
“Look, Nabel. If you’ve got some sort of inside information about holes--spit it out.”
“Nope. I know no more than you do. Sometimes people enter them on purpose. Most are crazy fools seeking rumored wealth, others are tired of living.”
“That’s why were here then? Because you are tired of living?”
“Yes and no. I’m tired of living in lies—aren’t you? So I figured I’d look for truth in the only place they don’t control.”
“You are crazy.”
“You know I’m not crazy, Mirenda. I’ve worked under you for years.”
“No one enters a hole unless their crazy.”
“Or whole. It depends on from which side you look,” said a man’s voice through the speakers on the ship.
“I didn’t say that,” said Nabel, automatically looking about nervously—a useless action in complete darkness.
“Of course you didn’t say that. I did.” A man appeared outside their screen. He was wearing a strange robe that glowed and sparkled and illuminated his strong-boned, middle-aged face. He walked toward them through the empty blackness until he stood, filling up the screen. “Open up your hatch and come on out. I know you are frightened, but it is perfectly safe.”
Nabel unbuckled himself and stood up.
“Sit down!” said Mirenda, sensing rather than seeing Nabel move. “I will not have you opening the hatch and getting us both killed just because some illusion tells us to.” Nabel sat down. She was probably right.
“Ah, I was gonna let you go slowly, but I can see this could take too long.”
The strange man waved his hand and Nabel felt the seat beneath him dissolve, along with the rest of the ship. He was floating, err, well—stationary floating—in black nothingness. He stood up. And was surprised to find that he could. Mirenda reached out and griped his shoulder tightly. It was very good to feel something real and solid, and he reached up and placed his hand over hers in a gesture of appreciation. She pulled away.
“Don’t worry,” said the man, coming towards them and putting out his hand. “My name’s Linth,” he shook Nabel’s hand. Linth felt real enough. “And not everything will be this strange and dark. You see, we are only in an in-between place right now. Sort of like a tunnel or doorway.”
“And can we go back?” asked Mirenda.
“Do we want to?” asked Nabel.
Linth laughed. “You can go back. But not now—not from here. Besides, others are counting on you.”
“For what?” asked Nabel.
“To stop the war.”
“What!?” both asked at once.
“Oops, I wasn’t supposed to mention that so soon. They are always saying that I’m too hasty. They are probably right. Well, don’t worry, everything will be explained in due time. And probably sooner than that if they let me stick around." He chuckled amiably at himself. "Just come with me.”