When David was summoned by Arden, the head of lab security, to the lab a couple of hours before midnight, he knew there must have been another accident.

Sometimes it felt like the lab was one experiment away from disaster.

Even at this late hour, some of the scientists were still working in the lab, unaware of what had just happened. They nodded at David in greeting as he passed by the main atrium. He turned along one of the side corridors and continued deeper into the lab, along a nondescript hallway, until he ended alone at an unmarked door. The door unlocked as he held up his badge, and he passed through to the wing of the lab that housed all the Karazai experiments.

As the de facto leader of the Karazai, he wouldn’t have been summoned unless it had been a Karazai experiment that had failed.

Well, he thought. It’s not as bad as last time. At least the inner walls were still standing.

Arden’s people were standing guard outside one of the experiment rooms, and they waved him through. Arden was already inside, but none of his people had cleaned up any of the damage yet. That would wait until after David had inspected what had happened.

The smell of burnt electrical components wafted through the air. A sensor dish stood in the center of the room, pointed roughly in the direction of the forest. A tangle of cables snaked out and connected to an array of other electronic devices positioned around the dish. One of the devices was still emitting smoke.

“Was anyone hurt?” David asked.

“The lab was empty,” Arden said.

As David traced through all the connections and inspected the status lights, he was relieved to find that only one of the support boxes was damaged. It was a common component – easily replaceable.

David pointed at the damaged box. “This thing must have overloaded. I can get this replaced by tomorrow and we can try the experiment again.”

“We aren’t restarting the experiment until we’ve had the accident review meeting.”

David checked the calendar on the wall, where a block of days had been marked off. “The measurement window only lasts until the end of next week. We won’t get another opportunity like this for a while. It was probably just a loose connection somewhere, or maybe one of the cables wasn’t up to code.”

“That might be. Or maybe something was wrong with the experimental parameters you gave us.” Arden said. From his tone, it was obvious that Arden was certain the humans had set up the equipment properly. “Regardless, we need to review the data.”

“I’ll get back to you,” David said. The damage was obvious from inspection, and it wouldn’t be that hard to prove the cause. He detached the datapad – which contained the black box that recorded all the experimental data – from the sensor dish, and brought it home to analyze.

When David stepped into the house, he was surprised to see his son Rainbow was still up, watching the television. He didn’t understand how Rainbow could be amused with such a primitive device. Karazai technology was far more advanced. But Rainbow seemed to get particular joy from playing with human toys.

“Late night at the office?” Rainbow said.

“There was a lab accident,” David said, as he set the datapad down on the kitchen table. When Rainbow didn’t respond, David looked over and saw that Rainbow had gone back to watching the television.

He’s spending too much time on that thing, he thought.

“You know,” David said, trying to get his attention, “we were running an experiment that was going to collect some data from the rift. It’s the first step on our way to reopening it and getting back home.”

Rainbow didn’t seem to have even heard him.

Exasperated, David said, “You’re not disappointed? If there had been no accident we could be going home.”

That finally got Rainbow’s attention, and he turned off the television. “I don’t think we’re going home, dad,” he said. “Even if you did figure out the physics, we’re not going to be able to cobble together a powerful enough energy source. I think we have to make peace with staying here on earth.”

“No. We’ll find a way. We’ve barely begun to research this.”

“I’m not the only one who—”

“The Remainers don’t know what they’re talking about. We can’t stay here on this planet.”

The Remainers were a group of Karazai who planned to stay on earth. They were a fringe group, and their numbers were small at first. But as the months dragged on and turned into years, and they were no closer to finding a way back home, the Remainers’ size grew steadily.

“At least they’re more realistic than you,” Rainbow said, stomping off to his room.

David sighed and sat down to study the datapad. By now it was after midnight and the only sound was David’s fingers brushing along the datapad as he swiped through all the records. He got to the beginning of the experiment and studied the initial data.

He frowned.

He hated it when Arden was right. Something had been wrong with the initial parameters.

He knew he would need to talk to Michael, but despite the urgency, he decided to wait until the next day. He didn’t have the energy to deal with Michael now, especially not after his little argument with his son.

It wasn’t until late in the afternoon when Michael showed up at David’s house.

“Finally,” David said, when Michael knocked. He didn’t bother with a greeting. “Where have you been all day?”

“I have my own work,” Michael said, as he looked around the house.

“Rainbow’s not here.”

“Ah, so we are having one of those kinds of discussions. I was wondering why you didn’t want to meet at the lab.”

“There was an accident yesterday.”

“So I heard. No one was killed, I hope? Not that it would stop the experiment.” The shrug was unspoken but palpable.

“You pushed the parameters too hard.”

“My parameters were perfectly within specification. If the humans were so careless in setting up the experiment, then maybe a few of them deserve to be killed.”

David gave him a sharp look. He knew Michael was more of an extremist who thought a few human deaths might be the cost of progress. “You should be careful with that attitude. If the humans die, they’ll demand some of us be sacrificed in return. And even with our technology, we won’t be able to fight off an entire planet of them. Now look at this and tell me why your experiment wasn’t within the parameters.” He shoved the datapad towards Michael.

Michael studied the datapad. “You’re right, these parameters are out of spec.”

“Why did you change them?”

“I didn’t.”

“But you’re the only other one with the access codes.”

“True. What is it that those humans say in situations like this?” Michael said. He pretended to think for a moment and grinned. “Ah yes. ‘I’ve been hacked.’”

“Stop playing games. We only have one more shot at this before our worlds go out of alignment.”

“If – If – I had actually changed these parameters, do you think I would bother lying about it?”

It would be a bit out of character for him, David thought. He was far too arrogant to lie about something like this for no reason. On the other hand, he was cunning enough to lie to throw me off the trail, if he had some grand plan he was keeping secret…

There was a rattle at the front door, and then the door swung open, interrupting them both. The door swung open.

“Dad? Michael?” he said. “What’s going on?”

“Your dad and I were just having a talk,” Michael said. “And we’re all Karazai here. Do you really have to use those human names? It grates on my ears.”

“They don’t bother me,” Rainbow said.

Michael turned to David and said with disdain, “You hear that? If you’re not careful your son is going to turn full human soon. Don’t bother with any comebacks. I was leaving anyway.” He sauntered out.

When Michael was gone, Rainbow asked, “Why do you work with him anyway?”

The question caught David by surprise. Because he’s just as invested in the project as I am. Because who knows what he might do with no one to look after him. Better to keep him close, where I can keep an eye on him.

“Because, even though he’s intolerable, he’s still the most knowledgeable about interdimensional physics here,” David said. “And we need him if we’re going to figure out how to get back home.”

It was there for only a moment – an inscrutable expression on Rainbow’s face when the topic of going home came up. Rainbow smoothed it over and it was gone as quickly as it had come, but David had noticed anyway. He pretended not to see anything, however.

Rainbow dropped down in front of the television again.

I can only deal with one crisis at a time. I’ll have a talk with Rainbow after figuring out what went wrong with the experiment.

David carefully went through the datapad and reset all the experimental parameters to their original values. Then, for the rest of the afternoon, he added a trap into the system – a trap that would send him a notification if someone tried to change the experiment again.

A couple of days later, when David was at home late in the evening, his phone pinged with a message. The experimental parameters had been changed again. The trap had been sprung.

Michael’s access codes had been used.

“Rainbow!” David shouted. “I need to head into the lab for a bit!” He hurried out the door.

He rushed through the main part of the lab. When he arrived at the door to the Karazai section, he stood there, forcing his breath to slow down and become even. He didn’t want Michael to know he was coming, though for why, he wasn’t sure. He had worked with Michael long enough to know that Michael would follow through with whatever he was doing, and getting caught in the act wouldn’t faze him in the least.

David still wanted proof with his own eyes though.

He presented his badge and opened the door as quietly as possible. He stealthily made his way to the experiment room, checking around each corner before he made his approach. The carpet muted most of his footsteps.

When David was about halfway to the lab room, he was startled to see someone leaning in the corridor. He whipped his head back, hoping he hadn’t been noticed. He listened carefully, but there was only the whine of a fan somewhere in the building.

That looked a lot like Michael, he thought. It can’t be though…

A minute, then another, went by. All was quiet. He turned back around the corner.

“I was wondering if you had gone home,” Michael said. He had been waiting there the entire time.

“You’re- you’re not in the lab?” David said, trying to regain his composure. He checked his phone. Michael’s codes were still being used.

“Did you really think I’d fall for that clumsy trap you set?”

“What are you doing then? Trying to keep me from seeing what you did?”

“On the contrary, no. I was waiting for you. I told you before, I wasn’t lying. I didn’t change those experimental parameters, and I’m curious who would have the gall to abuse my access codes. And before you ask, I found out they were being used the same way you did: through your notifications.” Michael stalked down the hallway. “You coming?”

They made it to the experiment room with no further incident. Then, after pausing for a moment to prepare themselves, they nodded at each other and charged through the door.

Someone was standing at the terminal. He turned in surprise.

It was Rainbow.

Michael broke into a grin. “Well, well. What do we have here?”

David tried to speak, but no words would come out. The world was spinning out of control. He had expected one of the humans – one of Arden’s people that might have found out about the Karazai – to wreck the lab in protest. He had expected one of Michael’s cronies, trying to advance some dark scheme that David had yet to puzzle out.

Rainbow was supposed to be at home. Not here.

It was impossible. It was surreal.

Michael, though, was handling the situation just fine. “How did you get my access codes?” he said.

“You’re not the only ones that know people,” Rainbow said.

David finally found his voice. “I don’t understand. Why? Why did you do this? Don’t you want to go home?”

Michael cut in. “Don’t you get it? He’s a Remainer. He doesn’t want to go home. And he tried to sabotage our experiment so that none of us would be able to.”

“No!” Rainbow said. “The Remainers just want each of us to have the choice. To decide for themselves, whether to go home, or to stay on Earth. You two are the ones that are forcing everyone to do what you want! To open the rift, and then make everyone go back home.”

“And aren’t you making a choice for everyone too?” David said. “Aren’t you choosing for all the Karazai to stay here, by ruining the experiment?”

“This was never going to keep you from getting home anyway. It was only going to delay you for a bit. We knew that. We just wanted some more time to change your mind, for you to let some of us choose to stay here.”

I could make him go. Or maybe I couldn’t. But at least he seems happy enough here. And if we opened the rift once, we could open the rift again.

Michael interrupted his thoughts. “I know you’re having some kind of moment. But there’s still the matter of the access codes.”

“What about the access codes?” David asked.

“He used my access codes to sabotage an important experiment. We can’t allow him to work at the lab anymore.”

David hesitated.

“If it were anyone else, you would fire them from the lab. You know you would.”

I have to pick a side…

A new voice spoke from the doorway. “I was the one who told Rainbow to do it.”

“Arden? You?” Michael said. He had always been two steps ahead of everyone else, it was what made him so arrogant and so annoying – but this, he had been unable to predict.

“That’s right.”

“You told Rainbow to do this. You told Rainbow to sabotage our experiment. You told Rainbow it would keep us from going home?” Michael was incredulous.

“No, Michael. Nothing so backhanded. I just asked him to check up on what was going on in the system, to keep an eye on you. He must have accidentally changed some of the parameters when he was snooping around. Isn’t that right, Rainbow?”

“Yes,” Rainbow said, grabbing at the lifeline. “That’s what happened.”

Michael stared at Arden and Rainbow, as if trying to decide whether to challenge them. The story was ridiculous, but he let it go. “This isn’t over,” he said, as he stormed out of the lab.

David exhaled the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “Go wait outside,” David said to Rainbow.

When Arden and David were alone, David went to the door and closed it firmly. Then he asked, “Why did you do it? Why did you lie for him?”

“We’re the two men keeping this town together,” Arden said. “Between the two of us, we’re the only ones keeping the humans and the Karazai in line. And if keeping your son out of trouble is the price, then the choice is simple. For the town.”

David thought for a moment, then nodded. “For the town,” he said.

He left the experiment room where Rainbow was waiting outside, and put his arm around his son. “Come on,” he said. “We’re going home.”

Still, David thought. I better keep an eye on the Remainers.