As the astronauts reenter Earth’s atmosphere, they feel a sense of accomplishment. Their capsule began parachuting into the Atlantic, where ships were strategically waiting for them. The three of them had made it to Mars and back, something people had only been dreaming of. 

“Good job, everyone! Our achievements will be taught for generations!” one exclaims excitedly.

When the capsule lands roughly in the water and the men from the ships open the hatch, they are congratulatory and cheer the astronauts while helping them out the capsule. 

“Where is the other one?” one man asks them. 

The astronauts faces soon turn to confusion, but laugh it off. “You’re always joking!” an astronaut says. 

The man grins and helps them onto the ship. The astronauts can feel the tension in the air the whole ride to the shore. 

Once there, they walk down their practiced path, waving to millions on live television. The crowd is cheering loudly. After they all exit, the crowd slowly gets quiet. A man in a black suit rushes them into a nearby car. The Astronauts are confused and upset.

“What’s going on? Did something happen?” a woman astronaut asks. The man in the suit does not answer, he only looks more confused. The finally car stops at an airport. 

“Where are we going?” One of the male astronauts ask. The man still does not answer, he only directs them to a plane. The plane seems to a personal jet with a military symbol on it. 

“We demand to know where we are going!” the other male says. Men in uniform grab the astronauts and drag them onto the plane. They struggle to break the grip but the men are too strong. 

The plane is filled with military guarding a man sitting by a window.The man looks to be older with grey hair and is wearing a nice suit. The man looks at them and smiles. 

“Hello! Mr. Kevin Hanson, Dr. Matt Nicolas, and Dr. Kate Wither. I’m glad to see you three made it! I’m Mr. Donovan, head investigator for the Federal Bureau of Investigations,” he explains. 

The astronauts look at each other in confusion. 

“What are you investigating and how can we help you?” Kate asks. “We have been in space for a long time so unless it has to do with one of us, we won’t know anything.”

The man looks her dead in the eyes and says, “Where is the fourth astronaut?” 

She laughs but sees he isn’t joking. “Just like we told the man at the capsule, there are only us three,” she says confused.

“No,” he says and pulls out a file. He hands it to the three and says, “You’re missing one.”

The group opens the file and passes it around looking deeper into the paperwork. Pictures fall out of the bottom landing on their feet. Kevin picks one up and his face turns pale. He hands the photo to Matt and Kate. Kate realizes it’s a photo of them getting ready for the mission. They are all there, including the fourth astronaut. 

“Who is this?” Kate screams as she paces back and forth with the photo.

“Mr. Ned Lowes,” Donovan says calmly. “Now, if something happened you can tell me. You don’t have to keep this charade up. We all know he was there with you.”

Kevin sits down and stares blankly in front of him. 

“I promise you it was only us three. There must have been a mistake. I’ve never seen that man in my life,” Matt says sure of himself. 

Donovan looks down at the floor and laughs, “I don’t make mistakes. Now, we can do this the hard way if you want.” 

Kevin is still sitting motionless, eyes wide. 

“Maybe he can tell me something. He looks like a man with a secret.” Donovan walks over to Kevin and grabs him by the hair. “Are you going to tell me what you know?” 

Kevin sits quietly, looking the man in the eyes. Kevin never changes expressions even with the man tugging his hair tighter and tighter. 

“Can I have a pen?” Kevin finally asks. Donovan smiles and hands him one quickly. Kevin holds it in his hand for a few minutes before plunging it into his neck. Blood squirts on Donovan’s face and Kevin makes a gurgling noise as blood fills his mouth. Kate screams and grabs onto Matt.

Donovan wipes his face and turns to the others, “Does anyone else want to kill themselves?” 

The others, speechless in panic, look at their dead friend. They feel a sense of hopelessness wash over them. Kate sits down and cries. She shakes violently and mumbles nonsense. Matt tries to talk to her but she doesn’t even notice him. She just keeps mumbling. 

Matt walks over to the folder and looks at the reports. They all include Ned Lowes. He bends down to the floor and grabs the photos. There are pictures of all of them getting on the spaceship. Matt doesn’t know what is right anymore. 

Matt thinks awhile and finally, says, “We killed him. It was self-defense. He was crazy.” Matt has no idea what happened to the man but he knows he must make up something to secure his survival.

Donovan walks to the front of the plane and opens the door to the pilots. He quickly shuts the door behind him as he goes in. There is a big screen on the wall showing many people in lab coats watching a smaller screen.

“Two suffered a psychotic break, one lethal, and one lied. Similar to the hypothesis we calculated. What should I do with the test subjects now?” He reports to the screen.

A man on the screen writes furiously and says, “Kill them, we got all the footage we need. We’ll say it was a plane crash.”

Donovan waits and says, “Wouldn’t it be more effective to study the mind of the man who lied. See what he does in prison for a crime that didn’t happen? There is so much potential to learn about human behavior here.”

“I like your thinking!” the man says. 

Doctor Love

I scribble out my notes in anger for the millionth time. 

“Why?” I scream and put my head in my hands. “Why can’t I figure this out? Such a simple emotion evades me.” 

I hear a shriek and look up at the rat that I dosed with my concoction. It screams and foams from its little mouth. I put my finger up to the cage and feel it bite me. At least I feel something. 

“You should really put it out of its misery.” I hear a woman say. 

“Me or the rat?” I respond and turn to look at her. It’s my colleague Dr. Curry, she has been a close friend for years. 

She giggles at my melancholy joke and says, “When are you going to give up on that love potion? You know it’s not real, it’s something from out of a fairy tale. You have some much potential you could do anything you set your mind to.” 

“You wouldn’t understand,” I whisper back and grab the rat. It struggles to get free of my grip, it’s no use. I grab the head with my other hand and snap its neck. 

If people knew what this means to me they wouldn’t be so cruel. 

“If I can’t talk you out of it, I’ll help you finish it. Here,” she hands me a notebook. “It’s not finished, but it’s a different take on what you have been working with. You need some pretty strange ingredients. They say there is a flower that can be used to imitate love in the brain.”

“I know about the flower! It doesn’t work,” I say. 

“That’s because you are using it wrong,” she scoffs and walks to my workstation. “You need to mix it with this after extracting the serum.” She grabs a few items and mixes them together. 

My brain instantly starts working, following her every move and direction. “You need to add lavender!” I blurt out and take the concoction from her. I add the ingredient and purple smoke comes off the top. I pour it on the closest rat I can. The rat is normal at first, walking around the cage, then it starts to stumble. It vomits green bile profusely and starts to swell. It gets bigger and bigger until its skin cannot take the capacity and busts. Rat sludge seeps out from the ripped skin and leaks everywhere.

“Well, at least we tried,” she says sadly. “I’ve got to go to a meeting. I’ll see you later, Greg.” She walks out of the room and closes the door behind her.

Her saying my name makes my insides warm. If I could harness this feeling then I could finish this! I throw the ingredients off the table and watch them crash to the floor. I put my face back in my hands and cry. My whole existence depends on this potion. I stand up and look down at the mess on the floor. My tears fall into the puddle of ingredients and turn it into a beautiful color. I bend down and take a sample with a pipette. 

“I have nothing else. It’s now or never,” I say and squirt the pipette into my mouth. I swallow the horrible tasting mess, it burns all the way down. I fall onto my hands. The pain in my stomach is debilitating and I think I’m dying. I scream as loud as I can in pain and anguish. As the room goes in and out of focus, I see someone come to me. Their cold fingers touch my skin, creating a temporary relief. 

“Greg!” I hear Dr. Curry scream. All the noises in the room start to run together. I am dying. 

“I just wanted to love myself again,” I can barely make the words come out of my mouth, but as they do, blood pours out with them. The room starts to fade to black and I know it’s the end.