Flight attendant Maggie O'Hara checks on the six passengers in the simulated spacecraft as they board. Botanist Michael Lint is checking his plants in the greenhouse, and Maggie has him sit down. She then calls Captain Harvey Branson in the cockpit and says that all passengers are aboard. Branson welcomes the passengers aboard and says that they will arrive at the planet Antheon in 261 days. As Maggie leaves, a bolt of energy appears on the wall.
The ship "lifts off" and passenger Joe Dix talks about how convincing it is. The Surface Control Voice gives them a final briefing over the intercom, and says to take the simulation as real even though they know it isn't. They will be used to determine if people untrained in spaceflight can survive the physical and psychological symptoms of long flight in confined quarters. Branson points out the emergency alarm button. If anyone presses the "panic button", the simulation will end and all of the passengers will be disqualified.
Maggie opens the bar for a celebration departure drinks, and columnist Keith Ellis with the Washington Times introduces himself to anthropologist Dr. Alicia Hendrix. Joe introduces himself as a construction engineer and leads them to the bar. Professor Henry Craif checks on Michael as he inspects his plants again. and they go get drinks after introducing themselves. The final passenger, Dr. Matthew James, remains in his quarters. Keith invites him to join them, and Matthew says that he was thinking of his family. He joins the others and they share a toast to reaching Antheon.
The "ship" shakes, knocking everyone to the floor. The power goes out and comes back up, and Matthew goes to check on his plants. Maggie confirms that everyone else is all right and they admire the realism of the simulation. Branson announces that they passed through a meteor storm and are passing the dark side of Mercury. Maggie says that they have another bottle of champagne but it's to be saved until the end of the trip. Joe promises to throw a real party when they get to Antheon and has Maggie open the champagne bottle.
Alicia talks about how as scientist they want to see things for themselves, and sometimes the truth is hard to take. Joe says that he'll make a fortune on Antheon by picking up the land and building the cities. Alicia wonders if there are natives, and Joe says that they can't let primitives stop the advance of civilization. He figures that no one will press the panic button unless someone is scared, and reminds everyone that they're the heroes of the movie and know it, and heroes never get scared because he knows it isn't for real.
The champagne bottle explodes and Joe complains about the tricks. He goes to the control cabin to talk to Branson, and Maggie tells him that no one is allowed in there. Branson comes out and says that the ship needs a pilot because they're in simulated flight. Joe figures that Branson is pushing buttons to set off the simulated conditions. He tells the captain that he'll make it worth Branson's while to lay off the tricks, and Branson refuses to discuss it. Branson tells the others that his only job is to pilot the ship, and if he succeeds then he'll be the pilot on the first real flight to Antheon. Henry asks him what the greatest danger is to untrained passengers, and Branson tells them that the greatest danger could be the threats that they imagine.
Later over dinner, Alicia considers Branson's words. Joe dismisses the captain as a phony, and reminds the others that the trip is rigged. Maggie sprays food scents to simulate the food they're eating, and serves paste concentrate of beef and vegetable extract due to space constraints.
On the second day, the energy force moves to each sleeping passenger one at a time. It scans the thoughts of each one, and Alicia reveals that she considers herself more woman than scientist and can't forget it. She considers herself wasting the few years left to her. Matthew mourns the loss of his family and wonders why he couldn't save them. Joe considers all the money that he'll make by reaching Antheon first, and vows to wipe out anyone who gets to his mind. The energy force tightens around his throat, and Joe wakes up choking. The others hear the noise and check on him, and Joe figures that one of them tried to kill him. There are burn marks around Joe's neck, but they disappear when Matthew traces them. The burning sensation stops, and Matthew says that he had a nightmare. Henry dismisses the marks as psychosomatic, and Kevin tells Joe that he had a nightmare. Joe figures that he's not good enough for the rest of them and they hate him, and the others walk away. Joe asks Maggie to believe him, and she walks away as well.
"Meteors" slam into the side of the "ship", and Alicia goes to Matthew's cabin. She says that she feels uneasy and just wants to sit there, and asks for Matthew' hand to hold. Matthew quickly withdraws his hand and tells her to take a sedative, but Alicia refuses and leaves. When he goes back to bed, Matthew finds a child's doll in his bed. He angrily goes to Alicia's cabin and asks if it's her idea of a joke. Matthew figures that Alicia put it in his bed and says that it belonged to his daughter. Alicia has no idea what he's talking about, and Matthew yells at the other passengers. Joe sarcastically tells him that it's psychosomatic and should go to bed. Matthew stares at the doll's face and realizes that it's now crushed.
The "trip" continues, and 169 days in, Michael accuses his plants of dying just to spite him. He insists that he won't let them die, turns up the oxygen feed and leaves. He joins the others in the lounge and reads a book. Matthew holds the doll and talks again about how his daughter was holding it when she died. He says that his wife and daughter died despite his efforts, and believes that they died because of his ignorance. Matthew tells Henry that he didn't bring the doll aboard with him and wonders how it got on his bed. He wonders if he's hallucinating the doll, and Henry assures him that it's there.
Joe and Keith argue about the music playing, and Alicia comes in wearing a push-up bra with her shirt partially umbuttoned. She suggests that they fight over her, and Joe, Keith, and Henry go over to talk to her. Alicia says that she's a retired anthropologist and is now a woman, and tries to get Matthew's attention. Matthew is staring at the doll, and Keith goes to get Maggie. Alicia tells Matthew that he's too old to be looking at dolls, and yanks it out of Matthew's hands. Henry takes it from her and says that Matthew has reason for loving the doll just as she has reasons to want to be a woman. He gives the doll back to Matthew, and Alicia says that she doesn't know how to be a woman. Maggie and Keith return, and they all stare as Alicia says that she has to find out before it's too late. The flight attendant takes Alicia to her cabin for a rest, and calmly agrees when Alicia says that she's more of a woman than Maggie is.
Matthew goes after them, and Keith talks about how he's never built anything and the words he wrote were pushed away by other words. He passes out, and after a moment Joe does as well. Henry realizes that the oxygen is running out and then collapses. In the control cabin, Branson also passes out. Michael staggers to his plants and sees one of them animating to kill the others.
The passengers slowly wake up and find Michael lying dead of shock beside the greenhouse. Matthew confirms that he's dead and they figure he saw something terrible. The plant in the greenhouse enlarges and continues moving, and Henry seals the greenhouse door shut. He goes for the panic button, but Joe fights off Kevin and stops Henry from hitting the button. Joe insists that he's the hero and insists that it isn't real. He warns that no one will touch the panic button.
Branson watches the entire thing on the monitors, and finally grabs a gun and goes out. He orders Joe to get away from the panic button, and Kevin says that the people that are running the experiment are sadists and murderers. Henry reveals that he has a hidden remote control unit that lets him activate all of the "dangers" that have befallen the simulated ship. When the power goes out temporarily, Joe grabs the gun from Branson.
Maggie and Alicia join the group, and Henry explains that he was one of the ones who planned the experiment and came along to control it. However, things that have happened that they didn't plan, like the doll and the oxygen failure. Henry explains that he wants to push the panic button because he's trapped by something beyond his understanding. Kevin suggests that they're attacking the entities responsible, and the entities are only defending themselves. Joe figures that the group after them paid off Henry to make sure they failed.
The plant creature, now human-sized, emerges from the greenhouse. Joe shoots at it but the bullets have no effect. The energy force merges with the plant creature, and the being says that they are done with tricks. It informs them that it comes from Antheon, and they make their own monsters. The Antheons have no more patience with them and they only kill when there is no other solution. It says that they are children who still believe in monsters, and Matthew is a frightened man. They made the plant creature to fit the limits of their imagination, and Alicia told herself that she was getting old.
The Antheon says that humans will destroy them if they let them, and they come to conquer. Keith asks if the Antheons would accept them if they came as friends, and the Antheon tells them that if ever such a time comes then they will. Michael wakes up from his death-state and says that his plants are all dead and ten years of his work has been wasted. Kevin tells Michael to press the button because his reason to complete the trip is gone. Joe refuses to let anyone press the panic button, and the Antheon grabs his hand and forces him to push the panic button.
Written by Gadfly on Oct 13, 2019