Chapter eighteen of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
Mouse was getting restless on planet Earth. He’d been hired to get the team to Mars, and he couldn’t wait to go. His only problem was that the machine he’d been cobbling together (via a running tab at a junkyard thirty-fve miles away) didn’t seem like it would do much in that capacity. At least, not in any traditional sense. He supposed he’d been expecting a super-cool sci-fi rocketship of some kind, but when he stood back beside Luci and looked at his machine, he knew damn well it wouldn’t budge an inch under its own propulsion—if it even had any propulsion.
“It’s not right,” he decided.
Luci shrugged and tried to look optimistic.
“Well, it’s certainly not from the pages of Amazing Stories,” she agreed.
Mouse shook his head and scratched his beard.
“But those diagrams were really just circuits. I mean, I could make this thing prettier, I’m sure, but all I did was build the circuits and connect them together, and this is what sort of grew around them. Allowing for cooling, and…”
Luci shuffled her feet and shrugged again, winking at him.
“So, Mouse, let’s just turn it on, eh? See what happens? I mean, you’re sure it won’t… well… blow up, right?”
Mouse sighed heavily and pulled a well-worn sheaf of diagrams out of his back pocket. He flipped through them until he found a page near the end, which he handed dismissively to Luci.
“This is labeled as the power source—I think—but I’ll be damned if I can build it. It’s not any kind of schematic I’ve ever seen or dreamed of.”
His choice of words intrigued Luci, and she grinned to herself as she looked at the papers. Then her expression dropped and she furrowed her brow in mild disbelief and confusion. Mouse scooted in and looked over her shoulder.
“What is it?” he asked. “Do you know what that is?”
Luci looked up at the machine, stunned, then back at Mouse, and said in a hushed voice, “Yes. But it’s not electrical or mechanical… It’s chemical. It’s psilocybin.”
“And what’s that?” Mouse asked.
“Liberty Caps,” Luci breathed. “Magic mushrooms…”
“We’ll need Bransen’s lawyers,” Mouse stated, ready to believe that Luci was only pulling his leg; that she was about to hand back the papers with a laugh and admit that she had no idea what the diagram showed.
“Let’s go get that drink,” she said instead.
Mouse insisted on cleaning up before they left, which Luci found endearing and amusing. She’d suggested a wine bar, and Mouse had clearly panicked since he’d never drunk wine and never would have guessed that the word could even appear in the same phrase as “bar.” She also knew that he’d been offering to take her for a drink for a week. In fact, the only thing that Mouse felt comfortable about was the fact that they were discussing ’shrooms in said bar, beverage-of-choice aside.
“So yeah,” Mouse concluded, “and that’s also the last time I ate a ’shroom.”
Luci grinned over her wine glass, glad for once that she didn’t have to act all parental. “Well, you know, Bransen lawyer’s will get clearance from the Feds to use them for scientific purposes. I’m sure of it.”
“Yeah—but why? I mean, why ’shrooms? How does that make any sense?” He paused and narrowed his eyes, “And why are we talking here, away from Bransen Labs? Do you know something? Do you think this Ana-loop is actually a government agent or something?”
Luci shook her head dismissively, indicating that she not only didn’t know, but that she didn’t care. She was not as used to entertaining conspiracy theories as was Mouse, the man who worked into the wee hours of morning listening to AM talk shows.
“He thought it might come up,” Luci admitted carefully.
“The question of psilocybin.”
Mouse looked confused, so she continued, reaching out and putting her hand on his to reassure him that no one was keeping secrets from him—to remind him that they each had their own areas of study.
“I guess he had a dream or something—asked me to look into. Got his lawyers to start the ball rolling so we could use it in experiments.”
“What kind of experiments?” Mouse checked, his eyes narrowing as he envisioned the children strapped into their sleep gear.
“Not that kind, Mouse—I promise. Psilocybin—magic mushrooms—has been used for millennia to expand consciousness. People often say they travel to… I don’t know… other dimensions.”
Mouse raised his eyebrows quizzically. “You think my machine is like a massive bong? Some weird way to take ’shrooms and get high?”
“No! No… I don’t know what it can do for the machine,” Luci admitted. “I’m not really a chemical engineer…”
She finally took her hand off his and he knew she wasn’t lying. Bransen may know more about all of this, but probably not Luci. Bransen did like to maintain a certain element of compartmentalization—he said it was to make sure no one’s bias bled over into someone else’s work. And they were all used to working under the direction of weird dreams and decoded light patterns at this point—the weird dreams of children, no less.
He knew Luci would never do anything to harm the children, not knowingly. He looked away sharply, hating himself for even thinking it for a second.
“What is it?” she asked, drawing his gaze back to her.
“What if it does blow up? I mean, if you have no idea what it’s for, how do you know what it’ll do?”
“Well, what’s the machine for? Surely you have some idea what all those circuits and gears will do when it’s turned on?”
“The rest of it’s all about trading and building up energy. The output looks like a laser setup to me.”
“Trading and building up energy to output to a laser? That does sound pretty explosive.”
“And the laser?” Mouse said plainly, taking a huge gulp of wine and wiping his lips on the back of his hand. “It shoots right through that silo-whatever—right through your ’shrooms.”
“Well… It’s a laser. It’s got to go somewhere. Bransen said to point it at Mars.”
Luci didn’t answer, but smiled warmly instead. The wine was starting to go to her head.
“This is fun, isn’t it?” she purred. “Trying to figure it all out? Wine really helps your creativity flow. I mean, that idea doesn’t even sound crazy, does it?”
Mouse felt his heart beginning to pound and he managed to squeak, “Yes. Fun.” He downed the rest of his wine and signaling for another glass.
“Well, we’ll use a quarter of whatever the diagram calls for in the psilocybin department, okay?” Luci suggested. “Just to see what happens. I don’t think that Ana-loop would make us blow ourselves up, do you?”
“I have no idea, Luce, but now I know what it is and where to put it, I say with go with your idea and turn it on. Full power. Let’s see what happens.”