Chapter twenty-one of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
“Jesus, it was beautiful, Luce,” Mouse said later, during the team’s private debriefing. Of all of them assembled, Henry and Sophie seemed the most enrapt. “I was in, like, a jungle or something. Swear to God, man—huge trees and all these ferns and lots of strange noises. I assume they were animals…”
He shrugged and trailed off; Howard adjusted his glasses and lent in.
“I told you!” Henry declared.
Lorna gave him a stern look—the kids had been invited to the meeting because their dreams and remote journeys seemed eerily similar to what Mouse had experienced, but it was still a scientific business meeting first.
“Are you sure you were on Mars?” Howard asked Mouse quietly, offering Henry a sympathetic wink that told him he’d get his turn soon enough.
Mouse shrugged again, “That’s where you sent me, right?”
“He was on Mars,” Carlos spoke up. “I didn’t mention this before because it seemed, well, impossible, and I wasn’t sure if I could trust the evidence, but early into my Mars sessions I discovered that when I specifically went to Mars to view the kids, I ended up a in forest, just like they said.”
“You were spying on us?” Sophie mumbled angrily. No one gave her a stern look—those were reserved for Carlos.
“I was verifying your work, Sophie,” he replied coolly. “That was my mission. Only until now, I didn’t know what I was verifying. I assumed I was somehow able to enter your dreams, which is a honestly an angle of remote viewing I had never before considered.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Bransen demanded, his voice soft but still carrying an edge.
Carlos glanced away, looking wistfully at Circadia X.
“I just wanted that physical confirmation.”
He looked back at the team and smiled sheepishly.
“I suppose I was afraid of discovering my remote viewing was… off.”
“But you spoke to her,” Sophie said, then clapped her hand over her mouth and looked at Henry apologetically.
“Pardon?” Carlos asked.
Bransen, too, turned in his seat and looked at Sophie. The girl looked to her mother, who nodded and touched her arm, so Sophie lowered her hand and took a deep breath.
“She told us you spoke to her and that you were off exploring, looking for wreckage or something. So you knew where you were…”
“Us?” Bransen checked, glancing at Henry. “And who told you?”
“Yeah—me and Henry. Ana-loop met us at the temple… I always wondered why she only gave her messages to us. It’s because you were there, spying, and she didn’t trust you.”
“Sophie!” Luci said sharply, but Bransen held up a hand and weighed Carlos with his eyes.
“Mouse?” he asked rhetorically. “Sorry to change tacks here, but I think this meeting has somehow become even more interesting.”
“Yes,” Mouse whispered, sitting up straight. “It certainly has.”
John Fobell narrowed his eyes and tried to read the expression on the face of Carlos Resua.
“Look, I had to be sure…” Carlos explained.
“I understand,” Bransen allowed evenly. “We do have to be sure of everything. What did you talk to Ana-loop about?”
Carlos rubbed the back of his neck and looked apologetically at the kids.
“I explained to her that on Earth, her messages would hold more weight if they were carried by an adult.”
“And she said that age had nothing to do with wisdom. Then she told me that she couldn’t speak to me again because they were already after her—”
“Yes!” Henry exclaimed. “She said the Golgantry were after her for giving you the plans to Circadia X!”
He stressed the “you” and stared at Carlos. Bransen raised his eyebrows.
“So you decided to spy on the them?” Bransen asked Carlos.
“I was trying to verify…”
“You didn’t trust them,” John finally spoke up. “You didn’t trust them because they’re kids.”
“Mom, there’s a monk at the door,” Henry cut in, his mouth slightly agape.
“I’m Hiram McKenzie,” the man at door replied in a smooth voice, extending his hand and smiling warmly as he took a step into the room. “Mr. Bransen is expecting me…”
Hiram was dressed in a black ankle-length robe and carrying a well-worn compact black leather suitcase. His hair was long, unkempt, and dark; his beard full and rugged. Around his neck was a simple leather cord, from which hung a silver pendant that depicted a beehive resting upon a crescent with a blazing sun surmounting it. According to the IRS, he was a 40-year-old “caretaker and general contractor” who lived in a small vacation community near Green Lake, though under “other income” he had to report the royalties from the sales of the books that had made him famous: Unknown North (an esoteric treatise posing as a journal of his hikes in the woods he tended) and The Singing Hand (subtitled “travels at the end of the silver cord”).
His simple and meditative lifestyle made Carlos Resua’s cabin look like a Manhattan apartment—Hiram had no electricity or running water, and hunted the land for food. His life was indeed that of an ancient monk (and their clothing, he had discovered, was really best suited for such work), but Hiram McKenzie was not a hermit. And in the occult circles that he served—and beyond, to those who had heard of him—he was greatly respected for his compassion, insight, and wisdom, which often generated fear among those who didn’t understand.
“Hiram! You made it!” Bransen declared and rushed over to shake his hand. “Perfect timing! We were just discussing the wisdom of children.”
“One of my very favorite subjects,” Hiram agreed and smiled warmly at the group.
“Henry and Sophie,” he stated without question, moving over and making a point to shake their hands. “I’m very glad to meet you. I have dreams, too.”