Chapter twenty-two of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
Hiram McKenzie was nervous. R’dau had told him that Ana-loop was making real contact with several people from Earth, but he’d had no idea the contact was connected to a project so scientific and high profile as PISA. She’d also mentioned that someone had been traveling to the Lands Below, and this had concerned Hiram more. The Lands Below were the domain of the Golgantry, and the Light Beings rarely went there.
He wondered how much of his concerns he should share now. It was his first daily end-of-day team debriefing, when they could all get together and share their day’s work, and so far they were treating it all exactly as he’d anticipated: Like a perfectly controlled science experiment.
What was of immediate concern to Hiram was that, while he was sure Bransen had read Unknown North, he feared the team Bransen had assembled was blissfully unaware of their Radiance. And if one didn’t understand their Radiance, one should not dangle at the end of their silver cord. Even more unnerving to Hiram was that he knew they would go ahead with their mission anyway, even if he spelled everything out in plain English, because people often mistake comprehension for understanding.
“Tell me again what you mean,” Carlos Resua asked him sharply.
“I mean no offense,” Hiram said quietly, his voice even and his eyes steady. “I just mean to make clear the distinction between remote viewing and astral projection. What you and the children have been doing is not remote viewing. It is much more involved—and dangerous—than that. It is astral projection.”
He took in a deep breath, glanced at the ceiling, and finally decided on a parallel they would understand.
“It is your soul leaving your body—what they, the Light Beings, would call a return to your Radiance.”
He could see they still weren’t quite getting it—though the word “Radiance” did appear to resonate with them on some level. They were waiting for him to conclude his thought, which he did as simply as he could: “It is death, or as near to it as you can get and continue living.”
“Jesus…” Mouse breathed, his tone the one of a man who, in hindsight, sees the peril he had been in. “So those kids…?”
“That’s why I suggested they not be here today,” Hiram said in the same even voice. He glanced at all the faces watching him, noting with interest the almost imperceptible rage written across the face of Carlos Resua. “This is something they appear able to do naturally and I’m afraid them knowing what they are doing would make them nervous, and thus more liable to… trip up.”
“And then what?” Luci breathed.
Lorna reached over slowly and squeezed her hand. Hiram smiled, fascinated by the constant need to help others balance respect with fear.
“Most likely nothing. Just because you walk a tightrope without a safety net does not mean you will fall. But sometimes knowing the consequences if you did fall makes people more apt to misstep. These children—and Carlos—are naturals. You have nothing to worry about.”
Carlos sat back in his chair with a huff and crossed his arms.
“This still doesn’t explain why it’s not remote viewing.”
“Remote viewing is better described as remote perception—you gain images and insight, but by feel, not experience. Astral projection is experience. You are actually there.”
“There in Radiance?” Bransen asked rhetorically, and Hiram nodded. “But Circadia X—Ana-loop mentioned it moved both body and Radiance. So it’s not an astral projection machine?”
Hiram shook his head, no.
“Then what is it?”
“I don’t know,” Hiram admitted. “I’ve never studied the… physical side of astral projection before. But from what you’ve told me, I imagine that just as Radiance can leave a body, so can a body leave its Radiance. But a body without its Radiance is just a lump of meat, which would be useless for exploring Mars.”
“So Circadia X keeps us intact?” Mouse checked, not sure he liked the thought of having built something so important. This wasn’t just a light-speed car, then. This was a soul machine.
“Yes,” Hiram agreed. “But what gives me pause is that I’d never before thought about the opposite of astral projection. I mean, if we can send our Radiance out of body, then can something that is Radiance project themselves here and be, sort of, out of Radiance?”
They all sat in silence. Hiram tried again: “We know that body can make light. But can light make body?”
Hiram watched Lorna as she hurriedly scribbled something in her notebook, then stopped and tapped at her laptop keyboard. She kept the official minutes of the meetings, but she also kept a second, more personal, notebook. Lorna had been talking to the kids about their dream experiences every day, all the while taking notes in her notebook and having them sketch with colored pencils what they’d seen. But she couldn’t decide if Hiram’s thoughts belonged in her personal notebook or in the official minutes of the project, and she seemed flustered as she tried to update both.
“It will be difficult to keep them separate, you’ll find,” Hiram said. It took Lorna a second to realize he was speaking to her.
“Pardon? I’m sorry. I—”
“Science and dreams,” he added with a kind grin. “I think you’ll only need one notebook.”
“Look—I think that’s probably enough for now,” Bransen cut in with a sigh. “We’ve all got a lot to digest.”
“Hey—do you have a sec?”
Hiram looked up at the sound of the voice and saw Carlos lingering behind as everyone else filtered out the room.
“Sure,” Hiram replied.
Carlos walked in his direction, he hands held low and open.
“Hey, you know, I just wanted to apologize if I came off a bit… jealous. I mean, I guess I am a bit jealous.”
Hiram chuckled lightly. “Well, it’s certainly all right—but why would you be jealous?”
Carlos shrugged and sat back down, lacing his fingers on the table before him.
“It’s funny,” he admitted. “I knew my role on this team would be very technical, but I always kind of saw myself as the team’s spiritual guide, too, if you know what I mean.”
Hiram nodded slowly.
“Anyway, now you’re here, I guess it’s obvious that role is yours.” Carlos sat quiet for a second, collecting his words, then looked up and met Hiram’s gaze. “I balked because I know you are certainly the better man for the job…”
“That role is ours,” Hiram corrected. “All of ours. No one is the custodian of anyone else’s Radiance.”
Carlos chuckled and sat back, aware of the irony that it took someone else to remind him who was the caretaker of his own soul.
Hiram leaned in and continued, “Bransen came to me for advice on ensuring the safety of the children, once it became clear what they had been doing, and that this Mars mission was going to be so much more than plodding around an alien desert collecting rocks. When I told him that he had nothing to worry about—that Ana-loop was a good being and would watch over them—he became all the more intrigued. He didn’t know I knew about her, or them.”
“Yes,” Carlos agreed. “Do the others know?”
Hiram shrugged. “If they’ve read The Singing Hand they might. I name them all.”
Carlos nodded thoughtfully. “I think we all better read it then, eh?”
“It’s not required,” Hiram said, smiling. “It’s just my own personal journey. I believe Lorna is composing the team’s book?”
Carlos nodded vaguely, but suddenly seemed preoccupied, leaning over the table again and twiddling his thumbs, his knees bouncing nervously. Hiram said nothing, but waited for the man to speak .
“There is one other thing.”
“God, I don’t know why I’m telling you this.” Carlos stopped again, wrestling with himself over whether or not to complete his thought. “Jesus, Hiram, I’m still working for the government.”
“What do you mean?”
“They have a program they call Deep-Space Ops headed by a General Rauchbach. He came here the other day, and I think Bransen might suspect something now. But everything I’ve remote viewed—” he glanced at Hiram “—I mean, astral projected, I’ve shared with them, too.”
Hiram nodded, his expression still complacent. Carlos’ own expression suddenly shifted from one of guilt to something much darker. His brow furrowed and he shook his head slowly.
“But they’re most concerned about Howard Fobell and his son, John. I am, too. That’s how I can justify acting as a double agent. General Rauchbach understands; Bransen does not.”
“Understands what?” Hiram asked calmly. Carlos took a deep breath and looked him right in the eyes.
“Rauchbach and I know that Howard has long been in contact with…them. He has one of the Crystal Prisms, only Howard has been making inroads with the wrong side, and John is innocently following suit. They use it to meet with the Golgantry.”
Hiram’s expression dropped and his face went pale; for a moment, he stopped breathing, his expression dumbfounded. Carlos appreciated the response: It meant that Hiram knew what they could be up against.
“But the Golgantry don’t want us there,” Hiram whispered. “They want us to bring them here.”
Carlos nodded. “I know.”
“So what on Earth would the Fobells be doing with them?”