Chapter twenty-four of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
Bransen was not entirely thrilled by his impromptu meeting with Hiram and Carlos. He liked to think of himself as a very understanding man who would always evaluate everyone’s opinions before making any decisions, and to never intentionally sow the seeds of division or doubt. As he looked at the faces of Hiram and Carlos, though, he discovered his own personal nightmare: If he listened to their opinions, he may indeed be the farmer who was sowing the seeds of division and doubt.
Bransen looked evenly at each of the two men, who both sat politely quiet, waiting to be called on to speak.
“I think I knew this would happen,” Bransen admitted plainly. “I think I knew this project would evolve in unexpected ways. But gentleman, I cannot believe for an instant than Howard and John Fobell are here to open some kind of gate to the underworld to let demons run amok over the Earth.”
He held up his hand to stop Hiram from speaking and finished, “Even if I were to allow for such things as demons, I am quite confident that the Fobells would have nothing to do with them.”
“They aren’t demons,” Hiram blurted.
He glanced at Carlos with something like accusation on his face.
“They aren’t demons any more than the Ana-loop is an angel,” Hiram continued. “Those are outdated, simplistic terms to describe these beings, and the connotations we associate with them have eclipsed the true meanings. Let’s not forget, we are dealing with other-worldly beings, beings I have long been in contact with, as have others for millennia before me. And I am simply reporting that everything I’ve ever heard speaks to the fact that the Golgantry want to move from wherever they are now, to here, to Earth.”
Bransen shook his head and sighed, so Carlos jumped in and added, “We aren’t saying the Fobells have done anything on purpose. We’re just concerned they’re being used by the Golgantry—”
Bransen leaned forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped in front of him.
“And what if you’re being used?” he wondered, eyeing them both skeptically. “There are two sides to every story. What if these Light Beings are using you to… I don’t know! Get back at the Golgantry?”
He studied the carpet between his feet for several seconds then regarded the two men again.
“This mission is a truly interdisciplinary effort, working a scientific investigation from the mechanical, biological, philosophical, and even mystical sides. But it is still a scientific endeavor first, and that means nothing more or less than collecting data, forming theories, and presenting facts. There is no place for politics or personal bias in science. You said it yourself, Hiram, that these beings are neither angels nor demons, so let’s not assume anything about their motives. Let’s do some science. Let’s go up there and see who shakes our hands—since Mouse’s trip we’ve done nothing but plan and re-plan this mission! No one is letting anyone in to take over Earth, or whatever other apocalyptic end you envision.”
“I don’t think we could stop them,” Hiram offered weakly.
“Then why aren’t they here already, Mr. MacKenzie?”
Hiram nodded once and acquiesced the point: Just because something has the potential to be dangerous does not mean that it is inherently dangerous.
“Now, could you send Luci and Mouse in, please?”
Five minutes later, Mouse and Luci were doubting the wisdom of going to Bransen, after all. These micro meetings had all the hallmarks of being sent to the principal’s office, and Mouse could feel the same old teenage righteousness bubbling up inside him, urging him to storm out.
“What the hell is going on around here?” Bransen demanded in an uncharacteristically foul tone of voice. He stood over the table, perched and ready to pounce. It actually worked: Mouse felt his body go cold even as his face flushed, and he unconsciously sat up to attention.
“We are a scientific team, are we not?”
Bransen cut himself off and huffed out a deep breath, shaking his head dismally. He lowered himself into his seat, where he buried his face in his hands. He knew he shouldn’t be angry with them. He was just venting his frustration that he was faced with a problem that couldn’t be solved by a few equations on a blackboard—no math could explain how humans had become the unwitting middlemen in what appeared to be extraterrestrial politics.
“Look,” he said, emerging from his hands to stare them down. “I don’t think Carlos is here to help start a war between the United States and some creatures the Fobells met inside a Crystal Prism, any more than the Fobells are here to start the same war from the other side.”
“That’s not what we meant,” Mouse mumbled.
“Then what did you mean by, ‘John thinks Carlos is a double agent trying to start a war with the Golgantry’?” Bransen wondered with a tinge of sarcasm. “If anyone suspects anything up there is trying to harm us down here, then we have that line of communication wide open to the people who can save us: The military. What I want is for us to focus on the science.”
“Well, it’s just… science is…” Mouse began nervously, but quickly felt out of his depth and closed his mouth.
“It’s just that you brought Hiram McKenzie into this,” Luci said for them both. “And he’s not a scientist.”
“Hiram McKenzie may not crunch numbers and use a Bunsen burner, but he’s just as research-minded as any of us,” Bransen countered.
“Did you know the kids were astral projecting?” Luci accused pointedly. “Did you know they were talking to… to… aliens?”
Bransen sighed heavily and met her gaze.
“I suspected something,” he admitted. “But I do not think their souls are leaving their bodies. Remote viewing is proven science, but this astral projection crap—?”
“How can you say that?” Mouse cut in angrily. “You just said Hiram was as much a scientist as the rest of us! And after what we’ve discovered? After what I saw? Maybe… Maybe this is where science and religion fuse, Bransen!”
“We’re not here to start a new religion or wage some presumed battle against good and evil!” Bransen declared frustratedly. “If General Rauchbach and his goons want to waste their time tilting at Martian windmills, so be it. We are here to collect data and make contact. It’s that simple.”
“But this is contact,” Luci argued, sitting forward. She raised her hand as if to take his, then slowly lowered it again. “The dreams, the ship… What form did you think contact would take, Bransen? Did you think we’d be ushered into some conference room on Mars to go over pie charts and medical diagrams? What we’re dealing with is another world that uses mechanics that we can barely even comprehend, let alone understand.”
She stopped and gazed out the picture window at Lorna, who was pacing around Circadia X, taking notes and making sketches. When Bransen didn’t reply, Mouse took up the cause.
“If you want to be scientific about this, then you need to acknowledge that Hiram McKenzie and Howard Fobell have been writing about the same beings—using the same names—for over a decade, and that they’re each apparently telling the same story. Look, I want to get back up there more than any of you, but maybe we should figure out who we’re making contact with and what their motives are before we—”
Bransen stood up without a word, or even a glare, and quietly left the room. Luci and Mouse shared a sympathetic glance, and it was Luci who finally smiled and said, “I don’t think we’ll be fired—don’t worry.”
Mouse squeezed her hand and tried to chuckle.
In the morning, each member of the team found a copy of Hiram McKenzie’s Unknown North outside the doors of their rooms, along with a copy of Howard Fobell’s Alchemy of Light: The Science of Faith and Circumstance.
The unwritten homework assignment was obvious to them all.