Chapter twenty-five of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
“Dr. Moore? I didn’t expect to find you here.”
He turned at the sound of the voice and unconsciously tried to hide his bourbon, despite the fact that he was in a bar after midnight with bleary eyes. It took him a second to focus, but finally he recognized the face of General Rauchbach. Had he not been drunk, he most likely would have jumped away from the man, as if burned.
“You knew I’d be here,” he said instead, his tone aggressive. “You’ve been tapping my phone and reading my mail since you fired me.”
“You were never fired, Dr. Moore. We don’t fire people. People simply … leave.”
Dr. Moore spat out a derisive grunt and finished off his whiskey, slamming the glass down on the bar. The entire edifice he had created built on debunking had come crashing down with the unveiling of Circadia X. Or, more specifically, with the government’s acknowledgment that the machine not only worked, but NASA wanted a piece of the pie. Suddenly Bransen Labs and PISA were the experts and Dr. Angelo Moore was nothing but a dunce with egg on his face. His nearly continuous talk show circuit had come to an abrupt end, and Dr. Moore had retreated to the seclusion of the local bar, where the patrons only watched TV if it involved guns or cars (or, preferably, both).
“So what the hell do you want, Rauchbach? Did I forget to sign some papers?”
“Not at all.”
The general sat down on the stool next to Angelo and motioned for the bartender.
“I’ll have the best beer you have on tap,” he ordered, then turned to the doctor. “What I want, Dr. Moore, is you to go with us to Mars.”
Angelo stopped smirking, the offer sobering up even his present stupor.
“What the hell for? I get it. I was wrong, okay? Travel at the speed of light is clearly possible—”
“Dr. Moore, we need you to go because we need your … insight. We need someone of a traditional—and may I say, rational—scientific mind to come along. Keep us all in line. Make sure we’re not … imagining things.”
Angelo narrowed his eyes and stared at the general. Rauchbach paid the bartender and took a long draught of his beer, then nodded appreciatively at what the bartender had served him. He turned again to the doctor, whose eyes were still narrowed suspiciously.
“Why? What the hell do you think’s up there?” Angelo whispered.
“We don’t know,” the general admitted, sucking in a deep sigh. “What we do know is that PISA has now secured the services of Hiram McKenzie—”
“Jesus! Not that flake?”
“—and we sort of want to create the anti-PISA team, if you will. A truly scientific team. We want to assess real threats, not further the efforts of hippies and dropouts.”
“Threats?” Angelo queried, then the liquor spoke up. “Sure. Fuck it. I’ll go. Let’s beat those PISA fucks at their own fucking game.”
“Actually, Dr. Moore,” General Rauchbach said evenly, taking another long sip of beer, “this is our game.”
Angelo snuffed a laugh through his nose.
“Did they actually go to Mars?” he checked. “In this game of yours?”
“They’re there right now,” General Rauchbach growled evenly.
# # #
“Wow, it’s completely different in person,” Carlos said, looking as far up and around at the canopy of trees as his rebreather suit would allow. Somewhere high in a thin mist were the very tops of those trees, but Carlos couldn’t for the life of him make them out.
“How so?” asked Mouse, his voice soft and crackly through the motorcyclists’ radio gear they’d rigged into the suits for communications on Mars.
“I don’t know,” Carlos admitted, furrowing his brow. “The trees seem much larger in person. Much larger. I guess the astral body doesn’t quite accurately translate its physical surroundings to the brain.”
He glanced at Mouse, who stood holding one of the Laser Emitting Targets, and added, “Or something.”
“Well, I don’t know, man, but this is where I was before. Nobody could forget those fucking trees.”
Mouse gazed up into the twilit sky, brushed with crimson and purple, and also tried to see the tops.
“How tall do you think they are?” Carlos wondered, unable to focus through his sense of awe.
Mouse moved over to the nearest tree—a sapling, he would’ve called it back on Earth—and took one of the leaves in his gloved hand. Up close, it was a rich, deep green. He nodded thoughtfully and took another long look around. As he gazed into the distance, he could see shadowy shapes moving, almost like apes in the trees—though these apes, by their motions, undoubtedly had wings.
“You think we’re safe here?” Mouse asked instead of answering, trying to sound casual. “There’s obviously life in this forest, and not no Light Beings either.”
“Yeah—I saw them, too,” Carlos said, without giving anything away. “We’ll just have to keep an eye out. Speaking of escaping, we should turn the pod around so we can drive straight into the beam home, should the need arise.”
“Good idea,” Mouse agreed, handing his LET to Carlos and heading back to the pod. When he returned, Carlos was still gazing thoughtfully into the gloaming sky.
“Let’s just get this set up and head back, huh?” Mouse suggested, eyeing him curiously. “You know Bransen said—”
“I think I get it now,” Carlos whispered.
“We’re really here.”
Mouse furrowed his brow and looked at Carlos as if Carlos was crazy.
“No shit,” Mouse said softly. “Isn’t that the point?”
“No, no—don’t you get it? Circadia X isn’t just an astral projection machine, it really brings us here.”
“Right…” Mouse agreed expectantly, waiting for the part they hadn’t already gone over a hundred times. “Which is how I brought back a Martian rock…?”
“No!” Carlos breathed dramatically, smiling with wide eyes as he looked at Mouse. “That’s just it! I didn’t get why Ana-loop sent plans for a ship for astral projection, and I didn’t understand how you brought back a rock from an astral projection—because that rock did not come from Mars, I assure you.”
Mouse raised his eyebrows but didn’t interrupt. He didn’t think Carlos would hear him anyway.
“But I was thinking of it all wrong. Bransen and the others were right: We are traveling here, to Perendjo, body and soul. Somehow to Mars, but not to Mars. Mouse, you brought back a rock from Perendjo!”
“So we’re not on Mars?” was all Mouse could think to reply, his eyebrows still raised. He reached out and plucked the forgotten LET dangling from Carlos’s fingertips. “So where is this… Pear-en-joe?”
“Didn’t you read Hiram’s book?” Carlos wondered rhetorically. “I think we’re on the other side of a doorway to Perendjo. A real, physical doorway to another dimension! But Hiram said there was only one doorway ever spoken of—and I think we just found it! And it’s on Mars! That beam,” he offered, waving vaguely at the ship. “It shot us to Mars and we flew right through the doorway, so we never actually landed on Mars.”
Mouse didn’t say anything for several seconds, waiting for Carlos to continue or for the revelation to sink in, neither of which seemed about to happen.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Mouse finally admitted. “What does this have to do with astral projection?”
“Nothing!” Carlos grinned. “That’s what’s so amazing! Astral projection is just our Radiance traveling to Perendjo, and you can do that through any old portal, even on Earth, even in dreams. But the doorway… That allows us to travel here whole, like Ana-loop said: Body and Radiance.”
Mouse nodded slowly, hoping he understood like he thought he did, and hoping he didn’t look as scared as he suddenly felt. Traveling to other dimensions didn’t seem like such a good idea, but here he was.
“So we’re here physically, only here isn’t Mars, it’s Perendjo? Because Circadia X shot us right past the planet and through a doorway to another dimension?”
“That’s about close enough,” Carlos replied happily.
“So where’s Perendjo in relation to Mars?”
“Somewhere else entirely,” Carlos said.
He took the last LET back from Mouse and positioned it on the ground, smiling the whole time.
“Let’s get back and tell the others!”