Chapter twenty-six of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
Hiram was circumspect and quietly mumbled, “I can see why they’re after Ana-loop” when Carlos returned with his theory about a physical ship going somewhere physically, despite the fact that “somewhere” wasn’t—somehow—Mars at all.
“What’s that?” Carlos wondered invitingly.
“There’s only one doorway that I’ve ever heard of,” he replied evenly. “And it was closed—or at least hidden—for a reason.”
He looked carefully over the others crowded into the debriefing room. He knew that they all viewed him with a healthy amount of skepticism and he wasn’t relishing the idea of trying to explain to them the truth behind the higher mystical concepts of angels, demons, and gods. There wasn’t time for a grand theological debate.
“It’s nothing,” he finally decided, narrowing his eyes at Bransen. “You respect quantum theory, I’m sure?”
“Of course,” Bransen replied without hesitation. In fact, he was overjoyed at the news Carlos had brought them. Physical ships and physical locations put it all back in firm science and mechanics.
“Then you agree with the theoretical existence of other dimensions?”
“So it would appear that we are traveling to another dimension. And just like when we travel to another place here, we have to get in a car and drive, so do we have to get in a ship and drive to this other dimension.”
“And this other dimension is on Mars?” Lorna clarified, glancing up from her feverish note taking.
“Not exactly. The doorway is apparently on Mars…” He glanced at Carlos as he continued thoughtfully. “But the dimension itself is … Well, it’s in another dimension, isn’t it?”
“A dimension like ours? With physical properties?” Bransen asked, testing how far he wanted to let this line of thinking go. It all suddenly seemed counterproductive, after all.
“Quantum entanglement,” Carlos summed up before Hiram could reply, perhaps sensing the subtle shift of the mood in the room. The last thing they needed was more mystical parables when the scientific nature of the mission had just been upheld. “It’s there and it’s not there. It has physical properties only because we were there to observe it.”
“That rock was nothing but real, I assure you,” Mouse responded quietly. It was an undeniable fact, and Carlos remained quiet so each one of them could assess it. An argument was not going to help anyone. In the silence, Hiram took up the thread again.
“This doorway allows us to travel to another dimension whole, body and Radiance, just like Ana-loop said. That must be why she’s so hell-bent on getting us to Mars—to Perendjo. The other entrances—here on Earth and through astral projection—allow only our Radiance to pass through. I knew there was a full doorway somewhere, I just didn’t know it was on Mars.”
Carlos was smiling widely, but Hiram had read widely and he knew what damage could be done by humans in Perendjo when they went there as both body and Radiance.
“So what does this change?” Bransen demanded, trying to put a fine point on the contemplative silence that had settled over the PISA team. “Frankly, going to another dimension makes a hell of a lot more sense to me than trying to figure out how all our probes and telescopes had failed to find the rainforest Mouse visited on his first trip there.”
He looked specifically at Howard, perhaps unconsciously asking to receive a more standard scientific answer.
“I don’t see how it’s changed anything,” Howard admitted softly, his eyes flicking away from Hiram when the mystic sucked in a cautionary breath. “If Ana-loop wanted us to use this doorway, then I say we should use it. The chance to travel to some other dimension only theorized by the most optimistic quantum physicists is too great to pass up.”
“I’ll still need you to stay here, Howard,” Bransen replied apologetically. Howard nodded slowly with understanding. He hadn’t been hired to explore, he’d been hired to do the math.
“Of course—and Hiram? I think he should stay with me, too. For balance.”
Bransen grinned winsomely.
“For balance,” he agreed.
And soon enough—almost too soon, for people who had been anticipating a several-month trip to Mars—the stage was set and the main ship was ready to go. Howard and Hiram fired up Circadia X, checked all the diagnostics, confirmed everything (twice) with Bransen, alerted the ad hoc authority set up by the government that they were opening a beam, and then it was time for launch.
Then just as suddenly, it was time to shut off the beam after RS-CD contact with the ship on Mars had been established. For the first time, Howard was actually afraid. This wasn’t a lab rat he was leaving on Mars, or one brave and pioneering man who had no family. This was the PISA Mars Team, and three of them were kids—and one of them was his own kid.
It was this hesitation—or perhaps, Hiram would say, this necessary synchronicity—that allowed a hapless flock of geese to cross innocently into the beam. Moments after the ship had landed safely on the surface of Mars—or, rather, Perendjo—there was a sudden burst of cacophonous noise and the fluttering of wings as thirteen migrating geese shot out of the tunnel of light and into the twilit sky of Perendjo. Everyone in the ship froze in place.
“What the fuck?” Mouse cried out.
The beam disappeared and then Howard’s voice piped into each of their headsets: “What the hell’s going on? Is everyone okay? Lorna’s diagnostics—”
“It’s okay, I think,” Bransen said slowly. “Some geese must’ve crossed into the beam. Lorna screamed—it was quite a noise the flock made.”
“Christ,” Howard said softly. “So everyone’s okay?”
“Except the geese? Jesus. What happened to them? Did they explode or something?”
“No,” Bransen said, still speaking slowly as he tried to process what had happened to the birds. “They all flew off. I can see them now—they’ve regrouped and are circling in the trees.”
For several seconds there was no response, then Howard finally replied, “They’re alive? Without rebreathers?”
“Yes, very much alive.”
“But that’s impossible!”
Bransen smiled as he watched the geese circling further and further away, very much alive and active and showing no signs of being under different atmospheric conditions at all.
“I know,” he agreed.
# # #
The first two-hour team mission to Mars ended up being little more than a long hike into the forest and back, following a flock of thirteen geese. The flight patterns of the birds were erratic, as whatever landmarks and leylines they used on Earth were suddenly gone, but they otherwise seemed to fare no differently than they would have on Earth. There was a brief plan floated to catch the birds and return them to Earth, but as the flock moved higher and more distant, such discussion was short.
Then it was back into the beam of light, reignited by Howard and Hiram back on Earth: The slowly trundling bus-like pod, the sudden flash, and the dull pop as the ship came to rest back beside Circadia X in Bransen Labs. Everyone was fine, and though only the children chattered and giggled ecstatically, the grins on the faces of everyone else belied just as much released excitement building underneath the hard, adult exteriors. Bransen, especially, was grinning widely, his sense of accomplishment eclipsed only by his sense of relief. Everyone had survived a trip to Mars and back. In fact, even the hapless geese had appeared unharmed, despite being left behind.
“We need to discuss the Goose Effect,” Bransen stated calmly once the hugs and laughs had subsided.
“It means the air and pressure and all that is just like Earth, right?” Mouse suggested. It wasn’t conscious, but since he’d been to Mars three times now, he felt somewhat of an expert on the planet’s surface.
“It suggests that,” Howard agreed scientifically, but the question was left hanging and they all took the rest of the day off at Bransen’s specific behest, so they could clear their heads and mull it over.
Bransen, for one, wanted to go directly to bed. He was exhausted from the stress of the journey to Mars, and now that it was over, he felt deflated. He was asleep almost before he got into bed.
He dreamed of three white wolves in a forest—a forest he now recognized as Perendjo. They seemed tame and as they approached him he felt comforted by his spacesuit, irrationally thinking it would protect him if they attacked. As they got close enough, he reached out to pet the nearest one, but the animal recoiled and snapped at his fingers. Without thinking, he fumbled with the glove, unscrewing the seal and removing it from the suit, baring his hand—and entire body—to the Martian air. But in the dream, all that mattered was petting the wolf—and now the wolf moved closer and tentatively licked his exposed fingers.
They wanted him out of the spacesuit.
The next day Mouse—after a long, and sometimes heated discussion as to whether he or Bransen should go—sat in the two-man pod without a spacesuit and contemplated the tunnel of light ahead. He trusted Bransen and he trusted their instruments and he trusted what his own eyes had seen with the geese, but for the first time in many weeks he was scared.
“This is nuts,” Luci whispered, torn between turning away or getting what could be her last look at Mouse. He smiled at her and gave her a thumbs up, then she blinked and the pod was gone.
The team shared a guilty, hopeful glance. Bransen stood biting his lip. The seconds bled in memory to minutes, even hours, but in reality, almost instantly the RadialShade flickered onto the monitor and decoded to a voice fed out through the sound card and speakers.
“It’s alive!” Mouse cried, the joy in his voice unmistakable as he made reference to Howard’s cry when they had sent a rat to Mars. “It’s alive and it’s on Mars!”
“This changes everything,” Bransen mumbled and motioned for Carlos and Howard to join him in a conference room.