Chapter twenty-seven of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
The NASA team took guns to Mars. Oh, the public wasn’t made aware of this (“scientific instruments” can look like just about anything), but Dr. Angelo Moore was well aware and a bit unnerved. The guns meant either NASA was nuts because they expected to meet something unsavory; or not nuts, meaning they would meet something unsavory. Going to Mars under either condition did not help Dr. Moore sleep well.
“Angelo!” General Rauchbach barked, nudging the doctor, whose head had slipping onto the general’s shoulder. Everyone else in the bus jumped and the soldiers unconsciously readied their guns. “I didn’t pay you to come to Mars and sleep!”
Dr. Moore came slowly awake and looked out the windows of the bus, called a “tiki” by the military personnel—a TK-13 vehicle, newly developed to explore a landscape like Mars. Dr. Moore had said the word “impossible” twenty-six times since they had arrived at the end of their beam of light, and eventually his brain had shut down, putting him into a deep sleep where he could pretend they were rumbling cross-country, not across some alien world.
The Mars Dr. Moore and the NASA team arrived at was more in keeping with what they had expected: Dry, desolate, desert-like, and completely devoid of life. The only plus to landing there was that there was no interference with their instruments and the NASA team had quickly established that the air and pressure readings were the same as Earth (with just a tad less oxygen, though no different from being in the mountains of Colorado)—a fact they failed to report to either PISA or the public. It had, however, elicited the first six impossibles from Dr. Moore.
“Where are we heading?” Angelo asked groggily. “Haven’t we been driving forever?”
“We’ve been driving for an hour, Dr. Moore, and we’re heading for what appears to be a signature of plant life.”
“So you say.”
General Rauchbach cut him a look and Dr. Moore snapped his mouth closed.
“We’re almost there,” the General added.
No sooner had he spoken than the driver of the tiki cried, “Jesus!” and brought the vehicle to a sudden halt.
“What?” the General demanded, jumping up and taking three steps to the front of the bus. He gazed out the window and saw that the parched, cracked land ended abruptly not thirty yards in front of the vehicle. In the chasm that opened up and stretched further than the eye could see, there could be seen the very top of the canopy of a vast, lush forest.
“I thought it was a mirage,” the driver whispered. “So I just kept driving full speed.”
“That, Dr. Moore, is impossible,” the General said, turning and facing his team in the bus.
# # #
The figures circled Ana-loop. Dajenour stood watch in the darkness of the Lands Below, the other Golgantry with him in a circle beyond Axlow and Dala. Dala stood in front of Ana-loop and Axlow supplied most of the answers to Dala’s questions, but now it was time for Ana-loop to speak for herself.
“This is why there is an initiation for them,” Dala said serenely. Her anger could be sensed, however, and the Golgantry trilled nervously.
“Quiet,” Dajenour hissed, a sound like lost voices in static.
“We can’t just open the doorway and let them all in,” Dala continued objectively. “It may kill them. It may kill us.”
“I haven’t let just anyone in, though,” Ana-loop protested weakly.
“You gave them the designs!” Axlow snarled, his aura pulsating a sickening yellow in a disquieting counterpoint to the blue of Ana-loop and Dala’s fiery red. Had the Golgantry been able to register light, the thin green mist that swirled around them would surely have piqued their curiosity. As it was, they couldn’t sense the unformed presence of Ilmenecier and he made no effort to have his presence known by consolidating into a more constant form. He was there, and that was enough.
“I was told they were ready,” Ana-loop said.
Dala measured her words carefully: “We know, Ana-loop. But we also know what happened the last time we opened the doorway. Execution, persecution, war, famine, disease—and that was just on Earth. Have you forgotten history?”
“But if we bring them here—”
“No!” Axlow snapped. “If we bring them here, unprepared, they could ruin everything! The executions, the wars, the famine—that would all be here, if they can just walk in!”
“Thank you, Axlow,” Dala acknowledged. She waited to make sure he’d remain quiet, then continued. “We must close the doorway. We can’t risk letting anyone else in who is not fully aware of their Radiance—of what we have to lose. It may already be too late.”
“But you can’t!” Ana-loop pleaded. “They’ll be stuck!”
“Once they understand their Radiance, they can leave. It’s the only way. All of the portals will also be moved.”
Dala was silent. Dajenour and the other Golgantry shifted nervously. They all knew what was coming next: Ana-loop would be arked, trapped as light between electrodes, awaiting the rules of her exile.
“What about me?” Ana-loop asked quietly anyway—there was always hope.
“You will placed in darkness and silence,” Dala explained in a remorseful but practical tone. It was always the same sentence for unauthorized, direct contact, even as rare as the crime was. “You will stay here, in the Lands Below, until we have determined the rules of your exile.”
“I’ll die,” Ana-loop said softly.
“You will be preserved.”
“Arked?” Ana-loop wondered in horror.
Dala said nothing more. Dajenour took his cue and motioned at a crude, but sturdy, box. Two other Golgantry slid poles into the rings at the corners of it, trilling softly, glad that it was all over. It was difficult for the Light Beings in the Lands Below; the Golgantry could sense it and it made them nervous. Unlike the forest above, which existed for all of them, equally, the Lands Below were intended only for the Golgantry.
“Get into the ark,” Dajenour trilled.
Ana-loop hesitated but knew it was useless to resist. There were ways to force her in, and none of them were pleasant.
“Take her to the Expanse,” he trilled after she was inside and the lid closed over her, trapping her light and essence.
“Are you coming with us?” one of the pole bearers wondered.
“I will meet you there,” Dajenour replied cryptically. “There is something I must do.”
His leathery wings unfurled and he took flight before Dala could ask anything more.