Chapter thirty-two of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
Admiral Thomas was in his private office—differentiated from his public office by the fact that if he was in his public office with the door closed, a person could knock and be invited in, but if the admiral was in his private office, even the President should be turned away.
Had anyone gone into the room, they would have been hard pressed to explain why it was so private. There were no plans or schematics on the walls describing reversed-engineered UFOs or plasma-ray guns. There was no glowing map of the world with pinpoints denoting the locations of agents in the field. There was no gold or silver, or the treasures of the Temple of Solomon. In fact, there was nothing in the room except a reclining chair with a dinner tray attached that could swing over it.
But the tray was the key.
The tray, and the single artifact of value tucked away in a safe behind a false double light switch. The safe—no bigger than a box of tissues—contained something of immense value to the admiral, and to the world at large—had the world at large any clue as to what the artifact was. The safe sat open now, and the admiral reclined in the chair, the object of so much value and privacy standing serenely on the dinner tray before him, flickering prismatic rainbows of light across his face and the walls.
Admiral Thomas possessed one of the Crystal Prisms and he used it to great effect to enter the Lands Below, and from there, sometimes, Perendjo itself. But mostly he used it to speak with Dajenour, one of the Golgantry the admiral thought of as his counterpart in “the other place.” It was good to talk with them, the admiral knew, and he couldn’t help but think this open line of communication was the only thing that had prevented an invasion for so many generations.
In the room, the admiral’s body was rigid and still, his eyes closed, his chest heaving so slowly that it had no discernible movement; but in his Radiance, the admiral was groping through a darkness so complete it almost hurt, searching with outstretched hands to find the signs and landmarks that would point him toward the orange light and place for a meeting with Dajenour. Judging by the dream in which Dajenour had summoned him, this meeting was of the utmost importance, and the admiral found himself groping in a state very much like panic, trying to reach the place as quickly as he could.
He hated this part; this blindness. It went against everything his military training had prepared him for: Darkness was danger, and ambush surely loomed. Finally he stumbled into something low like a decorative wall. He bent over to trace with his hands the two-foot high construct as it turned in a gentle arc. Admiral Thomas imagined it to be the enclosure of a fountain, but once when he’d dared stick his hand over the retainer, his fingernails had scraped only the moist grit of wet dirt. He didn’t have time for exploring such details now, and soon enough his hands came across a small pile of rounded stones, marking the point at which he should turn right. He had no idea who had placed the cairn on the wall, but he thought again that he really must do all he could to find out.
Admiral Thomas kept stumbling forward through the darkness. He could sense structures to his left and right, and knew—but only by sense and feel—that he was walking down a street between buildings. Ahead he began to see a very soft orange glow, as of a dim light spilling from a closed doorway.
“I really need to start mapping this place,” the admiral mumbled to himself.
He realized, in some detatched way, that mumbling was an effort to calm his fears, but it was no good: The Golgantry scared him at a deep resonance and he never enjoyed his meetings with them. As if on cue, he heard the beating of great leathery wings around him—two, maybe three sets—and he knew they were also approaching the orange glow of the rendezvous. Behind him the wings grew louder, then there were two dull thuds within spitting distance of him.
Admiral Thomas froze.
“The light is not for you this time,” a high-pitched, trilling voice said.
The admiral slowly turned toward the sound. All he could think to say was, “I can’t see you.”
“But you know me.”
It was not a question, it was a statement of fact. The admiral couldn’t disagree.
“Of course, Dajenour. And who’s with you?”
More thuds came from the darkness as other Golgantry came to rest heavily on the dirt.
“Orlay and Miztrin.”
“I thought as much.”
Admiral Thomas giggled nervously and scratched the back of his neck. “So who’s in the orange room?”
“No one of interest.” Dajenour’s voice pierced along a higher pitch than normal, and the glasslike trilling seemed more rapid. “We don’t have time for conversation, Jude.”
“Right,” he agreed, unconsciously standing to attention.
“Your soldiers have created quite a hardship for Perendjo,” Dajenour stated.
There was movement—a flash of sound, a few footfalls—and Admiral Thomas felt both his arms grasped. He tried to fight for a split second before realizing it would not only be futile, but most likely dangerous.
“We will take you to Rileth so you can see for yourself.”
And before the admiral could offer his needless consent, he felt his stomach roll loosely as the Golgantry that had him took wing, with his body dangling beneath over darkness.