Chapter thirty-three of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.
Admiral Thomas sat in a conference room at Bransen Labs and calmly told Howard and Hiram everything about his involvement with the Mars project thus far, including what he knew about the Light Beings and the Golgantry. He was even candid about his relationship with Carlos, who had been spying on Perendjo for years, and the reasons General Rauchbach had removed the admiral from the project, which mostly had to do with the admiral’s reluctance to shoot first and ask questions later. Hiram liked the Admiral and was glad he’d visited them. Howard, on the other hand, was perplexed.
“You mean you knew?” he blurted. “This whole time, you could have… have… backed up my claims?”
“No,” Admiral Thomas stated simply. “To back you up would have required me to expose what I knew, and I wasn’t at liberty to do that, even to you.”
Howard waved him off with a dismissive snort, but Hiram grinned.
“I had an epiphany,” the admiral agreed, though it was obvious he still wasn’t comfortable using that word to describe his experience. “I went into the Crystal Prism like I have a hundred times, only this time the Golgantry carried me away, and then—I don’t know—things wavered. My vision failed. I think I passed out, but I can’t be sure—it was just endless darkness. And with the motion and the knowledge that I was flying… it was very disorienting. Next thing I remember—it was like a dream—I was standing at the top of a lighthouse with a beautiful woman who had full, red hair, and she said to me, ‘They are equally our prisoners and our guardians, and you cannot win in a fight with them.’ I’ll never forget those words. She spoke so plainly, and every word seemed to make more sense than it should have. I knew she meant the Golgantry, and I also knew they mean us no harm. When I woke up here, back in my office, I was filled with a certainty I’ve never felt before: We have to find General Rauchbach and advise him to rethink his invasion plans.”
“You have a Crystal Prism?” Howard asked, latching onto what he deemed the most important thing. “And you never even told me?”
Hiram cut him a mildly disbelieving look, then spoke before Howard could divert the conversation: “So General Rauchbach intends to invade Perendjo and… what? Destroy the Golgantry?”
“Well, he wants to try…”
“Our previous research—with Carlos—led us to the inevitable conclusion that they want nothing more than to reclaim what they believe is theirs: Earth. But until this PISA experiment, we’d not been able to send troops en masse to prevent that. We were just watching and waiting and hoping to cut them off when they tried to enter—”
“They aren’t going to invade!” Howard blurted.
His face held an expression rimming somewhere along the edge of sanity, as he tried to process the knowledge that his formerly secret findings were actually so well known, as well as the fact that he’d been speaking of such things—if obliquely—for years in Deep-Space Ops, always to be laughed at. He looked both exonerated and hurt.
“I know that now,” the admiral admitted. “But they do want to … settle here.”
“Would that be so bad?” Howard mumbled, thinking of all the knowledge they had given him about light and the nature of light, even as he considered that the knowledge he’d received suddenly seemed incomplete, or at least one sided.
“The problem now, Howard, is that the Golgantry are preparing for an invasion, to head us off at the pass, and the NASA-PISA presence in Perendjo has only exacerbated it.”
The silence was not uncomfortable, but it was long and pervading. Hiram shuffled nervously, feeling the ball was in Howard’s court. Hiram had long held the opinion that the Golgantry were only okay if they stayed where they were; where they had been placed by the Light Beings. Admiral Thomas seemed to agree with that assessment, and General Rauchbach obviously believed in striking first. But Howard, Hiram thought, feared that he had been used to help the Golgantry gain entrance, and he was trying to reconcile how much blame he deserved with how little blame he felt there was to shoulder.
“So that’s why they closed the portal,” he finally concluded sullenly. “No one gets in, no one gets out, and no one gets to invade. Only we have to get in! We can’t leave our team there!”
“Absolutely,” Hiram agreed. “But only the three of us can go. Contact was initiated with each of us first, so I have to believe we were—and still are—specifically invited.”
“Do you have a Crystal Prism, too?” Howard wondered, his expression dropping back into disbelief. Did everyone already know everything he had worked so long to validate?
Hiram smiled widely.
“No, Howard. I just happen to know a place where we can walk right in.”
“Because they’re on Mars?” Admiral Thomas wondered. “We can build a new ship…?”
“Oh, no no,” Hiram chuckled. “Perendjo is not on Mars.”
“The door was on Mars. I think they were trying to teach us something about the nature of this other dimension, and of light, by making us travel there to enter. But I think there’s another door, here on Earth. There could be doors all over the universe, leading to the same place through a trick of space and time.”
“And light,” Howard added.
“So this … this door?” the admiral checked. “You’ve used it before, Mr. McKenzie?”
Hiram nodded, bracing for the volley of incredulous questions. But none came.
“And you can take us there now?”
Which was the one question Hiram no longer knew how to answer.