Just got here? Start at the beginning.
Greta Erwell’s breath shuddered as she marched down the tunnel behind the alien and his two escorts. His tall, slim figure towered over Char and the other soldier as he walked meekly between them. He kept sneaking furtive glances at each open door and back at the two scientists walking behind her. His silver eyes would catch hers from behind the rim of his hood.
God, it felt like someone was standing on her chest. She was so hyped.
The cold air and sunlight hit her then simultaneously. Erwell heard the alien suck in a choking breath.
Yeah. It’s cold. Erwell flipped up her hood.
“Why does it smell like burning flesh?” the alien said to Char. He burrowed deep into his borrowed, over-sized, down jacket.
“There is a city burning across the sea, behind us,” Char replied softly.
“Because we are at war.”
They marched the alien across the crunchy snow to where Linc said they’d found him. All traces of his tracks and blood had long since been erased by wind and snow. The alien stood still with his pale brow furrowed and his eyes slightly rolled back.
“Are we close?” Char asked him.
“You can hear it?” She circled to face him.
He nodded again.
Char glanced significantly at Erwell.
“All right,” Erwell said to the two scientists, Jeff and Marlene, who were following her.
They crouched down and began unpacking their sound metres and computers.
“Does it have a physical location?” Char asked the alien, off to the side. “The portal?”
“Yes,” the alien said. He extended a hand slightly, then drew it back. He pulled off his mitten, revealing slim, fair fingers. He took two steps forward. “Can I?”
Char nodded and took a few more steps with him, with one hand hovering as if to grab him.
“Sound metre is up,” Marlene said. Erwell hunkered down beside her and watched the computer begin to chart all the waves the sensitive device was picking up. Beside them, the Jeff had set up a magnetometer and was typing at his computer.
Erwell glanced up to check Char and the alien’s progress. They’d walked about ten feet forward.
“It’s right here,” the alien said to Char. He extended his bare hand.
Erwll sucked in a sharp breath and slapped the arm of the scientist beside her. “Marlene. Look.”
The alien stood there, one arm completely invisible.
“Holy fuck,” Marlene said. She swallowed hard.
“I’ll be damned.” Erwell leapt up and jogged over to where Char and Venn stood.
Venn jerked his hand back, and once again it came into view. He eyed her.
“So you could step through right now,” Erwell said.
“Put your hand through again,” Erwell ordered.
He extended his arm. Instantly, his hand vanished up past his wrist. Erwell waved her hand where his was. Nothing happened.
“Director Greta Erwell,” the alien said. “If you would give me your hand.”
Erwell pulled off a glove and stuck out her hand.
The faintest smirk crossed his mouth. He took her bare fingers, and she shivered. His skin was icy cold. “Now put your other hand by mine.”
Erwell extended her trembling hand.
It felt like plunging her hand into a frozen lake. Her hand disappeared in the exact same fashion, sliding out of sight like into water. Her heart was nearly exploding in her chest. “Oh, shit! It’s cold!”
“It is also winter in Kaa,” Venn said quietly, but with a definite ring of amusement.
“Is my hand hanging in mid-air in Kaa?” Erwell stared up at him, half laughing. Across from her, Char was also laughing in breathless amazement.
“No, it is yet in the portal. It…” he bit his lip in thought. “It… becomes shorter in the portal. It…” He released her hand.
Suddenly her invisible hand snapped back into view, with a sucking sensation, tingling with cold and some sensation she couldn’t quite place. She stared at her fingers. They looked normal. “Woah!”
Erwell turned on the two scientists. “Did your instruments pick up anything?”
“Uh…” Jeff gulped. He turned and loped back to the computers.
Erwell turned to Char and grinned. The soldier grinned back.
The instruments had picked up something—the faintest disturbance in the magnetic field, and a pattern of high frequency sound waves. The alien tried to explain that there were mathematical methods of finding portals, but try as he might he couldn’t make his reasoning make sense to them.
They marched Venn back into the compound and into the empty cafeteria and sat down at a table in the corner.
“Venn, you said you could take people through,” Erwell said.
Venn rubbed his slim hands together and wrapped them around his cup of coffee. “I can take you through.”
“What kind of environment is on the other side?”
“The portal opens onto a mountainside. It’s made of a smooth, shiny rock and there is little vegetation,” Venn said. He sipped his coffee and squinted at it skeptically. “On the mountainside, the Kaa don’t go, but below there’s a valley full of thick red—” he contemplated his for a moment “—grass. This is where the Kaa burrows are.”
“They live in burrows?” Jeff asked.
“Yes. Caves under the ground.”
“Jeff, are you writing this down?” Erwell asked sharply.
“No,” Jeff said.
“Okay, so what we need to do is interview Mr. Venn.” She pushed back from the table, rattling the coffee cups. “We need to know everything he knows about this Kaa place and we need to make a plan.”
“A plan to what?” Jeff asked. “Go through?”
“Yeah, go through,” Erwell snapped. “We need to know what’s there. We need to know if there’s anything there we can use, because America will die if we don’t.”
Jeff and all the others, aside from Char, blinked.
Anger fired through her. “Oh, you don’t think I’m serious? I’m fucking serious. You think I can pass up the chance to explore an entire new world? Meanwhile, that stone—“ Erwell waved her finger toward Venn’s chest “—emits some kind of energy. We haven’t determined how or why yet, but it gives off energy. It’s an element that’s not on our periodic table and its composition is like nothing I’ve seen.” Her breath staggered. “New elements, guys. This could crack our future wide open. This could—“ She cut herself off. Jeff and Char were both nodding. The others were just staring with a deer in the headlights expression.
“No, I agree,” Char said sharply. She’d slumped down a little in her seat. “Can you get this authorized?”
Erwell kept her face perfectly straight.
Maybe. It would take months, probably. Her base would be crawling with government bigwigs. Her superiors would come and take over.
These are desperate times.
Erwell nodded. “I can get authorization.”
“Good,” Char said. “We can’t pass on this kind of opportunity.”
If they could enter this Kaa place, they could explore, mine, maybe even colonize in a way that wouldn’t take the vast fuel reserves the failed expeditions to Mars burned up.
“This could win us the war,” Erwell said. A faint thought of it being too good to be true passed through her mind. She shoved it aside like spoiled food. “All right. I need to interview Mr. Venn. Char, take him to his cell. I need my computer.”
Venn eyed her with a strange, nearly amused expression on his face. “I wish I could have been so excited on the eve of my first bridge. Alas, it was not so.” He stood before Char could compel him. “Please, director, will you give me a few moments to rest? I’m not so strong since my injury, and your gravity is stronger than that of Kaa.”
“Yes,” Erwell said absently. “Take him.”
Char unfolded her small frame from the seat. “You’ll want soldiers to go with, right?”
Erwell eyed the small, wiry woman. “Of course.”
Char nodded, and she and her fellow soldier escorted the alien away.