Episode 6: Explorer of Worlds

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Seth set down the comm and glanced at his patient.

Venn opened one eye.

“Ah,” Seth sighed. “You are awake.” He poured a glass of water and carried it over to Venn’s bedside.

Venn gulped down the water. “Your water is good here,” he said, his mouth dripping.

“So there is water in your world?”

“I haven’t yet found a world where it was not,” Venn said, “but in Kaa it tastes like…” he pressed his lips together and squinted into the distance. “There is no word for this. It is a—“ he waved one long hand in the air “—a metallic element that has a strange taste.”

Seth pulled a chair over and straddled it, facing Venn with his arms crossed over the chair back. “You do this a lot, then?”

With a perfectly straight face, Venn nodded. “It’s what I have done since I was young.”

“Why?”

Venn’s face worked for a moment. Seth could imagine whatever his translation implant did going on behind his eyes.

“It is what my people do,” Venn said slowly. “We explore other worlds.”

“And do what?”

Venn lifted a hand. “We… study them and if they’re inhabited by sentient species, and if they have resources that are useful, we try to create trade alliances.”

Seth narrowed his eyes. “You colonize them?”

“We don’t set up colonies. We set up exploration bases which become trade bases in time.”

“Yeah, same diff,” Seth muttered. “I’m sure Erwell will be all over that. New resources from other worlds? For sure.” Seth slapped his hands on the top of the chair. “Get your story straight because she’s going to grill you.”

“Grill… me?” Venn sat up straighter. A faint flush came into his pale face, the first sign of emotion.

Seth turned his face, hiding a grin. “Question you. She’s going to question you.” He turned back. “If there is a portal, could you take people back through it?”

Venn’s eyes narrowed. He regarded Seth for a few moments. “Yes.”

“Prepare to be asked to test that, then.”

“It is what my people do,” Venn said slowly. “We explore other worlds.”

“I don’t need to test it,” Venn said quietly. “It will work.”

“Right,” Seth said slowly. At any rate, Venn didn’t seem to by lying on purpose. He might have to do some tests.

He picked up the comm. “Director? The patient is awake.”

“Coming,” Erwell replied within a second.

Seth punched in Char’s code. “Cap… Char. Director Erwell is coming to interrogate Venn. Would you like to sit in?”

Her voice came over the comm, breathless and distorted by wind. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Seth paused, holding the comm. He was beginning to get used to hearing her voice again, even starting to look forward to having her pop into the infirmary. Yesterday she’d slid into the bench across from him while he was eating dinner in the cafeteria. Sure, it was to ask for an update on Linc, but she’d voluntarily talked to him. Five years ago, she wouldn’t even come to the door when he tried to apologize to her one more time.

God, I thought I was done being bitter.

Erwell breezed in the door, for once without smiling at him and trying to chat him up. She whipped back the curtain around Venn, only pausing once to glance at the handcuff locking one of Venn’s wrists to the metal bed frame.

She tugged a chair over. “All right, Mr. Venn. It turns out there is some weight to your story.”

Seth eased himself between Erwell and the wall and helped Venn sit up.

Erwell didn’t miss a beat. “I found evidence to suggest that the Na’odani have been here before.”

“That is possible,” Venn replied, settling back against the pillows. “When?”

“Thirty years ago. It was a female Na’odani. She arrived in Arizona, that’s quite far south of here.”

“This means nothing to me.” Venn’s face remained placid. “But time passes quite differently in Nao than it does here, and so it is possible.”

The infirmary door swung open. Char clumped in, tracking snow. She dragged a chair toward them.

“What do you mean?” Seth interjected before Erwell had a chance to sweep past that statement.

“Well,” Venn’s grey brow furrowed. “By watching your clock, I’ve determined that one minute is equal to 2.654 Na’odani ea, which multiplied by the Eskalon constant suggests that your time moves at approximately four times the speed of Na’odani time, however since an ea on Kaa is equal to three Na’odani eas, your time in fact moves at two-thirds the speed of Kaa time... approximately.”

“Oh geez,” Char muttered. She sat down and pulled off her toque.

“Fascinating!” Erwell whispered, leaning forward.

“But that was timing your clock instrument to my pulse,” Venn said, “and doing the math in my mind, so it is hardly exact.”

“Right.” Erwell shook her head as if dislodging the thought. “What I’m saying is that I’m open to believing you.”

“Yes,” Venn said, deadpan. He stared unblinking at Erwell.

Erwell leaned in. “Can you prove to me that there is a portal to another universe near this base?”

“I can hear it from here,” Venn said.

“You can hear it from here,” Erwell repeated.

“Yes.” Venn tilted his head slightly. “It has three distinct tones.” He pursed his lips as if whistling, and after a moment, Seth heard a high, dog-whistle note.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Erwell said. “Right. So if they produce sounds, we’d be able to pick that up on a sound metre?”

“That’s an instrument that measures sound waves,” Seth added.

Venn nodded. “I’m sure you could.”

“Could we pass through it?” Erwell’s tone took on urgency.

“No,” Venn said. “Not without Kemzog stones.”

“Are those what you have embedded in your chest?” Seth asked.

Venn’s silver eyes darkened slightly. “That’s correct, but without the correct equipment or simple experience, it’s unlikely that you could calculate the exact point of the portal—“

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Erwell jerked her chair back and stood. “But you could take someone through?”

Venn’s eyes lightened to silver. “I could.”

Erwell turned to Seth. “Doctor, when can I take my prisoner?”

“When I’m satisfied that his wound won’t re-open, ma’am.” Seth sighed. “I’d like a couple more days.”

“In that case, I’d like you to take one of these Kemzog stones from Mr. Venn and allow one of my guys to analyze it.”

“No.” Venn sat up straight. His eyes darkened to near black.

“You need the whole set for them to work?” Erwell spun around.

“N-no, but I have one for each exploration mission. They’re valuable.” He pressed his lips together and swallowed. “They’re… sacred.”

Erwell set her jaw. “Seth, take one out. Send it to Lab E. In two days Mr. Venn will have the chance to prove his story.” She turned and marched out of the room.

Seth glanced at Char just as she shook her head.

“You know her better than I do,” Char said. “Has Erwell lost her mind?”

Seth blew out his breath and grimaced. “Want to help me with another surgery?”

“Please,” Venn held out his un-cuffed hand. “Don’t cut it out of me.”

Seth dropped into the seat Erwell had vacated. “Why?”

“Because,” Venn glanced at Char and then back at him, “they are valuable and guarded fiercely by the high council. My life isn’t worth that stone.”

“Really?” Char said. “That’s fine. We kill you and take the stones.”

Seth sighed. “I have to take it, Venn. Maybe we can negotiate to get it back to you after we’re done studying it.”

Venn crossed his unbound arm over his chest. “If I return to Kaa without it, the Na’odani will come back for it.”

Seth and Char glanced at each other.

“Take it,” Char said.

Seth turned to Venn. “I’m sorry, but I have orders. I suspect you understand that.”

Venn’s jaw tightened, and so did his crossed arm.

Seth turned around and grimaced.

Venn didn’t say another word, but as Seth brought over his instruments to remove the stone, he kept his thin arm crossed tightly over his chest.

Seth set down the tray of tools on the bedside table.

“Give me a hand?” he said to Char, who stood arms crossed at the foot of the bed.

“Sure thing.” Char slid to Venn’s side and grabbed his wrist.

Venn strained to keep the arm in place, but Char made some sort of twisting move and got his arm cranked behind his back.

Seth smiled. God, she was strong for such a small woman.

Seth smiled. God, she was strong for such a small woman.

“Hmm,” she said. “The hospital gown opens from the back.”

“Everything opens from the front when you have scissors,” Seth muttered. He picked up the shears from the tray.

“If I am compliant, would you allow me to choose which one you remove?” Venn’s voice was strained.

“What’s the difference?” Char asked, adjusting Venn’s arm.

Venn winced. “The order that I received them. The large one in the center is the original. Please don’t take that one.”

“Alright.” Seth peeled back the gown, exposing Venn’s translucent skin and the six raised ovals across his chest.

Venn relaxed and allowed him to select the right-most stone. Seth slit the skin and removed the flat, oval stone. He set it on the tray and stitched the wound. The alien patient didn’t resist.

When Venn was stitched and dressed in a t-shirt and sweatpants instead of a hospital gown, Seth pulled the curtain around him again and carried the stone over to his office. Char followed.

“Is this guy bullshitting us?” Char squinted at the stone.

“Aside from the ‘I came from a different dimension?’” Seth asked he dunked the stone under the open faucet. He held it up to his eye. “Which part is throwing you?”

“Does he seem crazy, based on your expert medical opinion?” Char raised both eyebrows in an expression he recognized well.

God, she made that sound sarcastic even when she didn’t mean to.

“No, I see no indication that he’s crazy,” Seth said with a sigh. “But I haven’t tested him. I will.”

He set the stone on a stainless-steel tray. “Erwell said she found a paper about a female Na’odani appearing in Arizona.”

Char’s face froze into a grimace for a moment as she contemplated this. After a moment, she turned and leaned against the counter. “What about that legend you were talking about. Are you going to look into that?”

He’d meant to call his Uncle Will to ask about that, but he hadn’t gotten around to it. He’d hoped to take his snowmobile over and spend the day there. “Yeah, I planned to go there on Sunday.”

“I’ll come with you. We can take one of my jeeps.”

“It would be a lot faster to go by snowmobile,” Seth said slowly. “If you’ll condescend to ride with me, you can still come. I have a good-sized sled.”

She blinked and lifted her chin. “Okay, sure. I’ll come.”

“Alright,” Seth said.

“Alright. Linc can watch our friend.” Char crossed her arms and jutted out her delicate chin.

God, why are you punishing me?

“I’ll be ready to go at five,” Seth sighed.

“Fine,” Char said.

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