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The Antar Chronicles, Chapter 3: The Chase Begins
Reply to Alex ParrishPosted to the RoswellSlash mailing list June 24, 2004
When I returned to my sleeping pod, I found it very hard to get back to sleep. I had just gotten used to having the Granolith's presence continually haunting the recesses of my mind, and now it was gone as suddenly as it had appeared. On Earth I would have tossed and turned, but in the pod, it was more like I spun this way and that. I was just drifting-off again when I heard Kuhn raising his voice and he sounded worried. He kept calling for Kier or Seed to respond, but I heard no voice but Kuhn's. I decided I'd better get up again and see what was happening. I wasn't alone. Both Liz and Jesse had heard the concern in Kuhn's calls and joined me as I approached our hosts.
Ray and Kuhn were both staring at a screen floating in front of them which had a small symbol moving across it and another symbol blinking on it. While Kuhn continued to call for a response, Ray began to explain, still in his planet's tongue -- perhaps afraid to say it in English. The moving symbol represented us, and the blinking symbol represented where the companion ship had been. The other ship had suddenly and unexpectedly entered into faster-than-light travel -- hard to translate -- they referred to it as "Dynamic-Transit." In effect, the ship had left this dimension and was instantly light-years away. That wasn't the problem. We, too, would need to enter into dynamic transit to get to Antar. The problem was that this wasn't the time or the location where both ships should have launched themselves into the parallel dimension to reach Antar.
Now, this is kind-of hard to explain in words, but I'll try to explain it as I understand it. "Dynamic-Transit" or 'faster-than-light' travel requires that the route be carefully planned to avoid known objects in space like planets and stars and asteroids. Objects with great mass or high atomic weight draw the dimensions dangerously close together. Picking the wrong route -- too close to such an object -- could allow the ship to slip back into this dimension and crash the ship into a planet or star with absolutely no time for correction, and 'poof', it's curtains for all concerned. There are certain pre-established routes which spaceships use to go from one spot in the universe to another. Even though only Antarians with exceptional math, science or engineering skills are chosen to become pilots, only the most experienced pilots are permitted to develop routes which are not already well-established. Even then, the computing devices on-board the ship constantly double-check and can override the pilot's course. When the ship senses that the new path will take it into or dangerously near another object, it will travel only to a safe distance from the object, and then spit the ship out of dynamic-transit into normal space-travel. (Geez, that seems odd to say -- there's nothing normal about space-travel as far as I am concerned.) When that happens due to pilot-error, it's considered a 'career-ender' for the pilot and almost always leads to the loss of piloting privileges.
Our traveling companions had left this dimension at a point which was not the one agreed upon and not authorized for transit to Antar.
"This just isn't like Kier; he's strictly a by-the-book pilot" I repeated as I translated Ray's words for Jesse and Liz.
Jesse asked the question on my mind. "Where did this entry-point lead? If they didn't go to Antar, where did they go?"
Ray didn't need me to translate. He waved a hand at his console and a three-dimensional image appeared in the air right in front of us, complete with the same moving and blinking symbols we saw on Kuhn's screen, but in a 3-D presentation. He pointed to another spot which immediately began blinking in red and then he pointed over Jesse's shoulder to the image of a planet in a five-planet system, some twenty feet away from us. Instantly a laser-like beam of light connected the two points, and we recognized the name Antar as it appeared mid-sentence. Then he pointed to the original blinking symbol which, apparently represented the spot where our companion-ship entered Dynamic-Transit. One-by-one, shafts of light began to emanate from it, each in a different direction, and none of the them anywhere near Antar. The adding of shafts continued faster and faster until there was almost a light-filled universe in front of us. Ray waved a hand and the display disappeared. From his demo it was obvious that there were hundreds, maybe even thousands or millions of places the ship could get to from that spot, but none of them was Antar.
Ray added -- loosely translated, -- "We're fucked!"
Liz was reaching out caressing the empty space where the image had appeared seconds ago, and the look on her face was heartbreaking. Jesse was shaking his head, muttering in Spanish. Isabel had, by now, noticed the commotion and joined us.
"What's up?" She yawned.
Neither Liz nor Jesse looked inclined to answer, so I reluctantly said it out loud -- as though saying it had made it so. "Max's ship has... disappeared."
"Disappeared?" Isabel was instantly wide awake and I suddenly felt a level of superiority and accusation from her just like the night Max got high at Babylon. It was clear without words, that she somehow held me responsible for this just because I delivered the bad news.
"Disappeared? What, they made a wrong turn at Jupiter and now they're lost? How can they disappear?"
Her eyes were boring holes in my head with daggers, and I thought I saw claws appear, if not fangs. She WAS holding me responsible.
"Things the size of that spaceship do not just 'dis-ap-pear!' What is going on here?"
Jesse moved to put his arms around his wife, but she brushed them off and took a step (almost stamping her foot like a disgruntled toddler), "No! This is NOT happening. We did not spend all this time and effort and come this far just to have Max and Michael 'dis-ap-pear.' Over my dead body..."
Liz added, quietly, "and Maria."
"And Maria. No! This is NOT happening."
Suddenly Liz snapped out of her private universe and shifted into her 'command-mode.' "Come-on Isabel, lets go over there and sit down and let the experts get to work on this. They will do better if we are out of the way."
Much to my surprise, Isabel let Liz lead her over to a seating area. Before they were able to sit, Isabel burst into sobs, and Liz was comforting her as they sat.
I have no idea why Jesse and I stayed. We were sure-as-hell not 'experts,' and as far as I can tell there was no knowledge of either space-travel or Dynamic-Transit accessable to me in my newly-enlarged brain, but it seemed the manly thing for us to stay, so we stayed.
Kuhn had given up on getting a response from the other ship and he and Ray were conversing quietly, shaking their heads. (Is head-shaking a universal human trait? Does it mean the same thing to Antarians? I don't seem to know.)
"There has to be an explanation," Kuhn was saying, finally using his excellent English skills. "I've known Kier all my life -- he's the son of the brother of one of my fathers. We schooled together and entered the King's service together. I'm telling you, this is just not like him."
"And it's not like Seed either," Ray offered, also in English. "Seed is my bond-brother-- we're blood. He would never do something like this."
Then there was silence. The ship itself made very little sound, and I could hear Isabel quietly sobbing from where she was. Otherwise, there was just an erie silence. I couldn't hear the Granolith. When I reached out I could hear the thoughts of our little group, and Kuhn and Ray, but no one else. Just a day ago I had exhilarated in seemingly boundless power foisted on me by my elevation to the role of Avatar. I had begun to realize that I had vast amounts of knowledge at my fingertips so-to-speak. I had acted -- with the power of the Granolith -- to save our group from our enemies, and ordered up an "Antarian taxi" to fetch us to our new home. Then -- with just as little warning -- all the power had seemingly been stripped away, and I felt powerless to even access parts of my own brain for knowledge I was sure I had somewhere. I guess it was nice while it lasted. What a come-down. Bummer!
Suddenly I felt as though I had dropped the weight of a barbell on my heart. It was -- excruciating. I staggered and my knees were weak and Jesse reached out to steady me. In a moment or two, I realized that the pain was fading. In fact, I realized that the pain was not physical. Oh, it was real, all right, just not physical. I think that was the moment when I actually realized the seriousness of the situation. I was here and Max wasn't. I was here and Max was... No -- I couldn't think about it. Better think something else. Better try to figure out what has happened. Yes -- let's concentrate on the solution.
I took charge. I don't know where I got the strength or the balls -- certainly not from the now-silent Granolith. Kuhn and Ray knew infinitely more about space-travel than Jesse or I did, and it didn't seem as though I could tap-into anything helpful which the Granolith might had left behind. I have almost always deferred to Jesse as my elder. I guess, now that I am the Avatar and he is only a Prince Regent, I do outrank him, but that never entered into it. Perhaps it was just that I had an urgent need to be busy doing something. I couldn't just stand around.
"OK, Let's put together what we know. Ray, Kuhn, you guys seem to agree that something was wrong between Kier and Seed. I think I noticed that too, but I didn't realize it at the time. But, what does that have to do with their ship going missing?
"What was it that you noticed?" Ray was hesitant with the question, but seemed to be getting into the idea of putting together what we knew.
"Well, it seemed that whenever I scanned Seed's thoughts, I found him engaged in some sort of mathematical formula or computation. I thought he was trying to impress me."
"Procedure" Kuhn jumped in. "It's a technique taught at the Academy to deal with thought-readers. Just confuse the issues and the thought-reader usually doesn't pursue."
"Well, it worked. I didn't get anything from Seed and I didn't get to scan Kier. He stayed on the other ship and I'm not experienced enough to scan someone I've never met from a distance, at least not without the help of the Granolith, and it just didn't seem necessary."
"We thought it odd that Kier found it more important to tend to the ship than to greet the King. That is totally against protocol. We also thought it odd that Kier and Seed were not sleeping together -- they're a very romantic couple."
"OK, what does all this add up to? What does it mean?" I hadn't a clue.
Apparently, neither did anyone else. Silence reigned.
Finally, Jesse spoke up. "What if it wasn't really Kier and Seed?"
"No, that was really Seed, I'm sure of it, after all, he is my bond-brother, I should know."
"Bond-brother," Jesse asked?
"We share the same fathers. My fathers and Seed's fathers are the same -- they are bonded. Seed is the son of the wife of one of my fathers, and he is the son of both my fathers, as am I. We share sixty percent of our genetic material, and we were raised as part of one big extended family. I know Seed as well as I know my full-brothers. That was Seed."
"But none of us actually saw Kier" Jesse asked?
Kuhn spoke up. "I saw him from behind when I took the King onto his ship, Kier was down beneath the floor plate and I saw only his back, though he talked to me and it sounded like Kier."
"Maybe it was really a shape-shifter," I suggested.
"Impossible," Kuhn continued, "An alarm would have gone off the moment a shape-shifter entered the ship."
"But he didn't come on board," Jesse countered.
"Right, but there would have been an alarm back on Antar if a shape-shifter entered an unauthorized area, like the disembarkment area for the ships."
"Were you there" Jesse demanded?
After a pause both said, "No."
Ray continued. "We left well before them."
"So," Jesse continued, "You have no way of knowing who really is on the ship with Seed or when 'who-ever-it-is' boarded."
The crewmen thought for a moment then answered in unison, "No."
"What are you getting at," I asked Jesse?
"Well, I'm not sure. It seems like were pretty confident that Seed was one of the crew of Max's, uh, the King's ship, but we don't know whether Kier was really the other man on board. What would it mean if it wasn't really Kier?"
Ray spoke. "If someone were impersonating Kier, it might mean that Kier is somehow in trouble. It would be illegal for a shape-shifter to take Kier's form without his permission, and even then, he would have to wear a badge indicating that he is a shape-shifter impersonating an Antarian. It's the law."
Jesse's legal training was switched on. "So if that was not Kier, it was probably somebody illegally impersonating him -- I mean, if it were being done with Kier's permission, why would they try to hide it from us, which they seem to have tried to do."
Ray picked it right up, "And if Kier was in some kind of trouble, Seed would be likely to do whatever he had to do in order to protect him. They are deeply devoted to each other."
Kuhn jumped in, "And if there was a shape-shifter impersonating Kier, that would explain why he wouldn't come on-board this ship -- the alarm would have told us immediately. That could also explain why they weren't sleeping together -- I mean, if it wasn't really Kier, Seed would not want to sleep together."
"But if there was trouble, why didn't Seed warn us when he was on board? Surely the Seed I know would have tried to tell us."
Jesse pondered for a moment. "Maybe he did. Let's see if we can remember everything that happened from the moment Seed came aboard."
"We don't have to remember," Kuhn announced, "We can do better than that." He waved his hands at the console and suddenly there were life-sized images of all of us, Seed included, replaying exactly what had taken place only hours ago. It was like a video replay, only in life-sized 3-d. The only difference from real-life was that the figures, all of us, were kind-of semitransparent. You couldn't exactly see through them, but you almost could.
The women jumped up and joined us as we carefully watched the playback, looking for anything at all that might be a signal or a clue.
It was odd, watching myself in life-sized 3-d. The first thing I noticed is how short I seem compared to the rest of the Earth people. (But I'm taller than the Antarians, at least.) OK -- I'm a vain S.O.B. -- but I'm just telling you what it was like.
We had to play it back three times before anyone noticed. Isabel caught it first, even though I realized, as soon as she said it, that I had thought it odd at the time. At one point Seed complimented Isabel on her "maroon blouse."
"The blouse is obviously a bright lipstick-red. Why would he call it maroon?"
I looked at Kuhn and Ray for an answer, but they just stared back. Then I had an idea. We had been speaking English. I turned again to the crewmen. "Do you know the word 'maroon?'"
Neither answered at first, but then Kuhn responded, "I didn't exactly know the word that Seed used, but you all seemed to, so I just assumed from context that it was a form of the color red which I hadn't heard before. I just thought it meant red."
"Me too," Ray was in complete agreement.
"Sh'hakaqui'sah is the Antarian term for the color red." Finally, I thought -- some information left behind by the Granolith which might be of some use. "The English word 'maroon'," I continued, "translates to Antarian as 'Avaeaqui'sah' (Which, by the way, translates back into English as 'the color of used blood.') Does 'Avaeaqui'sah' mean anything else to you?"
They both thought silently for a few moments, then Kuhn spoke, "I don't think...
"Wait," Ray interrupted, "There is a planet in a bi-stellar system in the HA/BV/TB sector which has that name locally because the oceans are covered with an algae which makes them appear that color from space."
"You're right, and weren't there rumors that that was one of the places from which the Rebellion purchased and smuggled armaments? If it is the place I'm thinking of, it's a planet run by gangs of thugs where anything, I mean anything, can be bought for the right price." Kuhn was excited. He raced back to his console and restored the 3-d image of the universe, calling out loud to the computer to identify the closest embarcation point for that planet.
My heart sank as I saw that it was not even near the place where the companion ship left us.
"Wait," Ray commanded (obviously forgetting who I am) "Compute a course from Maroon back to the place they jumped, using as few jumps as possible."
The computer took only a second, no more, and we all stared wide-eyed. The path from where the companion ship left us and the next-closest jump-point for Maroon was one jump. Leaving from where they did, they could have gone to Maroon with only two jumps.
"That's it," Ray was excited now, "That's got to be it. I knew that Seed would get a message to me if he were in trouble. I'm sure of it!"
"Now we're getting somewhere." Jesse was excited too. "It looks like we have a really good candidate for 'where.' Now what we need to know is 'why.'
That flushed the excitement from everyone's face in a flash.
Ray spoke, almost growling under his breath. "If something sinister is going on, you can bet that Kivar is at the root of it, the bastard."
Kuhn finished the thought, "And the only way I can think of to find out is to go to Avaeaqui'sah."
Liz, who had been silently taking all this in, finally spoke. "I don't know -- wouldn't it be better to contact the authorities on Antar and let them send, like, the army or something? We don't even know that something bad has happened. Maybe they just made a mistake and they are waiting on Antar for us. Anyway, what can the 5 of us do, even if we do find the Maroon planet. We'd better let the Antarians handle this."
"Begging your pardon, Your Majesty," Kuhn made a little bow as he spoke, "The authorities on Antar are unaware of our mission; we were assigned this task by the Ruling Council itself, with instructions for utmost secrecy. The Council felt it important that no one know that the King was returning so to avoid just this sort of situation, and I'm certain it is a situation. Kier and Seed are far too skilled a crew for this to have been an error. I know that this is difficult for you to hear, as it is for me to say, but I am convinced that the King and Lord Rath and his bride have been -- how do you say it?"
"Kidnapped," Ray prompted. "I'm sorry to tell you that I sensed it from the moment the ship disappeared into Dynamic-Transit. I knew immediately that something serious had gone wrong, and all the evidence so far points to a kidnapping and it seems connected somehow with Kier."
We all just stood there as though the word, 'kidnapped' had hypnotized us. It was the 'elephant-in-the-room' that none of us wanted to acknowledge. Part of me would have felt better if the word had never been spoken, but, I suppose it needed to be said. I was glad, at least, that I didn't have to be the one to say it first -- grateful that Kuhn and Ray had been brave and forthright enough to say it, even in the presence of Isabel. Her reputation as Vilandra would have terrified me enough to keep it to myself, I thought.
Finally Isabel spoke. "But don't you think that, if we told them what was really going on, the Antarians would help us?"
"Begging your pardon, Your Highness," this time it was Ray bowing, "the Council was most direct with us that, if this mission failed in any way -- that is, if you failed to choose to return, or if something happened to you on earth or in transit, we were to keep even the existence of the mission absolutely secret. If the rebellion learned that something had happened to the King, they would certainly gain strength from it. It could even turn our situation around and they might begin to make gains against the Empire, with disastrous results."
"And," Kuhn added, "It would surely destroy the morale of those fighting for King Zan. We dare not risk the information getting out."
Jesse joined the fray. "But if Kivar's forces are behind Max's, or Zan's kidnapping, won't they be anxious to spread the word? We couldn't stop them."
"Not necessarily. Kivar's subjects are so suspicious of the disinformation which flows from his stronghold, that Kivar is not likely to reveal the plot unless and until the King is actually in his hands. People would just think it another wave of propaganda, unless he actually had King Zan to show them, and I think we have a chance to prevent that happening."
Liz spoke. "Well I, for one, don't have the first clue how to get Max and Michael and Maria back, even if we can find where they are."
"We're hardly trained for combat or for black-ops" Jesse added.
After a pause, Kuhn spoke. "I don't know what is 'black-ops,' but Ray and I have the necessary knowledge, the training and the experience, and you all have a tremendous amount of power, whether you realize it or not."
I finally had something to contribute. "Yeah! Power! 'Lotta good that's gonna do us if we have no idea how to use it, which, for the most part, excepting Isabel, we don't."
"Forgive me, my Lord Avatar," Kuhn looked at the deck as he spoke, "You also have that knowledge; we just have to help you find it."
However much I willed myself to believe that, it didn't feel very likely to me at that moment. I don't think I had felt so frustrated, hopeless and alone since the day I began to understand that mom had ditched us and wasn't coming back -- ever.
Once again, silence gripped us. Then Isabel came over to me and latched onto my hand. At first I imagined she might be about to break my arm, but she held it gently and looked me right in the face.
"We've got to do this Kyle, we've got to. I'll help you -- we'll all help you. Please say you'll try?"
What could I say?
Continue to Chapter 4
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