Winds of Aerathiea

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Chapter 36: Reunion

As the two new, and one prodigal member of the crew went off with the doctor, Captain Grumm turned to the others. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you all again. Very sad about Mister Simmons though. I can’t say I knew him very well.”

“We don’t know he’s dead sir,” said Zak. “He ran off, I would declare him ‘Missing in Action, status unknown’.”

Grumm added, “We may never know.”

“I understand sir, but I’m not ready to write him off yet. He still might pop up at some point. We certainly did not expect to run into Liam’s dad while we were rescuing Mister Davis.”

“Okay Jules, make a note that Mister Mark Simmons is officially listed as Missing in Action.”

“Yes sir, duly noted in the official logs.”

“Thank you, Jules.”

Captain Grumm turned back to the others, “What you did was incredibly brave. We know so very little about this place and yet you single handedly waltzed into the center of their religion and government and rescued someone that under other circumstances should not have deserved to be rescued. I am not a Navy Captain and there are no real ranks here. I can’t grant commendations or field promotions, but I want you to know that you have my undying gratitude. The universe works in mysterious ways, had you not broken in to rescue Mister Davis, Doctor Jonathan Waite, the person responsible for much of the technology that saves our lives every day, not to mention Liam’s father, would still be rotting in a dungeon. Instead, he’s safe and sound. Again, gentlemen, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I expect you all to be at the debriefing. Clean up and let’s celebrate!”

Captain Grumm shook each of their hands in turn. He reached Telami and dropped to one knee and grasped the little man’s hand in both of his. After a few awkward moments where it looked like the captain was going to lose it, he managed to say “Thank you! Had it not been for your insights and quick thinking, we would all be prisoners of your Empire now and these brave men would have had a lot more work to do.”

Telami responded, “No, it is I that must thank you! These same brave men risked their lives to save me from certain death. In this world, not many people stop to help a Grommon. I will never be able to repay that. You have my undying gratitude!”

“Well, let’s just be grateful together for these fine young men! I just want you to know that for as long as you are with us, you may consider this ship home.”

Grumm then approached Liam and shook his hand vigorously. To Liam, it was one of the first times anyone had completely treated him like an adult. It felt good. The captain finished and abruptly walked away to attend to other duties. The rest of the crowd moved in- all talking and congratulating at once. Suddenly, Liam felt a presence very close to him. He turned toward it and suddenly found Rebekah plastered all over him, hugging him.

“I was so worried you were gone forever….” He could swear he saw tears. She pulled back and looked him in the eyes. Suddenly she kissed him. Then embarrassed she pulled away, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know what came over me.”

Liam blushed. “It’s ok, I have that reaction on everyone.” Yeah, right. The last girl that ever kissed him that wasn’t his mother was a girl in third grade that he couldn’t even remember the name of now.

Suddenly feeling conspicuous, “Well, I’m glad you came back in one piece.” She didn’t get to say anything else because the crowd surged in to shake his and everyone else’s hand. He glanced over and saw Becky hugging her dad and then Ethan and Zak. He smiled to himself because she didn’t kiss the other three.

They all took much needed showers. Liam’s dad was put in the stateroom next to his and then Roon got his own stateroom on the other side. Liam came to the door as they were being shown their rooms by the quartermaster, Duncan Meyer. Duncan waved as he showed them their rooms. Liam wandered up to his dad’s room and followed him in.

“Well it’s not home, but it will do.”

“I’m afraid it is home now, dad.”

“What do you mean? We won’t be here forever; we’ll get back eventually.”

“There isn’t anything to go back to. It’s all gone.” Jonathan sat down hard on the edge of the bed. “There is no Union Springs anymore. I’ve been to your office in St Louis. Destroyed. We salvaged some things from the plant, but that was mostly gone too.”

“Then why are you here?”

“We had little choice, but I want to ask you the same thing. Why are you here?”

“Well, that’s a good story, son. A very good story. I’ll be telling the whole story in about an hour. God, I’m hungry, Doctor Weaver gave me an apple in the sickbay. I haven’t tasted anything so good in months. I think I could eat an entire cow.”

“You are a little thinner than I remember, but you are also a lot older. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Okay, you deserve it.”

“Are you like Kyton? Are you one of these, what do they call them? Nilar.”

“Nilori. No, I’m not. I’m just as human as anyone I guess. So you say I’ve only been gone two and half years? Can you believe I’ve actually been here for ten years?”

“Why did you never come back?”

“I couldn’t, I got trapped here. I’m assuming you found out how hard it was to even get here. I’ve been trying to get back ever since I got here.”

“You can’t believe how hard it was without you and mom.”

“Where is she? What happened, Liam?”

“I don’t know, dad. The day that the world turned upside down was the last I saw her. I was searching for both of you for so long... I never gave up hope.” Liam’s voice began to quiver and he raised his head, tears streaming down. “I don’t know where she is, dad.”

“I’m so sorry, son. I had no idea I would be trapped here. Yar Imprella was vaporized. The equipment I was using to travel was gone along with it. I’m sure you saw the hole. Do you know there used to be a city there? Thousands of people died.”

“Millions probably died in America too. Much of the country is completely wasted now. There is a killer storm covering at least half the country! I guess an asteroid kind of does that. You said equipment? You had some other way to get here and go home?”

“People are calling it an asteroid? Hardly! Let me get my shower, you are free to stay if you want. I’d rather tell the technical story to everyone at once.”

Once Jonathan Waite finished with his shower and took time to shave, he was looking a lot more like the dad he had known all his life. Except his hair. They would have to do something about his hair. Liam started laughing. Jonathan started looking around.

“What? What did I do?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just what you would tell me when you came back from one of your trips. Do you remember?”

Jonathan raised his hand to his hair. “Get a haircut.” He smiled. “I remember. I guess I am kind of shaggy.”

“Well, they do have a barber on board. She can make short work of that hair.”

“I kind of like it this way.”

“Daaad! What would mom say?”

“I’ll tell you a secret. This is the way she met me. I swear.”

“I can’t wait to hear that story.”

“Another time. Let’s get to that debriefing. Let me get Roon.”

They walked down to his cabin. It was on the other side of a bulkhead, so just a little further than one door down. They knocked and Roon opened the door slowly. He looked a lot better and smelled a lot better too. Jonathan spoke to him in guttural sounds and gestures. Roon indicated he was ready to go, so the three of them headed for the officers’ mess- the place where Liam had first met the Captain officially a few short weeks ago. Everything was backwards in an airship that was designed to look down at the earth from overhead. The instinct was to go up to get to the choice decks and observation lounges. Instead, in this ship, it was down. The three of them descended quite a few stairs to get to the officer’s areas that included the officers’ lounge, bridge and, of course, the Captain’s office right outside the bridge.

Roon grunted to Jonathan and he grunted back. “What is he saying?”

“He doesn’t believe how big this airship is. He said if he hadn’t been looking out the windows from his room, he would have never believed we even on an airship.”

“You got that all from a grunt?”

“He also doesn’t believe that I helped design it.”

“They keep telling me that.”

“He built me.” Suddenly, the Na’Kie had shoved Jonathan out of the way and was protectively standing between him and the hologram of Jules.

Jonathan grunted to Roon and suddenly Roon fierce temperament softened and he got a sheepish look on his face. He extended a hand to Jonathan and helped him back up and made a little bow to Jules.

Jonathan said, “Jules, he says he is pleased to make your acquaintance and he is sorry for almost killing you.”

“That will be the day,” said the hologram sarcastically.

“It would almost be funny to see him try wouldn’t it?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“I’ve missed you, Jules, how have you been anyway?”

“I’ve increased my intuitive matrix capacity by two hundred and fifty-three percent,” Jules said with an air of pride only a computer could muster.

They arrived at the officers’ lounge. Aaron and Megan were serving. Liam smiled at them when he walked in. They hadn’t seen him earlier as they had been busy preparing dinner in the returnees’ honor. They rushed over and congratulated Liam and eagerly shook Jonathan’s hand and learned very quickly that you are supposed to bow like the Japanese do to honor a Na’Kie dignitary. The others had spit-polished as well. They looked as much like a crew as they ever would as they took their places around the conference table.

Dinner was served. It wasn’t particularly fancy, but the people that night would swear it was the best meal ever served on board the ship. Telami and Leora wasted no time getting to know each other and swapping stories from their captivity and home towns. It turned out that Telami had business dealings with some of Leora’s relatives and that made him feel at least a little responsible for her safety.

Of course Telami, Leora, and Roon were the honored guests, being that this was the first inter-species concourse either they or the humans had ever attended. Telami had helped in the kitchen, selecting dishes that he knew the Grommon and Na’Kie would find palatable. The result was splendid. They ate, they talked, they caught up with one another, they drink and they ate again. In the end, Megan excused herself for a minute and came in with the biggest surprise of the night.

She was backing into the room, carrying a tray that appeared to be on fire. On the count of three, the room erupted. “Happy Birthday to you…” Liam turned a dozen shades of red. With all the commotion, he had completely forgotten about his birthday. He had pretty much forgotten all sense of dates since their lives had been turned so completely upside down, but yes it was November 13- at least it was back home. He had no idea how anyone told time or remembered dates in a world where the sun was always shining, where there was no day or night and no sense of seasons.

Something wet was pressed against his cheek. There was Rebekah again. He was going to have to talk to her about this new found fondness she had for kissing him, especially in public. Somewhere he started to tune into the sounds around him “Speech, Speech” people were chanting and clinking their water glasses with their forks or their spoons.

“Ok, ok,” he said.

“Stand up,” someone yelled from the other side of the table.

Tricia said, “Don’t embarrass the poor boy,” but Liam stood up anyway.

“It’s ok, Doc.” Liam said and took a deep breath to clear his head. “Thank you, everyone. I know the circumstances are stressful and truthfully, I had completely forgotten it was my birthday, but I guess you can’t hide anything from a computer. I suppose I have you to thank, Jules?” The butler was sitting in the space between Telami and Roon, trying to get the perfect conjugation of Na’Kie transitive verbs. He looked up.

“Don’t blame me, Liam. It was totally the women this time. Rebekah and Megan arranged the whole thing and Aaron baked the cake. All I have done is keep track of the date.”

“Well anyway, thank you. Regardless of how we got here, I got the best birthday present ever- I got my dad back. The only thing better would have been a matching set, but since I have no reason not to believe my mom is still out there, I won’t rest until I find her again. I am very grateful for the confidence and trust you have placed in me in the last couple of weeks.” Everyone clapped as he sat back down.

Captain Grumm stood up. “Yes, everyone showed valiant bravery in the face of danger. We are not finished yet. I think we still may have many things to accomplish based on the findings tonight.”

Daniel interrupted. “Sir, with all due respect, why is he here?” He referred to Mister Davis of course.

“Sit down, please. I know all of you are wondering why Mister Davis hasn’t been slapped in chains or been thrown out a convenient airlock. I have mulled that over myself and it purely comes down to his usefulness. I think I will let him tell his story… his real story and then we will decide what we will do with Nora-Ky Davici Nova-tonne. Kyton, you have the floor.”

Kyton stood up. He fidgeted, obviously uncomfortable in his new role. “First off, I can’t tell you how deeply sorry I am. It was never my intention to harm or allow any harm to come to any of you.”

“Yeah, then why did you try to sell us out to your insane brother?”

“I had no idea. I swear to you that my brother Daran Davici Ni-Torre was fifteen when I left. I was twenty. I have no idea how or why he is now obviously older than me. Please let me tell you what I do know, though.”

Kyton launched into his story. “House Davici was always land rich and wealth poor. We are… were… a large and proud house with thousands of years of history. We could trace our ancestors all the way back to the first elders, the first known people to inhabit our continent.”

Both the Grommon and the Na’Kie chuckled and grunted at that. Kyton looked up, grimaced, but continued.

“As I said, we were rich in land and a prize that the Empire and its accursed church always coveted.”

Doctor Weaver interrupted. “I’m sorry to interrupt Kyton. This church has been brought up many times. What exactly is it?”

“Until times before the elders, primitive man had worshiped the central sun as a deity, much the way the Mayans, Toltecs, and Aztecs worshipped the sun, the Egyptians worshiped Ra or the Greeks worshiped Apollo. In these lands, the god’s name was Sirath and she was the all-knowing, all-nurturing mother goddess. Her consort was Moloth.”

“You mean that crazy-big moon?”

“The very same. Of course, we know it is a moon, I have no idea how it got here on the inside, but it’s definitely a moon. I am pretty sure the Sisters are all moons as well.” Jonathan nodded in knowing agreement.

“Ancient texts say that about two thousand years ago, these new men first appeared in Aerathiea. They were like Nilori but spoke no language we had ever heard. They were also very vague about where they came from. They had priests with them that preached a different ancient scripture. They used subterfuge and brutality to push their influence from province to province. Any that did not convert to this new religion of peace and love was executed or banished.”

Kyton stopped to take a breath and get his bearings. He definitely had their attention. He continued, “These men called themselves conquerors. They call themselves Casteen now. They took village after village, killing the men, raping the women. We fought them back of course. We organized militias, signed treaties with other clans and pushed back. We even got the Dranoki to help in a limited fashion. They didn’t like us, but what is that old saying of yours?”

“An enemy of thy enemy?” someone said.

“Yes, that one. At first the Dranoki and other races were happy to see us get slaughtered. When this new clan didn’t stop at the ancient borders and trampled ancestral burial grounds and started seeding their new religion amongst clans and villages, the Dranoki saw the light and began assisting us in earnest.”

“Sounds just like the Spanish Conquistadors and how they treated the natives in Central America,” said Liam, not wanting to be left out.

“Because, it is them.”

Sydney spoke up, “We fell through some kind of vortex. There is no way a regular boat, especially like they had in the sixteenth century, could have survived a journey like that.”

“They didn’t enter our world that way.”

“What other ways are there?”

“Many. The crust of the earth is like a sponge and riddled with caverns that extend for hundreds of miles. That’s how I got to the outside world.”

Kyton looked around and continued. “We managed to hold them back and keep the scum contained in the few provinces they had won. They blended these territories under a single banner of Castalan. Some would even say that life had gone back to normal. However, that all changed about five hundred years ago.”

“What happened then?”

“We have a legend in the villages of our clan of travelers that visited then in a boat that flew through the sky. Most people discarded it as fantasy, but the legend said that these visitors from the sky had brought us the knowledge to build airships. They showed us how to take advantage of the skin of a certain kind of wurm that lives in the Gorta province and Rinewood to make our own airships. They also taught the Castalan Empire the same thing.” Kyton’s gaze bore into Captain Grumm.

The captain interrupted, “Kyton, I see where you are going with this. You think my ancestor had something to do with the shift in the balance of power and you came all this distance to get me to build an airship so you could take it back to your people?”

“Precisely.”

“There is only one flaw in your logic, Kyton. My great grandfather, Nicholas, was the one that made that infamous trip. I discovered his journals in a trunk in the attic after my mother passed away, I did everything I could to research the story. I only pieced together bits and pieces, but I eventually came to believe his story, as fantastic as it was.”

“It was all true, Artie. It was a legend for us as well. He was a folk hero for us, much the way Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, or John Henry was to you. I didn’t believe it at first either, but after interviewing elders in one village after another and hearing the consistent threads in their stories, I came to believe and I had to act for the good of our people. I knew Nicholas would be long gone, but I came seeking the heir of Nicholas Grumm.”

Artie said, “But there is still something that just doesn’t add up. How long is your year again?”

“Remarkable, very similar to yours. We base our time on the transit of the moon Moloth. Every month starts the exact instant that Sirath triumphs over Moloth.”

“Triumphs over?”

“An old saying, steeped in religious mumbo jumbo. The ancients used to believe that Sirath and Moloth were locked in a perpetual war. For eons, we measured time only by the months. We really don’t have seasons or day and night. We have one day of growing dusk, night when the rest of the world lights up and then growing dawn, but it’s all based on the eclipse. We don’t have to worry about our day and night getting out of sync with our moon.”

Liam interrupted, “I bet that was hard to get used to.”

“You don’t know the half of it, Liam.” Kyton continued, “A new month starts at the last moment of the eclipse. I think Moloth is locked in some way with the larger moon on the outside. I believe they have exactly the same orbit. There is no other explanation for Moloth’s slow orbit. Your dad would probably know.”

Jonathan, again, nodded in agreement. “It does, but the mystery is deeper than that even.”

Kyton continued, “The church reformed our calendar at about the same time. There are thirteen months of 24 days in a year. Our day has twelve hours.

Everyone was doing the math on their fingers or in their heads and looking really confused. Sydney spoke first. “So you have 312 days in a year, but yours is only about three percent shorter than ours?”

“Yes, that would be about right.”

Grumm started in again, “So, explain to me then why your legends about my great grandfather are five hundred years old when I know Nicholas went on his mission in 1897 which was only 138 years ago? I have a picture right here to prove it.” He waved the book that only some of them had seen.

Jules spoke up for the first time. “I think Jonathan might be able to shed some light on that.”

Jonathan grimaced and cleared his throat. “May I see the picture, Artemis?” Captain Grumm lifted the picture gingerly from its place in the book and slid it across to Jonathan’s waiting hand. Jonathan studied the picture for a moment and slid it back, wiping an errant tear with the other hand. “Excuse me…” He managed a deep sigh and continued. “I guess there is no point in hiding it now. Whether we get back or not, it doesn’t sound like the world we left behind will care, either way.” Liam had no idea what his dad was leading into. “Artemis, please pass the picture around so everyone can see it. Be gentle with it everyone. I know Artemis cherishes it as I would.” Everyone passed the picture around and stared at the faces in the yellowed photograph. They looked up at Jonathan and back at the picture

“Yes, that’s me. I was standing next to one of my best friends in the whole world.” Jonathan turned to look at Captain Grumm. That picture was the last time I saw him alive.”

Doctor Weaver had been silent up until then. She asked, “How is that possible?”

Jonathan responded, “How is this world even possible?”

He looked at Liam, “Liam, do you know who took the picture?” Liam shook his head. “Your mother. I had just showed her how to work the camera.” Liam gulped.

“H… How?” Liam stammered? I’m only 16 years old. That picture was taken in 1897!”

“Son, I didn’t get it either at first. I’ve been studying it ever since. For Nick and I, it was always about the ladies. He had his waiting back home… but I had found my true love here… in Aerathiea.”

“Mom?” Now Liam was looking even more perplexed. “You mean mom?”

“Yes, son, your mother is from here. I met her during that expedition. She wasn’t ready to take on the life they had prepared for her… Marriages in Aerathiea, back then, were arranged and she was betrothed to a horrible man. I couldn’t… wouldn’t leave her behind. I loved her the moment I laid eyes on her.”

Liam swallowed hard. that meant… that explains… He was having trouble even completing a sentence in his mind.

“About the time thing. Back then we didn’t even have a word for the physics. I know so little still, but a lot more than I knew then. It has to do with the anomaly.”

Doctor Peck said, “The what-a-ly?”

“It appears that for every year that takes place on the outside, four years take place on the inside, but whether we are outside or inside, we never notice our own time slower or faster, so it has to be a relativity issue. You know, Einstein and relativity.”

Doctor Peck was looking thoroughly engrossed. “Relativity?”

Jonathan continued, “Look around you. Nothing about the earth’s formation is the way the scientists think it is. I imagine it’s the same with every planet, but I don’t know how to test it. But at least in this world, I’m pretty sure that life started on the inside, not the outside and migrated to the outside. There is some sort of extremely dense bubble of material or energy deeply embedded in the center of the crust. The closer you get to it from either direction, the more affected you are. The crust is only about five hundred miles thick and down around two hundred to three hundred – it’s kind of variable - the crust gets hotter and hotter until its superheated like a plasma under pressure.”

“Yes, most people call that magma.”

“That is the traditional thought, yes, however, the magma gets hotter and denser in both directions, until it reaches a bizarre barrier, almost like an event horizon. I don’t know exactly how it works, but it’s dense enough that it creates the gravity in both directions. Its attraction also seems to be exponential rather than geometric. The system as a whole just gives scientists the illusion that they know how the earth and the planets were constructed. I don’t know much more than that.”

“But what about time?”

“It seems to affect time the same way. The closer you get to the anomaly; the more time is distorted. Your mother and I walked through a series of tunnels- probably the same ones the Mayans might have used, in part, but we exited somewhere in Nevada. I could still show you the place, providing it’s still intact. There are caverns literally covering the world that interconnect on both sides. From our point of view, there never was any change in time. We traveled about seven hundred miles through tunnels.”

“How does anyone survive that? What did you eat? What did you drink?”

“You would be amazed how elaborate these tunnels can be, they are maintained by dedicated people on both sides that still adhere to the ancient ways. The Fey helped considerably too.”

Now it was Kyton’s turn to look befuddled. He and the two Grommon looked at Jonathan amazement. “You had dealings with the Fey?”

“Yes, I know that sounds rather unusual…”

“Unusual, my ass… It’s unheard of.” Kyton finished, “I agree about the tunnels. I’ve been there... done that. I know all about eating bugs in the darkness to survive, but Fey”

“Excuse me, who exactly are the Fey?” This time Rebekah couldn’t contain herself; she had to know. Her dad shot her a dirty look for interrupting.

Jonathan replied, “The closest thing we have in our myths are the Fairies or elves. They really like to keep to themselves.”

“You can say that again.”

“Can you hardly blame them after what the Empire did to them?”

“No, you are right of course… continue,” said Kyton.

Rebekah looked back and forth between the men. “You mean to tell me that fairies… are real?”

They both looked at her. Jonathan said “Well, as real as you are.”

Kyton said, “But very dangerous.”

“Danger is in the eye of the beholder. They helped us. That’s about all I really know. Liam’s mom knows a little more, but she doesn’t like to talk about it.”

“Well while we were coming through the tunnels, there was a rock slide. I saw the signs and the warnings, but we had to risk a different path.”

Kyton nodded. “...and you got too close to the anomaly?”

“I can only assume we did. We never knew the difference. Nothing ever seemed any different to us. All I know is that we entered the tunnels in what would be have been 1899- It was about six years after Nick left, local time– and it was 2010 when we emerged in Nevada. The only reason I am here now is because, before I left, I had inherited money that I invested in some stocks and bonds, in the Railroads and Oil. My grandfather thought it was a ‘sure bet’. Fortunately, after 111 years of compounded interest, stock mergers and splits, I arrived a very wealthy man. I had the resources to throw myself headlong into researching, and trying to explain, everything we had experienced.”

Everyone sat dumbfounded from the revelations. Grumm was the first to break the spell. “So, coming back full circle, Kyton realistically had no idea he was selling out our ship to his brother?”

Kyton interrupted. “I swear; I was only coming to make a pact with my father. I thought my father would be the best resource to turn to, considering everything that had happened.”

Grumm turned back to Jonathan. “Your opinion?”

“Based on what I know, I have no reason not to believe his story. I’m pretty sure, I’m the only person on either side that understood the time dilation problem. There is no way he would have known his brother would have come instead of his father and certainly no way to know that his brother had so completely and willingly changed sides.”

Jules interrupted, “If I may add some additional facts to this inquiry? When we were struggling against the vortex, there was no way I could control it with sail and propeller. We were getting knocked around well beyond tolerance levels. I know it seems like Mister Davis just gave up and took the action to deliver us straight to his brother when he cut the power, but I don’t think he had any other choice. I was completely preoccupied measuring the storm and predicting tacks and changing propeller pitch. I was putting every resource I had into trying to keep the ship on this side of what appeared to be certain death. Only Kyton understood that we even had a second choice. I believe that he actually saved the ship and everyone on it by his actions. What happened after that was unfortunate, but under the circumstances outlined by Doctor Waite, hardly unexpected.”

“Okay then, as this is a ship’s inquiry as much as it is a discovery process of what happens next, I will entertain any and all concerns and ideas.”

Sydney spoke up. “If it’s all the same sir, I vote that if there are any charges against Kyton, they be dropped... sir.” A murmuring went up amongst all those that were present. Kyton surveyed the crowd for anyone that might stand in judgment against him. He stood.

“Captain Grumm,” Kyton began in a very respectable tone, “I don’t deserve it… for a decade I have only thought about one thing, manipulating you… in a kind way… to help my people. I don’t deserve any quarter from you. If it’s all the same, I plead that you spare my life- just put me down at the first convenient spot and let me take my chances. This is my world and my brother has obviously betrayed his own people and they need my help more than ever.”

Grumm began “Sit down, Mister Davis, or Davici or whatever your name is. No one is being put off this ship. It seems almost everyone has been keeping secrets around here. From what I can see and from what our illustrious ship’s computer tells us, no matter what your motivations were when you came into my employment, when the shit hit the fan you acted to save everyone. Granted, here we are. We have no way, that I know of, to get home, but we are safe for the moment and no one was seriously hurt. That’s saying something. You asked me a few days ago what we should do once we have the key and somehow I think you were trying to steer me here. If you want to stay when this is all over with, I hate to lose you, but as you said, this is your home. I have an obligation to get this ship back to the surface with the majority of its crew so that they can help save their world. You, Mister Davis, knew how to get here and it didn’t involve dropping through a cosmic vacuum cleaner, so do you know the way home.”

“It’s more of a hunch sir. Ancient tales talk of many passages to the underworld. Following the riddles of one of the songs was how I managed my way to find you. There are other songs, though. Tales of passage through the lands of ice and mountains of snow. Perilous journeys through the lands of giants. But yes, if my passage still existed, I have to think the others do to. I was going to lead you to the Arctic Circle.”

“That’s what I thought. That would have to be the same passage that Jonathan and Nicholas came through?”

Jonathan jumped in, “Remember, I was the engineer on that flight, not the navigator. I was young and impetuous and out to conquer the world. It was also many, many years ago. I can get us close and I’m sure that Jules can do the rest.”

“Ok it’s settled then; I guess everyone better bundle up. It’s going to get a little chilly.” Captain Grumm turned and looked at Jonathan. “I don’t suppose you have the key do you?”

“The key?”

“Yes, the key to this ship?”

Jonathan looked perplexed, “Artie, I’m afraid I have no idea… Oh… The key! I completely forgot about that. No, I’m afraid not. You have to remember that from my point of view that was almost ten years ago.”

“Pity. Getting those engines online would have been more than a little helpful.”

“Wait!” Jonathan said it loud enough that everyone stopped and turned to him again. “You don’t need the actual key. You only need the information that was on it.”

“Well, yes, I suppose. I’m not the computer geek here. I have to defer to the rest of you.” He looked at Rebekah and smiled.

“Yes, you only need the information, the cryptographic key that was to be embedded into memory on the key. I remember it now. Artie, I’m sure I have that information on my memory card.”

“Your memory card?”

“Yeah, surely you remember the old flash memory cards from a couple of decades ago?”

“Kinda?”

“I was old school. I didn’t trust saving data exclusively in the cloud, so I made backups of almost everything. I still have some equipment that use them and I found it convenient to store things on them when I was on this side and completely and utterly off the grid, so to speak.”

“Yeah, I guess you aren’t going to get any internet here.”

“You don’t even get cell service! I had to carry my internet and all my files with me. It’s not much, but I do have all the files for every project I have ever worked on squirreled away on there. I haven’t looked at it in years, but providing it’s intact, all my files including your keys will be there.”

“What do you mean, if it’s intact?”

“When I was captured at my research station, there was a struggle. It was enough that Roon was injured. I don’t know what became of the station. It might still be intact; it might be exposed to the elements or they might have torched it. I have no idea.”

“Well, the faster we get there, the quicker we get some answers, right?”

“There is another thing we need to discuss.”

Everyone could see Grumm was getting weary. It must have been the head injury. “What is that, old friend?”

“Well, there is still a gaping hole in the world.”

“What about it? From what I see, there have been at least six other asteroids that have made it here sometime in the past...”

Jonathan cut him off. He said, “If it was even an asteroid. Also, remember that there has been just as many epochs on our planet and die-offs of 90% of all living things as well. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those odds.”

“What do you propose to do about it?”

“That’s what I have been studying for the last six years or so. The great city of Yar Imprella is gone with a gaping hole to show for it. I can’t imagine what it’s like on the St. Louis side.”

Kyton responded, “We didn’t get a chance to do a formal survey, but I’m afraid that most of St. Louis no longer exists.”

Jules interjected. “I measured 850 millibars at one point and winds over 200 miles per hour.” The computer said matter-of-factly.

Jonathan looked around at everyone sitting there. He said, “Well, somehow, we are going to have to do something about that.”

Ethan asked, “Why us?”

“Look around you. Do you see anyone else ponying up to fix it?”

“But surely…”

Kyton replied, “I know there is no one on this side, capable of fixing it.”

Jonathan replied, “Be that as it may, somebody is going to have to fix that hole or it will get a lot worse- before it ever gets better.”

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