Ch. V, p.4

“Keep an eye out,” she said, “Let me know if you see anything strange.”

“Can do…”

He seems like himself… but that's reason to be careful, too. Walking at an angle up the mountain, she appreciated the added traction of healthy grass and twigs, compared to the loose, dry dirt that had populated these sky-scraping mounds of dirt earlier. Again she looked at him and smiled. He smiled back, his youthful complexion ruddy with activity.

Boy I’d love to know how he escaped from Genesys… Yet somehow Sherrad… She tried not to think about it.

Along the way, they exchanged few words. But soon, they were halfway up the mountain and still hadn’t crossed over. She was beginning to get worried and stopped, looking for any sign of a disturbance that might help them get back home.

After a brief silence, she heard him ask, “So… what is all of this?”

She looked over at him from behind weary eyes. “I hate to say this, but it doesn’t look like we’re getting out of here anytime soon, so I guess I might as well explain…” She sighed heavily and threw her head back, taking in the surrounding large leafed trees. “We crossed through an aperture. Or, what I call an aperture, anyways. Everybody has a different word for it.”

“An aperture? A… gap? An opening… to what?”

“I can’t say for sure. But they’re everywhere, and they lead to places like this. Pockets of other worlds, mostly similar to our own except for…” she spread her hands wide away from herself, gesturing at the surrounding foliage and shaking her head in apparent disbelief. “But I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is bigger… much bigger. Usually, there’s just a small tug when you pass through the barrier, and then you see a couple of differences… maybe the soil is a different color, or gravity feels lighter. Maybe there’s a small hill or a tree where there wasn’t before… but I’ve never seen it happen on a scale like this.”

“Hmm…” he nodded. “So, what do we do now?”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re taking this awfully well. You don’t find any of this, you know… Odd?”

“I think I’ve seen too much weirdness today. I seem to be getting used to it.” He smiled reassuringly, but he knew it was deeper than that. If he had any doubt about Calix telling the truth earlier, it had been abolished once he passed through that barrier.

“So, what’s your plan?” he asked.

“Honestly? We tried my plan—pick a direction and go. Now I don’t have one.”

“Alright. Well, I guess we had better keep climbing then. At least it’ll give us an idea of where we are.”

She agreed and they went on. The trees were less dense higher up, but they still couldn’t see anything useful, and continued towards the peak.

“So…” he asked, growing winded from the climb. “Do you ever see other… creatures… animals and the like… once you pass through an aperture?”

“Yes,” she said, “and they can cross through as well…”

“What sorts of things?”

“No intelligent life. Usually, they’re animals, similar to our own… and if I didn’t know better, I would say they had been here all along, same as all the rest… Or, well, not here, exactly, but you know what I mean…”

“Are they dangerous?”

“Not all, but I’ve seen some pretty messed up ‘things’ slip through those portals, just not…” She paused, drawing breath in through her teeth, “Not like whatever attacked my squad… Cut straight through one of my men’s armor… I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Again, the memory of a scream and glass shattering quaked through Frank’s mind, and he reached over to touch his left arm, still rubbery from the inserted filling where he had been slashed.

“Do you think a gap might have opened in Genesys? Letting those things through?”

“Maybe…” she said noncommittally. “But there's something else... I went through the logs while I was in the security room and I noticed that there’s been a lot of activity in the bio labs over the past few years... so it’s entirely possible that they were created inside of Genesys.”

“What? Who could have done that? Only Eve would have had access and… she's never displayed that kind of artistry.”

‘That kind of artistry’? What the hell is he talking about?

“What are you—”

“I’m so sorry!” he interjected, throwing up his hands, “I don’t know why I said that. It was very, very stupid, please…” he trailed off.

She stared at him, his eyes wide, almost fearful, as if some unspeakable horror had just taken place. Be careful, she thought. Anything could have happened to him...

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, forcing a smile.

A short ways farther brought them to a clearing with a decent view of the valley below. The sun shined down on them hotly, lighting up an immense forest of trees arisen from the land. They looked into the distance, searching for any signs of life, or any indication that might lead them home.

After a minute, he said quietly, “There, do you see that? By those hills? Almost looks like a—”

“Oh my god,” she cried out in astonishment. “It's a city!”

Sitting in the distance was a cluster of sand colored buildings, windows gleaming with the light of the sun.

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