Chapter no 62

Quantum Radio

Two soldiers worked to get Maria into the silver-gray suit. The young woman didn’t stir as they held her and pulled the crinkly garment on. Three others approached Commander Matthews, who was still lying on the floor, unconscious.

“Careful with him,” Nora called. “He’s sustained internal injuries.”

“What about you?” her father asked, concern evident on his face. “Are you hurt?”

Nora stared at him, a mix of emotions coursing through her—elation at seeing him again, and fear of revealing that she wasn’t the person he thought she was, at least not the same version he had known. She sensed that revealing she was an impostor could be dangerous, even if she was telling her own father. This was a world at war… a strange world that she still didn’t understand.

“I’m fine,” she said quietly as she pulled her own suit on.

Nora started to tell her father about Kato and Ty, that they should wait for them, but instinctively, she sensed that there was danger in that. Kato might have a counterpart in the Covenant. Additionally, if they had been captured, it was possible Nora would need to try to free them. Admitting that they were together now could put her at a disadvantage. She was, she had to admit, a bit surprised at how quickly her mind had adapted to the use of subterfuge.

She marveled then that one never knew how adaptable a mind was until it was tested.

When she had finished donning the suit and pulled a helmet on, her father’s team led them out of the National Museum of Natural History and onto Constitution Avenue, where they marched for two blocks until they reached the Ellipse, a wide lawn south of the White House.

The well-manicured park Nora had known from her world was now overgrown with tall grass and a few small trees.

Most surprisingly, there was an airship nearly as long as the White House touching down there. It reminded Nora of the Goodyear Blimp or even the Hindenburg airship, though that association gave her pause as she watched her father march toward the waiting vessel.

As it reached the ground, a ramp descended and the suited team marched inside, Nora, Maria, and Matthews with them.

In seconds, the ship was lifting off. Inside the cargo area, Nora removed her helmet and peered out of a small oval window.

Behind her, they rushed Matthews deeper into the vessel along with Maria, likely to some sort of medical facility.

The airship flew northwest, along the route of the Potomac, deeper into the United States, over the border of what had been Maryland and Virginia.

To Nora, the view was breathtaking—in all the worst ways. Washington, DC was a ruined expanse. A post-apocalyptic wasteland of charred, crumbling buildings and hulking abandoned cars. The roads were being erased as grass and trees overtook them, as if the highways and streets were lines drawn on a page that was fading with time.

She realized that her father was staring at her. “What is it?” he asked.

Nora hesitated, then realized why he was confused—the Nora he knew wouldn’t be surprised by the view. What would that Nora be doing now? Likely debriefing him on the mission she had just returned from. Nora couldn’t do that. Any slight misstep or careless phrase could give her away. The same was true for Maria. Nora realized then how precarious their situation was.

And that wasn’t even her biggest problem. She still hadn’t seen Ty or Kato. Where were they?

She needed more information.

Apparently, so did her father. “What happened out there?” he asked.

“It’s complicated,” Nora said, not making eye contact with the man. “I’m sorry, but I need to rest.”

He nodded. “Of course.” He led her out of the cargo bay and into a narrow corridor with hatches on both sides.

Behind the first opening lay a small med bay where Matthews and Maria were strapped onto gurneys, several soldiers taking their vitals.

At the end of the corridor, a hatch led to a small bridge where several crew members were piloting the ship.

Nora’s father stopped at one of the hatches halfway down the corridor and motioned to the opening. “Come find me at tactical whenever you feel up to it.”

Nora closed the oblong metal door after she entered and took stock of the small room. There was a narrow bed with a foldout bunk above it and a desk with a round stool that didn’t attach to the floor but rather sat atop an articulating arm affixed to the wall. There were no windows. The only decoration was the large blue flag hanging on the wall. It reminded Nora of the United Nations flag.

She pulled the stool out and sat at the desk and rifled through the drawers. In the bottom one, she found a linen hardcover in the same light blue as the flag. Gold foil letters stamped onto the cover read The Pax: A Fight for the Future of Humankind.

She glanced back at the flag. It had to be the Pax flag, and this a Pax airship. That matched her assumptions.

Nora flipped through the book, which contained a mix of history and education on the ideology of the Pax. As she read, Nora realized that these were people who felt guided by a shared purpose, to create a world of tolerance and acceptance, where freedom and peace were guaranteed. The history sections told her why.

At the chapter titled “The Second Dark Age,” Nora began to read.

In the years after the European Offensive of the Covenant War, the Pax struggled with integrating the influx of new immigrants into a shared society. Compounding those challenges were the oppressive economic sanctions from the rapidly unifying Covenant sphere of influence.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Pax and Covenant functioned as polar opposites. The Pax became a society of people brought together by circumstances, struggling to form a cohesive society and balance their needs for survival with the growing awareness that the war was simply paused and not over. In the Pax, one thing was certain: building military capacity was of the utmost importance.

By contrast, the Covenant was a unified society, one that explicitly chose its citizens and bound them with a shared purpose, ostensibly to create a more perfect human race.

In the absence of a conventional war, the Covenant waged a new kind of war—an economic blockade of the Pax that delivered a devastating blow. Central to the initiative

was the Covenant Seawall, which effectively locked the Pax nations and its citizens out of Covenant markets and restricted travel between the two superpowers.

Beginning in the late fifties and continuing in the sixties and seventies, the Covenant took a bolder approach to the Pax. They began insisting on restrictions on Pax military capability and size, as well as limiting the amount of technology the Pax could possess. War was the perpetual threat, and the two superpowers existed in a nearly constant state of negotiation.

Peace inspectors became a constant fixture throughout the Pax, armed envoys who searched for companies, university labs, and government organizations that might be developing advanced technologies that violated the Pax–Covenant peace accord.

With each passing year, the Pax watched itself fall further behind the Covenant technologically. Compounding the difficulty was the lack of information coming from the Covenant—news and videos from inside the sprawling confederation were also blocked at the Covenant Seawall.

As such, the era known commonly as the Long Peace was, in fact, a slow decline within the Pax. The Covenant, however, was becoming an advanced, technologically driven society.

Within the Pax, younger generations began to rebel at the lack of opportunity. Soon, the peace inspectors became the subject of attacks. In response, the Covenant withdrew in-person inspectors and rolled out an automated surveillance system powered by a series of monitoring buoys in major cities and drones patrolled overhead.

The biggest surprise was yet to come. In October of 1982, the Covenant launched a new enforcement mechanism: electromagnetic ordnance, or EMOs as they became known. The EMOs were carried by long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles known as A18s, which were developed at the Peenemünde Research Center in the Mecklenburg-West Pomerania province of the Reich Europa nation within the Covenant. The EMOs detonated above areas where the Covenant claimed there were advanced electronics that violated the peace accords.

The EMOs were deployed in accordance with the enforcement clauses of the peace accords, which gave the Covenant the right to destroy advanced electronics so long as no Pax citizens were harmed.

The EMOs proved devastating to the Pax. Almost overnight, the population of the Pax was plunged into a new dark age where advanced electronics were rendered useless. In the years that followed, the EMOs became more powerful, with greater reach. In later years, the Pax began to suspect the EMOs had been further modified to have effects not only on electronics but also on the human body.

Nora pushed the book back on the table and swung the stool away from the desk, considering what she had read. The book told the story of a world at war—a war to oppress technological development. Here, in this world, the Covenant had used rocket warfare to devastating effect, on Britain in 1940 and in later years, against the Pax nations—the United States, Australia, Canada, and others.

Nora wondered if the Covenant here in this world was the same as, or connected to, the Covenant in her home world. It seemed too much of a coincidence for them not to be connected.

What did it mean?

She wished Ty were here. For several reasons, but especially to have someone to bounce ideas off of. But she sensed that she was on her own for a while. And more, that she may be the key to helping the others now. That thought landed upon her like an inescapable weight, and with it came something else: resolve.

Since coming to this world, she had been reacting—first rescuing the pilot, then keeping him alive, and finally when her father had rescued her.

Now was the time to act, to gather the facts of their situation and take a shot at freeing them and getting home.

As she considered her options, the airship turned slightly, a gradual, gentle tug that reminded Nora of a submarine moving through deep water. In a way, that was what the dirigible was: a vessel floating upon the sky, buoyed by the elements and buffeted by the hands of nature.

After reading the details of how the Second Dark Age came to be, she now saw why the Pax had come to rely on airships—a technology that dated to the 1800s, long before advanced electronics came into being. She wondered what other unexpected choices the Covenant’s EMO assaults had forced them into.

With the airship carving its way through the sky, she opened the history book and began to read again.

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