Chapter no 72

Quantum Radio

Ty sat in the club chair, trying to organize his thoughts. On the coffee table in front of him, a pile of empty cups and plates was stacked up like scrap in a demolition yard. He hadn’t been the only one hungry.

In the cramped lounge, he and Kato had eaten like wild animals while Nora and Maria had watched and taken their bites with more grace.

When the food was gone, the four of them sat on the couches and chairs and took a moment, all seeming to contemplate their dilemma. And Ty had to admit: it was a dilemma of unimaginable proportions.

As the food digested, Ty’s mind began working better. To him, their situation was nothing more than a puzzle that beckoned, waiting to be solved. Mentally, he began arranging the pieces. But there were several that didn’t fit.

The Covenant. Ty’s mother.

Nora’s father.

And, somehow, even though he didn’t exist in this world… Ty’s father. He was certain Richter was connected somehow. Or was Ty projecting that onto the situation? Because he wanted him connected. He had always yearned for that connection. At the DARPA facility, for a brief time, he had experienced it.

But Richter wasn’t the most concerning issue. Ty sensed that there was still a piece of this puzzle that he was missing.

His gaze settled on Maria, who was sitting alone on a worn fabric couch, staring off into the distance of the small staff lounge. It was her. She was the missing piece. But how?

Nora got up from her club chair and walked over to the couch where Kato was sitting alone, hands steepled at his nose and lips.

“How do you feel?”

Kato didn’t look up. “Fine.”

“Do you need another painkiller?” “No.”

“It has to hurt.”

“I’ve been punched in the face before.”

Silence stretched out. Kato seemed to realize the others were uncomfortable with what he had said.

He looked up. “Thank you, Doctor, but I want to keep my mind clear.” He locked eyes with Ty. “I believe we’re about to decide what to do. I’ll bear the pain to be able to think.”

“Okay. But do me a favor? Call me Nora.” Kato nodded.

Above, the air conditioning vent rumbled to life and warm air flowed down. What impressed Ty most was that this facility had power at all. Based on what he had read of the history of this world—and what Nora had just filled them in on during the meal—electronics had been nearly eradicated in the Pax. But not below ground, and that was the key. His guess was that this was an old government facility in the DC area. The furniture reminded him vaguely of the decor at the DARPA facility. Or maybe it was the fact that he felt equally as trapped.

“I’ll ask the obvious question,” Kato said. “How do we get out of here?

How do we get home?”

Maria was still staring into the distance, unfocused. “I second the obvious question.”

“The obvious fact,” Ty said, “is that the Pax still has our quantum radio medallion.” To Nora, he asked, “Did you ask about it?”

“I did. They have all of your belongings—the gun, the medallion, et cetera.”

“We need the medallion back,” Kato said.

“They won’t give it back.” Nora cut her gaze to the door. The meaning was clear: they’re listening.

Ty had assumed as much, but he appreciated the reminder and it being impressed upon Kato and Maria.

“They’re still suspicious,” Nora said. “They think we might be Covenant agents.”

“Clearly, we’re not,” Kato said.

“Yes, but it’s hard to prove in a world where information moves at the speed of an airship.”

Kato nodded slowly. “So we make a plan to get the radio medallion back.”

“It doesn’t help us,” Ty said, not looking up. “We had the radio medallion before. We know the problem there—we don’t know what to dial.”

“It’s obvious,” Kato said, “that no one else here does either. Might as well get it and risk it.”

“I don’t like that risk,” Ty said. Then he addressed Nora. “There’s another risk—that they dial it. Do you think they will?”

“I doubt it. As I said, they think it’s Covenant technology. A bomb. A surveillance device. Or something worse. Experimenting with it—possibly setting it off—is the last thing they want to do.”

Nora clasped her hands together. “But I don’t think we should be focused on the radio medallion at this moment. If we leave this world, we leave it to die. The Poseidon pathogen will effectively end life on the surface of the Earth. Not tomorrow or next month, but in the years that follow.”

Since Nora had described the plan, Ty had considered it. He knew that perhaps the most significant development in Earth’s history was the Great Oxygenation Event that occurred several billion years ago, when cyanobacteria began releasing copious amounts of oxygen into the atmosphere. Before that, Earth’s atmosphere had likely been mostly dinitrogen and carbon dioxide.

What the Robert Brown on this world was proposing was a great de-oxygenation event, essentially Earth’s planetary evolution reversing itself. It was terrifying.

“Not our problem,” Kato said. “I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. This is not that USA. It barely exists here.”

“We have a higher oath,” Nora said. “To human decency.” Maria held her hands up. “Can we back up a second?”

When no one said anything, she continued. “What happens if we do get the radio medallion back and it doesn’t work?”

At the silence that followed, she pressed on. “What happens then? We stay here, in the Pax? We live underground with them?”

“It’s the obvious option,” Nora said. “I can’t do that,” Kato said.

Maria’s voice was quiet and hesitant. “I’m assuming they don’t have any sort of treatment for… opioid addiction.”

“No,” Nora said quietly. “But there could be natural remedies.”

Maria closed her eyes and shook her head. “Forget it. I’m done. Anything but that.” She cut her eyes to the door, as if silently reminding herself. “I’m open to any options at this point.”

“What we know,” Ty said, “is that this world will effectively end in less than a week. The Covenant rockets will fall on the Pax. Or the Poseidon pathogen will be unleashed. Possibly both. What I didn’t realize until this second is that we have—in this room—the ability to prevent both events. And I think that’s why we’re here.”

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