Monday, July 31, 2023

The Sands of Time #34


The wind took Joon's breath away. They emerged into a howling blizzard, with almost no visibility and swirling ice crystals. Valerus had outfitted them with parkas just before they Gated- Joon understood why now- but the cold was relentless. He took Maia's arm as she stumbled, and Hillier was swearing. Howie might have been distressed too, but Joon wouldn't know. He'd never hear the creature over the wind. 

The Gate shimmered, the only source of radiance in a grey winterscape. Joon was hesitant to turn away from it, but Valerus led the way through drifts to a round structure a short distance away. He typed a passcode into a covered keypad and a door cycled noiselessly open. They stumbled down several icy steps and into a hallway that was blissfully warmer. 

Everyone unzipped their parkas or brushed snow out of their hair. 

"Welcome to Ymir," said Valerus grimly. 

Howie keened quietly. 

"I may have preferred Poseidon," Joon said drily. 

"Yes, I find it a more pleasant station, as well."

"How many staff are here?" asked Maia. 

"None," replied Valerus. "Entirely automated. The list of people who know about it is... small." 

"What is the purpose?"

"It's another location that we've reacquired. Previous owners the same forerunners that we believe responsible for the network of portals. Underground tunnels that we've repurposed, or are in some cases still exploring." 

Valerus led the way down the passage. It was cold, with wan lighting, but not as bad as the outside. Maia was seeing to Howie's tentacles as Valerus led them through a doorway into another hall. There were doorways on both sides and an open area just ahead. They entered a large hexagonal room with equipment and workstations. Much of the equipment was running and monitors on the walls showed various readouts. 

"Ice Station Zero," Valerus announced. 

"How does all this run?" Maia inquired. 

"Well, part of that is the self maintaining, self repairing alien technology," Valerus replied. "It was running when we got here, roughly ten years ago, and it's running now. We found the same thing on other worlds, including Poseidon. One of the overarching goals of our program is to better understand all this." 

"Amd how far along are we with that goal? asked Joon. 

"Sadly, not as far as I'd like."

They were circling the room, taking everything in, but Valerus was already typing commands into a station. Red light suffused the room, and an alarm went off somewhere. 

"It's alright," he said. "Just setting up security measures. I don't think the attackers can get to us quite yet, but eventually they'll figure out where we went. Or they'll wring it out of my technicians." He grimaced. "But I think we have a little time." 

"What's our next move?" asked Hillier. 

Joon looked at her with a raised eyebrow. 

"Well, we can't stay here long. I need to collect a few things. We may have to keep jumping." he looked at them, as if wanting to impress upon them the implications of what he was suggesting. 

"How many worlds are there?" asked Joon. 

"An eternity of them," Valerus replied a little self importantly. "But we've colonized less than a dozen. Well, colonized... not the word I wanted."

"Still... that many."

"Only a few of us know exactly how many." 

"How about the Directorate?"

"Well, they mostly know," he replied with a wink. 

Joon and Maia exchanged a glance. 

"I'm going to  give you some things," Valerus said to Joon. "If anything happens to me you need to know certain items, and/ or get this back to Mallory. You can't tell anyone else." 

Joon nodded grimly. 

"Get some rest," he advised the group as Valerus scurried around. "Be ready to move though." 

Hillier mock saluted. Valerus showed them to a lounge area and then vanished into a labyrinth of passages. Joon examined the room. There was a kitchenette area with various refrigerated items, as well as a freezer and cooking utensils. When had they eaten last? Joon and Maia began heating some beans and rummaging through high protein snacks and other sundries while Joon tried to keep half an eye on Hillier. 

"He's not telling you everything, you know," she drawled. 


"You've picked a side without knowing the rules," she continued. "Don't get me wrong, I like your side. The alternative is me getting executed. However, I'm not sure you've thought all this through." 

"What do you suggest?"

"Stop playing patty cake with that old fool and wring the necessary information out of him," she said. "If he dies you have no info. If he doesn't come back from wherever he went you have no idea how to get us out of here, do you, hm?"

Joon had to concede that. 

"Anywhere we go they can go, too, right?" she pressed. 


"So what's the plan?"

"Well, the plan has been to assess and either close the Gate or leave it open... but it's hard to make a decision when people are, you know, shooting at us." 

"True. That soldier didn't shoot at us though." 

"Well, he might of."

"Yes. Hard to know." 

"What is your angle?"

"I want to survive. My odds are low with either group. I might have a marginally better chance with Stella's group," she came over to him, "especially with a friend like you." She caressed his face. "Although Stella could easily end me also." 

Valerus reentered the room at that point, and there was an uncomfortable silence. 

"We can stay here for a few hours, tops," Valerus said, looking at Hillier and Joon as if trying to figure out what they were thinking. 

"Remember what I said." Hillier told Joon. Maia sighed. 

"I need to know everything," Joon told Valerus. They were alone in his office, a suite of rooms he used when at Ymir. 

The older man rubbed his eyes, removing his glasses. He looked tired. They all were. It was annoyingly cold here, too. They were wearing their parkas in the complex. 

"I could be shot for telling you everything," Valerus replied. 

"We may be shot anyway.". 

"Yes. And I know Stella sent you to make a decision. So my advice is this. You have to make a call. I'm one of the few that knows about the threat. The cosmic... whatever they are pose an existential threat. Will closing the Gate stop them? Perhaps. But there are other Gates. There's no guarantee." 

"Is the Gate back home the only one?"


"What about the one I saw the GOA? The prototypes or duplicates? 

"Unstable. Not finished. Our best approximation of what  the forerunners constructed." 

"Still dangerous." 

"Sure. If we get them working." 

"How many people are we leaving behind?" 

"I don't even know. They've all signed waivers, explicitly agreeing that they may never come back." 

"I'm sure many would like to, though." 

"Of course. I love Poseidon but I want to return too."

"So your advice?"

"Go back to home, see if we can discuss with the Directorate. Let them make the call."

"Why are they sweeping the base?" 

Valerus sighed. 

Joon waited. He could tell the man wanted to say more but was at odds with his own thoughts. 

"I'm not sure that's the Directorate doing that," Valerus finally said. 


"Mallory has no doubt mentioned that we have... teams out on missions?" 

"Well, she has. Although I thought that mostly referred to our established bases." 

"No. We don't have a lot of time to go into this, but... our forays involve when as well as where." 

"We've discussed this briefly. Time travel?"

"Such a crude term, but yes. Time is but one dimension of reality, and the Gates enable travel to virtually anywhere." 



Joon mulled this. 

"There are factions within the Directorate that feel... we can make, shall we say, adjustments." 

"You're serious." 

"Yes. I propose that this... adjustment group... is making its play. If the Gate is closed their activities cease.. And they have operatives." 

"So who are the good guys?"

"Are there any?"

Joon mulled for a time. 

"So Stella may be the Directorate and the time travel people want to off her?"

"Possibly. She's a threat to them if she closes the portal."

"So we're weighing the lives of staff at various locations, and the fact that we are exploring at all, versus the time travel group and their activities. Can't have one without the other?" 

Valerus didn't reply. 

"You mentioned sabotage?"

"I did." 

"They want to keep it open?" 

"Someone on Stella's team?"

A nod. 

"If we get back home we'd have to find Stella. I do not think she'd stick around and get killed."

"That complex is immense. She has options." 

"Will the Directorate help her?"

"They may. It depends on who is in ascendancy."

Joon mulled some more. 

"Can we get back from here?" 

"We can. I can program us to get back directly. We also have other possibilities." 

Joon raised an eyebrow. 

"If all goes sidewaysI can potentially jump us other places and, theoretically, delete the destination. If it comes down to that or being shot." 

"I think we should try, though." 


"Alright. We head back to Earth, try to reason with the Directorate, see what transpires." 

Just then a telltale went off and Valerus touched a receiver. 


Maia's voice. 

"I've lost Hillier."