Sorry I’ve been away for so long – It’s been a mad month. I’m on target with Nano and as promised, here’s another teaser which follows on straight after the previous one which you can read here.
Their path was steep and rocky. Mikael’s short legs had difficulty keeping up with Maat’s determined stride. Her handheld scanner was linked to their spy satellites and occasionally she would pause, looking for a safe way to ascend the next hundred yards.
“How much further?” Mikael asked as they paused to catch their breath a few hours later. His eyes felt dry and his throat ached, no matter how much water he consumed.
Maat gave him a cheeky grin. “You want to go back already? What about your grand plans for defying mother and gallivanting off around the planet?”
He scowled. “Climbing a mountain in the desert was not on my to-do list.”
She glanced up, the nanites in her eyes automatically blocking out much of the harsh desert sunlight. “We’re nearly there, but the last part will be a climb. I can’t see a decent path anywhere on the scans.”
“If it really is a building,” Mikael murmured. “I’m beginning to wonder how they got the materials up here… and why they bothered.”
“It certainly wasn’t human in origin,” Maat pointed out. “Their magic couldn’t cause long-term particle frequency elevation without binding such a spell to an immortal living source, and as you say, why would they bother?”
“Exactly…” Mikael agreed hesitantly, glad that Maat was agreeing with him for a change.
“The best explanation I have is that it belongs to those energy beings we were scanning for,” Maat reasoned, “but I have no idea why they’d want to pull a physical building out of phase and keep it there?”
“I don’t think we covered this in our alien psychology classes…” He frowned. “Perhaps it’s an illusion or a portal or something?”
“Could be…” Maat frowned, giving the matter some thought.
“Really?” He’d been expecting her to laugh at the suggestion and point to a more logical explanation.
His sister shrugged. “We won’t know until we look.”
“And so we’re going to climb that?” Mikael asked, rubbing his sore legs. “Straight up?”
“It’ll be fun.” Maat said cheerfully. “The exercise will do you good. We rely too much on nanites to maintain our bodies.”
Mikael groaned. “They aren’t healing me fast enough to keep it from hurting.”
She laughed, pulling a long rope and a handful of metal clips out of her rucksack.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Mikael stared at his sister, thinking she’d gone mad.
“I replicated the desert-style climbing equipment.” Maat said, tying some sort of harness. “I’ve always wanted to try this.”
“We’re going to die…” Mikael repeated under his breath.
He let Maat go first, telling himself it was so he could help her if she really did fall and break all her bones. In truth it meant that when she reached the top, around half an hour later, he only had to get into her make-shift harness and she could haul him up most of the way. It was still a terrifying few minutes, swinging wildly at the end of a rope as the unpredictable desert wind buffeted him this way and that.
At last, they gained the summit and Maat shook her head in wonder.
“It’s so… real,” she was breathing heavily and grinning like an idiot.
For once, Mikael knew how she felt. The cooler eastern wind at the peak was a welcome change from the harsh desert air. He could see for miles, out across the rolling wasteland, not just the sand dunes, but beyond them to craggy canyons and black mountains. Hawks, the symbol of the House of Varna, circled below, the only living things he could make out in the vast emptiness. It was an experience that couldn’t be conveyed through a hologram, no matter how realistic.
It seemed wrong to break the silence, but Maat had wanted to be back at the ship by nightfall so, reluctantly, he asked, “What now?”
“Hmm?” Maat glanced at him, still lost in her own thoughts.
“The building…” Mikael clarified.
“Oh, just a moment.” Maat produced a set of collapsible grey pylons from her rucksack and began scanning the summit with her handheld device.
“It should be over there.”
“I don’t see anything…”
“Give me a moment,” Maat muttered.
She edged her way toward the phantom building’s footprint and waved her hand through the air, as if to check whether anything was there. She felt no resistance, so she began setting up the pylons at regular intervals around the perimeter. Mikael found a flat rock to sit on as he watched.
“That should do it,” she returned to his side and began packing everything back into her bag.
“Great!” Mikael stood and brushed the sand off his clothes. “What did we just do?”
“The emitters will allow us finer control from the shuttle,” Maat explained, gesturing to the pylons. “With any luck, I’ll be able to drag the building back into phase and we can find out what’s inside.”
“How long will it take?”
She hoisted her rucksack onto her back. “I doubt it will be more than a couple of days, but I suppose it could be up to a month if my initial plan doesn’t work.”
‘A month?” Mikael’s brow shot up. “What am I supposed to do here for a month?”
“Relax,” Maat suggested. “Take in the view. Contemplate the meaning of life and all that…”
His face fell and he found himself desperately hoping they could still access all of Maat’s satellites feeds from the shuttle.