by Steven “Sash” Scott
Chapter One: Bedtime Story
Chapter One: Bedtime Story
The Papier family has a long-storied history. The tales have been passed down through the generations in song, dance, and orated mystery. Theirs, is a long lineage of special, magical duty. Of heroism and adventures to the Otherplaces where mighty dragons, wellves, waeries, puddle-hoppers, and hairies, frolic and play in lands of seasonal beauty. But there are yarns of dangers too. Pirate-chefs, and hungry snitches that will sell you out to voodoo witches. The Papier family has helped and hindered from start to finish, with twists and turns to water eyes and thumpen hearts.
“And make you quake in your hidden parts,” Jaak sighed over his father’s opening lines. “We know, we know. Can’t you just skip to the good parts?”
“Yeah, to the good parts,” Jaak’s sister, Jaan, piped in. She was always eager to agree with her big brother.
Jonah Papier sighed good-naturedly at his two children. The eight and six year old were always in a rush. Jaak was the “action-man”, while Jaan was more of an energetic thinker. He could see his son as a caped hero, charging forward with his weapon of choice high in hand. Some days it was a sword, others it was a “hyper-atomic, anti-molecular” splasher. His mother didn’t appreciate being squirted with water inside the house, but she had been known to join in on the tit-for-tat aqua-battles that could escalate from the merest flick of water in a moment of playful tease. Jonah could see his pretty little Jaan as a brooding, cloaked super-spy, or powerful mage- she didn’t care for witches, enchantresses, or sorceresses, and decided that girls could be wizards too. But when she was with her brother, she was an Amazon Warrior Princess charging right alongside him into whatever imaginary adventure was ahead.
“Hey, you know the drill.” Jonah put on his fake mean face. “You need to listen up, and listen close.”
“ ‘Cause there’s lessons to earn and gold to learn in the special cases of the Otherplaces.” Jaak again interrupted with folded arms, making duck lips back at his father. “You’re not slick Dad.”
“Not slick, Dad.” Jaan cooed as she attack-hugged her brother from behind.
Jaak wrapped her legs around him and dove backward onto the bed, taking care not to let his head collide with hers as they impacted on the mattress. Their father chuckled at their grunts and growls as they tussled playfully for a moment.
“Alright, you two. It seems to me that you’re not interested in hearing this dark and stormy tale.”
As if on cue thunder boomed outside, so loud it sounded right above their house. Jaan squealed and Jaak’s mouth dropped open with his eyes widening in surprise.
“Whoa! That was intense! Do you think it the house?” Jaak was on his feet scanning the ceiling. A moment later, the glare of lighting flared in through the windows. “It’s probably going to pour down rain and cause a flood!”
“Tsunami!” Jaan gasped. Jonah raised his eyebrows with pride at his daughter’s use of such an advanced word.
“JONAH?” Kari Papier called from somewhere downstairs. Jonah knew his wife’s every tone and inflection. She was concerned.
“Yes, Babe? I’m with the kids!” He was immediately attacked with bear hugs and futile attempts to get his sculpted body to the floor.
“Who’re you calling ‘kids’? I’m Jaak Papier, Master-wrestler from the Ultrastar Empire.”
“I’m a wrestler too! Raar!” Jaan roared from his lower leg.
“C’mere for a sec!” Kari called back.
“Sorry, gotta go ki– Master-wrestlers. Your mom has requested my humble presence. I’ll be back to tell you this bedtime story, and I expect to be uninterrupted when I do.” There was another boom of thunder and lightning afterward. Jonah untangled himself from his children and joined his wife downstairs.
Kari was in the den. It was windowless. Flashes of light coming from inside the room were emanating from the computers and monitors situated on the wallcase. There was a small library of tomes and volumes, many of which were written by generations of the Papier family. The room was an anachronism of the past accompanied by modern technology. The monitors silhouetted her athletic figure and Jonah mentally congratulated himself on his good fortune. A beautiful wife, healthy kids, and a fulfilling line of work, although secret to but a select few.
“How serious is it, K.?” he asked.
Kari kept her eyes on the main monitor as news scrolls crept across the screens under amateur footage from cellphones chronicling the dance of lightning across the night sky. She flicked a finger at a jagged streak that lingered in luminescence.
“How often do we have lightning after thunder?” she asked.
“In our generation?” Jonah bit his lower lip in thought. “I can’t recall ever.”
“Exactly. Look at this,” she pointed to a monitor with a display of squiggly yellow lines crisscrossing an underlay of geography. Some of the lines wavered like a guitar string plucked by an unseen hand.
“Frequency resonance.” Jonah squinted at the lines as he ran action protocols through his mind.
“Knocks on the door?” Kari arched an eyebrow.
“You tell me. You’re the brain, I’m the muscle.”
“You wish,” Kari smiled at her husband. “I’m the brain and the muscle. You’re just eye candy.”
“And you’ve got a heck of a sweet-tooth.” Jonah stroked his face, kissed his bicep, and struck a body-builder’s competition pose. “Good thing the kids got my looks ’cause, nerds- like their mama.”
“HA! Not yet, but I’m getting them there. They’ll read on their own, but have trouble sitting still when being taught.” She gave Jonah a side-eye. “They get that from you too.”
Jonah put his arm across his wife’s shoulder and gave her a loving squeeze. “That’s why we Papier men always go for the smartest girl in the class– so we can copy off their paper. Who wants to sit and listen to some teacher when there are the wonders of the universe to knock about?”
“Speaking of knocking.” Kari redirected their attention back to the monitors. “I think what we have here is something hitting the Ley-levies.”
Jonah nodded, following his wife’s supposition. “That’s the thunder. Like waves crashing against the shore. That also explains the high-pitched wine at the end– like someone rubbing a crystal wine glass.”
Kari nodded. “And the lightning is the byproduct of that collision. The question is; why? What’s causing it? The rubbing together of the barrier-layers is normal– like tectonic plates shifting. We hear it all the time, but just shrug it off as tinnitus or a ringing in our ears. This isn’t normal activity, though.”
“Another question is; what happens if the levies break?” Jonah mimed the collapse with his hand. “Are we looking at an invasion, incursion… spillover? What in the world could cause a spillover?”
“Expansion?” Kari raised her eyebrows.
Jonah frowned. “How does a separate dimension expand? Can we tell where the most likely place for a breach might be?”
Kari’s slender fingers clattered about the main computer’s keyboard. The display of lines was overlaid by blinking red dots. Jonah grunted disapprovingly at what he was seeing.
“There are several likely places,” Kari gestured around the screen, “but they don’t match up to known Gate zones. This might be an attempt at a work-around.”
“You’re thinking it might be deliberate? Can we confirm that it’s coming from outside and not being caused from our side?”
“I didn’t think of that. We spend so much time concerned about anything crossing from those sides to our side, that it didn’t occur to me that someone over here may be trying to get out. Let me see…”
Kari sat down and got to work typing queries and inputting data faster than Jonah could follow the code on the her screen. He crossed his arms and started thinking aloud.
“I hope we don’t have a sleeper on our hands. It’s been, what, eighty-some years since the final hostile crossing? They weren’t positive that there weren’t any undertows in the Mysts when the opening collapsed. If someone had been caught in the transition currents they might have been scattered like a lost signal– but, theoretically, something could refocus the signal and reintegrate them now, or back then… and it’s taken them this long to get it together enough to try to get back home– or bring something over.”
Kari smiled while she continued typing. “Listen to you. And I thought I was the brain of this operation.”
“I wasn’t focused on you the whole time we were in class together… WAIT. Are we sure everyone made it back to our side? Are we positive that no one was left behind for dead? Maybe one of ours is trying to get back?”
Kari paused in her task to check her recollection of her husband’s family logs. “As far as I know, we’ve never lost anyone.”
“Not one of the family, but what about crew?” Jonah bounced his finger at the rows of books along the den’s wall. “Papiers usually work alone, or enlist the aid of dimensional locals, but there have been times that we needed to team-up with other folks in the business.”
“We don’t keep track of them, but I’m sure there would have been at least an honorable mention of an agent down- lost to the Mysts, honey.”
Jonah grunted. “Hm. The Mysts are a tricky thing. What if there hasn’t been a missing-man-”
“Or woman,” Kari interrupted.
“Or woman,” Jonah conceded, “missing yet. You sound like Jaan- anything a man can do…”
“Nah, I take it back,” Kari corrected herself. “A woman would be too smart to get left behind. But I follow what you mean. Time flows differently in the Mysts. Theoretically, something that happens in the future, or the past, could be showing the effects now.”
“When they traveled in the Mysts, from one Otherplace to another, they said it seemed like it was instantaneous, but we don’t know that for sure, K. We’ve only crossed were there has been a tear connecting two Places.”
“They knew for certain when the Gateway-world was still operational because its portals maintained a synchronized connection to all of the Otherplaces.”
Jonah was struck by an idea, snapped his fingers, and pointed at the Ley line monitor.
“What if someone is trying to repair the Gateways? I imagine that establishing a connection through the Mysts would cause some kind of ripple as a tunnel was being constructed.”
Kari squinted and shook her head. “Why wouldn’t they just reconnect at the original Gates? Wouldn’t that be an easier job than trying to break in at a new spot?”
“Maybe digging into a collapsed tunnel would cause a problem, like reopening an old wound?”
“But so many hits on our lines, Jonah? They’re all over the place– random.”
Jonah shrugged. “They may be fishing for the right spot. A place strong enough to maintain a Gate. For all we know, they may be hammering at one spot on their side, but the effects over here scatter because of the Mysts between us. We’re only guessing. We have no way of knowing how Gateways are created.”
Kari sighed. “Because the race, or races, that built them are long gone.”
“As far as we know they’re long gone.”
Kari sat up straight. “That’s a scary thought. If it’s them, where have they been? Why are they back?” She gasped and turned to her husband. “What if they know what happened and are pissed about it- looking to punish the people responsible for the-”
A thunderous boom shook the house. Jonah and Kari instinctively ducked. There was no mistaking it this time. They had been hit. Monitors turned red with warning flashes, an alarm klaxoned. It would take small military ordnance to set off the impact alarm. On the Lay monitor a focus target rotated as it narrowed in on a Myst breach. The location turned their blood cold as they grasped I shock.
There hadn’t been an intruder alert, so there was no immediate lockdown, but there had been a dimensional breach. Kari gripped her husbands arm in concern.
Both parents bolted for the staircase. Their hearts beating heavy with dread. Jonah took two stairs at a time. When he reached the first landing Kari called out ahead of him.
“Jaak! Jaan! Kids, are you OK?” There was no answer.
Jonah was at their recessed door with his hand on the knob and turning it almost the second he felt it his grip. Even as he was doing it, he knew he was outside of protocol. He hadn’t check to see if the door or knob were hot. He hadn’t made an auditory check. His mind was focused only on one thing and that was to get to his kids. He flung the door open and froze in horror. As his wife barreled up beside him, he blocked her from entering past the portal.
“KIDS!” she cried as she strained to get past her husband.
“NO, KARI! No!” He stood firmly between his wife and the interior of their children’s room. “It’s too late!”
To be continued…
Steven is a writer of action fiction and illustrator of children’s books and independent comics. As a matter of fact, he is also the creator of Dove Style Magazine’s logo!