Warren walked up the mountain once a day, early in the morning, usually leaving right after dawn. Then, he returned to his cabin in the late afternoon when it got too dark. He worked in his hidden alcove on the mountain all day long, only briefly stopping for lunch. It was not easy to get him to open up to me; he warned me many times that what he’s doing is dangerous, and insists people keep away. However, his story is definitely a fascinating one. Next time I’m in the area, I’ll be sure to stop by again to see just how he’s doing. Once I learn the ending, it will make a great book.
“Dangerous,” Evaira said, putting down her sister’s diary, “fascinating? Sounds like we may have a case with this one.”
“But what is he doing?” Bill asked, “why is it dangerous?”
“I don’t know,” Evaira replied, “that section of the diary is too damaged to make anything out of. But if it’s dangerous, and Liza indicated that she intends to return, it is definitely a candidate for the cause of Liza’s disappearance.”
“Indeed,” Chira added.
“Alpha,” Evaira said, “how far to the mountain?”
“Approximately 2.3 miles,” Alpha answered.
“Then let’s go,” Evaira said.
“As you request,” Alpha replied.
The RV continued to drive through the foothills, until they arrived at the end of the road. At the end of the road, there was nothing but a small parking lot, with a ranger station nearby. There were spaces big enough for an RV, so Alpha parked the vehicle there. As soon as they parked, everybody, even Chira, disembarked.
“You sure you should be coming along, Chira?” Bill asked.
“We’re in the wilderness,” Chira said, “and us grounders are masters of camouflage. I can stay out of sight until I’m needed.”
“So this is the mountain we’re investigating,” Bill asked, “it looks tall.”
“Yes it does,” Evaira said, “I probably should have dressed better for this.”
Bill looked at Evaira’s skirt.
“Do you even have any pants?” he asked.
“Of course,” Evaira said, “sometimes, you need them, even if they are a bit uncomfortable. Hang on.”
Evaira stepped back into the RV to change her clothes.
“So,” Bill said, “how will we find this Warren guy?”
“Liza drew a map of the mountain region in her diary,” Alpha explained, “I have scanned in the map data, so I can lead us to his travel route. However, the damage prevented me from seeing the exact location of his alcove.”
“Great,” Bill said, “Let’s get out the mountain bikes. I’ve been looking forward to using them. How far is it to Warren’s route?”
“It is 1.2 miles. The route is too rugged for a mountain bike. We must walk,” Alpha said, “I would estimate that considering the time of day, and if we move at a steady pace, we should cross paths with him during his trip up the mountain in approximately thirty minutes.”
Evaira then stepped out of the RV. She was now wearing a pair of bright pink hiking pants.
“Ready to go,” Evaira said.
The four of them began to hike towards the mountain. Alpha led the group, using the map from Liza’s diary to provide the route. Evaira and Bill followed closely behind. Chira also accompanied them, crawling very low to the ground, so she would blend in better, and not easily be identified by any other hikers they would encounter.
They walked for thirty minutes before they came to a place where their path crossed another path. Alpha pulled his hand out.
“This is where our path crosses Warren’s,” he said, “Warren should be at this location in approximately 6.7 minutes.”
“Thank you, Alpha,” Evaira said.
They waited at the crossing for about seven minutes before they saw a man walk towards them. This man was middle-aged, bedraggled, and had long hair and a beard. Clearly, he hadn’t shaved in a while, but he did trim his beard (though not exactly cleanly). He was carrying a tall, wooden walking stick.
“Excuse me,” Evaira said, “are you Warren?”
The man looked annoyed that somebody identified him.
“Who wants to know?” he asked.
“I’m looking for my…” Evaira began.
“Don’t bother,” Warren replied, “whatever it is, it’s not here. I had nothing to do with it. Now, please go.”
“Look,” Evaira said, a little annoyed, “you didn’t even give me a chance to finish my…”
“Ma’am,” Warren replied, “you don’t want anything to do with me. The things I do in the mountain are dangerous. I don‘t want to lose anybody else…”
“Anybody else?” Evaira said, jumping to a conclusion, “so you already lost somebody doing whatever it is you’re doing?”
“Yes I did,” Warren said, “and that’s why I climb this mountain every day. Now, please leave.”
Warren continued to hike up the mountain, hoping to lose Evaira and the others. However, Evaira persistently ran after him.
“Who did you lose?” Evaira asked.
“That’s none of your business,” Warren said, a little annoyed, “I don‘t know who you are, but please leave me alone. I have important work to do, and cannot afford to be distracted.”
Evaira was getting impatient.
“Look,” Evaira said, “the name’s Evaira, and…”
“I don’t care who you are,” Warren said, “just leave me alone!”
Warren walked off, moving faster to get away from Evaira and the others.
“Well,” Bill said, “what now?”
“We have to follow him,” Evaira said, “We know that Liza met him, so he should have recognized my name. The fact that he pretended not to makes me a bit suspicious.”
“Of course, we’ll have to stay out of sight,” Bill said.
“Chira,” Evaira said, “do you mind going ahead to keep an eye on him?”
“I should go too,” Bill said, “I can become a bird and follow him from the air. Flying forms have always been my specialty. Plus, it’ll be easier for me to lead you to him that way than it would be for Chira.”
“I can lead the others with my grounder language,” Chira explained, “to Warren, it will just seem like a wild animal cry.”
“Then both of you go,” Evaira said, “Just get going before he gets too far ahead.”
With that, Chira rushed ahead on the trail, and Bill shapeshifted into a bird and flew into the air. Chira’s grounder cries, and sightings of Bill in the air helped lead Evaira and Alpha as they followed the trail, far enough behind Warren that he would never suspect a thing. The trail was long and hilly, but it eventually led them to a large clearing in the otherwise woodsy mountain. Strangely, though, the shape of this clearing was a perfect circle, about ten foot in diameter. Though grasses and the edges of bushes grew up to the edge of this clearing, no plants grew inside it.
Warren was standing in the center of this clearing. He was tinkering with an unusual machine resting there. Evaira and Alpha ducked behind one of the bushes around the clearing, careful to remain out of Warren’s sight as they watched him. Bill flew down and assumed his normal human form, and Chira dashed over to join them as well.
“This must be his alove,” Bill said, “but I wonder what he’s doing.”
“Clearly he’s fiddling with that machine,” Chira replied.
“True,” Evaira said, “but why come all this way to work on that machine? And what is that machine supposed to do anyway?”
“I don’t know,” Chira said.
“I wonder if it has anything to do with this clearing,” Bill said, “and why there doesn’t seem to be any plants growing there.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Evaira said, “We’ve got to find this connection. Alpha, can you analyze this area?”
“As you request,” Alpha replied.
There was a brief pause as Alpha turned his head to look around.
“The clearing is barren of plant life due to spatial anomalies in a spherical area around this machine,” Alpha said, “the cause of these anomalies is unknown.”
“Spatial anomalies?” Bill said, “What does he mean by that?”
“Alpha?” Evaira asked.
“The anomalies are due to the fact that another universe intersects with ours at this position,” Alpha said.
“Are the anomalies dangerous?” Evaira asked.
“No,” Alpha said, “these anomalies are completely harmless to any individuals in or near them. Additionally, they will likely dissipate on their own in approximately 196.2 years’ time. However, anomalies such as these cannot exist naturally.”
“What do you mean?” Bill asked.
“He means something had to be done to create them,” Evaira said, “that machine could have something to do with the anomalies. Can you analyze the machine, Apha?”
“No,” Alpha said, “I would need to be closer in order to do that.”
“And we can’t get closer without Warren seeing us,” Evaira said, “we’ll have to come back tonight, after he’s left.”
“Or,” Bill said, “we can create a diversion.”
“What do you have in mind?” Evaira asked.
“Watch this,” Bill said.
He shapeshifted into a large bird, and flew into the clearing. He perched on a wrench that was resting on the ground next to Warren.
“Shoo,” Warren said, gesturing Bill away, “this is really sensitive work!”
In response to Warren, Bill flew away, but he flew away with the wrench still tightly in his claws.
“Hey,” Warren cried, chasing Bill, “give that back!”
Warren chased Bill out of the clearing.
“Now’s our chance,” Evaira said, “come, Alpha.”
“As you request,” Alpha said.
Evaira, Alpha, and Chira rushed out into the clearing while Warren chased after Bill the bird. They all approached the machine and leaned in close to it.
“Can you analyze it now?” Evaira asked.
“I’m working on it,” Alpha replied.
He studied the machine carefully for about a half minute.
“This machine could have been the source of the anomalies,” Alpha replied.
“Could have?” Evaira asked.
“Based on the design of the machine,” Alpha explained, “it was built to create portals into other dimensions, that would send any living thing within this clearing into the other dimension. However, it is clearly non-functional in its current state.”
“Wait,” Evaira said, “if the machine doesn’t work, why do these anomalies exist? Clearly, they could only have been created by the machine running.”
“The machine has worked before,” Alpha replied, “but it is now broken.”
“Then the machine must have broken after it was used,” Evaira said, “after it sent Liza into another dimension.”
“Don’t jump to conclusions Evaira. We don’t know it was Liza the machine sent,” Chira added.
“True,” Evaira said, “but considering that Warren did not react to my name, it seems very likely he may have been involved with Liza’s disappearance. We must investigate further. Alpha, can you fix this machine?”
“Yes,” Alpha replied.
“Then let’s move it back to the RV,” Evaira said, “and get to work.”
“Moving the machine outside of this clearing is not recommended,” Alpha said, “it could alter the machine’s target location.”
“But if Warren is responsible,” Evaira said, “we can’t fix this machine with him around. I guess we just have to hope that Bill can keep Warren busy long enough for us to fix the machine here.”
“Additionally,” Alpha warned, “any living thing within this clearing will be sent to the other dimension when the machine is activated. A return trip may be significantly more difficult to arrange. We are still uncertain as to whether Liza is trapped in the other dimension.”
“This complicates things,” Evaira said, “Alpha, if we do open a portal, might it be possible for you to scan it to see that Liza really is on the other side?”
“Theoretically,” Alpha said, “however, I cannot be certain as such a scan has never been attempted before.”
“Why don’t we just try to fix this machine,” Chira said, “and worry about the search when it’s done.”
“Alpha,” Evaira asked impatiently, “can you fix the machine?”
“As you request,” Alpha said.
He sat down and started to use Warren’s tools to work on the machine.
“Unfortunately,” Evaira said, “you’re are the only one of us who can figure out how that machine works. Chira and I will try to create a further distraction if Bill can’t keep Warren distracted for as long as we need. Alpha, any estimates?”
“Approximately five minutes,” Alpha said.
“Only that long?” Chira said, “But it sounds like Warren’s been working on that thing for ages!”
“Remember,” Evaira replied, “Alpha’s downloaded half the internet into his memory.”
Evaira and Chira walked to the edge of the clearing, preparing to provide a further distraction for Warren, in case one is needed. However, the question as to whether such a distraction would be necessary quickly became moot. The moment they got to the edge of the clearing, they saw Warren approach. Before Evaira could react, Warren saw Alpha working on the machine. Chira quickly hid behind Evaira’s legs, as Warren’s face turned red.
“How the heck did you get here?” he asked, “and what the heck is that guy doing with my machine.”
Evaira had to think fast.
“We’re finding my sister,” Evaira said.
“Excuse me?” Warren replied, a bit confused.
“We’re trying to find my missing sister, Liza,” Evaira said, “but since you wouldn’t talk to us about it, we had to take matters into our own hands!”
“Liza?” Warren said, “Oh, that’s where I heard your name before. Did something happen to her?”
Evaira paused for a moment.
“Alpha,” she cried, “come here a moment!”
“As you request,” Alpha replied.
Alpha dropped the tools and walked over to Evaira and Warren.
“You don’t know where Liza is?” Evaira asked.
“No clue,” Warren said, “she came and visited me for a few hours. I told her my story, and she said it was fascinating and left. She did say she might return, but never did.”
“Is he telling the truth?” Evaira asked.
“Yes,” Alpha replied.
“Good,” Evaira said, “then I guess this isn’t the place she disappeared. Let’s go.”
“Hold it,” Warren said, “what did you do to my machine?”
“I have been attempting to repair it,” Alpha answered, “I had just finished reversing the polarity of energy cell seven, and recalibrating the disruption field.”
“You what?” Warren said, a bit surprised, “and why didn’t I think of recalibrating the disruption field?”
“We thought the machine had taken Liza to another dimension,” Evaira said, “so I had Alpha try to fix it.”
Warren paused for a moment. At this point, he had calmed down considerably.
“I see,” Warren said, “I mentioned I already had lost somebody to this machine, and considering your missing sister, who had visited me before, I can see why I inadvertently led you to believe I sent Liza to another dimension. I’m afraid I never did such a thing.”
He paused for a moment, as if to get a hold of his emotions.
“The person I lost was Lizzie,” he then added with a sigh.
“Lizzie?” Evaira asked.
“The love of my life,” Warren explained, “Several years ago, I was a professor at a nearby college. My research in interdimensional physics ultimately led me to build this machine, but during the test, things went awry. I underestimated the size of the portal that would be produced. I told everybody to stand back two feet from the machine to avoid getting sucked in, but as you can see, the portal was actually bigger than that. When the portal activated, people started getting sucked in. Ultimately, ten people were lost, including my Lizzie, before the machine broke down.”
“So that’s why you’re trying to repair the machine,” Evaira said.
“Yes,” Warren said, “and it wasn’t easy to get started. The university pulled my funding after the fiasco. I had to quit my job, and acquire the money from another source so I would have everything I needed to repair the machine, and be with my Lizzie again…”
“I’m sorry,” Evaira said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Warren said, “what’s done is done, and it’s clear that I should have just told you about this sooner. However, how does your friend know about the machine? I thought I was the only one smart enough to build something like this.”
“Alpha’s a robot,” Evaira said, “with half the internet downloaded to his brain, and some basic ability to reason with it. He can figure out pretty much everything pretty quickly.”
“I can fix the machine within five minutes,” Alpha said.
“Then would you help me?” Warren asked.
“If Miss Evaira approves,” Alpha said.
“Help him out,” Evaira replied.
With that, Alpha and Warren approached the machine and continued to tinker with it. Evaira watched from a few feet back, and Chira remained hidden behind her legs, but peeked at Warren and Alpha doing their work. It wasn’t long before Warren shouted “It’s done!”
“It’s finished?” Evaira asked.
“Well,” Warren said, “I can’t be sure until I test it. But it looks like it should work.”
“Agreed,” Alpha added.
“You’d better step out of the clearing,” Warren warned, “or you’ll get caught in the portal.”
“But what about you?” Evaira said.
“I’m going through the portal,” Warren said, “it’s the only way I’m going to find Lizzie.”
“But,” Evaira said, “weren’t you going to bring her back?”
“After all this time,” Warren said, “finding Lizzie in the other dimension to pull her back would be impossible. I just want to spend the rest of my days with her, even if that means we spend them in another dimension.”
“So this was your plan all along?” Evaira asked.
“Yes,” Warren said, “the portal should deactivate on its own after a minute, so nobody else gets caught in it. The machine will then send a signal to my benefactors, so they can come to collect it, so nobody else can activate it. Then, all will be done. Thank you for your help.”
Evaira was quiet. She started to walk out of the clearing, followed by Alpha and Chira.
“Here,” Warren said, “take this.”
He threw a small golden key to Evaira. She caught it.
“A key?” Evaira asked.
“To my cabin,” Warren said, “where I’ve been sleeping. You can have it, and help yourself to anything you want in there.”
“Thanks,” Evaira said.
“Goodbye,” Warren said, “and thank you”.
He pressed a button on the machine, and the clearing was engulfed by a large shimmering black hemisphere. Evaira, Alpha, and Chira stepped back from it. After about a minute, the dome faded, and Warren was gone. The machine remained in the clearing.
“What a person would do for love,” Evaira said.
“I guess love really is as powerful as all the fairy tales say,” Chira said.
“In some ways it is,” Evaira said, “anyway, we should probably head back down the mountain. Let’s first head over to that cabin.”
They proceeded to hike back down the mountain, to Warren’s cabin. The location of the cabin was marked in Liza’s diary, so they had no trouble finding it. On the way, they ran into Bill.
“Hey, gang,” Bill said, “sorry, but I couldn’t keep him busy long enough. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to fly while carrying a heavy wrench in your foot?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Evaira said, “we’ve already resolved everything. This wasn’t where Liza disappeared.” Evaira quickly brought Bill up to speed with what happened in the clearing.
“Great,” Bill said, “so we’re going to head off shortly, then?”
“We’ve just got to make one stop first,” Evaira said.
They stopped at Warren’s cabin, and unlocked the door. The cabin was pretty empty, and just had a bed in it, along with a small kitchenette and a table. They did, however, find a few useful objects to take: a few books on interdimensional physics, some of Warren’s food (that would have gone bad if they hadn’t taken it), some money, and a red dress. Apparently, the dress had previously belonged to Lizzie, but Evaira liked it, so she decided to keep it. They then locked the cabin door and kept the key. They figured the cabin might be of use if they were ever in this area again. After leaving the cabin, they returned everything to the RV, and rode off.
Meanwhile, in the bushes on the other side of the clearing, a man in a leather jacket with long red hair was hiding, watching everything that had happened. He climbed out of the bushes and walked up to Warren’s machine. He put his hand onto it, and inspected it for a moment. He then reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and made a call.
“Professor,” he said, “it’s me. I have finished checking on Warren.”
“How is his progress,” the voice on the phone asked.
“I just saw him complete the portal,” the man replied, “the machine is right next to me.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied, “you know what to do.”
“I will deliver the machine,” the man added, “Also, I think you should know that the professor had help from somebody. She could present a problem to us, or create an interesting opportunity. You see, she is Liza Evaira’s sister…”
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
This was one of the first Evaira story ideas I came up with, from the original concept I did during a “first 25 minutes of the night” brainstorm (I’ll explain what this is later), and still one of my favorites.
I wanted to present the character of Warren as a lover, a man who would give up everything for love, and thus, use a rather common, but still very powerful theme of the power of love. I also had to make him a bit untrustworthy to build up drama, and, of course, to get Evaira suspicious. If he had told her that he hadn’t captured Liza, Evaira would have no reason to investigate further.
I originally wanted the story to be set at a river, with Warren taking a boat trip to a spot under a bridge where the portal took place. Then, the portal’s first opening would have made quite a scene – the event that drew the Evaira sisters’ attention. However, I switched to the mountain for a few reasons. For one thing, a bridge is a much less isolated place, and Warren would be less likely to do his work undisturbed. Plus, working on boats in a river would make the events a bit more awkward to write out the way I was taking the story. On top of that, Chira can actually come on the adventure if it’s in the mountains. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered how the river setting could have even worked in my brainstorm.