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The Rogue World, Page 3

Matthew J. Kirby

  Badri leaned toward Eleanor. “You shut them down?”

  Eleanor looked into her brown eyes. “Yes.”

  “How did you do this?”

  “She connects with them,” Finn said. “Like . . . telepathy.”

  Badri’s lips parted, as if she had just sucked in a silent breath. “Is this true?”

  “Yes. I can talk to them, even control them. So can my uncle Jack, though he hasn’t tried yet.”

  Badri looked at Uncle Jack for a moment, and then turned back to Eleanor. “How many of them have you shut down?”

  Eleanor sighed. “None. I thought I had shut down three of them, but Watkins has the ability to turn them back on, apparently.”

  Badri closed her mouth and was silent for a few moments. Then she turned to Dr. Von Albrecht. “What do you need?”

  The professor explained the rest of the situation to Badri, after which Eleanor described the recent changes to the Concentrators and the telluric currents that she and Uncle Jack had felt before leaving Egypt.

  “So,” Badri said when they’d finished, “you need Grendel to comb the G.E.T.’s files and find out what Watkins knows about your connection to the Concentrators. That way you can shut them down permanently.”

  “That’s the hope,” Eleanor said.

  “There is too little hope in the world these days,” Badri said.

  Luke chuckled. “Tell that to the fools building skyscrapers out there.”

  Badri waved away his comment. “That is not hope. That is denial and pride.”

  “So will you help us?” Eleanor asked.

  Badri sat back on her stool, touched her fingertips to her lips, and narrowed her eyes. She remained this way for a long moment.

  “Why must the Concentrators be shut down?” she finally asked. “Why not simply take control of them yourself?”

  Eleanor felt the question to be a kind of test. “Because we can’t control them. Not really. That’s what Watkins has been trying to do, but that hasn’t stopped the Freeze. As long as the Concentrators are running, the earth is in danger.”

  Badri nodded. “The Preservation Protocol is an evil trying to convince the world it is a necessary one.”

  “So will you help us?” Uncle Jack asked.

  “It’s not a question of whether we will help you,” Badri said. “It’s a question of whether we can.”

  “What do you mean?” Dr. Von Albrecht asked.

  “We’ve already hacked into the G.E.T.’s servers, but have never seen anything like what you’re talking about. The information you need must be in Watkins’s confidential files, on a separate server. To get a look at them, we would need direct access.”

  Finn raised his hand. “And by direct access, you mean . . .”

  “A terminal connected directly to that server.”

  “Is that possible?” Eleanor asked.

  “Possible?” Badri rose from her stool and paced around the room. “I wouldn’t say that it is impossible. But such a thing would be very difficult and dangerous.”

  “And just what would such a thing entail?” Luke asked.

  “We would have to physically break into the G.E.T. facility in the former Kingdom of Mustang. In the Himalayas. That’s where Watkins has established his primary research station.”

  “Near the Concentrator?” Dr. Von Albrecht said.

  Badri nodded. “I hear Watkins calls it Yggdrasil. The World Tree of Norse mythology.”

  A fitting name for the Master Concentrator, where all the earth’s currents had just been directed.

  “You’re right,” Betty said. “That sounds pretty dangerous.”

  “But that’s what we were going to do anyway, right?” Finn tugged at the collar of his shirt as if it was too tight, or he was too hot. “I mean, assuming we figure out how to shut down this Iggy Tree safely, that’s where we were going to end up eventually.”

  “That’s true,” Eleanor said. “So maybe we can do both at the same time.”

  “We’ve been watching the Yggdrasil Facility for some time,” Badri said. “Until this moment, we didn’t have a good enough reason to justify the risk of breaking in.”

  “If we can find out what Watkins knows,” said Dr. Von Albrecht, “we can shut down all the Concentrators and sever our connection to the rogue planet for good.”

  Badri smiled. “Now Grendel comes. Like a thief in the night.”



  THAT EVENING, AS THE REST OF THE GRENDEL COLLECTIVE prepared for the operation, Badri brought Eleanor and the others to a dining room. The wooden table where they sat appeared to be an antique, with deep grain and a dark, smooth surface. Then Badri and a few others brought in plates bearing steaming bundles of green leaf, as well as platters with potatoes in a curry sauce, and a sharp cucumber and onion salad.

  If Eleanor’s mom had been there, she would have politely declined to eat any of it. She was way too picky about food. But Eleanor could see the glee in her uncle Jack’s eyes, an enthusiasm Eleanor shared with him.

  “What do you call this dish?” he asked, exploring the green leaf bundle on his plate with his fork and fingers. “Is this banana leaf?”

  “Yes,” Badri said. “This is patra ni macchi.”

  Eleanor unwrapped her own bundle, releasing the aromas of coconut, mint, coriander, and fish. Inside the banana leaf she found a delicate, flaky fillet enrobed in spicy chutney. She couldn’t remember the last time she had tasted half of these flavors. She took a bite, and closed her eyes at how juicy and delicious it was. Everyone else at the table did the same.

  Uncle Jack sighed. “This is incredible.”

  “Yes, it is.” Badri wiped her mouth with her napkin. “Now, the one piece of the puzzle left to figure out is how to get from here to Nepal. I must ask, how did you get to Mumbai from Cairo?”

  “We have a plane,” Finn said.

  “My plane,” Luke said.

  Badri leaned back in her chair. “Well, that simplifies things.”

  “Maybe,” Eleanor said. “But the G.E.T. knows exactly what our plane looks like, and they might be expecting us. If we fly too close to their facility, they’ll know it.”

  “I see,” Badri said.

  After Eleanor and the others had stuffed themselves with fish and potatoes, Badri showed them to a couple of adjoining rooms with beds, cots, and couches. Rugs softened the parquet wooden floor beneath her feet.

  “We’ll leave tomorrow at first light for Kathmandu.” Badri looked at Luke. “May I assume you can fly us at least that far?”

  “Sure,” Luke asked. “Then what?”

  “We take a chartered plane to Jomsom in Nepal,” Badri said. “From there it’s a thirty-five-mile trek to the Yggdrasil Facility in the Upper Mustang.”

  “Thirty-five miles?” Finn said.

  “Yes.” Badri smiled. “Unless we freeze to death before we reach it.”

  “We can’t afford a chartered plane,” Betty said.

  “But Grendel can,” Badri said, on her way out the door. “Get some rest.”

  When she was gone, Eleanor looked at the others, and no one said anything for a few moments. Badri seemed trustworthy, but Eleanor still felt hesitant. There was simply too much at stake, and the bitter memory of Amaru’s betrayal lingered.

  “I think we all could use some rest,” Uncle Jack said.

  The moment he said it, Eleanor realized she was exhausted. She’d been up the entire previous night, delving deep into a hidden tomb in the Valley of the Kings. That felt like days or weeks ago, and now she was in Mumbai. Tomorrow she would be in Kathmandu. Her journey had taken her from Phoenix to the other side of the world, and she could only wonder where it would take her next. Hopefully back home, so long as they succeeded.

  Then she could begin to make things right with her mom.

  Eleanor woke up the next morning to the sound and smell of rain. Badri served them a breakfast of eggs scrambled with herbs and shredded potatoes, and they left the G
rendel home and quiet streets of the Parsi Colony in two vans. Eleanor and her friends rode with Badri in one vehicle, while the other carried five members of Badri’s team. The squeaking windshield wipers worked hard, and Eleanor watched the city passing by them through runnels and blurry sheets of water over her window.

  “India used to have a monsoon season,” Badri said, “with rain much worse than this.”

  “Used to?” Eleanor said. “Has the Freeze changed that?”

  Badri nodded. “It’s complicated, but the glaciers that now cover the Tibetan Plateau reflect sunlight back into space, instead of the earth absorbing heat the way it used to before the ice. That means we don’t get what they call a thermal low, so no monsoon season like we used to have.”

  Eleanor didn’t quite follow that, but she didn’t doubt the effects of the Freeze.

  Eventually, they reached the airport and boarded Luke’s plane from the wet tarmac. Badri’s crew carried on several duffel bags and suitcases and filled every extra seat in the main cabin. As the unrelenting rain pelted Consuelo, they took off and climbed above the rough and heavy clouds into the sun.

  Badri sat next to Eleanor, and as the plane leveled off, she leaned in close. “How do you do it?”

  “Do what?” Eleanor asked.

  “How do you connect with the Concentrators? This ability you have . . .”

  “I don’t really know. It just kind of happens. The real trick is to stay in control of it.”

  “Interesting,” Badri said.

  “I think you are very brave.”

  Eleanor snorted. “My mom calls it recklessness. Or she used to say I was devilishly clever, but now I’m not sure that was ever really a compliment.”

  “I call it bravery.” If this stranger thought Eleanor was brave, why didn’t her own mother? Eleanor folded her hands in her lap. “I think you’re brave. You know the risk you’re taking by helping us, don’t you.”

  Badri nodded. “I do.”

  “So why are you doing it?”

  The woman cocked her head to the side a bit. “Good thoughts. Good words. Good deeds. That is the Parsi way. To be among those who renew the world. The G.E.T. has stretched their control across the globe, and is now engaged in draining the world of life and vitality. They must be stopped.”

  She said it as if the answer should have been obvious, and the integrity of Badri’s motive surprised Eleanor. She wanted very much to believe that the older woman spoke honestly. It gave Eleanor hope that there were still people out there who wanted to do the right thing simply because it was the right thing to do.

  The flight across India to Nepal was supposed to take two and a half hours, but after three hours, they still hadn’t arrived. Eleanor left her seat and climbed into her chair by Luke in the cockpit.

  “What’s taking so long?” she asked.

  Luke scanned the console of instruments and gauges before him. “With all the back-to-back flying we’ve been doing, we’re putting a lot of strain on Consuelo, and she’s showing it. I’m going easy on her.”

  “She’s earned it,” Eleanor said.

  Luke nodded. “That she has.”

  Eleanor decided to stay with Luke in the cockpit for the remainder of the flight. Since Uncle Jack had joined them, she hadn’t spent as much time with him. As they talked, she watched the ground below rising and falling with valleys and mountains, and off in the distance, she saw the Himalayas, a towering icy rim against the sky that climbed higher and more impressive with each passing minute.

  Soon, Luke began their descent into a valley bowl surrounded by snowy hills, and Eleanor studied the city of Kathmandu. From above, its sprawl was not unlike Mumbai, with some areas densely packed, and others more spacious and green, dotted with parks and open squares. Ornate towers and pagodas rose up periodically in the skyline, marking what Eleanor assumed to be temples and palaces.

  But she didn’t see any more of the city than that. Once they’d landed, Badri led them across the tarmac to the private jet she’d chartered. A cold wind swept down from the mountains carrying a threat that Eleanor recognized. She felt the chill of it and remembered the menacing whisper of ice, its patience and its teeth. She had left the Arctic and traveled around the world, but the glaciers were still waiting for her.

  The private plane was cramped inside, not the glamorous kind of aircraft Eleanor had imagined. She sat between Luke and Uncle Jack. Luke fidgeted with his seat belt and shifted in his chair, looking up toward the cockpit.

  “You wish you were driving?” she asked him.

  “Maybe,” he said.

  Eleanor elbowed him. “No backseat flying.”

  He chuckled, and soon they were in the air. From Eleanor’s window, she could see the Himalayas above them, and even when they’d reached cruising altitude for their short flight, the peaks rose higher than their plane. Their white lines looked sharp and raw against the sky, as if newly carved.

  “Did you know the top of Mount Everest is made of marine limestone?” Uncle Jack asked.

  “Marine?” Eleanor asked. “As in . . .”

  “As in, it was once underwater,” Uncle Jack said.

  Luke shook his head. “From one of the lowest spots on earth to the highest. Now that’s power.”

  It awed Eleanor, too, that the earth’s plates could lift each other up in that way, turning everything upside down with their conflict. She studied the folds, crags, crevices, and summits as they flew between two large mountains and into a valley.

  Before long, the ground below them became a field of untouched white. It was snow, and the memory of a shiver wrapped its cold fingers around Eleanor’s neck. She tried to shake it off, but it stayed until they landed on a tiny airstrip next to a tiny village. Before leaving the plane, they all suited up in cold-weather gear that Badri and her Grendel team had brought: coats, boots, gloves, and goggles. It wasn’t quite so cold that they needed the breathing masks they had worn in the Arctic.

  “Here we go again,” Finn said. “I wonder if we’ll find any Paleolithic warriors resurrected here.”

  Eleanor thought back to Amarok and his people, wondering where they had gone, and whether they had found a new home. She hoped they had. But then she thought about the dusty mummies deep in the Egyptian tombs. It wasn’t always a good thing that the Concentrators’ energy could bring things back to life.

  “I’m hoping that anything dead has stayed that way,” she said to Finn.

  The largest clothing they had was still a bit tight on Uncle Jack, but he wore it without complaint. As they opened the plane’s hatch and descended to the tarmac, a sharp wind shoved glittering ice into Eleanor’s eyes. She blinked and pulled her goggles on, then looked up at the towering mountains, higher than anything she had seen before, higher even than the clouds that clung to them.

  “We should cover as much ground as we can today,” Badri said. “It will take at least two days to reach the facility.”

  Eleanor didn’t like the idea of another overland trek through snow, but they set off, leaving the small town behind, following the contours and course of the valley. At times the gorge narrowed, and in other places it opened wide, its cliffs both violent and beautiful, one of the most dramatic landscapes Eleanor had ever seen. It seemed that the wind, the water, and the ice had each taken their turn in shaping it. A frigid river wound down the middle of it, runoff from the Tibetan ice sheet high above them.

  Their party made a steady and even march northward, and Eleanor’s muscles warmed up with exertion, driving away some of the cold. They followed a narrow road to the east of the river as it traveled along the base of the valley, occasionally climbing partway up the side, granting them impressive views of the mountains jutting endlessly all around them.

  “Tourists used to come here seeking enlightenment,” Badri said.

  “I wonder if any of them thought they found it,” Luke asked.

  “I suspect that had everything to do with them, and little to do with this place.”<
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  Eleanor had come here seeking enlightenment, too. She wanted to know what made her different, and how she could use that to save her world. And perhaps like the tourists who’d preceded her, she couldn’t find her answers anywhere else. She knew she was traveling in the right direction, because she could feel the gentle static of the earth’s telluric currents rushing beneath her. The energy still flowed powerfully in one direction, a rising tide gathered to this single Concentrator, in the same way the moon pulled at the earth’s oceans.

  “Do we have a plan once we reach the facility?” Uncle Jack asked Badri.

  “There were maps of its layout in the files we’ve recovered,” the woman said. “We have an idea which entry points will give us easiest access to a computer terminal. But we won’t know for certain until we are there.”

  “So let’s just get there,” Luke said, huffing a little.

  Eleanor soon found the exertion getting to her as well. The elevation here made her feel a bit lightheaded, and after a few hours, her muscles ached. Their party stopped periodically to rest and eat. Badri gave them all squares of a chewy bar made from dried fruit, nuts, and honey. Clouds came and went. The miles passed slowly, a winding course up and down narrow side canyons, and the sun moved steadily across their path. They periodically passed freestanding miniature towers that Badri said were Buddhist chortens, places of meditation. Toward the late afternoon, the far side of the valley lay in shadow, and Eleanor watched that shadow swelling, drawing closer to them, but before it reached them, they climbed up an incline and out onto a promontory, where they arrived at another village.

  The cluster of buildings overlooked the valley and river below, and unlike the town where they had landed, this place seemed to have been abandoned years ago. The stone, brick, and cement remained behind, snowdrifts piled up in the doorways, a Himalayan ghost town. Eleanor imagined eyes watching her from the shadows and haunted windows, felt the prickle of them against her scalp.