"Come with me," Cal said.
They walked, climbing over roots and pushing through thick undergrowth. Animal noises surrounded them, especially in the canopy above, which glowed translucently from the sun high above. Holt pulled the knife out and held it, still closed. Cal paused and the blue fire burned in his eyes.
"This isn't for you," Holt said. "But it sounds like there's a lot of wildlife here. I'm taking a wild guess that we're not top of the food chain."
The ground beneath their feet began to incline and soon turned into a steep climb. Even here the trees clung to the soil, trunks sprouting from the ground at oblique angles before turning and clawing up for the sunlight. After fifteen minutes of wordless hiking the trees began to thin out and sky became visible through gaps in the canopy. And then they emerged onto a grassy plain, with the jungle stretched out behind them.
"The topography is all so different," Holt noted.
"Yes," Cal nodded, "I'm thinking all the worlds must have had a long time to develop differently, even if they're based on the same land mass. Locque and Locque 2 were identical other than what happened at the Aviary. But some of these places changed a long time before that."
They passed the summit and looked down the other side, where the jungle came to a natural end, segueing into a lush savannah. Holt stopped in his tracks and stared at the plains below, his face a mask of shock, then he grinned, and laughed, and sat down in the grass.
Grazing half a mile away, picking at the isolated pockets of trees, were brachiosaurs. They moved their huge bulks slowly, looking for food, their necks shifting to reach higher branches. Further off a herd of styracosaurs were making their way towards a river.
"Dinosaurs," Holt said, still laughing. "You found dinosaurs."
Cal stood next to him, holding his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun, and shrugged. "I'm guessing they never went extinct here. Pretty sure there aren't any intelligent mammals, either."
"Some of the companies back home could have made a lot of money if they'd connected up with this place instead of your crappy world," Holt said. He laughed again, briefer this time. "How many more of these have you accessed?"
"A few," Cal said. "I want you to recognise one thing."
"Yeah? Don't keep me in suspense."
"I could leave you on any one of these worlds," Cal said. "I'm guessing your dimension jumping capabilities are linked to the big device in the warehouse. Is it proximity? You have to be close to it to use its power?"
Holt stayed silent and stared out at the prehistoric vista.
"I'll take that as a yes. I'm also thinking that you're sufficiently turned around by now that you have no idea where you are in relation to your world. Finding your way to the equivalent location here so that you're near to the machine - well, near dimensionally-speaking - that's just not going to happen, right?"
Another laugh, bitter this time. "So what is it? You want me to thank you? That's not how I work."
"I want you to remember it."
Cal reached out and took hold of Holt. Then the jungle and the savannah folded away and Holt was blinded by something gargantuan and blue, so bright that it overwhelmed his eyes and so enormous that it filled his vision, no matter where he turned his head. So overwhelming was the stimulus that it distracted him for two seconds, such that he didn't notice the air leaving his lungs and the pressure on his chest, or the sudden drop in temperature.
His eyes adjusted, even while beginning to freeze over, and the blue-white shape resolved into a disc, which was slowly but surely shrinking. No, not shrinking: it was becoming more distant. He blinked and tear droplets formed in front of him and floated away. The disc became discernible as an orb, and he recognised shapes on its surface.
It was the Earth. It was moving away.
He flailed his limbs, kicking helplessly in space. He was in space. His body tumbled and he tried to cry out but no air remained. All his body screamed out in panic. Looking desperately about, his joints seizing up even as he did so, he felt Cal's grip still on his arm. The other man floated beside him, his blue eyes still burning intensely. He looked only slightly discomforted by their predicament. This is what it feels like to drown, Holt thought.
The planet disappeared and the sky and jungle returned and they were a mile up, falling, but Holt felt nothing but relief as oxygen flowed back into his lungs and his body began to thaw. The atmosphere closed around him like a blanket and he almost slipped unconscious as Cal grew white feathered wings and they glided back to the ground with barely a bump.
Holt lay on his back, panting for breath, flexing his limbs and trying to return feeling and warmth to his fingers. He blinked over and over, his eyes still stinging and half-frozen.
"That was one of the first worlds I discovered," Cal said. "I still didn't know how to use this ability and in my panic I nearly got lost up there. Every time I go to that dimension I appear above the planet. If we were to linger there any longer I suspect we'd never be able to return to another safe world. As it is you saw how we were displaced far above the ground."
"You son of a bitch," Holt gasped. He took a deep breath and shook his head. "Son of a bitch."
Cal walked slowly around where Holt lay, like a tiger circling its prey. "Here's the thing," he said. "For centuries, your world has used its technological superiority to control and rule over us. You've manipulated and abused and used us like puppets."
He paused, then turned towards Holt and knelt down next to him. "Now you know," he continued, "you no longer have the upper hand."
Thanks for reading! Please do vote or leave a comment to let me know what you thought. Chapter notes can be found on my blog: https://simonkjones.com/tag/a-day-of-faces/
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A Day of Faces (complete novel)Science Fiction
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