The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part III -- Frostmelt
by Henry Wyckoff

Chapter 15

Kate shivered in anxiety. A million fears ran through her mind. She was afraid that the storm would send the plane crashing onto the ice below, that the gas would run out before they hit the next refueling station, or that the pilot would suspect that two vampires were on board. The pilot's eyebrows had risen when he was told the back had to be shielded from the sunlight, however rarely it should cut through the clouds.

The sound of snoring had cut through her thoughts. Kate had been holding Axer's sleeping body in her arms for the last hour or so. It felt nice -- he always seemed so happy and contented when he was asleep -- but the snoring just had to stop. She shook him awake.

"Huh?" he looked around as if someone were about to strangle him.

"It's nothing," she smiled, and he went back to sleep.

The plane went through an uncharacteristic series of shudders. "We've got some trouble ahead!" barked the pilot. "We're going to land -- I ain't going through *that*!"

Kate couldn't see what it was, but she could hear everyone else's exclamations of: "Go ahead!" and "Get us outta here!"

The shaking got worse and worse until they landed. The blankets that separated the back from the rest of the plane were removed, and Kate could see that they were in the middle of the most vicious storm she had ever seen in her life.

"We've hit civilization!" whooped Mulder, pointing at the outskirts of a town.

"I've never seen this place before," muttered the pilot. "Oh well -- one of you younger boys go ask for help. I can't get around the way I used to."

Sharpe jumped out of the plane, trying his best to stay on the ground while he ran against the wind for one of the buildings. About five minutes later, he returned with three bulky figures.

"They'll help us out!" shouted Sharpe above the wind. "Everyone get out -- we'll all need to push it to the barn."

Since some among the group had augmented strength, it wasn't as hard as Sharpe thought it would be to push the plane to the 'barn', which was really just a big, empty garage. That didn't mean the going was easy, though. The ground was covered with rocks, ice, and snow, which made an already bad job worse. The wind threatened to rip each one of them from the plane, and the plane was so cold that their fingers threatened to snap off.

There was just enough room to fit the plane in. The door was closed and locked from the outside, and they were led to a nearby building complete with a fire and coffee. When the doors shut, all the outside sounds were cut off sharply. It seemed like they entered a totally different world.

Now that the adrenaline rush was beginning to diminish, and they had the leisure to actually view their surroundings, they noticed that their benefactors were wearing actual bearskin parkas and undercoats.

The overcoats were removed, and revealed three grizzled men wearing caps that said -- U of A, Geosciences Department. "You're a long way from home," said one with an open smile on his face.

"And you're a sight for sore eyes," said Axer. "It's a wonder we found you when we landed!"

The next few minutes were spent defrosting and shedding the frozen/wet layers of clothing. Kate was thankful for Axer insisting that she wear many layers of clothing, rather than a single thick coat. Not only could she get rid of the offending layers, but she also had already-heated underlayers that cut the cold very quickly.

Even Axer had followed his own advice once they had reached the permafrost, Kate remembered, holding back a chuckle. Although he swore that he loved the cold, even he tended to get a bit uncomfortable once the thermometers were no longer readable.

Although it would do nothing for her, she accepted some coffee. There seemed to be some myth that vampires couldn't eat or drink anything other than blood -- the truth was that they could only gain sustenance through blood, but could eat or drink anything they wanted to. Most didn't because of some reflexive aversion to mortal food. Kate shared the revulsion for food, but not for drinks. In order to blend in, she had often drunk coffee and wine -- she preferred the red.

The coffee didn't taste pleasant, but it didn't taste bad either. In this case, it was the coffee, and not her own sense of taste.

"So," said the oldest of the researchers, "perhaps you'd care to tell us your story? It's not often we get somebody trying to ride a storm."

"Well," said the pilot, taking the lead. "It went like this -- we're part of an international expedition team, and we need to make a certain spot in time, so we risked the storm."

"What kind of expedition?"

"Ice hiking -- that sort of stuff. It costs a few thousand to enroll, so it gives you a certain incentive to show up," he laughed.

And so the next few hours were spent weaving an elaborate tale of lies and misdirection.

* * *

Nick and Odin didn't have as hard of a time navigating across the open plains. Where Sharpe had insisted on a roundabout route to throw off any trackers, Odin flew on a direct route.

He didn't look at any of his instruments, or even check the compass. He simply picked a direction and stuck with it.

"I think it's about time for the sun to come up," said Odin. "Why don't you set up a barrier in the back seat?"

Over the last few hours, his insanity had seemed to leave him, as if his whole persona had changed to become that of an "average pilot." He was polite, spoke in some Midwestern accent, and told a lot of dirty jokes. He also had a lot of interest with the weather. He still sang baffling songs, however, or would recite meaningless poetry.

Nick had long since stopped trying to make sense of it, but was grateful that he hadn't gotten a worse persona. He found some blankets buried under some cushions, and used some tacks to hold them in place over the windows and ceiling. Within a few moments, he had an effective barricade against
the sun.

"How much longer until we get there?" asked Nick.

"A day or so."

Nick leaned back in the seat, totally baffled as to what was happening, and why he was doing this. Perhaps Odin was right -- Nick just couldn't let a mystery go unsolved. He *needed* answers, perhaps as much as Mulder did -- just not about alien abductions.

"So, Odin," said Nick. "Why don't you tell me about yourself?"

He didn't answer, instead singing some heavy metal song rather badly. Nick fell asleep.

* * *

Mulder sat off by himself, reading the book that Axer had lent him. It was fascinating -- not just the precise and readable summary about the physics from Newton and Huygens to Einstein and Schroedinger, but presenting extrapolations in an honest manner. If a theory was a theory (and an unpopular one at that), it was presented that way.

What really intrigued him was a section called BEYOND EVERETT. It read:

...Scientists who deal with such bizarre extremes
of nature should not find it too difficult to
stretch their minds to accommodate the concept of
parallel worlds.

In fact, that felicitous-sounding expression,
borrowed from science fiction, is quite
inappropriate. The natural image of alternative
realities is as alternative branches fanning out
from a main stem and running alongside one another
through superspace, like the branching lines of a
complex railway junction. Like some super-
superhighway, with millions of parallel lanes, the
SF writers imagine all the worlds proceeding side
by side through time, our near neighbors almost
identical to our own world, but with the
differences becoming clearer and more distinct the
further we move "sideways in time." This is the
image that leads naturally to speculation about
the possibility of changing lanes on the
superhighway, slipping across into the world next
door. Unfortunately, the math isn't quite like
this near picture.

He read a little further, and saw the light. The key of moving from one alternate reality to another wasn't walking through some dimensional portal, but rather moving forward or backward in time, and making the proper turns when quantum choices are made.

The key was, then, traveling through time and somehow influencing the quantum decisions. He had always believed that time travel was impossible, but apparently it was on some levels. He saw a diagram showing a gamma ray splitting into an electron and positron, both going forward in time and space. An alternative, and apparently equivalent perspective was to view a single electron moving in space but going forward and backward in time, absorbing and emitting gamma rays.

The implications were incredible. He was about to hand the book to Sharpe when he noticed that everyone had gone to sleep -- the only other one awake was one of the geologists, cursing under his breath as he tried to get some graphics presentation program to cooperate.

"Damn Windows-95!" muttered the geologist. "Why couldn't we stick with three-one and good ol' Freelance?!" By the looks of it, he was trying to install Windows-95, and his troubles were mounting right and left.

Mulder knew better than to open his mouth, but he did it anyway. "Why do you need to upgrade?"

The geologist snapped his head towards him. "What?!" his eyes nearly bulged out of his head.

"Why are you upgrading? It looks like you had a working system already, and you just scrapped it."

He looked puzzled, "Because Win 3.1 is obsolete!"

"Is it obsolete if it does the job?"

The geologist thought about that for a few moments.

* * *

Not everyone was asleep. Kate and Axer were in another room. Axer had immediately fallen asleep, but Kate needed to talk, so she elbowed him awake.


"Hmm?..." He didn't look to happy at the moment.

"Does any of this make sense to you?"

"Let me have my ten hours of sleep, and I'll get back to you."

She didn't let him have it. A playful bite on the neck, and she had his full -- totally awake -- attention. "You're not being fair, you know. I hardly know what's going on, and you seem to know everything about it -- and you don't tell me anything."

He grumbled under his breath a little, but he spoke in a moment. "I don't know everything -- I just take everything one moment at a time. All I know is that we have to be at the Landing at some pre-specified time to watch some Vikings come home for a month. Why? It's a good question, and I don't know the answer."

"How can you take yourself to the North Pole just because Powys wanted you to?"

"Because I trust that there's a method to his madness. I've known the guy for a few centuries -- and only as an acquaintance for most of them. I didn't even know his name until a few years back! All I cared about was that he could hand over some pretty important information on occasion, and he never let me down. So if he says, 'Go here!' I'll go, so long as he has a good reason for it."

"But that's my point -- he hasn't given either of us a reason!"

"But he has -- if we don't get there, we'll miss out on a big clue about this whole mess we're involved in. If Powys thinks that we can glean some information from this, then I'm all for it. Next question."

She gave up. "What's the point? You're not telling me anything!" She turned away from him.

"Kate..." she didn't respond, so he turned her face until she looked at him. "What made you think I'm not telling you anything? I've just told you all I know! There's a big difference between not telling and not understanding. Don't blame me because you don't understand."

That wasn't quite the right way to phrase it. She stood up and tried to storm out of the room, but Axer stopped her.

"No you don't -- not this time! Now you come back to bed and tell me what's *really* on your mind. It's not the Landing and it's not about me."

"You can be such an idiot sometimes!" she snarled, moving him out of the way and stomping out of the room.

Axer threw his hands up into the air and walked outside, in nothing but his underclothes -- no socks or shoes. After a few moments, nothing mattered to him except for the biting cold. His limbs had immediately turned blue, and his eyes had frosted open.

He didn't know how long it took for him to lose consciousness, but eventually he did. It was pleasantly like going to sleep.

* * * *

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