Well, here it is at last: the (short and fluffy) sequel to Reconciliation. This one will focus a bit more on my OC's rather than the canon characters. Sorry for the wait, it took me a while to get back in the mood for Hornblower (I got on tumblr and I realized how much I missed this). I also want to apologize in advance for the highly unbelievable sci-fi in this chapter, just go with me on this for a while—it gets better I swear. Reviews are loved! As always.
Preface: A Black Wind
The year is 2013. It is a quiet summer night in a small town on the edge of nowhere. Most of the town's people are asleep, lulled into slumber by the chirping of the crickets and the cooling breeze. This is a small place, where everyone knows everyone and there are no secrets.
But there is a secret to this seemingly boring, see-through town. For years, a government-funded program has been running under everyones' noses. Scientists have been experimenting with the concept of traveling to other worlds—not the past, not outer space, but alternate realities of one's own imagination. A seemingly impossible idea brought to life through in depth study, speculation, and testing.
Throughout history, there were accounts of unsatisfied people disappearing and then showing up days, weeks, even years later by the same strange force. But most specifically, there were records of people disappearing and reappearing here. It was a puzzle, an enigma, that had stolen the hearts of many a brainiac.
Through years of dedication, calculation, and trial and error, a portal had been opened. This portal, using a force that not even one of the most knowledgeable scientists could really understand, was able to open the opportunity to leave this reality and go onto an alternate one. It had been the daughter of one of the researchers, a Harry Potter geek, who had brought it to the scientists' attention. It was crazy, it was impossible—and yet, it existed, for which there was no explanation, no theory, nothing.
After the first portal had been discovered, others started to pop up, all along unpopulated areas—and in particular, this town. Each was a different size, in a different place, and took whatever participant to another different world. Some worlds were those that had been created by contemporary authors of the 21st century, others were of the past, and others still were of the future.
Progress had been slow, until one researcher had discovered the key to traveling to any other place. It wasn't physical power—it was passion. The initial discoverers had used themselves as test subjects, trying to transport themselves into different worlds, and had been successful for a time. But it never lasted. It was difficult to judge exactly how long they were able to remain there, as time seemed to pass faster in some places and slower in others. Roughly, the longest time they had managed to stay in an alternate reality was a full 24 hours.
The problem was that the scientists had no real passion for leaving the world that they lived in or to stay in the places they managed to be transported to. They were not dissatisfied enough—despite the fact they had spent a large portion of their lives trying to find a way to go somewhere else.
In order to attempt complete success, they needed people who had a great desire to be somewhere else no matter how impossible it was. Frankly, they needed fanatics, obsessed and wrought up diehards who wished to be a part of a universe that was not real. But such a secret organization could not afford to be brought to the public's attention, and was denied test subjects. Thus, the project had reached a stand-still.
Until that one night in 2011 had changed everything.
It had been by accident, that fateful fourth of July, that a portal soon to be discovered was opened in that field that appeared abandoned. When a portal was open, all one had to do was wish deeply that they would be part of a different world, and they would be taken there. The problem was making sense of the pattern of when portals were open versus closed, something that the scientists had not been able to do as of yet.
Three girls, who could have easily been the most passionate in the entire state, had been lucky—or unlucky, depending on one's perspective—enough to be taken through the portal into the reality of their favorite TV series, Horatio Hornblower, which was what they seemed to spend most of their time thinking about.
At first, the Director of the project, Carmen Harper, was angry with herself for letting something like this happen. It pointed out that there were certainly holes in their research—not every portal had been found. In fact, there were probably dozens of undiscovered portals people were walking through every day, oblivious, and too content with their own world to be whisked away to a different one.
But who cared about this Hornblower? She hadn't even heard about the show until this had happened. And what were those girls doing out in that area anyway? They should have stuck closer to the park if they wanted to see fireworks.
It had been an accident, certainly. But not necessarily a loss. Carmen had come to realize how great this accident had been. Now, the organization had three test subjects who had both passion and zeal for another reality. The best part was that now their researchers could observe these girls as they either stuck out or fit in to their new reality, and help further develop what could someday be a commercial entertainment or learning device worth trillions of dollars. The girls' ignorance of the fact that all one had to do to return to her own world was to wish long and hard that she could go back was a helpful factor as well.
There was, however, still a problem. The subjects had been missed by the townspeople. By the whole freaking country, it seemed. At first, all logical conclusions had been breached: they were kidnapped, they were murdered, they ran away. But all guesses fell through as it was found that there was no evidence to suggest anything. They really had disappeared without a trace.
It had taken a while, years in fact, but eventually the organization had been brought up as a possibility. All of the sudden, everyone was invovled in what had been formerly a highly disguised operation—the CIA, the FBI, the US government. The director was sure the families could be paid off to be kept quiet, or other means could be taken to get them out of her hair. But the lawsuits that would follow would be harder to shake. If the press got a hold of any of this information, if any details of their operation were made public, the organization would be shut down. Of that she was certain.
Carmen Harper, director of the alternate-reality-portal program, sat up in her office, trying to decide how she would attack this problem. For the last thirty years of her life, she had been dedicated to scientific development and discovery. This was her life's work, her baby. She would not watch it fall apart just because some stupid kids happened to accidentally be whisked away to some place nobody cared about. No, she had come too far to lose everything. There had to be a way to keep the world off her back.
Even though she knew it was bad for her, she lit a cigarette, breathing in and exhaling the smoke. Right now, she really needed a solution, a gamble—something that would keep her research labs and developments in operation.
The participants, as Carmen liked to call them, had not appeared after the first twenty-four hours spent in their alternate reality, as she had been expected they would. After all, her assistants had never managed to stay somewhere they didn't belong for very long. Day after day passed, but no one came back through the portal. For the first time in all of Carmen's years of experimentation, it seemed that someone had been able to remain and adapt to an entirely different reality. This was astonishing to the scientists—one would have to be immensely dedicated, and naïve, to be able to accomplish something this phenomenal. Truly, progress was being made here.
Carmen thought that this was demonstrating a new, modern philosophy. How does one know that he is not just a pawn, a character in another all-knowing author's story made to entertain an audience? That his entire world is simply the creation of someone else's imagination, and that the made-up characters of creative authors are the ones that truly exist? In her mind, the existence of these portals proved that one could not presume to be the real person, and that the so-called imagined characters in their world were not real people. And that fact that adaption to an entirely different world was possible was also astonishing.
The world wasn't listening to that kind of reasoning. Couldn't they see how fantastic this was? No, they could not see. The government was blind to the concept of scientific advancement. All anyone seemed to care about was if their poor babies came home safe and sound. They had been there so long, Carmen had argued, that if they had managed not to die, they were probably some of the most capable, courageous people on the planet. Really, why couldn't they just be left alone? Obviously they were happy enough living in the world of Fluteplayer, or whatever his name was.
What fascinated her the most was the change of mindset of the participants. Their memories of their former lives and surroundings had begun to fade, being replaced with vague senses of where they had come from had what the world had been like. Eventually, she was sure they would forget everything that formerly defined them, and that they would totally accept and embrace the world they lived in. Such was the side-affect of becoming a part of another reality.
Of the three that had spent a total of a two years in an alternate reality, two were, in simple terms, too far gone to return. Their memories and minds were forever altered—if they ever came back to their former lives, Carmen was sure they would end up in a mental hospital for the rest of their days. It would just be too difficult for them to re-adjust, to completely alter their way of life again.
But there was still hope for the return of one—the youngest participant. It was uncertain why her memory had been retained longer than her friends. Perhaps it was because she was youngest; perhaps it was just by uncanny luck. Carmen had looked into her medical record. It seemed that this girl had a history of insomnia due to condition that caused her to have very vivid, violent dreams that were often triggered by memories or fears. The director was willing to bet that "dreams" of her old life were slowing down her process of adjustment.
Smoke swirled in upward spirals from the cigarette, temporarily forgotten, perched between Carmen's fingers. Maybe, just maybe, if one of the participants came back, this organization could stay in operation. It would take persuasion, undoubtedly, as well as a great deal of money. But then again, it might just work. If she came home, maybe mommy and daddy would finally shut up about their daughter. The organization would make up a story—they could make them believe anything they wanted about the other two. All that was needed was a confirmation, even if false, from one of them. Finally, Carmen could be left to work in peace again.
Now that was a decent idea. It was worth a little risk, she decided. To think of the many portals she had yet to find! And the many worlds left untouched by their own. Other portals surely existed, she was sure of it. And to be able to leave one's one world, and live in another—even for only a brief time—would be a huge achievement of science and education. But discovering other portals and perfecting a way of travel between worlds would take lots of secrecy, time, and research—things she could only manage if the public was kept out of it entirely.
Yes. This could be possible. She could still save this organization she had been fighting for all these years. It wouldn't be hard getting into the world those silly girls had fallen in love with, surely. They would suit-up in period dress, think a little, and they would be transported. Of course, they wouldn't be able to stay there very long, a day or so at the most at a time. The participant wouldn't be hard to find. Tracking devices had been initiated as soon as the portal had been discovered.
None of the scientists had really known much about Hornblower, and much less had the desire to leave the luxury and comfort of their own world. That, Carmen supposed, would be the hard part—the time-crunch. In order to convince the participant to leave, she had to be fully convinced that she did not belong there, or that there was a legitimate reason that she had to return to her original life.
It wouldn't be easy, but it was the most workable option. The girl had to be brought back by whatever means necessary. Intimidation, a bribe, anything really—Carmen did not care. Then she could make the girl say whatever she wanted to make the lawyers screaming injustice and the moaning families give the whole bad-secret-organization argument a rest.
Taking one final puff on her cigarette before stubbing it out on an ash tray, she picked up her office phone and dialed the number of her most trusted affiliate—Trent Johnson. He would still be awake, she was sure, probably working overtime on some calculation or other like he always was.
After two rings, he answered with a surprisingly chipper hello for so late an hour. His superior explained their situation, telling him that she had a special assignment for him and his lab partner, Erin Bailey, to accomplish. His mission was to locate one of the participants—a Charlotte O'Hara—and convince her to return to her former world.
"I don't care how, Trent. Tell her everything, anything—just don't come back without her."
"What if she doesn't want to go?" he asked, seeming oblivious to the underlying meaning of his director's words.
"Then make her go. Use whatever means necessary," Carmen told him. Good grief. The man could be so dense at times. If persuasion did not work, force would be the appropriate choice. Connor wasn't the greatest at thinking outside the box, but he was intelligent and trustworthy. If anyone could accomplish this task, he would be the one to do it.
"We will start preparations first thing tomorrow morning. Call Erin and tell her to be there. Whatever happens, Connor, we must return this girl to our world. Otherwise, all that we have worked for will be worth nothing."
It was a risky move, and perhaps not the best one, but she knew that whatever the cost, this organization had to survive. Even if some did not.
"We must bring her home," the Director said, thinking of the irony behind her words as she said them. They were spoken as if she had this girl's best interests in mind, yet really, her own interests were the only thing on her mind.
This made her smile.
And there it is. I know, there was like, zero Hornblower in this chapter. It's coming, I promise! I will try and aim for this to be done in the next six months, but we'll see. Review and let me know what you think. Cheers.