Prologue: Sleepless Nights
Hastelloy decided that he had divulged enough to his therapist for their first meeting and brought his story telling to a close. Dr. Holmes was an intelligent man and a capable psychiatrist, but he did have limits; every human did. Cultivating this necessary relationship properly was a delicate balancing act between too much and not enough.
If not enough information was conveyed at a sufficient pace, then things would fall behind a tight schedule without an inch of wiggle room. If the maelstrom of outlandish details came too quickly, then the good doctor would simply judge Hastelloy hopelessly insane and stop listening all together. Both would be a disaster and prevent Dr. Holmes from being the character witness Hastelloy’s plans would soon come to rely upon.
The pace needed to be just right, but his therapist was not taking Hastelloy’s hint of silence. Twenty seconds ticked by with the only sound in the office being the soft scratching of pencil on paper. Eventually Dr. Holmes finished jotting down his notes and looked up, eager to hear more. With eye contact made, Hastelloy redirected his gaze toward a tall, narrow window to his right. The slender portal failed to allow much light into the room even at midday, but the evening hour rendered the window nearly pitch black.
Dr. Holmes’ eyebrows snapped up in surprise to inform Hastelloy that his second effort to end the conversation was a success. After a few moments of introspective thought, Dr. Holmes finally broke the silence. “You’re a fascinating man, so much so that we’ve spent the entire day together. I think this was an excellent first discussion. We definitely have a good open dialogue, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that I’ll be able to help you as time goes by.”
“I feel much better already by finally getting my personal story out in the open,” Hastelloy responded. The funny thing was, he actually did. Spending over four thousand years living incognito on this planet, protecting his true identity from all but his fellow crewmen was…well…there was no word for it. He had lived so many varied lives for so long now that he scarcely knew who he was anymore; there was only the mission.
“I’m going to have my secretary, Tara, set aside some time early next week for us to talk again,” Dr. Holmes said, bringing Hastelloy back to the task at hand.
Early next week, Hastelloy repeated in his head. That was ample time for the National Security Agency to play their part in Egypt. It also gave Dr. Holmes adequate time to get familiar, if not completely comfortable, with the concept that five aliens had existed on this planet since the time of pyramids and pharaohs; it was a lot to take in after all.
“Between now and then I want you to think about a few things for me,” the doctor went on. “I believe you are suffering from a dissociative state. This basically means something so unimaginably awful happened to you or someone you love that your mind threw a switch. Rather than seeing and dealing with the events that happened, your mind created this make-believe scenario so you can look upon the trauma through someone else’s eyes. In this case, an alien who lived during ancient Egypt.”
If only that were true, Hastelloy thought to himself. The doctor had it half right though. There had been countless events over the millennia, most of them unimaginably awful. He saw every last one of them with absolute clarity in his mind because they all occurred directly or indirectly because of his orders. Plagues, floods, wars, genocides all took place and left millions of humans dead as a result of his actions. All were carried out for a greater good, nevertheless, they happened and that fact was tragic.
Species Alpha, who landed on Earth along with Hastelloy and his crew following a battle in space that left both crews hopelessly stranded, had to be defeated no matter the cost. Hastelloy’s actions in Egypt prevented the Alpha from taking over this planet. Their victory would have enslaved all of humanity, billions of lives over the ages. Surely, that end game justified the sacrifice of a few million human lives.
If that were not enough, an Alpha victory back then would have also destroyed the Nexus device. The piece of Novi technology was the key to Hastelloy and his crew’s longevity. It regenerated their life forces and also housed the lives of twenty million Novi crewmen lost in that fateful space battle. Hastelloy and his crew bore the responsibility of protecting the Nexus at all cost until its return to Novus. That was the mission, and he would not fail. His actions throughout this planet’s history served a greater good for both the humans and the Novi. The ends did justify the means; at least that is what Hastelloy told himself.
“I want you to think about the story you told me today,” Dr. Holmes continued. “When you do, consider the possibility that your mind might be playing a trick. I want you to consider the events you recall might be taking place in the here and now rather than ancient Egypt. Think about how that story might go in today’s world.
“Another thought I want you to consider and spend time on in self-reflection is the violence in your story. The violence is coming from a place of extreme anger inside you. Harboring fantasies about killing people is not healthy. If you have anger within you, let it free. Don’t project it through violent imagery. We need for you to come to terms with your anger and fixation on violence.”
The naivety of the doctor’s statement was almost laughable. If Dr. Holmes only knew the violence his brother, a covert NSA agent tasked with tracking down and eliminating Hastelloy and his crew, had in him. Agent Mark Holmes had shown himself to be utterly ruthless in his pursuit of the crew over his many years of service. If Dr. Holmes knew who his brother truly was, this lecture on violence would be a short one. Knowledge would be coming soon, and Hastelloy contented himself with that thought as he delivered his response.
“Violence was a way of life back then, and it still is today if you make the extra effort to see it in the shadows,” Hastelloy said. “You like to think humanity has evolved beyond its propensity for violence and cruelty. I am telling you, it’s closer than you think.”
Before another uncomfortable silence could set in, Hastelloy stood up from his chair and extended his hand. Dr. Holmes followed suit and clasped his patient’s offered appendage in a stiff handshake.
“Dr. Holmes, I have enjoyed our talk. I will do as you’ve asked, but will you do something for me? The next time you are walking down the street, driving through the city, or talking to someone on the phone, take the time to go beneath the surface of what you see or hear. You might be surprised how close evil and violence really are to you.”
“I will do that,” Dr. Holmes responded. “It certainly seemed to work for you in your story when Mosa made the same request of you. Though I doubt I’ll be killing any would be rapists in the shadows, but who knows what I might find and be able to help resolve?”
The doctor released his grip on Hastelloy’s hand, walked over to his desk and pressed the intercom button. “Tara, Hastelloy and I are finished for the day. Would you please have Terry escort him back to his room?”
“Of course,” Tara replied in a chipper tone. It took some getting used to hearing Commander Gallono speak with a female voice. The pitch may have been different, but even in his two-word reply, the commander’s unique personality shined through like a lit torch in a dark cave. Serving together for hundreds of lifetimes brought with it that level of familiarity and was an acquaintance shared by every member of his crew by now.
The office door opened to admit Tara’s slender female form with the wide, muscular presence of Terry the ‘orderly’ following close behind her. There they were, two individuals standing polar opposite to Hastelloy’s mission in this place.
Terry was quite proficient as an insane asylum orderly, especially considering his real job was working for the NSA. Terry was in Henderson Home to protect Dr. Holmes from any dangers that his brother’s activities in the NSA might bring to the doctor’s door; dangers like Hastelloy.
Tara was not who she appeared either. The commander was imbedded as Dr. Holmes’ assistant two years earlier to provide backup for Hastelloy when the time came, and it most certainly was coming, but not quite yet.
Without a word, Terry crossed the room and ushered Hastelloy out. On his way to the door, Tara gently brushed her hand on Hastelloy’s right shoulder. That was the message he needed to hear. To others in the room it looked like a polite gesture of concern, but it was actually a prearranged code. A tap on the right shoulder meant the NASA deep space probe was successfully commandeered and launched by Ensign Valnor earlier in the day.
It finally happened! When the crew crashed on Earth the humans they found could barely rub two sticks together to create fire. Now, only four thousand years later, Hastelloy and his crew had brought mankind far enough along technologically to construct a spacecraft. Not just any spacecraft, but one able to travel fast enough while broadcasting an S.O.S. message strong enough to reach Novus. It was only a matter of time now before the Novi got that message and arrived to retrieve the Nexus device, along with Hastelloy and his crew.
Everything was going according to plan so far, which was a rarity in his experience. Almost without exception, the first casualty of any operation was his original plan of action. The victorious side was never the one with the best plan; it was the side that prepared enough backup plans to handle any eventuality when everything went to hell in a hand basket.
“Have a good night,” Tara said before shutting the office door behind them. Terry ushered Hastelloy through the outer office and into the long, narrow hallway paved with white industrial tiling. Doors lined both sides of the hall in even increments of fifteen feet to give the building a comforting symmetry. Each door led to a room containing ten beds, five on either side of a central aisle similar to an army barracks.
Terry opened the door to Hastelloy’s room and in doing so presented a view of humanity that people either did not know about, or chose to forget. Five of his roommates were lying in their beds mumbling quiet, incoherent words to themselves. Two more sat in the fetal position on their beds, clenching the sheets so hard that their knuckles were as white as the linens in their grasp. In the far left corner, a man stood leaning forward with his forehead resting in the corner as if he were a schoolboy given a disciplinary timeout. The room’s ninth occupant sat quietly on the edge of his cot staring out the only window, a pitch-black window that revealed nothing about the world beyond the pane of glass.
Hastelloy drew a deep breath before stepping through the doorway to join his fellow patients. None of them were violent, that is how they could share a room unsupervised. Each man simply needed some time and space to be alone with their individual demons; Hastelloy certainly had his.
The heavy metal door behind him clapped shut with an echoing thud that accentuated his circumstance; Dr. Holmes sentenced him to a week of solitude and self-reflection. The treatment was well intentioned, but for Hastelloy it was akin to a week of waterboarding. He comforted himself with the knowledge that he had spent time alone in worse places for far longer than a week. He could manage.
Out in the world Hastelloy could lose himself in the tasks of everyday life. If things did happen to slow down, he could always focus on devising new plans and alternate scenarios for those plans. If all else failed, he could always do research on his opponents or have a drink to fool his mind into thinking everything was all right. Hastelloy did anything and everything he could to avoid downtime because that brought with it his past, his demons.
None of those diversions were available to him now. There was no one to talk to, no computer terminal to run his research queries. His final plan of action was already in motion and under the guidance of his infinitely capable crew. There was nothing for him to do now except lay on his bed, close his eyes, and let the demons come.
The first to arrive was Mosa. An image of the only human he ever married blazed bright in his mind. Her youthful features and vibrant eyes brought a moment of happiness to Hastelloy. All too soon, youth faded into old age and her eyes dulled until not a speck of vitality remained. For an instant, Hastelloy was back in the desert sands holding her frail, lifeless body in his arms. He once again had to watch as his smothering hand fell away from her nose and mouth.
Hastelloy snapped upright in his bed with a start to find himself the only one awake in the now dark and quiet room. It was past midnight. He managed to pass a few lonely hours at least, but Hastelloy knew this was not going to work. Letting his mind wander where it wanted to go was not going to work for an entire week. He would wind up a permanent resident of this facility if he did.
This was not the first time Hastelloy needed to solve a problem with an alternate approach when the initial plan failed. He recalled it taking three attempts before the ‘Discovery’ of the North and South American continents took hold with the major European powers. That entire process, Hastelloy recognized, was yet another demon from his past
It took three tries and nearly five hundred years to begin extracting the limitless potential pent up in the American continents. Eventually all the land, riches, and resources of the vast lands were employed to defeat the Alpha threat in this solar system once and for all. However, if Hastelloy was completely honest with himself, that entire process of discovery represented the greatest failure of his existence and was worth revisiting in his mind to find where he went wrong.
With that intention, Hastelloy closed his eyes once more and let his mind venture back. Soon the snapping sounds of a canvas sail in the wind transported his mind back to his first voyage of discovery to the Americas.
Chapter 1: Leif the Lucky (1000 AD)
“Land, I see land!” a crewmember shouted from the front of the boat. As if it were a sudden call to arms, all thirty-five crewmen aboard lurched to their feet to have a look for themselves. In doing so, they nearly capsized the small ocean-going vessel.
Hastelloy remained seated at his post with oar in hand to marvel at the awesome power of words, even a single word if the context was right. Someone yelling ‘land’ in the middle of a farm field would draw no attention at all. However, the spotter onboard a tiny boat in the middle of a vast ocean shouting that same word drew instant action from everyone within earshot. Land was in sight. The crew was no longer lost in the unknown. Land meant safety and continued life.
In truth, it had not been that long since the ship left the familiar shores of Greenland. The voyage from Denmark to Iceland and then on to Greenland was over two thousand miles and took a month to traverse. This comparatively short journey westward only took four days. The difference was that everyone onboard already knew that Iceland and Greenland were there. They had been discovered and settled by their fellow Norsemen long ago. There was no uncertainty involved in the voyage other than the occasional bout with bad weather.
Setting sail west from Greenland was an entirely different matter; it was a voyage into the unknown. All they had to go on were rumors of land heard from captains who had their ships blown off course on their way to the frozen island. Time had a way of standing still when sailing without a known destination.
Each day the stress of it possibly being their last smothered the crew like a cold, wet blanket. Morale suffered a severe blow a day prior when the winds shifted to blow eastward, in their faces, rather than remaining at their backs. The only means to continue heading west at that point was under the power of oars, and that meant work. Many onboard took it as a bad omen, but not the captain.
Embarking on a voyage of potential discovery required the right sort of leader to not only endure, but also embrace such circumstances. Explorers were a rare and exceptional breed, and Captain Leif Ericson was such a man.
“Back to your oars you lazy dullards. You act as though you’ve never seen a blade of grass before. If land is what we’ve found, then we shall never reach it unless you lot put your backs into it,” Captain Ericson shouted as he stepped over abandoned oars and around casks of dried fish. On his way past Hastelloy, the captain tapped him on the shoulder, “Come with me.”
Together the two men ducked under the ship’s central mast to approach the bow of the boat for an unobstructed view into the distance. What most of the crew did not realize was the shift in wind was a telltale indicator that land was near. The lack of surprise in Leif Ericson’s demeanor let Hastelloy know that the captain was also aware of this fact.
The captain, with hands clasped behind his back, stood at the head of his boat with an expression of total calm. His head slowly rotated to take in the horizon as a gentle breeze danced along the edges of his tunic and tossed about the long fringe hairs framing his bearded face.
“What do you think? Is it the same land you saw aboard Bjami’s boat,” the captain finally asked in a quiet voice.
“It’s impossible to say for sure,” Hastelloy answered with an appropriate amount of skepticism forced into his voice. “We were nearing port off the western coast of Greenland when the storm came. I swear to you, Captain, my eyes have never beheld the sea so angry, so high, so covered with foam. There was no opportunity to make landfall for shelter. Bjami’s only choice was to remain out in the mad sea, seething like a pot on a hot fire. All the while, the deluge of rain never ceased to fall from the sky, nor did the wind pause in its howling.”
“For two days and two nights we clung to the railings while the wind and waters tossed the boat about,” Hastelloy went on. “When the sea’s anger finally did subside, it was there like a shadow off in the distance. We all knew it was land, but at that point we were low on supplies and without means to explore what we saw. For all I know, it could have been a tiny island.”
“I will say this for what we now see. In order to disrupt wind patterns the way we’ve experienced over the last day and a half, this must be a significant landmass and not just some tiny island. It may be as vast an unknown as the ocean we currently sail. How should we proceed?” Hastelloy asked.
“Lidet er om den mans vrede, som ingen vurder,” Captain Ericson said under his breath to a confused expression from Hastelloy. “An old Danish proverb: ‘If you cannot bite, never show your teeth’.”
With Hastelloy still looking confused, Captain Ericson clarified his meaning. “If we didn’t intend to brave the unknown, then we never should have left port in the first place.”
The captain then raised his voice for the entire crew to hear loud and clear. “Gentlemen, that is most definitely land we see. I also spy large schools of salmon in the waters all around. We should do well here.”
The announcement drew an instant burst of acceleration from the rowers that caused Hastelloy and Captain Ericson both to stumble back a step. The crew apparently found the prospect of dry land and the potential riches it held quite motivating.
As the distant shore drew closer, Hastelloy allowed a sense of satisfaction to enter his mindset. The civilized world had finally reached the new continents. For over two hundred years now, Viking settlements on the frozen isle ironically named Greenland sat within spitting distance of the undiscovered continents. Hastelloy had tried everything over the years to get them the rest of the way there. He spread rumors about rich lands just beyond the horizon. He guided dozens of ships off course where they actually spotted the new lands, yet nothing took hold. The hook was never properly set until this moment.
As far as settlement went, the landmass in front of them did not need discovering by any means. The latest scans made from the Nexus chamber of the new territories estimated the native population to be over fifty million across the two continents. By comparison, all of Europe and northern Africa contained fewer than forty million inhabitants at present.
Come to think of it, referring to the known world as ‘civilized’ was quite a stretch considering how much warring went on between nations and competing religions. As distasteful as it was, all that conflict throughout the ages had driven a technological leap forward for the European powers compared to the rest of the planet. The Roman Empire may have been in a fractured state at the moment, but it still served as a guiding light for culture, knowledge and innovation for the ‘civilized world’.
It was quite remarkable to think that all of those advancements occurred while half of this world’s capabilities remained untapped. Two entire continents with vast stretches of land, natural resources, and countless innovative minds remained disengaged from Hastelloy’s efforts to bring mankind far enough along technologically to finally send a message home to the Novi. It was the equivalent of a boxer trying to win a match with one arm tied behind his back, but that was about to change.
The rowing crew continued their vigorous efforts right up until they felt and heard the crunch of wet gravel scraping along the ship’s shallow hull as it ran aground. Captain Ericson was the first to grab hold of the boat’s railing to catapult himself over the side. Another dozen men each retrieved a circular shield mounted along the side of the boat before arming themselves with an axe or spear. They then followed their captain’s example and jumped down onto solid land. There were no visible threats, but in this unknown circumstance, every man felt more comfortable carrying a weapon in case danger did present itself.
“Look at all of that lumber,” one crewman marveled at the sight of a dense tree line to the north. “I think there might be enough to build a bridge all the way back home if we don’t feel like rowing anymore.”
Hastelloy remained aboard the boat to assess the rest of what he saw. “Those open grasslands to the west and south run as far as I can see. There are also clusters of grapevines growing wild among the tall grass all over these plains. I doubt a more plentiful place exists in all the world, and you managed to find it, Captain. Congratulations.”
“What’s more, there are no obvious signs of anyone claiming ownership of these lands,” Captain Ericson observed as he turned to face his awestruck crew. “I doubt we’ll need your weapons, but you men already armed come with me to explore the area. The rest of you still onboard the boat, unload the supplies and begin setting up logging operations. We’re going to be here for a while in order to see if this new land is as fruitful as it appears to be on the surface.”
“Well what are you waiting for?” Captain Ericson shouted when not a single man moved a muscle. “Winter is coming soon and I don’t plan on spending it here with the wind and snow freezing my stones off. This place will be our home for the winter, now let’s make it so!”
“Well, your new lands were bountiful enough to keep us all alive through the winter and bring home profits in the spring,” Hastelloy commended, careful to emphasize Captain Ericson’s ownership of the new lands they spent the last six months exploring. “You will be a nation unto your own with such vast tracts of self-sown wheat fields and vineyards to your name.”
Captain Ericson turned his attention away from trimming the sail to look at the ten casks of grapes and thirty felled trees extending ten feet beyond the boat’s length on both sides. They would fetch a fine price in the open markets, yet the captain wore a pained look upon his face. It was a look filled with skepticism and regret.
“Half a year’s work spent eking out an existence in the wilderness to bring home barely enough valuables to pay for the boat and men,” Captain Ericson grumbled. “We all would have been richer men by now if we’d simply joined a few raiding parties back home.”
“I prefer exploring the world I don’t know rather than wreaking havoc upon the one I do,” Hastelloy responded in quick order to try and stamp out Captain Ericson’s cynicism.
“My own aversion to thieving, raping and murdering as my livelihood aside,” Captain Ericson went on. “There are shallow reefs all over just waiting to snare an unobservant captain and his boat. You know better than anyone how dangerous the storms in this area can be. Add to that the risk of poor construction of a ship’s hull, mast or sail, and you have a perilous journey most will not make at any price.”
“This discovery is exciting to be sure, but there is not enough profit in it to justify the risk,” the captain concluded with a finality in his words that Hastelloy brushed aside to plead his case.
“Consider this. You have already done all of the hard work. We left behind eight log buildings that won’t need erecting a second time if we return soon enough. We spent half our time exploring the surroundings rather than harvesting the crops and lumber. The next journey will be infinitely more profitable for you,” Hastelloy urged and could see in the captain’s eyes that he was coming around to his way of thinking. Greed and the instinct for adventure were going to win out and allow the discovery of the new lands to flourish rather than vanish into the lost annals of history.
“I see smoke in the distance. Port side,” a spotter yelled from the front of the boat.
Captain Ericson immediately snapped his head away from the lively debate, which gave Hastelloy a private moment to contain a barbaric shout of frustration. Hastelloy let out a slow exhale through his nostrils and said a silent prayer that the announcement was a mistake. He eventually looked up to see that there was indeed a thick column of dark smoke rising in the distance off the ship’s left side.
“Bring us about and set course for the source of that fire,” the captain ordered.
A half hour later their ship pulled alongside a stranded crew of Icelandic fishermen standing waist deep in waters that hid a reef of jagged, sharp stones. Nearby, their grounded out boat lay consumed in a blazing inferno that sent smoke billowing hundreds of feet into the air in a last ditch effort to grab the attention of another boat passing near.
“Oh thank the gods you were nearby to see our distress signal,” the leader of the stranded Icelanders said while being helped aboard. “I have fished these waters all my life, but what lies beneath is constantly changing from one year to the next.”
“If a local cannot manage to navigate these waters safely every time, then what chance do the rest of us have,” Captain Ericson said to Hastelloy and raised a commanding finger to end all debate on their prior discussion. “It is too risky a journey. This endeavor is over, while we are still among the living.”
All Hastelloy could do was stand in silence as Captain Ericson proceeded to greet his new passengers. “Welcome aboard. I am Captain Leif Ericson.”
“Leif the Lucky,” a crewman chided, and the nickname stuck from that day forward, but knowledge and word of the new lands did not.
Chapter 2: Setting the Stage (1486 AD)
To Hastelloy it felt like he had been rowing with the others for hours. The landing skiff had three sets of oars to a side that required two men to operate each. That provided adequate power to get the tiny boat and its occupants ashore in a timely manner. When the boat was loaded nearly to the point of sinking with supplies as well, the going got slow.
His back was turned to where they were heading, so he stole a quick glance over his shoulder to verify that the sandy shore was drawing near. Captain Corde stood tall at the bow of the boat doing little more than adding weight to the tiring effort of the rowers. He shot Hastelloy a stern look that said ‘Turn around and get back to work’.
Hastelloy did as implied and faced the rear where the mother ship, La Esperanza, stood tall in the bay. The proud vessel was sixty feet long, fifteen across, featured three masts, and the main deck towered two stories over the ocean waves. It made the Viking longboat he sailed on before appear barely up to the task of crossing a small pond by comparison.
“Here comes another wave,” Hastelloy called out to his fellow rowers. “Ready…now.”
The twelve men heaved with all their might and completed three strokes in rapid succession that moved the landing craft along with the cresting wave to take advantage of the extra propulsion. It did the trick and sent the heavy boat into the soft sands of the shoreline with enough momentum to deposit the craft several feet up the beach.
Hastelloy looked around at the crewmen and saw relief on their faces that their physical exertions were at an end, but little else. This was nothing new for them. The first time they came ashore in the new lands discovered to the west, it was almost a wrestling match to see who could get off the landing boat first.
It was now a year later and the excitement of the whole experience was long gone. They had made dozens of these landings, and were destined to make several hundred more over the next few years before heading back to Portugal to report on what they found.
Captain Corde was the first man off the boat. The moment his boots hit sand he was shouting out orders even though the crew knew the drill by now. “Unload the tents first, then set up the rain barrels to gather fresh water while we wait to locate a river or stream. Then unload the food.”
“Aye, Captain,” they all mumbled with their lack of enthusiasm quite evident.
“Once we establish camp I will dispatch exploring parties in groups of two. We will be here for seven days. Any man not back by then gets left behind. Understood?”
“Yes, Captain,” the crew droned in reply before setting about their tasks.
Hastelloy was the last to move, but it was not from lack of enthusiasm. This may have been just a run of the mill landing for the men, but for Hastelloy it was a key step in his mission to defeat the Alpha and their Mars colony and eventually get home to his people. He was here to set the stage for his future success in these undiscovered lands.
The ship’s boy noticed Hastelloy still sitting with his oar in hand. “I am exhausted after all that rowing, I can only imagine how worn out you must be.”
“Juan, did you just call me old,” Hastelloy responded with a smile and false indignation in his voice at the playful jab from his navigational understudy.
“Let’s call it older,” Juan countered with heavy emphasis on the last two letters. Before Hastelloy could mouth his retort, the eleven year old reached for the pack resting at Hastelloy’s feet. “Allow me, Sir.”
“That’s quite all right,” Hastelloy said while delivering a stiff-arm block that prevented the boy from getting his hands anywhere near the pack. The move was far more abrupt and revealed too much about the value he placed in the bag’s contents, but he could not be too careful with his valuable cargo. “My baggage, my responsibility.”
With that, Hastelloy rose to his feet, slung the burlap bag over his shoulder, and hopped over the side of the landing craft. Juan attempted to hand down an armful of tent poles, but Hastelloy was having none of it. “After calling me old, you must be joking. You’re on your own, Boy. This old man has better things to do.”
“Such as…?” Captain Corde asked from over Hastelloy’s shoulder.
Hastelloy turned around slowly to meet the captain’s disapproving glower with a matter-of-fact smile. “Such as getting to work mapping and cataloging the wildlife in this area. Seven days doesn’t give me much time.”
Rather than waiting for a response, Hastelloy began walking toward the jungle line a hundred feet from the shore, but the captain held him back by grabbing his arm. “We explore in groups of two. Take the boy.”
“Not on your life,” Hastelloy declared before yanking his arm away from the captain and continuing on his way. He called back without turning around, “The boy trips and stumbles over every branch and twig he finds. It drives away the animals and could give away my position to any natives who might be hostile to us.”
“Seven days,” the captain shouted to Hastelloy’s back as he stepped into the dense jungle. The man’s baritone voice seemed to echo around the dense foliage for a few seconds before giving way to silence.
“That’s right,” Hastelloy whispered to himself as he progressed deeper into the jungle on his own. “Give away your location to anyone within a five mile radius, Captain. That’s wise leadership.”
Hastelloy spent the next three days hiking deeper and deeper into the dense jungle. Over his hundreds of lifetimes he had experienced countless environments. Some scorching hot, some deathly cold, while others were desolate and barren. The danger of this place rivaled them all because it was so alive.