“No way?” Haf laughed. “Really?”
The Sheriff glared at her. “Yes, really. Not only do we care greatly for him. But Gnomenasher is also a magic finder. He can sniff out a drop of magic miles away. We’ll never be able to find the portal without him. The portal is invisible and over open water. There are no landmarks. Without Gnomenasher, we’ll be stuck here forever!”
“Well, no one wants that,” the merwoman said. She seemed to think this was a joke, but no one else was laughing. “But if he is a airbreather like you, then I don’t know what to tell you. It must be too late for him by now.”
“She does have a point,” I said. “We lost contact with him when we were on the island. The island’s gone now. I think we may have lost him for good.”
The trolls were quiet for a few moments, then the Sheriff said through gritted teeth, “Fine. If there’s nothing we can do about it, then there’s nothing we can do. But that still leaves the problem of getting home. Without Gnomenasher, how are we going to find the portal home?”
“We should be able to find your portal no problem,” Haf said.
“We can?” Pem asked.
“Sure. We just use our satellites to search for exotic matter.”
“Assuming that the portals are always open,” I said, “as I guess we hope they are, they should be expelling some form of matter at all times. Even if they’re just on the subatomic level, something should be coming out, like an accretion disc on a black hole.”
“Whatever that means,” the Sheriff said. “But will it work?”
“I don’t know,” Pem replied, “but it’s certainly worth a shot.”
We all swam off to their communications laboratory where dozens of other merpeople were working. As we made our way toward the lab, I took in the city around us. It was strange seeing all these mermen and merwomen and merchildren just living their lives. They were strange and exotic to me, but here I was the strange one. Though, to be honest, I think they found the trolls even stranger than they did me.
When we reached the lab, Pem swam right up to the machine and moved a few columns about. The crystal display bursted into life. “That should do it.”
“This is us,” Haf said, pointing at one of the dots on the display. “So presumably that is you. This one is near where we found you, so that must be the portal.”
“Wait,” I said. “That’s us. That’s the portal. Then what,” I said pointing to the third dot on the screen, “is this one?”
“That’s…” Haf started, but came up short. She looked closer at the screen. “I don’t know what that is.”
Pem moved closer so he could see. “Whatever it is, it’s on the move.”
“Where’s it going?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“I can’t help with the where it’s going,” Tam said. “But it certainly looks like where it was coming from, is right around here.”
“Something else came through the portal?” Pem asked, sounding concerned. “What other creatures could you have unleashed on our unsuspecting world?”
“No one,” the Sheriff said. “We left people by the portal, but they would have never come through without my command.”
“That’s what you say.”
“It’s the truth.”
“If not some other weird creature from your world, then what could that thing be?”
“You misunderstand me,” the Sheriff said. “I think a weird creature from our world is exactly what this thing is.”
“Excuse me?” Pem said, confused.
“You see, I think this creature is Gnomenasher.”
“Your magicfinding giant gerbil?” Tam asked
“That’s incredibly unlikely,” Pem said. “It is highly improbable that your ‘gerbil’ could have survived in this environment. Judging by the rest of you, it’s most likely he’s also a land dweller and unable to breath water.”
The Sheriff countered simply with, “It’s him.”
“I think it’s worth a look,” I said.
“Oh, come on,” Tam countered. “We’re not going to waste time because a blip could be a gerbil, are we?”
“Tam, we need to the gerbil to find the portal.”
“Are you kidding me?” They pointed at the screen. “The portal’s right there!”
“Ok,” I relented, seeing that that wasn’t getting us anywhere. “How about we do it because Gnomenasher is important to them.”
“You know what should be important to them,” Tam replied. “Living to see another day. Having other days for them to live to see.”
“Fine. Fair enough. But what if that blip isn’t Gnomenasher? What if it’s Kink? Or Wu? Or G’fon? Shouldn’t we go looking for them?”
“It’s not G’fon or Kink or your friend, Lu Wu,” Tam replied, growing frustrated with me.
“How can you know that? You were sent here. Why not them?”
“Yes, I was sent here by those mysterious cloaked figures, but you were not. We weren’t all sent to the same world. Whatever those hooded figures were, they wanted us to be scattered across the omnibrane.”
“Maybe. But you have to admit there’s a possibility that that is a friend.”
Tam glared at me, then sighed. “Fine…there’s a possibility.”
“So we’re agreed. We’re going to go find out who that is and we’re going to save them.”
“Unless that someone turns out to be something horrible that wants to kill us,” Tam said. “And then we will all die.”
“We just escaped from something horrible that wanted to kill us. We want to go back to something horrible that wants to kill us. When isn’t there something horrible that wants to kill us? That’s the life we live. We might as well try to save someone while we’re at it.”
“You win, Frank. We’re going to go risk our lives and the future of the omnibrane for some stupid gerbil. Let’s just do it already.”
to be continued…