“He had lost sight of the path. You are the light that showed the way.”
“And now we have both learned.”
“All is as it should be.”
Cassiopia led Markman to the cave entrance. She paused to look back at the teacher, standing on the bridge. She waved and he waved back. They ducked into the cave and held hands to the other side. In the enchanted forest, they walked the diamond studded trail and out into the clearing. At the top of the hill, she called for the door. It appeared instantly. Without waiting, they stepped through together.
Cassiopia burst out the SCIP mirror, and did not pause. She raced down the ramp and headed for the upstairs.
She did not acknowledge him and rushed to the elevator. There she hammered on the control button all the way up, then charged out without waiting for the full stop. She lunged up the stairs, out the hallway door, and ran down the hall, knocking a small table out of place in her fury. At the bedroom door, she pushed against the molding to slow herself and stood in the doorway staring at Markman.
His blue eyes were open. Cautiously she approached the bedside, never taking her eyes off him, afraid that he might shut them and be lost again. To her astonishment, the ring was back on his finger. He blinked trying to better focus and spoke in dry, raspy voice. “Cass, what the hell happened? How did I get here? I don’t feel so good. What a freakin’ nightmare I had.”
Shaking, Cassiopia poured water from a vase beside the bed and held the glass for him to drink. When he had finished, she placed it gently on the nightstand, and crawled onto the bed beside him. She wrapped one hand around his chest and buried her face between his neck and shoulder.
The Professor appeared in the doorway. He stood paralyzed at the sight of Markman awake. He went to the foot of the bed, placed one hand on Markman’s leg, and wiped a tear from his eye. The three remained in silent gratitude, their miracle beyond words.
On a small plateau encircled by low hills on the south-eastern side of the Himalayas, some distance from the frontier of Nepal, and roughly two hundred miles from Lhasa, three Tibetan Masters meditated in the lotus position around a butter carving dedicated to the One-Good. They opened their eyes as one monk raised his hand to reveal a shiny chrome ring from the wreckage of an airplane. He reached out and spun the ring on the flat shale stone beneath the shrine, and together they laughed out loud.
Markman’s recovery progressed at lightning speed. His use of mediation and Tai Chi exercise seemed to surpass the physical therapy prescribed by the doctors. Cassiopia spent much of her time untangling the web of phony paperwork and resources that had brought him back to her. It took Rogers days of reassuring all the major security agencies that only sheer luck saved them from nuclear disaster, and having accepted the President’s emphatic gratitude, she was finally allowed to return to Florida.
On the first evening that all were present, they gathered in the den and sat around the Professor’s desk drinking their choice of alcoholic beverage, except for the Professor and his tea. Markman held his cup of customized pinyin in one hand while tilting a plastic mind-bender maze game in the other. The little silver ball was not behaving. Cassiopia stabbed at the cheese on the end table, nearly spilling her red wine as she did so. Rogers sat slouched back, watching them with amusement, taking swigs from an amber beer bottle.
“So, haven’t you guys ever thought of going in there just for the fun of it?” she asked.
The Professor looked up warily. “It is too dangerous, Ann. No one should ever go through that blasted thing ever again. You have all just been lucky.”
Cassiopia spoke with cheese still in her mouth, gesturing with one hand to make up for it. “That could be considered a legitimate experiment, Father. We have never entered Dreamland without being motivated by stress or need.”
The Professor was not swayed. “Oh, for Pete’s sake.”
Have you thought about what you could do and see in there?” continued Rogers. “How can you resist?”
Cassiopia turned to Markman. “I want to know about the ring, Scott. I still don’t understand how it did the things it did.”
Markman looked at the silver ring on his right hand. “I only know that when I die I will leave my physical body behind, but this ring will come with me. That’s all I know.”
Cassiopia tapped a finger on her lips. “I wonder what metallurgical testing would show on it.”
Markman held it close to his chest. “No way. There’s not enough insurance in the world to cover this.”
“That’s another thing, Scott. Where did you get your medical insurance? It’s incredible. They covered everything. I booked that air ambulance for you and I guess the hospital must have sent them copies of the transfer request and they even paid for that. Is it something from your father’s military coverage or something?”
Markman continued playing with the plastic game and did not look up. “I don’t have any insurance.”
Cassiopia sat dumbfounded. “You must know something about it. The Neila Endowment. You must be familiar with them?”
Markman glanced up briefly. “Never heard of ‘em.”
Cassiopia sat stunned. She looked to her father who responded with only a shrug.
Rogers persisted, “Don’t you wonder what the future would look like in there? Who knows what you might learn.”
Before anyone could respond, the Tel came speeding around the corner and into the den so quickly it made the Professor rattle his teacup and saucer.
“Cassiopia, the containment perimeter has been compromised. My dog is absent.”
“Your dog? Your dog…” Cassiopia glanced at her father. He bowed his head and slowly slapped one hand against his forehead.
“Tel, when did you see the dog last?”
“I am monitored to establish status on the hour.”
“You check on him every hour? Who told you to do that? Oh, never mind. Have you repaired the place where he got out?”
Markman looked amused. “Well everyone, there’s never a dull moment when your with the Cassells. I suggest we all join in a search for their robot’s dog.”
Professor Cassell moaned and pushed himself up from his desk.
Rogers stood but continued her solicitation. “You realize we could go back to the dark ages and visit knights and castles. Or, we could live with Native American Indians before the Indian wars.”
The group ignored her and crowded toward the hall.
Cassiopia called to the robot. “Tel, you are to remain here and monitor the backyard and contact us if the dog shows up okay?”
“Cassiopia, there would be an eighteen point five percent gain in search efficiency if…
“No Tel. You are to remain here to watch for the dog. Comply.”
And so, a professor of quantum physics who had created a portal to another dimension, a martial arts master trained since childhood in the hills of Tibet, a beautiful young woman with the IQ of a genius, and a federal agent who had recently saved the world from a terrorist nuclear bomb, all ushered themselves out the back door to search the surrounding neighborhood for a small tan and white beagle, asleep under a blanket on the living room couch.