Part 3 of The Fragmented Shore by Brandon Muhlestein
-Sit down and I’ll tell you about the biggest failure of my life-
“I had this whole idea of how it was going to go, but then…” Noah stopped as the emotion welled. The tears hadn’t quite stopped fully as he recounted his tragedy. Logan hadn’t moved since Noah started his story.
“But then everything changed.” Logan sighed and leaned back in his chair, running his fingers through his hair. Of the many different ways he had imagined this conversation would go, Noah’s detail of his trauma in the Fragmented Shore was not on his list. Ever since he had begun his studies in astrophysics and quantum theories, he had anticipated there would be disappointments along the way; he never thought that a traumatic death in a realm of time would be one of them.
“Yeah. Everything changed.” Noah muttered, slouching in his chair, emotionally drained. Every feeling he’d been trying to repress had resurfaced in the time he’d told his story. No matter how hard he’d try to get over what had happened, or at the very minimum lock it away in the back of his mind.
They sat in the still quiet—Logan taking in the reality of Noah’s story, and Noah remembering the horror of experiencing it. Neither really knew what to say at this point, so they simply sat for what felt like several hours.
Logan’s voice eventually broke the silence. “So, you never tried to go back and get him? If it’s a place of time, shouldn’t you be able to enter it at any point in our time and get to the same point you were at before? You said it was like a beach by the ocean; maybe time is like a physical place–when you enter is just a different place on the shore but the ‘time’ there is the same?”
Noah shook his head solemnly. “We have no way of knowing that, and I haven’t had the courage to go back. Even if that were true, there is no guarantee I could even find him. Time is infinite and doesn’t have a beginning or an end. There are an infinite number of places he could be if he is even still in the Shore at all. We don’t know how the Shore interacts with our world. It’s also possible he got spit out in some time who-knows-when and will never be able to leave.” All of this had been things Noah had already thought through after their excursion. He’d tried to think of every way he could rescue Archer, but since he couldn’t guarantee any of these theories would work, he wasn’t going to chance anything less than a guarantee again.
“Well, maybe there is a way to navigate the Shore.” Logan suggested. “We have compasses and maps for this plane, so in theory, they could exist for other planes as well, right? If we could find one of these maps for the Shore, or something like it, it could help us track Archer down.”
“It’s uncharted.” Noah responded simply. “No recorded civilization ever had a complete understanding of the Shore. What Archer and I accomplished came from the information we pieced together from at least a dozen different civilizations.” He looked up at Logan intently. “What you are describing doesn’t exist.”
“So you’re saying there’s no hope?” Logan asked incredulously, rising to his feet. “Just because you don’t think it exists, you aren’t even going to try to find out?” He paced for a moment before turning back with an exasperated huff. “You assume just because you never found it, it’s not there to be found. But did you ever think that you didn’t find it because you weren’t looking for it? You said you pieced together information about how to get to the Shore. Maybe you overlooked those clues in your research and the ways to navigate it slipped through your fingers.”
Noah sat and stared at Logan as his words sank in. This young man wasn’t deterred even after hearing the tragic results of Noah’s own attempts. His enthusiasm seemed to go beyond just an excitement for the mysteries of the universe. Logan was determined in his belief that there were more clues to be found, more research to be done. He didn’t have any fear or reservation of pursuing this path, or of eventually entering the Shore himself. Noah couldn’t help but admire his dedication, but knew that there was more than just pure belief behind Logan’s vigor.
“You found something, didn’t you?” He asked quietly. Logan’s facial expression betrayed his silence, so Noah continued, “You are so certain that something like what you are describing exists; so confident it can even be found. People in this field don’t come at something with your degree of confidence unless they already have some shred of proof for it.”
Logan hesitated for a moment before sighing and sitting down at the table again. He silently reached into his bag and pulled out a small stack of papers. As Logan laid them out on the table, Noah immediately recognized them as xerox copies of time-worn documents. Noah picked one up and studied the contents, quickly recognizing the language as an older form of Egyptian and noted the well-worn edges of what was most likely an older papyrus.
Logan explained, “I found these while on a summer exchange program in Egypt. We went through several different expeditions as part of the program but were given a week at the end to go about research on our own. I spent most of that week in the library in Cairo and found these. They reference something called ‘The Aegis,’ and after a few cross references and some deeper searching, I came across some mythology texts speaking of The Aegis of Time. There are several civilizations that have deities over time, and while mythology writes it off as magic, this could be a legitimate way they traveled the Shore.”
“And you think the Aegis is how they did it?” Noah repeated in a questioning tone. It wasn’t the craziest thing Logan could have said, especially given the topic. “The only problem is that you are looking at several different mythologies that can’t even be proven to be real. And even if they were, the stories are all different on what and where this Aegis might be, let alone that we don’t even know what it’s supposed to be.” Noah didn’t want to sound too discouraging because he had been in Logan’s shoes just a few years back, but he also didn’t want to get his hopes up again only to have them crushed.
“The whole point of research is to prove theories either right or wrong.” Logan countered. “Don’t we owe it to Archer to at least prove the theory right or wrong? If this is a real possibility, then we have to at least try, right?” His eyes silently pleaded with Noah.
As much as Noah didn’t want to risk tragedy again, or jeopardize anyone else, there was something undeniable about the way Logan presented his case that had him believing again. He’d already consigned himself to his fate that he permanently lost Archer. But now, if there was a way to save him, Noah knew he had to take it.
“Alright.” Noah said, conviction sparking to life again. “Show me everything you have and let’s hope that your hunch is right.”
Logan grinned as he and Noah began to dig into Logan’s findings. Noah silently hoped it would be worth it, and prayed silently that if it did, Archer would forgive him.