"Because he's my friend!" I exclaimed at the stupid question. "I can't let them hurt him."
"He's special to you then."
"All my friends are special to me. Now, do you know where they took him or not?"
"Then tell me?"
"And what about the rest of your friends—your crew?"
"I ... er ... well I have to find them too, but Luke is in imminent danger."
"That's a lot of people to liberate."
"And the plan is ...?"
"I told you—to find Luke first. He's the one in the greatest danger."
Troy then turned, ambled nonchalantly back to his bunk and perched on its edge. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees and tented his fingers in front of his mouth.
"You haven't thought this through, have you?"
I hadn't, but he was implying there was something else I hadn't considered, something bigger.
"If you do find and release him, who will the Dancers think was responsible for that?"
"The Dancers are looking for you. They have been for years. They know what you can do. They think that you hold the key to our stealth technology ... but they don't know that you are here. If you rescue your friend, they will know that someone with stealth technology was responsible. Because I'm imprisoned in here, there is only one alternative. They will know you are here and then you will have lost your advantage."
"They might think it's another Helvetian."
"No. Only I have been able to infiltrate the Dancers' HQ. They will know it was you ... unless ..."
His words trailed off. I wasn't sure if I believed him or not; and I knew he was baiting me. He was angling at something.
"Unless?" I prompted.
"Well," he stood up and approached the bars of his jail. "If you release me ..."
Now that did get me thinking.
"But how would you have escaped?"
"I've managed it before."
"It really doesn't matter. The important thing is that I did it once so it is possible that I could do it again."
"And what will you do if I release you?"
He said nothing.
"I mean, if I am such a threat to you, it would be in your interests to destroy me, wouldn't it?"
Troy smiled, his mouth stretching to reveal a row of perfectly formed, shiny black teeth that shone like obsidian.
"Now you're thinking," he smirked.
"But I have a point, don't I?"
"Yes, but perhaps there is a greater prize to be won here."
"And what would that be?"
"My mission. It is of mutual benefit to us both. If I can complete my mission, it means that the Dancers won't be able to connect to your realm anymore, and my people will be rid of them too."
"So while I save Luke, you're going to ... what? Destroy the Dancers?"
"Actually, no. Destroying something as resilient as the Dancers would be nigh on impossible. No. The fact is that as we became aware of your ... what did you call it? Realm. Yes, we began to ask why these two universes can exist alongside each other and yet remain oblivious to each other."
"Hang on a minute! Earlier, you implied you didn't know of my realm."
"That's true, but it doesn't pay to reveal all you know to a stranger."
"So why tell me now?"
"Because you are the only hope I have for completing my mission."
"Okay," I said suspiciously. "Go on then. How does this asynchronous temporal plane thing fit in?" I said, quoting Luke word for word.
"We call it a temporal drift. Our two universes exist in different moments in time, but the temporal difference is not a constant. It drifts."
"Is that even possible?" My understanding of the subject was limited, but I had paid attention to my temporal science lessons at the Academy.
"Yes, it cycles, and those cycles are driven by astral events."
"But that would suggest a gravitational pull, surely?"
"But there are no planets in this region of space?"
"Not in your realm, no, but in ours, yes. You're on it now. We have a sun and a small solar system, but it doesn't extend very far. As you move away from our sun, our realm ... fades."
"Fades? How can space fade?"
"Because of the black hole."
"Now you've lost me."
"On the rim of our solar system is a microscopic black hole that consumes matter. We cannot move beyond the perimeter of our universe because of it. Anything that ventures that far is consumed, but the black hole is also the cause of the temporal drift, pulling and stretching at time as well as matter. The gravitational forces created by the black hole are responsible for the variable temporal drift. By manipulating the black hole, we can influence that drift."
My brow furrowed as I puzzled it over.
"You mean you're going to create another drift—split your world into two temporal regions? So then there'll be three temporal planes?"
"Not exactly. No, my mission is to take advantage of the temporal divide and manipulate it to place the Dancers on one side of it and us on the other. We want to move the Helvetian world into your realm and leave the Dancers behind."
"But that's impossible."
"I wouldn't be here if that were so."
"With the kaleg."
"Yes, the kaleg is designed to breach the gravitational drift—that's how it enters your realm and is able to bring your kind back here. My aim is to use that force to influence the black hole."
"You can do that?"
I fell silent trying to put the pieces into some sort of order in my head.
"I still don't see why you need me in all of this. I mean besides me freeing you."
"Because while I'm distracting them from you," and he smiled. "You will also be distracting them from me."
I could see how that would work, but remained doubtful.
"But how do you know that this plan will leave the Dancers behind? Surely they will be transported along with you."
"No. They can only exist in this temporal plane. Their being is dependant upon that temporal shift. Their colour and format physically changes as the cycle moves. They cannot exist in your realm. By shifting our world into your temporal plane, it will simply leave them behind."
"But if you take your planet into our temporal plane, where will they live? How will they exist?"
"It doesn't matter. They don't need a planet to exist. The forms they have taken may mimic us but their natural form could survive just as well in open space."
It was a difficult choice. Was he telling the truth, or would I be helping him commit genocide? How did I know he wouldn't kill me anyway? I really didn't know if I could trust Troy or not, but without him, one thing was certain. My chances of success were limited. Even if I freed Luke and my entire crew, how would we all get back to the Earhart? I considered hard and wondered ... is the enemy of my enemy, my friend?
Finally, I decided.
"Okay, but we stick together. Deal?"
"Deal," he grinned.