The Laboratory

Our story begins on Earth, among the bubbling beakers and beeping computers of a distinguished university laboratory. At this particular lab at this particular time, all the scientists were brilliant men and women, wholly devoted to the search for knowledge and the betterment of mankind.

All of the scientists except one.

Simon Withering was just smart enough to convince his wealthy uncle to get him a job at the university as a low level assistant. While the other scientists were busy doing ground-breaking research or inspiring their students with fascinating lectures on the mysteries of the universe, Simon stewed in his own petty jealousy and schemed.

As fate would have it, soon after Withering joined the lab, a historian at the university told the scientists of a remarkable phenomenon that had been occurring throughout recorded history. From hieroglyphics on ancient Egyptian papyrus, to images carved in stone in Mesoamerican ruins, to accounts in newspapers from the time of the Revolutionary War to today, they all made reference to strange holes suddenly appearing out of thin air. Most remarkable of all were accounts of animals jumping into these holes – as if the hole appeared just for them – and the holes then quickly disappearing.

The historian himself didn’t think anything of it, shrugging it off as a strange fable that for some reason had been passed down through human history. But a young researcher at the lab named Matilda Potts took notice. Years earlier, Matilda herself had watched as her pet turtle had disappeared into a magic hole, never to be seen again.

Determined to get to the bottom of it, she set to work trying to recreate one of these wondrous portals. Weeks turned to months turned to years. Slowly, Matilda’s research began to bear fruit and she was able to design a device that, she believed, would generate one of these holes. As electrical currents hummed around the lab and Matilda’s device roared to life, a small pinhole appeared
in thin air and quickly grew until it was a few inches around. Matilda peered in with a powerful telescope and was amazed at what she saw. Vast junglescapes with stone pyramids, mechanical
airships zooming across magically floating islands, bustling cities with canals instead of roads. Matilda had discovered the entrance to a magical land.

“Tomorrow then,” she said to herself, “I’ll begin recording my observations. And I’ll try to get to the bottom of why they appeared in the first place.”

Matilda powered down the machine, checked over her equipment, and locked up her lab for the night, completely unaware that Simon Withering had been watching her the entire time, sneaking
in the shadows. Withering had been in the habit of lurking around the labs, hoping to copy someone’s important research and claim it as his own.

Without hesitation, Simon grabbed a wrench and smashed the device to pieces. Then he snatched the sole existing blueprints and headed off into the night, cackling at the fruits of his thievery.
From his own laboratory hidden in the basement of his uncle’s mansion, Simon built his own portal device. As the strange energies swirled around the hole in Withering’s floor, Withering grabbed his uncle’s poor cat Groomfur, tied a rope around its waist, and threw the hapless creature in. Withering counted to three and then yanked the rope back out. An extremely surprised, but perfectly healthy black cat stared back at him. A second later, the knot slipped and Groomfur fell back into the hole. Withering merely shrugged and set about packing a bag.

Simon stuffed the blueprints into his bag in case his treachery was discovered. Then he climbed up onto a chair, lowered his goggles into place, and leapt into the portal hole.

The story continues in Part 2 – The Ancients.