On The Corner of Galaxy and Fifth
Part Two of Five
By Rob Wynne and Jeffrey Williams
stared down at the body in shock and disbelief ;
George continued feeling for a pulse, a movement, any sign of life.
you quite sure he's dead?" His eyes
drifted towards the ceiling, towards the place where he knew the warp
hung suspended. "It was a hard fall, certainly unexpected.
Perhaps....perhaps he's only stunned."
straightened up. "This is no time for Monty
Python skits, Trauma," he
said testily. He gazed sadly down at the still body, and sighed
"I am rather sure he's quite dead."
dear...dear...," Mia stammered as she kneeled
and stroked the dead man's forehead, brushing his eyes closed. She
help notice that outside of the obvious signs of having been crushed,
gentlemen was quite handsome. His hair was graying, but in all other
he seemed young, certainly no older than his early to mid-forties, and
lying still and lifeless on the floor, he seemed at once both
aloof. Mia felt a
tear forcing itself
out the corner of her eye; she absentmindedly brushed it away as it
trickle down her cheek.. "We killed him, Mr. Martin, didn't we."
nodded solemnly. He walked over to a desk covered with
papers and diagrams tucked into a corner of the room near the body, and
down. Closing his eyes, he pressed the tips of his fingers together and
furrowed his brow in concentration.
walked over to Mia and knelt beside her, placing his
hand gently on her shoulder. She smiled at him for a moment, but then
her gaze to the body.
again, George began to examine the area they had
tumbled into. A huge ceiling arched overhead, and he realized that this
inside of some sort of small aircraft hanger. Every flat surface in the
was covered with computer terminals, sheaves of paper, plastic models,
various arcane machinery. Lights blinked and servos whirred on large
panels lining the walls, and, dominating the room, was a huge plastic
an engine which was mounted on a concrete block.
wandered over to examine the model engine.
"Trauma," he called. "what on earth is this....thing?"
Trauma opened an eye and glanced over at the object George was
an antique warp engine," he said
matter-of-factly but without much actual engagement. The eye closed
looked perplexed "Warp engine? You mean, like in
Mia said, pulling out of her grim reverie.
"No, love, he means a real one, the sort people use to travel faster
light from one corner of the Alliance to the other."
course it is." he scrutinized the engine more
carefully, searching for something exotic to back up Mia's claim.
when you say warp engine, you mean that this perfectly normal looking
propel a vehicle at faster than light speeds? This is Earth; nothing
is built here. It's...it's...it's just science fiction you're talking
of course it is, Mr. Pembroke," Trauma said.
He stood lazily and walked to the engine. "Like men on the moon, ships
that sail under the water, that sort of thing." His gaze turned back to
the body. "What you call science fiction is often simply tomorrow's
history, George. I say," he said, whirling suddenly to confront Mia,
"it was awfully bad luck, don't you think, for this gentleman to be
standing right here just as we plummeted through the warp tube."
would have to have been a one in a million
chance," Mia said. She thought it over for a moment "Those are long
nodded thoughtfully, stroking his beard as he slowly
walked around the room.. Suddenly, he winced painfully and grabbed his
Mia rushed to his side, searching desperately for the source of his
pain subsided as quickly as it had come. Trauma held his
hand at arms length in front of his face. In the center of his
the small crimson jewel violently pulsed with a deep inner light.
word, Mia slipped a hand into her pocket and removed a similar ring.
was also flashing with an ominous oscillating fury that seemed to light
room. Trauma took it from her and held the two side by side.
Trauma muttered. "searing pain,
alarm, some kind of warning." A look of horror crossed his face.
"No..." he whispered almost to himself.
turned to look at Trauma. "What is it."
read the alarm on Trauma's face. "Trauma, are you
I'm afraid so." Trauma suddenly flew into a
frightening fury. He leapt atop the desk and shook his fist at the
"I do not appreciate being used to commit murder! What have you had us
do!", he shrieked.
took a step back, nervously. "What are you
talking about?" he asked.
spun to face George, the light from the ring on his
hand dancing in his eyes. "The rings, George. The rings are sending out
warning! Something, somehow, has thrown the timelines into turmoil, and
a good idea what!" He jerked his head back up and peered into the empty
void from which they had tumbled back into real space. "You know, don't
you!" he howled. "We've been used, George. Both of us have been
what? To kill one
man?" George shook his head. "Why is it that every time I think I
have a handle on things, something new comes along to remind me how
out of my depth I am?"
George. This is not some sort of cranky wake up
call." Trauma blustered, leaping down from the desk to shake him like a
madman. "We plunge into this room, landing on this poor fellow and
him. Mere moments later, both my ring and Mia's are sounding veritable
of warning. There's a storm unleashed into the timelines, George, and
timing is too exact to be a coincidence!"
broke away and walked to the other side of the room,
stopping to gaze up at a plastic model of an exotic aircraft suspended
ceiling. A huge, sweeping delta-wing design, the plane had two
engines embedded in each wing. On a table beneath the hanging model
drawings detailing a cross-section of a similar plane, with notes
hastily here and there at the end of long arrows pointing at various
walked over to George and put an arm around his
shoulder. Quietly, he said, "Mr. Pembroke, I realize that this has all
spiraled into quite a large mess, and perhaps I am partly to blame for
whoever that man over there may be, he is, or rather, was historically
significant. And now he is dead. And that is, as you might well
terribly, terribly bad thing."
nodded dumbly. "So what happens now?"
we must determine who this fellow was, and why he
was important. Even as we speak, the time lines will be twisting and
in an effort to make sense of the new reality. The Cat's Cradle will be
knot, if you will."
stood up from the body, holding an open wallet in her
hand. "Care to know who the sky fell on?" she asked grimly.
"Thomas Boltz, of some place called Olympia, Washington."
nodded. "Something to go on, at least," he
said. With suddenly renewed purpose, he began rummaging through the
are you looking for?" Mia asked.
exact date. The Useless code couldn't be
particularly specific about the time frame." Finally, he stumbled
an exotic looking collection of newsprint and holographic photos. It
was a copy
of the New York Times-Post. The
on the masthead read November 5, 2016.
remember, the fifth of November..."
Trauma muttered to himself. He suddenly gathered up the newspaper,
and thrust it into his jacket.. "George, Mia. We've got to get out of
the rush?" George asked. "Shouldn't we
at least notify the local authorities about..."
local authorities are quite the least of our
worries, Mr. Pembroke. But have you ever been arrested by an agent of
Timelines Project Authority?"
was beginning to think that his eccentric new friend
had lost his mind altogether. "As a matter of fact, I haven't."
have I. and I rather intend to keep it that
grabbed George's sleeve, and pulled him back over to
the body of the now late Thomas Boltz. Rolling the jewel in the ring,
out his arms. "Grab hold, both of you."
tucked the wallet into her pocket, and slipped her arm
through Trauma's. George quickly followed suits.
I thought you said that something had happened to
the time lines?" George said, slightly alarmed.
I'm rather afraid something has." Trauma
said. "Hold on. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
Boltz remained where he lay, forever oblivious to what
had been occurring in the room. And it was in his oblivion that Boltz
completely failed to notice when seconds after the departure of his
new figures began descending from the ceiling and filling the lab.
Mia, and George hurtled out of the warp tube and into
the Cat's Cradle Zone. Even George could see instantly that something
dreadfully wrong. The normally bright crimson was now a dull blood
azure comets streaked across the sky, occasionally colliding with one
and exploding into violent fireballs of incandescent fury.
previously, when the timelines the travelers rode were
straight and precise, they now had to twist and turn where their path
suddenly curve. At one point, they had to leap to another line entirely
the path they were riding ended completely, leaving only a sickening
the infinite abyss that was the area between time and space.
is awful," Mia shouted, trying to be heard
over the din of a roaring wind which had come up out of nowhere.
will get worse," Trauma yelled back. "The
storm is spiraling out from the center of the disturbance. In another
hours, the timelines will be almost completely unusable."
are we going, then?" Mia asked, clutching at
her jacket to keep it from flying up in her face.
turned slightly and called back over his shoulder,
"The library! We've got to find out who that was we killed, and why his
death has so disrupted the timelines."
threw himself to the surface of the shimmering path
they were riding to avoid one of the comets. If
I manage to get out of this alive, he thought bitterly to
himself, I will never answer another
advert for so long as I live. He clambered to his feet and
to ride the line faster in order to catch up the slight distance he had
between himself and his two companions. He had no idea if it was
possible to be
stranded in the Zone without a ring of one's own, but he certainly
to try and find out now.
was nearly an hour before the trio finally bore down into
the warp tunnel that was the entrance to the Timelines Project
Library. Trauma emerged from the portal first, flying across the room
he had been shot out of a cannon. He slammed violently into the
bouncing back into the receiving area and staggering drunkenly as he
to keep his feet. Mia and George came tumbling after him, knocking him
floor as they flailed about for something to hold onto.
beneath his flailing companions, Trauma sighed
miserably. "This has become a rather unfortunate habit," he muttered.
looked over the monitor banks at the writhing mass on the
floor. He giggled uncontrollably. "Ya know, Trauma, they teach landing
lessons in the conference center on Thursday nights. I'm sure they
landing in there somewhere."
struggled to his feet and glared at the security
guard, then glanced at the large mirrored wall that ran along behind
monitor station. He almost didn't recognize himself, such a state he
His suit was rumpled and dirty, his face was streaked with some sort of
soot, and his hair twisted in all directions, looking like nothing so
much as a
lawn several weeks in dire need of mowing. Trauma ran a hand through
in a largely failed effort to tame it, and brushed himself off as he
He then strode over to the hulking security guard, grabbed him by the
and forcibly hauled him halfway over the counter.
Trauma hissed malevolently to the
astonished guard, "please believe me when I say that I would like
more at this moment than to rip out your eyes and feed them to rabid
But this is no time for idle recreation. The timelines are unraveling,
Chaos sweeps unchecked throughout the Cradle. Civilization as we
it has come to a screeching halt." He paused, his eyes locked firmly
a pair of Arn's. "Therefore, I do not have time to banter with you in
friendly manner which we are accustomed to when I arrive. Please accept
sincerest apologies for this change of protocol, and give my regards to
wife and whatever dreadful offspring you have thus far managed to
let go of Arn's lapels, allowing the astonished guard to
slump back into his chair. Turning on his heel, Trauma strode
the library. "George, Mia. Come along. We have work to do."
unnoticed on a catwalk high above the portal area, a
watcher stood. He was dressed in a long dark trenchcoat, and he fretted
nervously as Trauma, George and Mia entered the library proper. He bit his lip nervously. They aren't supposed to be here, he
thought to himself. They weren't supposed
to make it back alive!
he considered calling control to update the
situation. But he knew that, despite his efforts to date, Control would
manage to blame this all on him somehow.
desperately, the trenchcoated figure decided what to
do. He stalked over to the nearby bank of payphones, and dialed a three
yes, I'd like to make an anonymous tip..."
the shadows beneath the brim of his large hat, he smiled a
sat at his station, staring mournfully at the terminal,
and tried once again to contact the Main Security office. There was no
Whatever he might have thought of Trauma Martin over the years, the
what he had said was becoming more and more apparent. Something
catastrophic had happened to the
even to the fabric of time itself, and that meant Arn's relief guard
going to be coming any time soon. Dammit,
he thought. They had better pay me
overtime for this!
he heard the sound of the entrance portal
activating. For a brief moment, Arn thought perhaps his relief had made
after all. He craned his neck to see who had arrived in the library
one was there.
Odd, he thought, I
I heard someone show up. Thinking there must be some sort of
referred to his security console. The counter clearly showed that
passed through the portal. Arn stood up and ambled around the counter
to take a
closer look at the portal entrance.
the center of the room, a small, doorknob-sized object lay
on the floor. It was triangular in shape, like a small pyramid, and it
be made of a semi-transparent, glass-like material.
blinked in surprise. He walked around the object slowly,
trying to figure out what it might be. Oh
well, he thought, seems harmless
enough. As he bent down to pick it up and take it back to the
him, the object flared with a brilliant, harsh, intensely white light,
suddenly the room was awash with afterimages and little else.
cried out in pain. "I can't see! I can't see!"
he cried, waving his arms about widely, trying to make contact with a
station. He repeatedly blinked his good eyes, trying furiously to make
flash image go away, but his vision refused to improve. It was as if he
spent too much time staring directly into the intense light of a star.
his vision was severely impaired, he could still just
make out images of figures pouring through the entrance portal. Their
shapes were indiscernible, barely distinguishable from the afterimages
polluting his vision. Finally, one of the blurs stopped directly in
you help me?" Arn pleaded. "I can't see
there was a sharp pain in his head, and Arn felt
himself falling into a deep, deep, deep sleep.
tired and winded from the strain of the long trip
back to the library and the events of the previous hour, sat solemnly
in one of
the chairs near the circulation desk. He closed his eyes and tried to
the world while Mia and Trauma sat at one of the reference terminals.
for the third time, entered Thomas Boltz's name into the computer, and
first third time the computer had taken so long to respond they simply
the search request and started over. While Mia tapped on the keys,
back and forth behind her like a caged tiger.
can be taking this confounded thing so long,"
Trauma snapped. "Can't you possibly get it to work any faster?"
growled, exasperated, and blew a stream of air up to her
forehead, pushing strands of her red hair high in the air.. "See
here," she said sarcastically. "I've told you before, the system's
completely overwhelmed. Everyone and his puppy is trying to figure out
hell is going on, and they're all hitting the computer at the same
just have to wait for a pause in the activity to sneak this request
sighed. "Yes, of course, you are as always quite
correct, madam." He lowered his head and took a deep breath. "it is
not your fault, my dear, and I apologize for taking it out on you. It's
that being set up to assassinate someone completely unknown to me for
can only guess is something that is fairly sure to set me on edge." The
Cheshire grin tried to materialize, but the best he could manage was an
extremely toothy frown.
computer beeped excitedly. Mia swiveled around and
studied the terminal in front of her. "Ah-hah! It's finally gotten
to the database! The search might take a while, though."
fell back into a chair and sunk back into the
cushioning. He held his legs straight out, holding them parallel to the
"It's all starting to make some sort of sense," he sighed. "Damn
my worthless brain for not seeing it sooner."
studied the computer screen. The query was still being
slowly processed by the system. She shot Trauma a puzzled glance.
starting to make sense?" she asked.'
waved his hand vaguely in the air. "Everything
is. Everything that should have run red flags up in my mind from the
start. The note in a code that George could never possibly understand
own. His subsequent foreboding dream, the advert for my office on Earth
which I am sure I never placed." He stood up and began pacing again,
waving his hands in the air as he checked off each item in his mind.
singularly helpful clue in the crossword puzzle of the closest
librarian to the
public database computers." He stopped pacing and turned to face Mia
directly. "It screams of conspiracy, of careful planning and
Someone played all of us for fools, and I was either too blind or too
in the game to see."
smiled and brushed her hand against Trauma's jacket.
"You can't tell what happens in a book until you turn the page, " she
said. "Sometimes, it's really good, a reward for your time and
effort." She sighed softly. "And other times, you just want to check
the damn thing into the fire." She glanced back at the screen, noting
nothing had been turned up in the interminably slow search. "Only
is, you can't tell if it's a good or bad one until you look."
right, it is a paradox," Trauma noted.
'What do you do if Medusa has come into the room? Turn around and
confirm it by
turning to stone, or not, and discover that it's just your maiden aunt
do the wash."
stirred in his seat. He had only been half listening
to their conversation, which was just now percolating into the more
centers of his brain. "What I don't understand is why me?" he asked.
"Why did they use me to get to you? What had I ever done to deserve
I'm just a finance manager." He leaned back and closed his eyes, trying
coax the pain from his head. Ever since the adrenaline rush started to
bones and bruised muscles aggravated by the 30 foot fall onto Thomas
begun protesting loudly. "My life, heretofore, was about as exciting as
can possibly understand the motivations of the
mad?" Trauma responded. "I suspect they simply selected someone at
random and set their plan into motion. Literally anyone could have been
get to me." He stood behind Mia, his eyes riveted onto the "Searching..." sign blinking
furiously at the bottom of the screen. He attempted to coax the
searching more quickly caressing the keys and monitor, smiling at the
and occasionally murmuring encouraging words to it.
no use, Trauma," Mia chuckled humorlessly. It
will do what it will do when it bloody well wants to do it."
words echoed in George's head. He was just about to turn
over and try to catnap in the overstuffed chair when something new
ear. At first, ti sounded like a distant tap or "thwack", and he
started to dismiss it as some ancient machinery or ventilation
crotchety. But then he heard another, and then another. The taps were
more frequent, and were occasionally followed by clicks or hisses, or
he could swear were muffled screams.
his eyes, George stared up towards the impossibly
high ceiling of the Library's atrium. He could hear the sounds echoing
from the upper galleries. The sound seemed to stop momentarily, but he
attention focused above. It was then he finally saw what he had been
flash of light, followed almost instantly by a "thwack" and a
distressed "eeeeeeeeah" There were more flashes coming from other
sides of the gallery.
George called. "I think you had
better come look at this."
attention was still riveted to the computer screen,
lest he miss the first grain of information. He shot a half glance in
George, what is it?" he inquired, softly.
this is not some idle query," George hissed.
"There really is something I think you need to see."
inhaled slowly, preparing himself for something which
he was sure to be, in the context of their current situation, quite
astoundingly unimportant. Slowly, he straightened up and walked over to
'What is it that you would like me to see?" he asked pleasantly,
a grin that seemed to say that he would enjoy placing George's liver on
if this turned out to be a waste of his valuable time.
said nothing, merely raising his hand to point upwards
towards the galleries. Reluctantly, Trauma followed the line George was
"thwack" Flash, flash, flash
"Thwack" "tap" "thwack" Scream.
in the name of Gaston Lafayette is going on
here?" Trauma exclaimed "George, have you seen anything or anyone to
give you any idea what is going on up there?" He began darting his eyes
from exit to exit, as though he were about to break into a run.
George stated, climbing to his
feet." I just started hearing that sound and then..." He gulped and
wiped a strand of nervous perspiration from his forehead. "Please tell
you don't hear screams."
George." Trauma said, pulling his eyes
from the scene above and walking back over to Mia.
almost in," she said. "The system's
less backlogged now."
doubt it is, and I have a nasty suspicion I know
why, my dear." He hastily lifted Mia from her chair and set her gently
her feet. "But, I am afraid that now is the time for us to be going."
the computer!" Mia protested. "We're
"Thwack" Scream. The sounds
were now just a few floors above them. "Netank vitian nar....!" The
sound of some creature faded away like a balloon with all the air let
Trauma started pulling Mia towards the exit.
you can assure me that that is a perfectly
normal, everyday occurrence here," he said flatly, "I believe the
time has come for us to make a quick and orderly egress."
that, the three of them dashed toward the portal area
with every ounce of spare energy they had. However, when Trauma pushed
door the reception area, he was greeted with a striking and most
in the entrance to the portal were three men wearing
mirrored sunglasses. This was perhaps their least notable feature. They
wore white, not an off white or ivory or Wimbledon tennis outfit
jackets, their shirts, their ties, their pants, their shoes, all were a
brilliant shade of white that was so bright they actually seemed to be
radiating light. Mia very nearly had to cover her eyes from the glare.
dear me!" Trauma fretted nervously.
"Dear, dear me." He looked quickly at George and me and smiled a
panicked smile. "Well, we appear to have but one option here. Follow my
took a last longing look at the portal, and then
turned and ran headlong down a side hallway. Without any idea what has
happening besides Trauma's disappearance, George and Mia exchanged
glances and took off after him.
two of the three men walked lockstep into
the main area of the library. One of them slid a hand into his jacket
pulled out a small wand.
pulled up, breathless. He looked up and down the
endless hallway, feeling every inch like a cornered animal. He stood
hands on his knees and fought desperately for breath while Mia and
caught up with him.
Mia panted, "what's going on
this is bad. Bad, bad, bad..." Trauma said,
wide-eyed. "Please tell me there is another way out of the library. I
would feel most immensely relieved if you would."
nodded. "There's a doorway to the residential
section," she said. "Three or four, actually, but the closest one to
here is in the loo."
an exit in the bathroom!" George
exclaimed. "That's silly.....it's preposterous!"
Pembroke," Trauma said hurriedly, catching
site of their pursuers walking briskly but effortlessly towards them
too near down the hallway. "At this moment in time, it is safe to say
i would flush myself down the toilet if I thought it would get me out
if to punctuate the urgency of their situation, they heard
combination emanating from the
vicinity of the ground floor employee's lounge. Trauma stood up quickly
began pushing George and Mia down the hallway away from their
pursuers, who continued to methodically advance down the hallway.
hurried them on in front of him, never once taking his eyes off the
was chasing them.
dear," he said to Mia. "lead the way. We
are in your hands."
three ran quickly away from the main desk into the lower
stacks. "Maybe we can lose them in the shelving." Mia panted.
"Eight years I've been here, and i still get lost some days."
pausing even to look back, Trauma shook his head.
"I seriously doubt that will do any measurable amount of good, except
perhaps to slow them down," he said. "They are tenacious, cunning,
relentless..." They tore around another corner and down another aisle
shelving. "We can only hope it doesn't occur to them to check a
for an exit."
George wheezed. "Wh-wh-what..."
The words succumbed to his need for oxygen. While he was a relatively
for his profession, George was certainly not used to tremendous amounts
physical exercise, and that practical part of his brain which had never
desperately attempting to make sense of the situation paused for a
file a mental note about renewing his membership at his health club in
Paddington. He took a deep breath and tried again. "Who are these
people!" he finally managed as they careered around another corner.
your earlier reading, George," Trauma
replied. "Specifically, do you recall the section concerning the
regulation of time travel?"
he sputtered. "yes, I do." George
suddenly stopped and grabbed hold of a shelving unit. "Oh my....they're
the...the temporal authority, aren't they?" He began slumping to the
floor, no longer able to hold himself up. Mia and Trauma each grabbed
his arms and pulled him along.
sorry," George panted, the room spinning in
multiple directions at once about him. "I didn't realize I was this far
out of....out of..."
the timelines again," Trauma sighed
sympathetically. "First time travelers occasionally experience the loss
electrolytes and certain other chemicals that regulate this sort of
thing." They spun around yet another corner, and found themselves now
running along an outer wall. "I'm sorry, George, but under normal
circumstances, you would have never even noticed the loss of energy,
a slight lethargy similar to jet lag."
w-why..." George heaved, "why are they
obvious, innit?" Mia said. "They think
that we three have done something to cause the collapsing of the
She stopped and tried to get her bearings, running a slender hand
now thoroughly disheveled red hair. "Folks, I gotta tell you....I am
Trauma slumped against the wall.
only we'd been able to learn who that man was,"
Trauma whispered, closing his eyes. " I cannot make proper assessments
without the necessary and relevant facts." Trauma pondered the problem
deeply, running through all of the previous hours' events in his head.
thought began gnawing at him, some observation his immediate senses
to push through to the part of his brain that dealt with deep,
issues. This thought was interrupted suddenly by another inner voice,
desperately trying to alert him that all around had become quite
eyes flew open, and he immediately wished that they
had not. Standing directly in front of them were three white-clad
holding what appeared to be a short wand with an advanced flash bulb
at its top. They marched silently to stand directly in front of Trauma,
and Mia, staring at each dispassionately, their eyes hidden behind
senses now sharpened to a razor's edge, Trauma watched
closely as their thumbs inched towards the triggers he knew were fixed
back of the wand. Without moving his head, he darted his eyes back and
and his stomach sank. At the end of each aisle, another white-clad
like a guardian statue, motionless, emotionless. He was cornered. There
to his surprise, one of their captors spoke.
have two choices." the man said flatly, without a
hint of heat or anger. "Either you will be blinded and stunned and
helplessly back to the reception area, or you may walk under your own
with whatever modicum of dignity and self respect you have left
you intact." Their thumbs were all but pressing the trigger button.
glanced back at George and Mia, and then turned to
face the shimmering figures, his Cheshire grin slowly spreading across
he said smoothly, gesturing down the
corridor.. "We are at your disposal."
walked silently back to the main reception area,
stepping over the bodies of stunned library patrons as they navigated
the stacks. The atrium was also littered with still bodies, slumped in
or sprawled haphazardly on the floor wherever they might have been
standing. Mia noticed a particular figure beside the reception desk,
away from the captors, rushing over the side of one of her fallen
which looked to George rather like a large deflated silver balloon
lying on the
floor. . Her escort raised his wand to fire at her back, but his hand
caught and lowered by one of his companions.
is Wandar," she cried urgently, kneeling
before her friend. "She's an Arian....they're not supposed to become
motionless in a full gravity environment. We must wake her immediately."
wouldn't worry," a whiny, booming, authoritative
voice called out. Her escort took her by the arm and led her over to a
where George and Trauma had been seated. "The Biologic Disabler is
designed to be harmless, in time, to any and all creatures."
out of the crowd of white-clad figures, a man emerged.
He stood about 5'3, with a neatly combed shock of silver hair swept
almost a miniature pompadour. He was attired exactly as all the others,
the same mirrored sunglasses perched atop his broad, sharp nose, yet
George could sense that this was the leader of the band of merry
had pursued them through the library.
stopped in front of the table and turned to face them with
his hands clasped behind his back. "Like the effects of the Visual
Distortion Wands, the results are temporary. Your Arian friend will
before her system becomes critically paralyzed." He smiled at them in a
way that George hoped was meant to be reassuring, because on
quickly to the situation, Trauma nonchalantly leaned
back in his chair. "George, Mia," he said amiably. "Allow me to
introduce you to our captors." He paused for dramatic effect, "the
Men in White." Smiling, Trauma looked at the crowed gathered in a
loose circle around the table. "Men in White," he said, pointing to
himself and his two friends, "we are the innocent scapegoats." He
shot his gaze about the crowd, searching desperately for any sign of
their ranks, and found none. There was not even a hint of a smile or a
people are always innocent scapegoats," the
Leader said. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Mr. Ellis, the Chief
Enforcement Officer of the Timelines Project Authority. You will refer
to me as
CLEO, or sir. Preferably sir."
slightly, he caught the eye of a subordinate holding
three large three-ring binders. He nodded to the agent, who in turn
the topmost folder.
you have a new manuscript you'd like us to
proofread?" Trauma mocked. "Why on earth didn't you just say so,
really, we'd have been more than happy to oblige." The agent standing
directly behind him placed a heavy hand on his shoulder and squeezed
Trauma turned to look up at his impassive guardian. "Yes, well, no need
be rude." he said, gently lifting the hand from his shoulder. "I say,
who's your tailor...."
ignored Trauma's raving, walking over to stand directly
in front of George, who winced at his reflection in the mirrored
was only know beginning to feel his energy return slightly. Ellis
notebook, revealing a slender volume of notes.
he read. "George Martin.
Profession: Finance executive. Previous record: None of note. Planet of
Terra. Time period of residence, 19.." Ellis stopped, sucking in air as
to recapture the words before they escaped his lips. He turned to
"It would appear Mr. Pembroke's time period is a DNC zone." Trauma's
smile began to fade. "Last time I checked the law books, Mr. Martin, a
zone meant Do......Not.....Contact. Is that not correct, Sergeant Werm?"
nearby agent nodded curtly and saluted. Ellis closed the
file and handed it back to the agent standing next to him, and accepted
second slender volume.
he read. "Mia. Profession: Librarian,
TPA. Previous record: None of note. Planet of origin: Terra Alpha.
a human colony. I understand it's lovely this time of year." Ellis
warmly at Mia. "Time period is current."
handed the folder back to the records agent, who accepted
it gracefully., and then attempted to pass a third folder to Ellis.
Failing to open
it and pass it over in one motion, he eventually settled for resting
massive tome on the table in front of the three captives.
cast a disinterested glance at the folder.
"Goodness me, Mr. Martin," he said with mock sympathy that barely
disguised glee. "We seem to have gathered quite a bit of material on
exploits. Any idea why that may be?" The smile was suddenly devoid of
and unchecked voyeurism, I suspect,"
Trauma supplied glibly.
your wit is indeed," Ellis scanned the file
with his finger for the exact wording. "Here we are....'The subject's
is indeed formidable. Suspect it to be used to confuse agents or
facts.' " He cocked his head curiously at Trauma, as if to say "Your
well, one must maintain a sense of humor if one is
to maintain a sense of sanity amidst the overall chaos of the
Trauma said smoothly. "Sir." he added pointedly.
smile faded like the last rays of an arctic sun
before the onset of a long dark winter. "Humor only gets in the way,
Martin." he said gravely, "and there is nothing in this file that
suggestions any reason for levity."
stepped back, turned around, and began addressing the
gathered crowd with one arm held in the air, pointing at the sky.
he recited from memory, "unauthorized
operation of a Time Ring. Two, illegal access to the Timelines. Three,
unauthorized access to sensitive temporal technology. Four, Violation
Restricted Zone 18B..." He spun around and pointed directly at Trauma.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Martin," he fumed, "we know of your little visit
to Dr. Gerpuppy's Symposium. It took Temporal Corrections nearly a week
your damage, and still those sparks fly in the background. Or should I
flew to his feet. "You undid that?!?!? You mean
I've been staring at bloody crimson all this time because of..."
prisoner will remain quiet." Sergeant Werm
said, pulling a large gun from his jacket and training it directly on
Smiling, Trauma held up his hands in the universal symbol of "Sorry, my
fault" and slowly sank back into his chair.
was a great debate, Mr. Martin, about whether or
not to pull you in. In the end, we decided the effort of tracking down
ring was not worth it, not for that crime, anyway." Ellis returned to
file. "Where was I? Ah yes, routine violations of DNC zones,
short, Mr. Martin, a litany of violations. And still, we were willing
forgive, to blind our own eyes." He stopped, placed his hands flat down
the table, and stood nose to nose with Trauma.
"But....this....MURDER." he hissed loudly, "this action of yours
has unraveled nearly everything.
we didn't do it!" Mia protested. "At
least, not intentionally."
do I get the feeling they won't believe us?"
George whispered to her out of the corner of his mouth.
Time lines are in chaos, the normal temporal flow
is in an extreme state of flux." Ellis said, lifting the massive folder
easily off the table and plopping it casually on top of the two already
by the records keeper, who staggered to balance the sudden extra
"We have reports of alternate time lines developing with
giraffes...GIRAFFES!...ruling the known universe. In another,
old cheese has become the standard currency. No one knows yet how this
going to settle."
stood up dramatically. "You three are facing
capital charges of chronocide, the willful and deliberate destruction
entire timeline. No one in the history of the TPA has ever faced such
and no one will be punished more severely than those responsible for
we didn't do it!" Mia said, fighting tears.
"These two received a note telling them the future of the universe
depended on them going to a certain set of coordinates!"
true," George chimed in. "it was given
to me by a dwarf in my closet, and then there was this clown who..."
George trailed off, wondering if he was helping or hurting their case.
Trauma said, "What we have here
is a grand conspiracy to set us up as the criminals in this case. Mr.
was used to get to me, knowing that i would find the riddle of the
coordinates too intriguing to pass up. George is a complete innocent in
affair, as is Mia, whose only misfortune was her attempt to return a
to me just as I activated my time ring." Trauma paused for dramatic
effect. "Someone, somewhere, set all of this up, including constructing
warp tube thirty feet in the air, including finding coordinates to drop
the prefect time to smash Mr...Mr...", he snapped his fingers in an
attempt to jog his memory.
Mia supplied helpfully.
smash," Trauma continued, "Mr. Boltz into
a bloody pulp. Surely you'd agree that even I, in my wisdom, and some
perceptive souls have even said, genius, could not have set all of
into motion. And while his name is familiar, I don't even know who the
Thomas Boltz was, much less why he is important enough to kill.
think it is safe to say..."
Martin," Ellis interrupted. "There is
much about this case to indicate that you are not the sole actors in
sordid little drama." He turned to Sergeant Werm. "Of course, if you
are such a...genius," his face contorted as though he found the word
somehow distasteful, "If you are such a genius, how can you
not know who Tom Boltz is? How can you not know how important
he is...was...in the grand scheme of things?" He
turned to face Trauma again. "Perhaps you are
pawns in this little game. Perhaps you were
we are free to go?" Trauma asked hopefully.
gave him a pitying look. "Of course not, Mr.
Martin. As soon as the Timelines clear up to enough to return to
Enforcement headquarters, and as soon as the Temporal Magistrate is
make it in...whoever he, she, or it might be now that everything is
changing...you will be charged with chronocide. And if that magistrate
anyone other than Glonn K'Pak of Numilon, I will make you wish you had
conceived, Mr. Martin, much less born.
started at him incredulously. "You realize,"
he cried, "that there is a chance we are innocent, and yet you bear us
such particular malice that you are going to treat myself and my
as the criminals?"
Martin," Ellis said pointedly. "I bear
you no particular malice." He turned and pulled off his glasses. "As
a matter of course, I bear general malice towards everyone. It makes
that much simpler. " He nodded his head at two agents, who moved toward
the captives. "Lock them in the library office. Before you leave them,
sure to seize Mr. Martin's ring. They will be kept there until the
clear enough for them to be transported to headquarters."
pompous, self-righteous, arrogant..." Trauma
stood still, continuing to face away from Trauma and
his companions. "Mr. Martin," he began slowly, choosing his words
deliberately. "I would like you to consider the following facts of the
matter very carefully. You are, at this moment, able to see. You are
think. You are able to walk. You have not, as yet, been blinded or
have not had your bodies dragged towards the interrogation rooms. You
been placed under questioning, then taken to another room and placed
further questioning, and then taken to yet another room and pleased
more strenuous questioning. And you have not been given a thorough,
of the lush...green...gardens...this facility has just behind the
turned to race them, and George gasped in horror. Where
Ellis's eyes should have been were instead twin black orbs, within
fiery inferno raged uncontrolled, red shadows dancing about in his
"We are not known for our subtlety, Mr. Martin." he placed the
mirrored glasses back on, covering the flames from their sight. "You
already been accorded more courtesy than anyone charged with your crime
right to expect. Keep that in mind." He gestured to the agents standing
either side of the trio. "Take them away."
turned and strode over to confer with Sergeant Werm sd
Trauma, George, and Mia were escorted out of the atrium of the library.
above the reception area, a trenchcoated figure leaned
over the railing of the 18th floor gallery and
watched the scene
unfolding below. As the three travelers were escorted away, he smiled
chuckled softly to himself. Then, quietly, he turned, stepped over a
body, and wandered back into the stacks, disappearing into the Terran
as though here were being parted from his own
child, Trauma pulled the time ring from his finger and dropped into the
of the temporal agent.
is to be come of us?" George asked one of the
the agent turned to face him. "The time
lines are in flux, and at present, travel is considered too dangerous.
clearing in the storm emerges, you will be taken to the Authority
Headquarters" With that, the agents turned and walked outside, pulling
door of the reference office closed and locking it behind them.
watched the silent procession. When the door clicked
shut, he collapsed into the nearest chair like a marionette whose
what are those people?" he asked.
"That...fire...in his eyes. It was....it was..."
are what they are, George." Trauma appeared
to have retreated into some distant recess of his own mind. "Suffice it
say, though, they are no longer what they once were. I have never
what it is that happens to recruits once they are accepted into the
Corps, and I'm really not sure I want to know.
walked to her desk, flipping a switch on the back of the
terminal sitting there. "Well, I don't know about you," she said
determinedly, "but I do want to
know who that was we just killed."
made a quiet, rude noise. "While in the strictest
interpretation of events, our combined body weight did end the life of
Boltz," he said, "we did not kill that man. Whoever orchestrated all
of this, however, did. We are merely pawns in this." He sat down in a
chair next to Mia's desk, pressed his fingertips together, and closed
"Now, let us discover the identity of the victim and see where we can
Mia called over her shoulder as she began
tapping at the terminal. "If you look in the fridge there, I should
something that will help get some vital fluids back into you."
do need something," he agreed, and slouched over
to the black cube that was Mia's office refrigerator. "There are still
moments I can barely keep my eyes open. Especially after all we've been
through." He opened the door, wincing slightly as a blast of cold air
rushed out into his face. Searching briefly, he discovered a container
"NutraDrink" with Mia's name written carefully on the label in red
permanent ink. He pulled it out from the clutter of other,
liquids, unscrewed the cap, and downed several gulps of what may have
the most vile substance he had ever voluntarily swallowed. He made a
swallowed several times in a vain attempt to clear the viscous liquid
now sticking to the walls of his throat
that stuff is potent." Mia said, as
George made muffled gagging noises behind her. "Keeps you going through
the day, though." It was true. Even as his tastebuds unsheathed the
of their displeasure and began stabbing at his tongue, he was starting
we're finally getting something!" Mia swiveled
the screen so that everyone could see the display. "Amazing how fast
thing actually works when hardly anyone is on the system."
wonder if they knocked out everyone in the
Residential complex as well," George mused.
probably," Trauma said, opening his eyes and
leaning forward to look at the computer. "They generally don't want to
seen. Ellis must have believed us, if only a little, to have authorized
blinding and stunning us."
computer screen started scrolling up biographical
information, including pictures. Trauma felt the pit of his stomach
through the floor.
no!" he cried. "No wonder his name was
familiar! I remember him from school lessons! On the screen, the
Terran Aerospace Engineer
the time he
entered the aerospace industry at the age of 26, until his death at the
104, Thomas Eugene Boltz was one of the most influential
designers on Earth. Originally attached to Airframe
Industries, he became a freelance designer after the success
of the Airframe AF-400 (first
flight in 2001), the industry's first six engine, one thousand
he enjoyed many
successes with both new aircraft and modifications to older models,
greatest accomplishment came while working as a contracted designer for
Boling Aerospace, Inc. Originally
to design a sub-orbital, high-speed passenger plane, Boltz's design
evolved into something more. By the time the final design plans were
to Boling, Boltz had created Earth's first dual aircraft/spacecraft,
flying between cities on Earth and between planets in Earth's solar
new plane was
designated the Boling 808, and it's
ambitious design called for engines capable of operating within an
environment. Once the ship left the atmosphere, however, a second set
propulsion systems took over, transforming the ship into a spaceship
approaching and, in theory, even surpassing the light speed barrier.
design was not
without controversy and proved to be a tough sell. The interatmospheric
of the flight was covered by conventional engines designed by Pitt & Whitley. The spaceworthy
engines, however, were to be powered by the controlled combustion of
Nobel prize winning physicist Gaston
Lafayette had discovered a method for converting matter into
and then recombining it with more like matter to generate massive
energy. His theories were already being tested in massive power
plants in Northern Europe (see also: The
Copenhagen Disaster of 2119). Now Boltz was proposing the
same theory be
used to power the engine of the new Boling 808.
sounds like something out of a novel!",
George exclaimed aloud as he read this part of the text. "or something
you'd see at the cinema."
real, George," Trauma said in a hushed voice.
"It's very, very real."
what they're talking about here sounds
Keep reading." Trauma said. At another
computer across the room, Mia was busying herself finding other
continued, skipping over several paragraphs of
designed by Thomas
Boltz, responsibility of the manufacturing and testing of the radical
design was to be handled by Fortinbras
Aviation of Norway. However, many executives and engineers
Boling and Fortinbras were skeptical of Boltz's design, believing it
safe nor technologically feasible
a meeting held in
Oslo in late 2017, Tom Boltz single-handedly .convinced both companies
Boling 808 was worth the risk, and construction of both the airframe
engines commenced the following year.
Boltz's contract with Boling expired. While working on new heavy
spacecraft for the European Union Space
Agency in 2024, Boltz received word that Boling and
Fortinbras were ready
to test the new plane and he was present in the audience for the
radical new ship made its first atmospheric flight in January 2025. The
following month, test pilots carried the ship to the upper reaches of
atmosphere and engaged the matter/anti-matter generators, converting
into a spaceship. Four hours later, they made one orbit of the moon and
returned to the landing site in Olympia, Washington.
Boling 808 not
only revolutionized space travel for the people of earth, but also led
creation of the Galactic Alliance
when the people of Earth made initial contact with the Elbyian
Empire in 2044, a mere 19 years after the ships first
sat back and realized he had been holding his breath
for several minutes. He finally allowed himself to exhale, slowly.
"Trauma, are they saying here what I think they are saying? This Tom
Tom Boltz chap, George, damn and blast my memory
for not recalling earlier. Tom Boltz created the FTL engine, which
united all the disparate systems that now make up the Alliance."
pondered this for a moment. "That means....what
we saw in the hanger wasn't a model of an antique
warp engine. It was a model of the prototype!" Well,
he thought,. That
explains why Taquin spoke English and German.
to this," Mia said from the other computer.
"I did a second search on the Boling 808 and pulled up a timeline. The
first flight was in 2025. Two years later, thanks primarily to the new
permanent base was constructed on Earth's moon. total travel time,
was eight hours. In 2029, a permanent colony was established on the
Mars. In 2030, Fortinbras produced a new version of the engine which
time across the solar system considerably. in 2032, engineers
spacetesting an experimental
version of the Fortinbras Engine pushed the ship to full speed and
lightspeed barrier, officially starting the FTL era. Then, in 2036, an
expedition is sent to the Oort cloud, and during their mission
several large comets whose orbits had been altered by a blast ring from
supernova and were heading on a possible collision course with Earth.
warning they received from the Oort expedition, scientists had twenty
warning and were able to find a way to divert the comets."
paused to take a sip of the NutraDrink which George had
abandoned on the table. "In 2040," she continued," Earthlings
bridged the gap between the stars, venturing to their nearest celestial
neighbor, Alpha Centauri, and establishing a colony there. In 2044,
construction of a large network of waystations, an expedition
Elbyian sublight transport."
of this accomplished because of one Earth man's
design." George said. "That's mindboggling."
808 and its derivatives," Mia continued,
"served as the primary means of faster-than-light travel until well
the 22nd century, long after the Alliance was
all lost," Trauma said, dejectedly.
"All is lost. We've irrevocably altered the flow of time. No FTL
no Alliance. Only those of us in the stable zones will even remember
An entire history that once was is now no more."
something of the Alliance will survive." Mia
said hopefully. "Maybe a few systems will still make contact." She
found herself missing a home that more than likely no longer existed.
Alpha had been terraformed and colonized by human settlers from Earth.
the 808, all of that was now gone.
for the first time since he had been dragged into this
entire bewildering affair, felt absolutely helpless, but still, there
something within him that insisted that all was not, could not be,
"There must be another way! Something we can do!" he said.
"Perhaps the Alliance will still happen!"
sat with his elbows propped on his knees, his face
buried in his hands. He did not even bother to look up. "No." he said
wearily. "No FTL, no Alliance."
if Boltz hadn't invented them, surely someone else
would have, wouldn't they?" George insisted.
am a tremendous proponent of the power of positive
thinking, Mr. Pembroke, but I see no reason to indulge myself in
fancy that will only.." He pulled his head up and stared incredulously
George, a wide grin slowly but steadily elevating the corners of his
"I'm sorry, but what precisely was that insane thing you just said?"
said," George repeated emphatically, "if
Boltz hadn't invented them, surely someone else would have."
leapt from his chair and danced about like a madman,
sweeping Mia up into a crushing embrace and twirling her about the
"Did you hear what he said? Did you?" he cackled gleefully as he
plopped her back on her feet.
heard him," Mia said unsteadily, putting a hand
down on the table to regain her balance. "but how exactly does this
would have had the most to gain by arranging the
death of the inventor of the FTL engine, hrm?" Who would have had the
motive to see Thomas Boltz removed from the historical picture?" he
eyes lit up. "Whoever was next! The person or
group who would have been the first if Boltz had never existed!"
the FTL drive to the table would certainly
give it's inventor a lot of power to shape the Alliance, wouldn't it?"
Trauma exclaimed, springing to the top
of the desk and spinning in a tight circle. "The three of us are alive,
and I don't believe that was part of the plan. The Timelines are in
they have yet to settle. There may yet be hope for us, my friends. They
not yet lost.!" He jumped down off the desk, furrowing his brow in
concentration. "But we need a plan. A plan of action."
we just go back and stop ourselves from
killing Boltz? George asked sensibly. "That would be the simplest
of action, except....except we no longer have a time ring." His face
as he remembered the confiscation of Trauma's precious Operator Ring.
we do." Trauma said quickly. "Mia, we
have a great deal of research to conduct, but I don't think we have
continue doing it here, We..."
George interrupted. "I saw them take
the ring. Don't tell me you gave them some sort of fake. Surely they
seen through a ruse like that."
indulged George's question, pulling a ring from his
pocket and slipping it on his finger. "The Temporal Corps is remarkably
efficient, and has quite a reputation as a ruthless and infallible
never makes a mistake. But
they tend to
grow too fixed on the big picture, allowing small details to slip past
you're quick and lucky. I gave them Mia's ring," he said, his eyes
raised his right hand and waggled his fingers for effect,
then returned his attention to the librarian. "Is there any way we can
access .the library without physically being here?"
walked over to a filing cabinet in the corner. She
reached into a box on top and pulled out three disks about the size of
fashioned 3.5 inch floppy.
can use the library cards. Get me to a computer,
almost any computer, and we can tap into the library using them."
Trauma said. "Superb!"
wheeled around to face George. "Now, Mr. Pembroke,
you have proposed a marvelous and thoughtful course of action, and I
should try it. However, it's best to have alternative plans. You recall
difficult it was to reach the library?"
there are a few places on the timelines that have
fixed locations. The Library, the Temporal Authority Headquarters, the
Inebrium on Bethdish....all of them can be counted on to be reachable,
during severe storms, as long as you're willing to endure a rough ride.
non-fixed location will be decidedly difficult to reach with any real
accuracy. And in fact, the late Mr. Boltz's lab will be doubly
difficult, as it
is the center of the temporal maelstrom. I very seriously doubt we
Mr. Boltz's office under the current conditions."
looked disappointed. "So it's just
time period, "Trauma grinned, "is another
matter entirely. And if we can get to his time period, there rests a
outside chance as it were, that we will be able to correct what has
walked to the door and pulled on it. "However, we do
have the small problem of this door and the Agents swarming outside."
slipped open the drawer of her desk, and playfully
dangled a key ring from the tip of her index finger. "You mean," she
corrected smiling., "we have the small problem of those Agents swarming
locked eyes with Trauma and matched his impossibly wide
grin tooth for tooth.
pressed himself flat against the wall and peered
around the corner into the Library atrium. There were only a few agents
about, but the main doors were still an impossible distance from where
were currently hiding.
and blast!" he muttered, retreating back down
the hallway a short distance to where George and Mia were waiting. "The
front door is nearly impossible. There must be another way to access
portal." he reported.
we'd set off any number of alarms, but..."
Mea said thoughtfully.
Trauma encouraged her.
an emergency portal access on each of the
gallery levels. They're exit only....feeds into the main warp tube, in
fire or earthquake or something."
considered this. "Well," he finally
concluded. "They'll likely be guarded, but we'll stand better odds
than trying to slip through the front door. Let's go."
trio slipped quietly down the hallway that ran behind the
circulations area. They came to a large steel door. Mia fished into her
pulled out a keycard, and swiped it through a small black box mounted
the door. There was an audible click as the door's lock released its
she quickly pushed it open. Trauma and George followed her swiftly
George stopped to ease the door shut behind them.
were standing in a concrete stairwell that went both up
and down. Brightly painted steel railings protected the inner edge of
stairs, and yellow stripes were painted along the edge of each step.
see institutional design hasn't changed much in 500
odd years." George said dryly.
ignored him, grabbing hold of the rail and propelling herself
up the stairs two at a time. She led them up eighteen flights finally
on the landing next to another door..
stopped on the top step and gave Mia a pained look.
"I thought you said every
floor had an emergency
exit," he panted.
but Arn has been complaining about the security
camera's not working proper up here. If they see us on the loose from
monitor station, we'll never make it to the portal." Mia stood on her
tiptoes and peered through the small window set high in the center of
"Looks clear," she reported, easing the door open and slipping
through. The two men continued to follow in her wake. They wound their
through the stacks, occasionally stepping over the random unconscious
patron. Finally, Mia held her hand up behind her, and peered around a
agent standing by the exit," she whispered.
nodded grimly and reached into his pocket, retrieving
a small red sphere. He peered around the corner at the guard, and then
tiptoes in an effort to see over the stacks. Taking a step backwards,
the tiny ball over the facing shelves towards the far side of the 18th
gallery, then ducked to the floor.
across the room, they heard a sharp crack, followed by
the sound of shelves toppling. Trauma straightened up, gave Mia an
shrug, and glanced around the corner.
went for it!" Trauma whispered urgently.
three of them rushed headlong around the corner towards
the exit door. Mia thrust the lever of the doorway down and to the
threw her shoulder against the door, which flew open and slammed
inside wall. Klaxons began sounding throughout the library as the
fire alarm system rumbled to life.
dashed past Mia and gazed at the shimmering portal He
quickly set the coordinates on the ring, grabbed his companions and
jewel a quarter twist. As they were pulled into the warp tube, George
trenchcoated man running up to the door. Funny,
he thought. He looks vaguely
But then, with a shimmer and a flash, they were gone.
trenchcoated man howled with rage. How many
lives do these insufferable humans have! he seethed to
himself. He was about to head towards the elevators when he noticed a
contingent of temporal agents rushing towards the emergency exit. The
trenchcoated man quickly evaluated his options, chose the better part
and disappeared into the portal, abandoning the Library to the Men in
Cat's Cradle Zone looked like a battlefield now, and the
normally bright crimson background was dark and foreboding. Gale force
swirled about, making the timelines sway violently as they pitched and
through the abyss that lies between time and space. The three travelers
together tightly, helping to keep each other from falling off and
into the unfathomable deeps of nothing that lay below them.
is futile!" Trauma shouted above the roar of
the winds. We'll be lucky if we get anywhere alive, much less where
got to try," George yelled back. "If we
don't, it won't matter where we end up, because it will all be changed."
said nothing, clutching Trauma's arm and staring straight
ahead with grim determination. She knew all to well the dangers of
the time lines under any conditions, let alone the ones they were
She wondered if, having left the library, she would ever see anything
considered familiar again. The sudden and stark reminder of the stakes
game they were playing strengthened her resolve.
glanced over at George, and marveled at his reticence.
She had grown up in modern times, or at least what she thought of as
times, and George was as foreign to her as a knight of the round table
have been to him. How he was able to take all of this in stride was
short of amazing.
noticed her staring at him, and smiled in what he
hoped was a reassuring way. Amazing,
she thought. She diverted her gaze downwards, shook her head, and
herself. It's as if he's on a boating
holiday, not riding a temporal maelstrom through the wilds of the Cat's
the line they were riding along pitched downwards
at an impossibly steep and dizzying angle. George could see the warp
gaping below them, like the mouth of a huge serpent ready to swallow
whole. Oh well, he thought. here goes nothing.
travelers flew into the warp tube, leaving the chaos of
the zone behind them.
the extreme conditions of the zone, the three of them
managed to push through the tube and into real space with a relative
stability. Unfortunately, the aftershock of their sudden
the skirts and petticoats of a nearby woman flying high into the air,
her delicate if cumbersome undergarments.
was clear to each of them that they had missed the lab.
stood in a rather stylish restaurant, which appeared to
reside around the turn of the 20th century if
the Victorian fashion
sense of it's patrons was any indication. The choice of excited scream
escaped the lips of the disturbed woman certainly sounded as though it
from an older time.
as I suspected," Trauma said solemnly,
manipulating the jewel on the ring. "The conditions make hitting a
specific target very difficult."
place, wrong time," Mia observed
thoughtfully. Trauma nodded.
looked about the restaurant and suddenly felt an
aching need to not be there. Virtually everyone in the room, from the
the waiters were staring at them, dumbfounded by their sudden
the piano player had dropped his hands to his side and was staring open
at them. One man in particular, however, seemed particularly unhappy to
them. He slammed a bottle of whiskey down onto the bar, breaking it
barrel and creating a jagged glass hatchet, which he waved in the
the three newcomers.
the hell are you doin' to Ms. Laura?" he
bellowed with a deep, crackling voice.
Trauma," George said, crowding closer to his
companions. "How much longer until we try again?"
just a minute here," Trauma said absently,
completely oblivious to his surroundings.. "I'm attempting to factor in
some of the changes that have already taken place. If I can do that, I
able to program the ring to give me more stability with manual control."
hulking man growled as he waded through the crowd. Across
the room, the bartender began moving the more expensive bottles of
under the counter, where they were less likely to be broken in the
that was certain to begin within moments.
Trauma," Mia tugged urgently at his sleeve.
"Leaving sooner rather than later would, I believe, be a most prudent
course of action. While I've always wanted to meet a tall, strong man,
doesn't appear to be a promising introduction." A table flew through
air, landing inches away from the picture window at the front of the
teach you to go messing around with my
woman." the man growled, holding up the jagged edges of the bottle as
though checking their sharpness. Behind him, a fight broke out between
who had no real quarrel, but who didn't want to be left out of the
and were impatient to get them started so they could engage in their
pastime, breaking things for no readily apparent reason.
noticed the approaching man for the first time. He
appeared to be little more than a partially civilized bear dressed in
leather clothing. Trauma's face broke readily into his best Cheshire
he crossed his hands, fingers still nimbly manipulating the jewel in
of his ring.
my dear, dear man." Trauma said
enthusiastically. Mia could not help but notice the gray stubble on the
chin, or his cold drunken eyes which blearily attempted to focus his
upon the three travelers.
Laura, the offended woman, positively beamed with
admiration as the hulk made his way towards the interlopers who had
"Oh Theodore!" she gushed. "I've changed my mind! I will
marry you!" One of the men
fighting in the back of the tavern picked up a chair and brought it
down over the head of a man who had been peacefully playing cards in
corner, and the brawl expanded to include four new assailants.
dear, dear fellow," Trauma continued,
"may I be the first to congratulate you on your upcoming nuptials. And
madam, my warmest regards on the happy event." He beamed a smile at her.
your filthy.....uh....words away from my
girl!" Theodore bellowed, and moved dangerously closer. One of the card
players was thrown up onto the bar, and slid down its polished length,
headfirst in a plate of cabbage and potatoes being enjoyed by a young
near the window. As the pretty girl burst into tears, her companion
his feet, reached for a barstool, and hurried into the fray.
arms, hook the arms," Trauma muttered out of
the corners of his mouth, as he attempted to keep his toothy grin
the looming Theodore. George and Mia quickly obeyed.
issued forth a guttural shout and lunged towards
them, just as Trauma wrenched the ring's launch wheel. For just a
Theodore felt as though he were on the verge of falling into a deep,
and then he landed with a resounding thud on the floor. It was as
three strangers had never been in the room. Staggering to his feet, he
that both his bottle and hat had vanished into thin air.
scratched his head in confusion, decided someone had
played a nasty trick on him, and punched the nearest person he saw, a
middle-aged insurance salesman from Ohio. The brawl spilled out the
and into the crisp night air...
* * *
George, Mia, a hat, and a broken bottle sped into the
Cat's Cradle. Conditions were rapidly becoming worse, and distinctions
one line and another were starting to fade.
set the ring," Trauma yelled, "to take
us out and then turn us back for another shot. When we get slower, I'm
the ring on manual to make last minute adjustments."
George replied as the hat flew into
his face. The three of them arced out and then turned back towards the
on!" Trauma shouted as he switched the ring
onto manual. At first, the trip was no worse than it had been before,
but as he
began attempting to make adjustments to their path as they rode it, the
turbulence became unbearable. Mia began to careen off the path and into
void between lines, and George was just able to catch her and pull her
The bottle, however, tumbled
through the zone for a short time before being vaporized by a random
energy. The flight
became a tempest of
nightmare twists and turns, hills and valleys, as Trauma frantically
switch the ring back onto automatic control. He was certain already
had missed their target completely, But where they were set to land was
as he made the final twist on the ring to bring it back
to automatic, the three stumbled into a warp tube and fell headlong
landed face first in cold wet grass, skidded a few
feet, and collided with a hard rocklike slab. Shaking off the stars
in front of his eyes, he examined the object which had arrested his
He noted with great distress that it was a tombstone.
was immense fun." groaned Mia. "Let's
never do it again, shall we?"
three sat up and looked about them. A lonely moor
stretched for as far as the eye could see, and delicate snow and ice
the few barren trees. Above them, atop a small hill, the walls of a
castle could be made out in the clear moonlight. High over their head,
clouds chased one another in the swirling winds of the upper
causing the light to dance and shimmer.
was about to get to his feet when he felt a sharp cold
object come to rest lightly across his throat. He smiled nervously and
up at his assailant.
man before him was tall and handsome, dressed in a simple
tunic and breeches. Leather boots and gloves covered his hands and
feet, and a
now empty scabbard hung from his wide belt. The usual occupant of that
extended from his right arm and came to rest just below Trauma's chin.
of some sort, m'lord." he spoke.
"Shall I dispatch them to the hell they no doubt so richly deserve?"
out of the shadows, a second man emerged. He was pale
and blonde, and easily as tall as his companion. The pair were dressed
similarly, though the second man favored black and silver rather than
festive blue and gold of the swordsman. He cast a mournful eye upon the
travelers, finally locking his cold blue eyes on Trauma.
he gently grasped the swordsman's wrist, and
slowly pulled the blade away. With his free hand, he reached down and
Trauma to his feet.
Horatio. I know him well."
stared at his benefactor. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,
was not smiling.
To Be Continued...
© 1998,2007 by Rob Wynne and Jeffrey Williams
Robert Wynne ("Doc") is a gentleman rogue and a scholar of truth. He has been, at alternate times, a writer, an editor, a salesman, a teacher, a freelance computer consultant and a charming vagrant. He currently works as a Systems Administrator for an Atlanta area ISP, and in his spare time enjoyed gaming and figuring out ways to get cheap airline tickets. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While herding a sturdy diesel across the highways of life Jeff Williams dreame d of becoming a writer. In between haunting railroad yards he scribbles cryptic notes on slightly-used paper napkins and posts them off to his colaborator, Rob Wynne. They brainstorm these abstruse anagrams into the tales that you've just been reading. And people say the youth of America have no goals in life. You can reach Jeff at email@example.com
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