by joey racano
Chapter One, Arrival
The air was sweeter eight centuries ago and each breath was an assault on the senses. The traveler had landed on his belly on a leafy path through thick woods. He staggered to his feet, took inventory of his limbs and retreated into the underbrush.
His once bright survival suit was tarnished and smelled of sulfur. Some of his gear had been lost to freeze, a corrosive effect time travel has on matter. Chrononomy was a new and evolving science, and the hazards were many.
The traveler was a man named Justin Nicholas Thyme. Having attained the rank of Commodore in the United Nations Multi- National Chrononomy Task Force, Thyme was well educated, skilled in the arts, and known in Chronopolis as a dependable warrior. His name said it all; friends would often greet him after a mission by saying, Just in the Nick of Thyme!
According to an external sensor worn like a wristwatch, he had soft-landed in the year 1278 A.D., somewhere in Bulgaria near the site of present day Silistra. His mission was to locate a specially selected child and transport him back to Chronopolis. Upon arrival, that child would be trained for yet another mission, the nature of which was unknown to the Commodore. When he was satisfied the undergrowth had obscured him from the footpath, he took a moment to check the readings on his instrumentation.
The weather forecast was brisk with a light breeze, confirmed by a rustling in the tree canopy above. The local temperature was 62 degrees Fahrenheit with a 35% chance of rain. It amazed him that his readout could predict weather more accurately in a different time period than could the weather forecasters back in Chronopolis. The Oscillator readout told him he had 50 hours to complete his mission. Although better technologies would arise in the future, conditions enabling time travel could so far be created only temporarily.
Such conditions were for now accomplished through Gamma Ray bombardment of a small area of the space-time fabric. This high-energy bombardment caused a particle disruption, where the Cosmos became malleable over a small field inside an imposing machine called a Chrona.The Chrona was an enormous radioactive wind machine, where micro cyclones were generated and then charged with huge electromagnets. Reversing the polarity of these magnets controlled the wind direction, which in turn determined the direction you would travel through time when you entered the Chrona or simply made contact with the field of disruption.
Missions using the Chrona had an automatic sunset clause built in. When your time was up, you were yanked violently- back into your own time of origin. At that point in time, at that precise point, a traveler had to get himself inside of something with enough mass of its own to overcome the freeze sure to occur when disruption to the original molecule field ended. That usually meant getting yourself completely immersed in water, but perhaps a hollow log or even the belly of a whale might do in the pinch. But without some kind of protective surrounding however, you would return to Chronopolis a burnt slice of bacon on the floor of the Chrona. These missions were all still just test flights and the technology -known as Chrononomy- had a long way to go. But the Chrona was and somewhere, probably still is- a time machine.
The local time here was 9:30 a.m. That left most of the day ahead of him to proceed with the mission. He unbuckled a small device from his survival jacket and opened it like an old pocket watch. Pressing a small button, he brought up a tracking screen upon which a persistent blip shone brightly. The reading told him his target was some 25 miles to the North, in Drastar. His sharp mind immediately began calculating the miles, the elapsed time it would take to get there, and the primitive conditions under which that journey would have to be undertaken.
One last glance at the oscillator told him he had 49.4 hours to make the trip, find the child, and encapsulate for the return to his time of origin. He packed up and scooted down the trail keeping his ears wide open, listening for any sound that might signal the approach of anyone else. The way he was dressed, being discovered would most likely lead to being burned at the stake. He broke into the tireless trot of a Task Force Commodore, and narrowly outpaced the breeze.
Chapter Two, The Chrona
Few sights in history had the knockout power of that which the small group of men in white scientist smocks beheld that day deep beneath Chronopolis. Open the Encyclopedia Britannica and next to the word imposing youll see a picture of the Chrona (crow-nuh). The secrecy surrounding the science of Chrononomy makes it difficult to ascertain exactly when construction of this metal-alloy beast was begun, but it is quite sure that said construction had not could not– ever be completed.
What started as a device somewhat comparable to the Cyclotron of the mid-20th century, had progressed into something akin to the 1960s television series, Time Tunnel. Every time it seemed to be finished, another peripheral discovery was made, until what started as a quest for clean, cheap energy turned into an attempt to control the Sun. Further discoveries led to the attempted control of several neighboring stars. Harnessing that magnitude of energy led quantitative change to morph into qualitative change, and it eventually became possible to travel back to a time when those stars were young- great power indeed!
But unlike many in history who had gained power only to abuse it, these men saw it as a chance to change the world. They recognized the limitless potential of the Chrona, and planned carefully. For many years they met, brainstormed and traveled. They created a prioritized list of issues of stupendous gravitas. Finally, they drew up a charter, swore allegiance to its ideals, and created Alternity Group.
Chapter Three The Stone Fortress
The Commodore finally decided it was time to rest when his lungs felt like they were turned inside out. He walked slowly in circles, hand on his hip, as if after a track event. He noticed a difference right away in the clear airs ability to sooth his burning lungs. It was impressive. His oscillator read 41:14; he had been at a slow, steady trot for many hours. The trail had been almost completely empty, but for him. A passing wagon drawn by incredibly large oxen and a solitary foot-traveler who looked like he fell off the cover of the Rolling Stones album, His Satanic Majestys Request were the only exceptions.
His other instrumentation showed his quarry to be no more than a few miles ahead. Commodore Thyme had made good time. When he came to the woods edge, he stooped onto one knee and mumbled a slurred prayer. This was a very religious era, and though he was not a religious man, he knew he might not get another chance. He likened it in his mind to saying grace at the dinner table- once you started eating, there was no going back.
Up ahead was a giant fortress of stone where, his instruments told him, he would find the child for whom he had come. He took a deep breath and walked out onto the cobbles. Now out of the protective woods, he still found himself safely swallowed by shadows and the lateness of hour. Serfs and servants walked silently by, heavy mortar vessels upon their heads, eyes kept to the ground. Their drab gray robes smelled of frankincense and spilled wine, telling the Commodore they had come from inside the tall stone building. He felt for his polaser, finding comfort in its touch. In this antiquity, he was surely the most well armed man alive.
Up until this point, Thyme had undertaken his mission by the numbers, without questioning Chronopolis as to the layout inside the fort, or what might come next. For now, it was enough that he had closed the gap and made it to within mere yards of the object of his mission. The best thing he could do was to lay low and wait for more details, like, where he was, and the history of the place. Then he would figure out how to proceed.
Chapter Four- Planning an Anomaly
Throughout the ages, few would ever know of their existence. Among those few, they were seen very differently; to some they were the illuminati. To others they were extraterrestrials. Still others believed them to be representatives of divinity, demigods of a sort. They were even seen much as Native Americans saw the crow, as messengers from across the void, with one foot in this world, one in oblivion. In truth, they were but men, albeit a special breed- rarer than a blue diamond, and it shown bright.
The eight members of Alternity Group stood in a semicircle around a large room whose light at once made the room bright and yet vision difficult, like a long fluorescent bulb on the blink. Before them a large, clear, plasticized quartermasters chart lay prostrate a foot or so off the floor, grease pen markings denoting the foot travels of one Commodore Justin Nicholas Thyme.
Well my friends, said a white-bearded scholarly type to the rest, our rabid meanderings of mind seem to have manifested themselves into a surreality where our chess pieces exist in one age, and the chess board in quite another!
Yes, Professor, I do concur, said another, a tall, thin man wearing a sweater under his white smock and a 5 oclock shadow, it would be difficult to overstate our progress- absolutely fantastic!
Lets not get ahead or full of ourselves, came the sharp retort from a burly gent at the end of the line, standing one hand in pocket, the other on a tobacco pipe. Sure its all enough to make you giddy, but if we are to actually do anything with it, well need- well, we certainly cant thrash about flying blind in the dark! Colonel Jaspar, has our guest yet arrived?
Standing right outside the door, Senator Stillwell. Hes been briefed sufficiently to alleviate some of the shock, but hes sure to have half a cow in any case- who wouldnt? Shall I..
Yes Colonel, escort the man in at once. Might as well jump right into it, I say.
The thick steel door opened with a breach of atmosphere that set their ears popping, two by two. The Professor handed out chewing gum as would be done for mountain climbers, or visitors to Shambala or passengers disembarking from a plane to Denver. Now in walked an elderly gentleman, short of stature, but a brilliant historian, named Dr. Benjamin Binder, University of Cornell. Having studied the late 13th century all of his adult life, Dr. Binder would soon take up residence in the Shambala believers camp.
As he stared down at the grease pen marks on the large, clear map, he held up his right hand, palm to the floor and signaled for the lights to be lowered.The main lights of the large room dimmed and three flood lights took over, one amber, one red and a third, smaller light shone blue.
This, said the professor, is where the Chrona deposited Commodore Thyme, some 16 hours ago. The amber light demarked the location where the traveler had landed with a thud on his belly. This, he further continued, is where he is now.
The red light shone where Justin had just entered the cobbled street. What we need from you, Dr. Binder, is to give us any help, any sense of perspective you can. After all, you do know this place, do you not?
Dr. Binder reeled. Lunatics! he shouted. Fucking lunatics and madmen, what the hell are you trying to say to me? (indeterminate garble*) Would you have me believe in your (more slurred garble* fairytale that I..!
The good Doctor went to his knees as several of the group caught him, breaking his fall. The poor and shocked Doctor was blathering and crying, insulted at the thought of time travel and wholly not ready for such an academic U turn.
The men around the room shot understanding glances at one another and some moved to support the historian, the greatest scholar on the Mongol era the world had to offer. They had all known it wasnt going to be easy and they were more than willing to be patient with the good Doctor, who sat in a chair holding a glass of water, head in hands.
He slammed the glass to the ground, and it shattered right along with everything that one Dr. Benjamin Binder had ever thought or known about the world.
To hell with water, he sobbed. Do you have anything stronger?
Placing a supportive hand on his shoulder, Colonel Jaspar handed him another glass, contents considerably stronger.
Chapter Five, the Siege of Silistra
Several hours had passed and Doctor Binders initial shock had faded a bit. There was very important work to do and all members of Alternity Group knew it. Time was a factor in more ways than one, and the good Doctor Binder really had no choice but to join in and hit the ground running.
He had spent the last two hours studying grease pencil markings adorning the quartermasters chart on the floor at his feet. The red light had been still for at least that long. By this point, it was clear to Doctor Binder exactly where and when- Commodore Thyme was. Every few moments, he would recognize some historic landmark or other and let out an excited gasp. Other times he would give a thoughtful Hmm, or cluck his tongue like a disapproving nanny.
Eventually, Senator Stillwell tired of the crash-lesson in Chrononomy going on in the mind of Doctor Binder and rolled his eyes to Colonel Jaspar and the Professor.
Well, Doctor, can you fill us in on any details you may have ascertained thus far? asked the Professor.
Wha? Oh, yes of course professor. Please, uh, what exactly is the question?
For starters, what is that stone building? It looks like some sort of temple or church.
Your agent stands before the great Fortress at Drastar, the ruins of which still stand; Ive seen them, at Silistra. What year did you say it was?
1278, said the Colonel.
Well then, said Doctor Binder, I would submit that we may have stumbled upon the last refuge of the Bulgarian Emperor Ivaylo- a pig farmer who rose to power on the swell of a peasant uprising. Twice he defeated the Bulgarian royals, finally forcing the surrounding kingdoms to recognize him as Emperor of Bulgaria.
However, he was never accepted by blue bloods, who called him Bardokva, which meant cabbage. It was their indignation that drove Ivaylo into exile at the Fortress of Drastar, deep in the dangerous heart of Mongol territory.
What about his offspring? asked Senator Stillwell. Commoner or blue blood, who cares? What matters to Alternity Group are his genes.
And why? asked the Doctor.
For another mission, doctor. A mission about which information may be given on a need-to-know basis only. Suffice it to say we know Ivaylo had a child. And we know that -after walking out of a pig barnyard- the man gathered an army, awaited the Bulgarian royals who had come to collect forced tribute from the peasants and slaughtered them to a man.
He then did it all a second time, and became Emperor himself! He often repelled Mongol raids, something that was not easily done. Those feats, my good Doctor, are in the genes. Genes like those of the salmon, whose ancestors may have had to swim through only gravel- the resulting genes are those of survival, of triumph! came the Senators reply.
The child, asked the Professor. What about the child, Doctor?
Doctor Benjamin Binder chewed a fingernail and stared at his feet, digging through his memory for the details.
Got it! he shouted.See there- those horses tied up throughout the area? Those markings and dress are 12th-century Mongol. Gentleman, you are witness to the siege at Drastar, the modern day site of Silistra. I would bet that Ivaylo is already holed up in there said Doctor Binder.
And what about his offspring? the Professor asked again.
After defeating Constantine Tikh, the previous Emperor, Ivaylo married his wife, Byzantine Princess Maria Kantakouzene. They are known to have had one child. The name of that child has never been known. She must be inside with him.
Justin rested outside the fortress on one knee, listening to the scholarly history lesson via chronophone as though his life depended on it- and it did. But more than that, the very existence of Chronopolis depended on it.
Simultaneously, a shout startled the Alternity Group. It was Doctor Binder.Of course! Now I remember! The Mongols had already twice been defeated by Ivaylo, took no chances this time, sending a major army against him. That army was arriving by the minute, and in droves.
Ivaylo may have been hated he continued, but the royals still held affection for Lady Maria, and so arranged for her to be secretly smuggled out of the fortress, just as the siege began. Senator, order your Commodore to go around But there was no need. The quartermasters chart already showed the red light moving around to the back of the fortress.
Chapter Six, Bridge to Forever
He was tall by Mongol standards, but stood only shoulder high to his horse. They both wore heavy fur for warmth and it was likely they had never been any further apart in their lives than they were at the moment. Mongol boys rode before they learned to dress themselves, and often they adorned their equine counterparts to match their own dress, braid for braid, strap for strap.
This time unfortunately, a swift slash to the throat brought the relationship to an untimely end. A small group of cloaked figures crouched in the bushes just behind, one calming the steed, another dragging the mans now lifeless body into the thicket. Only their eyes were visible through the wraps of their cloaks and they communicated by hand signals.
Very stealthy, thought Agent Thyme, watching from his position submerged in a moat that surrounded the fortress. Yet stealthier still, he remained motionless beneath a small foot bridge, allowing not even a ripple upon the water that might betray him. Their feet padded the wooden boards above him as they crossed the bridge single file, like rats boarding a ship. Only the glint of blades carried in their teeth could give them away.
When they reached the stone wall, the leader held his hands to his mouth, and the mournful sound of a night owl wafted almost imperceptibly up and over the ramparts.A broad wooden door creaked open, and a satchel of gold appeared from beneath a dark cloak. A moment later, a slight, hooded figure was pushed outside the confines of the fortress.
The leader snatched hood from head, revealing the red hair of a woman. But no child thought Thyme, from his watery perch mere feet away- no child! Suddenly a bell rang out, shattering the nights calm, and the solid chunk of a crossbow was heard pinning men three deep to the heavy wooden door. Flaming arrows began a deadly rain from the fortress walls, landing in and around the surrounding bush, where Mongol catapults were now being rolled into place.
In the confusion, the silent ones did their best to shield the red haired woman using their own bodies, but hell had broken loose and there was no quarter. Beneath the bridge, Thyme checked his wrist-worn oscillator- it read 10 seconds. Under the heavy rain of arrows rocks and oil, he could wait no longer.
He stretched his hand around the edge of the bridge and grasped a petite ankle, yanking her into the moat. Only death stood atop the bridge now, as the wooden door slammed tightly and Mongol spears poked the water, searching for royal Bulgarian flesh.
Several feet below, the Lady Maria struggled in submerged silence, trying to break loose from the stranger who held his body close to her own. Through murky water, she saw something on his wrist shine like a diamond, and a moment later, bright as the sun. Bubbles of super heated gas boiled to the surface, burning the eyes and throats of spear-poking Mongols, who began running, pointing and shouting.
Back in Chronopolis, a wall speaker translated their shouts into, Devils! Devils! As quickly as it had begun, the bubbling stopped, the water quieted, and combatants on both sides stared in wide-eyed horror. All retreated. Later, even though the moat was entirely drained, no bodies were ever found.
Chapter Seven, Special Delivery
With all oscillators synchronized and warning of the time travelers imminent return, the members of Alternity group decided on allowing Dr. Benjamin Binder to stay and witness chrononomy in action- the miracle of time travel. He joined the eight scientists who sat in a semicircle, strapped into their seats. All of them wore protective suits and dark safety glasses, similar to those used to watch an eclipse.
Several yards away, a wall stretched floor to ceiling made of Permaglass, one of the many peripheral discoveries the group had stumbled upon. Permaglass was an alloy of sand and carbon steel, incredibly strong and quite transparent. In fact, two such walls stood between the observers and the field to be disrupted; a mere fifty feet away, stood the entrance to the Chrona.
All in the room wore an oscillator on their wrist with a digital readout synchronized with the one worn by the Commodore, and each one read 4 minutes. The Alternity Group sat watching and waiting, adrenaline coursing through their bodies.
In 2067, an alarm went off that sounded like an angry hornet. In 1278, a scepter found the neck of a Mongol.
In 2067, beads of cold sweat formed on nine foreheads.
In 1278, silent footsteps padded across a wooden bridge.
In 2067, all lights went dark in the facility.
In 1278, the hoot of an owl sailed oer the fortress ramparts.
In Chronopolis, the air crackled with static electricity, signifying another change to reality was imminent.
All sights and sounds at Alternity Groups subterranean facility ceased, as the Chrona sucked up all available power. A half dozen yellow dwarf stars within several light years of Chronopolis dimmed in space, as their collected energy arced a single Gamma beam directly into a portal on the planets surface.
In 1278, a side door opened, and gold was exchanged for an auburn-haired princess- then all hell broke loose.
In 2067, a six-star Gamma Ray entered the planets crust and rode an optic conduit down into the heart of the Alternity facility, where the Chrona began to feast like a giant carnivorous reptile.
The ground trembled only slightly more than did Doctor Benjamin Binder, as he observed the miracle of an energized Chrona, emitting other-worldly whines, lights and smells.Fantastic! he yelled at the top of his lungs.
All the power in this sector of the cosmos, focused on a single spot! answered the professor, seated beside him.
Then, with a giant hiss and a cumulus cloud of white steam, the gargantuan Chrona fell silent. After that display, however, it would always remain as menacing in dormancy as it was in action.
Chapter Eight, Slight Return
The large room was musky with the smell of a thousand drowned campfires as the steam began to clear. The Chrona still gave off an occasional electrical charge, like the last pops of a popcorn maker. Colonel Jaspar was the first to remove the protective glasses that had saved their eyes. He turned them around to inspect for heat damage, and saw the reflection of his cheeks, now red enough to be those of a Plains Indian.
A military man, the Colonel always felt duty-bound to shepherd the rest of the group, and so sprang from his seat to help the others. The rip of Velcro could be heard over and over as restraints were removed from the arms of each observer. When the last puffs of opaque white gas finally cleared, the group stood, mouths agape at the surreal scene spread before them. On the metallic floor of the Chronas receiving area lay the bodies of a man and a woman. Both appeared naked, bruised and burned, and the surrounding area was strewn with charred remnants of their clothing.
An Alternity Alert team entered the room via elevator and made short work of strapping the unconscious man and woman onto gurneys. They were quickly wheeled to another area of the facility. Several attendants stayed behind to hose down and sanitize the maw of the machine, which smelled like a smoldering peat bog.
I want samples of the moat water and any green plant matter they brought back with them. Swab them and have them sent to the lab for analysis, make cultures if you can. There may be some advantages in their 800-year old makeup ordered the professor.
Less lead, certainly, and other pollutants and impurities the Doctor offered.
Back in his own office, Senator Stilwell plopped himself hard into a comfortable recliner, and stared blankly into the ceiling lights that were still giving an occasional flicker. The crew stood nearby, strewn about the room in various measures of repose. The Professor, who sat scribbling on a note pad in his lap, was the first to speak. At this point, Justin will have to recover a bit before he is debriefed. The woman, of course, is another story entirely. Child or no child, she is very important to us scientifically, if for no other reason.
I agree, said the Senator. If you can imagine what its like to dig a Bronze Age man out of the ice alive, then you can grasp the significance of her arrival at Alternity.
Satisfied smiles were passed around the office like hot cups of freshly brewed coffee. Some of the men searched through their memories for a suitable place in their history to store the achievement. Others cast their minds forward, mapping out the next important step.
Our lady is certain to remain in shock for an unknown time. Who knows? Perhaps such an abrupt change of worlds isnt even survivable, the Senator continued.
Balderdash, injected the doctor. Your own Commodore has already disproven that theory.
But this is a woman from antiquity, with goodness knows what quirks in physiology and psychology answered the Professor.
Not to mention any pre-existing physical condition said Doctor Binder.
Ah, spoken like a true M.D. laughed the Senator. In any case, well have to wait for the examination results from upstairs.
At that moment, a pleasant hum emanated from a chronophone on the antique oak desk. Senator Stilwell waved a hand over the top of the device, causing a hologram to snap into view above it. It hovered like a faerie.
Senator Stilwell, the Commodore is awake spoke the apparition.
Whats the ladys condition? the Senator barked back.
Sleeping soundly came the reply. Oh, and Senator? Weve found the child- preliminary tests show Lady Maria is pregnant.
Well be right up. Out answered the Senator. Professor, come with me. The rest of you get to work- well be needing a linguistics expert and-
That would be me, said Doctor Binder.
Very well then; the rest of you can prepare implementation of the program we formulated to keep our new guest from losing her marbles. Poor soul is sure to be frightened at all of this, said the Senator, gesturing to the hospital-like surroundings. Alternity Headquarters would frighten anybody, especially someone from antiquity. Weve got to be cautious and gentle. Turning to a nurse, he said, Keep a supply of sedatives available at all times, were going to- shes going to- need them. Lets go Professor.
Senator Stilwell and the Professor stood thoughtfully, the concern on their faces quite evident until hidden by the slowly closing elevator doors.
Chapter Nine, Debriefing Thyme
As Senator Stilwell and the Professor walked the last yards of Alternitys infirmary wing, they could hear the robust laughter of Commodore Justin Thyme booming through the halls. It was during a pause they entered the room. There they came upon the newly returned agent sitting upright on a bed wearing a hospital gown flung violently open at the chest.
His civilian clothes sat next to him in a neat pile, the nurses having gone to extra care in their washing, pressing and folding. Several of his items were never returned at all but he pretended not to notice. Two red-faced nurses giggled guiltily in the doorway as he flashed them a knowing smile.
Hes all yours, said a member of the Alternity Alert Team, who was just putting away a stethoscope. Hes a dam ox, is what he is.
Thank you Doctor, well take it from here said the Senator.
The doctor shook the hand of Justin Nicholas Thyme and left the room, dragging two reluctant nurses along with him.
Senator Stilwell threw the Commodores civvies roughly into his chest. Put these on he scolded.
Yes sir said Justin. Well would you look at that- my other sock! Ive been looking for it for 800 years! Curly blonde locks bounced atop the agents head as he bowled himself over with hearty laughter at his own words.
The Senator and Professor looked at each other with a sideward glance, both shaking their own heads with wry smiles. Look alive Justin, weve got work to do, said Senator Stilwell.
Welcome back Justin the professor added.
Whats first? asked the Commodore.
Lets play Q and A answered the professor.
Glad to. Id like to see the Chrona. Can we talk there? How did it work?
How the hell do you think it worked, Justin- youre here, arent you? barked Senator Stilwell.
Was it loud though? Was it messy? Did it happen all at once or-
Commodore Thyme, we will be doing the asking and you will be doing the telling, got it? the Senator asked impatiently. Therell be plenty of opportunity to satisfy your curiosity.
Yes sir, I understand. Its just all so-
We know. Were excited as kids ourselves.
Speaking of kids, did the girl
Agent Commodore? barked the Senator, cutting off the conversation.
The three were stopped by a thick metallic hatch, where a womans voice challenged them for identification. Each stood close to the wall and looked straight into a small scanning hole, where a line of light rolled over their retina. Thank you the voice concluded. The hatch popped open with a loud clang that reverberated throughout the halls, like visitors hour at Sing-Sing.
Thank you, answered Thyme.
A round of applause burst forth when they entered the main laboratory area, where seven adoring members of Alternity Group flashed victory signs at the Commodore, who was smiling broadly. The Senator stood, hands on hips, looking down at the deck with a smile of his own. They were all proud of Thyme, who had been the picture of fearlessness through some very uneasy goings, and the group needed to get it out of their systems, so the Senator let it roll. Justin raised up a hand to stop them but to no avail, so he placed the hand to his heart and patted himself there.
When the group had turned back toward their duties, the three men repeated the eye scanning procedure twice more as they passed through the permaglass shields. Thank you came the soft, if androidal voice of a woman, as each portal opened with a reverberating clang.
Finally, they stood before the gargantuan Chrona.
Wow! exclaimed Thyme. Ive never seen anything like this in all my days.
Sure you have said the Professor. You just dont remember it, thats all.
You were caught up in a firestorm on your way out, and in a cloudburst on your way in said the Senator. Heres a video of your return entry to Chronopolis this morning. There, on the large monitor up there. The Senator pointed toward the top of a tall cinderblock construct.
As he watched the action, Agent Thyme was clearly shaken. Laying there naked and wet in the receiving area of the Chrona, he had looked like only so much road kill. He was very concerned for the girl as well, whom thus far he had not even met.
At that moment, there was a pleasant hum from the chronophone. Senator Stilwell waved his hand over it once again, and up popped the holograph, which said, Senator Stilwell, the woman has awakened.
Chapter Ten, Good Morning Maria
It was difficult to tell who was having a worse time of it- the nurse, shaking with exhaustion or the awakening Lady Maria, lying on the table in wide-eyed terror. Over the intercom, an emergency announcement came accompanied by the sound of glass vials hitting the floor, unintelligible shouting and loud smacking sounds.
Alert team to infirmary on the double, we need help please! came the nurses plea.
Unable to administer a sedative until the Alternity Group arrived, the small nursing crew seemed to have a tiger by the tail. The woman in their care was petite, but amazingly strong.
Over the intercom, the nurse came again, Senator, Professor, somebody please, get the hell up here- the subject is awake and uncontrollable!
The Professor and Senator Stilwell shot each other a quick look and ran for the elevator, which they found to be in use.Over there! shouted Professor, pointing toward an emergency staircase- and this was an emergency. The slap of footsteps on metal echoed throughout the stairwell as the men climbed like school children in a fire drill.
Up above, the nurse had long since given up on following protocol, and was attempting to administer a powerful sedative to the raging woman. Apparently, the sight of the needle being wielded by a strangely dressed, strangely smelling woman, in a very strange room was too much for the groggy patient from the 13th century, and she fought for all she was worth.
Two orderlies pounced on either side of the hospital bed doing their best to constrict her hand movements as the nurse brought the needle to bear. They all saw the terror in her eyes and sympathized with her, but they had their job to do. As the needle touched her arm, the woman looked down toward her feet, and then raised her head slowly up in a blood-curdling scream, that was half wolf howl, from deep within her diaphragm. Her eyes burned a fiery green, like none in the modern world, something they had never seen before. Using that moment of shock, the ferocious woman broke free, staved off the needle, won control of it, and stabbed the nurse repeatedly in the throat.
At that moment the Professor and Senator Stilwell entered the room and threw themselves atop the madness, finally pinning the patient down. They held her there as a new sedative was prepared. The nurse, bleeding profusely, was rushed to the next room, now an emergency situation herself.
With the sedative finally administered, the Lady Maria began to drift off, murmuring in a strange language from her rosebud lips.
Whew, said the Professor. Whew!
Senator Stilwell waved a hand over the chronophone. Up popped a hologram whose artificial but softly feminine voice uttered the greeting, Hello Senator.
Send Doctor Binder up immediately please. I want the recent conversation translated, every nuance- I want to know what this girl is saying, every word, from now on. And no more chances he said, looking toward the nursing crew. It was now obvious to all of them they were dealing with something they didnt fully understand, and it had just cost them. From next door, the steady beep of a heart rate monitor suddenly morphed into a buzzing monotone. The crew ran into the next room, but to no avail- the poor nurse had just died.
Chapter Eleven, the Danger Lobby
The hum of a chronophone alerted Senator Stilwell that outside authorities had arrived at Alternity Group headquarters, wanting to ask a few questions. He waved a hand over the device like a magician about to pull a rabbit out of a top hat. Hello, Senator said the apparition.
Yes, what is it?he asked.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Baxter to see you in the lobby, Senator.
Hold him off, Ill be up in five minutes answered the Senator.
The chronophone hummed a second time. The Senator was busy reading the Alternity Alert teams official report of the incident and waved his hand over the chronophone without looking. The hologram appeared once more and said Detective Raskins of the Chronopolis Police Department in the lobby to see you, Senator.
Tell him to wait with the Lieutenant, Ill be right there.
Senator Stilwell waved his hand in the opposite direction and a chronophone began humming in the laboratory. The Professor waved his hand, and up popped a hologram that said, Professor, please meet me in my office. Were going up to the lobby to answer some questions for local police and the military. Im going to lie, and Ill need you to swear to it.
Wouldnt miss it for the world, Senator, he answered.
Good said the Senator, youre lying already.
Back in the infirmary wing, the nurses all stood in a circle around Commodore Thyme, sniffling and sobbing. Justin stood in the middle, his muscular arms wrapped around all of them like an oversized mother hen. He didnt know the deceased very well, but all who worked on the Chrona project were family. He wished there were something he could say to ease their pain, but it wouldnt do any good to lie to them. The situation sucked, and they all knew it. A young, vital girl, entering the prime of her life- it all seemed such a waste. And though he didnt like to think of it, there were other dangers, other considerations to an unfortunate industrial accident such as this. That is when the chronophone began an incessant hum.
The Professor had arrived at the Senators office and could tell right away things were awful. His sullen eyes gave it away. They left the office together and headed upstairs via the same emergency staircase used during the last crisis. It was best the best way to get a look at what they were walking into, also known as casing the joint.
The lobby was a red carpet affair, featuring chandeliers, floor length red velvet drapes, and a candle lit dining area. Quite the classy setting for a John Dillinger-type showdown, thought Lieutenant Baxter, fingering his suspenders nervously. He hated to make a personal judgment without first having all the facts, but in a case like this- a dead woman, a secretive, private boys club, enormous money, high-level connections- as far as he was concerned, it was a foregone conclusion the operation was guilty. He was determined to shut it down.
Detective Raskins could not have agreed more and he said so.
Im satisfied as I need to be, Lieutenant. Im gonna call them in.
I already have, John, said Lieutenant Baxter.
From the nearby stairwell platform, Senator Stilwell cracked the door just so slightly ajar and peeked through.
Whats going on? whispered the Professor.
The Senator shushed him, and whispered back, Take a look.
Two heads peered cunningly into the lobby from behind the reception area, about ten yards from where the Lieutenant and Detective sat, both busy using their ear-piece head sets, the modern day version of walkie-talkies. The doors on either side of the large hall now swung wide, revealing two major forces entering the building, one from the left and one from the right. The police wore blue and yellow, the military a dark cammoflouge. All were armed to the teeth.
Shit, whispered the Senator.
The Professor grimaced. What are we going to do? he asked.
Well said the Senator, I know what we arent going to do; we arent going to let them shut us down- theres just too much at stake.
They retreated back into the stairwell and headed toward the next set of doors, where a chronophone protruded slightly from the wall. With a wave of his hand, the Senator set the infirmary chronophone humming. He looked back at the Professor and told him, When youve got Commodore Justin Nicholas Thyme, dammit, you use him!
Chapter Twelve, the Scarlet Ruse
Justin waved a ham-sized hand over the chronophone, and the hologram popped up like a jack-in-the-box. He struggled to listen over the sobbing nurses, but what he did hear made his eyes open wide. The crew members in the hospital room saw in his face a call to action, but he shook his head at them and mouthed the words, Its nothing.
Down in the laboratory, all lights went low and a series of spinning yellow alert lanterns whirled from atop every cinderblock structure. These were the spinning, silent alarms giving the Alternity Group the coded mayday message, all systems go.
The Professor sent his own message via chronophone to the lab as well, where scientists stood in a long row at an enormous white-metal wall that served as the brain center and control panel for the facility. Switches were flipped, buttons pushed, and knobs were turned. Skilled hands waved over small multi-colored lights atop what looked to be a 20th century recording studio mixing board. In fact, that is exactly what it was and from whence it had been retrieved, during a previous mission to re-invent analog, in the event digital formats ever failed.
Ren-tabulator? called an operator in a white smock with pens clipped to every pocket.
Check, came the reply from an orderly.
Co-band power influxulator?
Delta chip engagement facilitator?
Delta chip enga-
Peri-hydroxide transparency simulator?
OK gentleman, said Colonel Jaspar, we are go in 5-4-3-2-
The whine of a giant generator took up its crescendo from almost imperceptible to a loud fever pitch. The facility lights came back on and the Chrona began emitting a sound like that of sizzling bacon. Yellow lanterns continued to whirl, faster and faster.
At that moment, the Professor and Senator Stilwell entered the main lobby upstairs, walking through the door like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Professor had since removed his white smock, leaving it behind on the stairs. The Senator led them toward a dinner table strewn with dirty plates and half-empty wine glasses. He reached into his pocket, searched for some currency and threw a small roll of bills down on the table. The Professor simultaneously looked over at a young hispanic man bussing tables and shouted, Thank you. Never breaking stride, they locked eyes with the Detective and Lieutenant, and walked straight toward them. The Detective stood up from his chair reaching his full six foot height, thumbs tucked into his suspenders. Lieutenant Junior Grade Baxter rose to stand next to him, shoulder to shoulder.
The Professor noticed a small yellow light on the ceiling beginning to spin quietly. Then, as was the plan, he and the Senator looked toward each other with puzzled looks on their faces. They shrugged their shoulders, and looked back at the pair of lawmen with furrowed brows that said, Whats with these guys?
Neither the Detective nor Lieutenant had ever seen any of the members of Alternity Group, and these two gentlemen didnt seem to fit the bill- so they stepped aside and let them by.
The two continued their ruse until they passed all the uniformed police and soldiers in the entranceway, only breaking into a trot when they had left the building.
Where to, Senator? asked the Professor.
The Mile-High across town. Well rent the penthouse suite for a few days and control the mission from there.
Chapter Thirteen, the Art of Alternity
By the time the Commodore submitted to the second retina scan, the police were done with pleasantries and had begun using a battering ram on the laboratory doors. Justin entered the portal and took his place in the Chrona. Scientists of several disciplines began hastily strapping themselves into position for the Chrona to begin energizing, and those already done sat fumbling for their protective glasses. Colonel Jaspar waved a shaking hand over the nearest chronophone, but the holograph came up empty, saying Try again later.
Just the other side of the metal alloy hatch, Detective Raskins stood shaking his head at the futility of the battering ram. He turned to Lieutenant Baxter saying, Shes all yours, Lieutenant and the military took over.
The Professor and Senator walked briskly down a side street leading to the Mile High, which was the most expensive luxury hotel in Chronopolis. They passed a group of artists who were working on a clandestine wall mural, and overheard a snippet of their conversation.
There! Tell me you dont feel it! said one, pausing from his work.
Feel what, your imagination again? another retorted.
Im tellin ya, theres something going on. There- look at her hair! He pointed to a girl nearby who held several cans of spray paint. Her pretty brown hair was standing on end.
Thats a good sign, Senator said the Professor.
They arrived at the Mile High a few minutes later. Ouch! yelled the doorman, who received a powerful shock from static electricity as he touched the polished metal door handle.
The Senator nodded his appreciation and flipped him a valuable coin. The doorman smiled, shaking the pain from his hand. That makes it better he said, appreciatively.
They waited in a short line at the ornately decorated reception desk and were soon led to the penthouse suite by a bellhop who lusted for a shiny coin of his own. Once in the room, they set up a portable chronophone and it immediately began to hum. The Senator waved a hand over it, and up popped a hologram saying, Senator? Colonel Jaspar. Theyre breaking down the hatchway. Thyme is a go. Chrona is a go. Waiting for the order sir.
Set the Chrona for fourteen reverse hours. What does he need? asked the Senator.
Wait one said the Colonel. He turned to lock eyes with Justin Thyme, who sat sweating profusely in the portal area of the Chrona. Colonel Jaspar slapped his wrist, and the Commodore held first one, then two fingers aloft in response.
He says he needs two hours, sir said the Colonel, speaking into the center of the holograph.
Very well, set the Oscillator for two hours. Godspeed, Colonel
Godspeed, Senator, and Godspeed Commodore Thyme- Colonel Jaspar, out!
In the hotel suite, the Professor patted his friend on the back, and gestured for him to take a seat. Senator Stilwell just shook his head.
Cant, he said, and spent the next two hours pacing the room back and forth.
Chapter Fourteen, Changing History
The Chrona began its characteristic routine of draining all available energy from everything around it. The machines in the lab saw their indicator lights go dim, the house lights went dark and outside the hatchway, the police and military were suddenly thrust into darkness. Detective Raskins ordered up a lantern, but its powerful halogen light quickly went dim.
What the hell is wrong with the lantern now? he yelled in a raspy voice.
Here, try this one- its the latest military technology said Lieutenant Baxter. He handed the Detective a flashlight that could have been mistaken for an alien death-ray- but it too went suddenly dim.
Dammit!, shouted the Lieutenant. He smacked the fancy gadget like a stubborn stepchild, but to no avail.
What the hell ? said Detective Raskins, and the entire building began to shake.
Earthquake? asked Lieutenant Baxter.
Dont bet on it, came the Detectives reply.
Inside the laboratory, the Chronas forced winds began spinning like a misty cyclone. Engage electromagnets! barked Colonel Jaspar.
From his seat, Doctor Benjamin Binder watched the unfolding events with eyes now shut tightly, now wide with terror. Somewhere out in near-space, a yellow dwarf star dimmed slightly, sending the energy equivalent of ten years of summer into a yawning cave somewhere on the verdant grounds of Alternity Group headquarters. From there, it rode a fiber-optic cable of immeasurable strength down into the heart of the facility, where it fed the prehistoric beast called Chrona.
Commodore Thyme lay belly down on the floor of the Chronas portal and spread his arms and legs wide. His training had taught him this was the best position to be in- ready for anything.
Bring it on! he thought in his mind, adrenaline pumping into his system by what seemed like the gallon. The world around him started to revolve, slowly at first, very slowly- then faster, faster and faster, until he found himself floating stationary in the center of a giant atom, and he himself was the nucleus.
Then, as soon as it had begun, it was over, slowing down until he could make out the night sky, the moon spinning around him like a towel on spin cycle. He felt himself lurching forward, falling through empty space. He maintained the spread eagle prone position, and landed arms akimbo, flat on his belly.
He shook the cobwebs from his head, and used his gloved hands to pat out several smoldering patches on his survival suit. Staggering to his feet like a drunk, he fought his buckling knees several times, until he mastered control once again. E-e-e, God, thats wicked he said to himself aloud.
Looking about, he saw that he had landed in the depths of a hover craft mooring facility next door. He sat on the cement floor of a trash container housing, and leaned his back against the wall. Checking his Oscillator, he had one hour and 45 minutes to accomplish what he had set out to do.
He felt through his pockets for his tools and came up with two sticks of ordinary writing chalk, one bright white, and one bright yellow. Check! he thought. He felt a bit deeper and came up with a thick roll of duct tape. Check he thought again. Alright- I always knew Id change history! he said aloud.
Chapter Fifteen, Second Future
The Commodore decided to take the direct route into the facility next door. Utilizing a master-control card, he entered a hovercraft, activated the drive and maneuvered it vertically through a portal in the dome roof above. Once clear of the mooring facility, Justin landed in a field and deactivated the craft. He looked down at his wrist oscillator. It told him he had an hour and a half to save the Alternity Group.
With no time to waste, he walked straight for the facilitys main entrance, the same entrance the Senator and Professor would use to make their quick exit some 13 hours from now- if Justin failed. He was still one hundred yards from the entrance when the guards recognized him. He held up a friendly hand and they looked at each other in disbelief.
Justin Nicholas Thyme! exclaimed one. The other just stood silently, grinning ear to ear. And to what do we owe this distinguished pleasure, Commodore? asked the guard, raising a hand to wave it over his chronophone.
No, please dont do that implored Justin, placing a much larger hand over the guards.
Sorry, its procedure answered the guard, trying it again.
Thyme was more forceful now, holding the guards hand immobile. Please, if youll just hear me out a moment- this is above top secret. As far as youre concerned, I am not here at all.
Sir? asked the puzzled guard.
Check the log- go ahead, check it. Ill bet the record shows Im still inside, away on a mission, right? Well, in a way, I still am, explained the time traveler, and I have to get into that building. Alternity Group, hell, Chronopolis depends on it! Now can I depend on you boys to maintain complete silence?
For how long? asked a guard,
Forever answered Thyme. You must never tell a living soul this happened- because it didnt! He looked down at his wrist, saw the minutes ticking by and became more adamant.
Listen carefully boys said the Commodore. Let me through, call no one, and tell no one –ever-and you can write your own ticket- retire tomorrow with benefits, full pension, what do you say? asked Thyme.
One guard was still suspicious and again raised a hand to his chronophone, causing Justins eyes to blaze like coals. With a sigh, he reached for his polaser, placed it between the guards eyes, and shook his head from side to side. Try to understand, were out of options here. This can end two ways, and one way is a lot better than the other, but Im going through, understand? I have to!
They stepped aside and let him through. Neither had seen a polaser before and only now believed in their existence. Justin looked back and held a finger to his lips, urging them to remain quiet one last time. They returned to their stances and guarded the doors at parade rest.
Once inside the building, it was a simple run up a flight of stairs and a brisk walk down the hallway. When Thyme reached the infirmary wing, he stopped outside the room where he had awoken, or, would soon awake, -he shook his head in mock confusion- and took a careful peek inside. There on the gurney, lay an unconscious Justin Thyme! Again, he shook his head; this time the confusion was genuine.
He tip toed into the room listening to the rhythmic breathing of his doppelganger. He leaned over his own body to press a button for the nurse-on-call, and felt a strange electrical charge, an attraction of some paradoxical sort. The two bodies wanted to meld, the hair on both standing on end. His extremities tingled as though asleep, and he marveled at this nether-situation the Chrona had created. Finally, he tapped the call button, left the room, and took refuge in a nearby service closet. Justin the rescuer heard the footsteps of the soon-to-be deceased nurse as she scurried by to enter the room where Justin the patient lay. A moment later, the intercom blared, Senator Stilwell, the Commodore is awake!
Chapter Sixteen, Wolves at the Doorway
Lieutenant Junior Grade Baxter inspected the charges his special operations team had set around the laboratory hatchway. Are you sure you used enough explosive in the charges? he asked his sergeant.
Yessir, came the reply.
Good- now well have to wait for permission to blow it he said, rolling his eyes.
Several feet away, the members of Alternity Group stood around the quartermasters chart, following the movements of Commodore Thyme, via a moving red light.
He landed in the mooring facility next door, said Colonel Jaspars, somehow scaled the wall, and walked into this building right through the front doors.
So, your agent is now inside this very building? asked Dr. Binder.
Hes inside this building, Doctor, yes- but not now. Commodore Thyme is in this building twelve and some-odd hours ago answered the Colonel.
Colonel, heres the overlay of our facility on the second floor. The infirmary wing is right .here said a member of the crew.
Alright said the Colonel, so then the red light corresponds to..
Service closet 22-02-01, located between Lady Marias room and the one the Commodore himself was in when he regained consciousness the crew member finished for him.
Hes keeping out of sight, no doubt- the Commodore knows what hes doing said the Colonel, crossing his fingers on the hand in his pocket. He waved his other hand over the chronophone, and up popped a hologram. It made a ghostly light in the laboratory, where all lights were out except those on the quartermasters chart.
Yes Colonel Jaspers? asked the apparition with the feminine voice.
Get me Senator Stilwell please he ordered.
High above Chronopolis, Senator Stilwell and the Professor stood on a 17th floor balcony, each nursing a strong, dry, two-olive martini. The hum of the chronophone brought them back inside, where no one would see the hologram.
Go ahead Jaspars said the Senator.
Hes on the inside, hidden in close proximity to the subject. No telling what his next move will be, but Im sure hes got an ace up his sleeve said Colonel Jaspers.
Thats what we pay him for said the Senator. What about the wolves?
Theyre camped outside the hatch, howling for meat answered the Colonel. Our sensors indicate theyve placed cordite charges that could blow anytime. I really dont know what theyre waiting for.
Permission, said the Senator. Thank God for beaurocracy. Stilwell out.
Out said Jaspers.
Colonel, hes moving shouted the crew member, pointing to the red light on the large, transparent floor chart.
Where to? asked the Colonel.
Looks like hes moving toward Lady Marias room sir came the answer.
A dozen scientists stood in the darkness, their worried faces illuminated by colored lights, those worries illuminated by the wolves outside the hatchway door. All stared down intently as the high stakes game of cat and mouse played out before them on the worlds most expensive game board. Once again, the future -and their fates- depended on Justin Nicholas Thyme.
Chapter Seventeen, Writing on the Wall
When the intercom announced his own previous awakening, Justin slipped quietly out of the service closet and into the next room, where Lady Maria still lay sleeping quietly. He smiled and took a moment to admire the sleeping woman, who in fact was, after all, the Princess of Bulgaria.
In the space of 800 years, it seemed the human condition had undergone quite a metamorphosis. This little lady had fought with the ferocity of a tiger, and would soon wake to do so again! Justin decided he had better not waste any more time. Holding two sticks of chalk, he sized up the room from the vantage point of the nurse in relation to a chalkboard each shift used for notes. On the board, he wrote in bright, wide letters, Keep Patient Restrained.
Upon returning to the service closet, he leaned back against the deep sink to catch his breath. Outside, he heard his own laughter coming from the room. Merry as it was, it set his spine tingling.
His oscillator showed four minutes before he would return to his time of origin. From another pocket, he pulled out a roll of duct tape and busied himself taping up the space between the floor and the closet door. After applying several layers, he taped the spaces between the door and wall, across the top, and back down the other side. After making sure the door was locked, he checked the oscillator once again.
With the readout at three minutes, he reached behind his back and opened the sinks two faucets full blast.
Another announcement over the intercom informed the facility that Lady Maria had awoken. The nurse searched the sedative tray with her back toward the chalkboard and continued to do so as precious seconds ticked by. The strange language and antiseptic surroundings filled Maria with terror, and she began to struggle. Only then did the nurse look up at the chalk board- but it was too late. Even the full nursing crew couldnt restrain the woman in time.
From service closet 22-02-01, Justin heard the commotion and knew instinctively his plan hadnt worked. He shook his head in dissatisfaction, then looked down into his lap and smiled- just in time to see the water rise up and swallow all the hypodermic needles he had hurriedly collected before leaving that room. Maria the wildcat wouldnt be stabbing anyone.
Back in the chaos of the hospital room, the nurse screamed for someone, anyone, to run out to the service closet and retrieve sedatives. Justins heart began to race; the rise of the now waist-high water was excruciatingly slow. Holding the door closed with one hand, he watched the oscillator countdown on the other. Outside the door, a voice yelled that service closet 22-02-01 was locked.
Break it down! came a reply.
Chapter Eighteen, Countdown
The footsteps of a messenger echoed through the corridor, and a crush of heavily armed soldiers parted for him like the Red Sea. Communication from the General for Lieutenant Baxter saluted the messenger, standing at attention.
Its about time! Very well messenger, that is all replied the Lieutenant, returning his salute with a white gloved hand. Alright, everybody, lets clear the area. Detective Raskins, get your men out of here.
Will do Lieutenant said the Policeman. He turned to his swat team and said You heard him ladies, its gonna get ugly- lets back it up!
The two officers used a megaphone-like device to warn those inside to stand clear for the impending blast, then backed away themselves.
Inside the lab, Alternity Group members stood with eyes transfixed on the floor chart, watching a white-knuckle drama that had occurred some twelve hours earlier. Jeeze said Colonel Jaspers, Its like a sports replay; lets just hope it ends differently this time.
Outside the hatchway, Lieutenant Baxter wasted no time in giving the order- Let the countdown begin at t-minus ten nine..
Twelve hours earlier, Justin Nicholas Thyme strained to hold the closet door closed as several orderlies hacked at it from outside with what sounded like a machete. Theres someone in there! one of them cried out.
The water inside service closet 22-02-01 was now chest high. Looking down at his wrist oscillator, Justin began a countdown of his own. Eight .seven six
High above Chronopolis in the Penthouse suite of the Mile High, Senator Stilwell and the Professor were white-knuckling it themselves as the lab crew broadcast both countdowns for them over an open holograph. Five four
Back in Service Closet 22-02-01, machetes breaking through the door accompanied the oscillator countdown. Three two
Back in the facility, Detective Raskins used both arms to cover his head. One .zero!
Justin contorted his neck trying to completely submerge his head, but the water reached only to his square chin. As a last resort, he tilted his head to the side like a thinking blonde, a machete strike barely missing his nose.
When Service closet 22-02-01 began to revolve around him, his red light on the laboratorys floor chart began to flicker, and each Alternity member was strapped tightly into a chair. Glasses on! Colonel Jaspars screamed over the Chronas din.
Commodore Justin Nicholas Thyme found himself floating in silence, serene as a jellyfish adrift in the depths of a peaceful sea. He thought he could make out faces in the whirling maelstrom around him, lights, sparks, perhaps memories of different times that have been. Suddenly, the spinning slowed, and he felt himself pitched forward onto his belly like a seal. Then all was blackness.
Chapter Nineteen, Cheers
The air in the laboratory was charged with static electricity, indicating to Colonel Jaspars a changed reality. But changed how? The Alternity Group sat strapped in their seats, the concern on their faces illuminated by flashing light.
The whirring Chrona slowed to a stop and de-energized with a whine. All fell silent in the large room as the giant machine spat Justins limp body to the floor with a wet hiss and a blast of steam. He lay there naked a good while, as the team unstrapped from their chairs, with all eyes on the booby-trapped hatchway door.
A hologram floated lifelessly above the chronophone Senator Stilwell and the Professor had been using to listen in from their hotel room. Senator? inquired Colonel Jaspars. Senator Stilwell?
But there was no response. The Alternity Alert team called the Colonels attention to a monitor camera on the cinderblock wall, with a view of the hatchway from outside the lab. All was still and quiet.
Is it some kind of a trick? asked the Colonel.
I dont think so sir answered the team member, fiddling with a dozen knobs, dials and toggle switches.
Suddenly, the Professors voice came over the intercom, requesting Colonel Jaspers to report to Senator Stilwells office. With an abundance of care, the hatchway door was opened and the Colonel stepped through. We did it! he announced, and cheers shot up throughout the room.
Naked and unconscious, the Commodore was strapped to a gurney and wheeled, once again, to a recovery room in the facilitys infirmary wing. He never slept better.
In the room next door, a duty nurse, very much alive, took the blood pressure of the securely restrained and mildly sedated Lady Maria. Conclusion: blood pressure normal. Stepping out into the hallway, she then shushed a repairman, who was making a racket fixing the badly damaged door of service closet 22-02-01. Watch your step please he advised her. Theres water all over the floor.
Coming through a long dark tunnel toward a pin-point of amber light, Justin Thyme stirred from his slumber and found himself lying comfortably in a bed. He drew his hands out from beneath a blanket and waved one of them over his wrist chronophone.
Yes Commodore? asked a feminine voice from a hologram so bright it made his eyes squint.
Mile High Hotel said Justin. Senator Stilwell, in the penthouse suite, please.
Im sorry Commodore Thyme; we have no one registered here by that name.
Has he left already? he continued.
No Commodore, we have never had anyone registered here by that name. Is there anything else I can help you with sir? she asked. Justin thanked her, smiled, and rolled back into a deep slumber.
Chapter Twenty, Joining the Club
Colonel Jaspars knocked his customary four times on the office door. He stood there a long while, wringing his hands, and wondering how to explain events to the Senator of which he had no knowledge at all. Come in Colonel said the receptionist. She pressed a button and said Colonel Jaspars here to see you Senator.
Send him right in came the answer.
She smiled as he walked by and ran a hand through her hair, which was standing on end. He smiled back at her. As he entered the back office, he looked for any indication that Senator Stilwell or the Professor, who sat at a nearby computer, had any inkling of what had just happened. Apparently, they did not.
As was his way, the Senator got right to work. Colonel, the Professor and I have come up with an approach that might just work in gaining Lady Marias trust.
Beg your pardon, Senator. If I may, I have something to report Jaspars interrupted.
Colonel Jaspars was a good soldier and a loyal friend. The senator saw the urgency in his eyes.
By all means Colonel, do tell he said, and the eyes of both he and the Professor took on that same look.
Colonel Jaspars went on to tell the incredible story of the nurses misfortune, the closet, the hotel stay -all of it. The pair listened intently, wide-eyed and rapt. They had known such a thing might happen. The intercom blared again, the receptionist saying Commodore Thyme on his way back; couldnt stop him Senator, sorry, but she knew he really wouldnt mind. The door swung open and in walked Justin Thyme.
Sit down, Commodore Thyme said the Senator. I understand youve got a little story to tell.
The four members of Alternity Group, -the four friends– sat and talked for several hours. Finally, when all the Ts were crossed and Is were dotted, it was the Senators turn. Gentleman, our Professor here has come up with a method to get Marias cooperation- Professor?
Thank you Senator. And thank you Commodore. As usual, your actions and quick thinking may have saved us all. Justin waved him off, smiling. Now, with the Senators permission, Id like to invite Dr. Benjamin Binder into the fold if I may.
Granted answered the Senator.
The intercom blared throughout the facility; Benjamin Binder, calling Doctor Benjamin Binder to the Senators office, please. Thank you.
When they were all assembled, the Professor walked them through his plan. For the rest of her stay, Maria would interact only with staff members and crew who were dressed in the medieval garb of her day. She would speak only with Dr. Binder, the worlds foremost Byzantine historian, and she would dwell only in marked areas that simulated her native surroundings. This, the Professor felt, should soften the difficulties sure to arise as a result of chrononomy the business of time travel.
Welcome aboard, Doctor said the Senator, smiling. They all shook his hand, and welcomed him into their very elite group- the Alternity Group.
Chapter Twenty One, New Blood
Senator Stilwell sat fidgeting in his chair, chewing a fingernail on one hand and tapping a pencil on the desk with the other. Privates Fulton and Terco here to see you, Senator crackled the receptionists voice over the intercom.
Send them right in he answered. The door opened, and two young soldiers entered the room hesitatingly. Snapping to attention, they issued the best salute they could muster, and the Senator returned in kind. Private First Class Robert Terco, Private First Class Fulton, I guess you are wondering why Ive called you in this evening.
Yessir the two answered in unison.
Senator Stilwell rose from his chair and tossed a pencil across the room, hitting the waste paper basket with Michael Jordon accuracy. Gentleman, it has come to my attention that our last mission at Alternity Group would not have been possible without your teamwork and cooperation.
Sir? asked a puzzled PFC Terco.
It is my understanding that you two were on sentry duty at the facility gates when Commodore Thyme arrived in a ahem- borrowed hover craft that still sits on the lawn out there, am I correct?
The two looked at each other sullenly, and then answered no simultaneously.
The Senator pushed a button on his desk and said, Send in the Commodore please.
The door opened to the back office and in walked Justin Nicholas Thyme, dressed for business. He smiled at the young men, then shook both their hands. JT always keeps a promise boys he said.
The Senator walked across the room, and opened an old-fashioned roll-top desk, exposing several bottles of very old liquor. He poured them all a stiff one, and announced that their days as glorified security guards were over. On the desk, he threw down two black zippered packs, which they were then instructed to open. Inside each were two thick envelopes.
Here at Alternity Group, weve got an appreciation for soldiers who can make split second decisions and who know how to keep their mouths shut. Besides, youve been recommended by the best. Justin?
Justin handed the two soldiers each a certificate of merit for a full 20 years of service, although both were merely sophomores. If youll open the envelope marked C, youll find enclosed, in cash, your full pay for the next 17 years, as well as a chit entitling you to a 100% pension after that for the rest of your lives.
They opened the envelopes and stared back at Justin, jaws agape.
There. That much of it is done; Ive kept my word, always do. But theres more- Senator?
The senator said, Boys, without you two, Alternity Group might have been finished before we got started. But thats not why youre here. What matters is your background. Ive had you both scanned and your records indicate you are both single, with no siblings, and no surviving parents. Now that weve retired you, wed like to offer you a better job- much better. Justin?
Do you guys think you might be interested in my line of work? Its rewarding, but dangerous. Youll have to think on your feet and it is impossible to overstate the importance of your decisions.
They both nodded their heads immediately.
Now hold on a minute. Remember, this is almost like a death sentence in a way. No wife. No family. No friends- well, except for your brothers and sisters here at Alternity. Take a look inside the other envelope, marked LTK. Its your identification as an agent. Your full official titles will be special agents of the United Nations Multi-National Chronology Task Force. Its also stamped with an LTK hologram- kind of a license to kill, but not really; you wouldnt want to kill an ancestor, you see?
Again, they both nodded vigorously.
Yes said Private Fulton.
Justin walked over, clinked glasses with him, and slapped a 6000 megaburst polaser on the desk in front of him.
Yes said Private Terco. And they repeated the process.
Congratulations said Commodore Thyme, saluting them both.
Then the Senator took the glasses from them and said, Special agents Terco and Fulton, report to Colonel Jaspers in the lab to begin training. Godspeed to you both.
Chapter Twenty Two, the Ladys Lair
Dr. Benjamin Binder had never been so excited in his work as when he stood at the door of Lady Marias confinement wing. He was dressed like a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, lit torch in one hand, fresh-killed rabbits in the other. During the middle Ages, the Bulgarian language underwent three stages of development: early, middle, and late. The late stage was similar to what is still being spoken in modern day Bulgaria. The Doctor used the harsh middle dialect to call out to Maria.
Maria, I would enter. I have brought food and a fire he said.
There was no answer. He repeated himself several times, but no answer was forthcoming. He gave up for the day and would try again tomorrow. Turning to leave, he heard the door creak open, and turned quickly back. Marias eyes were there, peeking out carefully.
Who do you be? she asked in a deceptively tender voice.
I am Binder came the answer. And I would speak with ye.
Seeing no weapons, she opened the door, let him in, and immediately grabbed the rabbits. He let them go with a smile. After placing his torch into a ring on the mossy stone wall, he went back out to retrieve the firewood he had brought. But when he returned with a load of wood in his arms, the door had been closed and securely bolted from the inside. He stood a long while before calling to her again, but got no answer. After setting the wood carefully outside the door, he reached into his fur and drew out a bag containing stone implements; flint, obsidian, and chert.
I would return a morrow he declared as half question.
Aye came Marias melodic voice.
That in itself was a victory. Doctor Binder left the wing feeling like a boy who had just been granted the phone number of a homecoming queen. On a second thought, he decided not to leave the obsidian and chert, tantamount to arming the tigress. But when he returned to the door, she had already taken everything inside. He could hear her working diligently, and the smell of roasting meat wafted to his flaring nostrils. This was shaping up to be the best history lesson possible, a scholars dream. He turned on his heels and quietly left the area.
Upon returning to his office, he removed his medieval garb, and stared down at the furs gathered about his sandaled feet. Today, he had met and spoken with a Byzantine princess. Through the miracle of the Chrona, she had stepped out of the pages of history and into his world. Paradoxically, the damp gray walls of a medieval dwelling had brought great brightness to the formerly dull life of a grateful historian. After making notes until his candles grew short, he threw himself across the bed, fell asleep- and loved her in his dreams.
Chapter Twenty Three, a New Beginning
The doorman rushed outside when the first limousine pulled up. It wasnt every day you saw a caravan like this one, even at the Mile High. The bellhop also stepped out of the hotel and asked, Presidential motorcade?
I dont know who it is- could be answered the doorman.
He opened the back door of the vehicle and out stepped Senator Stilwell, followed by the Professor, his wife Joan, and the Colonel and Cynthia Jaspers. The Senator shook the doormans gloved hand, discreetly handing him a large bill.
Thank you he smiled, adding, Please follow me.
By now there were half a dozen black cars, long and sleek, their electric power plants as silent as they were powerful. All were soon emptied of their cargo of well dressed VIPs, and driven around back by gleeful valets.
Senator Stilwell had decided that planning for the next phase of the Alternity Groups mission should be done in a festive atmosphere. After all there was a lot to celebrate. Not only was the mission for Maria a success, but a subsequent mission fine-tuning that achievement was also a success. It proved the Chrona could be used to change the past, and also to tweak their work should the need arise.
Senator Stilwell and the Professor entered the lobby and announced the partys arrival to an attractive young woman working at the reception desk. She looked at them inquisitively and asked, Have you stayed with us before?
No they answered with wry smiles.
Having leased two adjoining penthouse suites, the group propped all connecting doors wide open. Refreshments and entertainment were available in one suite, the other kept clear but for thirty five folding chairs placed several rows deep. In the center of that room stood an easel and a pointing stick with a yellow rubber tip.
When everyone had a glass of champagne in hand and the hors doeuvres trays were nearly empty, Colonel Jaspers called for everybodys attention as the Professor gestured for them all to be seated.
We all worked hard to get here said the Colonel, and we are all proud of what has been accomplished. But I would urge that we not be too awe struck- at least, not just yet. Ladies, gentleman, and families of the Alternity Group, I give you the man of the hour- Commodore Justin Nicholas Thyme!
The applause was polite but intense as Justin took center stage, with more than a few whistles and hoots coming from the black tie crowd.
My good friends he began, if I were to travel from the age of dinosaurs, to Minotaurs; from the Ice Age to the time of fragrant spice trades; from the beginning of time to this time of new beginnings, it would be impossible to find a better friend or a man more fit to lead our not so humble project, than the one I am here to introduce. Please welcome Alternity Groups Chief Executive Officer, and my good friend, Senator Morgan Stilwell.
The Senator walked out from the balcony where, unbeknownst to him, he had recently watched the mission glitch unfold. He gave Justin a bear hug, took center suite, and faced the cheering assembly. After a few moments, his face grew serious, the crowd grew quiet and the atmosphere changed.
Friends, the time has come for us to congratulate ourselves on a job well done. Go ahead, give yourselves a hand.
The room gave themselves a smattering of applause.
There. With that behind us, its time to reveal the true scope of the mission before us. Now I must ask all non-members of Alternity Group to please leave the room. People gasped.
Chapter Twenty Four, Bringing the Heat
The big wigs must be in town, thought Detective Raskins, as he passed the Mile High on a bright Chronopolis afternoon. A line of limos stretched the entire length of the long horseshoe driveway, and the doorman stood shaking someones hand at about the midway point, under a fancy overhead structure called a Flying M.
He wanted to ask what was going on, but it was his first day off in weeks and he was anxious to go flying himself. With a thermos full of coffee and a pocket of bread sticks from the table of a local steak house, he pulled into the Mooring facility, and used the restroom one last time. Everyone knew his car, so leaving it there was nothing to worry about.
E-e-e-ooh! he shouted joyously, and it echoed throughout the empty structure. He fumbled for his magnetic pass card, and used it to access the mooring area. After passing many rows of hovercraft, he reached his own slip and was astounded to find it empty!
What the..? he whispered to himself, exasperated.
He checked out all the possibilities, and his heart began to race. It wasnt in the slip or the repair bay, and it wasnt being tested.
Well can you believe it? Its been stolen! he yelled incredulously.
He went back out to his car and pushed the two way, which hissed like an angry tom cat. Base, come in over, this is Raskins.
Yeah John, we read. I thought it was your day off; just cant get enough, is that it? came the response.
Well youre right, it is, and I was going to go flying, but my hovercraft is missing from the bay. You guys fucking around again? It aint my birthday you know- please, tell me you got it.
Negative, my friend, wish I could. You want to put it out as an APB or just keep it on the down low for now?
Ahh, just put it out- and let me know right away if anything said Raskins.
Will do. Sorry to hear about it, base out.
Detective Raskins retreated to his car and left the facility. All those hovercraft and they had to take mine, he lamented. It wasnt as though he had a lot of enemies. He treated everyone with respect. What is this place coming too? he asked himself. He pulled a bread stick from his pocket and tore off a bite with some ferocity. Well you know what? Maybe no more Mr. nice guy he thought.
Once out on the highway, the sun, the breeze, and the beautiful afternoon all got the better of him, despite himself. After all, the darn thing really belonged to the bank and not to him, so what the heck. Then came the call over the police two way, saying, Detective Raskins, John, come in John.
Yeah, got something for me? he asked.
They found the hovercraft, theyre looking at it now came the report.
In what condition? Detective Raskins asked.
Oh its fine. Probably wasnt kids or a chop shop crew.
Where is it? Raskins asked further.
Sitting on the front lawn at Alternity Corporation. You know the place?
Sure do- that friggin bunch of weirdoes making all that noise.
Right. Theres a Lieutenant Baxter from Chronopolis Military Command Center whos also interested for whatever reason- hes gonna meet you there; base out.
The Detective was now spending his day off racing to a crime scene where the crime was Grand Theft Auto, the auto was his brand new hovercraft -and the scene was the front lawn of the Alternity Corporation Facility, home of the very secretive Alternity Group.
Something about that place thought detective Raskins to himself.
Chapter Twenty Five, Boot Camp
Alright raisins, listen up! shouted Colonel Jaspars to the roomful of sweating recruits. This next one is like playing twister; see those colored circles? You will sprint across the room, and I will shout out a color, at which time you will drop to the floor, place one knee on that color, then twist your torso around opening fire on your target. Two shots maximum, points off for shooting the wrong targets. Everybody got that?
The line of recruits nodded eagerly, each huffing and puffing, with their hands on their knees.
First up was a young woman in tight polydex. She wore a 6000 megaburst polaser strapped to each thigh and moved like a panther. An advanced recruit nearing the end of her training program, the Colonel liked to have her go first as an example to others. Her name was Infinity Stairs.
When I call your name, you will line up single file shouted the Colonel. Stairs! Terco! Fulton! Nightbird- up!
The girl in black polydex sprinted across the room like a star runner at a track meet. The Colonel yelled blue!, and she knelt, turned and popped off two bursts. Having reduced her targets to smoking ash, she returned with a swagger to the back of the line.
Special Agents Terco and Fulton laughed to each other- it was an impressive display. What did he say her name was again? asked Terco.
Terco, youre up, Cinderella, or do you need Ms. Stairs to show it to you again? barked the Colonel. Terco lit out across the room like a Cheetah. Green! shouted Colonel Jaspers.
Terco spun sideways like a diver doing a half-twist, dragged a knee over a green circle, turned, and fired a single shot. He had placed a polaser burst between the eyes of a target made to look like a bank robber, but didnt shoot another made to look like a family pet.
Good shooting Cinderella! shouted Colonel Jaspers. Fulton, youre up! Nightbird, youre next!
At the back of the line, Special Agent Terco stood hands on hips, catching his breath. The noise of the training room seemed to fade off into the background as he marveled at the woman called Stairs. Hey, that was some pretty hot shooting he said to her. Im Terco; Robert Terco- but my friends just call me Turk. The lady in the black polydex suit looked back at him blankly as she reloaded her weapons.
Nice to meet you, Jerk she said. Then her name was called, and she sprinted across the room again.
I think she likes you his partner Fulton laughed.
Pure chemistry added Nightbird, a young woman of native descent and another agent-in-training.
Fulton, lets go! the Colonel called out. He walked over to Terco and whispered. Shes out of your league Turk. But Terco didnt hear it as he kneeled, turned and shot out another target.
Hes got skills Infinity later confided to the Colonel.
Uh-huh the Colonel agreed. And hes gonna need them.
Chapter Twenty Six, a Warm Fire
Doctor Binder arrived at Marias confinement wing in the basement of the Alternity Group facility at 6:00am. He was about to call out in middle Bulgarian when the door creaked open first. It was Maria and she had been anticipating his arrival. Binder held out his hands to show her he had no weapons, but that he did bring supplies. She opened the door and this time, she let him in.
Looking around, he marveled at the way Maria had redecorated. With just a well placed fur here, and a dry mat of hay there, she had made a cold, damp place seem almost comfortable. She gestured for him to sit by a glowing fire, left the room for a moment and returned to hand him a steaming bowl of rabbit broth. She then sat down next to him, lacing up a fresh pair of rabbit-skin boots. Amazing, he thought to himself.
By now, Marias condition had become a little more evident, and she wore it well. So long as nothing was done to confuse the poor lass, it was also obvious that her nesting instincts were taking over, and that could only be good for her, the child and for the Alternity Group.
In the days after, Maria grew larger and larger, while becoming more and more trusting of Doctor Binder. She began to show the softer side of her nature as the two spent hour upon hour together. At one point, Maria looked him in the eye, grabbed his hand and placed it to her stomach. Doctor Binder was delighted to feel the kicking of her developing baby. He smiled at her and she at him.
And what of a name, my lady? What shall ye call him? asked the Doctor.
Thatll be dependin on if it be she or he! Maria answered.
No matter said the Doctor, so long as it be strappin. At this, he unrolled a beautiful woolen blanket he had picked up at the facility PX. Marias eyes lit up at the site of such craftsmanship. She had never seen a blanket woven by machine. It was so perfect, she thought.
Doctor Binder stood up and gently draped it over her soft shoulders. She tried to show the Doctor her appreciation, but he resisted, having found himself in an ethical quandary.
Do ya find me plain? she asked him.
Lady Maria he said, for me you are the only woman in the wide world. Let it happen if it will, in its own good time. She snuggled close to him and fell comfortably asleep on his shoulder.
This he thought, is paradise.
Chapter Twenty Seven, First Target
With the outer doors closed, the only sound in the hotel room was the occasional whoosh of a passing vehicle. Senator Stilwell stood in the center of the room, reflecting thoughtfully.
Fellows, we have all come to know our charter. We know who we are, we know what we stand for, and the time has come for action. Its easy to see things could be better with minimal changes made to the past.
Everyone knew where this was going; only the particulars remained a mystery. Senator Stilwell was about to put even those last mysteries to bed as he reached down for the pointing stick.
As you are all aware, no longer is it beyond the capability of man to redirect events, thereby reshaping the future. Reality is no longer an absolute. We have a finger on our fate, and a hand on our destiny. Sure, weve already seen how manipulating the past can be dangerous- but with care, we can use our invention to set things profoundly right.
He placed pointer to chalkboard, and tapped rhythmically on several small, colorful chalk markings.
Here is a list of seemingly innocuous historical events, whose effects later became profound in scope.
A hand shot up in the second row. It belonged to a scientist named Franz Graber, last in a long line of famous Swiss watch makers. Franz was always filled with questions about the nature of time travel, the problems associated with causality, and the paradoxes chrononomy invariably raised. Relentless and brilliant, he was here to piss in the punchbowl.
And what of the innocent citizens of a former reality- or those who end up, as a consequence of our actions, never having been born- are we their murderers? Graber asked. At some point, shall we consider the present to be satisfactory- or forever seek to change smaller and smaller details? These questions must be adequately addressed before the project can move any further, wouldnt you all agree?.
Many in the room fiddled uncomfortably at the gravity of his questions. There could be no doubt of their validity. There could also be no doubt that the moral dilemma of answering them was dogma the project didnt need. After some mumbling and grumbling, they pressed on. The consensus was, here was a chance to save an entire continent –not just a wetland or a forest. Using the power of the Chrona, they could short-circuit what history has shown to be the worst case scenario of continental destruction and indigenous obliteration- a perfect storm, if you will.
Senator Stilwell continued, Our first target is La Paz on the southern tip of Baja, California, in 1533. Cortez ordered two ships built in 1532 on the shores of Tehuantepec, just to the south. The following year he sent them to begin the colonization of California and their first landing was at La Paz. When Columbus landed on San Salvador 40 years earlier, the Taino Indians who naively came out to greet him were abducted and sold into slavery. Then came the industrialization of the most bio-diverse three and a half million square miles on Earth. We believe we can stop it. When those ships reach La Paz, our agents will be waiting for them. Our plan is to send a chrononomy team to infiltrate the area, followed by a whack team to light the fuse. The teams are already in training and Id like to know we have unanimous support, Franz.
The Alternity Group members rose from their chairs and left the room in single file. Senator Stilwell stood at the doorway with a hand in the air, inviting each team member to high five him on the way out. All of them did –except Franz Graber.
Chapter Twenty Eight, the Investigation
When Detective Raskins arrived on the front lawn of AlternityCorp, Lieutenant Baxter was there waiting for him. He had already set up a crime scene perimeter, with guards stationed at the corners of a taped-off area. In the center of that area, sat his stolen hovercraft. Some day off, he thought.
I appreciate you coming down on your day off, John. said the Lieutenant. I need it dusted for prints.
Well Bob, I do have a certain interest in this case, you know answered Detective Raskins.
Oh, how so? asked the Lieutenant.
Its my car said Raskins.
The Detective ordered an arriving police van to dust the recovered vehicle. As they worked, Detective Raskins made calls to his bank, his insurance company, and his wife.
I am so sorry about your new toy, dear she said, comforting him. Who in the world would do such a thing- and to a police officer! she added.
No idea yet, but were dusting for prints now. Dont worry, well find the perp. In the meantime, dont worry about the craft, its insured to the hilt, he said, comforting her in return.
Yes she agreed, And financed to the hilt too.
He turned his attention back to the crime scene and asked, Has anybody spoken to the two sentries on duty? They must have seen something.
There doesnt seem to be a whole lot of people here right now said the Lieutenant. But I was thinking thered have to be footage from surveillance cameras theyve got positioned on these grounds.
Now theres a thought said Raskins. How do we get our hands on those?
If you cant get a warrant, Ill ask the General to declare a small emergency and well have the video records confiscated for security purposes answered the Lieutenant.
By now the fingerprint crew had gone over the whole scene, inside the craft and out. The side of the police van began sliding outward, and the van slowly became a mobile crime lab. Investigators working inside could be seen through the windows, mixing print-dust in small vials of liquid. After a few last shakes, a field investigator held a vial under an infra red light, studied it there for a moment, and shouted, Detective Raskins, weve got something.
Meanwhile, sentries at the front entrance of AlternityCorp stood motionless and uncooperative. Like the Royal Guards of Britain, they ignored all questions and showed no signs of emotion or recognition. When the investigators finally gave up on them and walked away, the sentries looked at each other and smiled. One of them waved a palm over his chronophone, and contacted Senator Stilwell.
Stilwell here said a voice from a holograph.
Sir, theres a bunch of suits on the lawn swarming over that hovercraft like mosquitoes. Looks like theyre gonna be trouble, over reported the sentry.
Did you speak with them at all? asked the Senator.
Negative sir he answered, proudly.
Very well Private, carry on ordered the Senator.
Back on the lawn, there was a commotion at the van. Detective Raskins stood holding a vial in one hand and a piece of paper in the other.
Lieutenant Baxter! he shouted. Lieutenant Baxter!
The Lieutenant turned his attention from the hovercraft. Yes John? he asked.
Lieutenant, we have a warrant for the arrest of Justin Nicholas Thyme.
Chapter Twenty Nine, the Renaissance Faire
You must be out of your mind! shouted the Senator. There is no way that woman is ready for the outside world, nor it for her. She belongs to the past.
Senator, just hear me out, replied Doctor Benjamin Binder. Watch the films; shes made a lot of progress since her arrival. It is certainly not helpful to our cause for her to be kept in a locked room. Getting out in the sun would be therapeutic for her; she needs to be around people.
Around people? Around people? My dear Doctor, do you remember what happened the last time that little hellcat was around people? Someone died! the Senator fired back.
Across the room, the Professor sat at his desk, quietly fiddling with a Rubiks cube. He, too was interested in improving Marias mental health, and said so.
Lets reserve judgment until weve heard the Doctors proposal. The woman cant be kept as a prisoner. We either take steps to improve her well being or send her back to Constantinople he said. I have studied the tapes, and I agree- Maria has made enormous progress. You are to be commended, Doctor. The question is, where do you take a Byzantine Princess in this day and age without causing a stir, or creating one?
Doctor Binder spread a large color poster across the Senators desk with the words, Renaissance Faire splashed across the top. It sported a glorious photo of a knight in shining armor, holding the reigns of a rearing white stallion, similarly adorned. Ill need a costume and a dress for mlady, and of course, a steed smiled the Doctor.
Of course. answered the Professor.
The Senator knew he had lost this one and stood shaking his head side to side. Of course. he added.
The suns shown so brightly that lady Maria could see them through the hefty blindfold she wore. Its for your own protection, mlady, he had told her. The footsteps of their large horse clippity-clopped through the streets of Chronopolis, then fell silent on the grass of the Fairgrounds. The Chronopolis Society for Creative Anachronism Club was holding their annual Renaissance Faire and Doctor Binder knew it would make Maria feel somewhat at home.
Maria was helped off the horse by gate attendants, but it was Binder who removed the blindfold. She marveled at the sights as he tied the horse. He took her by both hands and looked her up and down. You make that dress look wonderful! he opined.
Maria told him it was the most beautiful thing she had ever worn, and that he would be knighted when they reached Constantinople. He unconsciously felt for the broadsword he wore on his hilt at the thought of it. Could be arranged, he thought jokingly to himself. They walked through the faire turning not a few heads. Many were the characters and costumes, and fancy were the chickens running underfoot. They watched as faux knights put on displays of sword fighting and a joust. Doctor Binder smiled broadly as Maria sat devouring the leg of a roasted chicken, handing her a damp towel afterward. When they reached the heart of the faire, Maria led the Doctor behind a series of tents and kissed him. His heart raced and his knees nearly buckled as he tore himself away. But she would have none of it, and kissed him with a fiery passion the world hadnt seen in almost a thousand years.
Ho ha! shouted a large stranger who had come behind the tents to relieve himself. He walked straight toward them and pushed Doctor Binder roughly aside. The wench will be mine! he shouted, drawing his sword.
Doctor Binder put his hands in the air and pleaded with the actor. No please- you dont understand! he yelled.
Oye, I understand alright! You be too timid a vermin for the lass! he said. He snatched a passing chicken by the neck, sliced off its head and handed it to Maria all in one move. Take this and cook it wench! Ill be along for dinner after I dispatch your two-legged chicken!
Please, you dont understand! said Binder once again.
Maria stood aghast as she watched spurt after spurt of chicken blood spray all over the front of her beautiful dress. Doctor Binder winced as he watched the fire build in her eyes. The large man stood holding the bleeding chicken in one hand and his sword in the other, a ghastly grin smeared across his rugged face.
Maria thought back to the last man who had tried to steal her from her husband. He had died a slow, agonizing death. She would be more merciful this time- it would be quick. The world slowed almost to a stand still and Doctor Binder watched in horror as Maria reached back for the sword. Snatching it from the scabbard, she waved it three times, like a magician waves a wand. One stroke separated head from body, the return stroke sliced the torso and arms in two, and the final stroke severed both legs above the knees.
And so it was done. The mans grimacing face sat atop eight pieces of fresh meat all piled about two feet high. Maria smiled back at the Doctor. Do ye be alright? she asked.
Nay! said Doctor Binder and he grabbed her by the hand and pulled her out of there. Drop the sword, and lets be off with ye! he yelled. They emerged calmly from the tangle of tents and walked arm in arm back to their waiting horse.
Chapter Thirty, the White Horse
Detective Raskins had not a care in the world as he took the hovercraft through its paces high above Chronopolis. All systems seemed to be working fine, and the view was awesome, from horizon to horizon. Cirrus clouds with silver linings wisped across the azure sky, becoming hummingbirds, dragons, and just about anything else he could imagine them to be. He was about to bank around for another pass over the Mile High when a call came over the police two-way.
Base to Raskins, can you read me, over it squawked.
Detective Raskins chose to ignore the call until he completed one more loop, his stomach wedged solidly into his mouth from the centrifugal force.
Base to Detective Raskins, come in please it called him again.
Yeah, Raskins here. Go ahead Base, over he replied.
John, we need you over at the Burgundy County Fairgrounds right away, do you copy, over? asked the police switchboard operator.
Im on my way. Ive got my hovercraft so itll only take a minute. Whatve you got? he asked.
Looks like we got a hack job on a wackjob; somebody carved up one of the actors at the Renaissance Faire, over.
I can see it now Base. Raskins, over and out
Thanks John, Base out.
Descending from one thousand feet, Detective Raskins could see a crowd gathered around a group of white, flowing tents. The afternoon breeze had them billowing like mainsails on a frigate ship. At five hundred feet he made out a uniformed policeman waving him in for a landing. He landed, set the magnets on warm and popped out of the cockpit.
Thanks for comin down John, it happened right through there said the uniformed officer. Pretty gross, he added.
Raskins walked through the tangle of tents and found himself stepping over bloody chicken parts and a huge bloodstained broadsword. A chicken? he asked. They killed a fucking chicken?
Over here John came a familiar voice. Its here.
Detective Raskins, interrupted the uniformed officer, have you met Lieutenant Junior Grade Baxter
Yes I have- Bob, how are ya? asked Raskins.
We meet again, John. Good to see you said Lieutenant Baxter. Thank you officer, that will be all he said, dismissing the policeman. Its not pretty, so brace yourself. Hes right there.
Where? asked Detective Raskins, nearly tripping over the small pile of meat. Oh my good happy H. Christmas Christ! he said. He took a moment to compose himself, and then said, Wheres the rest of the body?
Thats the whole thing, John. It just looks small because its been sliced into cold cuts by somebody who really knew what they were doing. said Lieutenant Baxter.
Probably one of these weirdo Antichrists running around in their pajamas said Detective Raskins.
Anachronists, John. And I dont think so answered Baxter. Witnesses say they saw a nice couple walk away about the same time, get on a white horse and ride off into the sunsets.
A white horse? You kiddin me? asked Raskins.
I never joke about cold cuts, John said the Lieutenant.
What makes you think they were involved? asked the detective.
The woman was covered in blood, head to toe- thats always suspicious, right? the Lieutenant answered, smiling sarcastically.
Another call came over the two-way. Detective Raskins and Lieutenant Baxter trotted over to the hovercraft, where they stood leaning and listening.
Detective Raskins, weve located a horse matching the witnesses description, over came the dispatch.
Raskins picked up the two-way. Raskins here; copy. What is the twenty of that horse, over?
Alternity Corporation Headquarters John, same spot where they found your hovercraft!
The two men looked at each other with furrowed brows.
Theres something going on there said Detective Raskins. The Lieutenant nodded in agreement and added, Lets go find out what it is.
Chapter Thirty One, a New Assignment
The words resounded over the facility loudspeaker like a grade school broadcast ordering someone to the principals office.
Doctor Binder, report to the Senators office; Doctor Benjamin Binder, to the senators office please, it said. Senator Stilwell and the Professor bumped into each other several times dressing themselves in the small office. Looks pretty sharp said the professor, commenting on the Senators snazzy three-piece suit. The facility loudspeaker once again repeated the message, Doctor Binder, report to the Senators office; Doctor Benjamin Binder, to the senators office please.
Is that it? Is that what youre wearing? asked the senator. Corduroy went out with the last flood Professor. What is it with you intellectual types that make you so fashion deficient?
Well, listen to the runway model sneered the Professor as he walked up behind his friend and pretended to choke him. Then, a voice came over the intercom saying, Doctor Binder is here to see you Senator.
Send him back the Senator answered, pressing the button with one hand while busily knotting his tie with the other.
The door opened and in walked Binder, dark circles turning his eyes into clams on the half shell. The Senator was now sitting at his desk, sipping coffee and flipping through the morning paper.
Yes, Senator? asked Doctor Binder.
Looks like you had a rough night, Ben said the Senator. Anything you want to talk about?
Binder looked over at the Professor, but got no help, as he quickly looked away. The Senator continued. How did it go at the Faire? he asked. You two have fun?
Well sir, we-
Know anything about this? asked the Senator, turning the newspaper around so the Doctor could read it. Splashed across the front page, it said, Faire Game- Authorities Investigate Dismemberment Killing.
The Doctor dropped his head and stared at the floor. There was just nothing to say.
Listen carefully Doctor said Senator Stilwell. I want you to get Maria, blindfold her, and take her to the lab within the half hour. You will report to Commodore Thyme for duty, understood?
What will become of her? asked Binder.
Of you both said Stilwell. You are being assigned to new duty, and yes, you will be together- for at least the next twenty years, that sound ok?
Yes sir! he answered. He nodded to the Professor, and left the office.
Now, where were we? he asked.
You were saying you didnt like corduroy answered the Professor.
I was kidding, it looks fine. Lets get to the graduation before they start without us.
Downstairs in the facility basement, Doctor Binder knocked quietly on Marias door. She opened it before he was through, pulling him inside to a warm embrace. After kissing her passionately, he told her to get ready.
Ready for what? she asked.
Get ye ready to leave, mlady. He smiled at her reassuringly. We have to leave. Now.
Chapter Thirty Two, Graduation
The marching band played beautifully, even putting on a dazzling dance routine as they passed in review. Trombones and tubas created brass harmonies that wafted from the luminaries and dignitaries in the bleachers, all the way up to the lofty ceiling of Drill Hall Eight Hundred.
When the band finished, the loudspeaker asked all in attendance to rise for the national anthem saying, Ladies and Gentlemen, here to sing Crown of Chronopolis, please welcome singing star and international teen sensation, Persephone!
The crowd applauded wildly. Persephone was very popular- even in Burgundy County. The members of the graduating class of 2067 stood on their platforms holding both hands on their hearts, the national symbol of empathy. Infinity Stairs stood on the highest platform, an honor earned by graduating first in her class. She was flanked on the right by her runner up and adoring fan, Special Agent Robert Terco. To her left stood second runner up, her best friend, Special Agent Nikki Night Bird. On the lowest platform stood Tercos best friend, Special Agent Jefferson Photon Fulton, who smiled throughout the entire ceremony. It was a moving anthem and Persephone sang it beautifully.
Crown of Chronopolis
With two hands upon our hearts
We guard this gateway where the universe starts
Chronopolis for you; Chronopolis for me
No limit to what we may pursue; our Metropolis is free
Hands on hearts we bare our soul; among the stars a starring role
And if the suns should rise no more; our agents still will guard the door
Chronopolis for you; Chronopolis for me
No limit to what we may pursue; our Metropolis is free!
The teary-eyed crowd roared its approval as cannon blasts rang out through the Drill Hall. Infinity Stairs stood cheering and clapping along with all her fellow graduates. When the cheering subsided, she heard her name being called from up in the crowded bleachers.
Infinity! Infinity! cried the far away voice. Squinting her eyes she saw a splash of white hair amid the sea of blue graduation caps and knew it was her mother, calling from the very last row. I love you mom! she mouthed the words over the din. Then, I love you dad! she mouthed again.
Infinity turned to Nikki and shouted, I told you theyd be here!
Nikki Night Bird smiled broadly; she was so excited to be graduating she had to pinch herself to make sure it was real. She was also happy for Infinity, who had trained so hard and been through so much. They both knew Infinity might not get to talk with her parents before the first mission. Alternity Group always sent agents out right after graduation- after all, forever was a lot of time to cover!
As Senator Stilwell called their names, they bowed their heads and received a set of plasmodium dog tags around their necks. Then, one by one, the Senator pinned on their wings. A clock with wings was the official symbol of Alternity Group worn only by Special Agents of the United Nations Multi-National Chrononomy Task Force. The band played on.
Chapter Thirty Three, Twenty Years from Trouble
Commodore Thyme allowed Maria to slip through the laboratory checkpoints by holding close to Doctor Binder. The blindfold was now more important than ever; one look at the Chrona would certainly send Maria into a fit of terror. Justin also knew that Doctor Binder himself was terrified. Who could blame him?
Maria clung tightly as Binder submitted to two retina scans, one at each Permaglass wall. When they finally entered the Chronas portal, Justin pointed back toward the plasticized floor chart.
He said to the doctor Look at the quartermasters chart, Ben. Remember the three lights. Amber is for where youll land, red is for where you are, and blue
Yes, we never did get to the blue one said Binder.
Well Doc, on many not all, but many missions, we provide our agents with back up. That could mean another agent, a team of agents, a supply stash, or as is the case this time, a safe house.
Safe from what? asked Doctor Binder.
Safe from who would be more accurate answered Thyme. Recent events involving Maria now require us to keep Alternity Group safe- from her! Binder smiled, kissing Maria gently on the forehead.
Justin pointed back toward the instrument panel and signaled for Colonel Jaspars to energize the Chrona. The machinery began its whining crescendo, prompting Maria to ask What sorcery is this?
Doctor Binder held her tightly and said All I can tell you is it is good sorcery; do not fear.
After shouting last minute orders to Binder about laying prone on the floor, and what to do upon arrival, the Commodore said Godspeed, and left the portal area.
He strapped into a chair, and had barely put on his glasses when the lights dimmed, and an enormous surge of energy pulsed down the optic conduit, energizing the Chrona. Maria dug her fingernails into the back of Binders hand, creating a small trickle of blood that dripped to the floor. Binder was amazed as the laboratory began to slowly revolve around the portal. It moved faster and faster, until all was a spinning blur. The droplets of blood no longer fell to the floor. They instead took the form of a pinwheel galaxy, floating in the center of the mass that spun around them.
It ended as soon as it had begun. Maria and Doctor Binder found themselves lying on their stomachs on the hot asphalt of a church parking lot, some twenty years earlier. Squinting in the suns, they rose to their feet and were immediately met by a handsome young man wearing the uniform of an Alternity Special Agent. Having lost her blindfold, Maria opened her eyes to see a huge marble statue of the Virgin Mary. She crossed herself again and again, while murmuring prayers in medieval Bulgarian. Close your eyes, Maria, and for the love of God keep them closed! whispered Doctor Binder urgently.
The agent extended his hand to the doctor and said, Come with me right away!
Chapter Thirty Four, the Secret Entrance
The attendant had never had so much trouble recovering a horse in the three years he had worked for W.A.R.CO, the Western Animal Rental Company of Chronopolis. The giant white draft horse was beautiful, but at seventeen hands high, impossible to contain. He had been spooked by a maelstrom coming from Alternity Corporation and just as he calmed, a hovercraft landed to spook him all over again.
Whoa, easy, easy coaxed the attendant. The incoming pilot saw the commotion and decided to land far away, for the horses benefit as well as his own. The motor whirred to a stop and out popped Detective Raskins, who went right to work.
Hold it right there, cowboy said the Detective. Are you the owner of that horse?
No sir, hes just a rental he answered. I work for W.A.R.Co. sir, sixteen years now.
I want to see your identification and Im afraid Im going to have to confiscate the horse- hes evidence in a murder investigation said the detective.
Heck, hes all yours! agreed the attendant, handing him the reigns of the bucking behemoth.
The Detective gamely held the horses lead with both hands, all the while cooing and soothing him with gentle words. There boy- now, now, big fella he said. The horse began to bray more quietly and was about to taste the grass underfoot when Lieutenant Baxter arrived in a military vehicle whose blaring siren started the commotion all over again.
Raskins! shouted the Lieutenant as the horse now dragged them both around, it occurred to me we couldnt get inside without help, so I brought someone with me.
And whos that? asked the Detective, struggling to hold the horse.
His name is Franz Graber; he says hes one of them.
The vehicle door opened and out stepped Graber, the scientist concerned with the too-fast pace at which AlternityCorp was moving forward.
Go with him, Detective- he can get you inside– Ill take care of this.
Follow me! shouted Graber to Detective Raskins.
Get the hell over here and help me! Lieutenant Baxter screamed to the attendant who sat watching in amazement.
Graber led the Detective around the side and away from the main entrance to Alternity Group Headquarters. There is a way in, a utility entrance, disguised to look like a circuit breaker box from outside he said, huffing and puffing as they ran.
What the hell is this place, actually, Mr. Graber? asked Detective Raskins. The scientist looked back at him with a blank expression and did not answer.
With the graduation in Drill Hall Eight Hundred, the Chrona energized for transport and the commotion on the front lawn, Graber and Raskins managed to reach their destination undetected. They stood a while, gasping for breath.
Its right in here said Graber. Itll open when you pull those black tie wires. When you get in, wait for me to seal it up behind us. Then its down a level. From there, youll see for yourself what this place is about, what theyre doing here.
Whats the short version? asked Detective Raskins.
The short version? Too fantastic to believe without your own eyes- shortest version youre going to get.
Raskins saw the honesty in Grabers eyes. Just tie wires and were in, thats it? asked Raskins.
Yes, thats it answered Graber, adding, That and two retina scans.
Chapter Thirty Five, Tangled in Time
Just the way I like it said Thyme, referring to the empty laboratory. With everyone else still at the graduation ceremony, there was just a skeleton crew to initiate the next mission. With Colonel Jaspers at the control board, the Chrona spat hot steam against the soundtrack of a dying whine and ground to a halt.
Me too the Colonel replied.
Both men were seasoned agents, and didnt need anyone to tell them how to do their jobs. Sure, there was a chain of command, but anyone working this close to the Chrona could run the show.
No sooner had the last operation ended, than the next was to begin. It reminded Justin of the commercial jets at an airport. They landed, refueled, changed crews and took on new passengers. Then, with a new flight number, were back in the air. And so it was with the Chrona.
The two crewmembers in the lab pored over Justins suit for leaks or signs of wear as he stood looking over his mission orders. He was to travel to 1533 AD, landing on the very tip of Baja, at La Paz. When the team arrived, they would initiate contact with the natives and warn them of the coming danger- Cortes, the Conquistador, would soon arrive from Tehuantepec with two ships and bad intentions.
An AlternityCorp strike force, or a whack team as the agents called themselves, would be there waiting. Justin would arrive early to set up camp for the agents, who were still out celebrating graduation.
With everything in place, all systems were declared a go, and the Colonel energized the Chrona. Justin submitted to a retina scan, the permaglass wall opened and he entered the no-mans land between the clear walls. The process was repeated, and the Commodore climbed the steps toward the Chronas portal.
Colonel Jaspars was already strapped in when an alarm light began whirling on the laboratory ceiling. One of the two crew members reported via chronophone that a biological alarm had been tripped somewhere near the Chrona.
Whats it mean? asked Jaspars.
One crewman began, It means that a biological entity has been detected in or near-
It means something got in when the door was open, probably a bug or a mouse the other crewman interrupted.
The Chrona had begun to shake as Justin ascended the steps to the portal; everyone else was strapped in tight. Put on your safety glasses! ordered the Colonel, as pulses of energy surged down from the planets surface.
Justin Nicholas Thyme? came a shout from behind the Commodore.
Justin turned and was startled to see a policeman lunge at him with handcuffs and slap one manacle on each of their wrists as they both fell into the Chrona.
Detective John Raskins of the Chronopolis Police Department- Justin Thyme, I am placing you under arrest for Grand Larceny! Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law!
By now, the Chrona was spinning forcefully, and Justin found himself unusually speechless.
Shut it down! Colonel, Shut it down! he finally managed to say.
Detective Raskins began to look around himself and saw the room revolving. It was more than he cared to understand and so he continued, You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one
Shut it off! screamed Thyme, but the Colonel was now engaged in a violent struggle with Franz Graber, who reached for the Chrona Emergency Shutoff Switch. Commodore Thyme didnt need a time machine to see where this was headed, and he reached into his utility belt for a T.I.B.-a Time Indicator Beacon.
Graber lashed at the control board but missed the emergency shutoff, managing instead to activate the Chronas steering mechanism.
You fool! screamed Colonel Jaspers. He tried to pull the steering lever back to where it had been, but to no avail. Franz Graber had unwittingly directed the energy of six suns to take the Chrona and its two occupants on a trip through time of unknown length to an unknown destination.
You fool. Whispered the Colonel.
The two struggling men now just stood together, watching the melodrama unfold. Special Agent Thyme had just enough time to break the seal on the beacon, put the transmitter half back into his belt, and toss the receiver half out of the Chrona. On the floor, now! shouted Thyme to his hapless policeman partner.
one will be appointed for you the Detective said feebly.
The Chrona sent them into that floating, peaceful netherworld Justin had come to know as the time chamber. They saw stars around them flashing in and out of existence. Thyme noticed perceptible motion of the Milky Way itself. Judging by the rotation, they were going backward and they floated for a long, long time.
Chapter Thirty Six, Pirates Parlay
Bright flashes and deafening energy blasts filled the sky above Alternity Group Headquarters. The draft horse galloped in circles, dragging the attendant face down, his cowboy boots digging ruts in the mud. Lieutenant Junior Grade Baxter was on the phone with General Studemier, apprising him of the situation and requesting assistance.
I can hear it from here and not just through the phone said the General. What the hell is going on?
Some kind of a launch or discharge or something answered Baxter. It seems to be settling down he added as the attendant was dragged by, screaming.
It doesnt sound like it Lieutenant. I order you to secure that area on the double soldier. Im putting you through to my supply secretary who will get you whatever you need.
Lieutenant Baxter thanked the General, who was already off the phone. When the supply secretary came on the line, Baxter ordered a portable construction fence. Enough to cover half an acre he said. And a mobile office, something with accommodations- were likely to be here for a very long time.
As the horse came by again, Baxter cupped his hands and shouted to the attendant, Helps on the way- hang in there!
Within ten minutes, a convoy of military trucks arrived, each loaded with uniformed troops. Baxter stationed them around the perimeter of the entire property and grounds. All had orders to detain the Senator using as much diplomacy as possible. And bring him to me. he ordered.
With the soldiers help, the horse was brought under control and now grazed quietly as the attendant walked him along. Flatbed trucks began pulling onto the field, unloading and erecting their cargo of temporary construction fencing. By the time the senator arrived with his caravan of limousines, the entire facility had been fenced in, and the cars were greeted at the gate by military guards.
The lead car stopped at the gate, and its driver stepped out of the vehicle to address the guards. They turned him around, disarmed him and confiscated his car keys. Another group of soldiers walked to the second vehicle, and instructed the occupants to roll down the window. At gunpoint, they complied.
Senator Stilwell? asked the guard. Please step out of the vehicle.
The senator exited the car and placed his hands in the air.
Thats not necessary sir said the guard. Please come with me sir.
All the occupants were detained and all the vehicles confiscated. Twelve limos in all were brought to a newly fenced area where their magnets were permanently deactivated.
Up the long driveway came a huge military truck with a large Wide Load sign. It was here to deliver the mobile base unit the Lieutenant had requested from General Studemier. It was manuevered inside the gated half acre, and a large satellite dish was deployed on its roof. When all was ready, the senator was brought there to meet with Baxter.
That will be all said the Lieutenant to his men. They left the gated area to the Lieutenant, the senator, and one happily grazing horse. Please senator, come in.
The Lieutenant took a long look at Senator Stilwell and asked, Have we met before?
The senator shook his head. Dont believe so he answered, taking a seat with a window view of the beautiful white horse. Am I under arrest?
Lieutenant Baxter laughed. Not at all, Morgan -may I call you Morgan?
The Senator gestured why not with his free hand, while accepting a glass of scotch in the other.
Good. My name is Lieutenant Robert Baxter- but call me Bob.
Alright Bob asked the senator, where should we start?
Two soldiers carried in a leather reclining chair, and the Lieutenant sat down as soon as it was brought in. He leaned back, lit a pipe, and answered, At the beginning.
Senator Stilwell leaned forward and reached for the pipe. May I? he asked.
By all means, came the reply.
Chapter Thirty Seven, Mexican Standoff
Outside Drill Hall Eight Hundred, the new graduates approached a sleek red hovercraft floating inches off the tarmac. Behind them lay the cheers and confetti of their old lives; ahead only danger.
Bring it on! shouted Infinity Stairs, blowing on her index fingers. The rest smiled ear to ear, hearts beating twice as fast as normal. They were ready for anything and would follow Infinity anywhere.
Where no seam had been visible on the craft, a door opened as smoothly and silently as a nictitating membrane. Check! shouted Infinity, placing her hands on her weapons.
Check! came the reply from the others, following suit.
Time to go to school! she chanted.
One by one they entered the fuselage, chose a compartment and strapped in. They were only traveling from the Drill Hall to Facility Headquarters, but this was their first ride, their first moments, as a team of Special Agents.
The pilot smiled at the youngsters, as excited as they were. These were no ordinary kids, nor were they ordinary soldiers. A Special Agent was like being half soldier, half monk. You had to respect that. While most twenty-somethings were blossoming into the social network, these Special Agents had already given it all up. He flashed them a thumbs up, and they all returned it, their faces now sullen.
After a verticle liftoff, the electromagnetic drive engaged and the craft peeled through the magnetosphere.
It took less than a minute for Infinity to know something was wrong. Up! she ordered her teammates.
Up! they shouted in unison. The pilot was next to see the fence and troops surrounding AlternityCorp grounds. He looked at Infinity, and cocked his head. She nodded in answer.
Its hot down there, so were out of the nest in three, two, one
The same door slid silently open and out they hurtled one by one. The pilot shouted Geronimo!, held the craft steady until empty, then banked right and evacuated 180 degrees.
Survival suits come equipped with webbed armpits and crotch, and make excellent gliders. Infinity placed her palms flat on her hips and steered for the top of the long driveway of AlternityCorp. The others followed her lead. Sing out! yelled Infinity, and said, Stairs!
Terco! came the reply.
Bird! hollered Nikki.
Fulton! shouted Jefferson.
Walker! crackled the pilot via chronophone.
Infinity waved a hand over her chronophone and called the senator.
In the mobile office, a hologram of Infinity popped up from the Senators wrist.
Stilwell here he said. Go ahead Agent Stairs.
Whack Team, descending; did we miss curfew?
Party cancelled- wait one replied the Senator.
Lieutenant Baxter was impressed by the futuristic communications device. The hologram of Infinity Stairs also left an impression, and he whistled his approval.
And these folks are? he asked.
Theyre a team of agents, assigned to this facility. They wont start a firefight but they will end one the Senator stated matter-of-factly. Tell your men to hold their fire.
Hold fire the Lieutenant announced from a rooftop megaphone. Hold fire. Senator, have your team walk to the gate and surrender their weapons.
Aint gonna happen answered Stilwell. Not in this lifetime. Lieutenant- Bob, look. These agents are trained, and rule one of that training is never give up your weapon. Now I promise you-
Drop your weapons now! the Lieutenants voice boomed once more via megaphone. Just then, another hologram appeared from the Senators wrist. It was Franz Graber.
Lieutenant Baxter! Lieutenant, this is Franz! Do not engage AlternityCorp agents.
Senator Stilwell, interrupted Colonel Jaspers using the same chronophone. Weve got big problems!
With military guards on one side of the fence, the team of special agents arrived to a Mexican standoff.
Chapter Thirty Eight, Marias Apartment
Maria closed her eyes tightly as Doctor Benjamin Binder led her by the hand. He in turn was being led down the narrow back alleys of Chronopolis by a young agent whom Binder did not recognize.
Where are we? asked the doctor.
Oh, you havent gone anywhere, Ben, not really answered the handsome youth.
They soon arrived at an inconspicuous wooden door just off the main alley, and the agent used a master-control card to open it.
Right this way he said, leading them up a flight of stairs. They came into a modest but pleasant two bedroom apartment that overlooked an alley in the rear and a busy marketplace out front.
Everything you need is within a few hundred yards, Doc said the man.
Maria sat quietly looking over the room. There was much she didnt understand, but it felt safe.
This is a nice place, opined the Doctor, its really comfortable.
Go ahead, take a look around said the agent. Its all yours for the next twenty years.
Doctor Binder walked through the apartment room by room and liked what he saw. A smoking room, a study, and a pantry for Maria,
Maria, come look at this! the doctor called out. She rose gingerly from her chair and walked down the foyer, running her tiny hands along the walls to feel their texture. She found the doctor looking into a small room with a crib and interesting things hanging from the ceiling. He placed a hand on her ripe stomach, and she held his hand in hers.
We took the liberty of painting it pink smiled the agent.
Oh- know something we dont? asked Doctor Binder.
Yeah the agent laughed, a lot of things.
Binder extended a hand to the agent and said, I didnt get your name, son.
Sorry Doc- its Fulton, Jefferson Fulton. My friends call me Photon. Ill be your guardian angel for the foreseeable future- and at AlternityCorp, thats saying something! They both laughed. I wont always be here, but Ill be close.
So what do we do here? asked the doctor.
You live said the agent. And you take care of the baby, shes quite a gal.
Pardon? asked Binder.
Right said Fulton. Youre safe here; thats what matters right now.
How do we contact you? asked Binder.
Theres a chronophone on the wall the agent replied. Dont show it to anybody, please. And theres a computer in your smoking room; you wont want anybody to see that either.
And may I ask why not? said Binder.
Because nothing like it will exist for a few years to come; starting to understand?
Yes, I believe I am the doctor answered.
Special Agent Photon Fulton looked at his oscillator readout and went to use the bathroom. I have to leave. Keep her in there for a little while, can do?
I will answered Doctor Binder. And, thank you son he said.
Its my job, Doc- but Id be glad to help in any case; take care of yourselves.
The agent disappeared into the bathroom, filled the tub with water, and immersed himself.
Chapter Thirty Nine, Crash Landing
Commodore Thyme raised his left hand, also raising that of Detective Raskins. The policeman strained to resist, but was overpowered by the sheer strength of the agent. With a space-time anomaly whirling around them, they locked eyes.
Detective, you have two choices; listen up, or die, copy? asked Thyme.
Copy answered Raskins.
When this thing stops spinning, your skin will begin to burn. I will attempt to shield you as best I can, but I wont be able to get it all.
He reached into his utility belt and came up with a package containing a ready to eat meal, designed for combat or emergencies. Justin felt this situation qualified. Here- open this MRE and smear it on your face and neck. Save some for the back of your hands.
Detective Raskins hesitated at first, but complied after considering the obvious weirdness going on around him. They had been in limbo for a full ten minutes now, a sign they had traveled far in time. When the revolutions began to slow, Justin ordered Raskins onto the floor, and then he lay down on top of the disoriented policeman. Agh, youre too heavy! complained Raskins.
Shut up Justin replied.
At once, the spinning stopped, the sky brightened, and they were pitched through dank air. Justin found himself dangling by his left arm, with his legs kicking uselessly below him. When Detective Raskins screamed, Thyme looked up to see him head first into a large plant making a gurgling sound.
Detective! shouted Thyme, but he got no answer. He looked down at a jungle of Cypress trees, their windward flanks covered in bright green moss. The plant itself seemed to have mandibles like a Venus Fly Trap.
Detective! he shouted again. This time he heard a weak moan. Justin began to bounce himself up and down. He could feel Raskins body starting to pull loose. After a last strong bounce, the detectives head pulled free with a kissing sound. Thyme drew his polaser, pointed it at the handcuff chain and fired. They then hurtled several meters to the soft jungle floor below and lay perfectly still.
The Detectives clothing had all but burned away. He had sustained severe burns- but the plant had saved his life. It had also been starting to digest him, and his face was devoid of color. He looked frightening but he was alive. And he was no longer in the mood to arrest Commodore Thyme. Justin reached for his belt to give the man a drink, but remembered he had used all his water trying to save him. Better thirsty than dead, he thought to himself. Now, where the hell are we? he said aloud.
The detective looked over at Justin, nodded his head and said, Thanks.
Dont mention it answered Justin. Stay put and rest, Im going to reconnoiter a bit.
Before he left, he handed the detective a polaser, armed it, and said to him, Be careful with that.
Chapter Forty, Infinitys Gate
The soldiers at the gate were well trained. They always were, from General Studemiers battalions. But this duty was a little bit different, according to reports written later and submitted to Lieutenant Baxter. Here is a transcript of that recording:
The opposing force wasnt your usual run of the mill grunts, dressed in fatigues and carrying the weapon of the day. These guys looked like they were from outer space. And that girl- it was hard to keep your eyes off her. She was heavily armed with weapons we were completely unfamiliar with; dressed in silver or blue, some kind of jumpsuit or parachute outfit and she wore it, uh, very well. You never saw her eyes, because they all wore some kind of glasses, not dark, but you couldnt see through them anyway. And on her, the way she wore them, they looked kind of spooky. Kind of like an insect maybe. But you could tell she was beautiful. Deadly maybe, but beautiful- and it was a real distraction.
Back in the mobile base, Senator Stilwell pleaded with the Lieutenant.
Look Bob, were in the middle of some very touchy work and its important that we get on with it said the senator.
From the sound of the men inside your facility, youre in some serious trouble, Morgan. And Im here to help you. Why dont we just work together and get the issues resolved? Lieutenant Baxter asked.
You really dont have any idea what youre asking, Lieutenant. My men need access to the laboratory and they need it now shouted Stilwell, losing his temper.
Laboratory? asked the Lieutenant. Tell me about the laboratory Senator.
Dammit! Stilwell replied. Just what the hell do you want, Lieutenant? What is it you need?
Well, Ill tell you what, Morgan; you get instant and immediate access and carte blanche to get back to your program if- I and a couple of assistants can accompany you.
For how long, Lieutenant- how long do you want me to be tripping with you under my feet? asked the senator.
For the duration he answered.
Out of the question! roared Stilwell.
Well then I guess well just sit here and wait for the general, that sound ok with you? asked Baxter.
No answered Stilwell, grimacing.
Thats my only offer said Baxter.
Outside, the military guard in charge of his unit stood almost face to face with Infinity Stairs. Both brandished formidable weapons; his large, gray and heavy, hers silver, shiny and sleek. After a long silent pause, he cocked his weapon, licked his thumb and cleaned the sight. Infinity unbuckled her polaser strap and stood with her arm hanging limp over her weapon, gunfighter style. The soldier laughed. He spit a chaw of tobacco noisily on the ground, took aim at a light sitting atop a pole across the field, and fired. The light went out.
Infinity removed the polaser from its harness, spun it on her index finger a half-dozen times, dropped to one knee and let it pulse. It hit the same pole, causing the light to flash back on. The soldiers guffawed together until a secondary energy surge caused the entire pole to glow like neon then vanish into thin air! The laughter stopped.
Chapter Forty One, Setting the Beacon
The detective sat with his back against a tall fern, drifting in and out of consciousness. Without a protective survival suit, he had sustained burns on his back, arms and shoulders. Each time he awoke, his body throbbed like an unbalanced washing machine, pounding until the pain made him pass out again.
Justin returned with several coconuts, and woke the detective while cracking one open. After helping him drink the juice from one he had halved, he said Lets get to higher ground- then we can dress those wounds and set up the beacon.
Raskins slurped down the coconut milk and staggered to his feet. What do I look like? he asked.
Like a ghost came the answer.
With the detective leaning heavily on Justin, they slowly made their way to the top of a rise and set up camp. Their position overlooked the forest on one side, and a vast expanse of boggy lowlands on the other. Justin used utility scissors to cut the last shreds of shirt away from the detectives grizzly back wound.
How bad am I? asked Raskins.
Its like a bad road rash, thats all he answered. But Justin was very concerned about infection; the arms werent so bad, but the detectives back had been severely burned. When the cutting was done, Justin placed him on his stomach, handed him a small tree branch and said, Bite on this.
Shit said Raskins.
Justin energized his polaser, set it on extreme low and let it pulse the wound. Detective Raskins screamed until he cried, but the burn had been cauterized. The agent powered down his weapon and applied a topical ointment. By the time the wounds were fully dressed, Raskins was again asleep.
Justin took the opportunity to search out and climb the highest tree in the area. Hand over hand, he made the ascent, with the beacon clenched in his teeth. When the branches would no longer support his weight, he placed the beacon against the trunk, duct taped it securely and pressed the transmitter button.
Making his way down the tall tree, he paused to take in the panoramic view of what appeared to be a late Permian or early Triassic landscape. The trees were a type of huge Cypress, lording it over a multitude of ferns. The air was alive with the buzzing of large insects, including a red dragonfly with a four foot wing span that continually attempted to land on Justins shoulder. At one point, it sat long enough for Justin to see his own reflection in its multi-chambered eyes.
Once back on the soft turf, the agent looked at the blank screen of his wrist-worn oscillator. The length of their journey had caused a glitch in the warning function, leaving them with no way of knowing when they would be drawn back to their time of origin, or even if they would be drawn back at all.
He wasnt sure which was worse, not being prepared for freeze, or living out his life in a Permian jungle. With the beacon set, Justin had done what he could. The beacon could be detected from a distance of a million years, but that was like finding a needle in a haystack. Justin could only hope that Infinity would get lucky; he was sure it would be her they would send.
Suddenly, a loud cry from the detective brought Justin racing back to find him pinned against the fern by a ten foot centipede. Its mandibles would have severed the detectives neck cleanly had they not been snagged on the fern itself, which would not hold for long.
Thyme mounted the creature from the rear, using its thorax as a stairway and came to a sitting position just behind the head. An acidic vapor rising from between the armored sections of its body caused both men to retch. As the creature turned its attention on Justin, he fired the polaser point blank into the back of its neck and it dropped lifelessly to the turf, cooked and ready to eat.
Chapter Forty Two, the Chicken or the Egg
The beginning? asked the senator. Lieutenant, Im afraid this bucket of worms doesnt have a beginning- or an end. All I can tell you is this facility is way beyond Top Secret, like aliens.
Oh really? smiled Lieutenant Baxter. Then answer me this, Morgan. How does one go about building a time machine?
Senator Stilwell’s heart leaped.
Lieutenant, it sounds like youre off your medica-
Dont waste time senator; its too late for that. I know about the Chrona- Franz told me everything.
Senator Stilwell cursed the Swiss watch maker and every one of his ancestors. He knew the cat was out of the bag, but he also knew Alternity Group could never allow the military to have access to this technology. But all that would have to wait, because a different set of problems needed to be solved immediately.
OK Lieutenant, what is it that you want to know? the senator asked.
How did you come upon the discovery in the first place? the Lieutenant replied.
We always knew time was malleable, that it could be manipulated. And, that subatomic particles sometimes behaved paradoxically. But time travel itself, as in, sending a person through time; it creates problems, riddles, contradictions.
I can well imagine, said Baxter.
We didnt actually come upon a discovery said Stilwell.
Oh? asked Lieutenant Baxter.
“We never made any discovery, Lieutenant. Rather, we made it for us.
The room fell silent and the men looked each other in the eyes.
When we realized it could actually be done, we also realized that we would be the ones to do it- so we built the receiving portal first. Then, we made a pact to send someone back to the present with the instructions to build it and the science behind those instructions.
After its completion, we stood a secret watch for several uneventful years. We had all begun to laugh at ourselves over the foolishness and expense of it all when one evening the receiving portal belched steam and spat a lump of burnt flesh at our feet.
Amid the carcass lay a container of an unknown alloy which we examined and found to be highly radioactive. We took the proper precautions, opened it and inside found what we had hoped for- a pulse record of all the science we were to discover, along with precise directions and the methodology we would need to get there.
We did the work, and the Chrona was eventually completed. The lump of flesh in the portal turned out to be one of several death row inmates who would volunteer for the experiment, in return for a handsome sum delivered to their families upon the event of their death or disappearance.
But if you just stood watch, how did you ever come to discover the technology you sent back? asked the Lieutenant.
We did more than stand watch, Bob- we worked hard and never stopped. Franz has an interesting take on it. Franz, what was it you said? You thought that..
Franz Grabers voice came over the chronophone saying, The work went on until the discovery was made in real time. But once the directions were sent back, the sequence of events that led to them ended and was relegated to a closed time loop that occurs in an alternate dimension- and it happens over and over again. Always will, just next door.
The Lieutenant hung his head and sat rubbing his eyes. Thats a bit theoretical for me, Mr. Graber. I guess what really matters, is that were here at this point. How we came to be here is another matter entirely that Ill just leave to the scientists, or whatever you are. Now whats it gonna be, Morgan? he asked.
Okay, lets get back to work Senator Stilwell answered.
Chapter Forty Three, Permian Shelter
Justin Thyme awoke to the sound of a babbling brook and the warmth of a bright morning sun. Detective Raskins was already up and cooking over the glowing embers of last nights fire. It had been an uneventful evening and the fire was only one reason why. The other was the circle of bamboo poles Justin had stuck into the ground surrounding the campsite.
It had occurred to the agent that a bamboo pole could hold fluid like a tiki torch if the top most section were filled with juice from the centipede. The acid that had made them retch seemed to act as a strong repellent to the creatures here. Justin saved nearly a gallon, stored in several coconuts for later use. There was no need to light it; the breeze carried its acidic scent for some distance and they were able to sleep unmolested.
Detective Raskins looked wistfully over the vast expanse that stretched many miles before them. A verdant jungle of shimmering emerald was capped with puffy white clouds in a powder blue sky. Like a Chronopolin field in summer, it was alive with the buzz of zig zagging insects but spiced with the unfamiliar calls of long forgotten creatures.
Good morning sleeping beauty teased Raskins. Hungry?
I feel like I could eat a horse Justin answered.
How bout a giant Permian centipede then? offered the detective.
Next best thing said Justin, knowing they were lucky to be eating anything at all.
I wonder what theyre going to tell my wife; she must be worried sick by now the detective pondered.
Well, nobodys gonna tell her the truth, thats for sure replied Justin.
Do you think well make it back? asked Raskins.
All I can say is, were still alive to be having this conversation John, and thats a good sign. Theyll have the best agents out looking for us, using the best technology thats ever existed. And dont forget old faithful up there; the T.I.B. is putting out a signal twenty four, seven. Right now, our main concern is staying alive. And speaking of that, we’ll take a look at your back wound after breakfast said Thyme.
Justin cleaned and dressed the detectives wounds for the second time in as many days, and saw marked improvement. For some reason, John was beating down the infection. Justin suspected it had something to do with the ultra pure air and water they were breathing and drinking. The more the agent time traveled, the more convinced he became that most diseases had their root in the polluted modern world.
They spent the rest of the summer-like day digging out a circular shelter and shielding it from above using sticks cut from the strong local bamboo. Justin carved them skillfully, some with interlocking features and others with sharp, pointed tips.
By dusk, the cubby hole was large enough for two men and a cache of supplies. It was covered on top by two layers of bamboo, both crisscrossed and individually interlocked. Justin had designed the upper surface with bamboo points honed to razor sharpness, like a sea urchin. A small hatch allowed them to leave and tend the fire, which Justin thought should always be kept burning at night.
Chapter Forty Four, Entering Alternity
Both factions were simultaneously ordered to cease aggressions at the gate surrounding Alternity Group Headquarters. The loudspeaker resounded with the voice of Lieutenant Junior Grade Baxter, saying Stand down. You will stand down immediately, and lower your weapons.
Although there was some grumbling among the soldiers, the order was followed instantly. Then over the loudspeaker he spoke again, this time simply saying Stand by.
Back in the mobile unit, the Lieutenant looked toward the senator and said Your turn.
Senator Stilwell raised his arm and spoke into his wrist chronophone, calling for Infinity. Outside the gate, a hologram of the senators likeness popped up from her wrist. She was ordered to stand down, and allow the soldiers to escort the agents into the facility.
Understood, Stairs out she replied, slapping the cap on the chronophone closed.
Once again, the Lieutenants voice blared over the loudspeaker.
Have your men form two columns, lining up single file on either side of the Alternity agents. Your duty is to provide an escort to the front doors of the premises and there await further orders. The agents will remain outside until the arrival of both the senator and myself, copy?
The soldier in charge raised a closed fist above his head and opened his hand, signaling his acknowledgement of the order. He turned to his men and said Open it up! The gate rolled slowly and noisily open, and the soldier gave his commands.
Columns of two, prepare to march, left platoon forward!
From elsewhere in the group came a second command saying, First platoon prepare to march, second platoon stand fast!
At that, Infinity Stairs led her group through the gate. They swaggered to a position in between two long lines of soldiers.
March! came the order.
A guide-on who stood at the forefront holding a company flag began singing cadence.
Fifty men answered each count back in tight unison, marching in a military spectacle that went on with the rhythm of a chain gang.
Chron corps sure been good to me!
(Chron corps sure been good to me!)
They patch me up when I scrape my knee!
(Patch me up when I scrape my knee!)
Sound off! (One-two!)
Sound off! (Three-four!)
Sound off! (One-two! Three-four!)
My mamma cried when I joined the corps!
(Mamma cried when I joined the corps!)
But she had my clothes packed at the door!
(Had my clothes packed at the door!)
Sound off! (Sound off!)
Sound off! (Sound off!)
Sound off! (One-two! Three-four!)
As they passed the mobile unit, Senator Stilwell and Lieutenant Baxter took positions beside the marchers until they reached the front doors of the facility. There, Lieutenant Baxter hand-picked a small squad to accompany him.
They momentarily resisted being disarmed by guards at the door, but complied after the senator explained the stupendous effect an errant projectile could have. Once relieved of their arms, they followed the senator and his agents down into the laboratory, where they were stopped once again by guards.
This time, they were all sworn to secrecy, including Lieutenant Junior Grade Baxter, who nodded his head in agreement. When the senator had their sworn oaths and their signatures– they were allowed inside. At the permaglass, they stood dumbfounded like children before a Tyrannosaurus at the Museum of Natural History.
Gentleman, said the senator, I give you the Chrona!
Chapter Forty Five, Night Visitors
The bamboo cap fit snuggly atop the makeshift shelter, allowing Detective Raskins and Special Agent Thyme to sleep peacefully beneath. With the latch tightly secured, they couldnt feel the cool evening breeze, or hear the buzzing of nocturnal insects attracted by the flickering light outside. They were also unaware of the giant centipedes lurking just outside the circle of light provided by the campfire.
Again and again, the large but nimble-footed creatures made their way up the hill only to scurry away each time the fire momentarily flared. For two nights, the creatures had been at the site, leaving just before first light to slither beneath boulders, brush and Cypress logs. They returned again at dusk the following evening. Agent Thyme sat at the campfire, working later than he had planned, jotting astronomical observations on papyrus.
His goal was to create a chart marking the current positions of all the constellations. He hoped that by comparing it with their known positions in 2067, he could pin point exactly where in the past they were. That was a start.
The hour grew late, and he was about to retire when he thought he heard a hissing sound. He looked up from the chart and out into the darkness, but saw only the spooky dancing of shadows. He added a log to the fire and went back to finish his writing. When the chart was nearly completed, he heard it again. This time he stood up and took several steps toward the direction of the sound. He was about to chalk it up to the playful mystery of firelight when a breeze off the bog delivered the unmistakable acid stench of centipede to his nostrils. He staggered backward toward the hatch, retching as he went. Once inside, he slept on his polaser for the remainder of the night.
In the morning, he lifted the hatch carefully and found nothing amiss. The only relic of the previous night was smoke rising from spent embers like a cobra from a magicians whicker basket. He climbed down the hill for a look around, and could still smell centipede, mixed in with the strong coffee Raskins was brewing topside. Then he stumbled and nearly fell over a large cracked mandible. When he stooped to pick it up, he found more of them, indicating a large number of the giant bugs had recently been there.
He went back up the hill and refilled the bamboo tiki torches.
Whats that? asked the detective, passing a cup of coffee.
Its a map Justin answered.
Do you really think well be here long enough to need a map? Raskins asked sadly.
Its a map of the stars, John. Lets just say its as if were Magellan and this is our ticket home.
Why does this place smell so bad? asked Raskins. It wasnt like that yesterday.
Youre right, it wasnt answered Thyme. I believe weve got a fan club out there.
Are we in danger? asked the detective.
Every minute smiled Justin. But it should be alright; I filled the tiki torches again.
So thats where the smell is coming from? asked Raskins.
Nope said Justin. I think its coming from more centipedes, hanging around at night.
What makes you say that? asked Raskins.
Those said Justin, pointing to a pile of large mandibles.
Chapter Forty Six, Tornados of Fire
A dozen members of Alternity Group sat lashed to their chairs, ready to energize the Chrona. The General’s soldiers stood behind the permaglass, while their Lieutenant sat unfazed in his chair. His demeanor changed instantly when the first pulse of star power zapped the Chrona violently to life.
Special Agent Jefferson Fulton, newly graduated, stood gamely before the Portals gaping maw feeling both frightened and determined.
Nobody lives forever! he shouted into the roaring din, comforting himself with the now famous words of Justin Thyme. He looked back at Colonel Jaspers, gave him the two fingered salute of a scout, and stepped off Chronopolis.
The universe revolved around him as he lay prone on the cobalt blue floor of the portal chamber. He repeated his orders over and over, lest he be overcome with trepidation.
Hit the ground running. Left at the church yard. Benjamin Binder and a woman named Maria. Four blocks to an apartment over the alley. Check oscillator. Bathtub.
From the point of view of those in the lab, he then disappeared into a tornado of fire.
Good God! exclaimed Baxter, clutching the arms of his chair.
Worth the admission? asked Senator Stilwell.
Whered he go? asked the Lieutenant.
Need to know basis only, Lieutenant answered Stilwell.
The rest of the men raced around the lab preparing another launch, leaving the Chrona energized for the two minutes in between. A slender figure in a protective travel suit emerged from the staging area. She was flanked by two attendants poring over every inch of the suit. They stopped only when she began climbing the steps to the Chrona.
As Infinity Stairs turned to see Colonel Jaspers nodding his head in approval, she snapped a scout salute of her own. By now, the group was again seated, strapped down and donning their glasses. Every occupant of the lab flashed her two thumbs up as she stepped into the portal. She checked her oscillator, which was still gaining time. That would reverse itself in about thirty seconds.
A second star surge pulsed from the surface of Chronopolis, burying itself into the hardware of the Chrona and all lights and meters dimmed to dark. This was her very first mission after graduation and yet she felt like a falcon in a tailwind. The world spun around her as she made a last second check of her polasers.
She stole one brief glance at her own reflection in the permaglass, and smiled beneath her helmet. She had been a pretty good long jumper in high school, better in college. But now she was about to make her biggest jump of all; five hundred thirty years into the past. She hoped Cortés was ready for her, but she doubted it!
Five seconds later, she too disappeared into a fiery whirlwind.
Chapter Forty Seven, Attack of the Centipedes
There! exclaimed Justin, slapping down a pencil. The chart is complete.
Whats that mean? asked Detective Raskins.
It means, said Thyme, that were one step closer to leaving this bug-infested quagmire.
Oh, so were gonna ride a star out of here? asked the policeman sarcastically.
Justins eyes flashed. He grabbed Raskins by the collar, drawing the smaller man close. Look, meter maid, Im doing the best I can to get us out of a mess you got us into. Now suppose you tell me, what did you do the last time you found yourself trapped in a time zone a hundred million years before you were born?
The Detective hauled back and delivered a right cross to Justins face. But the punch that had taken out many criminals on the streets of Chronopolis had little effect on Justin Thyme.
Justin let the man go, and said, Im sorry John. Im doing the best I can.
Detective Raskins tugged his shirt back into shape, then turned and kicked the coffee pot out of camp and off the hill.
By dusk, they were laughing about the incident and making good fun of themselves. But the fun was short lived, as noises from the bog made it hard to ignore their immediate predicament. Neither man had remembered to gather firewood during daylight, and only a log or two now remained. Justin thought of going out for some, but the darkness made it too risky.
For now, the fire burned brightly enough, and the stars shone beautifully against a violet sky. Justin pointed out the stars and constellations and their corresponding features on the chart. You see Orions belt there? said Justin, pointing skyward.
If you say so answered Raskins.
Well, in 2067, we know it will be over there. So, for a revolution like that, it would place us at the very beginning of the Triassic Period of the Mesozoic era- the beginning of the age of dinosaurs explained Justin.
So, where is T-Rex? asked the detective.
Hes not going to be born for a hundred million years yet said Justin. Be happy with your Dragonflies.
And Centipedes? asked Raskins.
And your Centipedes answered Thyme.
Huh, scoffed Raskins. More like the age of bugs.
A loud noise from out in the bog startled them both, and they decided it was time to retire for the night. Neither of them relished the thought of coming back out later on, so they threw both logs on the fire, relieved themselves, and headed inside.
Against the background music of a crackling fire from topside, Raskins talked fondly of his wife and children back in Chronopolis. Justin lay on his back, smiling. He had no family, which was one of the reasons he was chosen for the job of special agent. He found himself living vicariously through the detective and enjoyed it thoroughly.
As they drifted off to sleep, the crackling of the fire grew quiet and the acrid smell of centipedes grew strong. Several hours later, when the last glowing ember flickered out, a host of Centipedes began clambering up the hill.
Chapter Forty Eight, Worshipping Infinity
Infinity stood alone with her thoughts in the Chrona portal, as its mechanical whine rose in a crescendo of sound. Her world began to spin, and she watched the universe come passing around again and again. Unlike the rest, it was her nature to remain cool, observant, and analytical no matter what the situation.
She watched the world flash on and off, days and nights flickering like a strobe light gone mad. Stars rushed in from distant galaxies as the bottom dropped out of space. Infinity craned her neck to watch the images of eternity careening around an axis.
Locking her eyes onto a random image, she focused just long enough to send snapshots to her brain. She saw her mother smiling down at her, wearing outlandish garb. She saw the unfinished Pyramid of Cheops, and a hundred thousand Egyptian slaves being guided by a few gray-skinned giants.
Then, along with the image of an enormous long-necked reptile munching on ferns, she heard a faint beeping in the background of the whirling kaleidoscope. Instinctively, she pressed the record button on the pocket of her suit for later analysis.
The strobe effect slowed until only daylight remained. She felt herself being pitched forward, and stretched her hands out before her. She landed face down, fingers deep in the warm sand of a tropical beach.
All was quiet, except the mild lapping of waves and seagulls laughing at the absurdity of it all. Infinity rose to her feet, brushed herself off, and checked her oscillator. She had forty eight hours to stop Cortés and save mesoamerica.
She retreated from the wet sand, and found a cubby hole among the large rock formations one hundred yards inland. She climbed in, set up a rude camp and collected enough driftwood for a bonfire. In two hours, she was roasting shellfish and lobster on heated rocks. She slept some distance from the fire inside the hollowed out boulder, beneath a gorgeous red sunset on a deserted beach.
Later that night, she was awakened by silence when the crickets abruptly ended their symphony. She lay motionless on her back, and unfastened the Velcro straps to her polasers. She remained perfectly still until hearing footfalls from the direction of the fire.
She strapped on her goggles, switched them to infrared and peeked over the lip of her stone nest. The beach was crawling with indigenous people. The agent had to make a statement. Until she did so, she would be in danger.
Staying crouched inside the stone, she called out Hello- I am Infinity Stairs!
Since she didnt know the language, nor they hers, it was as good a statement as any. The sound of a woman speaking an unfamiliar language in the darkness caused the natives to rattle their weapons, preparing to meet the challenge.
Infinity Stairs, Im here to help you! she called out.
The natives fell silent, and it wasnt a good sign. They would remain a danger to her, and the mission, until they feared her.
Infin- she was cut off by the whoosh of an arrow that split the air an inch above her auburn tresses. She drew both her weapons, pointed them into the air and let them pulse. Two bolts of lightning streaked skyward and illuminated the area for miles. Infinity stood with both hands in the air, screamed Infinity Stairs! and fired the polasers again.
Some natives fell on the sand. Some bowed deeply. All dropped their weapons.
It was quite understandable, considering yesterday she had done the same thing to the Chronopolis Corps. Infinity! she shouted again.
She was their God.
Chapter Forty Nine, Sweet Dreams
Senator, we have a stairway to heaven Colonel Jaspars announced in code. Oscillator reading thirty five and dropping, and first contact has been established. We are reporting weapons fired, sir.
The group gathered around the laboratorys floor chart to study the lights. They indicated that Infinity had successfully jumped over five hundred years into the past and was in position to resist the historic landing of Cortés at La Paz
Senator Stilwell congratulated the lab crew and reminded them there was no time to celebrate. Agent Stairs is well capable of handling the La Paz mission as it develops. Our focus is now on locating the Commodore he announced to no one in particular.
Morgan, if I may say began Lieutenant Baxter.
You may not! barked the senator, pointing a finger toward he and his small squad. Keep quiet, and out of the way!
Franz Graber stood watching from behind the permaglass in the main room, his hands and feet chained together. Colonel Jaspars! he shouted. Colonel Jaspers!
The senator ordered his security detail to silence the man. The head of that detail was Agent Robert Terco, who greatly resented what Graber had caused. He pushed the scientist into a chair and waved a menacing fist in his face.
Now the Professors voice came over the intercom. Senator Stilwell, your presence is requested in the office.
Keep him quiet! shouted the senator, pointing at Franz Graber. Turk, if he gives you any trouble at all, sedate him. He turned and left the room.
Tell them to check the incoming data, its just routine police work Graber yelled after him.
Remember when they caught- what are you doing? he yelled, changing in mid sentence when he saw Terco preparing a sedative.
What is that for? You wouldnt dare! Graber shouted.
Oh really? asked Terco.
Senator Stilwell burst through the office door, walking past as his secretary said The professor is waiting for you.
What is it Professor?” asked Stilwell, “and why have you been A.W.O.L. while everyone else is..
Morgan, charming as ever” said the professor, as an audio file wafted through the office. “Sit down a minute and listen to this.”
What am I supposed to be hearing, Professor? It sounds like garble. Do you mean the beeping in the background?” asked Stilwell.
“Exactly” answered the professor.
“Satellite interference? White noise? Space junk bounce-back? the senator postulated.
Thats what I thought at first, but the lab crew was able to rule them all out, one by one answered the professor.
What do you make of it? asked the senator. Could it be important?
Only two people might know that for sure, one of whom has been blasted through the space-time fabric to God knows where replied the professor. And the other is
Franz Graber they said in unison.
Oh shit! exclaimed the senator, slapping at his chronophone.
Colonel Jaspers called the senator, as his likeness popped up in the laboratory.
Go ahead senator Japsars answered over a ruckus in the background.
No! No! Im lodging a formal protest you son of a bitch! You’re sedating me against my will! I need to speak with the professor! shouted Graber.
Agent Terco held the scientist immobile as Nikki Night Bird injected him with enough qui-a-tone to knock out a horse.
Colonel, have security escort Mr. Graber upstairs to my office immediately ordered the senator.
Colonel Jaspars watched as Graber slumped to the floor drooling, and said Hell have to meet you in the infirmary wing, sir.
Chapter Fifty, Rude Awakening
Justin was awakened by the smell of smoke and the sound of clattering bamboo. He immediately knew the fire had gone out, and assumed the worst.
Raskins! he whispered. Get up!
As the detective rose from his slumber, it sounded like a dance party outside, without the music. They stood together watching as the hatch was assaulted, sand dropping to the floor with each hit. Justin checked his polasers, set them on full pulse and waited for the inevitable. The detective drew his service revolver and nodded to Justin, who shook his head with a condescending smirk.
But it suddenly ended as quickly as it had begun, and all fell quiet once again. Justin thought it was too quiet. He pointed to his ears, causing Detective Raskins to ask What?
Justin looked at him and mouthed the words, Too quiet– no crickets.
Now Raskins understood. You think theyre smart enough to-
No I dont the agent interrupted.
Justin grabbed the long walking pole they used to prop open the bamboo hatch on hot afternoons, lifted the cap, and waited. Nothing happened. The detective positioned a short bamboo ladder and climbed it while Justin covered him. He came tripping back down with a look of fright on his face and said Theyre here!
What are they doing? asked Justin.
I dont know answered Raskins. Theyre just standing there!
Justin considered handing the detective a polaser for a second, but only for a second. Then he reconsidered. He would rather die at the hands of a monster than be incinerated by friendly fire. Thats just not the way a special agent goes out, if he can help it. Justin climbed the ladder and peeked under the hatch. Outside, an enormous centipede stood completely upright, like a bear on its hind legs. It seemed to be leaning against one of the bamboo tiki torches. Looking around, he saw the same thing all around the campsite! Every tiki torch held up a centipede doing what looked to be a slow dance at an Andrews Sisters USO party. Justin climbed back into the shelter and said Get your gear- fast!
Were not going out there! said Raskins. Are we?
Theyre indisposed, it looks like said the agent. Must be the juice.
The juice? asked Raskins. The repellent?
Im guessing the one we ate was a female and these are males, attracted by her juice in the torches said Thyme. Lets get out of here while theyre busy!
With Justin leading, they walked gingerly by the mesmerized creatures, who seemed to be holding the torches in a mating embrace. These were huge specimens, much larger than the ten-footer they had killed a week ago. With no other centipedes in sight, Justin figured these were males who had won the right to mate, and driven the others off.
So theyre mating? asked Detective Raskins.
Yes- keep moving! answered Thyme, Unless you like the idea of being raped by a giant centipede.
Where are we going? asked the detective.
Away from here answered Thyme.
They were a quarter mile away when they realized the centipedes were awake and coming after them.
Move it! shouted Thyme.
Oh my God! Raskins cried. What are we gonna do?
See that tree? asked Justin. That tall one?
Were gonna climb it? asked the detective.
Well, Im going to climb it, you can stay down here if you like answered Thyme.
But Ill get killed! said Raskins.
Or worse Justin answered.
Chapter Fifty One, the Girl Named Zabana
Infinity hadnt slept so well in ages, and awoke barely remembering the events of the previous evening. She lay in a hut on beautiful blankets, expertly weaved with native patterns still indicative of pre-contact Mesoamerican culture.
Weaved baskets filled with sea shells, foodstuffs and beads of all colors surrounded her bedding, and brightly feathered dolls adorned the walls of woven sweetgrass.
She emerged from the doorway into the glorious Caribbean morning to find herself surrounded by thousands of onlookers, all kneeling. She waded out into the sea of golden-skinned humanity, reaching down to touch the heads of small children and the elderly.
Please rise, my friends, and go on about your business Infinity said to no avail. She reentered the grass hut and slapped open her chronophone. The holographic likeness of Colonel Jaspars appeared atop her wrist, something she spared the natives from seeing.
Agent Stairs, please report! said Jaspars.
That would be Queen Stairs now, Colonel! she laughed.
Yes, we were pretty much expecting that would happen. Are you tempted to stay on? he asked.
It would be tempting indeed if I didnt know the hammer was about to come down on these poor people- the sky alone is worth the trip. Ive never seen anything so radiant! she exclaimed.
Agent Stairs, uh your majesty, I know you didnt contact us to talk about the weather said Jaspars.
No she replied. Drawing back the beads in the doorway, she saw that everyone had gone back to their daily tasks. She felt more comfortable not being at the center of everyones attention.
Im at a loss as to how to communicate with them. Charades is too cumbersome. Do I have a translation module? she asked.
Infinity, its been forty one years since first contact. Theres a good likelihood someone there speaks a little Spanish. Hows yours, seniorita? asked Jaspars.
Not good to! she laughed. Stairs out.
Infinity looked down at the many baskets of goods lying at her feet. She decided to continue eating MREs. It would take time to adjust to such radically new foods and she didnt want to chance the irregularity it would bring. Her system was shocked enough from the time jump.
OK everybody she said as she emerged from the hut once again.
They again dropped to their knees, listening as she inquired in her best spanish, Si habla espaniole?
Si came the squeak of a youthful girl.
“Venga a verme” said Infinity, Come see me.
The girl rose to her feet and trotted hurriedly up between the long lines of worshippers so as not to keep this powerful Goddess waiting. When she arrived, Infinity grabbed her by the wrist to keep her from again prostrating herself. “Como se llama usted?” asked Infinity.
I am called Zabana answered the young woman.
What a lovely girl you are Zabana, and what a lovely name said Infinity.
It means grasslands and meadow.
Zabana, where did you learn to speak the Spanish? asked Infinity.
From my mother said Zabana.
And where did she learn to speak Spanish? the agent continued.
From the men who came to our island she answered. They came in a giant canoe. We welcomed their arrival but they took many as slaves, including my mother. I was born a slave, but ran away the first time I was sent out alone on an errand. These people took me in.
What is the island of your mothers people? asked Infinity.
Ghuanahani. I am Taino she said.
Infinity knew the sad story of how Columbus landed on Ghuanahani, enslaved its peoples and renamed the island San Salvador. She hated killing, but this time it would be easy.
Well Zabana, you shall rest with me. Have your tribesmen bring us warm water for a bath and fruits to eat. Then we shall talk about tomorrow. And your revenge
Zabanas eyes flashed at the word. She bowed deeply to Infinity and ran off.
Chapter Fifty Two, Office Hours
Senator Stilwell and the professor watched as the infirmary doors swung wide open, and a patient was rolled through on a gurney. For a brief moment, they had a clear view all the way to the end of the corridor, but there was no sign of Franz Graber.
Here he is, sir came Agent Terco’s voice from behind them.
Thats Graber? asked the senator. What happened to him?
He gave us trouble, so we sedated him, like you told us to said Terco.
The professor leaned over the gurney, felt Grabers’ neck for a pulse and asked What did you use?
Qui-a-tone, one hundred ccs answered the agent.
The professor looked over at Senator Stilwell and said Hell be out till Christmas.
Sorry. I told him to shut up and he wouldnt listen said Terco.
“What did he say?” asked the professor.
He said to check incoming data.
And he was right, as usual; wed better have that beeping analyzed said Stilwell. Terco, you stay here and babysit. Nikki, you come with us.
Colonel Jaspars, please report to Senator Stilwells office, Colonel Jaspars to Senator Stilwells office please came the announcement over the intercom.
As the professor listened to the audio file from Infinitys last jump in the Chrona, a knock came on the office door. In walked Agent Night Bird who held the door for the senator, then stood at parade rest when he took a seat.
Code seven came a second announcement over the intercom as the men sat listening to the recorded beeps. Code seven. Nikki slowly and quietly drew her polaser and stood next to the doorway.
Suddenly, the door burst open and in came Colonel Jaspars with a soldier holding tightly to each arm. Nikki held her fire. Behind them came Lieutenant Baxter. Behind him came Nikki, holding a polaser to the back of his head.
John, what part of quiet and out of the way do you find it hard to understand? shouted the senator.
I demand to know whats going on, thats all answered Baxter.
Lieutenant, need I remind you that this is not a military operation and that you are only a guest of Alternity Corporation? Stilwell shouted.
It soon will be senator! yelled Baxter.
And as such, your invitation to visit here is subject to revocation should you fail to abide
Tell her to take that thing out of my face Morgan! said Lieutenant Baxter.
Ive got it! announced the professor, and all fell quiet. The Chrona opens a conduit during transport, thats it. Sound from any active operation may be conducted via an energized Chrona! That beeping must be the signal from the Commodores Time Indicator Beacon; Infinity had the presence of mind to record it during her trip back.
Back to where? asked Lieutenant Baxter.
Need to know basis only, remember that little agreement we had John? asked Senator Stilwell.
I want access to a phone said the Lieutenant.
Nikki looked at the senator, who shook his head no.
Am I a fucking prisoner? shouted Baxter.
The senator waved off Nikki and she sheathed her weapon.
Have a seat she ordered the soldiers. Lieutenant, please have a seat she asked politely. Colonel Jaspars brushed the wrinkles from his sleeves and sat down as well. They listened to the file for several hours, discussing the possibilities. It would be a good idea to record all Chrona missions, they agreed.
The secretarys voice came over the office intercom, saying Senator Stilwell, Mrs. Raskins is calling about her husband- shall I put her through?
Chapter Fifty Three, Two in a Tree Top
Justin Thyme ran toward the large cypress tree, his big frame gliding across interspersed patches of sand and moss with the grace of an antelope. At some distance behind, Detective Raskins continually stumbled over the uneven ground, looking over his shoulder to gauge how fast the centipedes were gaining on them. At fifty yards from the tree, he took a nasty tumble and went down with a cry.
Like a track runner, Justin was about to kick for the last yards to the tree and heard nothing but his own rhythmic gasping for air.
Raskins lay face down in the sand, his lungs burning and pain shooting from his rapidly swelling ankle.
Justin! he cried out.
Justin cast a backwards glance just as he reached the tree and saw the detective sprawled on the turf. He looked further back to the horizon and saw the cloud of dust from where several dozen centipedes bore down on them. He then looked high into the tree and saw a bright international orange survival pack, where he had also duct taped the Time Indicator Beacon transmitter.
He raced back to Raskins and helped him to his feet.
Save yourself said the detective.
And cost you a collar? smiled the agent. The hobbling trip to the base of the tree cost them precious seconds. Can you climb with that ankle? asked Justin.
Yeah answered the detective, who then screamed in pain the first time he tried.
Justin looked back and saw that the cloud was now much closer. Take off your belt ordered Justin, and the detective obliged. Justin wrapped it around his own shoulder and instructed Raskins to put an arm through the loop. Lock your hands! he shouted. With the detective on his back and no time to spare, Justin began the tortuous climb.
The centipedes sounded like crabs on cobblestone as they approached. The men were mercifully upwind, sparing them the acrid funk of the leggy bunch. Taking it one branch at a time, Justin soon had the detectives feet several yards off the ground. He kept his eyes on the top of the tree as Detective Raskins watched below. When the centipedes reached the spot where he had fallen, they stopped and sniffed the area, secreting white foam from their mandibles. Raskins shuddered.
The detective grimaced in pain as he was hauled up the tree like a marionette. Justin took no time to rest and soon had them up into the thinnest branches. When the centipedes reached the base of the large cypress, they circled around until all three dozen of them were interwoven like a greasy orange doily. They had trapped their prey and would be content to wait them out.
Justin removed the belt and sat the detective precariously out on a limb. The thinner the branch, the safer you are if they decide to climb up here he said. The detective nodded. Justin handed him a jug of water, then tied a second jug to a nearby branch. Dont drink that one Justin said, pointing to it. Again, Raskins nodded.
How long will they wait do you think? asked Raskins.
No telling answered Justin.
Whats the plan? asked Raskins.
To stay alive Justin said.
Then he pulled out a large bowie knife, opened the cap on the Time Indicator Beacon, and began striking it with the blade over and over.
Chapter Fifty Four, the Landing at La Paz
Within the hour, a wooden washtub sat in the grass hut, and a line of Infinitys disciples waited at the door, jugs of hot water in hand. Each native poured their jugs contents into the tub, bowed deeply to Infinity, then turned and left.
A shaman chanted and shook a turtle rattle as two elderly women sprinkled herbs and minerals on the water’s steaming surface. When the last water had been poured, the shaman left, turning one last time to sprinkle sacred cornmeal at Infinitys feet.
After the grass doorway was closed, Zabana kneeled before Infinity and held up an offering of colorful and fragrant flowers. Infinity smiled broadly, accepted the gift, and took Zabanas hand.
Levántese, she said, ‘get up’.
Zabana rose to her feet, but kept her eyes on the ground. Infinity placed a finger beneath her chin and raised the girls gaze to meet her own. She saw in those eyes a sorrow beyond her years, and little hope beyond her fears.
They dropped their garments, entered the tub together and sat one behind the other. Goddess or no, it was Infinity who tended to the girl, hoping to wash away some of the injustice and pain. Zabana held her raven tresses aloft with both hands as Infinity dripped the warm contents of a sponge on the back of her neck. Que tengas una noche tranquila Infinity said to her, have a peaceful night.
Word had spread far and wide that the heavens had seen fit to send forth an avenging Goddess. On their march south the following morning, Infinity led thousands of natives from many tribes, each with a reason to despise the invading Spaniards. By the time they reached La Paz, two ships had left Tehuantepec on a course for the southern tip of Baja, California. There, they intended to loot gold, and gather as many slaves as they could fit in the dank holds of their vessels.
Hernando Cortes had already begun construction of more ships and sent word of his exploits back to Spain. He sent his best men to La Paz and there was no reason to think they would have any difficulty.
Speaking through Zabana, Infinity instructed her minions to cut ten foot poles and carve sharp points on both ends of them. They were placed into the sand on angles about fifty yards off the beach. Sponges soaked in poison from the glands of brightly colored frogs were used to smear all the sharpened tips.
High on the cliffs above the beach, sand was dug out around large boulders, leaving them to wobble precariously, held only by small sticks. Hemp was run along the ground to where anxious natives sat ready to yank them loose.
Infinity stood with the archers a thousand feet above the harbor and was the first to see the sails appear at dawn.
Chapter Fifty Five, Code Seven
Colonel Jaspers waved his hand over a blue flashing light on the labs master control board, and brought the Chrona to a grinding halt. Steam drifted to an area between the gigantic machine and the first wall of permaglass, obscuring the view momentarily.
The laboratory team tore open their Velcro bonds, removed their safety glasses, and stood up to see inside the portal. An Alternity Alert team opened the hatches in the permaglass and extracted the unconscious body of Special Agent Fulton, back from his first mission. As soon as he was strapped to a gurney and wheeled to the infirmary wing, clean up efforts began in the Chronas receiving area.
It was easier this time. The agent had submerged himself in tap water rather than lake or ocean water; plankton and diatoms had a tendency to stink up the operation. Fulton’s survival suit was relatively intact. That was good news for the group because it contained the incoming data Franz Graber talked about before he fell asleep.
Just outside the laboratory, Lieutenant Baxter and his men had been held incommunicado between two hatchway doors during the operation. They caught a break when a messenger opened the hatch from the outside the split second the Chrona de-energized.
Grab im! yelled Baxter. The soldiers complied, subduing him quickly.
Orderly Fitch, Grade N, serial number one oh seven five two niner.. offered the messenger, giving his name, rank and serial number.
Shut up! ordered the Lieutenant, relieving him of his two-way.
Mayday Mayday, General Studemier can you read, Mayday Mayday, General Studemier can you read over? called Baxter.
Mayday Mayday, Gen-
General Studemier, Second Command, we copy. Identify yourself, over came the reply.
Back in the laboratory, with the cleanup nearly complete and the Chrona powered down, Senator Stilwell led a contingent up to the infirmary wing. When the hatch was opened, Lieutenant Baxter and his crew stood waiting like boy scouts. Stilwell ordered them to follow along and remain close.
Senator Stilwell? came the voice of a woman from a holograph on his wrist.
Stilwell here, go ahead he replied.
The lab crew just discovered a messenger bound and gagged in a utility closet off the main corridor. He says he was assaulted by the Lieutenant and his men, can you confirm?
The Senator looked Baxter in the eyes for a reaction and saw none.
At that moment, the stolen two-way scratched into operation from inside the Lieutenants pocket.
Stilwell answered, Confirmed. Stilwell out.
The Lieutenant grinned sheepishly as he and his men were handcuffed together and led away by a security team. Shit, exclaimed the senator. He slapped the chronophone closed and back open again. Security! he shouted.
Security here came the immediate reply.
There is reason to believe an attack on Alternity is imminent. Go to code seven, all perimeters.
Code seven all perimeters, aye sir, responded security, out.
Stilwell out said the senator, slapping the chronophone closed once again.
With urgency now, the core group of the Chrona operation made their way to the infirmary wing. By the time they reached the end of the corridor, emergency lights were spinning in every closet, room and hallway.
Chapter Fifty Six, Take a Picture
At the top of the tall tree, Raskins tried to ignore his throbbing ankle while using his legs to hold on like a rope climber in gym class. His hands held the star chart for the Commodore, who worked feverishly at translating his heavenly observations into Morse code with the bowie knife.
Will anyone ever hear that? asked the detective.
Not for a hundred million years answered Thyme.
Detective Raskins could only shake his head at the steadfastness of this man, who continually laughed in the face of danger. He decided that if he ever did make it back to Chronopolis, he would return a different man. After all, what were a few graffiti artists and car thieves when youd stared into the foaming mandibles of a twenty foot centipede? He laughed at the thought, becoming a bit like Thyme himself.
Sixty feet below, the centipedes began to stir, having picked up the scent of lizard-like creatures approaching from the direction of the bog.
Early Triassic alright said Justin.
You recognize them? asked the detective.
Archosaurs said Justin. Dinosaurs will come next.
Detective Raskins began to panic. Perhaps he wasnt going to be much different after all. The thought of dinosaurs was even worse than the giant bugs now below him. Dinosaurs? How do you know dinosaurs are coming next? From where? asked Raskins.
Justin smiled as he hammered out code, striking the Time Indicator Beacon again and again. John, Archosaurs were to dinosaurs what apes are to human beings; one led to another. Dinosaurs will come next, but not for fifty million years or so- relax.
Raskins looked down at the centipedes and repeated, “Relax.”
The half dozen Archosaurs held their nostrils to the ground as they crested the low ridge. They had obviously been tracking the centipedes, the humans, or both, since the campsite and were here to eat. The smaller centipedes broke free of their formation and headed off into the surrounding grasslands, while the larger ones turned to fight.
Raising the front half of their bodies, the centipedes stood like bears to meet the attack. But in short order, most lay dead, dying or being devoured by the Archosaurs massive jaws. The one centipede large enough to reach the lowest limb of the tree began to climb.
Justin continued to look back and forth between the star chart and the Time Indicator Beacon, using his knife to tap out the current positions of the constellations in Morse code.
Detective Raskins looked down on the scene of feasting reptiles, gigantic flies and foul smelling liquid. Not far below him, impossibly big dragonflies buzzed around the head of the climbing centipede, causing it to hiss like a cobra.
One large red dragonfly, perhaps the same one from last week, continually tried to land on Justins back as he worked.
Throw me a gun shouted Raskins.
Justin reached into his pocket and tossed him a camera instead.
What do I do with this? asked Raskins.
Justin held out his arm, and to his delight, the dragonfly landed on it.
Take a picture he said.
Chapter Fifty Seven, the Sails of Cortes
These were the Pericues people. They and the land they inhabited on the southern end of Baja were cut of the same mold. The land was sparse, the people Spartan. Only cactus and scrub ever thrived in La Paz, and only a simple and modest people could ever live among them.
Unlike the tribes further north on the peninsula, the Pericues ancestors came from the islands, as did Zabanas people. The area had been inhabited in Neolithic times, but other than a few haunting cave etchings, those hunter-gatherers left no trace.
The Pericues themselves left no permanent structures or known descendents.
Like many Mesoamerican peoples, their demise came even before first contact, as the approaching Spaniards were preceded by their own windborne germs. In the new world, Spanish conquerors often came upon cultures only to find that ninety nine percent of their population had died just two weeks earlier, after having thrived for thousands of years. And none ever realized they themselves had rained down the suffrage, their own bodies carrying germs for which the natives had no defense.
No matter the germs; these invading hearts were black, here only to plunder, pillage and enslave. Infinity had already come upon much death and disease in La Paz, but was forbidden to introduce vaccinations by Alternity Group.
There was simply no way to estimate the magnitude of change that would result; AlternityCorp itself might blink suddenly out of existence. Killing the men of Cortes would have to be enough.
With an offshore breeze, the pox carried by the crews of these two wooden ships could be neutralized before it reached the shores of La Paz and this was Infinity’s plan.
She raised her hand, holding aloft a flaming torch visible for many miles. The ships entered the harbor soon thereafter. When they began lowering small boats, Infinity dropped the torch to the surf far below.
With the sails of Cortes silhouetted against a fiery backdrop of early morning sky, a hail of flaming arrows showered down from the heavens. It was difficult to distinguish one flame from another, as death rode poison sticks, bouncing boulders and an archers meteor shower down upon the hapless crews.
All at once these invaders, slayers and enslavers of men, turned their ships and fled. Muscled oarsman rowing from La Paz, whips cracking upon their tanned straining backs, returned to Tehuantepec alive, but forbidden to tell of a long-tressed goddess on a mountain who shot lightning from her fingertips.
Infinity ordered all bodies burned on a raft out in the harbor, and all weapons to be left in place for the next attack, which would come in twenty moons. The minions escorted their savior back to where they had found her, and at her command, filled the tub with water once more.
Alone inside the hut, Zabana cried in Infinitys embrace, stopping when she saw the goddess draw a large knife. Once again, she tried to fall to her knees, but was stopped by Infinity, who used the blade to lacerate both their delicate forearms.
No Zabana, you have already sacrificed enough said Infinity.
They held their arms together, letting their bloods mingle, as Infinity checked her wrist oscillator. She had forty five seconds. Zabana threw her arms around Infinitys neck and kissed her long and passionately. Infinity smiled, pointed to the door, and Zabana walked outside into the enormous crowd. Several seconds later, the entire hut went up in a flash of star energy.
Chapter Fifty Eight, the Cherubim
Shortly after the Lieutenant’s call, General Studemier himself arrived to reinforce the perimeters around Alternity Headquarters. Along with many tanks came flatbed trucks carrying Kennedy Class Missiles, ready to launch.
The general took up residence in the mobile field office and listened over and over to the cryptic call made by Lieutenant Baxter. It said he was being held with his men somewhere within the compound.
The general had a simple plan- surround the facility with enough firepower to turn it into a day-old campfire, and follow through if Senator Stilwell didnt comply with an order for his immediate and unconditional surrender.
The door to the mobile office opened and a guard shouted inside, General, its happening again.
The general stepped from the trailer and looked in the direction the guard was pointing. The sky began to glow and a sound could be heard like that of distant thunder. The general retreated back inside, and watched through an open trailer window as a line of large yellow fireballs, apparently from space, began striking a sphere at the top of a tall white pole. One by one, these fireballs followed a wire down into a hole and disappeared beneath the planets surface.
Good Jesus! exclaimed the general, as the ground shook violently beneath him.
Deep inside the facility, Colonel Jaspars and an Alternity Alert team worked beneath whirring yellow security lights to extract the limp body of Special Agent Infinity Stairs from the Chronas receiving chamber.
Get her up to the infirmary immediately. I want her pocket data unloaded, analyzed and in a report on the senators desk in fifteen minutes! barked Jaspars.
Aye sir came the answer, as the team wheeled Infinity away on a gurney.
Up in the infirmary wing, Franz Graber and Special Agent Fulton, both now wide awake, sat up on their beds answering a nurses’ questions.
And what does this one say? she asked.
Beachwood four- wait a minute, thats your phone number! joked Fulton. If not, then how about your real number?
The nurse looked toward Senator Stilwell and said Get him out of here, hes fine. She threw the agent a ball of clothing and said, “Get dressed.”
To my office for debriefing in five minutes ordered the senator. “And welcome back, Photon.
Graber was now dressed and writing furiously on a clipboard. He looked up and said Senator, according to my calculations, any data from recordings made during Chrona transit should theoretically-
Yes Franz, good morning said the professor, handing him a bottle of water. Its no longer theoretical.
You were right, Franz the senator added. Lets get to my office.
On their way through the infirmary’s large double doors, they passed Infinity who was being wheeled in. Senator Stilwell noticed her pocket recorder had already been removed as they rolled her by. That was good; it meant they were already analyzing its data, and time was running out to find Justin.
Back on the perimeter, General Studemier had decided tanks and rockets were no longer enough. He sent a contingent of soldiers back to Chronopolis Military Weapons Station to retrieve a tactical nuclear weapon. He also brought in a construction crew who used bulldozers to carve a huge hole in the ground where the nuke would be set off if things didnt go well.
Within two hours, a nuclear explosive device known as a Cherubim was hoisted above the large crater and the image was beamed down to the senators office below.
As the men and women of Alternity Group arrived at Senator Stilwells office, General Studemiers voice came across every two-way in the facility.
Senator Stilwell and all employees of Alternity Corporation. This is General Robert Studemier of the United Military Forces of Chronopolis. You are hereby ordered to immediately cease any and all industrial scientific activity, release any military personnel being held as prisoners and open your facility to our weapons inspectors. If you do not comply within what we deem to be a reasonable time, the thermo-nuclear weapon you see on your screens will be detonated below ground, destroying your facility.
After watching it on the hallway monitors, the senator arrived at his office, where his secretary handed him a note as he walked by.
Mrs. Raskins called again” she said. “She says shes going to call the police.
Chapter Fifty Nine, Sleep Talking
Nikki stood face to face with Lieutenant Baxter, cold steel bars in between. With yellow warning lights spinning everywhere, she knew there was little time for conversation, but lingered a moment to face the man.
The lives of everyone in this facility, even yours- are all in danger because of you, lieutenant she said.
Cry me a river he spat back.
But all that pales, she continued unfazed, to the lives that would be in jeopardy if your people got hold of this technology and used it for military applications.
You people think you can run around doing whatever you like, with no oversight? asked Baxter. For all we know, youve already screwed up five billion years of planetary evolution. My question to your corporation is, whos insuring you? How will you mitigate the damage if Abe Lincoln never existed because somebody stepped on an ant in ancient Rome? Youre a bunch of hypocrites, thats what you are- at least we stand for something!
Stand for something? she asked. Stand for something? she asked again.
Thats right, we do he fired back.
Special Agent Nikki Night Bird looked up at the spinning lights, which were moving faster and faster. She walked away displaying the middle finger of her left hand, and said Stand on this.
Fuck you! he sneered.
When she reached the infirmary, it was empty, but for a skeleton crew and the sleeping Infinity Stairs. Nikki sat on the edge of her hospital bed and brushed back her curls, weeping.
Cmon girl, wake up- we need ya she whispered.
Nikkis chronophone sounded, and up popped a hologram of Senator Stilwell.
Nikki, whats your twenty? he asked.
The infirmary she answered.
Is she awake yet? he asked.
Shes just mumbling- probably starting to come out of it though she said.
Both of you in my office asap, youre on your way back out he ordered.
She hasnt even regained consciousness from her last vacation, Morgan! she snipped.
I need- we need her on this he said.
Infinity floated on an unknown sea, waiting at the surface for a friend far below. In the sky above her, she saw the faces of Indians, some smiling, others twisted with pain. They were calling out to her; Infinity! they said in far away voices, Infinity! Their calls grew closer and closer until she suddenly awoke.
Infinity sat straight up on the hospital bed and found herself looking into the eyes of her best friend.
Infinity! called Nikki, Infinity!
They embraced for a long while, Nikki stroking Infinitys hair and telling her everything was alright. It took ten minutes for Special Agent Stairs to be up, dressed and on her way to the senators office.
Howd it go? asked Nikki.
Like it was supposed to, pretty much Infinity answered.
Then why are you shaking your head? asked Nikki.
Infinity smiled. I dont know she said. Just- it was just half an hour ago-
Infinity looked Nikki in the eyes and finished, -and now theyre all…dead five hundred years.
You made a difference, Fin Nikki told her.
Yeah? Guess Ill have to look that up in the history books said Infinity.
As they walked briskly to the senators office downstairs, Nikki brought up Google-plex on her chronometer. The hologram popped up quickly, resplendent in the darkness of the corridor.
Google-plex search said a womans voice, accompanied in the background by a three-second musical composition.
Cortes landing at La Paz, fifteen thirty three Nikki spoke into her wrist.
The music played again, along with random computer beeps and buzzes, and the womans voice said: Two ships landed at La Paz on the southern tip of Baja. Twenty of his crew were killed by the local Indians, and the ships turned back. Cortes tried again in fifteen thirty five, but the settlements failed.
Nikki flipped the chronophone closed and looked over at Infinity, who was wiping away tears.
You were right said Infinity, her eyes suddenly bright. But what? she asked. What else?
Nikki looked up and asked, So whos Zabaña?
Infinity looked shocked.
You talked in your sleep Nikki said, as they stepped into the senators office.
Chapter Sixty, the Coming Storm
With picture playtime over, Justin resumed striking the Time Indicator Beacon with his large knife. In the distance, he heard the rumble of thunder from a storm somewhere out over the endless bogs. Detective Raskins stashed the camera into his clothing after taking a last photo, of the centipede below.
As the creature struggled with a cloud of red and blue dragonflies swirling around its head, it continued making progress in its climb toward the men.
Justin waited until the centipede was almost upon them before halting his work with the beacon. He reached over his shoulder, took a swig from the water jug and passed it over to Raskins. The detective was too nervous to swallow, and spit it out instead. It landed on the centipede’s head, causing its mandibles to snap like a mousetrap.
Justin reached behind his back for the second jug dangling below, this one full of centipede juice. Moving slowly, he lowered it by the huge bug and tied it off. Almost immediately, the creature turned to follow the invisible trail of scent it left behind.
At the bottom of the tree, several Archosaurs milled around, looking up at the centipede. After having watched them eat the others, it was obvious to Justin this last centipede wasnt going to leave the tree without some encouragement. Justin released the jug which splashed the back of an Archosaur with the come hither scent of a female centipede.
The bug let go its many-fingered grip on the bark of the cypress and allowed itself to fall onto the Archosaur. The giant lizard bucked like a wild Mustang, but was unable to shake its amorous rider. Soon, every Archosaur in the area turned on them in a prehistoric melee that ended with them both being torn to pieces.
Far above, the detective hooted in celebration while Justin quietly returned to his work as a short-wave ham operator. The celebration was short-lived, as the tree began to sway from a cold wind. Now much closer on the horizon, clouds of inky black were unleashing torrential monsoons out on the bog.
The detective closed one eye, held a finger in front of the other, and said Looks like its coming this way.
Justin looked up and nodded his head in agreement. The tree swayed again, more violently this time, and the wind began to whistle in their ears. Down below, the feast had ended and the animals were all gone. Only scuffle marks and stains in the sand remained to tell the tale of the days bloody events.
Theyre all gone said Detective Raskins.
So are the dragonflies noted Thyme. Its gonna be a bad storm.
Chapter Sixty One, Permission to Detonate
After seeing those fireballs, there was no doubt in General Studemiers mind that this facility was dangerous. Lieutenant Junior Grade Baxter had made the military equivalent of a 9-1-1 emergency call, and though not a high ranking officer, he was someone the General trusted.
Like all military men, the lieutenant himself knew his own life came second to the safety and security of Chronopolis. If he didnt find a way out soon, he risked being vaporized in a thermonuclear explosion. With the perimeter secured and the Cherubim in place, the General now only needed permission from the president to initiate the fail safe sequence.
The last thing the general liked to do before making a big decision was sit in a comfortable chair, smoke his pipe and give it a second thought. He had to hand it to the lieutenant; he knew good tobacco, and his chair couldnt have been more comfortable. It gave the General great pleasure to lean back, raise his legs and take a good long puff.
Again the door opened, and a guard reported that police were outside the gate.
Tell them this is a military matter answered the general.
General Studemier, sir, they say they are here to investigate the possible kidnapping of a Detective John Raskins, and they are requesting our cooperation to resolve the matter, sir said the guard.
John Raskins? asked the general. I know John from the hovercraft club- nice guy. Small place, Chronopolis, really he added. “Alright, tell them to send in a report and Ill have a look. But this mission is top secret and they don’t have the clearance. They’re endangering lives just by being here.
Aye sir the guard replied, as he ducked out of the trailer.
The general grabbed his two-way, and ordered the perimeter moved back four miles. He also ordered all residents within that radius to be evacuated immediately. Then he grabbed the red phone and pressed it to his ear.
Yes general? came the voice on the line.
Mr. President, I regret to inform you that I may need to exercise the nuclear option, and it may be necessary to implement a full-scale evacuation in the vicinity of the Alternity Corporation complex he said.
The president thought a while, and then asked, How long has it been since your last contact with Lieutenant Baxter, Richard?
He made an S.O.S. call from inside the facility four hours ago. It didnt sound good, Mr. President the general replied.
And what exactly are we dealing with? asked the president.
Unknown, sir, but their capability is enormous. In fact, it seems to know no bounds, Mr. President. Were talking giant bolts of ball lightning from space, that kind of thing the general answered, matter of factly.
Have you considered sending in our best agents for a rescue attempt? asked the president.
Mr. President, how do I put this- the people running interference for this corporation, they basically are our best agents; itd be a bloodbath. I suggest we simply nuke the facility from outside, and sustain a minimum amount of casualties- on our side, anyway said the general.
On the line was only silence.
Mr. President, I request permission to detonate the device said the general, while the choice is still our own.
Chapter Sixty Two, Violet Visions
Special Agents Infinity Stairs and Nikki Night Bird quietly entered the senators office, where the professor was about to play a recording compiled from the incoming data of all recent Chrona operations.
When all were seated at the long wooden table, the office fell dark and a hologram appeared above them. The professor waved his hand over a nearby control panel, and the shimmering bands of bending violet light began to rotate. It became obvious to those in the room that they were watching a dramatic depiction of an energized Chrona.
Special Agent Jefferson Fulton heard his own voice say Nobody lives forever on the accompanying recording. He remembered the moment well- it was the audio file of his first Chrona mission. He had chosen to use a phrase made famous by his hero Special Agent Justin Nicholas Thyme.
Franz Graber stood and pointed to several blurry images swirling on the walls of the office. What is the significance of those?” he asked the professor, and “Is it possible to bring them into better focus?
Patience, Mr. Graber answered the professor, as he worked diligently over the multi-colored lights of the console. He soon brought the images into sharp clarity.
Does anyone recognize anything? asked Senator Stilwell.
I do Fulton chimed in. That’s my dog, Masher! I had him when I was a boy living in the hills above Chronopolis!
And there’s the Eiffel Tower! added Infinity.
That one is a dinosaur, surrounded by volcanic activity said Graber.
The images continued to swirl around the room, in synch with the rotating hologram.
Theres not much by way of background audio on this one said the professor. The points of interest begin with Infinitys trip, and continue until her arrival back in the Chrona portal.
The audible points of interest mentioned by the professor began as soon as the Chrona became fully energized for Infinitys trip to La Paz. It was Graber who first shouted Morse code!
Infinity agreed. Its got to be Justin; hes telling us something.
The violet hologram turned slowly in the darkness, hovering several feet above the old oak table, The audio crackled against a backdrop of white noise. The walls were festooned with impossibly diverse and vivid images somehow collected by the Chrona from every walk of time and space. Climbing one wall was a snapshot of ancient Rome, while a group of Neanderthals hunted on another.
Throughout the scene of swirling images from forgotten eons, the white noise in the background was continuously chopped into careful, measured bits. Perhaps it was Justin sending Morse code, or maybe the group was seeing a pattern where none existed. When the last hologram flickered out of existence, the lights came back on and the audio automatically kicked into a repetitive loop.
Get me some blank paper requested Franz Graber.
The professor nodded and paper was made available by the secretary, who also set a bowl of pencils in the center of the table where the hologram had danced.
Its not making any sense said the professor. These words dont make sense as Morse code.
Yes, youre right Graber agreed. Justin, Justin, what are you telling us, Justin? he mumbed to himself as he scribbled feverishly.
Infinity slapped her hands down on the table and shouted, The professors right, the words dont make sense- because theyre not words. Try them as coordinates, instead.
Graber nodded as he began converting the dots and dashes into a map. But something still wasnt right. The maps too big he said. Its bigger than the Earth.
Infinity called for tape, and began taping the papers together into a template that soon covered the whole tabletop. Senator Stilwell puffed on his pipe, scratched his chin and looked toward the professor. What do you make of this? he asked.
The professor bit his lip and shook his head.
Nikki slapped Infinity on the arm, and looked around the room with a smile. This isnt a map she said. Its a chart of the heavens. Theres the big dipper she said, pointing.
The professor shook his head in disagreement. The big dipper is part of Ursa Major, which should be over there.
Yes professor, it should be in Ursa Major, if you were in modern times! exclaimed Franz Graber. But they aren’t in modern times. Justin is using the position of the constellations to tell us where he is!
The senator pumped his fist in the air and began barking orders; Nikki, Infinity, report to Colonel Jaspars for briefing, youre going out. He can energize as soon as the charts are computed- I want this as close as possible. Everybody to the lab, now!
Chapter Sixty Three, the Mighty Din
Justin searched his utility belt for a roll of zylex, another peripheral discovery by the Alternity Group made while conquering the space-time continuum. A thin, strong cord, zylex was made by positively charging the electrons of a cobalt wire, then braiding it with nylon cord. Electrons in the materials composing nylon are repelled by the positrons in cobalt. So much torque is created when the two are braided together that a zylex clothesline could support a battleship. Alternity scientists had created something akin to the web of a giant spider by utilizing the principles of antimatter.
Throw your hands around the trunk of the tree! Justin shouted over the wind.
What? answered Detective Raskins, unable to hear even his own words.
Never mind! said Justin, shaking his head.
A freezing horizontal rain had begun its ferocious assault. Justin leaned forward, grabbed the detective’s hands, and pulled him close to the tree. He covered his wrists with palm fronds to protect against the bite of zylex, then tied his hands together around the trunk.
What about you? Raskins croaked futilely into the gale.
Justin smiled, pointing to the top of the tree, where the Time Indicator Beacon still clung snugly to a wildly bending branch. Justin unraveled another length of zylex and threw one end into the wind. It bounced down to the sandy dunes below. Justin struck the beacon one last time, dots and dashes spelling out the positions of Ursa Major and the North Star, Polaris. Then, he used the other end to lash his knife to the top of the tree, with its blade pointing to the sky.
Far below, the rain had brought out large amphibians, probably ravenous after a long period of dry weather. Justin knew there would be no surviving a night on the ground. He climbed down to the detective, covered them both with an aluminized emergency blanket, and lashed himself to the tree as well.
There was nothing to do but ride out the storm. From the look of the black Triassic sky, the worst was upon them. Thunder boomed like a thousand-cannon salute and cloud bursts dropped enough water to create a new ocean.
How ya doin, buddy? Justin asked beneath the aluminum sheet.
Raskins smiled, his teeth chattering like an antique typewriter.
Justin unzipped a pocket hidden beneath his arm and produced a small flask of scotch whiskey.
Cheers he said, taking a healthy shot.
Cheers Raskins answered through his shivers. “Any left?”
Justin held the flask to the detectives purple lips until it was empty. They rested their foreheads on the tree and fell asleep amid the mighty din.
Chapter Sixty Four, the Presidential Chopper
General Studemier held the red phone to his ear, while the president went over the situation in his mind. On the one hand, it was wrong to use nukes, especially on corporations, which militaries were created to protect. On the other hand, there was an enormous advantage in being the first to strike.
Stand down, general said the president. Clear the area for my chopper. Well rendezvous in one hour; I want a look from the air first.
Yes sir answered the general, Studemier out.
The general again used the two-way, on the chance Alternity would make an effort to respond.
Senator Morgan Stilwell, this is General Studemier, do you copy? Morgan Stilwell, General Studemier, do you read, over?
This is Senator Stilwell. Wait one, said the senator. He silently motioned to the professor at the same time, whispering, Get ready.
Both men hated the military, and enjoyed playing mischief on them, even under these circumstances. The senator pressed the transmitter button and asked Are you still there, general?
Still here the general answered, rolling his eyes to several commanders now in the mobile office with him.
Listen carefully said the senator.
He pressed the transmitter button and turned the two-way toward the professor who held a powerful air horn. Laughter erupted throughout the laboratory as they gave the general a prolonged, ear-splitting blast. The general growled and threw his two-way into the wall, smashing it to pieces. He scowled at the commanders, daring them to laugh, and stormed out of the trailer.
In less than an hour, the presidential helicopter broke the horizon and was soon being guided to Earth by two soldiers who comprised the ground crew. The president exited the chopper, holding his hat with one hand and shaking the generals hand with the other. They disappeared into the mobile office, where the general geared up for the flight.
What happened there? asked the president, pointing to the remnants of the broken radio.
Practice answered General Studemier.
The general reached into the desk for another two-way, and called AlternityCorp again.
Senator Morgan Stilwell, this is General Studemier, do you read, over?
This is Senator Stillwell, go ahead came the crackly reply.
The general said. Please hold the line for the President.
In the lab, the professor gestured toward the two-way with the air horn. The senator waved him off and shook his head.
Mr. President he said, what a pleasure sir.
The president was in no mood for pleasantries.
You are holding members of Chron Ops illegally and against their will. What recourse do I have but to declare this a terrorist installation and bomb you back into the Stone Age? asked the president.
Youre too late, Mr. President. Detective Raskins of the Chronopolis Police Department beat you to it answered the senator.
The president looked at Studemier with furrowed brows, then said into the two-way, What the hell does that mean, Morgan?
Mr. President, what if I told you AlternityCorp was engaged in an unprecedented rescue mission with the lives of public safety officials in the balance?
Senator, Id be more apt to listen if you were to tell me face to face. We can make that happen in a few minutes. Otherwise, I must treat this facility as a threat, and that threat will be met with force.
Sounds to me like youre the one doing the threatening said Stillwell.
Youre out of time answered the president.
They left the trailer and boarded the chopper, returning salutes as they ducked beneath the whirling blades. When the president was strapped in, General Studemier barked to the pilot Lets take this thing up!
Chapter Sixty Five, Highway to Yesterday
The Alternity Group and staff raced to the lab, causing a logjam at the retina scanners. Senator Stilwell and the professor were in the last hallway, bringing up the rear when they passed the brig. Lieutenant Baxter lunged at them through the bars, but was unable to grab anyone.
Whats going on, Stilwell? he hollered.
The senator stopped for a moment to face the man.
General Studemier is outside with the cavalry, thats whats going on, Lieutenant he answered.
Tell him about the cherubim said the professor.
Lieutenant Baxters face grew suddenly pale. Theyre gonna nuke you? he asked, incredulously.
No, Lieutenant, theyre going to nuke us answered the senator.
Get us out of here Morgan! pleaded Baxter. Let us out for Christ sakes!
You cant be trusted, Bob, youve proven that said the senator.
The ability to play god doesnt belong in the hands of one man said the lieutenant.
Senator, we have to go! shouted the professor.
Youre right, said Stilwell to the lieutenant, It doesnt. It probably doesnt belong in the hands of man at all. But it sure doesnt belong in the hands of the military.
He turned away and continued down the hall, leaving the lieutenant screaming with rage. The hatch opened as they reached the lab and they entered into the chaotic scene inside. Several Alternity scientists stood in the darkness, reviewing the colored points of light on the clear floor chart.
Fill me in, colonel ordered Senator Stilwell.
Colonel Jaspars used a long wooden pointer to trace out the current configuration of the local group of galaxies. Leo One is here, and that one is Ursa Major said the colonel.
Whats this? asked the professor.
Thats the small magellanic cloud said Jaspars. And this is Polaris, the North Star. This is where it is in 2067. Now well play it all backwards, like a movie.
Send it back! he yelled to his technicians across the lab. In a whirl of golden lights, the chart of stars, solar systems and galaxies was set into motion.
It reminds me said Franz Graber, of a precision watch.
Speed it up shouted Colonel Jaspars, spinning his finger in the air like a cowboy. The galaxies moved faster and faster, making it suddenly easy to see the fluidity of the cosmos.
According to the computer model began Graber.
Which computer? the senator interrupted.
We used all of them he answered. According to the model, the Chrona trip by Agent Thyme moved backward through time at this speed he said, tapping an equation on the chalkboard that meant absolutely nothing to anyone else in the room. By now, the galaxies were just a blur and the constellations were no longer visible.
There was a commotion near the Chrona area. The lights had come on, revealing the two super agents in full regalia, preparing to be launched on the biggest search and rescue mission in world history. Technicians attended to Special Agent Nikki Night Bird until she entered the Chrona portal, where Infinity Stairs was already waiting. It was all in the hands of the scientists now, who stood around the floor chart watching it spin like a loaded roulette table.
Using the loudspeaker, the colonel ordered everyone to take their positions and strap in. Then Franz Graber shouted Thats it! Were locked onto the Triassic period of the Mesozoic era. Justins gone back two hundred million years, if you can believe that!
Infinity could believe it, and pumped her fist in the air. Nikki, on the other hand, felt her knees buckle when she heard it. Infinity put an arm around her and asked You in or you out?
Nikki shook it off and said Im in.
The stars began a familiar assault on the facility, their raucous pulses of fire riding the wire down into the heart of the machinery.
Everybody strapped in? shouted the colonel over the din. Safety glasses on? OK lets energize this toaster oven!
The two agents locked arms, the Chrona began to spin, and technology opened up a dangerous highway to yesterday.
Chapter Sixty Six, Signal Flares
Throughout the night, Justin slept with one eye open, watching the fireworks in the sky for any bolt of lightning that was unlike the others. Every so often, the wind calmed and the rain would tail off to a patter, allowing the men brief moments of slumber. Then Rumplestilskin would fire a perfect strike, smashing the heavenly pins and all hope for rest, to smithereens. During such a lull, Justin heard a distant crack, and immediately recognized it as a breach in the fabric of time.
Theyre here! he shouted, throwing the aluminum sheet off his head.
Detective Raskins didnt respond. He was exhausted enough to be sleeping in a tree during a Triassic rainstorm, and not lightning, thunder or Justin Thyme could wake him.
Justin opened his utility belt and produced a pair of night-vision goggles for a look at the ground. The amphibians were gone; Justin thought the lightning may have frightened them. He wondered if Triassic weather was always so intense.
He wasn’t sure if help had really arrived, but had to assume and so acted accordingly. He unsnapped a flare gun from his belt just as the patter of rain started up again. It became a torrential downpour seconds later. Wind squalls erupted like Vesuvius, and whipped the agent with his own rigging.
With his eyes closed and head down, Justin twisted off the tip of the flare and pointed it in the direction from which they had come. As the rain began to patter once again, he raised it in the air, and fired. The sparks woke the detective, who saw the flare and looked at Justin with hope in his eyes.
Theyre here Justin repeated.
Whos here? asked Raskins.
Infinity Stairs, I think answered Justin.
You think? asked the detective, wrinkling his nose.
The wind ripped through the aluminum sheet like a puma through fawn skin, as cold rain turned into sleet. Justin flailed his arm in the drenched darkness, trying desperately to get them both under the cover again. The temperature was dropping rapidly. Suddenly, Justin felt a tingling sensation on his neck and saw the detectives hair stand on end.
Get down! yelled Justin.
The men crouched down against the tree trunk as an enormous bolt of lightning exploded out of the darkness above, carving a wicked path through the air straight toward them. They felt their bodies vibrate with a static hum as the main bolt struck Justins bowie knife and followed the zylex wire to the ground far below.
Smoke rose from their charred eyebrows, but they were alive.
Look at that! Justin shouted.
Far across the bog, a signal flare climbed into the storm right about where the Chrona first spit them out.
Detective Raskins threw his head back and screamed into the rain, They found us!
Chapter Sixty Seven, Imminent Destruction
Colonel Jaspars unstrapped himself, jumped from his chair, and shouted, Theyre on the ground!
At the sound of a buzzer, numbers began running backward on the laboratory oscillator and emergency lights spun on the ceiling. Special Agents Stairs and Night Bird had one hour to complete their mission before they would be returned to the Chronas receiving portal.
With the exception of essential personnel and door guards, all employees of AlternityCorp had gathered around the floor chart, to watch a drama that had unfolded before the time of the dinosaurs. With an interface between eons, team members were now able to monitor Justins whereabouts as well as those of the recent arrivals.
Colonel Jaspars slapped open his chronophone and established voice contact.
Agent Thyme is one mile east of your present position at an elevation of one hundred feet he said.
Cant see much answered Infinity. She looked at a readout on her forearm and added Theres a fifty knot wind blowing ice at us.
The senator leaned over the colonels shoulder and said Infinity, this is Morgan. Stay low and head east when safe to do so. It will be light in twenty minutes.
Roger that she answered. Wait one- Nikki, did you see that? Nikki Night Bird could be heard chattering excitedly over the wind in the background.
Agent Stairs, report! shouted the colonel.
Flare! responded Infinity. Due east! Were on the move!
Proceed with caution, Agent Stairs. We have detected biological entities in your immediate vicinity the professor warned. At that, the agents unstrapped their polasers, fired a flare of their own, and headed into the maelstrom.
The colonel ordered the lights back on in the facility, and said Everybody listen up! He turned to his friend Morgan and said, Senator?
Senator Stilwell thanked the colonel and addressed the team members.
Destruction of this facility is imminent. Before I go any further, I want to thank all of you for your hard work and your loyalty to AlternityCorp. Now it is time for those of you with families to turn in your access cards and report to my office for debriefing.
A dozen of the staff removed their white smocks, tearfully hugged the rest goodbye, and left single file through the laboratory hatchway. Once in the office, they changed into civilian clothes, got paid, and were sent to a secret underground transit facility to await evacuation.
Back in the lab, the senator now continued.
The destruction of this facility may be imminent, but ours doesnt have to be. Colonel Jaspars is handing out a list of everything we will need to complete the mission of AlternityCorp. That is, to secure a better future by creating a different past. We have one hour to gather all of the items listed, place them in front of the portal and report to the Chrona in full survival gear. Are there any questions?
The lab was silent.
The senator said simply,Godspeed.
Chapter Sixty Eight, Shock Waves
Since his first ride in a plane, it had always impressed General Studemier how the world shrank during takeoff. Roads, bridges and buildings that were life-size one minute, looked like toys the next. Even now, he found himself looking away for a moment, then turning back to see how small everything had gotten.
The presidents chopper lifted straight up from the lawn of AlternityCorp headquarters and began to circle around at three thousand feet.
Swing it around the general ordered the pilot.
The president sat up in his seat, taking in the whole property. The place is huge he said.
And dangerous replied the general, especially when they fire it up down there.
You mean the balls of fire you were telling me about?
That is correct Mr. President answered the general.
Tell me, general, whatever actions they may be engaged in, do you think the technology is something we can use, perhaps for military or security applications? asked the president.
You can be the judge of that, sir said Studemier. Im concerned they might be up to something that I dont understand, they cant control, and we cant undo.
The pilot maneuvered the helicopter in a wide circle, giving the brass a look at the facility from every possible angle.
I understand youve got friends down there” said the president.
Yes sir, Lieutenant Junior Grade Baxter and his men. Hes one of our very best, Mr. President the general answered.
And you think we should move ahead with neutralizing the site?
As the words left the presidents mouth, a sound like sizzling bacon again sliced through the air. The pilot took wild evasive action as the men watched a chain of fireballs enter the atmosphere, pass by at blinding speed and disappear into a large hole in the Earth. The pilot pulled up the helicopters nose and climbed toward safer air space. Behind them came the report of a sonic boom with shockwaves powerful enough to send the chopper spiraling toward the ground.
The experienced pilot wrestled the aircraft back into control, and headed away from the area, leaving the sound of grinding subterranean machinery behind them.
Well, Mr. President? asked the general.
How long will it take to start the evacuation? asked the president.
It started two hours ago answered the general.
Nuke em the president ordered.
Chapter Sixty Nine, the Rescue
Through a trick of geography, the wind and rain eased with the Triassic sunrise. Infinity had her eyes locked on a tall tree and marched toward it as Nikki guarded the rear with both polasers drawn. Long wispy clouds streaked the sky as the black thunderheads left the area. The agents walked through knee high muddy water, recoiling every time something moved beneath their feet.
There it is again said Infinity. At the top of that tree; its something shiny.
The sun reflected off Justins aluminized sheet, allowing Infinity to pinpoint his position. About halfway across the bog, they saw an Archosaur, and were amazed by its size. It was busy eating the carcass of a large insect, and paid no attention to the agents as they passed. They quickened their pace, putting some distance between themselves and the creature, lest they be next on its menu.
What is that horrible smell? asked Nikki.
Infinity held up a hand and said Listen! As they paused in silence, they heard the sound of a human voice in the distance. Infinity looked down at her wrist oscillator again and it read 0:14. Lets go! she said.
When they finally reached the tree, the stench was overpowering and animal parts were strewn everywhere. High in the branches, they saw Justin and the detective, both smiling broadly.
Cmon down! Nikki yelled up to them.
Negative, Agent Night Bird Justin called down. Get up here on the double! he added, pointing to a large pile of boulders.
They didnt need convincing. Nikki climbed first, followed by Infinity, who was now followed by a giant Triassic centipede. With the creature below them, the agents understood where the stench had come from and they retched as they climbed. Infinity checked her oscillator; it read 0:04.
Commodore Thyme, fancy meeting you here said Nikki as she ascended the tree.
Keep climbing! he responded.
Now more centipedes began to appear, crawling from beneath boulders around the site. The detective decided to play secret agent himself and grabbed the remaining cocoanut filled with centipede juice.
No! shouted Justin, but it was too late. Detective Raskins poured the contents from the tree, covering both the centipede and Infinity. Now, centipedes were gathering by the hundreds, and the largest among them began to climb.
Shit! yelled Infinity, What the hell is this stuff?
Agent Stairs, I need an oscillator readout ordered Justin.
She looked again at her wrist and answered, 0:01!
Son of a bitch! shouted Justin. Throw that thing away, John!
The detective threw the cocoanut as far as he could. It caused some of the centipedes to jump off the tree. They piled on top of it and each other- but most kept climbing. They quickly devoured the small centipede and continued up after Infinity.
Agents listen up! shouted Justin. Open your emergency fire sheets and cover Raskins!
Justin grabbed Infinity by the wrist and looked at her oscillator- they had fifteen seconds. Nikki produced an aluminized sheet with one hand and fired her polaser with the other. It killed the closest insect but he was instantly replaced by three more.
Five seconds! shouted Thyme. They huddled together beneath the aluminized sheets and let the clock run out. Powerful mandibles bit deeply into the heel of Infinitys boot, and they all disappeared in a fiery conflagration.
Chapter Seventy, Launch Sequence
Robert Terco was envious. His best friend Photon Fulton already wore a winged medal over his breast pocket that signified a complete mission. Terco had yet to perform a mission, but that was about to change. As he and Fulton walked through a corridor, they heard every agents dream; they were being paged to the senators office for a briefing, which could only mean one thing.
Agent Robert Terco, please report to the senators office crackled the loudspeaker, immediately followed by Agent Jefferson Fulton, please report to the senators office.
The excited agents soon burst through the office door, out of breath. The secretary never looked up from her work, and simply pointed to the back room. There they found Senator Stilwell clearing out his desk. He dropped some things into a shopping bag, and piled the rest on the floor.
Gentleman, theres no time to take a seat, so I wont ask you to do so he began. You are beginning your careers during a period of transition. This is the end of AlternityCorp headquarters, but not the Alternity Group. To put it simply, gentleman, we will be leaving.
The young agents looked at each other with raised eyebrows, then back to the senator.
Senator Stilwell glanced at his wrist oscillator and said The show starts in fifteen minutes, and you are the only two agents within two hundred million years.
About the same time, the president and General Studemier were a mile above, being shuttled out of the area by presidential chopper. One ordered a nuclear strike and the other a large-scale evacuation as they left.
Back in the laboratory, all remaining employees worked like ants, crossing items off their list as they were piled in front of the Chrona portal. Even a jeep and trailer now sat within the receiving area. When oscillators wound down to four minutes, Colonel Jaspars gave the order for everyone to stop working. They were soon dressed in protective gear, strapped into chairs, and ready for the Chrona to be energized.
When the agents left the senators office, Fulton escorted the senator to the lab, where they put on protective suits and strapped into their seats. Terco went in a different direction, moving as fast as his protective suit would allow. When the facility started to shake from bursts of Chrona energy, Terco grabbed a handrail and kept moving down the corridor.
Back at the lab, the gargantuan machinery came to a grinding halt, and the receiving portal spat a geyser of steam like hot breath from the mouth of a dragon. Team members unstrapped and left their seats even before the cloud of vapor dissipated, Some raced to administer first aid to the incoming agents while others frantically loaded supplies into the Chrona.
On a military base at the far end of Chronopolis, elite soldiers were undergoing rigid fail-safe procedures like they had done many times in the past. They were expecting to be called back at any moment, but that moment never came.
Insert secure key said one soldier.
Secure key inserted, sir answered two others, one at sea on an aircraft carrier, and the other at a desert facility twelve stories underground. The general and president listened intently on the helicopters red phone.
By your order, Mr. President came the final voice.
Begin launch sequence ordered the president.
Chapter Seventy One, the Escape
Agents lay sprawled and blackened on the floor of the Chronas receiving portal, as a team worked to salve their wounds and wrap their bodies in strips of gauze. Their suits still smoldered as electrolytes were intravenously administered for dehydration. Staff and corporate brass alike loaded supplies into the Chrona, arranging it in a large enough semi circle to accommodate thirty people in its center.
At a mobile console nearby, employees in headsets stood crying as they said their final goodbyes to friends and lovers. Inside the dormant Chrona, Agent Fulton strapped the unconscious detective to a gurney and said, Detective Raskins, youre going home.
Senator Stilwell stopped the gurney as it wheeled passed, leaned over the detective and pinned a winged clock to his chest above the breast pocket. Get him out of here he said, saluting as they left.
When Agent Terco reached the corridor leading to the brig, spinning lights on the ceiling made it look like a discotheque, but the cell itself was dark and quiet.
Lieutenant Baxter? called Terco.
At once, six pairs of hands grabbed the bars. Agent Terco slipped his all-access card through the lock, and the door popped open with an electric hum. Six desperate men stood mouths agape, as Fulton turned and began to run. Follow me! he yelled, We dont have a lot of time! They followed wordlessly.
Many miles away, a large red helicopter landed in a cloud of dust, beyond the minimum safe distance from the coming blast. Soldiers lined both sides of the tarmac as the president and his general made their way from the helio-pad to one of several bunkers. Sirens blared from atop tall poles, making it hard to hear the shrinking countdown. As they entered the bunker and descended its endless stairs, the sirens fell into background noise, allowing the countdown to ring out clearly.
T-minus one minute and forty seven came the robotic monotone. It droned on, T-minus one minute and forty six. When they reached the lowest level they took their positions in the war room.
Whats the status on the evacuation? asked the president.
Complete came the reply.
Very well said the president.
Back at Alternity Group Headquarters, Agent Terco ordered the Lieutenant and his men to stop at the landing above the secret transit facility. We wait here he said.
I thought you said there was no time? shouted the lieutenant, prompting Terco to point a polaser at him and repeat himself. In less than a minute, the door behind them banged open. It was Agent Fulton pushing the gurney.
Help me! he said.
The lieutenant looked at the charred figure on the gurney and asked Whos that?
John Raskins, Chronopolis Police Department Photon answered.
Raskins? asked the lieutenant incredulously. What the hell happened to him?
Hurt himself trying to make a collar; his timing was off answered Fulton.
About two hundred million years off Terco added.
Christ! said Baxter
They carried the gurney down the flight of stairs and through the double doors leading into the transit station. The shuttle cars sat full of people anxiously waiting to depart.
Thats your ticket out said Fulton. Good luck lieutenant. Take care of Justins friend, will you? Get him home to his wife.
They loaded Raskins aboard, took their seats, and Terco hit a large black button on the bulkhead, sending them on their way. The lieutenant turned back and saluted. The agents returned salute, and scrambled up the stairs.
As they raced through the corridors, the ground shook from pulses of star power. They reached the lab as Chrona began to rotate, and ran straight through the permaglass hatch the senator had ordered left open. The lab was filled with fire, set to burn the last notes, papers and manuals on time travel.
Hands from the spinning Chrona reached out to grab Fulton and pulled him inside. Right behind him, Agent Terco reached into his belt and pulled out a small thermonuclear bomb of his own. He twisted the cap, set it on two seconds, and tossed it out as he dove into the Chrona.
Detective Raskins lay in the sun, reading the morning paper as his young daughter sat on the edge of his chair, making it difficult to do.
Tell me again, daddy she begged.
Tell you what, baby? he asked.
About the centipedes and the dinosaurs! Please? I wanna hear more about the dinosaurs.
His wife joined them, carrying a tray of coffee and snacks and said Honey, leave your father alone, hes trying to rest.”
The girl reluctantly went inside. Mr. Kurchfield is here to see you dear said Mrs. Raskins.
Who? asked the detective.
The psychiatrist, dear- its Tuesday.
A handsome gray-haired gentleman entered the yard and sat in a chair facing the water.
How do you feel today, Mr. Raskins? he asked.
Just fine, thanks answered the detective.
So, no more dreams keeping you awake at night? asked the doctor.
Nope- not in a long time Raskins answered.
And what about your experience, do you still think it was real? asked Kurchfield.
You mean going back in time to see monsters? asked the detective. Nah.
Good said the doctor. I see no reason why you couldnt go back to work for the department at a desk, of course- as soon as your burns finish healing.
Thats good news, doc. Im looking forward to it said Raskins.
Alright then, Im closing the case and recommending that you be reinstated for desk work. In the meantime, get some more rest- doctors orders.
Thanks for coming doc, and thanks for everything said the detective.
Alone again, Detective Raskins thought back to his friend Justin Thyme; where he was, what he was working on, and whose future he was saving. He looked to see if anyone was watching, reached under the recliner and pulled out his pipe box.
Inside the tobacco pouch, he kept three small medals; one from General Studemier, one from the Police department- and one small, winged clock.
Then, he took out his watch and flipped open the top. Up popped a brilliant hologram, in vivid color. He snapped it shut and put it away- for now.
Nov 7th, 2010 – Jan 26th, 2011
editors note: I hope you enjoyed reading the adventures of Justin Thyme and all his friends! Comments can be sent to email@example.com