This tale is a continuation of the adventure to find our missing Aunt Matilda. Read part one, where we search in Salem 1692 here.
With an electrical ZAP! I materialized in the Timelab at Cambridge University. The students operating my time machine exchanged a puzzled glance.
“How did you know I was coming back?” I asked.
It was the tech lead, Robyn, who answered. “The readouts show you’ve been gone for 0.03 seconds. It wasn’t really enough time for me to get a cup of tea.”
One of the students, Martin, asked, “Did you find her?”
I thought for a moment, reflecting on how my entire adventure to Salem had fit into an eyeblink. “No. And there was no evidence that she had ever been there.”
“No evidence?” Robyn asked. “If she didn’t end up there before the machine malfunctioned, she could be anywhere.”
“Anywhen,” I said. “And you’re right. But, I got a lead while I was in Salem. I have an idea of where I can look for her next.”
“Are you going to look for her again?” Martin asked.
“Of course I am. My Great Aunt Matilda is still missing, and I still intend to find her and bring her home.”
“Where and when should I set the controls for?”
“Right here. Cambridge University, 2696.”
The machine roared to life and I felt my hair start to lift. Then the sensation of falling through a dream and I winked out of my own time and fell into the future.
The room spun and settled as my mind caught up to where I was. I looked around for clues. If this was indeed Cambridge University, it had certainly undergone some budget cuts in the last half millenia. The walls were flat white painted over what looked like stone with texture lines running horizontally every few inches. The ceiling was higher than normal, and the whole space was lit in a flat overcast light that I couldn’t determine the source of.
The room was long and narrow with a dozen chairs similar to the one I was sitting in lining either wall. I was about to stand when a door at the far end opened, and a bored looking man in a light blue button-up uniform appeared and called my name. I followed him, feeling like I’d been summoned to the principal’s office.
He sat on the far side of a metal desk and opened a manila folder. He sighed and read my details as I confirmed the information. “Please state your intended destination.”
“Uhhm,” I looked around the stark room. “I’m sorry, I thought I was headed to Cambridge University. Is that not where I’ve landed?”
“You’re currently in the Principles Office,” he said.
I gave him a puzzled look, marveling at my intuition. “Are you the principal?”
“No. You’re not in the Principal’s Office, you’re in the Principles Office. Think of it as border customs for time travelers.” He sighed again. “Look, I can see here in your file that your origin is extremely early. Just tell me why you’re here.”
“I’ve come looking for my Aunt Matilda. Do you know where I can find her?”
“Do you know which timeline your Aunt Matilda was last seen on?”
“Which time…line?” I asked.
The man closed his eyes and nodded, taking a deep breath as if he were about to explain Calculus to a grade schooler. “When you travel in time, you can go back and forth, but time is a three dimensional matrix, so you can also go side to side.”
“Oh, you mean it’s a Multiverse?”
“No, it is not a… Err,” He flipped through a few pages in my file on the desk, using his finger to track what he was reading. “Yes. Yes, I do mean a Multiverse.”
“Which timeline am I on?”
“You are on timeline C-137.”
“How do I know which timeline I’m on?”
“Because I just told you which timeline you’re on.”
“No,” I said, “I mean, if I can slide across different timelines, how would I know which one I’ve landed in?”
“Well for starters, the machine that got you here is a time machine, plain and simple, there’s no way to get off the line you started on. That and you don’t have clearance to be able to shift with an authorized device.” He opened the top desk drawer and pulled out a flier and slid it across the table to me.
-=TIME TRAVELERS PUB CRAWL=-
“This will help more than I can. I’m just here to make sure no one gets in who doesn’t belong,” he said. “There’s one every Friday.”
“Great!” I said. “Uhh, which day is it today?”
The man offered a tight-lipped smile. “It’s Friday.”
The sign above the entrance to the bar read:
TIME TRAVELER’S PUB CRAWL
Special musical guest The Modal Nodes!
I walked in, ready for anything. The scene inside was straight out of sci-fi. I stood in awe at the myriad types of life before me. At the bar there was a group that resembled felines, standing well over 7’ tall, with orange fur and red robes. They were talking to a humanoid with blue skin, white hair and a pair of antennae protruding from her head, and an apparently normal human wearing a striped shirt and rainbow suspenders with an easy laugh.
“There’s one of us!” I heard a man say from beside me. “I can always tell by the bewildered look. Join us.” He shook my hand and led me to the far side of the room where a group of humans and humanoids were sitting at a booth. “I’m Professor Soloman,” he said, and introduced the others.
When they asked when I was from, my response caused quite a bit of excitement. “I’ve never met anyone from so near the Zero Point,” a traveler with green skin and bug-like features said.
“How does your time machine work?” asked one with a pointy bald head.
“Well, it’s quite simple,” I said. “Whenever I want to return, I just bite down hard on this false tooth I have. It uses a quantum entanglement signal and the machine where I’m from turns off, pulling me back to my own time.”
“O, that’s quite primitive indeed,” one with pointy ears and eyebrows said. “It would be more logical to wear a timesuit.”
“A timesuit?” I asked. “I’m just here looking for my Aunt Matilda.”
“Well, if you don’t see her in this bar, you might need a timesuit to find her.” Professor Solomon said.
“Where can I get one?” I asked.
“Nothing like that is sold here,” the pointy headed one said. “The nearest place I know is Gallifrey.” I gave a puzzled expression and everyone at the table laughed. “I made a time traveler joke,” he said flatly.
“Don’t tease them with science fiction notions,” said a woman with blonde hair in a sequined green outfit. “If you haven’t guessed from the bureaucratic treatment, time travelers aren’t too warmly welcomed here. In order to get a timesuit and find your missing aunt, you would need need to go somewhere a little more …foreign.”
“Foreign? You mean alien?”
“Ahem!” the green one said, “We’d prefer the term Offworld.”
“More offworld, then. Apologies,” I said.
He waved a hand to let me know it wasn’t a problem.
The woman in green continued, “go down to the spaceport. Look for a ship called Arcadia - dock 12-E. Tell them I sent you.”
The Arcadia was easy enough to find. A hulk of a ship with scorch marks and other scars all down the length of her hull. Near the nose was artwork of a bulbous veiny skull with the words “No masters but the stars” in white on black.
Standing on the gangway to the ship was a large bald man with an impressive set of sideburns and a beard. He watched me noticing the ship and said. “I see you’ve met Babbs.”
“She said you’d be going someplace offworld enough that I could get a timesuit.”
The man glanced down the docks. “I’m the captain of this vessel, but she’s not a passenger craft. Crew are expected to work their passage.”
“That suits me just fine. It’s the only currency I have.”
The Captain smiled and waved me inside. We made our way through narrow hallways, past rooms with Bonsai trees, to a galley where three others sat eating. “Found our fifth.” He pointed to a red haired man, “this is Hoban,” then to a very tall woman, “Naomi,” then to a woman with blonde hair, “and Sally.”
“Oooh, I love new crew! I’ll get us ready for launch.” Hoban said, standing up. “I hope you told them what happened to Dave. Captain? Captain, you did tell them about Dave…?”
“Don’t listen to him,” Naomi said. “As long as you can manage to clean out the old refrigerator, you’ll do just fine here.”
The Captain smiled again and I got the feeling he enjoyed making me uneasy with that smile. “Take the elevator to room 1138. That’ll be your quarters. Strap in for launch.”
“So, you’re a time traveler?” Naomi asked.
It was my second day in space, we were under thrust and she was getting bulbs of coffee for us both. “I sure am.”
“Have you ever been offworld before?” she asked.
“No. I never dreamed I’d be lucky enough to see the stars from out here.” I had spent all of my free time staring out windows at the shrinking Earth, then to the stars beyond. “It’s so peaceful out here.”
Naomi laughed. “Yeah, near Earth it’s pretty calm, but farther out, not so much.”
“How far out have you been?”
“I used to be a mech soldier, but I didn’t respect orders. That took all over the verse. I also served on a tunneling ship. We did blind punches building wormholes. That’s as far out as you can be.”
I chuckled and turned back to the window. “All of the sci-fi I love is real here. It makes me want to stay forever.”
“Fact is, it’s what you’d call a ‘multiverse’ - everything is real somewhere. But, it’s not just the glamorous parts of sci-fi. Space travel can be pretty treacherous.”
“The ship feels pretty stable to me.”
“Oh, it is… until someone is firing cannons or PDCs or hurling asteroids at it.”
“Does that happen to you often?”
Naomi thought for a moment. “Every culture has different rules. What makes you an upstanding citizen or hero in one star system makes you a villain and wanted criminal in another. We just try to keep a low profile.”
As if they had been listening to our conversation, the warning klaxons sounded and Naomi ran toward the bridge.
All five of us were gathered on the bridge where the Captain was reading coordinates and data from the ship’s sensors. “Single ship bearing down on us. No recorded flight path. Seems to have just popped into existence.”
On the monitors at the front of the bridge, the ship was approaching, large and spherical and light gray. “It sort of looks like a moon,” I said. In unison the crew looked at me. “What?” I asked.
“I’m hailing them now,” Naomi said.
The image of the ship was replaced by the image of a man in a fancy black trench coat with big blonde hair. The Captain groaned.
“Hey, man, is this thing on?” the man said, tapping the camera. “Oh, There we go! I can see y’all, can y’all see me?”
“We see you, Mr. President,” the Captain said.
“Good,” the President said with a smile and a wink. “We’ll make this quick then. You give me back what belongs to me, and I’ll refrain from launching all these missiles I’ve got pointed at you. Sound like a good deal?”
“That’s the President?” I asked.
“...Of the Galaxy, yeah,” Hoban said.
“And what do we have that he wants?” I asked.
“Just one of his heads,” Hoban said.
“I’m sorry, his… head?” I asked.
“Yeah. He had two. Now he has one and we have one.” Hoban said.
“Captain! Six additional ships just appeared, ” Naomi said. “Make that… sixty.”
“Belgium, man!” The President swore. “That big… spaceship gang caught up with us. This ain’t over, Arcadia!” The screen went dark.
“It’s the Armada, sir.” Naomi announced.
“They’re ordering us to power down our drives,” Naomi said.
Hoban leapt over a console into the pilot’s chair. “I’m guessing we’re not planning on doing that.” He flicked three switches and the ship rumbled.
“Good guess,” the Captain said. “What’s the nearest gate?”
“Looks like… Tannhauser, Cap,” Sally said.
On the screen, the image of two tall green aliens appeared. “Greetings!” said the one with red eyes in a cheery tone. “We have determined that your crew are guilty of the insidious offense of hoarding snacks.”
“Fire the lasers!” The one with purple eyes interrupted.
“Field Drive is hot, sir. Helm to 108,” Hoban said.
“Helm, 108!” The Captain echoed. “Hold onto your butts.”
The ship lurched and I was pushed back into my seat.
“Hey!” The red one on the screen said. “Hey! Where are you going? You can’t run from us!”
“Fire the lasers!” The purple one shouted again.
“If you don’t stop that, you will face the wrath of an army of a trillion soldiers!” shouted the red one.
The lasers started to fire.
The Arcadia was shuddering as it absorbed laser fire. I was digging my fingernails into the leather of my chair’s armrests.
“Bad news, sir,” Naomi said, “I’m detecting a lighthugger near the gate.”
“Which lighthugger?” The Captain asked.
The screen switched from the ranting green aliens to a woman with dark hair. “Ah, Captain,” she said in a thick accent, “funny running into you out here.”
The Captain sighed.
“Is there anyone we’re not wanted by?” I asked.
“Aside from our spouses, you mean?” Hoban said.
“They’re charging C-Beams,” Naomi announced.
“twenty seconds to the gate,” Sally said.
Through the port window, I could see the C-Beams glittering in the dark as they began to fire.
“Brace for impact!” Naomi said.
The ship rocked, throwing me from my seat. The room spun around me and the lights surged, then went out.
“Almost there!” Hoban shouted.
Another jolt went through the ship with the sound of metal tearing itself apart. I lost my nerve and bit down on the trigger that would pull me back into my own time. But, it didn’t feel like the smooth transition it did last time, and I was hurled through spacetime, unsure where I would land next.
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