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Why Time Machines are scarce

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  • Why Time Machines are scarce

    The leader of the ground-dwelling apes paused and watched the strange device flicker in and out of existence, catching the sunlight then not catching it, so he had to screw his eyes up to see through the reflected glare. He was too surprised to panic; and besides, since he had led the escape from the terrible white buildings of torment a few moments ago, with a band of other apes like himself, and he was also feeling a little too cocky after the cunning he had displayed, to let a flickering thing, bother him. Besides, if he did let it bother him, there would be plenty of contestants for his leadership. You don’t get away with showing weakness when you’re the leader. Or at least, not for long.

    Finally the … thing … stabilized; but he had seen something. Something vitally important. How many times had other apes escaped, and then been dragged back – sometimes, with gashes from where the dogs had bitten deep … but if this thing … could spirit them away … there would be no dogs to drag them back …

    Yes, he could see it clearly now. And it had a door, which opened, and a nice soft light shone; nicer than the bright glaring lights of the white buildings which had been for him and his kind, a hell. Those who had not pleased the … the … the monsters … who ruled it, were killed.

    And someone came out of the strange … thing … one of the horrible parodies of apekind that had tormented him and his kind so constantly in the terrible white buildings.

    It would be right to take his device.

    Surely it was the same sort of device that had tortured apekind inside … surely he was part of that band, that hideous parody, those Others who killed randomly and demanded strange things …

    The being moved away, and stood by a tree, looking out towards the road where occasionally things whizzed past with the sound that still frightened him.

    He gestured towards the males who had accompanied him – they hurried back and dragged their females forward; thankfully they made no sound. The sufferings of that building taught silence very well.

    * * *

    Thomas Frank stood beside the oak, and felt around his pockets for a match – and his tobacco. No. Swearing off tobacco still felt strange, five years and a half an aeon, or at least half a billion years, since he had made that decision. Una Persson had challenged him to do it, instead of merely moaning about the cost of tobacco in eras when it was prohibited or absent altogether, and he had taken it up.

    Many of the others in the Guild of Temporal Adventurers laughed and said that he was bound to fail the challenge; he didn’t feel obliged to prove them right.

    But there were times when, waiting for Maurice Petersen from the Republic of Western Africa of three hundred years into this time-line’s future, he felt a smoke would be nice, just to take his mind off the various causes for nervousness he had felt creeping up on him.

    Not an avatar of the Eternal Champion, Balance be praised. Just a set of circumstances that had proved most efficacious in bringing an avatar to the surface – and nothing scared him more than that.

    A car pulled up on the shoulder of the road, and the driver got out. One of the law enforcement types, though he couldn’t tell at this moment if he was of the late United States, or the People’s Republic that had replaced it in one of the other time-lines he had been mixed up in recently. What the hell …

    “You want some smokes?”

    “Well, ah, no thanks. I mean thanks, but no thanks. I’m giving them up.”

    “Aren’t we all? Here, have a packet on me!” And the driver threw him a packet of Camels.

    He smiled in thanks, and caught the lighter that was also thrown his way. He pulled one out and light a cigarette, inhaled, and blew out a cloud. Then he threw the lighter back.

    “You’re not from these parts, are you?”

    ”No. Just taking a walk around here.”

    “You want to watch it. The local spooks say a group of apes in an experimental facility they’ve got running here, has escaped, and they’re dangerous. Mauled a group of guards at the facility, and one has just died in hospital. I can give you a ride back to town.”

    He shook his head. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m waiting for a friend, and he said he’d pick me up around here.”

    “Save you time and keep you out of danger. Hop in.”

    “Thanks for the offer, but no. My friend’ll go apeshit if he misses me one more time.”

    “Suit yourself, As long as I don’t find you in the news, on the front page.”

    The driver got back into his car and it shot off in a cloud of dust and exhaust.

    Now where in hell – or a close approximation of it - was Maurice Petersen?

    * * *

    The leader of the apes pulled the last reluctant member of his band into the thing, and shut the door. There were twelve of his type and three of another type, just like him, except taller and without as much hair … yes, he had counted them correctly.

    The thing shook for a few moments, then stopped. He tried the door. These things frightened him – male though he was, and leader, and the one who had worked out how to get out of the building and lead this band to freedom.

    Being stuck inside something that smelt so obviously of that monstrousparody of apekind, was enough to terrify anybody.

    Good. Sunlight.

    And trees. But these were strange trees. Not the sort anyone was familiar with, at all.

    But there were no noises of things racing back and forwards, no stench of the machines, nothing of the sort. He hollered and beckoned, and the band of apes flooded out after him.

    Freedom! But next, food!

    *** *** ***
    Last edited by In_Loos_Ptokai; 09-02-2011, 03:35 AM.
    sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

    Gold is the power of a man with a man
    And incense the power of man with God
    But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
    And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

    by Peter Cape

  • #2
    A glitch in time causes nine

    Thomas Frank felt suddenly hungry. Enormously hungry. As if he hadn’t eaten for a whole day! It had been, by his watch, half an hour since the law enforcement guy had offered him a lift into town and had given him the cigarettes – no, according to this packet, cigarillos. Cigarillos hacen cancer, read the back packet, cigarettes cause cancer, though he’d never seen anyone use hacer in quite that way before. He popped out another one and lit it from the still-glowing tip of the first.

    Hey, wait a mo there! Since when do cigarettes last half an hour?

    But that was what his watch said.

    When watch and cigarette disagree, go with the watch – though half an hour’s worth of cigarette is surely not contained in a finger-long and finger-thick cigarette.

    When was Maurice Petersen going to turn up? When, for Balance’s sake, when?

    * * *

    Morice recognized the bedraggled man standing alone under a poplar as his contact from the LTA. He was a little late in getting his car out of the city this time. If only that louse hadn’t run a red light and nearly killed him, if that other louse hadn’t cut him off prematurely, just before the roundabout, and then run straight into the big semi coming in off the side road … if only … if only … if only … but there was Mr Frank, smoking.

    He’d somehow expected that!

    He indicated, swung off the road, and drove onto the shoulder, stopping his Holden Super XJ just a foot or two short of him.

    Then opened the driver’s door and cursed as only a citizen of the Republic of West Africa from CE 2304 can do so, in fluent Hausa. He had thought he would find him under an oak. He had known he would find him under an oak. Everyone, from Ms Persson to Mr Frank himself, had agreed they would meet together under the big oak on that bend.

    And there wasn’t an oak in sight. Not so much as a sapling, let alone the good two hundred cubic feet of it he was expecting.

    He got out of his XJ swearing like a bloody trooper. His mother would not have been impressed with his language, nor would his father have been …

    * * *

    After half a day of freedom, and meeting some of the local denizens of this forest – hungry denizens what’s worse – the group of refugee apes clustered around the strange device.

    There were some trees handy, and they looked secure for the night. You can’t scare off a hungry beast by jumping up and down and screaming at it when you’re asleep, so better make it hard for the hungry beast to come near you in the first place.

    The leader screamed and hollered and beat some of the slower ones, and they found themselves up high in the trees, clinging on and whimpering with fear as the shadows grew longer.

    Something roared off somewhere in the distance. And something screamed.

    He picked up a branch that leaned awry, wrenched it off and stood facing his band, waving it.

    They shut up. They knew what he could do with a length of wood, and they were not inclined to learn anew.

    It was the leopard creeping up on him that didn’t know, and its screams of outrage as it fell out of the tree and broke its back, that made the whole forest fall silent.

    Then the wind rose and the rain fell, and he huddled up to one of the females and whimpered himself.

    * * *

    “You’ve taken your sweet time,” Thomas said, as Maurice got out of the car and came towards him.

    “What have you done with the oak?” His contact was not in a good temper, obviously.

    “Oak? I’ve been standing here, underneath it as we agreed ages ago, for at least half an hour.”

    “That’s not an oak.”

    He looked around him, then up, his eyes widening. His hand went up to his forehead, and then to the back of his head, pushing his hat off onto the ground. He scratched his head, and then looked at the ground, at the thin covering of long poplar leaves and grass.

    “Okay, what have I done wrong this time?” He looked at his cigarillo packet, El Alligator, and shrugged.

    * * *

    “I’m taking you to your old friend, the Rani,” Morice said. “If she can’t sort this mess out, I don’t know who can.”

    He glanced across at Mr Frank, and noticed with grim amusement, that his face had gone pale. He still remembered!

    “I suppose I have deserved it,” he said eventually, taking a deep breath.

    “You’ll eventually agree with her,” he said. "Though you’ve avoided saying anything more than ‘Namaste’ to her on the last few times the two of you have met each other. But she’s forgiven you, she’s told me.”
    Last edited by In_Loos_Ptokai; 09-02-2011, 03:32 AM.
    sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

    Gold is the power of a man with a man
    And incense the power of man with God
    But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
    And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

    by Peter Cape


    • #3
      The Grand Finale

      They arrived at the local headquarters somewhere deep in suburbia, a part of Atlanta decaying towards gentille poverty. The house was itself nothing much to look at, except that after a second look, he would’ve known the Rani had taken up court within.

      For every local flower, there was a tropical, from Mumbai, or thereabouts. And as well, there appeared to be more than the usual number of spices planted among them.

      The Rani was a practised amateur cook, meaning that he would’ve paid extra to have eaten her cooking in a five-star restaurant. He thought that he could always argue that putting his foot in his mouth had been an attempt to resist the attraction to her that he felt growing so disastrously fast – because there was no way his toes could taste as nice as her cooking …

      All in all, a wonderful friend for Una Persson to have rescued one wild wet monsoon afternoon from the suttee fires … and improbably skilled in finding solutions to intratemporal anomalies.

      A real pity he had put his foot in it!

      He sighed and got out of the car, closing the door quietly. Better not to take his embarrassment out on the metal.

      * * *

      The ape-men … what is there to say about the ape-men? They thrived. The land was good and bore a heavy crop of fruits and roots. The time machine was treated with as much respect as the rest of the jungle, except for the offerings of fruit and roots they periodically heaped about it.

      You reward friends, any one of them would’ve said, if he had been asked, and if that meant they considered the time machine a friend, so be it. They certainly did not regard the humans they saw and sometimes met, as friends.

      The ultimate site of horror, though, remained the big white building where they had suffered, made in their memories, and later their stories, in the rudimentary language that had served both them and their tormentors as their communication channel; even the pythons they often couldn’t escape, were not hated so much.

      The lions, they mobbed, if they could see them in time. The hyenas, they fought, with sticks and stones. The leopards, they avoided, and occasionally killed.

      And as the days turned into years, and the years into millennia, they still made offerings to the time machine, now severely dilapidated.

      * * *

      She looked up and smiled when he entered the room where she sat with Xiexie Jang Lao, busily tapping away on one of the antiquated mainframe terminals that littered the room like so many broken mirrors.

      She smiled, unconsciously, then semiconsciously, raising her hand to straighten her hair. She had been frowning before, deep in thought.

      “Namaste, Rani,” he said, jumping in headfirst to put his nerves in place, to get it over and done with.

      “Ah, but I’m not Rani now, now have I been for as long as you’ve known me. You’re just being polite, aren’t you?” She had noticed her hand, and was trying to frown, and he went red as a beetroot.

      “Well, yes, I mean, um, no,” he stammered. It seemed she hadn’t forgotten, or at least put out of her mind, that occasion many many moons ago, when they had sat talking after a difficult day working out some horrendous flow complications, and he had practised some very, very courtly Hindustani he had learnt one time while staying in Benares during the very early stages of the East India Company’s presence in India. At least, he thought they had been courtly; she had told him, bluntly, that just what he had asked from her, and … fortunately she had been more amused and complimented than offended. It hadn’t helped that he liked her quite a lot, and would’ve asked her in all earnestness, if he had been more comfortable with her in the first place, and … he could blame himself and everything else till the cows came home, it appeared. It didn’t work. He had to deal with her, and with this strange mischance, and who knows just what else.

      Xiexie laughed. “Always the Rani helps you put your foot in your mouth, does she not? You two should get married.”

      * * *

      The time machine’s repair mechanism was a highly complex and self-organizing nanobotic system. It was preprogrammed; occasionally things went skew-iffy, and the nanobots had to be flushed, but in general, they just worked.

      It must have happened during a lightning storm, but the artificers agreed that the rewiring performed on the time machine was thoroughly original. It added a dimension to the direction of travel, and that dimension breached the walls of the universe, crossing into some other universe, at a surprisingly minor cost in energy.

      It also fudged the time signature on the time machine, because …

      * * *

      “I’m worried about that time machine you were using,” Rani said, turning her dark eyes onto his. He desperately tried thinking of laying back and thinking of England.

      It didn’t work.

      “I left it as secure as I usually do,” he responded.

      “Well, take a lok at this signature it keeps sending,” she said, pointing out what appeared to be a vast spiral on one of the many terminals, alternatively swelling and shrinking. It would’ve made him feel queasy, except he had taken his sea-sickness pills earlier that day. Time travel can do that to the gut, and he had had enough of being made to swab the floor of every time machine he had had to use …

      Xiexie whistled. “The last time I saw that sort of signature from a time machine, the poor guy was stranded for a millenium in the Cretaceous. He had built up a nice butterfly collection by the time we caught up with him, though.”

      Maurice Petersen chose that moment to enter the room, his hands full of coffee cups and Sally Luns. He took one look and almost dropped them. Thomas grabbed the cups before they could fall, and managed to block the Sally Luns from falling with his wrist. ”Thanks,” Maurice said, with a smile.

      After setting them on one of the empty tables, he added, “I think you and I had better go back to that time machine of yours. It appears to be malfunctioning in a most … interesting … manner.”

      * * *

      The drive back to the … poplar … was quiet. Maurice drove, and Xiexie also sat in the front. Thomas was certain she meant what she said, about the two of them, Rani and him, getting married.

      Rani didn’t say much, just studied a hand-held terminal from some point just before the Armatuces took power on Earth, and ran a puzzled hand through her long black hair. Occasionally she frowned at him.

      The seat was uncomfortable, and the seatbelt too tight. That must’ve been it. What else could it have been?

      * * *

      They stood around, looking at the place where the time machine had stood. Rani was busy punching data and queries into the little terminal, and frowning. Finally she started swearing in the Gujarati courtly dialect she had grown up speaking; and he frowned at her.

      She had always given the impression of being too … courtly … for that sort of language. Evidently not. What had her father been, before she had married that aging raja? A navvy?

      “No cure for it,” she finally said. “I’ve dialled Una. She’s sending us another time machine, to track down and disable that one. This time, oh great courtly lover, “ and she glowered at him, “don’t leave it open. Himalaya only knows just who – or what – got into that one, or just when or where it is now.”

      * * *

      The ape-men were clustered around their ancient saviour of a device, pushing and shoving various tasty pieces onto it as offerings. That it didn’t eat them immediately was one small bug in the fruit; but you ate the fruit anyway.

      Nobody expected the second device to appear.

      And in that sort of event, people act in unplanned ways. Some run, shrieking, looking for some high tree to climb. Some hide behind bushes. Others – the more practical, the deeper thinkers – leaped into the device.

      There must have been at least thirty people in it, all squashed in, and shrieking in fear, themselves.

      And time machines, especially ones now as dilapidated as that one, behave very unpredictably in such circumstances.

      * * *

      Rani swore yet again, as the door opened, and the time machine became visible, standing in a cloud of smoke that wasn’t quite there. The shrieking heads of half a dozen apes could be seen on its top, where it had once had a roof.

      Then she stepped out, and he followed, and the dilapidated time machine disappeared.

      “Well,” she said finally, “at least the apes weren’t caused by you. I believe I can get the fines reduced, somewhat, but you’ll be restricted, until you’ve paid them off, and you’ll need to be retrained as well.”

      “And where will I get retrained?” he asked, bitterly, feeling the warm breeze from the jungle on his face. “I don’t think Una will want to see me again and …”

      “Guess,” said Xiexie, stepping out. She and Rani exchanged an amused glance.

      “No, wait!” He said. He could feel fate - of some sort - creeping up on him, smirking over his shoulder. “I’m not sure I follow you!?”

      * * *

      And the trajectory of the errant time machine? Who knows?

      But in the mythical suburb of Shepperton, a young man sits in his lounge with his head held between his hands, already feeling the wine and the LSD creeping up on him, and the world switching focus.

      His kids were asleep. He didn’t need to inflict this on them, and they didn’t need to know.

      His reveries are interrupted by a tall box of some description, strangely coloured and topped with shrieking apes, that appeared within the lounge. He frowns. “Shut up!” he shouts. And then it disappears.

      Nothing left except a faint, vaguely tropical smell ... nothing to indicate what had appeared in his lounge, nothing at all ...

      He would need to complain to his writer-musician friend about the quality of drugs he was using.

      * * *

      It is widely hypothesized that the time machine eventually came to rest on a particular planet in a galaxy far, far away, and the ape-men settled there and thrived, and in the fullness of time there was born Chewbacca the Blessed, the beloved spouse of Our Sweet Lord Jerry Cornelius.

      * * *

      Meanwhile, by the western shores of the African continent, some bands of ape-men wait for their Ardipithecine Lord Greystoke ...

      The END
      Last edited by In_Loos_Ptokai; 09-02-2011, 03:24 AM.
      sigpic Myself as Mephistopheles (Karen Koed's painting of me, 9 Nov 2008, U of Canterbury, CHCH, NZ)

      Gold is the power of a man with a man
      And incense the power of man with God
      But myrrh is the bitter taste of death
      And the sour-sweet smell of the upturned sod,

      by Peter Cape