Friday, November 26, 2010

Liar, Liar

David Kelly had never told a lie in his life... until he was nine years old. After that, he rarely told the truth.

He discovered that nearly everyone would believe his lies because they were so much more interesting than the truth. So, his father became an FBI agent, an airline pilot, a selectee for the space program who had to drop out because the President had asked.

He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in Vietnam... the Gulf War or Afghanistan. His father had been a hero in World War II, flying with Pappy Boyington, though his father hadn’t been born until after that war had ended.

In high school, the family moved, so Kelly thought up a whole new set of lies. In his old school he had been a star on the football team until he blew out his knee winning the state championship. He had been the editor of the school newspaper whose investigative journalism had gotten the principal fired for a fling with a well-endowed junior who had the IQ of a door knob.

He kept it up until his classmates realized that he would have had no time for studies unless there were thirty hours in a day and eight days a week. He couldn’t have done everything he claimed unless he was fifty years old and started when he was five. They realized that he was making it all up.

Not that it mattered to anyone. The stories were all told with a flair that suggested that Kelly believed them too and thought that everyone else should as well. They listened and smiled but didn’t believe a word he said. They did, however, vote him the most likely to succeed because they had watched the political commercials, watched as corporations ripped off everyone they could, and saw their heros peddling everything with all sorts of outrageous claims. Most thought Kelly would become a writer because he was very good at telling his stories.

None of that bothered Kelly. He dated frequently and told the girls the same stories he told everyone else. Some of them believed him, not because they were dumb but because they liked him. They wanted to believe a little of what he said. And he did have a scar on his knee that could have been from an operation after his winning touchdown... but it was really from a burn, self-inflicted, when he knelt too close to the hot exhaust of his brother’s mini-bike.

In college, then in the Army, and finally as he entered the world of business, he kept up his string of lies. As he moved into each new realm he learned that if he tempered his lies with a little restraint, he could convince some people that he was telling the truth. The trick was to make sure he did not tell one person two versions of the same story... not that it mattered.

Lying was his avocation and it was harmless. He didn’t do it to get ahead. He didn’t do it to make a fool out of anyone. He just did it for the entertainment value. He was happy and he kept his fellows happy.

And then he reached his thirty-fifth birthday. His business career, like his military career and his college career, was mediocre. Nothing spectacular until he had an experience that would put his lies to shame. It was so unbelievable that no one would, well, believe it.

It changed Kelly. For days he walked around the office, quiet, without a tall tale to be told. They thought he might have a touch of the flu... or that something tragic had happened. They tried to prompt him with questions about some of his adventures, but he wouldn’t take the bait.

Six days after the transformation, Kelly attended his regular Onota Meeting, an informal group who met for a cheap lunch, some cheap drinks and some tall stories. It might be said that this was like the "Liar’s Clubs" of the nineteenth century, although none of the members would have ever described it that way. It was really just an excuse to have a long lunch in the middle of the week. Like so many of his other activities, it could be described as harmless.

Kelly was late for the meeting and when he walked in, the chairman, Ruth Greenberg, was asking if anyone knew where Kelly might be. He strode to the front of the room, holding the latest edition of the newspaper high over his head and proclaimed, "I know that no one will ever believe this, especially after all the things I have said for all these years, but this is all true."

The chairman glanced around nervously because the program had already been set, or as set as it ever was. The featured speaker, a young woman who was going to talk of her days living aboard the space station nodded slightly and the chairman relaxed. There would be no confrontation as if there ever was, but she liked to worry about such things because it made her feel like a real chairman.

Kelly was waved over to the rostrum by the enthusiastic crowd. They knew that if he was going to speak, they would be treated to an entertaining program. Kelly, on the other hand was nervous for the first time in his life. Sweat blossomed on his forehead and he felt it drip down his back and sides. He knew that he was not dressed for the meeting, wearing rumpled clothes, but it wasn’t until the last minute that he had decided to attend. He hadn’t taken time to change.

As he poured himself a glass of water, more to give his hands something to do for a moment than because he needed a drink, he said, "I’m sorry to burst in here like this, but what I have to say is important. I know that you’ll find this story hard to believe, because I’m telling it, but I assure you that it’s true.

There was a murmur through the crowd because the one thing that Kelly had never done was assure them that a story was true. He just let think what they wanted to think about it.

Kelly took a sip of his water, started to set the glass down and then raised it again so that he could drain it. Then he leaned to the chairman and asked that someone get him a Vodka Collins and to keep them coming because he wanted to get drunk in the very near future.

Finally he began. "I didn’t recognize them at first. No one would have because they looked just like us. Oh, they talked a little strange, and they walked a little strange but when I was overseas in the Army, in Greece and not Vietnam like I told everyone, I had seen some strange customs.

"No matter. I answered their questions, and was mildly surprised that they knew my name. Just mildly surprised, mind you. Not that I thought I’m famous anywhere. I just figured that someone else in town might have mentioned me to them. It wouldn’t be that unheard of."

Kelly stopped talking long enough to take a drink from the Vodka Collins just handed to him. He noticed that the crowd, though still quiet was getting restless, and if he wanted to hold them, he had to get to the point.

"They thanked me for my help and left, saying that they hoped that they would meet me again sometime. I mumbled much the same thing and immediately forgot about it. That was something I shouldn’t have done.

"On my way home that night, as I passed that huge empty field on the edge of town, the one that used to be the National Guard armory, the car engine died. There were no other cars around so I grabbed my cell phone, but I couldn’t get a signal."

He held up a hand and said, "I know, we have complete coverage, but I just couldn’t get a signal. And with no help available, I got out to look under the hood. I knew there was nothing I could do but stare at the engine. I know I’ve said that there wasn’t a mechanical device ever made that I couldn’t fix, but it’s just not true. I had a hell of a time finding the safety latch just so that I could pop the hood. This might have been the first time I ever saw the engine of the car.

"There was nothing obviously wrong. The car just wouldn’t run. I touched a few wires, recognized the air intake, but I didn’t know what to do. Had I really been thinking, I would have realized that the electrical system had been suppressed in some fashion, but I didn’t give it a thought then.

"The sudden voice behind me startled me and I jumped slightly. It said, ‘There’s nothing you can do about it. We stopped your motor.’

"In what might have been my first real burst of insight ever, I said, ‘I know. Your magnetic field also killed the lights, radio and my cell phone."

"The voice said, ‘Very good, except it’s a little more than just a magnetic field.’

"Then I turned to look. I don’t know what I was expecting, but all I saw was a tall, rather average looking man dressed in a conservative, cheap suit. His hair was a little thin and his voice a little high but other than that, he was average.

"I stood there a minute, looking at him, before remembering that one of them had said, that they would see me later.

"He said, ‘Would you like to come with me?’

"I said, "Someone will be along in a minute. I don’t like leaving my car out here unattended.

"He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You won’t be needing it any longer.’

"I thought that was a rather esoteric thing to say. I didn’t think about the implications of it. I just sort of ignored it. I suppose I was more upset over the failure of my car than anything else. I thought the problem was shoddy workmanship rather than that nonsense about magnetic fields.

"The man asked, ‘Doctor, would you like to see what is causing the magnetic field that stopped your car?’

"I’ll admit here that he got my attention with the use of the title. I said, ‘You called me doctor.’

‘The man continued to stare and I hadn’t noticed him blink. I don’t know why that popped into my mind at that moment but it did. He said, ‘We understand that you hold a rather high degree from your university.’

"I nodded and said, ‘I hold no fewer than twenty-two degrees from various institutes of higher learning. I have also been given a few honorary degrees based on my work in thermodynamics, oceanography, and the fluid dynamic mechanism of meteorite pitting.’

"The man reached out, as if to take my hand and said, ‘Please, Doctor, come with me. There are a few friends that I wish you to meet.’"

Kelly stopped his narrative for a moment, drained his glass and then picked up the water as some sort of chaser. He had stopped sweating and was now cold as the air conditioning had caught up with the heat of the afternoon. He took the time to look at the audience. There were waiting for him to continue.

"Well," he said, "there didn’t seem to be anything that I could do about the car, and there was no traffic to help me. There was a house a couple of hundred yards away with a single light burning and I figured that I could use their land line, if they had one. I maybe could get someone there to help me out or to give me a ride. I agreed to go with him, figuring that was where he wanted me to go.

"We crossed the road, walked down a slight slope to a ditch, used a couple of big rocks to avoid the shallow water and stepped to a barb wire fence. He held the middle strand out of the way for me and then I did the same for him. I wondered where we were going because we weren’t walking toward the house... but I figured, what the hell. I had never really been out there. We walked across a plowed field and then to a tree line....

"It was then that I understood exactly what was happening to me. Exactly."

Kelly stopped again and stared at the crowd. Idly, his mind clicked on the phrase, pregnant pause. He had the audience and was keeping them by making them wait to find out the answer. Let them devise images of what he had seen. Let them imagine what was happening to him. Let them speculate. Let them condition themselves.

"It was about twenty-five or thirty feet tall and probably seventy feet long," he said. "There were dim lights around the center of it and it stood on three telescoping legs. I saw a ramp leading down, to the ground."

This hesitation was shorter. He said, "Like many of you, I didn’t believe. Not until the minute is saw it but I couldn’t deny what I was seeing. Probably one the Air Force would label as swamp gas or a misinterpretation of a natural phenomenon... This one had the classic saucer shape, one size fits all, and the color of your choice.

"The man gestured toward the ramp and said, ‘Go on up. They’re waiting to meet you.’

"At this point there didn’t seem to be any harm in it. The man had done nothing to force me to come with him. He had asked. And Richard Dryfeuss walked right into the spacecraft in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The aliens were friendly... well, the ones that we’re spewing acid and hugging your face.

"So I walked right up the ramp.

"The interior was nothing like I thought it would be. The whole room... the whole cabin... was bare. The floor was smooth. So were the walls. The ceiling was lost in a bright glare. At the far end I could see a number of figures, on the small side, but I couldn’t really tell.

"The man walked to the center of the cabin and spoke in some kind of a strange language like nothing I’ve ever heard, gestured at me and then said, in English, ‘This is Doctor David Kelly, the brightest Earthman alive today.’"

Kelly smiled. "I know. I know. But that’s what he said. Really. Not that I deserved the distinction.

"Anyway, he kept going with the description of my accomplishments, using the words that I, myself, have used for years. He listed all the fake degrees, all the inventions created by someone else, the war record I made up. Everything. On and on, as if he had memorized everything that I have ever said in the last twenty years. Every damned lie."

There was a murmur in the room. They were used to Kelly and his tall tales, but the one thing that had been consistent, the one thing that connected every thread was his insistence that his stories were all true. He told each one with the same enthusiasm that he told all the others, almost demanding that all who heard accept those lies as the truth. But he had never attempted to prove a new tale was true by exposing all the others as lies.

He was telling them, that unlike the pathological liar who told his tales, believing them himself, he knew the difference.

In one sense, he was violating the unwritten code among them. He could say anything he wanted and they would not challenge him by asking for proof. In return, he would believe them without asking for proof. And now here he was, standing in front of them, challenging all his statements to them and almost gloating over the fact that he had lied and lied and lied.

"Those creatures, I won’t call them men because they had only the slightest resemblance to me, came forward. They seemed to be discussing something in that strange language of theirs. The man with me tilted his head to one side as if listening, and then translated. ‘They all have questions if you would be good enough to answer them.’

"I told him that I would be happy to share my vast knowledge." Kelly winched at the comment and then said, "Yes, that is what I said. My vast knowledge.

"Anyway, he said, ‘First we would like to know the state of your space program.’

"That seemed like a harmless question and my first inclination was to say, ‘Florida.’

"Instead, I said that they probably knew that we had reached our moon, our natural satellite a number of years ago.

"‘With that goal reached,’ I said, ‘Six months early I might add, we shifted our emphasis to other things. We have sent probes to all the planets in our system and out into the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud, and launched additional probes to other solar systems.’

"I did not mention that the probe sent out of the solar system was a simple spacecraft that would never return and probably wouldn’t be to another system for eighty or ninety thousand years.

"This news seemed to upset them a little bit, but they went onto other subjects. They asked about our weather, our weapons, our military forces, the state of our atomic weapons, the histories of various nations and the attitude of various peoples.

"Probing questions that seemed to have some sort of focus. I mean, they weren’t random questions. They had a point but didn’t want me to figure out that point. It was as if they asked the wrong question, they would spoil the game or give away a big secret.

"After a while of this, I began to grow tired of it. Now you people know that I like to spin a story and can sometimes be goaded, with very little effort, into talking until late at night, long after others have grown tired and gone home. But this is at a party or a bar where we’re all comfortable and the booze is flowing and the Buffalo wings are coming. But these people... these things just kept me standing there as if they had never heard of a chair and never thought to offer a drink. I was tired, bored, thirsty and hungry and I suggested that I be allowed to return to my car.

"As I turned toward the ramp, the man who had brought me to the craft, put his hand on my arm and said, ‘We can’t allow you to return. You have been warned.’

"‘Warned?’ I said. ‘Warned about what? I haven’t been warned. But it’s getting late and I want to go home.’

"The creature. The man, didn’t remove his hand. He just said, ‘We can’t return someone of your superior intellect. You would be too much of a danger.’

"Honest, that’s what he said. That I would be too much of a danger. And suddenly, in my second flash of insight that night, I realized what they were talking about. These weren’t the darling little creatures of E.T., or the friendly aliens of Close Encounters. These guys were the beginning of the invasion. The reconnaissance force. The scouts who were attempting to learn all they could about the planet Earth. To find out how strong we were. To find out what kind of a fight we could put up.

"For a moment I was stunned. I had answered all their questions. I had told them about our defunct space program as if it was as robust and inventive as it once had been.

"And I told them about the military. An Army that was limited to weapons as defined by the Geneva Accords as if there was a humane way to kill someone. I had not told them about an Army that was fighting conflicts in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world, worn out from a decade of those wars and that was spread about the world in policing actions.

"And on and on. Told them what they wanted to know, making it up as I went along and them believing it all as if I was compelled someway to tell the truth. I went on and on, enjoying my role as the smartest man on Earth. And I was turning out to be the dumbest. I had had the misfortune of contacting the enemy first and because they had stroked my ego, I had given them everything they asked for so they could invade.

"No, it’s worse than that. I gave them the reason to invade. I suggested that we would be able to find their home and wipe it out. Oh, not in so many words, but I was telling them we were traveling among the stars. That we had explored the other planets, and the moons of those planets, never mentioning that all that exploration was done by robotic probes controlled from Earth. I didn’t tell them that our space program was in disarray because too many people couldn’t see the real benefits of it. They just thought of money being blasted into space."

Kelly looked down at the floor and shook his head. "It was quite the shock, after living one way for all those years and believing, for all those years, that I was harming no one. A shock to learn, because of my own big mouth, I might have destroyed everything that the human race had ever built and I mean everything."

Kelly sighed. "Well, I knew that I might be able to save the day. I mean, these creatures had to be pretty clever themselves. They had managed to short circuit relativity by hopping through space. If they had known much about Earth I doubt that I could have fooled them for long. So, for once I decided to tell the truth. I could reverse everything that I had said. If I could do that, then I might be able to turn off the invasion."

The audience stirred and for the first time since he had walked into the room, Kelly smiled. He said, "Yes, I know. My ego knows no bounds. But I was in the right place at the right time. Maybe I could change some of their attitudes by adding to what I had already said.

"So, rather than demanding that I be let go, I decided to stay and tell them everything that I could. But to add a little spice to it. Liven up the stories a little for the audience. To make everything bigger and better and bolder. Make them think that they couldn’t invade Earth because of who we really were. Not knowing their time table, I don’t know if I was successful and probably will never know for sure, but I tried. Oh, Lord, I tried.

"They took the questioning back to our space program. I had told them that we had launched a number of probes and that things had been slow for the last few years. They wanted to know why.

"So, I told them. We had solved the problems of interstellar flight. We could get anywhere in this galaxy, almost immediately. A strange device that we had developed that worked along the lines of thought. We could visualize where we wanted to go and with the speed of thought, we could get there, taking with us all that we needed. We could drag all the equipment along with us that we wanted. But with this capability, we didn’t need artificial craft and that was why the space program was in disarray. We kept it going as sort of a hobby.

"And, of course, I told them of the super weapons we had developed. Planet killing weapons. Weapons that could cause a sun to explode. We didn’t keep those sorts of things on Earth because they were far too dangerous. We stored them on other planets in other systems. We could retrieve them in seconds, if we needed them for some reason.

"I made sure they understood the sacrifices that we have made to protect our freedoms and our way of life. About men and women who fought to the death rather than surrender. Lessons from history. Half remembered movies and TV shows. Anything that I could think of because I needed to convince them that we would fight on and on as necessary.

"I told them of the great inventions we don’t use. The invention that could terra-form a planet and would make it into a paradise. A paradise as defined by us and not necessarily those who happened to reside on that planet. We didn’t use it on Earth because we liked the unpredictability of the weather. We didn’t use it on Mars, because the gravity was too light for us and if we increased that, we would tend to complicate the dynamics of the Solar System. We’d tried it on planets around other stars and some of our people now inhabited those planets."

Kelly laughed. "That last got their attention because they stopped asking questions and went off to confer. It looked as if it got quite heated at some points but I didn’t know. Maybe then don’t get angry. They would sometimes gesture at me and I think they were trying to figure out what was going on.

"Finally the man came over and said, ‘I think it is time for you to leave.’ No preliminaries. No pleasantries. Just time for me to leave.

"I said, ‘I thought I had been warned.’

"He pushed me toward the ramp, which was opening again, and said, ‘I don’t think it matters now. Just get out.’

"Well, I did notice his attitude had changed. He wasn’t polite like he had been and he seemed to be a little scared of me. I wanted to get out so I walked down the ramp. Minutes later I found myself standing by the highway. A car had stopped behind mine. I crossed the road and saw a deputy sheriff. He wanted to know if everything was all right and I told him my car had stalled, but I thought I could get it running now. I climbed in, turned the key and it started right up. I waved at the deputy and he waved back.

"I’ve had a chance to think about this, and I think I know what happened. These creatures, these aliens, who wanted to invade Earth, didn’t have the concept of a lie. They believed everything I told them because they had never run into anyone, or anything, that would lie. They believed everything I told them without looking for proof. When I told them about our inventions, our military capabilities, our ability to destroy whole planets, they believed me. When they compared their ability to ours, they were convinced that they couldn’t strike Earth. They didn’t even know that we had colonies on other worlds which might retaliate. They thought our might far outstripped theirs. I think they decided to find someone else to pick on."

Kelly reached to his side and picked up the newspaper. "This was on sale as I came in. I know you people don’t believe me. I don’t expect it. But look at the headline. It says, ‘SAUCERS SIGHTED OVER CAPITAL.’ You see, there were flying saucers here, but they’ve gone now."

There was a moment of silence and then applause. Loud and long. Before it died out, the people were standing up. First just one, then two and then everyone. The whole group was up clapping and cheering.

Kelly held the newspaper high. It was his only piece of evidence because there had been nothing to grab in the spaceship. Nothing that he could get from them to prove his story. That’s what he told them when the cheering finally quieted and everyone was in his or her seat.

At the very end, after an extra hour, as the audience had tried to wring every little detail from him, one of the men in the back stood up and asked, in violation of their protocol, "Come on, Dave, is this the truth?"

Kelly leaned on the rostrum and clasped his hands in front of him. He stared at the floor as if framing his reply.

Finally he looked up and said the last word he would ever say on the subject. "Wouldn’t you like to know."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Richard Bachman (Stephen King) The Long Walk

I have been reading Richard Bachman’s (Stephen King) The Long Walk because it is a fascinating story set in our near future now. The date of its creation is farther away than its predicted future of 2025. In other words, it was written in the late 1970s, more than thirty years ago and it now predicts a future only fifteen years in our future.

Here’s really the only problem I see with the book and it is that the world around the Long Walkers is the world of the 1970s. There is talk of a news crew using a film camera taken from the rear of their station wagon rather than a video or digital camera taken from the inside of their SUV.

Or one of the characters working in Phoenix for three dollars an hour when the minimum wage is now more than double that... and will probably climb in the future. Why not just say minimum wage rather than attaching a dollar figure?

Or one of the Long Walker’s watch stopped because he forgot to wind it. Does anyone have a watch that must be wound? I don’t even wear a watch thanks to my cell phone that tells me the time.

There is talk, just a small reference to the sun fading the image of a Polaroid negative, but how many such cameras exist today, outside the collectors? Yes, it’s a fine image, but it dates the book.

We are given just a little of the future. A society where "Squads" come in the night to take away those whose politics differ from those ruling... okay, they didn’t come in the night, but you see what I mean. King has set up a totalitarian state in our not so distant future that sanctions this "contest" of teenage boys to see who can walk the farthest and who is then given a "prize." Failure isn’t just the disgrace of losing but a bullet to the head... unless you have annoyed the shooters and then they exact a little revenge with a bullet to the stomach for a slow death.

Yes, I know the book is about the social dynamic that develops when this group of teenagers is thrown together. It’s about their interactions as they make the Long Walk... but it fails to capture a feeling of the future. It is about a society that never existed in a world of thirty years ago and not the future.

My only criticism is this small failure which isn’t even germane to the story. In the 1970s I don’t think anyone could have predicted the Internet which would have allowed live streaming of the Long Walk... even if the government didn’t want it to happen.

And, of course, who could have predicted cell phones that would have allowed the Long Walkers talk to friends and family... unless they had been banded by the rule of the Walk, or until the batteries failed.

Here’s the thing. This lack of prediction, which could have been accomplished had King thought about it, could have been covered. I was criticized for the third book in my Exploration series because there wasn’t a sense of the future in it. In the last book, The Gate, I tried to extrapolate from where society is today. I have the younger member’s speaking in the shorthand of text messages, but speaking English when addressing older members of society. I suggested a holographic entertainment system which would be an improvement over the 3-D technology springing up today. I tried to picture a society where social interaction on a personal level gave way to social interaction through an electronic medium. A society where all the information of the world was accessible through the Internet...

But predicting beyond these things is difficult. Who would have envisioned an Internet before the various components of it existed? Sitting in 1978 King wouldn’t have been thinking of a global connection through an electronic device that isn’t radio, telephone or telegraph. I understand the problem because I’m attempting to design a far future where we have little personal privacy for a science fiction novel called Forever.

I don’t blame King for this failure and suspect he never considered it, given the nature of the story. This is just something that dawned on me as I read this book in 2010 and not 1980. If this was 1980, I doubt that any of these... what, lapses, failures of vision... would have dawned on me. Today it seems glaring but then, it doesn’t spoil the story, so who really cares?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cell Phones and Time Travel

Not all that long ago I posted a story about time travel called Guidebook. I suggested that if time travel was real, then the time travelers would already be here. The point of the story was the hero was looking for evidence of that visitation. Now we seem to have it in the form of a photograph from a 1928 Charlie Chaplin film.
This would be the sort of proof that someone was time traveling because no one in 1928 would have a cell phone. As I mentioned in my article about my Star Trek communicator, the cell phone links me to all the knowledge of the human race. I would imagine if you are time traveling, then your cell phone would be able to operate over the span of time... maybe marking where you are for retrieval or to provide you with the latest information from your point of origin.

Yes, I know that Isaac Asimov explored time travel in The End of Eternity, which suggested you couldn’t really travel much beyond the point where time travel was created, except in very limited and very special circumstances.

And yes, I know that Wilson "Bob" Tucker explored time travel in his The Lincoln Hunters where they were very careful about leaving anything in the past that didn’t belong and worried about meeting their selves...

Or Ray Bradbury’s idea that even the slightest change in the past would have grave consequences as the change radiated outward. Which gave us some interesting variations on The Simpson's and A Sound of Thunder.

But all that is unimportant because we have the picture of the woman with a cell phone...

Okay, I don’t believe it to be a cell phone. Just something in the photograph that looks like a rather old-fashioned cell phone. It’ll be interesting to learn exactly what she is holding. And it’s fun to speculate about it... especially if it is a cell phone.

In the end, I’m sure we’ll find out that it is something mundane. But, until then, I think I’ll just call it a cell phone.

Friday, October 15, 2010


(Note: The original idea for this story was much longer and I spent, literally years, trying to figure out how to make it work. There were many starts and stops. This is the end result. Something much shorter than the original idea, but something that works well, I believe.)
1. She sat partially hidden in the jungle watching several chimpanzees as they searched for food. She could understand their cries and calls to one another which sounded like a primitive language to the trained ear. The alpha male, that she thought of as Lion, was directing one of the other, smaller males into a tree to chase down a dark-haired monkey. Chimpanzees ate meat when they could get it and the often went in search of it. She had actively hunted other primates in the past.

She was alone in her position, set back in the trees, away from the main group, watching as the monkey attempted to flee but found its way blocked. Two other males, smaller than Lion, stood on the ground, staring up, almost as if they were observers rather than participants. The monkey, jumping through the branches, looked back, at the Chimpanzee, and leaped. It misjudged and fell through the tree, hitting one branch, grabbed at it, but missed. It hit the ground stunned, momentarily unable to move.

The two chimpanzees on the ground which she thought of as Snake and Pig, moved toward the injured animal. One of them carried a stick about as big around as an arm. When it was close, it swung the stick but missed the monkey.

The monkey raised its head and shrieked, but didn’t move and she didn’t know why. Maybe it was hurt too badly.

The Pig advanced, grabbed the monkey by one of its feet and swung it up and then back down. It hit with a sickening crack and went limp. It made no more noise.

Lion, looking pleased with himself, advanced on the dead monkey. Both Pig and Snake retreated as if leaving an offering for their god.

Lion picked up the dead monkey, shook it and then bent close and bit into it. He pulled it from his face, looked upward, toward a small blue patch of sky and let out a cry. He was telling others that he ruled this section of the jungle and all that intruded became his. He owned the jungle until someone else took it away from him.

She stayed where she was, even as the rest of the Chimpanzees, including a new mother began to gather around the dead monkey. Lion took another bite and handed the prey to Snake for him to eat. They kept at it, handing the carcass, one to another, going from the alpha male to the most important of the females, until the monkey was gone.

Now Lion looked around, surveying the Chimpanzees with him as a king might study his subjects after a good hunt or a good job well done. With a single sharp cry, almost as if an order from Lion, they began to move again, away from that section of the jungle. Hunting, for the day, was over.

2. She trailed with them at a safe distance. This was the band she wanted to join because it was the strongest that she could find. The males would protect the females from much of the dangers of the jungle and the open lands when they came to them. These chimpanzees were big, strong, vocal and had even stopped lions from attacking, though they often avoided lions by climbing the closest trees. Lions didn’t climb well.

The other big cats, cheetahs and leopards never threatened them unless they were caught alone and were sick or injured. She made sure that she kept some of the band in sight at all times so that she wouldn’t become prey to those lesser big cats.

It was an interesting relationship. They recognized her and knew, instinctively, that she wasn’t one of them. Lion or Snake sometimes attempted to approach, but she was frightened by them. They were large animals with great strength and she knew they would kill her if she annoyed them. She knew that they would tolerate a female that was submissive, but they would kill one that was not. She knew this because she had seen them do it to other lone females.

Lion and his band had found two small Chimpanzees in the forest about three weeks earlier. They had threatened them, they had charged and retreated, but in the end, they had caught them and killed them both. They ate from the bodies, but left most of them behind for the scavengers.

Those two had been part of another band that had strayed into the territory Lion claimed. He was leaving a message for others that might do the same.

She had seen lions attack other lions in a similar way. She had seen lions kill cheetahs and leave them lying on the dusty plains. She’d seen lions and hyenas line up for a fight and then using claws and teeth, try to kill one another in a battle that sometimes saw a dozen killed or maimed. The lions, because of their size and strength, rarely lost. It was only when the hyenas caught a lion alone that they were able to kill it.
So, for the day, she stayed back, watching the Chimpanzees as they walked through the forest, stopping to eat nuts or berries, or to rest. As the day became hotter, they slowed their pace.
As darkness fell, they stopped. They spread out slightly so that they could protect one another. She stopped twenty yards from them, near a large bush.
She began to gather the wide, thick leaves from some of the trees to build herself a shelter for the night. Looking into the sky, when it was visible, she had seen clouds gathering and knew that they could mean a coming storm. She’d been smelling, for the last hour or so, a musty odor that reminded her of wet ground and wet fur. This too, she knew, meant rain.

From the bag that she had found, dropped near a village, she took a knife, being careful with it because she didn’t want the others to see the tool. She used it to cut away some of the lower branches of the bush so that she could use its center structure as a support for the leaves. She tried to orient it so that the coming rain would fall on them, leaving her dry, or as dry as she could expect in the rain during this season.

There was a light in the bag but she hesitated to use it. The Chimpanzees always reacted poorly to that. She was using things she had that they didn’t and they seemed to understand that meant she wasn’t really like them. She didn’t know if her appearance was different enough that they were sometimes as wary of her as she of them, or if it was because she used things they didn’t understand like the light.

Sometimes she would see them watching her from the distance. She believed that she was accepted by them as non-threatening and she now understood the commands of Lion as he lead them, but there was always the chance they would attack her. She had to be careful when she was within easy sight of them.

She created her nest and then sat down in the center of it, facing the rest of the troop. They were dark shadows moving among the trees and bushes, searching for a place to spend the night. They didn’t seen to understand that a storm was coming, though they could smell the air and hear the distant rumblings as well as she.

She ate the berries she had gathered earlier. She didn’t want to leave the shelter now that she had it finished and she was comfortable. Instead she leaned back, against the thick trunk, and kept her eyes on the others. They seemed to have no interest in her.

The rain came about an hour later and she had guessed right. The rain hit the thick leaves that she had loosely woven together and that provided adequate shelter from the rain. The sound of frying bacon filled the jungle and she found the steady white noise soothing.

When she woke in the morning, the jungle was steaming from the rain but the insects and animals were subdued after the storm. It was a quiet time and she enjoyed the silence until the birds began to scream at the sun and monkeys began to shriek at one another.
At first light the troop began to move again, Lion in the lead, hunting for something to eat for breakfast. He moved fast, unconcerned with those slower and weaker than he was.

She watched from the safety of her shelter for a few minutes and listened to the cries between Lion and the rest of the troop. They were more like orders as he got them moving toward the edge of their territory.

She gathered her tools, keeping them hidden from the others and left the shelter. She stayed fifty yards back so that she could retreat if necessary.
After only an hour, after they had stopped at a stream to drink and to wash, after they had raided a termite mount, and after they had walked out into a huge clearing at the edge of the jungle that fronted a mountain, they found another troop of Chimpanzees.

Lion screamed from just inside of the tree line and waved his arms. He voiced his outrage at seeing others in his territory and picked up a stone to throw at them. His hand-eye coordination wasn’t as great as it could have been and the rock sailed off to the left, falling harmlessly in the jungle.

But the alpha male of the other troop picked up a limb and waving it, attacked, running halfway across the clearing. It stopped and threw the limb which tumbled and fell far short of Lion or any of this troop.

The attack infuriated Lion. He looked toward Snake and Pig and shrieked at them. Pig picked up a stick and advanced on the enemy Chimpanzees, but Snake didn’t move. He stood there, silent, almost as if afraid to move or afraid to fight.

The displays were about over. Neither side seemed ready to retreat though she was sure that the others would have to give way. Lion was too large to be defeated in a contest of strength.
But the other alpha male shrieked and holding a limb over his head, ran forward. When he was a few feet away, he swung the branch like a club.

Pig tried to attack, but the big male turned on him and struck him in the head. Pig fell back and lay still. Now Lion turned toward the threat.

All this time she was using her knife, scraping a point on a straight stick about as big around as a wrist. Satisfied, she advanced but the males ignored her because she was a female and wouldn’t be part of the fight.

She ran forward suddenly but didn’t scream to frighten. She wanted to attack from stealth. The big male didn’t see her and didn’t know she was there until she thrust the pointed stick into his side. He screamed his rage and spun, jerking the stick from her fingers. She stepped back, almost cowering, and the big male ripped the weapon from his side. There was a gout of blood and the male shrieked with a sound like tires on concrete as he fell.

Lion looked at her and then at the enemy alpha male lying in the grass. It didn’t move and those with him were now retreating. They were screaming and throwing stones, but they were fighting a retreating action.

Lion ran forward and slapped the downed male on the head. He leaned forward and took a bit from the neck of the victim and then whirled, his face and teeth bloody. He was telling his troop that he had killed the male. That he had defeated the enemy and those who challenged him would suffer the same fate.

She stood there for a moment, watching and then she stepped back, toward the safety of the trees. Lion had looked at her, stared at her, and she could see the hate in his eyes. She knew that he would kill her the first chance he got because he now saw her as a threat to his dominance. She had been the one to defeat the enemy, though he had taken the credit.

She knew that Lion now believed that she would attempt to establish her dominance of the troop and to do that, she would have to kill him. That was the way it worked. The strongest ruled while the weaker waited for a chance to break that dominance. Until that moment, the males had been bigger and stronger and more aggressive. They ruled by brute force, but she had killed the alpha male of another troop who was almost as big and aggressive as Lion.
3. Lion came for her late in the afternoon, after they had eaten and were searching for a place to rest during the night. He came quietly to kill her so that the others wouldn’t see. He came slowly, as if wanting to befriend her, or maybe to mate with her.

But she knew the truth and wished that she had prepared another pointed stick. She wished that she hadn’t believed she would be safe for a day or so. She thought it would take Lion that long to attack.
She fled the shelter, moving to her left, back toward where the troop waited. She was in a circle of sunlight, almost as if standing in a spotlight waiting for her opening cue. In her hand she held the knife low so that Lion couldn’t see it though she knew that he wouldn’t understand what it was. He had seen them being used in the distance but he just did not comprehend the significance of them.

Now, as Lion approached, she lowered her head and looked at his feet. She was drawing him toward her with a display of submission. Lion stopped short, grunting, and then shrieked at her as if to intimidate her. She didn’t move, holding her ground, knowing that the others in the troop were watching the blood sport.

Suddenly, almost without warning, Lion charged. She sensed it and then saw him. She stepped to the side, spun, and slashed out with the knife. She cut him across the shoulder and saw the blood darken his fur.

Lion roared with the pain and in surprise. He stopped and whirled, looking first at her and then at the cut on his shoulder.

She knew that he was trying to figure out what had happened. All he knew was that there was a burning in his shoulder and if she had cut deep enough he might retreat to ponder the problem.
Lion had other ideas. He beat his chest, grabbed a limb that was six feet long and as thick as his arm. He held it with one hand and pounded the ground with it, staring up at her. Challenging her.
At that moment she knew that this would be a fight to the death. Lion was not going to give up no matter how badly she hurt him. He would press the attack until he had defeated her. Killed her, as he reasserted his dominance over the troop. There would be no help for her but there would be no help for him either.
He threw the limb at her but it hit ten feet short, one end low, and then fell back. As it did, Lion attacked again, but this time he was more careful. He tried to stay to her left, but she turned as he circled and as he did she knew that he was losing support. He was beginning to look weak to the troop. He couldn’t handle one lone female. The other Chimpanzees were seeing that. For the first time Lion was acting more like a jackal.

He lunged at her, missed but jumped back quickly, out of her reach. Around him the Chimpanzees were hooting and calling, almost as if they were laughing at him.

She sensed the change in those others. Once frightened of Lion’s strength, they no loner were. She knew that they wanted Lion killed.
She put on another display of submission, as if tired of the game and willing to let him win. He came in close, flailing his arms and fists. She didn’t move and that surprised Lion but didn’t stop him. When he was in close, she stabbed with the knife, feeling it sink into the softness just below the breastbone.
Lion didn’t scream this time. He just sat down suddenly, as if stunned. He looked down, at his chest to see the dark handle of the knife sticking in him. With a muted cry, almost like a young Chimpanzee calling for its mother, he pulled the knife out. He held it up, in front of his face, turned it over and then slumped to his side and didn’t move.

She understood the ritual as well as any of the males. She stood over the body of Lion and reached down to touch it, push it, attempting to get any sort of a response from it. She knew that Lion was as dead as the moneky they had killed the day before and as dead as the alpha male she had killed earlier in the day.

The problem was that she was female and the male Chimpanzees didn’t understand this. She had turned the hierarchy upside down by proving she was stronger than Lion and by default, she was stronger than anyone else in the troop. She had assumed the role of the dominate male but she wasn’t male. They didn’t know how to react to this change in their society, in their history.

4. That first night, as she took her place in the center of the troop, she showed them how to weave the leaves together to make a shelter that would protect them from the wind and the rain. Through gesture, she made it clear that she expecting them all to make a proper shelter.

And she showed them the flashlight, though she didn’t know exactly what it was or how it worked she knew that it created light in the dark and when the light began to dim that she only had to shake it and the light brightened.

The Chimpanzees reacted with fear as she showed them the light but once she let them touch it, let them hold it, they were fascinated by it. They flashed each other and then howled with their thrill.

The next morning, when they left their camp to wander their territory, she was in the lead as Lion had been the day before. Rather than patrol the edge of their territory, she lead them back, toward the center where there were caves and plentiful water and bushes that held berries. There were termite mounts about a mile away where they could snack when they wanted and not worry about other Chimpanzees attacking them.

When they reached the caves, she picked a limb from the ground, one that was fairly straight and about five feet long. Using the knife that she had pulled from Lion’s body, she whittled a point on it. Then, carrying the limb in front of her, the point out, and the light in the other hand, she entered the cave. She was prepared to find a big cat, a lone leopard or cheetah but there was nothing inside. Just the bones of some animal that had crawled in and died long ago.

She lead her troop into the cave and watched them scatter around the entrance almost as if they were picking their spots. They understood that this was going to be their home. This would be where they lived, away from the wind and lightning and rain. A place that didn’t require them to create a shelter every night, though they could do that if necessary.
She let her territory shrink because they didn’t need all the land that Lion had ruled. She knew that they could find all the food they needed near the caves and in those caves there would be shelter from the elements.
She lead hunting parties, but now, rather than chase the animals, she arranged ambushes, letting some of the troop frighten the prey, driving it through the jungle to the trees where others, with sharpened sticks waited to kill them. She always took the first bite but then shared the kill with each of the others. She was aware of the necessary hierarchy and followed it because she didn’t want to have her authority challenged.

5. In the year since she had killed Lion, she and the others had acquired more knifes and more flashlights, though some of them dimmed and all the shaking did nothing to revive them. She didn’t understand why some failed and some didn’t, but that she had one that had burned brightly from the moment she first showed it seemed like magic to the troop.

There were voices in the jungle outside the entrance to the caves. She heard them when they were far away and was suddenly frightened by them but still she walked to the entrance to look out. She saw a few members of the troop in the clearing outside the cave, sitting in the sun grooming one another. The others were around, close, maybe searching for food or drinking from the stream but close.

There was a shout that caught the attention of all those in the clearing. One of the females and two of the males stood up and moved forward, toward the sound.

There was a quiet thump and a brightly colored object struck one of the males. He swatted at it as he would a stinging insect and when it fell to the ground, he picked it up. Holding it in front of his face, at eye level, he turned it one way and then another. A moment later he closed his eyes and toppled over.

The female turned to flee and then stumbled and fell. She tried to push herself up, but couldn’t do it. She sank back to the ground and was still.

The last male charged and there was a sudden crash. A single sharp sound that sent birds flying and monkeys screaming. That Chimpanzee fell face first to the ground, skidding three or four feet. It didn’t move again.

She stood in the mouth of the cave and saw the men enter the clearing. They were tall, dark, and carrying long sticks that weren’t pointed on one end, just narrow. She understood them in a primitive way though she didn’t understand their operation. She knew them to be deadly.

One of the men stopped near the female that she had called Gazelle. A slender, young female that should produce offspring in the near future. The man pulled a brightly colored object from Gazelle’s back and gave it to another of the men.

They spoke in a way she didn’t understand. She had heard men talk before and had listened carefully to them, but their meaning was just beyond her grasp. The sounds were quiet and different and filled with a jumble that just alluded her. She believed that if she could get close enough to the men for long enough time she would be able to understand them as she did the calls of the lions and the laughing of the hyenas.

The men moved through the clearing until they were close to the mouth of the cave. She had stepped back, into the shadows so that she was concealed. She reached back and picked up her knife, holding it down, away from her body.

One of the man carrying a short stick in his hand came forward. He saw the cave and glanced at it, turned and shouted something and stepped into it.

She knew that there was now nothing she could do but attack. She lunged forward as the man jumped to the right. The blade caught him on the side, cutting the cloth and skin. He shouted and pointed the small stick at her.

There was a sharp, single crack that reverberated through the cave. She felt pain in her chest. She fell back, against the wall of the cave and sat down, losing her grip on the knife. It clattered against the stone. And then everything started to get dark, like the sun setting in the evening.
6. "Hey," shouted the man. "Hey."

Two of his friends, both carrying rifles, one a tranquilizer gun and the other a rifle that fired a bullet large enough and powerful enough to bring down a water buffalo, ran forward.

"What happened?"

"That ape pulled a knife on me," he said.

He held up a hand that was stained with blood. "She cut me," he said. "If I hadn’t jumped, she would have stabbed me good."

"Bull," said the man.

The wounded man stood up and pointed to the knife laying on the cave floor. "She knew how to use it."

The rifleman looked around, at the interior of the cave and said, "There’s an awful lot of stuff in here. Flashlights, spears..."


He reached down and picked up a long stick that had a point carved on one end. It was stained, probably with blood, though he wasn’t sure.
"A crummy spear I admit, but it was a spear."

The wounded man looked down at the dead chimpanzee and asked, "What was she? Some kind of genius?"

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Star Trek Communicator

I had been thinking about writing an article about the vision of the year 2000 as it appeared in books and movies of the middle 20th century. Show, for example, that 2001: A Space Odyssey was not very predictive. There are no bases on the Moon. There is not regular travel between Earth and the Moon. And our exploration of the Solar System is limited to robotic probes.

On the other hand, the world of the 22nd century, as shown in the original Star Trek is badly behind the power curve.

Here’s why. In one episode, Spock is on a planet’s surface and he is attempting to fool a computer by loading into it small snippets of Kirk’s speech to answer questions. He’s standing there with a handful of colored objects and when a reply is required, he pushes one into a slot.

And now a little history. Back in the old days of the home computer, information was written to large black things called floppy disks because they were, well, floppy. They were about eight inches square.

Eventually these were replaced with smaller versions that were more rigid and those were replaced by little plastic squares about three and a half inches on a side but still called floppy disks. They originally came in black, but finally they came in a variety of colors. I still have a box of them. They were useful but only held about a megabyte.

But while watching Spock, I realized that he held floppy disks with wave files on them. A technology that was advanced in 1995 but now hopelessly out of date. Computers now have DVD drives that take silver disks and not little drives that take plastic squares.

And we can get so much more on a thumb drive including hours and hours of music and still have space from lots of other stuff. Thumb drives that I never saw in a science fiction movie or on Star Trek.

Those little plastic floppy disks were one thing that came and went long before Spock was on that planet with his wave files.

Here’s something else. I have a communicator. Oh, I don’t call it that. I call it a cell phone, but it really is a communicator, only better.

While we were at Fort Riley preparing to deploy to Iraq, our battalion commander didn’t want us to use the cells phones to communicate... his reasoning was that he didn’t like us spending our own money to communicate and he knew that when we reached Iraq we wouldn’t have that ability. Iraq had no cell phone infrastructure. That has changed.

Anyway, the Enterprise would carry it’s own cell phone infrastructure with it. And it would have access to all the data in the world in the computer. I know this because we can cram so much into a thumb drive and our cell phones have access to the Internet which gives us access to all the data in the world.

We have our communicators and they’re much better than those postulated in the 1960s by the science fiction writers on Star Trek. Who would have envisioned a world then where you could carry access to the knowledge of the human race in your pocket?

These are just two of the things that we achieved before we got to the turn of the century and long before the 22nd arrived. I just thought I’d mention it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Travel Guide

It was Professor James Johnson who made the incredible statement during a sophomore philosophy class that caught the fancy of one of the students. Standing on a raised stage in the huge lecture hall, Johnson, waving a hand as if to emphasize the point, said, "Time travel cannot exist because if it did, we’d already have it."

David Alexander, sitting in the back of the auditorium where he could hide from the prying eyes of the professor and his teaching assistants, thought, "That’s was an interesting philosophical theory."

Alexander was a science fiction fan who spent his spare money, such as it was, on conventions and fandom, which meant he thought understood the concept of time travel a little better than most of the other students in the class. Time travel, he believed, could solve some of the great mysteries of the past like what color were the dinosaurs and it could prevent the great disasters because to be warned about them meant they could be avoided.

Back in the dorm later, lying on his bed, his earphones on so that he didn’t have to listen to the music of a dozen other students, and staring at the ceiling, Alexander thought more about Johnson’s time travel comment. Alexander was well aware of the alleged paradoxes. He knew that going back in time and killing your grandfather which, some believed was the paradox to prove time travel couldn’t exist, meant nothing of the kind.

How could you kill your grandfather and not wipe out your own existence as those skeptics often said? Simple. The killer, as the instrument of the change, would still exist because he was the instrument of the change. His siblings probably wouldn’t be so lucky because the loss of the grandfather meant the loss of one parent and so his siblings would no longer exist, at least as he knew them. But he could go back and kill his grandfather, not that he ever would.

What troubled him the most now was the idea that if time travel were possible, then it would already exist. His descendants, or someone else’s descendants would be traveling in time and the historical record should show it. Somewhere, someone would have screwed up and left a sign of an advanced civilization in the middle of a primitive one. Someone would have left a clue, probably unintentionally, but the evidence would have to be there. If only he could figure out how to find that evidence.

And that, he thought, was the problem. What would be the evidence and where would be begin to look for it? He needed to find something that existed where it didn’t belong or something found where it didn’t belong. Something that shouted time travel to the enlightened researcher who was looking for evidence of time travel but that might only confuse and confound someone who was looking for something else.

Now he was beginning to get excited about it. He sat up, swinging his feet off the bed and looked at the computer sitting on his desk. He thought about going to the library, but why? The computer gave him access to everything in the world he needed and had more resources than the largest library ever built.

He moved to the desk and heard someone knock at the door. It opened a moment later and Sara stuck her head in. She waited until he reached up and pulled the earphones off his head and the she asked, "You going to eat?"

Ignoring that question, he said, "I was thinking about what Doctor Johnson said today. About time travel not being real because it would already be invented."

"Yeah," she said. "Stephen Hawking wanted to know where all the tourists were."

Alexander looked confused.

"Hawking thought that if time travel were possible, there would have been tourists from the future already. We’d have seen them."

Alexander grinned broadly, believing at that moment he was nearly as smart as Hawking because he’d thought of the same thing. He said, "Yeah, there should be evidence of it."

"Unless they have a prime directive a la Star Trek."

Alexander chuckled. "Even with their prime directive they were always interfering with someone. Even when they tried, they left behind clues..."

"That doesn’t tell me if you’re going to eat or not. I’m hungry," she said.

"You’re not worried about the freshman fifteen?"

"That was last year and I only gained five pounds. I needed those five pounds."

Alexander turned to face the computer, signed on, and then brought up his search engine. He sat with his fingers on the keyboard and stared out the window, into the deepening green of a late spring evening.

"Food?" she said.

"I don’t know what to search for," he said.

"Gees, David, what does it take to get through to you? I’m going to eat."

He was about to tell her to go on without him but he couldn’t think of a way to phrase his request. Time travel was too vague. Time travel facts would probably bring up scientific papers on the reality of time travel. He realized that he needed more information to make the right search but he didn’t know how to get that information.

He stood up and asked, "What’s the weather like?"

"Getting cool," she said.

She was standing there wearing shorts and a light jacket. It wasn’t getting very cool.

They left the dorm, walking along the tree lined street and turned into the downtown area. There were a dozen small places that catered to the college crowd which meant they sold beer, cheap fried food and had a sound system that threatened to create earthquakes.

They took a booth in the back corner, away from the bar, away from the speakers, and away from the entrance. It was slightly quieter and when the music stopped, it was almost peaceful. They ordered both beer and hamburgers and then waited for the food.

Jason Davies, a graduate student who didn’t mind talking to undergraduates came over, inspected the food and then dropped into the booth next to Sara. He grabbed one of her fries, ate it, took a sip of her beer and then sat back.

Alexander was slightly annoyed but didn’t want to offend Davies because he was a teaching assistant. He just said, "Make yourself comfortable."

"Always do. Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you what to study for the next test."

Sara said, "Sure you will.

The waitress appeared and Davies pointed at the glasses and said, "A round. Bring me a beer too." When she was gone, he asked, "What are you two talking about?"

Alexander didn’t really care to tell him so, instead he said, "Why we haven’t seen the time traveling tourists."

Davies grinned and said, "You’ve got Johnson for philosophy. He thinks he’s quite clever with that and never mentions that Hawking came up with it first or that Fermi said the same thing about alien creatures. Fermi wanted to know why we haven’t been visited yet, if there were other intelligences in the galaxy."

"If you’re going to keep eating my fries," said Sara, "get your own plate."

"I’m not hungry," Davies said.

Now that he had thought of it again, Alexander wasn’t willing to drop it. He said, "I was trying to think of a way to prove the point. I mean, I would assume that these travelers wouldn’t want to announce themselves. They’d be human so they’d look like us and I suppose they would have records so their clothes wouldn’t stand out."

Davies waved a hand to indicate the room and then the rest of the city, "I have heard that this is the only town where you could rob a bank carrying a sword and wearing a cape and disappear into the crowd. Clothing here certainly wouldn’t stand out."

"So," said Alexander, "we’d have to look for some other sort of evidence. Something that didn’t belong in our time, or something that didn’t belong in another time. Something that was out of place in time."

The waitress appeared with the beer, set it down and then disappeared quickly. She didn’t ask if they wanted anything else or if the food was good. She was just a college student trying to earn a couple of bucks and didn’t want to make a career out of waiting tables. It showed.

Davies took a sip and said, "You’re talking about Out of Place Artifacts."

"Yes," said Alexander enthusiastically. "That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Out of Place Artifacts."

"Well, all you have to do is type those words into your search engine and you’ll find dozens of web sites telling you more than you care to know about them."

Alexander sipped his beer and then said, "You already know about them."

"Of course. You’ve heard of the ancient astronauts. You know, the space travelers who came down to build the pyramids and leave drawings on the ground?"

"But that proves nothing. The Egyptians had the technology to build the pyramids," said Sara.

"I’m not advocating a point of view here," said Davies, "I’m merely providing information. He wants to check this out. I’m giving him a starting point."

Alexander leaned back, against the wall and put his feet up on the bench. He held his beer but didn’t drink any of it. He said, "You’ve checked this out."

Davies shrugged. "Some of it. Others have done it too. Johnson makes a good point and we’ve all come up with ways to search for the proof."

"These Out of Place Artifacts don’t do it?" asked Sara.

Now, like he was in a lecture hall, Davies began to pontificate. "Not really. Take the Baghdad Batteries. They’re about two thousand years old. Here are earthenware jars with copper and zinc rods in them and some kind of sealant on top. Fill it with a liquid like citrus juice and you’ve created a type of battery. Not one with much voltage, but a battery none the less. What did they do with it? I don’t know, but the existence of the batteries is well known. You can find pictures on the web."

"But from what you’ve described," said Alexander, "you’re talking about something that could have been made in Baghdad back then. It’s not like a double A battery I put in the remote control."

"Your point?" asked Davies.

"The Babylonians had the ability to make the batteries so it proves nothing."

"Precisely. They prove nothing."

"What we need is something that clearly doesn’t belong where it was found. Not some bizarre aberration in history."

"Now you’re talking," said Davies. "You mean like a molded metal bowl that was found inside solid rock. Something that had to be dropped before that rock was rock. Something that would indicate it was millions of years old."

"Exactly," said Alexander.

"It happened in 1852 in Massachusetts," said Davies. "Some kind of an metal bowl inlaid with silver that was found as workmen quarried rock."

Alexander looked at Sara who raised her eyebrows in surprise. He said, "You know about it?"

"Don’t take my word," said Davies. "Look in the Scientific American in June, 1852. The article is there."

"You’ve seen it?" asked Alexander.

"Of course." He drained his beer and stood. "It’s been real. See you later." He disappeared quickly.

"He didn’t pay for his beer," said Sara.

"No, but he never does."

* * *

The main library was nearly on the way back to the dorm and Alexander pulled Sara along with him to the front entrance. They climbed a set of stairs that looked as if they lead to the second floor at Tara and then took another set of stairs, as dirty and grungy as any in any other downtown building to the fourth floor where the bound periodicals were housed.

They entered, walked down a hallway that was lined with work stations that held computers tied into the main library index so that they could search for information on anything in the libraries massive holdings that included almost a complete set of government records.

Alexander always expected an old, musty smell in a dim cavern, but the truth was that there wasn’t a hint of dust anywhere, there were banks of windows along the walls and overhead lights that might have been useful in an operating room.

The stacks were marked, but there were three separate rows and Alexander had never figured out exactly how it worked. He could follow the alphabet back until he came to the "S" section and then worked his way along the shelves until he came to the right place.

The old Scientific Americans were bound in volumes that were a foot high and four inches thick. The dates were noted on the spine so it didn’t take him long to find what he wanted. He pulled the volume out and then walked back to one of the many tables available for use.

"You know you could have done this on line?" said Sara.
He grinned at her. "Sometimes it’s just more fun to look at the original. The book is over a hundred and fifty years old. It came from a time when there were no airplanes or electric lights or radio. It’s from a time when you could argue that the Earth was hollow and people would believe you."

Sara pulled out a chair and sat down. "It’s cold in here."

"It’s always cold in here," said Alexander.

On page 298 in one of the June 1852 issues, he found a story entitled, "A Relic of a By-Gone Age." It told of a metal "vessel" that seemed to come out of the rock in the quarry. But reading it carefully, he noticed that the "vessel" could have been lost in the dirt on top of the rocks and didn’t necessarily come from inside the rock.

To Sara, he said, "This isn’t quite what I thought it would be."

"Make a copy and let’s go."


"Because, tomorrow, you’re going to wish you had a copy and then we’ll have to come back here. This way you’ll have it and not have to find it again."

* * *

The physics building was a new structure that stood ten stories high and was set on the perimeter of the campus. Across the street were a couple of bars, a laundry, a restaurant, and several office buildings including an attorney. When they built the physics building, they were careful not to damage the trees that looked to be a hundred years old.

Alexander had taken several classes in the physics building including two in psychology and one in Spanish. Ironically, the astronomy class was held in one of the older buildings that was the home to the anthropology department.

The only physics professor he knew was Robert Carpenter, and Alexander only knew him because they both played pinball at a small hamburger joint. It had one machine and no one ever put money into it because they all knew how to beat it. They took turns at the pinball, drank Pepsi continuously and sometimes ordered food. Carpenter almost had a second office there.

Alexander knocked on the door and was told to enter. Inside was a small room of cinder block walls, yellow paint and more of the operation room lighting. Carpenter had his desk pushed up against the single narrow but long window so that he could look out. There was a chair for a visitor, a book case that held neatly arranged volumes, a small round table that held journals and a small rug on the vinyl floor.

"David, what can I do for you? Thinking of taking my physics class?"


"Well, have a seat anyway. I was trying to write an exam that I need to give this afternoon."

"I just have a question, but it can wait."

Carpenter grinned. "So can the exam."

Alexander sat down and suddenly felt a little foolish. Discussing time travel with friends was the sort of intellectual masturbation that all students engaged in, but now he was about to talk to a professor about something that belonged in the realm of science fiction.

He hesitated and then asked, "Can we travel through time?"

Carpenter laughed and said, "Johnson’s lecture?"

Alexander nodded. "Yeah."

"Hawking, I think, views time as a continuum," said Carpenter. "You can enter it at any point, not unlike a movie on a continuous loop. When you walk in has no real relation to the beginning or the end of the movie. You can leave when you want and walk in later finding yourself nearer the beginning of the movie, or the end, depending."

Alexander smiled, not sure if he really understood, but, at least, he didn’t have to take notes and there would be no test to worry about.

"Others think of it as more like a hose that you need to wind into it’s carrier. In other words, there is a specific beginning and an end and you have to move forward just one way. You might say that you’re always moving into the future and you have no control over it."

Carpenter held up a hand and said, "I know what you’re thinking. Einstein and time dilation. But that is still a one way trip. You just move forward faster than your fellows and you can slow down to join them."

"Which tells me," said Alexander, "that you don’t think we can travel into the past."

Carpenter leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. "A couple of years ago I would have agreed with you, but there has been some thought, based on new theories about gravity, that suggest it might be possible to travel backwards."

"So then Doctor Johnson’s comment doesn’t make sense, or does it?"

"If you think of time as a continuum and that the future to us already exists in some fashion, then the question could easily be, ‘Where are the tourists?’ But if it is more linear, then the future where they might invent time travel hasn’t arrived yet, so the answer is, the tourists haven’t left yet."

"Unless, of course, this isn’t our first go around," said Alexander, not sure exactly what he meant.

"Well, we know that time dilation works," said Carpenter, "and as we learn more about the nature of gravity, we begin to alter our concepts of time and travel through it. But as it stands right now, we have no evidence that travel back works and certainly no evidence that anyone has."

"What sort of evidence would you look for?" asked Alexander.

"For time dilation, the experimental evidence already exists. If you are looking for something more tangible about time travel into the past, I would think you’d want to examine archaeology. That might turn up something."

Alexander thought, "We’re back to the Out of Place Artifacts." He said nothing though, just nodded.

"Anything else?" asked Carpenter.

Alexander stood up. "No. I’ll let you get back to writing your exam."

"If you have any other questions, let me know."

* * *

Alexander walked slowly back to the dorm, thinking that he was just wasting time. He allowed an off-hand remark by a professor in a core course distract him. He shouldn’t be chasing information on time travel, or attempting to search for evidence of it. Instead, he should be doing research for a paper or studying for one of his classes, or finding out what Sara was doing. Time travel should stay in science fiction where it belonged, not dogging him on campus.

When he got back to the dorm, his roommate was gone, but he had left on the TV, the DVD, and the coffee pot, not to mention every light in the place. The man never turned off anything. It was almost as if he owned stock in the power company.

Alexander turned it all off and then sat down in front of his computer. He typed in Out of Place Artifacts and came up with all sorts of hits. There were iron nails found in granite, but the circumstances suggested the nails might have been hammered into the stone rather than the stone forming around it. There were links of a gold chain found inside coal which was interesting until he learned that a coin, dated 1397 had fallen out of a lump of coal in England. It was clearly a manufactured item and it was found inside the coal, but the date didn’t suggest anything extraordinary.

He learned of a road found in Colorado under ten feet of sand in a region that hadn’t been inhabited by anyone who would have been building roads, but the "road" looked more like the remains of a dried up river bed than something of human construction.

With some excitement he read about a bullet hole in the skull of an long extinct beast. This was the sort of thing he had been wanting to find. Evidence of a technology that was far beyond that of the time when the animal was killed. Hunters from the future playing out their blood lust in the past. This was the stuff of science fiction but it might also be the stuff of science fact in the future.

But he learned that not everyone interpreted the hole in the skull as a bullet hole. There were more mundane explanations for it, and those explanations were more logical and more likely than a bullet hole.

There was something that looked like a sparkplug found inside a geode. If true, then the sparkplug was half a million years old. The problem was that the sparkplug was identified as having been manufactured in 1920 and the geode might not have been a geode. In other words, Alexander realized, it wasn’t the proof for which he searched.

After hours on the Internet, looking at site after site, after seeing the same items written about endlessly, he realized there was nothing definitive in what he found and therefore no proof. If the proof existed, he would have to go into the field to find it and an undergraduate didn’t have the money to make those sorts of trips even if he could figure out where to go and what to look for.

He stood up and looked out into the growing darkness of the late evening. There were students walking between buildings and a game of rugby going on in the field across the street. The lights were just coming on.

The door opened and he expected his roommate but Sara walked in, glanced at him and then moved directly to the bed. She sat down, looking shaky.

"What’s the matter with you?" he asked, somewhat annoyed.

She looked up at him as if surprised to hear his voice in his room.

She said, "I’ve just come from the library. I was in the Special Collections section."


She stared at him. "I think you should come with me. I think you need to see this."

Without a word he walked to the door.

* * *

The Special Collections were held in a large room on the top floor of the library. In the hallway outside the room were display cases showing some of the more interesting items such as a Civil War journal by a soldier killed on Little Round Top that had a hole in the top of it, photographs taken by a student who had served in the First World War and a large collection of NASA materials that demonstrated the university’s participation in space exploration.

Sara grabbed the door and pulled it open. Since she worked, part time, in the Special Collections, no one stopped her to ask her reason for being there. She took Alexander by the hand, lead him through the large reading room and into the back which looked like a smaller version of the Bound Periodicals but that didn’t have the windows or lighting. The air conditioning was set to maintain a temperature of 72 and the humidity was regulated.

She stopped near a small table and pulled on a couple of cotton gloves. She said, "You’ll need to wear gloves if you want to touch anything."

Alexander took a pair of gloves but didn’t put them on.

She directed him to a small work room in the back. There was a table in the center of it, a light on a long pole that could be moved around and directed at a specific place, a magnifier and a stack of old books.

She pointed and said, "Willed to the university. We have to look through them and supply the estate with an estimate of their worth."

"You do that?"

"No, I just catalog the books, give a description, and then one of the librarians looks at the lists to see if there is anything unusual or rare on it. Most of the time it’s just old books that have no real value other than sentimental for the owners."

"I didn’t know this place existed," said Alexander.

"Not many do. Over in the vault area there are some books of real value. I mean one of a kind type things that are hundreds of years old and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to collectors."

Alexander pulled out one of the chairs and dropped into it. "What have you got?" he asked.

"I know that you’ve been searching for proof of time travel," she said.

He laughed and asked, "And you found it in this library?"

She didn’t like his tone and shot him a look. Then she said, "We got a collection in a couple of months ago and we’ve just gotten around to looking at it. Nothing spectacular, though I think there is a first edition of Poe that is worth quite a lot of money."

Alexander looked at the stack of books. They had gold-lined pages and the spines on some were broken and flaking. He saw one that was set aside that looked old but did not fit in with the other books.

The cover was colorful but the pages were stained with age.

Sara touched it with a gloved hand and pushed it toward him. The title was A Brief History of the 21st Century.

"Look at the copyright date," she said.

Alexander did and said, "It’s a typo."

"They don’t make typos like that," said Sara.

"I saw a book once called The Galactic Silver Star and they had misspelled galactic on the spine. Two Ls."

"They don’t make typos on the title page. Look at it."

He slipped on the cotton gloves and opened it to a color picture of American soldiers standing beneath the crossed swords of the Baghdad parade grounds. He recognized the picture from the news.

He saw a picture of the twin towers on fire and another of a space craft on Mars with a caption about it’s construction in California. There was a picture of a smoking downtown San Francisco that was reminiscent of the 1906 earthquake but the picture was in color and was dated 2025.

He looked up at her and said, "I don’t get it."

She rolled her eyes as if he was being obtuse. "That book reports on what happened in the 21st Century."

"So someone put out a book of predictions about what would happen and included stuff from the beginning of the century. Stuff that already happened."

"No, they didn’t. Look at the pages. They’re aged. The paper is old. This book was in with other books that were more than a hundred years old."

"Someone was playing a joke like those newspapers you see at fairs. Put a fake headline on it. Hell, today anyone with Photoshop can fake pictures and make them so real it’s impossible to prove they’re faked."

"You don’t get it do you?" she said.

"Get what?"

"That’s your proof. It’s not a book of predictions of what’s going to happen. It’s a book about important locations where things have already happened."
"It’s just some gimmick that was put together for a joke."

Sara shook her head sadly. She glanced at him and then the book and said,"This is what you wanted. This is your proof."

He looked at her astonished. "How is it my proof?"

"It’s a list of historic places to visit. It’s what those tourists that Hawking and Johnson and you have been talking about need. A way to find their way around in the past. It’s the Triple A guidebook from the future. It’s your proof."

He looked at her and then at the book. He felt chills along his spine as he reached out to touch the book. She was right. Time travel did exist and the tourists had been spotted.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

On the Second Tuesday of Next Week - Chapter 1

(Note: This is the first chapter of the time travel novel, On the Second Tuesday of Next Week. The rest of the book is available only on Amazon's Kindle. You can find it there using the novel's title. If you decide to purchase the rest of the book - Why thank you. If not, you have a sample of it here. Thanks for dropping by. KDR)
Chapter One

Captain Jack Ellis stood at the hatch leading to the darkened, empty hangar deck and was overwhelmed by a feeling of deja vu. He thought that he had done it all before, and, of course he had. First in training, and then on active missions, and now, at the beginning of a combat patrol with the enemy ships out there, somewhere in the night.

Like most of his fellow pilots, both male and female, Ellis was young, just barely twenty-six. Unlike them, he was burly and tall, almost six three, which made it a tight squeeze into the cockpit. His hair, like that of his fellows, both male and female was cut short, only about half an inch long, which meant the helmet, with its electrodes, was a tighter, better fit. He didn’t like his hair cut so short, but longer hair sometimes interfered with the contacts, shorting them out in high stress situations when the perspiration soaked him and he needed the best the combat computers had to offer.

As he stood there, looking at the single and dual seat craft, the overhead lights suddenly brightened. Now, at the far end, tucked into a corner of the hangar bay near the main battle door, the lights of the control room came on. Behind the thick, debris resistant glass, were the men and women who would control the launch. They were all dressed in light gray coveralls and all wore tiny headsets with almost invisible thread microphones. They began to take their places behind the main consoles that held view screens and computer readouts, and sensor arrays.

A voice behind him asked, "You going in, or are you just part of the hatch?"

Ellis recognized the voice of Jim Jensen, a Navy pilot who Ellis didn’t like very much. Jensen had a bad attitude, thought that only the Navy knew how to operate in space, and often expressed his feelings that Air Force pilots should have stayed on Earth where they belonged. After all, there is no air in space.

He turned. As usual, Jensen’s gray Navy uniform was sweat stained under the arms. Jensen’s head glistened with sweat and his hair, short like everyone’s, was damp. He looked as if he had come from the shower and hadn’t bothered with a towel. Even the climate control on the ship couldn’t defeat Jensen’s perspiration.

"No," said Ellis. "I was just about to enter."

"Well, have at it, my man. There is fighting to be done today."

"You don’t have to sound so happy about it," said Ellis.

"Why not? This is what it is all about. This is what we’ve trained to do. This is why we joined up. I’m glad to get the opportunity. Finally."

Ellis shook his head in disbelief. Jensen sounded like the officers from the old Civil War. On for a promotion or a grave. On for a brevet or a coffin or on for the glory of the unit, at any cost. He had hoped that his generation was more enlightened than those of his great grandfather’s great grandfather. He hoped they had discovered that there rarely was glory in war, but the lesson had gone unlearned.

Before he was forced to reply, the other pilots swarmed onto the flight deck through a variety of hatches. He watched them move among the craft of dark composition materials, absorbing some of the sound they made.

Jensen slapped him on the shoulder and said, "This is it."
Ellis shrugged off Jensen’s hand and stepped forward, through the hatch. He walked across the hard metal of the flight deck and reached his fighter. It was a small ship, only about fifteen feet long, four or five feet wide, and made of a dark composition of carbon, plastic, and very little metal. There were no sharp angles on it to reflect radar, no shiny surfaces to pick up and reflect starlight, and baffles around the engine that dispersed the energy to reduce the heat signature, though in the cold of space, that was nearly impossible.

The canopy stood open so that he could climb in. His helmet was hung on the back of his seat. He grabbed it, fitted it to his head carefully, feeling the electrodes as they touched his scalp along the top and sides of his head.

Ellis put his foot up, into the small cutout on the side of the ship, and stepped up and in, onto the center of the cockpit seat. He then moved forward and sat down, struggling to push his body into position so that his feet were against the thruster pedals and his hands could reach the various electronic, radio, sensor and weapons controls. He wiggled a couple of times until the seat seemed to mold itself to his body and he was comfortable in his fighter.

The heads-up display, the HUD, setting directly in front of him, brightened, seeming to hang in midair. The holographic images were color-coded to show his own fleet and its swarm of tiny craft, and that of the enemy, still several hundred thousand miles away, but closing fast.

Ellis touched the trigger that would ignite the engine, but didn’t pull it. He moved his hand and allowed the canopy to close so that now he was encased in his ship, almost as if he was wearing it. He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned back, against the soft, yielding mass of the head rest and waited for the rally signal.

The lights on the hangar deck dimmed and then slowly turned to dark red. It changed the look of everything around him, making the other ships into dark gray lumps that seemed to have no shape or design. Tiny lights, red and green, flashed on as the ships began to start their engines. The main battle door shimmered and disappeared, revealing, beyond it, a sea of stars, and to the right, low, almost impossible to see, the crescent shape of Pluto and near it, Clarion. The other two, smaller moons were lost in the distance or the glow of the dwarf planet.

Ellis touched the switch for the flight command frequency. "Give me a quick commo check."

"Two," said Linda Schaffer, who was about the same age as Ellis, but had spent an extra year in civilian training so that she understood more about aeronautical and electrical engineering than he did, as it applied to space flight.

"Three." That was Jason Horn, a very young man who had finished flight training and had only just completed his combat check ride. He seemed immature and Ellis had to remind himself that Horn was only twenty-two.

"Four." Karen Davis who had been transferred over from another flight so that Ellis didn’t know her all that well. She was nearly as tall as he but was much thinner. She didn’t have to struggle so hard to fit into the fighter.

"Five." Tom Williams was the old man of the flight at twenty-eight. He had started out in a civilian college but then had decided that the military was for him and switched over losing a couple of years of credits. He was a small man with dark hair and large ears that stuck out like jug handles.

"Six," said Roger Douglas. He was an old pro of twenty-five who was given the last slot so that he could watch what the others were doing and offer them criticisms. No one liked him because he was too good at the job and let everyone know just how good he thought he was.

Ellis switched to the company frequency and said, "Raptor is ready."


With empty minutes to fill, Ellis closed his eyes and thought about the final briefing held late the night before. It had been a grim affair with the commanding general standing to one side of the podium as expert after expert had provided the bad news about the enemy. The normal joking disappeared as the facts and figures had been presented. The Denebians had them outclassed and outnumbered in every category. Their big fleet carriers were larger than those of Earth, carried more fighters or attack ships, and had better overall protection. They were almost impossibly difficult to detect in space because of their stealth capabilities. They were faster and better armed. Although, according to the experts, the enemy force wasn't absolutely overwhelming, it was close enough that no one in the human fleet was expected to survive to the end of the week. This included those who would not be taking a direct part in the fighting, but those who remained on the fleet carriers in various support capacities. Although no one said it, it was clear the brass hats were thinking in terms of a suicide mission that might dely the Denebian invasion long enough for the Earth to prepare a better defense.

Ellis, with the other flight commanders, sat around the huge table that looked to have been made of the finest mahogany and inlaid with dark marble. There had been a bottle of beer at each place, a PDA that no one was expected to use and roster of the replacement pilots available in case a flight commander was short a crew or two.

Over the center of the table, in a huge holographic display were pictures of the approaching enemy taken by remote controlled drones and tiny cameras scattered in their path as they approached the Solar System. It showed the enemy ships in a spherical formation that allowed them to create interlocking fields of fire and to protect one another during an attack. An assault on one ship would draw the fire of half a dozen others, reducing the chance of success for the attacker, not to mention the chance of survival.

At the center of the fleet, screened by smaller, dark ships that were probably little more than weapons platforms were the equivalent of the Earth’s fleet carriers. These were large, oval-shaped ships that could hold a hundred or two hundred of the smaller fighters used to break up the formations so that the destroyers or cruisers could get into attack the main body of the fleet. Ellis wasn’t so much intimidated by the size of the fleet carriers as he was by the number of ships in the formation. The foe had spent a great deal of economic wealth in creating the fleet and then sending it so far to attack Earth.

Once they had gotten a good look at the size of the enemy fleet, the leader of the free Earth had appeared in the holographic display. She stood about three feet tall, and was framed by the commanders of the Combined Headquarters and the Ground Assault Force. Her voice was high and annoying as she said, in her recorded, holographic message, "We are expecting great things from you all in the next few days. Never have so many owed so much to so few. Thank you."

She winked out of existence as Ellis identified the quote as a paraphrase of Winston Churchill made during War Two and said at the conclusion of a success rather than as a prelude to a failure.

The end of the briefing had been classic. The commanding general, his head bowed and his voice choked with emotion told them of the great defenses of history. The Spartans at Thermopylae, the Texicans at the Alamo, the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. All had been heroic holding actions that provided time for those at home to create an army or assemble reinforcements. What the general didn't mention was that the Spartans and Texicans had been massacred, and the 101st had been so badly mauled that they had operationally ceased to exist. Death was the reward for those who had been placed on the firing line.

As they had filed from the briefing theater, the general had reminded them that the contents of the briefing were highly classified. In the past Ellis had laughed at that. How would they tell the enemy even if they had wanted? But this time the general was telling them not to discuss it with the rest of the flight crews. This was a secret to be kept from their own people or the morale would plummet because it was clear that no one expected them to survive, let alone win.

Then, in another gesture of support, the general stood in the hatch and shook the hand of every one of the flight commanders as he or she left the conference room. That was almost as frightening as the facts given during the briefing.


The company radio crackled suddenly, breaking into his thoughts. "Let’s get ready to launch."

Near the main battle doors, the first flight lifted to about two feet above the deck and as one, slide forward. The lead ship jumped ahead, and disappeared out the battle door, the five other ships assigned to him, following. A second flight fell in behind the first.

Ellis said, "Raptors," and lifted his ship carefully. He slide toward the door without glancing at his display, knowing that his flight was behind him. As he crossed the threshold, he dived, relative to the big fleet carrier, and then broke down and to his right.

Spread out behind him, almost invisible to him, was the rest of the Earth Fleet. The ships had been called in from all parts of the galaxy, leaving human colonies on Tau Ceti, Epilson Eridani and Groombridge 1618 unprotected. Not that the fleets there had been particularly big to begin with or that they had been there for the protection of the colonists.

Around him, the other flights, made up of small craft, some that carried a single nuclear weapon, winked out as they turned off their lights and began masking their intentions. Stealth became the way to work as they searched for the enemy ships which would be surrounded by clouds of fighters.

They raced through space, the signals on the heads up becoming stronger. Ellis glanced out the cockpit window. His flight was still strung out behind him, right where it was supposed to be, just as it was displayed on the HUD.

"Check your heads up," said Schaffer in Number Two.
The Denebian fleet seemed to come apart at that moment. The huge, flashing red shapes of their fleet carriers fragmented as hundreds of smaller craft were launched. No where around him were the comforting orange of his fleet or yellow of the his fighter cover. He was facing the might of the Denebian invasion force, apparently alone.

As they closed on the enemy fleet, the Denebian fighters dived on them from above the plain of the ecliptic. Schaffer spun the control on her laser cannon, aligning her sights on the lead fighter. She keyed the mike. "Here they come."

Number Three, Jason Horn, echoed her words, "Here they come."

Ellis ignored them both, now concentrating on the gigantic enemy carrier in front of him. He scanned the heads up, checked the range and heard the warbling tone that told him his missiles had found a target, barely in range. To himself he kept repeating, "Keep them off me. Keep them off me."

"Let's hammer them," said Horn.

Almost everyone in space around him opened fire at the same instant, the beams flashing. An enemy fighter exploded into a short-lived ball of orange fire. The rest of the enemy swarmed around, firing rapidly, but failing to stop the attack.

"They're on us."

"I got one."

"Coming in from the twelve o'clock relative. Half dozen. Turning to engage."

"Negative," said Ellis. "Maintain unit integrity."

Ellis shifted slightly, pushed forward on the controls. Enemy fighters filled space around him, firing at his flight. Ellis shot back, launched an anti-ship missile and saw it spiral out of control.

"They're coming in from behind," said Schaffer. Her voice was high and tight.

Ellis ignored that too, twisting in the seat so that he could look behind him. The heads up was showing enemy all around. Bright spots sparkled and disappeared as individual ships were destroyed and pilots died.

The heads up was filled with enemy fighters. A half dozen of them swooped in. One of them disappeared suddenly, and then a second. Schaffer was using her laser cannon effectively, as were others in the flight. Space was filled with the bright beams as they danced around like the colored spray from a fire hose.

"We'll take the center carrier," said Ellis. "Concentrate on the center carrier."

Ellis touched the controls, spinning his ship on its axis so that he was now flying backwards. He used the thrusters, slowed the sudden retreat and then accelerated. One of the enemy fighters passed in front of him and Ellis snapped a shot at him. The beam sliced through the enemy ship like a knife taking the top off a soft boiled egg. There was a brilliant shimmer as the fuel exploded and the enemy was gone.

Spinning again, Ellis tried to find the remainder of his flight, but they were now scattered through space. The furball grew around the enemy as the ships engaged one another hiding the small, individual battles. The lights on the HUD were mixed. The pilots of the fighters and attack craft searched for one another as the Earth force tried to penetrate the Denebian outer defenses, taking the attack to them rather than waiting for it to near them.

Now the weapons on the Denebian carrier opened fire, the whole side seeming to erupt. Missiles and beams slashed through space. The Denebians were attempting to create a wall of hard radiation to kill Ellis' pilots and disrupt and detonate anything they tried to shoot through it.

The wave of radiation passed them but the shielding of the ships protected them. The Denebian fighters turned on them again. At the edge of his flight, two ships vanished in bright flashes of flame. A third was crippled, the ship dropping away from the flight, spinning wildly. Someone had squeezed a mike button and broadcast the scream until it was abruptly cut off. He thought it might have been Horn, but he didn’t know.

Now there was no chatter among the Earth ships. Each of the pilots was too busy trying to stay alive. Each engaged in tiny battles. Ellis felt his vision, and attention, narrow to a tunnel directly in front of him.

From far on the left appeared another flight. Space seemed to explode in that direction. A bright expanding cloud flared briefly and then disappeared. There was a single scream, like a war whoop, as the ships appeared, and then vanished in brilliant flashes of flame and light.

Ellis wasn't sure what happened. His attention was on the enemy ship directly in front of him. The sides of it were sparkling as it fired and took hits from beams and missiles. And then, suddenly, he was back in range, good, solid tones on all weapons. Ellis fired four nuclear tipped torpedoes, hesitated and then slavoed his missiles. As the weapons jumped clear, Ellis pushed forward on his control, looping down and away from the enemy.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught a flash and knew that another friend had just died. Ignoring that, he spiraled down as one more of the ships with him exploded. He knew that many had died, he just didn't know it had been almost all of them.

Schaffer, watching the scene on her sensors, suddenly screamed, "We hit him. We hit him bad."

Ellis glanced at the heads up, changed channels and focused on the Denebian carrier ahead of him. Torpedoes somehow jinked their way through the enemy defenses, hit the front end and crushed the big hangar doors. One of the torpedoes flew through the wreckage there and exploded inside the giant ship. The carrier stopped for an instant, shook itself like an overweight, drunken dinosaur and then flew apart in a brilliant flash of bright red light and a spreading cloud of glowing, twinkling debris, bodies, and broken equipment.

"That's it," shouted Schaffer. "We got him."

But Ellis didn't feel the joy. He had realized that he was nearly alone. His flight was long gone. "Forget it, Linda," he said tiredly, ignoring standard radio procedure. "It doesn't matter now."

Denebian fighters swarmed around the fleet carrier wreckage like angry bees from a ruined hive. They were targeting everything larger than a snowball. They were going to destroy all the Earth Defense Force craft and kill every human they could find before attacking the rest of the Earth fleet.

Ellis kept his camouflage on flat black, and then turned off all the internal equipment that could radiate any type of signal. He cut the engines to reduce the infrared signature and to disrupt the ion trail. He let the ship drift away from the battle, masquerading as another dead hulk.

From nowhere Denebian fighters appeared, angling down toward him. It was obvious that he had been found, and he fired his engines, kicking the ship back, toward his own fleet and apparent safety.

A bright red laser beam flashed, hit the rear of his ship, and cut through the armor plating near the thrusters. It felt as if he had been hit with a brick thrown by a hurricane. Ellis was slammed against the seatbelt and shoulder harness in the sudden acceleration. Instinctively he grabbed at the instrument panel to brace himself.

Ellis scanned the instruments. A single warning light was blinking. He punched a button and the light winked out. All systems and weapons were still operational, but the ship was slowing rapidly. Forward momentum had been absorbed in the energy of the hit.

He drifted to a stop, momentarily dead in space. The Denebians, closed for the kill, buzzed him as if examining him, and then broke off the attack. They passed without firing again, leaving him alone, far below the plane of the ecliptic.

For a moment Ellis sat quietly, his eyes on the heads up. His flight now gone but Denebian fighters were everywhere. They were attacking the various flights from the Earth fleet. The small yellow lights were winking out rapidly. Much too rapidly. The enemy fleet dominated the heads up.

Adding power, Ellis began to limp away from the point of attack, lost in the confusion of the fight. Ellis dropped down, relative to his ship, away from the enemy and the plane of the ecliptic. He tried to understand what was happening behind him.

A Denebian caught him about a thousand klicks from the battle. He made one pass, firing rapidly, and then spun away. Ellis fought to control his ship. Something exploded behind him. He was slammed forward again as another explosion rocked the front of him. Something slashed into his shoulder and pain flared hot and bright. He tried to turn and was unable to do it. A red fog grew in front of his eyes and he could see nothing around him.

The heads up was blank. He didn't know where the enemy was or where safety was. He shoved the throttles and felt a rumbling behind him that was not quite right. His speed increased slightly and he turned, trying to find his way clear.

Outside, the battle seemed to have ended. Ellis didn't know what had happened. The heads up was blank. He was flying blind, moving away from the enemy. That was all he knew for sure.

Again he tried the flight frequency but there was no response. When he tried to twist in his seat, he thought he would pass out. He sat up straight, not moving, trying to find the fleet. He squeezed the mike button tightly, cracking it and then shattering it. He whispered into the radio but there was no answer.


Ellis was now afraid to move. The pain in his shoulder grew, burning hot and flaring brightly so that it affected his chest and upper body and made him dizzy. He wanted help, needed it badly, but couldn’t raise anyone on the radio. He wasn’t sure where he was, where the fleet was, or where the enemy was. He was disoriented, sick, and almost unable to think.

Then, as the ship rotated slowly, he spotted Pluto, now a giant glowing ball rising from the left. Without thinking, he touched a pedal, felt a slight vibration, and watched as the nose of his fighter came down, centering on Pluto. Without thinking about it, he leveled the ship, bottom toward the planet’s surface, and tried to enter orbit, flying almost as if he was in an airplane.

As he entered orbit, he flipped on the nav aids, but there was no response from them. He punched the emergency transmit button, hoping that its signal was strong enough to be detected. Hoping that there was a signal to be detected. Then on the horizon, he saw the bright lights of the human outpost. He pushed the nose of the ship toward it, cut the power and tried to drop the several thousand feet to the ground.

He saw the outpost rushing toward him but it looked unreal, ghostly and tinged with red. Suddenly it seemed he was standing in a deep cave staring up, into a cloudless bright sky that was slowly changing to overcast.

He lost sight of the outpost, of the lights and even Pluto. To him it was strange because they had been there only minutes before. He looked around wildly, or thought he did, but saw nothing. Now there was only blackness, but not of space because he could see no stars or planets, or even the enemy fleet.