moothly the shuttle rose. It kept rising. He saw the lights of the compound
dropping below him. He gave more commands, attempting to turn the shuttle and
take it out to where the Captain Morgan rode at anchor in the night.
No, he'd done something wrong. The console gave a peremptory electronic grunt
and ignored him, and cryptic red letters flashed in front of his eyes as a
recorded voice cried: "ERROR! ENTER PILOT CODE!"
"Pilot code?" Alec bit his lower lip. He sorted in desperation through the database
as the shuttle continued its rise, high enough now to show him the distant lights of
Los Angeles. At last he found something that seemed right and entered it.
The shuttle made an awful noise and lurched forward, then began to spiral wildly,
out of control. Alec heard warning klaxons, and the red letters flashed again and
the voice shouted at him: "ERROR! ERROR! DEFAULT COORDINATES!"
The chemical smell intensified. Turning his head, Alec could see the cabin
beginning to fill with yellow smoke. Not smoke. Stasis gas. The shuttle
was preparing to return to its last destination. It was about to take him through time.
"Oh God, oh God--" He sought for the information he needed, but without the
Captain it was like thumbing through a thirty-volume encyclopedia in a burning
house. The gas filled his lungs and blinded him, there was a moment of
sensual pleasure to which his body responded with moronic readiness, and then a
wave of nausea as a brilliant light cut through the yellow fog and an impact
seemed to flatten him in his seat like a crushed insect.
He might have lost consciousness for a second. He was next aware of watching the
gas boil away as some vent activated, and he was staring down in bemusement at
the blue sky. Above it, like a cloud mass, spread a brown horizon and blue water.
But that was wrong, wasn't it?
With a cry of terror he struggled again to get the controls to obey him. Earth/sea
and sky exchanged places, flipped again, righted themselves. The shuttle screamed
through a long descending turn and straightened out a few bare meters above the surface
of the water, barreling toward land and steadily losing altitude. A winged fish
smacked into the window, its goggle-eyed astonishment mirroring his own before it
was torn away by the slipstream. He attempted to cut the shuttle's power and found
that it seemed to be obeying him. The forward thrust lessened perceptibly.
Unfortunately, he was still headed straight for the island.
He spotted a bay between two projecting headlands, and beyond it a green flood
plain coming down to the water's edge, at the mouth of a wide canyon running back
into the depths of the interior. He steered for it and the shuttle obeyed him. If he
could just run out of momentum before he ran out of canyon--
He began hitting green stuff, tall grass, sugar cane or something. It got all over
the window and made it hard to steer around the low foothills that rose to right
and left, blocking his way. Somehow he managed, though, snaking the shuttle
through the long slalom, and a distant corner of his mind noted with satisfaction
that he was beginning to learn to pilot the craft. The same detached observer
noted that there was blood dripping from his chin.
The shuttle began to slew sideways, cutting a swath through the green field as it
came. The ground rose to meet it with a sickening impact, and Alec was thrown
forward painfully in his seat restraints. He was no longer moving in any
direction, through space or time. The relief was so intense he blacked out.
omeone was trying to get his attention.
He blinked, focusing his eyes. Where had all this blood come from? He straightened
up in his seat and peered incredulously out the window. The shuttle had come to
rest tilted forward on its nose in the field, and there was a strong smell of
crushed vegetation coming through the open air vents. Heat, too; a bright
subtropical sun was beating down on the shuttle.
The woman who stood looking in through the window waited patiently as he sorted
all this out. Their eyes met. She slipped a marker into the pocket of her
coveralls and held up her right hand, on the palm of which she had written
for him to see:
DO YOU SPEAK CINEMA STANDARD?
What did the words mean? He could recognize a couple of them.
She made a trumpet of her hands and leaned close to the window, shouting:
"You appear to require medical assistance! Do you need help getting out of
Who on earth was she? After a moment of gaping at her he unfastened his safety
restraints and ordered the shuttle hatch to open. It popped up, filling the cabin
with fresh air, unbelievably sweet after the Stasis Gas. Drawing in a deep breath,
he stood up and fell to his hands and knees, pitching forward through the hatchway.
He must have blacked out again for a second because she was abruptly there beside him,
without appearing to have come round the front of the shuttle. She got her arms
around him and hoisted him up, and he stood beside her in the midst of her ruined field,
clinging to her lest he topple over again. What a strong young lady she was. He looked
down at her and saw that his blood was smeared on her face and in her hair.
"Oh--" He dragged his hand up to his steadily bleeding nose. "Oh, I'm so sorry--"
She touched her hand to her cheek and looked at it. Then she looked up at him with
an odd smile. "It's all right, dear," she said. "Never you mind. I think you need
to lie down a while in the shade, yes? Let's see what we can do about that bleeding."
They walked away, him leaning on her as they threaded through the green rows. It
didn't seem to be sugar cane they were walking through. It was covered all over with
things like big green ganja-joints, each one bearing a tassel at its end. He must be
hallucinating. He wondered if he was hallucinating the girl. She looked just like
his mermaid figurehead, except she had clothes on. And legs instead of a curved fish
tail. And her fire-colored hair was braided back severely, a long braid that came
clear down to her behind. He considered her breasts thoughtfully, looking down as
they staggered along.
Another canyon opened up off the main one where he'd crashed, narrow between green
hills. There beyond the rows was a neatly tended garden shaded by trees, and a little
house with white-plastered walls and a roof of clay tile. It had a funny organic
appearance, a certain lack of straight lines or sharp edges. Or maybe it was
shimmering in the heat, or maybe his vision was blurring. Maybe all three.
"Here now, sweetheart." She led him up on the porch and settled him down on a bench.
"You rest here a moment."
He looked around foggily. The bench was made of big hand-hewn planks. He must be
somewhere in the past. He wondered when. He didn't know enough about history to
pinpoint his location, but he had a vague idea that houses and furniture hadn't
looked like this since well before the Space Age. She'd been speaking with just
the faintest unidentifiable accent, too, a steely precision that suggested...
what? This must be some time before the twentieth century. On the other hand,
she'd shown not the slightest surprise or dismay at the sight of the time shuttle.
Who was she?
He found himself waiting for the Captain to tell him, and gulped in dismay when he
remembered that the Captain was missing in action. There was a roaring in his ears,
a crowding at the edges of his vision; suddenly she was there again, holding his head
up with both her hands on his face, looking into his eyes.
"...You don't want to go away again, you're going to be fine. Stay with me, now.
Listen to the sound of my voice. I'm going to give you something to make the
bleeding stop, okay?"
"'Kay," he said thickly.
"Good boy. This'll sting, I'm afraid. What's your name? Can you tell me your name?"
"Alec," he said. She put a coagulator wand to his nose and fired. It stung, all right.
Then she held a wad of wet cloth under his mostrils, tilting his head back.
"Alec! Really? As in Alec Guinness?"
"Alec Checkerfield," he said indistinctly, looking at her over the cloth.
"Alec Checkerfield! Well. And you're an Englishman, obviously. Can you tell me
what year it is, Alec?"
"Er-- well-- it was 2351 when I left--" he said. She caught her breath. He gulped
and blundered on. "Only I guess I'm somewhere else now."
She nodded slowly. "I guess you are. Did something go wrong with your time shuttle?"
Okay, she wasn't a denizen of a past time. That meant--
"You work for Dr. Zeus," he said, noticing at last the corporate logo on the
breast pocket of her coveralls. There was another emblem beside it, a clock
face without hands.
She considered him for a long moment, an unreadable expression in her eyes.
"Actually," she said, "I'm a prisoner here."
That sank in and he calmed down. "Oh," he said, as she moved the cloth to see
if the bleeding had stopped-- it hadn't quite-- and zapped him again with the
wand. "Ow. You mean you're from the same time as me? And, and this is a
prison colony or something? I thought I'd traveled back into the past."
"You did," she said. "But this isn't a colony. I'm alone here, as a matter
of fact. You're lucky you landed where you did, practically in my front yard.
There's no other living soul on this island, and won't be for another hundred
There was something weirdly familiar in the soothing tone of her voice, in the
deftness of her hands, with never a wasted movement. He found himself thinking
of Sarah, though this woman was white-pale and and austerely caucasian of
feature. He'd have taken her for a Celt, if not for her eyes and her voice.
Was her accent American?
"So-- so this is the past, like prehistoric times or something?" he said, struggling
to keep his grip on consciousness.
"More or less," she said, checking the bleeding again. She gave him one last jolt
with the wand. "There now. Let's see how that works. You're not a Dr. Zeus
shuttle pilot then, I take it."
"No," he admitted. "Dr. Zeus has wrecked my life, just like it's wrecked yours.
I can't tell you all the details, but I'm going to get the bastards."
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