The Cross-Time Road Trip

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by ChrisNuttall, Jun 9, 2011.


  1. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    This is another snippet - it's meant to be funny.

    Chapter One<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />

    “Junk,” Erica said.

    She looked around the warehouse and rolled her eyes. Every table was covered with computer junk, from relatively modern – and already outdated – computers from a year ago to machines that were older than her twenty-two years. The hall buzzed with computer geeks, who were studying the machines and bidding frantically on the handful of interesting or useful devices. It was very definitely not her scene.

    “Junk,” she said, again. “When are you going to find a proper job?”

    Bruno snorted. Short and swarthy, compared to Erica’s blond good looks, they made an odd pair. “If this is junk,” he said, as he picked up an old laptop and frowned at the state of the battery, “why are you wasting your time here?”

    “Because I lost the vote,” Erica reminded him, dryly. It was perfectly true. The four of them had bickered over what they would be doing over the break and only settled the issue by voting. She made a mental note to insist on going to the breach at least twice during the break. Some exposure to the sun would be good for the three boys. Not that they were really boys, of course. Bruno was actually three years older than her. Quite why he preferred to stay at college was a mystery to his mother, but not to Erica. Bruno simply enjoyed tinkering with computers and electronic junk. “And besides, I can see Duke over there and I might have a chance to kick him in the balls again.”

    She smiled at the thought, running her hand through her short blonde hair. A year ago, she’d been lonely and bored and accepted Duke’s offer of a date without thinking about his true motives. The date had been short and terminated by his hand making a very unwanted grab for her breast and Erica lifting her knee and ramming him right in the groin. There was something about being a football player, she’d often considered, that made men think that they were lords of all creation. Duke hadn't been able to play for several weeks after she’d kicked him and walked out.

    “Right,” Bruno said. He headed over to another table and, bored out of her mind, Erica followed him. “I think he’s a bit out of his depth here.”

    “Or maybe he’s just stupid enough to think he knows what he’s doing here,” Kit said, as he appeared from behind a massive pile of hard drives that had been top of the range only five years ago. “I mean...why would he come here, unless he thinks some of the smartness in this room would rub off on him.”

    Erica rolled her eyes again. Kit was wearing his favourite outfit, daring anyone to make fun of it. He wore a very effeminate frock coat and garish pants, advertising his sexuality for all to see. Erica, who knew that he was also an unarmed combat expert, had once asked him if he was deliberately trawling for jerks to beat up. Kit had only winked at her.

    “Not the only thing that is likely to rub off on him,” Bruno said, and stuck out his tongue. Kit returned the rude gesture and added a one-fingered embellishment of his own. “Does he really matter in her anyway?”

    Erica watched him picking through the computer junk and made a show of checking her watch. Perhaps the three boys – she spied GBW making his way towards them through the mob of computer geeks – would enjoy being in the warehouse and looking at computers, but she was bored, bored and bored. On the other hand, she told herself, Duke might come over and make another pass at her. She’d heard enough whispers about how he treated his dates to know that a second chance to hurt him shouldn't be passed up.

    “Look at this,” Bruno said, as he picked up an odd piece of technology. “What do you think this is?”

    Erica studied it as Kit took it from Bruno and held it up to the light. It was a small box, painted silver, with a big red button on the top. She was reminded of a cartoon detonator for a second, before reminding herself that such devices had gone out of use decades ago. When Kit passed it to her, she was surprised by the weight. It felt heavier than a standard hard drive, if indeed it was a hard drive. But then, what she knew about computers was barely a drop in the ocean compared to the boys. What they didn't know about computers wasn't worth knowing.

    “Odd,” GBW said, as he joined them. Compared to Kit and Bruno, GBW was surprisingly ordinary, almost invisible in a crowd. He was the perpetual straight man compared to his two friends, although like the rest of them he was an outcast from the different social classes at college. Erica sometimes thought that the only thing that bound them together was social exclusion from everywhere else. “I've never seen anything like it. Japanese, you think?”

    “Could be,” Bruno said, as he took the device back and turned it over in his hands. He uncovered a small compartment that appeared to be linked to the device’s power supply. “I wonder if we could link one of our laptops into this...thingy.”

    “Why not?” Erica said, dryly. “Perhaps you think that it could be used in your tower of power?”

    Bruno grinned. “Why not indeed?” He echoed her, before calling to the seller. “Hey, how much for this piece of junk?”

    The seller, a young man who looked old enough to be Erica’s father, frowned. “That’s not one of mine, dude,” he said. He took it and studied it thoughtfully. “I don’t know where it came from, or what this mark here is.”

    He passed it back to Bruno. “Just take it,” he said. “I don’t have room for whatever it is.”

    Bruno smiled and passed it back to Kit, who dumped it in his bag and led the way over to the exit. Erica looked around for GBW, who was picking up a small collection of CDs from one of the tables, and beckoned for him to follow them. GBW shrugged, dropped some money on the table and headed over to join them. The bright sunlight struck her as soon as she stepped through the exit and she smiled, even as the boys recoiled from its touch. Who knew? A bit more sun and they might blossom into manhood.

    They stopped at a burger bar for a bite to eat and then walked back towards the college. After their first year at college, they’d moved into a small apartment that the boys had rented using the profits they’d made from selling a handful of computer programs on the internet. Bruno had told her once that most of their customers hadn't bothered to pay them a single red cent, but the ones who had had paid enough for them to live on without needing jobs. Erica couldn't decide if she loved the idea or hated it. They’d offered to let her stay with them without rent, yet she’d refused. Her parents hadn't brought her up to leech off anyone.

    Bruno’s RV glittered in the sunlight as they walked up to the vehicle. Erica had been astonished when Bruno had paid good money for a vehicle that was clearly headed for the junkyard, but the boys had worked hard on her and converted her into a very viable motor home. In fact, they actually did most of their computing inside the RV and sometimes slept in the vehicle when they couldn't be bothered walking the short distance from the vehicle to the apartment. Erica had pointed out that this was incredibly lazy and the boys had thought about it and then asked her if it mattered. They were having fun at college and sometimes they even attended classes.

    “Come on inside,” Bruno said, as he pulled open the door. Erica clambered up after him, struggling to find a seat amidst the piles of computer equipment and devices she didn't recognise or understand. The other two boys pushed huge piles of junk out of the way and sat down on the floor. “Anyone want coffee?”

    He tapped the coffee machine and it hummed into life. It was one of his more successful experiments – a coffee machine that actually produced decent coffee – and Erica had tried to nag him into patenting it and selling the design for a huge sum. Bruno had refused, reminding her that he didn't lack for money. Besides, he’d added, hardly anyone who had the power to buy equipment would want to pay extra for a decent coffee machine. The worker drones would just have to endure poor coffee and overpriced food.

    Erica took a cup and sipped it gratefully. “What are we going to do now?” She asked. “We could still go down to the breach...”

    “We,” Bruno said grandly, “are going to find out what this actually is!”

    Kit produced the strange device from his bag and placed it on the table, shoving off a pair of broken keyboards and a mouse to make room. Under the RV’s light, the device seemed odd, even to Erica’s eyes. She hadn't seen any design or engravings on the silver surface before, but now there was a single design on one side. A snake, endlessly chewing its own tail. It reminded her of something, something she’d heard once, long ago, and then forgotten. If any of the others knew, they kept it to themselves.

    “Weird design,” Bruno said, finally. He gave Kit a wink and turned the device over, opening the small compartment in the bottom. “It isn't built to take anything I have here. You couldn't get a USB cable into here or even something from an earlier age.” He started to pull at the compartment, exposing a handful of wires. “I’ll have to rig up something just to take a look inside.”

    Erica shrugged. “I’m sure you’ll have fun,” she said, as Bruno pulled out a standard USB cable and pulled the USB connector out. “I’ll just sit and listen to my Iphone, all right?”

    “Oh, but you could be missing something,” Kit put in. He gave her a wink that seemed oddly suited to his droll expression. “Do you remember that hard drive we found last time?”

    “My porn!” Bruno said. Erica snorted. Bruno had the largest collection of pornographic photographs, files and videos that she’d ever seen, covering everything from naked women showing off their bodies to group sex and hard ****ing. And he was never satisfied. He moved from site to site, hacking into their databases and downloading their porn, before moving on to the next website. “The bastard had some videos I'd never seen before.”

    Kit chuckled. They’d bought a group of hard drives that had been chucked out of an office to make way for the next generation of data-storage technology. Most of them had been wiped, but one of them had held over fifty gigabytes of pornographic videos. Erica had wondered how the unknown gatherer had managed to download and watch so many on an office computer system, before the boys had explained that it was easy to circumvent the office network security systems if one knew what one was doing. There were times when she wondered if the world was a safer place with the boys in college. They’d be holy terrors if they were unleashed upon the job market.

    She pulled her Iphone out of her jacket pocket and started to listen to music, plugging in the headphones when Kit and GBW started protesting about the noise. Her phone had started life as a fairly basic Iphone, but then Bruno had gotten his hands on it and reworked it into something that worked far faster and stored much more data – or videos. He’d also done something to the wireless programming that allowed her to piggyback on any local network, regardless of security protocols or unknown passwords. Erica had long since given up worrying it that was even remotely legal. She’d paid enough for the phone, she felt, to justify not having to pay internet access charges.

    Bruno popped the device back onto the table and started to fiddle with connecting wires. It took several tries before he had something that could splice into the device, which was starting to look as if it was covered in wires and surrounded by junk. He plunked his laptop down next to it and connected the end of the cable to his machine. Erica had once asked him if his laptop was secure and he’d snorted, explaining that he’d written the computer’s operating system himself and no virus could infect his machine unless it had been specifically written for his system. He’d also reprogrammed her laptop so that it would defend itself against viral attacks without needing help from outside.

    “Interesting,” he said, after a moment. Erica put her headphones away and pretended to be interested. “It's actually drawing power from the laptop...quite a lot of power, actually.”

    “Oh,” Erica said. “And that's interesting, is it?”

    “Oh yes,” Kit said, as he peered over Bruno’s shoulder. “It proves that this device, whatever it is, is doing something. All we have to do is figure out what that something is and we’ll know what it does...”

    “Or even what it wants to do,” Bruno added. He frowned as a new screen blinked up on his laptop. “It seems to be...well, a kind of plug-and-play device, yet I’ve never seen anything like it. I swear it’s actually reading my laptop and adapting itself, rather than the laptop figuring out how to talk to the device.”

    “Marvellous,” Erica said. “GBW; you fancy going out for a walk and leaving these two to it?”

    GBW considered it. His real name was Geoffrey Bradford Wilkinson, but Kit had said that that was too long to remember and they’d promptly shortened it to GBW – or GWB when they wanted to tease him a little. Erica hated walking on her own and tried to look as inviting as she could, but GBW shook his head as he looked down at his own laptop.

    “I can't go right now,” he explained. “Someone is wrong on the internet.”

    Erica scowled and headed for the door. All three of the boys spent half of their time on the internet, particularly the forums that discussed computer technology, science-fiction and fantasy and pornography. She had once worked out that Bruno spent only about four hours in classes per week, and probably less than that sleeping. They got up late, watched science-fiction off the internet and spent the rest of the day online.

    When she returned, an hour later, Bruno was still fiddling with the device. “I honestly can't make head or tails of it,” he confessed. “There’s a sophisticated operating system inside this device, but my laptop can barely read it – let alone explain what it is and how it works. I keep thinking that it’s a flight computer of some kind, yet nothing I put into it seems to make sense.”

    “Perhaps it’s from the military,” GBW put in. “You know they lost a tank back in Iraq and discovered its computer in a market in Baghdad after the war.”

    “Could be,” Bruno agreed. “The computers for the latest generation of fast-jet fighters are reputed to be awesomely fast and powerful. Even the smallest task would require thousands of lines of computer code. It might be something from the military, except...”

    He scowled. “It just feels...weird,” he added. “As if whoever produced it was operating to a completely different set of assumptions about how a computer should work. Everything I try either does nothing or spits back a lot of code I don’t understand. It's...”

    “Like trying to read a book in Japanese by using an English-French translation program,” Kit put in. He looked tired, yet also vastly amused. “Perhaps you should sit back and watch some nice porn. That always puts you in a better mode.”

    “I was going to say that it seems that the language used in making this machine is two or three generations ahead of ours,” Bruno said, crossly. “I don’t even know what this thing does!”

    “I think that it would be easy to find out,” Erica said, impatiently. She pointed one long finger towards the device. “Perhaps you should just push the button.”

    Bruno stared at her, and then reached out towards the device. “Ah, this has to be done properly,” he said. He gathered himself up. “To the last, I grapple with thee; from Hell's heart, I stab at thee; for hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee...”

    “Shut up and get on with it,” Erica snapped. “It’s only a button.”

    Bruno reached out and pressed the button. The device lit up, just for a second, and then the entire RV lurched. Erica grabbed for the table as her feet seemed to lose contact with the ground for a split-second, followed by a crash that shook the vehicle. She heard smashing sounds as pieces of computer junk fell off the various shelves that had been shoehorned into the RV and abandoned.

    “What the ****?” GBW demanded. “I just lost the internet!”

    “Earthquake,” Kit said, He seemed the least perturbed of them all, although he had long cultivated an air of languid amusement that irritated his parents and was roundly ignored by everyone else. “They’re not exactly uncommon around here.”

    He leered cheerfully at Bruno. “Congratulations,” he said, “you’ve invented an earthquake machine.”

    Erica pulled herself to her feet and glared at the two men. “If that was an earthquake,” she thundered, “people could be hurt!”

    “Bit of an odd coincidence,” GBW mused. “Bruno hits the button at the same time we get an earthquake.”

    Erica snorted, swallowing a number of possible retorts, and stormed over to the window. She expected to see fires, chaos and students running everywhere in panic. Perhaps there would even be looting. Instead...

    “Guys,” she said, as she took in the scene before her, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
     
    kom78, DKR, STANGF150 and 2 others like this.
  2. beast

    beast backwoodsman

    i pretty much knew what was coming but its a great start
    lets see what you can do with it
     
  3. Yoldering

    Yoldering Monkey+

    Yes, this looks like it will be interesting... Will you continue it?
     
  4. beast

    beast backwoodsman

    im hoping so :)
     
  5. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    The warp factor button ?
     
  6. Grizz-

    Grizz- Monkey+

    Any chance of more on this story, timetravel is a interesting subject
     
  7. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    I may - it was intended to be a comic story rather than anything 'real'.

    Chris
     
  8. DKR

    DKR Interesting ideas, interesting stories

    Good character building

    If this is nothing more than a writing exercise, you did well.
    Very good character building, without making it seem like you were 'building'.

    Good mix of types without blatant stereotyping.

    All that was missing was the stack of old pizza cartons from late night coding sessions.

    When do the aliens show up?
     
  9. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++


    Chapter Two<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />



    They looked out upon a field of untold devastation.



    It was the college, but it was in ruins. The buildings that had looked so welcomingwhen they'd first arrived now looked derelict. Erica stared up towards the apartment block where she’d lived and saw abuilding that looked to be on the verge of collapse. Nothing moved out in the desolation. The ground below the RV seemed to bedead. Even the flower beds that someenterprising college official had planted were gone.



    “My God,” GBW said, for once speaking for all ofthem. “What the hell happened?”



    “That was no earthquake,” Bruno said. Even he seemed to have been dampened by thesight. “I...I don't know what happened.”



    Erica had a more practical question. “Is it safe to go outside?”



    “The RV isn't exactly a spaceship,” Kit pointed out,dryly. “If there are poisons in the air,we’re breathing them already.”



    Bruno reached for the door and opened it, allowing themto step outside onto the blackened ground. The air was warm, yet silent. Erica looked in vain for some traces of animal life, even birds flyingthrough the distant air. There wasnothing. She walked around the RV,trying to take in the sight before her. The college had been wrecked in a matter of seconds.



    “I think this happened some time ago,” Bruno said, whenshe raised the issue. “If...somethinghad happened to destroy the college, it wouldn’t have taken seconds. There’d be fires everywhere and people tryingto help. I think we must have shiftedforward or sideways in time.”



    “That’s ridiculous,” GBW protested. “We can’t move in time or space.”



    Bruno grinned. “Doyou have a better theory?”



    Erica shook her head. Bruno was right. Whatever hadhappened – nuclear war, or a biological plague – wouldn't have happenedquickly. There would be bodies lyingeverywhere and people coming to help. Unless the crisis had been global...she remembered some of the nuclearwar books she’d read as an impressionable child. The entire world might have beenexterminated, with only a few pockets of humanity left alive. They’d exaggerated, of course, but now...nowshe wasn't so sure. She looked up againat their apartment block and tried to estimate how long it had been since ithad been effectively destroyed. It didn’tseem possible to come up with any definite answer.



    “Bruno,” she said, suddenly, “if this was a nuclearattack, what about radiation. Therecould be deadly radiation floating in the air...”



    “I’ve thought about that,” Bruno said.



    Erica looked at him. “And?”



    “And we’ll all catch radiation poisoning and die,” hesaid, in his best impression of Matt Smith. Erica raised one fist in a threatening manner. “There are some ways to check for radiationusing makeshift tools, but I didn't think to bring any of them with us. I didn't even know that we were goingsomewhere!”



    “Perhaps we should try to reverse the device,” Kitsuggested. “Get out of here.”



    Erica nodded. “Comeon,” she said. “Let’s go.”



    ***

    “I don’t think we can leave so quickly,” Bruno said,thirty minutes later. “As near as I cantell, the device is still recharging after the last...whatever it was.”



    “Hop through alternate timelines,” Kit said. They stared at him. “You have to admit that’s better than assumingthat we jumped into our own future.”



    GBW snorted. “Howlong do we have?”



    “At least another four hours,” Bruno said. “We do have some time to go exploring.”



    “You want toexplore the remains of a nuclear wasteland?” GBW said. “Are you out of yourmind?”



    “I never knew he wasin his mind,” Erica said, mischievously.



    Bruno shrugged. “Don’tyou want to know what happened here?” Heasked. “The knowledge could come inuseful for something. We could writealternate history novels based on real events.”



    “I doubt you’d get any humour out of this,” Kit said, “butyou’re right. We should go exploring.”



    He reached forward, opened the door, and stepped back outonto the blackened ground. Ericahesitated, and then followed him. Theair was as still and silent as before. She remembered how noisy the campus had been before they’d...departedand felt a lump in her throat. Peoplehad died here, believing themselves tobe safe. If Kit’s theory was accurateand they’d crossed into an alternate timeline, the dead might even have wornher face. Or maybe there was anotherErica out there who had survived, or maybe she’d never even been born. Her mother and father might not have marriedin this timeline.



    Bruno closed and locked the door of the RV behind him andthen set out up the road, towards the library. Erica followed him, casting distrustful glances into the shadows cast bythe ruined buildings. The more she sawof the desolated wasteland, the less she liked it. It looked as if something had sucked the lifeout of the buildings, leaving them drab and gray. Some of the shadows even seemed to move...shewas halfway towards leaping out of her skin when she realised that she wasimagining it. But there wasn't even asingle blade of green grass to be seen.



    Kit seemed to feel the same way. “It can't all be like this, can it?”



    “I have no idea,” Bruno admitted. They stopped, briefly, outside one of thecomputer labs, back where they’d first met. It had been modern design, constructed according to plans drawn up bysomeone who’d won an award for original thinking. Erica had always considered it a thoroughly uglybuilding, but it was now nothing more than a pile of rubble. “There were...stories about what the Russianshad in mind for nuclear war. They couldn'tbuild more nukes than us, so they built rockets with germ warheads that wouldspread disease over America and obliterate what remained of the civilianpopulation.”



    “Diseases are no respecters of national borders,” Kitobjected. “They might spread back to Russia.”



    “And sweep across the entire world, carried by refugeesfleeing the nukes,” Bruno agreed. “Unlesssomeone was completely isolated from the world, they’d probably become infectedand die.”



    He hesitated. “Haveyou noticed the complete shortage of bodies?”



    Erica nodded. “Youthink they all decayed?”



    “Perhaps,” Bruno said. “How long does a body take to decay?”



    “No idea,” GBW answered. Kit shook his head. “If there’sanyone left alive...how do we search the entire world for them?”



    “We can’t,” Bruno said. He stopped, looking up at the library. “I knew it would have survivedthe blast.”



    Erica smiled. Unlike the computer lab, the college library had been built back whenpeople had built things to last, rather than building fragile palaces of glassand plastic. It was a solid block ofstone, still standing against the ravages of time and the firestorms that haddevastated the rest of the college. Thewalls were blackened and the windows were gone, but it looked safer than any ofthe other buildings. She found herselfwondering just how much of the book collection would have survived, beforepushing the thought aside. They had tofind something, or they’d never know what had happened to this world.



    Kit grinned, suddenly. “I forgot my library card,” he said. “Can one of you buzz me in?”



    “This is no time for jokes,” GBW said, crossly. They walked up the steps to the library andthrough what remained of the glass doors. They’d shattered under the blast that had destroyed the campus. “There could be anything inside thelibrary...”



    They stopped, just inside. The building had clearly been ransacked. Two of the turnstiles that required a visitorto have a library card to enter had been removed, while some of the bookshelvesleft in the lobby to greet important guests had been emptied. Erica found it an oddly hopeful sign, even asthe guys surveyed the damage. Someonewas alive in the desolated world. Evenif they were burning the books for heat, they were alive!



    “Interesting choice of reading matter,” Brunoobserved. “Unless things were differentin this world, they’ve taken the reference books and some of the crap thecollege produced to prove that it was spending the government’s moneywisely. All of the really interestingbooks were upstairs.”



    “I’m not sure I want to go upstairs,” Ericaadmitted. “How safe do you think thestairs are in here?”



    “We certainly can't trust the elevators,” GBWagreed. “But how else do we getupstairs?”



    “We shouldn’t have to,” Bruno said. He walked towards the library desk and thenbehind it, pushing aside a smashed computer that had been left blocking hispath. “I used to work in the library,fixing their computers after they let people with more money than sensedownload whatever they wanted onto the system. They used to keep old newspapers in sealed cases through here.”



    “I’m surprised they didn't throw them out,” Ericasaid. “I thought they were all availableonline.”



    “They had legal issues,” Bruno said. He shrugged. “I wasn’t paying much attention at the time, to be honest. All that matters is that they should still behere...”



    He stopped in front of a large cabinet and tried it. “Locked,” he said. He looked up at Erica. “I don't suppose you have a hairpin?”



    “No,” Erica snapped. “Do you know where they kept the keys?”



    “Probably somewhere around here,” Bruno said. “Everyone pick a desk and start looking.”



    Erica opened the first drawer nearest her and blinked insurprise. There was a small amount ofloose change, a handful of library cards and a photograph that had to besomeone’s wife or daughter. She foundherself wiping away tears as she picked up the library card and checked thedate. It had been issued four years agoand looked new. The photograph showed ayoung dark-skinned girl with a faint smile and pretty teeth. She had to be dead by now, Erica knew, unlessshe’d been very lucky. And in theirworld she might still be alive.



    “Four years ago,” she said, after she checked theremaining cards. “This happened underfour years ago.”



    “Makes sense,” Bruno said. “I think most of the really dangerousradioactive gunk would have faded away by now.”



    “Are you sure?” GBW asked. “Would you bet yourlife on it?”



    Bruno gave him a dazzling smile. “We arebetting our lives on it,” he said. “Anyonefound any keys?”



    “I’ve found some here,” Kit said. He tossed them over to Bruno and returned tothe drawers. “See if one of those willopen the cabinets...”



    Bruno tried the keys, one after the other. “It might have rusted,” Erica pointed out,after the first five keys didn't work. “Canwe break it open by force?”



    “We might have to,” Kit said. He laughed, suddenly. “Who’s going to come and arrest us forvandalising the library here?”



    “Got it,” Bruno said. The cabinet creaked open, revealing a stack of yellowingnewspapers. Even inside the airtight cabinet,they had started to decay. Bruno pulledthe first newspaper out and cursed as it came apart in his hands. Erica and GBW moved forward to help and betweenthem managed to get a set onto the desk. Dust billowed up into the air as they started picking their way throughthe old newspapers.



    Slowly, the story began to emerge. There had been a crisis in the Middle East,one where the Arabs had faced the Israelis for a final showdown. The US had moved to help Israel, only to finditself threatened by the Russians and Chinese, who had allied with theArabs. History had changed sometimearound 1999, as far as Erica could tell. Certainly there was no mention of 9/11, or the invasion of Iraq. Instead, Israel – pushed to the wall – had unleasheda nuclear holocaust upon its enemies. The last newspaper howled about the dangers unleashed by Israel and thereports of biological warfare being used in Europe by the surviving Arabs. And after that...?



    “Nothing,” Bruno said. “The Russians and Chinese must have nuked the United States.”



    “We would have nuked them back,” Kit objected. “Surely they would have known that we wouldn'tjust sit there and let ourselves be nuked?”



    “Maybe they were dying already,” GBW said. “If the Arabs were unleashing biologicalwarfare, the Russians might have been infected too...they might have decided tounleash a holocaust to make sure we went down with them.”



    “Bastards,” Erica said. She shook her head angrily. “Bastards,all of them! What the **** did the worlddo to deserve...this!”



    “There must be some recent history books upstairs,” Brunosaid. He checked his watch,thoughtfully. “We could spend the nexthour or so looking for books that would tell us what happened, and why...”



    “Or we could just go back to the RV,” Erica said. She was normally adventurous, willing to doanything on a dare, but the devastation around them had overwhelmed her. “We don’t belong here.”



    “I think we should look for survivors,” Kit said. “Someone clearly took books from the library. For all we know, there might be a smallsociety living nearby...”



    “And then what?” Erica said. “We can’t do anythingto help them. Do we just take them withus, back to our world? How many peoplecould we stuff in the RV before it burst?”



    Bruno hesitated. “Buthistory...”



    GBW shrugged. “Dowe really want to know?”



    “I think that we should find out,” Bruno said. “When we get home, we’d be able to use theknowledge...maybe prevent the war occurring in our world.”



    “But history diverged in 1999,” Erica objected. “Our world is nothing like this one.”



    “But how long will it be before everything changes?” Bruno countered. “I think we have to look.”



    “And we will,” Kit said, softly. “We might find clues about survivors.”



    The upper levels of the library felt eerie as theyclimbed up the stairs, watching carefully for pitfalls. As they stepped into the second floor,something fell with a terrific crash that shook the entire building. The floor itself seemed unstable under theirweight. Many of the bookshelves had beenemptied, their contents dumped through holes in the floor and presumably takenaway from the library. There seemed tobe no rhyme or reason to the ransacking; the survivors had taken books fromalmost every section within view. Thefloor creaked alarmingly as Bruno moved forward, and then started to tilt. Bruno jumped backwards, barely in time to preventhimself from falling through the floor. A stack of books collapsed and smashed downwards, hitting the bottomfloor with a terrifying sound.



    “I think we’d better get out of here,” Erica said. “The walls might be safe, but the floors areunstable.”



    For once, there was no argument. They picked their way back down the stairsand out of the library. The air seemeddifferent, somehow. It was still silent,yet...Erica realised that the sounds of falling bookshelves would have beenaudible for miles around. If there weresurvivors nearby, they would probably have heard the sound and decided to cometo investigate.



    “No birds,” GBW said. “You’d think that the birds would have survived. Did they kill the entire planet because theythought that they would lose the war?”



    “Maybe,” Bruno said. He seemed more subdued after nearly falling through the floor. “I think they used to call it MutuallyAssured Destruction. You kill us – we killyou in our dying moments. And so on, andso on. Stupid ****ing idea.”



    Erica saw something moving at the corner of her eye. It was so unexpected that it took her amoment too long to register it, just as the first shots rang out. She lunged at Bruno and knocked him to theground as bullets started whistling over their heads. It sounded as if they were under attack by asmall army. She yelled at the boys tokeep their heads down and started to crawl towards what little cover she couldsee. It was a miracle that none of themhad been hit – or, maybe, their attackers hadn't been shooting to kill. The sound of firing grew louder...it was hardto be sure, but it sounded as if they were caught between two different groups.



    Kit scrambled towards her and yelled in her ear. “Did you think to bring any weapons?”



    “No,” Erica yelled back, cursing her oversight. But what would one weapon have done if theywere under attack by an entire group? She glanced back at Bruno and GBW and saw them trying to bury themselvesin the dead ground. Both of them wouldbe sitting ducks if they stood up. “Canyou see who’s attacking us?”



    The sound of firing abruptly faded away, leaving anuneasy quiet. Erica heard someoneissuing orders, but no matter how she tried, she couldn't make out thewords. Kit, beside her, started to crawlforward. Erica would have given her soulfor a few guns and grenades. They neededto escape, or fight back. She lookedback at Bruno and saw him looking at her, clearly nervous. He’d never been under fire before – but then,neither had she. The closest she’d comewas on hunting trips with her father.



    “Don’t move,” a female voice bellowed. Erica froze as their attackers came intoview. They were all women, wearing stripsof red cloth around their thighs. Theirbreasts were exposed, bouncing freely in front of them as they movedforward. They carried enough weaponry tofight a small war. “Who are you? You’re not one of them!”



    One of them caught hold of Erica and rolled herover. “And you’re a woman! You treacherousbitch...”



    She pointed her rifle at Erica’s head, but one of theothers pushed it away before she could fire. “You’re all prisoners of the Amazons,” the newcomer said. “The queen will judge you personally. Resistance is futile.”



    Bruno found his voice. “We’re just travellers...”



    A blow from the wrong end of a rifle silenced him. “Resistance is futile,” the Amazon said. “You will come with us!”
     
    kom78 likes this.
  10. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++


    Chapter Three<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />



    Their captors took no chances. They kept their rifles pointed at theircaptives while their hands were bound behind their backs and their legsshackled. Erica tried to flex her wriststo allow her to wriggle free, but her captor was wise to that trick and pusheddown on her until she had to relax. Itwas clear that escape was almost impossible, although where would they go? If their captors had taken the RV...



    “On your feet, scrum,” the leader of the Amazonsordered. It was almost impossible tostand up while shackled, but Erica somehow managed it. The Amazons had to help pull the guys totheir feet. GBW and Bruno, she noted disapprovingly,were finding it hard to keep their eyes off the Amazons chests, while Kit wasstudiously ignoring them. “This way –march!”



    Erica started to walk, pushed along by an Amazon behindher whenever she started to slow down. It wasn't easy to walk while shackled; even if she had managed to getaway from them, it would be impossible to get very far away without beingcaught. The chains made an unpleasant clinkingsound that would lead them right to her. She heard grunts behind her as the guys were pushed along, even thoughthe Amazons seemed to reserve the worst of their scorn for her. It made no sense. Did they think that she was one of them? Or was there another Erica in this world whohad betrayed the Amazons? Her mind keptmulling over the possibilities as they walked onwards, out towards the edge ofthe college. There’d been a businessestate there, she recalled, and a Church. God alone knew what had happened to it in the devastated world.



    “Behold,” the Amazon leader said. “The Palace of the Queen.”



    Erica followed her gaze. The Church was in front of them, guarded by armed women carrying rifles,just like their captors. Some of thewomen seemed surprised to see them, others looked almost...eager. Erica didn't like the looks on their faces atall. They were halted by their escorts andleft to wait outside while the leader went into the Church. It was a strong building, over ninety yearsold. Unless one of the nukes had goneoff within a few miles of it, it was no surprise that it had survived. She found herself glancing around, lookingfor other signs of life, but there were none. The ground was blackened and dead.



    Kit nudged her back. “I wonder how they remain alive,” he said. “Do you think they can grow anything here?”



    “There are – were – farms not too far away,” Erica said,thoughtfully. “Perhaps they’ve managedto decontaminate the soil.”



    “Silence,” one of the guards bellowed, and slammed herrifle butt into Kit’s chest. “Men do asthey are told here or they get taken away and beheaded!”



    Kit staggered to his knees, gasping for breath. “Damn you,” Erica said. “Can’t you see that he’s helpless...?”



    “I ought to slit your throat,” the guard said. She produced a knife and held it againstErica’s neck. “A filthy traitor likeyourself deserves no mercy.”



    “That will do,” the leader said, as she came out of theChurch. “The Queen will see them.”



    Erica allowed herself a moment of relief as they werepushed forward and into the building, leaving most of their guardsoutside. The Amazons had stripped outmost of the pews, leaving a clear space leading up to where the altar had been,back before the war. It had been removedand replaced with a tacky golden throne, upon which a woman reclined nude whilegazing at them in a superior manner. Erica was shocked to discover that she recognised her from their hometimeline. Susan McCann had been a professorof feminist studies at college, a harridan whose lectures consisted of blamingmen for everything and claiming that sexism had held her back from the positionof power that she deserved. Erica hadnever liked her, but this McCannshould never have met Erica’s counterpart. Assuming she had acounterpart...



    “On your knees before the queen,” their captorordered. “Your Majesty, we have broughtyou some captives from the patriarchal tribe. And a traitor to her sex.”



    “How nice,” McCann said. Her sugary-sweet voice was as obnoxious as Erica remembered from thesingle lecture she’d attended. On theother hand, she’d clearly lost a great deal of weight since becoming the queenof a post-nuclear tribe. “I trust thatthe men are all in good health?”



    “They show no signs of the pox,” their captor said. “We could use them for breeding stock.”



    McCann stepped off her throne and walked down to Erica,standing so close to her that Erica could feel her breath on her forehead. “And why are you with the patriarchs?” She asked, softly. “You should be with us.”



    “They’re my friends,” Erica said, trying hard to keep hervoice under control. McCann had clearlygone off the deep end...and she’d never been very stable in the firstplace. “I don’t abandon my friends.”



    “So thought many of the submissive girls,” McCannsaid. Her voice was rising as shespoke. “They accepted their place in themale world – mothers, daughters, wives...and nothing else. Men got to rut with whores; women were cursedfor even daring to think about having orgasms or finding sexual happiness. And what did it get them? Men destroyed our world! Billions are dead because some stupid men got into a stupid fight over astupid tiny country and refused to back down when the nukes started tofly! How many of us are left alivebecause of their foolishness? We willnever be slaves to men again!”



    Erica recoiled as the spittle landed on her face. “We are the Amazons,” McCann said. “We will be strong. We will take what we want from the men andthey will serve us! We will never kneelin front of a man again, forced to beg for scraps from his table, or to bearhis children so he can educate them in the ways of the patriarch, or to bebeaten for daring to raise our voices. We will not be slaves again!”



    “Your Majesty,” GBW said, “we’re just travellers, passingthrough. We’re not here to enslave you...”



    “And you won’t,” McCann said. She reached inside his shirt and startedpressing her hand against his chest. “Youwill stay here and become breeders for us. No pox – you can give us untainted children. Take them away!”



    Before Erica could say anything – although what she couldhave said was an open question – they were picked up and carried to a prisoncell. Their bonds were removed and thedoor was banged closed behind their guards. It didn't take Erica more than a few moments to realise that they weretrapped. The door was locked and thewindow was far too small to use as a way out. It was nothing more than a tiny source of light.



    Bruno started to laugh. “This ought to be fun,” he said. Erica stared at him in disbelief. “If they happen to want breeding stock...well, it would be our pleasureto serve.”



    “You’re going to...willingly have sex with them to getthem pregnant?” Erica asked. “Have you any idea how bloody irresponsiblethat sounds?”



    “I know,” GBW said, “but if we’re trapped anyway...”



    “You filthy...man,”Erica said, angrily. “What do you thinkthey’ll do after they’ve finished ****ing you to death?”



    “What a way to go,” Bruno said. “Did I tell you about the time I nearly diedwhen performing...”



    Yes,” Kitsaid, sharply. “Heterosexuals. I support them politically, but theact...yuk!”



    He scowled as he checked the lock. “We have to get out of here before they comeback,” he said. “We need to get back tothe RV and then get the hell off this world.”



    “But think of all the fun we could have...”



    “I don’t think that these women are interested in lettingyou have your fun with them,” Kit said, sharply. “Think about how barbarian men treat womenand then think about what women might do if they were given the opportunity. I think they’d **** you to death.”



    “No argument,” Erica agreed. “Now...how do we get out of here?”



    ***

    An hour passed slowly as they waited in the cell. All their attempts to open the door failed,leaving Erica convinced that the Amazons had bolted the door as well as lockingit. It was certainly an effective way tokeep prisoners trapped, she thought sourly, unable to suppress the worry at theback of her mind. The guys were going tobe treated like breeding stock and as for her...McCann had been utterly savageabout how treacherous women should be treated, back in their own world. What would she be like with no restraintsholding her back and an army of devoted servants?



    The door finally clicked open, revealing a tough-lookingwoman carrying a whip. “You’re going tobe put to work at once,” she snarled. “You– the elegant one.” She pointed toKit. “Come with me, now!”



    Kit started to protest, only to feel the whip cracking acrosshis knuckles.



    “Don’t worry, Kit,” Bruno said. “Take it like a man...”



    He broke off as the whip struck him too. “You’ll all be put to work,” the womaninformed them, “except for you, bitch.” She stared at Erica. “For treachery to your sex, you will beforced to fight for your life...”



    Erica found her voice. “Tell the Queen that I challenge her to a contest,” she said,quickly. “I want to fight for my lifeand those of my friends.”



    “Hah,” the woman said. “The queen is undefeatable. Shehas reshaped our world to her will...”



    “And yet you’re still living on dead ground,” Erica said,quietly. Reason wouldn’t touch a truefanatic, but maybe there was hope for this woman. “What are you going to do when you run out offood?”



    There was a long pause. “I will take your challenge to the Queen,” she said, finally. She took Kit by the arm and dragged him outof the cell. “And if she accepts thechallenge, you will be defeated by her.”



    The door slammed closed behind her. “Erica,” Bruno said, “why...?”



    “Because I can't think of anything else to do,” Ericasaid. She heard her own voice growinglouder. “You’re too busy thinking of thedelights of ****ing these women to think about getting our asses out ofhere! I want to get home, back to whereeverything makes sense!”



    Bruno reached out and put an arm around hershoulder. “We’ll get out of thissomehow,” he said, “although hopefully not before I’ve had a chance to samplesome of those Amazon warriors...”



    “Bruno,” Erica said, “I think you’d discover that you couldn'thandle them.”



    She sat down on the floor and started to think, trying tothink of something they could do to escape. But everything she could think of involved being on the other side ofthe solid door. She checked the hinges,just in case they could be unscrewed, but they were solidly in place. Cursing, she promised herself never to leavehome again without some proper tools – assuming they ever made it home. The chances were good that they were trappedforever in a devastated world. Sheremembered one of the Amazons mentioning a pox. It was quite possible that it was smallpox, and smallpox was lethalwithout proper vaccination. They didn't havethe vaccination...her father had had, being a soldier, but his daughter hadnever been immunised against smallpox. No one had seen the need.



    And if some of the stories she’d heard about Russian bioweaponswere true, they could have unleashed plagues a great deal worse thansmallpox...



    She rubbed her eyes tiredly. Perhaps they were already infected, orperhaps they were slowly being irradiated with radiation...no, surely that couldn'tbe the case. The women were clearlystill alive and reasonably healthy. Absently, she wondered how McCann had survived the war. Plenty of people who might be helpful in rebuildingsociety had died, no doubt, but a madwoman with a crazy belief system that hadnever been tested in the real world had walked away without a scratch. If there was a God – and Erica had neverknown if she believed or not – He had a strange sense of humour.



    “An hour,” Bruno said, suddenly. “He’s been gone an hour.”



    Erica glanced at her watch. He was right. She listened, wondering if she would hear anything, but the only soundshe could make out was a distant drumming. Perhaps McCann was calling the women to lunch...absently, she foundherself wondering what they ate. IfMcCann had managed to take control of a stockpile of food and weapons, she anda few fanatical followers would probably be able to dominate thesurvivors. Anyone who refused to goalong with her would simply be refused food and drink. It had been hellishly effective in some partsof the Middle East and Pakistan.



    The door crashed open and Kit was shoved inside. His clothes had been torn away, exposing hisribs and chest. He wore a loinclothcovering his groin. Erica reachedforward and caught him before he landed on the floor. He’d been beaten, she realised. Dark bruises covered his arms and legs. Whoever had done it had known precisely whatthey were doing, she realised, remembering her father’s lessons. They’d beaten him to inflict pain withoutactually causing permanent damage.



    “It was awful,” Kit murmured, so softly that she couldbarely hear him. “They touched me...there.”



    Erica looked up at the guard. “Did you take my message to the Queen?”



    “I did,” the guard said. Her face twisted into a sickening leer. “The Queen has not yet decided your punishment for consorting with the patriarchs.”



    The door slammed closed once again, leaving themalone. Erica and GBW helped Kit onto thebed and tried to take a proper look at his wounds. In the semi-darkness, it was almostimpossible. Kit seemed half-dazed,almost as if his mind had snapped. Orperhaps they’d simply drugged him to make him more pliable. Erica silently promised herself that she’d throttleMcCann if she ever had the opportunity. A woman who raged about men using rape as a tool to keep women undercontrol had no excuse for ordering her followers to commit rape themselves.



    There was a tap at the door, followed by it openingslowly. “Quiet,” a voice whispered. “You – girl. Can we talk to you alone?”



    Erica leaned forward, seeing a young woman who couldn't havebeen more than two or three years older than her. “I have a name, you know,” she said. “I’m Erica.”



    “I used to be called Janet,” the girl said. “The Queen says that names given to us bymales shouldn't be used any longer, ever since they blew up the planet. I need to take you to meet with a few of myfriends...”



    “Take all of us,” Erica said. Maybe this was their opportunity toescape. “We’d come with you.”



    “I couldn't slip men past the guards,” Janet said. Her voice was growing more frightened. Erica couldn't blame her, not really. If McCann could condemn her for beingcaptured with three men, she’d certainly take a dim view of treason among herfollowers. “I need you to come now.”



    “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Erica promised the guys,and followed Janet out of the cell. Asshe had guessed, it was both locked and bolted strongly enough to keep any manprisoner, no matter how strong he was. She looked up at Janet, who beckoned her down the corridor. “Where are we going?”



    “Quiet,” Janet hissed. “The last thing we want is to be caught.”



    Erica had never realised that there was an undergroundcomplex under the Church. It might havebeen part of the college before the bombs had fallen, a hidden bomb shelter tokeep people safe if the bombs ever did start to fall. They slipped past small bedrooms housingsleeping Amazons – many of them were sleeping together, Erica noticed – and ahandful of larger rooms storing food. Several similar rooms seemed to be empty. How long could their supplies last?



    They reached a tiny meeting room and Janet led the wayinside. Four other girls were sitting atthe table, their faces covered with cloaks that concealed their features. Erica was tempted to point out that trying to hide was often a sign ofguilt, but kept the thought to herself. At least someone was trying to fight McCann and her fanatics...



    “You told Helga that this world is dying,” Janetsaid. She didn't introduce herallies. “What does that mean for us?”



    Erica blinked, and then remembered that they’d probably beenstudents with little real experience of the world. “I don’t think you can grow crops here,” shesaid, after a long moment. “Once yourfood supplies run out, you’re going to starve.”



    “The Queen says that the land will become clean once the patriarchyhas been wiped out,” Janet said. “We arepushing their tribe back and back...but the land becomes no cleaner.”



    “She’s mad,” Erica said, flatly. “There is no way that you’ll be able to growcrops here for a very long time. Youhave to move somewhere with less radiation and to hell with what the Queensays.”



    “She’s the queen,”one of the cloaked girls objected. “Shekept us safe when the bombs started to fall.”



    “And now she’s sentenced you to a slow death,” Ericasaid, flatly. “Why does she need myfriends for breeding stock?”



    She knew the answer almost as soon as she’d asked thequestion. Radiation poisoning did oddthings to the human reproductive system. It was quite possible that the men in the nearby tribe were impotent, orsterile, or that their children would be deformed. The thought was horrifying, but it had to befaced. Bruno, Kit and GBW wouldn't havesuch weaknesses. Perhaps they shouldstay after all...



    The door crashed open. “Treason,” a voice barked. Armedwomen filed into the room. “Take them tothe Queen!”



    Erica winced and raised her hands in surrender.
     
    kom78 likes this.
  11. polarbarez

    polarbarez Monkey+

    Hey Chris,
    I am really diggin this effort.
    I like the post apocalypse theme...and its not to far from medieval!
     
  12. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++


    Chapter Four<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />



    McCann had, thankfully, decided to wear a long dressinstead of remaining naked, but there was nothing merciful in her gaze. Erica listened to her ranting at the girlsshe called traitors and realised that there almost no sanity left inside hermind. In truth, she wasn't toosurprised. Everyone who had survived thecomplete destruction of all they knew and loved would probably be on the edgeof insanity for years afterwards. Therewould be no therapists in this universe to help them recover from theirtrauma. They’d have to do the best theycould on their own.



    “And you,” McCann thundered, turning to Erica. “You foul slave of the patriarch, you havebrought dissent into our world! You willbe held to account for what you have done!”



    Erica felt her temper snap. “Give it a rest,” she snapped. The Amazons holding her gripped her tighter,as if they expected her to try to break free and attack their Queen. “You’re struggling to survive on a dyingworld and you’re obsessing over traitors in your ranks.”



    McCann reached out and grabbed Erica by the chin, pullingher face upwards to stare into her eyes. “I rescued women from males after the war,” she hissed. “There was no longer anything covert abouttheir slavery. They were forced to serveas whores, fighting each other for scraps from their man-master’s table. If we do not remain united in ourdetermination to remain free, we will be enslaved by the male tribes.”



    “That doesn't excuse what you did to my friend,” Ericasaid. It was hard to talk with her chinheld in a vice-like grip, but she managed it. “I challenge you to a fight. If Iwin, my friends and I get to go free.”



    McCann hesitated, just long enough to hear the whispersfrom some of the Amazons. Not all ofthem were fanatics, Erica realised. Someof them were smart enough to realise that there was no future in McCann’sworld. Their only real hope was to findsomewhere that hadn’t been so badly damaged by the nuclear war. Chances were they’d have to walk south andhope that Mexico hadn't been targeted by the Russians. The thought of such a journey, throughperilous dangers and radioactive hotspots, chilled Erica to the bone. If Bruno had been able to rig up a primitive radiationdetector...



    “This is absurd,” McCann snapped. Erica felt a flash of triumph. McCann sounded as if she was going on thedefensive. “You cannot mean to say thatyou would fight for men!”



    Erica gathered herself. “They are my friends,” she said, flatly. “I know that they would do it for me, if the situation wasreversed. But even if they weren't, itwould still be the right thing to do. You’re leading your people to death. The longer you remain here...”



    McCann slapped her, hard. Erica tasted blood in her mouth. “Lies,”McCann shouted. But she still seemed tobe on the defensive. “You dare tosuggest that I would lead my own people to their deaths?”



    This time, the background mumbling seemed louder. Erica tried to assess who was on what side,but it was impossible. Humans had a packmentality in times of stress; as long as the leader seemed tough andunchallengeable, few would dare to stand up alone and proclaim that the emperorhad no clothes. But when the balanceshifted, when hope or fear became too strong to endure, the balance could shiftvery quickly. How secure was any leader’sgrip on power when his own people were questioning his every move?



    And how many of her Amazon, Erica asked herself silently,could McCann kill before the remainder turned on her?



    “What happens when you run out of supplies?” Erica asked, throwing down the gauntlet. “What happens when you...?”



    “Silence,” McCann bellowed. One of her guards pressed a hand over Erica’smouth, forcing it closed. “You wish tochallenge me for leadership? I, whosaved these women from slavery or death? Fine – you will fight me. And ifyou lose, I promise you that you will spend the rest of your life wishing fordeath. Bring her.”



    She marched out of the Church and outside onto the deadground. Someone had been trying to clearthe area up, Erica saw, as her guards released their hold on her. Piles of broken glass and chunks of debrishad been pushed to one side, while the damaged wall had been repaired withconcrete and shards of broken glass. Itwould be difficult for an unprotected human to scramble over the wall, sherealised. The Amazons weren’t alone inthe dead world. If there was a male tribeout there...



    McCann was insane, she reminded herself. She should have tried to put together an alliancewith the men, rather than fighting them. Or perhaps she had had a point, at first. People acted badly when society’s restraintswere shattered. Men who wouldn't dreamof raping a girl before the bombs fell would find themselves offered the opportunityto do what they liked, with little chance of facing justice for itafterwards. And it would be easy forsome fundamentalist preacher to put together a religion that insisted thatwomen had to remain under careful control. They might even say that it was for their own good.



    Erica’s mother had died when she was very young. Her father had treated her as a son, teachingher everything he might have taught a male child. But some of his friends had been moredismissive of Erica, simply for having been born female. And yet they’d also been incrediblyprotective. What would they have done ina world where they had to fight for survival? The civilians back home had no idea how lucky they were to bealive. This world was a nightmare. And how far was the distance between man andbeast?



    “I will beat you for your imprudence,” McCann said. Erica was tempted to ask about rules, butrealised that there wouldn’t be any. She’dnever had to fight to the death before and she hesitated. Could she kill anyone, even an insane womanwho would have her and her friends tortured to death? “And all will know that I am fit to rule.”



    She leapt forward, lashing out towards Erica, who jumpedbackwards. McCann was faster than shehad expected, even though it shouldn't have been a surprise. Everyone who’d survived the bombs and shortrations would be quick on their feet by now. McCann moved like lightning, kicking out with an absurd high kick thatalmost made contact with Erica’s head. It was all she could do to avoid it. McCann wasn't fighting like any of the opponents she’d faced as achild. But then, none of those opponentshad been trying to kill her.



    Erica gathered herself and stepped backwards as McCanncame around to face her. This time, shepromised herself, it would be different. McCann lunged – and Erica aimed a punch right into her throat. It should have connected and staggered her,but McCann’s hand came up at blinding speed and knocked Erica’s fist to oneside. Erica managed to lash out atMcCann’s back, only to see her shrug off the blow. Of course – someone from this world wouldprobably be used to pain too.



    The moment of reflection almost killed her. McCann’s next lunge sent them both crashingto the ground. Erica gasped in pain asshe hit the hard concrete, before head-butting McCann in the forehead andtrying to knee between her legs. McCannwas insanely strong and seemed almost unaffected. Her hands reached towards Erica’s throat,intending to crush the life out of her. Desperately, Erica pushed her head forward and bit McCann’s nose. McCann grunted in pain and leaned back,intending to plunge her fist into Erica’s chest. Erica managed to twist just enough to avoidthe blow. She brought up her legs asMcCann recoiled and kicked out, trying to win enough time to get back on herfeet. McCann staggered backwards andalmost fell onto the ground.



    Erica scrambled to her feet and threw herself at McCann,landing on top of her. The insane womantwisted frantically, her hands clawing at Erica’s skin, but she forced herselfto ignore the pain. Instead, she pusheddown, reaching for McCann’s throat. McCann let out a howl as Erica’s hands grasped her neck and began tosqueeze. She seemed somehow to gainextra strength, but Erica refused to be thrown off. Her hands started to tighten almost of their ownaccord.



    “Give up,” she hissed. She didn't want to kill her, no matter what she deserved. Her father had warned her that killingsomeone changed a person and Erica wasn't sure that she wanted to change, ortake that burden upon herself. “Give upbefore I kill you.”



    “You’ll enslave us to the patriarch,” McCann hissed. She twisted again, even though she wasfighting for breath. Erica almost losther grip on her throat. “I won’t let youdo that to us.”



    “Give up,” Erica repeated. What the hell did she do now? “Please...”



    She heard a click and looked up – and froze. One of the Amazons was pointing a pistolright at her head. “You’ve won,” theAmazon said. “Get off her, now.”



    Erica hesitated, and then obeyed, cursing her ownmistake. Of course McCann would haverigged the game in her favour. Fairnesshad never been a part of her life, even in their home timeline. “I always knew that you were faithful, Jill,”McCann said. “I must not be killed...”



    “But you are no longer Queen,” Jill said. McCann and Erica both stared at her. “You allowed her to challenge you – like aman. And you fought – like a man. We are women and we should not allowourselves to act like men. The outsideris right. You are no longer fit to beQueen.”



    Jill looked over at Erica, who was struggling to holdherself together. McCann had hurt herworse than she’d realised at the time. Her legs and chest hurt badly. “Wewill free your friends and you may leave, if you wish,” she added. “Or you may stay with us.”



    “They must staywith us,” McCann said. “Don't yousee? All the men in the tribes are impotent! Where will we get the next generation ofAmazons from if we don’t have any fertile men?”



    There was a long pause. “I’m going to free my friends,” Erica said, putting the issue aside forthe moment. “And then I think you owethem an apology.”



    “Maybe they can stay for a little while,” Jill said, slowly. She shrugged. “Take her to the cell and release the prisoners.”



    Erica allowed one of the guards to lead her back into theunderground network and back to the cell. The door clanked open and she started to step inside, beforehesitating. A moment later, Kit almostpunched her in the face. He’d beenhiding, preparing to jump the guard when she opened the door.



    “Erica,” he said, in horror. “I meant to...”



    “Never mind,” Erica said. All the tension bubbled up within her and she found herselfgiggling. “I faced McCann and beat herand we’re free – well, reasonably free.”



    “You beat her?” Bruno asked. “I hope you kicked the **** out of her.”



    “Men,” Erica said, unable to resist the chance to play alittle joke. “Of course I didn't fighther physically.”



    Bruno’s eyes narrowed. “So what did you do? Where wereyou?”



    Erica winked. “TheQueen’s bedroom.”



    ***

    “You see our problem,” Jill said, after a brief meal inthe former Church. “We need to havechildren, but the men in the nearby tribes are impotent or sterile. You may be our only hope of survival as arace.”



    GBW considered it for a moment. “As much as I like the idea of having lots ofsex with no strings attached,” he began...



    “Get to the point,” Erica injected, tartly.



    “...There are only two of us – three, if you count Kit,”GBW finished. “You’ll run into problemswith inbreeding pretty darn quickly. Andthat doesn't include the radiation damage your cells have probably soaked upover the years. It may not be just themen who can't have children.”



    Jill’s face fell. “It’ssomething we haven’t wanted to consider,” she admitted. “If we leave this place, perhaps with an alliancewith the male tribes...might we be doomed anyway?”



    She scowled. “Wheredid you come from, anyway?” Sheadded. “If you came from somewheresafe...”



    Bruno and Erica exchanged glances. In truth, Erica had been expecting thequestion for some time. After all, ifthey needed men who weren't damaged by radiation poisoning, logically there hadto be others where Bruno and GBW had come from. But she hadn't been able to think of a good answer, apart from thetruth. And who knew what Jill would makeof that?



    “I think I have a solution to your impotence problem,”Bruno said. “I once had an internetfriend who could never get hard. He usedto buy all sorts of dubious herbs from the internet to put some iron in hispecker...he must have spent thousands of dollars on trying to get excited. It didn't work, of course...”



    Erica cleared his throat. “Anyway, what did work was a course of internet porn,” Bruno explained,quickly. “We have a spare laptop and youcan probably figure out how to run it from some of the batteries you havehere. I can transfer a vast amount ofporn onto the laptop and you can show it to the men. It will definitely put some lead in theirpencils.”



    “Let me see if I’ve got this right,” Kit said. “You’re going to overcome radiation poisoningwith a display of nude women?”



    “Nude women doing unspeakable things,” Bruno said, with aleer. “It’s guaranteed to give a man aninstant erection.”



    Jill frowned. “Theformer Queen was very much against the objectification of women,” she pointedout. “Are you sure that it will work?”



    “Positive,” Bruno said. “It worked for him.”



    “Right,” Erica said. It seemed insane, but it was their best hope for getting out of thesituation before Jill decided that the guys had to remain with theAmazons. “Let’s go back to the RV andget them some porn.”



    The walk back to the RV took longer than she hadexpected, but she was silently grateful for the chance to flex her muscles andtry to recover from the fight. Jillchatted absently about the college she’d known before the war, pointing toplaces where the Amazons had salvaged supplies they’d used to keep themselves alive. The bodies had been buried, she explained,once they’d been confident that the war was over and it was safe to emerge. One of the blasts had apparently wrecked thecampus, although Erica found that a dubious claim. There was no logical reason for the Russians towaste a nuke on a harmless campus.



    “I haven't seen a working vehicle since the war,” Jillsaid. Unexpectedly, there were tears inher eyes. “We lost so much...”



    “You can rebuild,” GBW said, awkwardly. “You and the male tribe will have to learn towork together and rebuild. You neverknow – there might be other survivors out there.”



    “We could always check to see if we have something on Wikipediaabout nuclear fallout patterns and nuclear winter,” Bruno said. “Many of the early models were...well, junkscience. I think there’s a good chancethat most of Latin America survived the war.”



    Erica waited while he rooted through the RV, finallyproducing a laptop and a hard drive containing porn. “This should give them some...ah, encouragement,”he said. He passed it over to Jill, whotook it with an expression of wonderment. Erica puzzled over that for a second, before realising that the nuclearwarheads would have released EMPs when they detonated, wrecking computers andother electronic devices. “Take it backand have fun.”



    They clambered back into the RV, leaving Jill to trudgeback to the Church alone. Erica watchedher go, and then turned to Bruno, who was poking the device. “Can we get out of here?”



    “Maybe in another hour,” Bruno said. The laptop he’d attached to the unknowndevice seemed to be blinking frantically at him. “I don’t understand half the gunk this thingis putting out.”



    “More importantly,” Kit said, “can we get home?”



    “I don’t know,” Bruno admitted. “This isn't rocket science, you know. I have no idea how our world relates to thisworld, or how the makers of this device plotted their course betweendimensions...”



    “Maybe there’s only two dimensions,” Erica said,seriously.



    “Unlikely,” Bruno said. “If every choice everyone made created an alternate universe, therewould be billions upon billions of possible alternate realities.”



    “I see,” Erica said. “So...how do we get home?”



    Bruno looked down at the device. “Perhaps we need to figure out how this thingworks before we go anywhere else,” he said. “How long do you think we could stay here?”



    Kit glanced out of the window. “We can’t,” he said. “Hit the button!”



    Erica followed his gaze. A screaming mass of Amazons was charging towards them, carrying clubsand spears. No, not just Amazons – men aswell. They’d be on the RV withinseconds. There was no time to turn onthe engine and drive away, even if it actually worked any longer. God alone knew what Bruno and Kit had done toit after they’d started mucking about with the innards...



    “Get us out of here,” she yelled. The sound of approaching murder was growinglouder. “It doesn't matter where we endup – hit the ****ing button!”



    Bruno hesitated, and then hit the switch. There was a groan of protest – from thedevice, or perhaps from the universe itself – and then Erica felt as if she’dbeen turned inside out. And then theworld went away and they crashed down into darkness.
     
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  13. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++


    <b style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;"><font size="3">Chapter Five<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com[​IMG]
    “All right,” Erica said. “Where the hell are we now?”

    “I haven’t the slightest idea,” Bruno said, with someirritation. “The device appears to bepowering down again. I think we may haveto wait some time before we can jump again.”

    Erica nodded and peered through the RV’s windows. Absolute darkness greeted her eyes. There was no light at all, not even a faintglimmer in the distance. The darknessalmost seemed to be a physical entity, coiling around the RV. She found herself lost for words. Something deep inside her mind, a legacy ofthe days when humanity had huddled around the campfire, was telling her torun. This was not a safe place forhumanity.

    “Interesting,” Bruno said, climbing up beside her. “I wonder if...”

    There was a brilliant flash of purple-white light overhead. For a second, Erica saw a flat metal floorbeneath the RV’s wheels and a tower in the distance. A second flash of lightning revealed othermetal structures surrounding them, glimmering in the light. High overhead, Erica could have sworn she sawa monstrous beast floating through the air before it was cloaked in darknessagain. The sight sent chills runningdown her spine. There was nothing likethat back home. It reminded her oflegends about dragons flying through the sky.

    “I think we need to get out of here,” GBW said. “Push the button again.”

    Bruno did, but nothing happened. “Too low on power,” he said. “Coming to think of it, how much power doesit take to punch a hole between dimensions. The device must be drawing power from somewhere else. I wonder what would happen if I took itapart...”

    “We’d end up stranded right here,” Erica said,sharply. “I think that that would be avery bad idea.”

    “I won’t disagree,” Kit said. He shrugged towards the door. “Should we go out and have a look aroundbefore we leave?”

    Erica hesitated. She wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go. “Why not?” She asked, keeping her tone as light as she could. “Let’s go see where we are this time.”

    “Hang on,” Kit said. He reached into a compartment and produced a pair of flashlights and asingle Browning automatic. “Pity we don’thave any other weapons, but...”

    “If we get back home, we’ll buy out a gun store,” Ericasaid. Her father ran one. He’d always said that a young lady should bearmed at all times. Right now, shecursed herself for not listening to him. She took one of the flashlights and opened the door. “Let’s go, shall we?”

    The darkness loomed around them like a physical entity,almost like fog or mist. She shone theflashlight around, but the beam seemed to be swallowed up by the darkness. Beneath their feet, she felt metal and tappedit experimentally. Even the sound feltfunny in the darkness. She listened, butshe could hear nothing apart from a faint crackle in the air. A second later, another flash of lightningflared up above them. She saw, to herhorror, that they were standing on a large metal platform. They could have easily walked off the edge inthe darkness and fallen to their deaths.

    She looked up, but saw nothing above them. No stars illuminated the world they stood on,or maybe they were too dim to shine through the darkness. The more she saw of it, the more she wasconvinced that there was something unnatural about the darkness that shroudedthe world. It seemed to twist aroundthem like a living thing.

    “My God,” Kit said, suddenly. “We’re standing on an aircraft carrier.”

    Another flash of lightning illuminated the scene – and everythingfell into place. They were standing on acarrier’s flight deck, staring towards the control tower – no, two control towers, one to port and oneto starboard. It struck her as an odddesign, but she was no naval expert – her father had never liked the navy. The flashes of lightning seemed to be comingquicker now, revealing hundreds of ships scattered around the surface of theworld as if they’d been dropped there by an angry god. There weren't just ships, she realisedslowly. It looked like a junkyard ofmilitary technology. She could seetanks, aircraft and even what looked like a space shuttle, abandoned and leftto decay.

    GBW put her thoughts into words. “Do you think we’re on the same world we justleft?”

    “I don’t think so,” Bruno said. He hesitated. “But it was late afternoon when we left and now...” He waved a hand around, encompassing thedarkness. “Do you think we’re moving intime as well as space?”

    Erica shook her head. “I hope not,” she said. “How willwe ever get home if we are?”

    “I think we should investigate the carrier,” Kit said,firmly. “That might tell us whathappened here. This place can't be natural.”

    “Maybe space aliens picked up all of our warships anddropped them here,” GBW suggested. Hesounded nervous. Erica couldn't blamehim. Just for a second, she felt surethat someone – or something – was watching them. She found herself glancing around, but thedarkness shrouded everything. “Ormaybe...”

    He shook his head. “I don't know what this is,” he said. “I think we need to find out before it gets us.”

    They walked towards the starboard conning tower, watchingcarefully for pitfalls. Towards the prowof the massive vessel, someone or something had torn open the flight elevatorallowing aircraft to be brought up from below decks and launched into thesky. Erica tried to decide if the crewhad opened it or if some colossal monster had ripped through the metal to getat the crew inside. She tried to imaginehow the crew must have felt to be trapped here, if the crew had come with theaircraft carrier. The ship was so hugethat it seemed impossible to imagine anything that could pick it up and depositit in the midst of a junkyard, but they were clearly not floating at sea. All of the vessels in the area had beendropped on dry land.

    “Shit,” Kit said. “Lookat that.”

    Erica followed his pointing finger. The symbol on the side of the conning towerwas a repulsive historical nightmare, a black swastika set against a red andwhite background. It was more than familiarfrom her grandfather’s tales of the time he’d driven a tank into Germany duringthe Second World War. Adolf Hitler andhis Nazis had ridden to war under their swastika banner. But the Germans had never had the technologyto build something as big as the carrier, at least as far as she knew. The carrier looked like something from the1970s rather than the 1940s.

    “I think they must have won the war in this timeline,”Kit said, confirming her thoughts. “Thisbrute is bigger than the Eisenhower.” Erica glanced over at him. “It’s one of the Navy’s biggest aircraftcarriers, one of the biggest ships in the world,” he added. “And this Nazi ship is bigger. The Germans always did go in for spectacular constructionat the expense of practicalities.”

    He glanced back towards the flight deck. “Interesting design, though,” he added. “Most carriers only have one conning tower,which allows them to reduce the risk of an aircraft crashing into thebridge. This ship has two of them –despite its colossal size, I’d be willing to bet money that they could onlylaunch one aircraft at a time.”

    “Maybe they had something like the Harrier,” Brunosuggested, as he fiddled with what looked like a hatch. “They could launch them vertically into theair...”

    “Maybe,” Kit agreed. The hatch clanked open, revealing a ladder heading upwards, into theconning tower. “Ladies first?”

    Erica scowled at him, and then led the way. The ladder felt cold and clammy under herfingers, almost as if the entire ship was sweating. She found herself rubbing her forehead as sheclambered up to the top, nearly dropping the flashlight when she banged herhead into a sealed hatch. It took her amoment to work out how to unlock the hatch and push it open. The crew of the ship must have worked out,she told herself. It was a strain toopen the hatch on her own.

    The ship’s bridge was larger than she expected, a curiousmixture of primitive and modern. A wheelwas positioned in front of a large window, allowing the ship to be steeredmanually, but a set of computers dominated the rear of the bridge. There was no sign of the ship’s crew, or ofanything that might explain what had happened. From the dust that had settled on the consoles, Erica guessed that theship had been abandoned for several years. She checked each of the consoles, one by one, but they were completelyinoperative.

    “I wonder if they had a nuclear reactor on this ship,”Kit mused, as he started poking around the chair in the centre of thebridge. “I don’t see how else they couldpower her...”

    “Maybe they have thousands of hamsters on wheels,” Ericasnapped. If there was a nuclear reactorbelow them, God alone knew what had happened to it when the crew...wentaway. It might have been shut down, orit might have been left to fester and slowly become unstable, leaking radiationinto the air. She remembered the deadworld they’d visited and shivered. “Didthe Germans ever develop nuclear power?”

    “They never did in our timeline,” GBW said. “But if they won the war in this timelinethey might have developed all kinds of nasty surprises. They’d certainly have had longer to get overtheir obsession with avoiding Jewish science.”

    “Idiots,” Erica said. Absently, she wondered what would become of any child brought up in aworld where the Nazis had won the war. They’d have a total moral invasion. Their schooling would embrace Nazi ideas, all of which would have been ‘proven’by the fact the Nazis had won the war. “Whatelse can one say about them?”

    Kit looked up from where he had been digging through thecompartments at the rear of the bridge. “I’vefound the Captain’s logbook,” he said. “Doesanyone read German?”

    “A little,” Bruno said. He took it from Kit and flicked back to the first page. “Graf Zeppelin,Adolf Hitler-class aircraft carrier, launched from Kiel on December 13<sup>th</sup>,1974. Apparently the second ship to bearthe name – according to this, the first was sunk in battle with the Americans in1965. The ship was dedicated to thecause of National Socialism by Fuhrer VonWolfe.”

    He looked up. “Cananyone remember a Von Wolfe in history – our history?”

    “I don’t think it matters,” GBW said. “If history diverged around 1940 or whenever,anyone who was an adult in 1974 would be a child – if that. They might have been babies in our world whenthe Allies won the war.”

    “But who knows what they would have become if the Allies didn’twin the war?” Kit mused. “Everyone who had any kind of Nazi past keptit to themselves. But in an alternateworld...”

    Bruno kept flicking through the logbook. “Sailed to Massachusetts on her first cruise,hosted the President of America and his Commissioner for dinner,” hemuttered. “There are a lot of notesabout the nigger extermination program here. I think they must have either beaten us or forced us to embrace theirways.” He shook his head. “Sickening. The ship then went around South America to pay a call on the Japanese. She apparently helped out the French in Indochina...therearen’t many details here. I wonder ifthe vessel’s commander was trying to conceal some of the facts.”

    Erica frowned. “Howremarkably un-Teutonic of them.”

    “Perhaps they were a little ashamed of what they’d donein service to Nazi Germany,” Bruno said. “They paid a call to India and then headed to South Africa. God alone knows what they might have done toAfrica’s black population.”

    “I read a story where the Nazis had invaded India,” GBWsaid. “They massacred protesters andshot Gandhi. That might be what they didin this reality.”

    “Maybe,” Bruno agreed. He flicked through a couple more pages. “I think we’re getting to the important part here. Reports of sightings of strange bat-likecreatures. Watchman reprimanded fordrunkenness on duty. More sightings,including one made by the Captain himself. Ship caught up in a green mist, which faded – leaving them alone. Radio contact with Berlin lost and unable tobe recovered. Some messages picked up onthe radio in unknown languages, making no sense at all. Crew starting to suffer problems – some disciplinaryproblems, others seemingly the result of madness. Some officers report hearing voices comingfrom the shadows.”

    He shook his head. “I think the Captain was losing his mind by this point,” headmitted. “The writing becomesincreasingly erratic. Crewmen missing –some apparently lured overboard by voices. Mutiny in the engineering section – SS troopers who attempted to restoreorder apparently turning their guns on each other. Crew becoming increasingly deranged; oneofficer apparently tried to trigger one of the nukes and had to be shot downbefore he could push the detonator. Power losses throughout the ship without explanation. Reactor running increasingly oddly – almost asif the laws of science don’t quite make sense any more. It starts to fail and they have to shift ontobatteries, but they seem to leak power from the moment they turn them on. The Captain starts hearing voices himself –he claims that he can hear his dead son, taken away by the state for being bornwith a cleft foot.

    “And someone blows up one of the aircraft in thehangers. The whole situation is out ofcontrol...”

    Bruno placed the logbook on the table. “At that point, the writing becomesimpossible to decipher,” he concluded. “Fromwhat I’ve read, I think we can conclude that they were drawn into anotheruniverse, one that proved to be hostile to human minds and technology.”

    “You mean here,” Erica said. She glanced down at the flashlight, suspiciously. “How do we know that our own technology isn'tgoing to fail?”

    “We don't,” Bruno said, flatly. He closed his eyes for a long second, andthen peered out over the flight deck, illuminated by bursts of lightning. “You want a really distressing possibility?”

    “No,” Erica said.

    “We could be in a lobster pot,” Bruno said, ignoringher. “The lobster crawls along into thepot and then gets stuck. No matter howmuch it struggles, it can’t get free. This universe could be absorbing energy before we can build up enough tojump out...”

    “You’re just guessing,” GBW said. “We don’t knowthat it works that way here...”

    “I know,” Bruno agreed. “I think we ought to go back to the RV and see if we can get out ofhere.”

    Erica felt the presence of an unknown watcher again asshe scrambled down the ladder. It wasn'tso easy as finding their way up the ladder, but she made it down to the flightdeck without slipping and falling the rest of the war. She started to head towards the gaping holein the deck, catching sight of what looked like wrecked helicopters, beforechanging her mind. There was littlepoint in exploring the rest of the Nazi aircraft carrier. Her crew was long gone.

    “Bruno,” she said slowly, “how long ago did this happen?”

    Bruno, who had carried the logbook under one arm, glancedat it. “The last entry before they camehere, or were brought here, was dated 1975,” he said. “It’s possible that they didn't come here immediately. The Captain is quite clear that they werefloating at sea – they just didn't know where they were. Maybe whatever force took them to thatstrange ocean dumped the ship here after the crew was dead.”

    “But why?” Ericaasked. “What’s the point of making anentire crew suffer like that?”

    “They were Nazis,” Kit said. “People who killed other people because theywere different, because they thought that sub-humans were to blame for alltheir woes. They killed Jews, Russians,Blacks, Homosexuals...in our world, they killed over six million people quite deliberately. What do you think they did in a world where they won the war?”

    He waved a hand around the flight deck. “This is a pretty impressive piece of technology,”he said, “but it’s built on human bones. I bet you anything you care to put forward that her Captain was steepedin blood up to his eyeballs.”

    “No bet,” Bruno said. They reached the RV and stopped outside. “I think that...”

    “Hey,” GBW said. “What’sthat?”

    Erica followed his gaze. High overhead, a twinkling yellow light had appeared, heading downtowards them. She could hear a fainthumming in the air as it got closer, rapidly taking on shape and form as aglowing ball of light. It wasn't blinding,but somehow she found it impossible to look at it without covering hereyes. Just before it hit the aircraftcarrier, it slowed and halted, hovering above them. The sound of humming grew louder.

    “We come in peace,” GBW said. “Gort!Klaatu barada nikto!”

    The yellow light hovered for a second longer, and then itfell on GBW. Before anyone could react,he was wrapped up in the light – which lifted back off the deck and flashed offinto the distance. Erica was left staringafter him, helpless to do anything to help. He’d been kidnapped right from under their very noses.

    “They took him,” Bruno said. He sounded shocked, barely able tospeak. “What do we do now?”

    “We get him back,” Erica said. “Wherever he is, we’ll find him and we’ll gethim back.”

    It sounded good, but in truth she had no idea where tobegin.
     
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  14. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++


    Chapter Six<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />



    “First things first,” Erica said. “We need to figure out a way to get down tothe ground.”



    The sheer size of the GrafZeppelin was disconcerting. It wasover a thousand feet long, towering high over the ground below. When she crept as close as she dared to theedge of the flight deck, it was clear that they’d never be able to jump down tothe ground without breaking their legs. A quick check inside the RV revealed nothing that they could use toscramble down and then get back up to the flight deck again. It seemed impossible to escape the Nazi aircraftcarrier.



    “We could go down into the ship and see if there is agash in the hull,” Kit suggested. “Bruno– did you have any luck with that compass?”



    Bruno shook his head. “The magnetic field on this world is all screwed up,” he said, holdingup the compass. The needle was spinningmadly, as if the north pole was rotating around their position. “I think we’re going to have to be verycareful not to get lost, or we’ll never find our way back to the RV.”



    Erica looked over the colossal graveyard of ships,illuminated by flash after flash of lightning. It seemed to stretch for miles, as far as the eye could see. She couldn't believe that they were all Germanships from a Nazi victory timeline, not when even the USN hadn't produced somany ships. And they were of radicallydifferent designs. One ship in thedistance looked more like a familiar aircraft carrier from their ownworld.



    “I take your point,” she said. Finding GBW seemed hopeless, but she wasn't aboutto give up in a hurry. “Come on. Let’s see what we can find below decks.”



    The gash in the flight deck revealed a half-smashedelevator and signs of a gun battle, with bullets scattered everywhere. There was no sign of any bodies, which Ericafound more than a little creepy after reading the Captain’s logbook. She shone her flashlight into the darknessand saw a dozen wrecked fighter jets that looked like crude F-15 Eagles. Several missiles lay on the deck, looking asif someone had been smacking away at them with a hammer. They hadn't exploded, Erica told herself, andthey probably weren't going to explode while they were in the ship. She still wanted to keep a safe distance fromthem.



    At the edge of the underground hanger, there were a pairof black helicopters marked with lightning bolts. They looked more advanced than the otheraircraft and seemed almost undamaged until she looked inside the cockpit. The controls looked as if they had beenmelted, perhaps with a cutting torch of some kind. She found herself glancing down at thehelicopter’s seat and wondering if the pilot had gone mad, or if someone elsehad sabotaged the helicopter during the mutiny on the ship. There was no way to know for sure.



    “This way,” Kit said. “I think it leads down to the belly of the beast.”



    Away from the hanger, the air tasted foul and the temperatureseemed to vary wildly. Erica foundherself wiping her forehead as they headed deeper into the ship, trying to finda way towards the outer hull. If therewere any gashes in the ship’s hull, they had to be there...the air grew hotter,so hot that it almost burned their skin, and then fell back to freezing. Erica wondered if the reactor had beenbreached and they were experiencing the effects of radiation poisoning, butkept the thought to herself. There wasnothing they could do about it if they were being slowly poisoned by the ship.



    They turned a corner and saw a colossal gash in thehull. The ship had clearly hit theground hard enough to tear through solid steel, or whatever the Nazis had usedto build their aircraft carrier. Itwould be tricky to make their way over the debris and out of the ship, but itwas doable. Kit led the way, clamberingover scattered chunks of metal, and paused at the edge of the hull. It was thicker than Erica had expected, somehow. Bruno glanced over at her, and then nodded toKit. Kit winked at them and jumped outonto the rocky ground.



    “Feels like rock,” he yelled. Erica took a step forward and saw himstanding on the ground, touching it with his fingers. “I wonder where we are...”



    “This world might not have anything like the geography weare used to,” Bruno said, thoughtfully. “Ifyou went back in time far enough, you’d see the continents separate out andspread out over the world. But if thingswere different...”



    Erica had a more pressing concern. “Help me push this piece of debris over theedge,” she said, seriously. “We’ll needto use it to climb up and get back into the ship.”



    Bruno nodded and together they managed to push it overthe edge. It hit the ground with a soundthat echoed for miles, reflecting off the metal hulls of a hundred ships. Scrambling down to the ground, Erica felt dwarfedby the sheer immensity of the aircraft carriers, and of the other ships. Humans were very tiny on such a scale. She had never felt claustrophobic before, butthe thought of what would happen if one of the ships happened to roll overwhile they were walking beside it chilled her to the bone. It took everything she had just to get moving,walking down alongside the hull of the GrafZeppelin. The ship just seemed toloom over them, casting everything into shadow.



    They reached the prow of the mighty aircraft carrier,dented and bruised by the impact that had brought it to this world, andpaused. GBW had been taken off in aparticular direction, but it was clear that they were going to have to walk formiles to recover him – if they could recover him. Erica had read books about UFOs abductingpeople and performing anal probes – and many of the witnesses had talked aboutballs of light. Maybe GBW was beingprobed right now...or tested to destruction. The aliens, assuming there was any truth to the stories at all, had hadto return their victims to Earth, but the wreckage of the ships suggested thatthe aliens here didn't have to worry about leaving their captives intact.



    High overhead, something moved through the darkness, it’spresence sensed rather than seen. Ericaflashed her flashlight upwards, wondering what she would see, but the darknessjust seemed to absorb the beam of light. There were no stars in the sky, twinkling down on Earth – even the Moonwas absent. And yet they’d left thenuclear holocaust world in late afternoon. Were they moving through time as well as space, or was something moresinister going on? There was no way toknow.



    Kit caught her arm. “Look!”



    Erica followed his gaze. Down beside a strangely-advanced looking ship, an angular design thatreminded her of a stealth aircraft, there was a small patch of light. It seemed to grow, and then split intosmaller lights, heading towards their position. Flashlights, Erica realised. Theworld wasn’t uninhabited after all. Therewere so many ships in the graveyard that some of them might still have had crewonboard...but would they be friendly? Kit produced his gun, only to have Bruno hiss at him to put itaway. They were badly outnumbered by thelocals.



    “We come in peace,” Bruno yelled. “Who are you?”



    Erica half-covered her eyes as the flashlights were levelledat them. There seemed to be at least adozen men out there, but it was impossible to tell in the darkness. Several of them were whispering to oneanother in a language she didn’t recognise, creating yet another problem. They might have no way to communicate withtheir new friends – or captors. Theflashlights seemed to be focused on Bruno, and then they were pointed at theground. Erica blinked her eyes rapidly,trying to get the glare out of her sight. The darkness seemed to have swallowed the newcomers up.



    “We’re the lost,” a voice said, from out of thedarkness. It sounded faintly Texan, butwith a hint of something Erica didn’t recognise. “Welcome to the junkyard. I’m afraid you’re stuck here for the rest ofyour lives.”



    The speaker stepped forward into the pool of light,revealing himself to be wearing what looked like a cross between a cowboyoutfit and a naval uniform. He was atall, powerfully built man with hair cropped close to his head. “Mike Collins,” he introduced himself, “formerlyof the Republic of Texas Navy. They tookus when we were on patrol watching for Brazilian ships in our waters. I’ve been here for the last seven years.”



    “You have?” Brunoasked. He sounded almost childishlyeager to learn. “What happened to bringyou here?”



    Collins looked oddly reluctant to talk to Bruno – or washe being wary? “We sailed into a greenfog,” he said, finally. “Most of thecrew went mad. Some of us barricadedourselves into a stateroom and tried to stay alive, despite the whispers wecould hear in our minds. Eventually,there was a crash and when we left the stateroom, we found that we werehere. They’d just abandoned us.”



    The second man stepped forward. He was a shorter, dark-skinned man, wearing afez. “Abdul Pasha, serving the Caliph,”he introduced himself. “We were sailingto Britannia to strike at the Prussians from the rear when we sailed into greenfog. Pretty much the same thing happenedto us.”



    “There’s all sorts here,” Collins explained. “Some of us have made common cause – banded togetherto try to remain alive and maybe use some of the technology here to get backhome. Others have gone out into thedarkness in the hopes of finding civilisation. And others...well, they’ve been taken. As private parts to the Bats are we, they play with us for their sport.”



    Kit stepped forward. “The Bats?”



    “Big black creatures the size of dragons,” Collinssaid. “We see them flying through theair sometimes, when the darkness isn't too oppressive. We think they’re the ones behind whathappened to us, although we have no idea why they wanted to snatch so many shipsfrom a thousand different timelines. Maybe it’s their idea of a joke.”



    He shrugged. “Anyway,you must be starving,” he added. “Comealong and we’ll give you some food and you can tell us what happened to you.”



    Erica hesitated. Some instinct was telling her not to mention the RV, not to desperatemen stranded on a strange world. Shehoped that the guys would keep their mouths shut about it, at least until theyknew if Collins and his men could be trusted. And then they could see about recruiting help to recover GBW.



    ***

    The small settlement had been built using materialrecovered from a dozen different ships, Erica realised, as they approached. Prefabricated buildings that had been intendedto serve as advance headquarters for invading soldiers had been put togetherand turned into houses, while a handful of other buildings had been constructedout of sheets of metal and pieces of cloth. It looked alarmingly like a refugee camp; dozens of people were sittingaround the fire, just staring into the flames. Erica realised that they had to be permanently running short offood. The ships had probably carriedemergency rations, but they wouldn't last forever.



    She tried to estimate how many people there were, butgave up as she realised the settlement extended into the hull of a nearbyship. The settlement could be largerthan she suspected, if they were using cabins onboard ships as well asprefabricated buildings. She smiled asshe heard the sound of drumming from one of the ships, followed by the wail ofbagpipes. The stranded castaways mighthave had little hope of getting home, but they were trying to keep up theirdetermination to carry on and make the best of their situation.



    “Welcome to Paradise,” Collins said, seriously. “Nine hundred and seventy people, allstranded with no way to go home.”



    Kit looked up, sharply. “But many of these ships had thousands of crewmen,” he objected. “Surely there should be more...”



    “Only a handful came off each ship,” Collins said. “Sometimes...we find ships that arecompletely unnamed when they get here. The tales are always the same – the crew goes mad, there are mutiniesand outbreaks of insane violence...and when they arrive, only a handful ofpeople have survived. We’ve sometimesfound bodies of people who have arrived here, but died before they found us oranother settlement – if there is another settlement.”



    He stepped forward. “Come on,” he said. “It's time tomeet the neighbours.”



    Erica followed him into the lighted area...and stopped asshe realised that everyone was staring at them. No, not at them; they werestaring at Bruno. He looked back atthem, confused. None of them lookedhappy to see him. Erica bunched hisfists inside her jacket, silently preparing to fight. If they didn't like Bruno...but why? Why didn't they like Bruno? They hadn't seen him until now, had they?



    “There’s no need to panic,” Collins said. His voice completely dominated thesilence. Even the bagpipes seemed tohave stopped playing. “This isn’t him, it’s an alternate. A duplicate.”



    There was a long uncomfortable moment, and then the crowdslowly looked away. “I wish there wassome way I could have warned them,” Collins admitted, “but radio transmissionsdon’t work very well here. There's somethingin the atmosphere that interferes with them.”



    Bruno, surprisingly, didn't look nervous. “Are you saying that there’s a duplicate ofme on this world? Me from an alternatetimeline?”



    “Something like that,” Collins said, vaguely. “We’ll talk about it after dinner. For now – rest and eat.”



    Erica and Kit shared a long glance, but there was nothingthey could do. The cook, one of thehandful of women present in the settlement, ladled out bowls of stew. Erica sniffed at the stew warily, but her stomachgrumbled and she found herself swallowing it down as fast as she could. It was hot and spicy, although she didn't wantto try to guess what kind of meat had been used to flavour the stew. From a handful of muttered comments, sheguessed that it had been taken from ration packs recovered from the ships andthen mashed into a stew.



    “Reminds me of being at camp,” Kit said, cheerfully. “We used to experiment with improving MREsall the time. It turned out that if youput in enough Tabasco, you actually managed to enjoy the food.”



    Bruno made a face. “It’s good, but hot,” he said. “Butwhat about my...?”



    “Leave it for the moment,” Erica said. Bruno was still attracting glances and noneof them looked friendly. “Whatever youare here, I think we ought to tread carefully until we know what’s going on. We’re going to need their help to recoverGBW.”



    She listened to the stories being shared around thecampfire as they ate. Collins had beenright – many of the stories about their abduction from their homeworlds werealmost identical. The interesting detailslay in the homeworlds themselves. Therewere people from a Roman Empire that had never fallen, a Japanese Empire thatruled all of East Asia, a Soviet Union that had won the Cold War, an Islamic Caliphatethat had conquered Europe, a Persian Empire that had defeated Greece and goneon to dominate the world...she watched Bruno listening to the stories, shakinghis head at how different some of the alternate worlds were from theirown. The story of how Napoleon had goneto America as a young man and transformed it into his own empire wasremarkable, although she wasn't sure how much of it she believed. But how much of their own history would bebelievable to a man who came from a very different world?



    “The Lizards only invaded my world,” an American sailorsaid. “I don’t know why they didn’tinvade any other timeline. Somethingmust have happened to them in all, but one universe.”



    “The Draka got there first,” a dark-skinned manoffered. “The Lizards wouldn't last longagainst the Snakes. They’d probably havea properly engineered subject race up and replacing the originals before toolong.”



    “Sounds about right,” Collins put in. He looked over at Erica. “I think it’s time we talked.”



    Erica nodded. “What’sthe deal with Bruno’s alternative?”



    Collins sighed. “Itold you that some of us go searching into the ruins for technology we can use,”he said. “I’m afraid that your friend’scounterpart, when he arrived here, was one of them. He found a place with some very advanced technology and set himselfup as a mad scientist, for want of a better name. Since then, he’s been carrying out hisexperiments on human subjects...”



    “That’s absurd,” Bruno said. “I would never carry out experiments on livesubjects.”



    “This...person probably isn't the same as you,” Kitsaid. He sounded troubled by theimplications. Somewhere out there, therewere probably billions of different versions of himself. Erica wondered absently if any of them wouldlike girls. “And everyone’s scared ofhim?”



    “With reason,” Collins said. “I think he’s probably the one who kidnappedyour friend.”



    “If you know where he is, then we’d better go get afterhim,” Bruno said. “I’m not allowing anyevil version of myself to harm my friend.”



    Kit snickered. “What’she called, anyway? Evil-Bruno?



    “I think the Marvel Comics preferred version would beDark Bruno,” Erica said.



    “He doesn't call himself Bruno at all,” Collins said,impatiently. It wasn't a game tohim. Collins and his people had beenstranded for years, preyed on by the alternate Bruno and the mysterious powerthat had brought them to the junkyard. “Thesedays, he calls himself Doctor What.”
     
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  15. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++


    <b style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;"><font size="3">Chapter Seven<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com[​IMG]


    After the first panic had worn off – he was floating in aball of light with very little seemingly preventing him from falling to hisdoom – GBW found his unwanted flight almost relaxing. The light holding him seemed to illuminatethe ground below, revealing that there were literally millions of ships scattered on the desolate world. Most of them were aircraft carriers, as ifthe force that had stolen them from their homeworlds seemed to prefercarriers. Others looked to be on thecutting edge of naval technology, including a handful of ships that seemed tobe more advanced than anything he’d seen on his own world.



    The thought wasn't too reassuring. If there was an intelligence behind theabduction of countless ships and their crews, it was apparently targeting themost modern warships in thousands of alternate timelines. They could be sizing up their targets beforeinvading, although GBW was certain that anyone with the technology to abduct amassive aircraft carrier – let alone thousands of other aircraft carriers andassorted warships – wouldn't be unduly troubled by humanity’s defensive capabilities. He doubted that nukes would slow down a forcethat could simply transport the nukes to an alternate dimension. Hadn’t there been a comic strip when adimensional warp had been used to shield a city from nuclear attack?



    He braced himself as the ball of light seemed to altercourse suddenly and race towards a giant black tower in the distance. At first, the tower seemed like nothing morethan a needle pointing up into the air, but as he was brought closer he sawsmaller spires all around it, with brilliant flickers of light dancing throughthe air. The flashes of lightning seemedto grow brighter nearer the tower, as if it was generating the lightning insome way. For a moment, he could havesworn he saw a giant bat hovering over the tower, before the lightning flashedagain and it was gone. The ball of lightfell towards a black opening at the base of the tower and flew inside. Absolute darkness seemed to swallow him for along moment, and then he felt himself falling to the ground. He hit something and gasped in pain, justbefore the chamber was flooded with light. Carefully, he pulled himself to his feet and looked around.



    It was a mad scientist’s fantasy lab. Huge machines were scattered everywhere,blinking with bright lights, performing tasks he couldn't even begin tounderstand. Rays of light seemed to hangin the air, powering experiments that seemed to have no clear purpose. He could hear a distant drumming reverberatingthrough the building, like a beating of a mighty heart. He stepped forward – and recoiled as the airfizzled around him, bright sparks leaping out to sting his fingers. The force field held him firmly trapped. He glanced behind him, but there was no signof the ball of light that had brought him to this place. There was no way out.



    He looked over towards one of the computer banks, hopinghe could make some sense out of it. Bruno or Kit would probably have understood perfectly, but GBW knew thathe wasn't in their league. The computerscreens kept updating, monitoring something; he jumped in shock as he heard aclattering noise, followed by a stream of paper emerging from one of themachines. It seemed surprisingly crudefor such an advanced device. A figureemerged from behind one of the other machines and picked up the sheet of paper,reading it quickly. There was somethingoddly familiar about his gait.



    “At last,” he said. “My machine nears completion!”



    GBW recognised the voice. “Bruno?”



    The man turned – and GBW almost jumped out of hisskin. It was Bruno, but it wasn’t – the manlooked very much like Bruno’s evil twin. His hair was unkempt, his eyes were wild...and he wore a simple neatgoatee below his chin. He wore a white laboratorycoat, a pair of eye-protectors and carried a small device in his hand. GBW guessed that it controlled most of thetower’s systems. Bruno – his Bruno – hadalways loved to simplify things where possible. It was how he made most of his money, by producing shareware thatactually worked as advertised.



    “Welcome,” the other Bruno said. “I am Doctor What.”



    He stepped up to the force field and stared at GBW, a madlight in his eyes. “And you are going tohelp me master the systems that control this world,” he announced. “Your arrival puts the final piece in myplan!”



    GBW found his voice. “What...what do you want from me?”



    “They litter this world with their technology,” DoctorWhat announced. GBW had the impressionthat he didn't have anyone else to talk to in his tower. “You do realise, of course, that this world isn'tnatural? Someone uses it as a dumpingground for ships and technology they’ve abducted from countless worlds.”



    “We deduced as much,” GBW said, remembering the logbookfrom the Graf Zeppelin. “This world is very strange.”



    “This world is unnatural,”Doctor What informed him. “When Iarrived, the sole survivor of a scientific research vessel dedicated tocreating a stable wormhole, I was struck at once by the eternal darkness thatcovers this world. Even the most pollutedatmosphere would let in some light. Iused the technology I had brought with me – and getting it to work here was onehell of a challenge, let me tell you – and I deduced the truth. There is no sun in this solar system.”



    GBW stared at him. “No sun?”



    “No,” Doctor What said. “Someone crushed Sol – the star that gave birth to Earth – into a blackhole.” He pointed a finger towards theceiling. “Up there, all that remains ofSol is a tiny glitch in the fabric of reality – a black hole. Do you understand what I’m saying? They transformed the entire solar system tosuit their purposes!”



    “Impressive,” GBW said. He couldn't grasp the scale, not really. Destroying a star and killing a world – he doubted that Earth would lastlong without the sun providing light and heat – was beyond his ability to fullycomprehend. “But wouldn't a black holein this solar system have swallowed up the Earth?”



    Doctor What eyed him as if he couldn't quite believe thatanyone could be so stupid – or ignorant. “You must be from one of those timelines where the touchy-feely peopletook over the schools,” he sneered. “Nevermind if the kids can’t read or write, let alone grasp the idea of basic scienceand cause and effect – they’ll be perfectly fine as ignorant littlemonkeys. Is it not obvious that a blackhole made from Sol would have the same massas Sol, even though it would be tiny? Earth continues in a stable orbit around the black hole, as do the otherplanets and the ring.”



    GBW wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but asked anyway. “The ring?”



    “I managed to build gravimetric detectors that allowed meto monitor gravity fields,” Doctor What informed him. He seemed to have forgotten to sneer whileboasting about his achievements. “Thereis a ring of solid matter surrounding the black hole. I believe that they use it to manipulategravity and drain power from the black hole, allowing them to ravage throughdimensions at will. The abduction of afew thousand aircraft carriers would be little more than a minor drain on theirpower. They could abduct entire planets, or produce wormholes that couldtransport entire solar systems from one part of the universe to another. They are gods!”



    “I see,” GBW said, finally. “If you know all this, do you know why they’redoing it?”



    Doctor What, for the first time, revealed a tiny fragmentof doubt. “I have yet to understand thereasoning behind their activities,” he confessed. “They are very clearly not human. It is quite possible that what they’re doingmakes perfect sense to them, but means nothing to human minds. But that doesn't matter. I have taken some of their technology and Ihave used it to make myself supreme on this planet!”



    His voice was starting to rise. “But all I have achieved is nothing comparedto a power that can crush a star into a black hole,” he added. “I shall master their technology and become agod myself. I shall learn the innermostsecrets of the universe. I shall transcendbeyond mere humanity and open doorways into higher dimensions. I shall touch the face of God...”



    “And unlimited rice pudding?” GBW asked, sardonically. “If you open a doorway to a higher dimension,what happens if you find something unfriendly waiting for you? That didn’t work out very well in Babylon 5...”



    Silence,”Doctor What bellowed. “There have alwaysbeen weak minds striving to hold back those with the gift to open new vistas ofknowledge and understanding. Weak fools,trembling at the thought of losing control, fearing disasters that exist onlyin the minds of disaster movie scriptwriters! I bet your dimension is filled with looters and moochers who havenothing better to do than carp and criticize when you can’t develop anythingnew because of their hesitant fears. Doyou know that the Captain of the Enterprisewas actually afraid that my wormhole generator would render his lovely shipobsolete? He didn't consider it a goodway to wage war. It wouldn't be sporting!”



    He stormed up to the force field and glared at GBW. “I am here and no one can stop me pushingback the boundaries of knowledge as far as I like,” he snapped. He jabbed one finger at GBW’s chest. “The maggots outside, the ones who cower inthe shadow of their wrecked ships, fearful of the gods drifting through theair...they will not be able to tell me what I can and cannot do. I will lead the human race into a bold newera! The era of transcendence, where wewill all shine like suns, our light casting back the darkness. We will become immortal, unstoppable,transforming the universe into our playground...”



    “That doesn't sound a very good idea to me,” GBW said,wondering if there was anything left of the Bruno he knew inside DoctorWhat. “You said it yourself – there arelots of humans who can only live by feeding off people like you. What will happen when you give them the powerof gods?”



    Doctor What shrugged. “Every day of every month of every year, political leaders lie to us andthe weak masses believe them, because it’s easier to believe someone giving yougood news than someone trying to tell you the facts,” he said. “But when we are all gods, we will know if our political leaders are lyingto us. We will all shine like suns,sharing our thoughts – and we will no longer need to be afraid of anyone, oranything. The worthless leeches who callthemselves our leaders will find themselves redundant.”



    He laughed. “Redundant,” he repeated. “Do you think they will kill themselves whenthey discover the perspective of gods?”



    “And what happens if the aliens in this system realisewhat you are doing?” GBW pressed. “If they have enough power to crush the sunand send thousands of ships hurtling between dimensions, they could surely swatyou like a bug. Wouldn't it be saferto...?”



    “Of course not,” Doctor What said. He sneered as he stepped away from the forcefield and headed over towards one of the consoles. “You seem to underestimate the magnitude ofwhat they’ve done. Do you know how manystars there are left in the galaxy?”



    He answered his own question. “Of course you don't,” he said, before GBWcould say anything. “Because you’reignorant and unobservant and you just don’t have the imagination to grasp thescale of what they’ve done. Every starfor at least a thousand years has been crushed and reshaped into a blackhole. I believe that they have consumedmost of the galaxy to power their experiments. And I believe I understand the basic equations behind what they’vedone. They’ve created a network ofresonating singularities that exist within each of the black holes. I can tap into that power for myself, mapmyself onto it, use it to turn me into a god. And that will be my gift to humanity.



    “But they won’t notice until it is far too late,” heconcluded. “Earth is a tiny planet, oneof many dumping grounds for their experiments. I will take over their system before they can respond, locking them outbefore I blink them out of existence. And then...”



    “You will become a god,” GBW interrupted. “You’re insane. This whole plan is insane!”



    Doctor What turned and faced him. “That’s what they said before I produced thefirst stable wormhole,” he said. “They doubtedmy science until I produced results, and then they wanted to control it. I could have opened up wormholes to the Moon,or Mars – I could have opened up the High Frontier for humanity. Instead...they wanted a weapon. Well, they won’t need weapons in the universeI will create. No more enemies. No more need to fear the barbarians lurkingat the gates. And you are going to helpme.”



    “But how can I help?” GBW asked, reasonably. “I don't knowanything about science...”



    “Of course you don't,” Doctor What said. “I bet your timeline’s educational experts believe that young men shouldexplore their feminine side instead of making things blow up. All the excitement drained away in the sameof safety. The universe isn’t safe and it’s time thatthey learned it. I’ll make sure theylearn if it’s the last thing I do.”



    He clicked his fingers and a machine rolled into the vastchamber. “This is Waldo,” Doctor Whatsaid. “You will notice that he’sarmoured like a tank, with claws that can cut through sheet metal. They will have no difficulty cutting you intwo if you try to be clever. Oh, andWaldo is also insanely loyal to me – and very fast. One false move from you and you’ll be deadbefore you can react.”



    GBW looked up at the painted smile on the machine andshivered. Waldo seemed to be completelycovered in armoured plating, except for a tiny hatch on the side. Given its size, he guessed that Doctor Whatrode inside the automated tank whenever he needed to leave his tower. Absently, he wondered how he fed himself,before cursing the stupid question. Given his technology, he would have no difficulty pulling food from theremains of countless ships or simply stealing it from the inhabitants of thisworld, if there were inhabitants.



    “Now, come along,” Doctor What said. The force field flickered and vanished. Waldo moved forward menacingly. “We don’t have all day, I’m afraid.”



    GBW hesitated, took one last look at Waldo, and thenfollowed Doctor What past a set of machines that made absolutely no sense atall. They were so vast that they seemedto have been designed for giants, or perhaps non-human entities. Or maybe this version of Bruno had allowedhis imagination to run riot. Givenadvanced technology and a complete lack of scruples about obtaining resources,God alone knew how far he’d advance.



    “Most of their technology on this world is extremely difficultto comprehend,” Doctor What said, as they entered another chamber. “They have developed a way of...imprinting their technological scienceinto rocks – to human eyes, it pretty much looks like magic. But it’s really nothing more than sufficientlyadvanced technology. It will be manyyears before I master the ability to create such items myself, but I canmanipulate some of their technology in ways they never intended.”



    He grinned as he stopped in front of a blackmonolith. “You see, the universe – what wethink of as the physical universe – is really made up of information,” heexplained. “Everything about you isdetermined by the information existing within the bedrock of the universe. You change from living to dead and theinformation changes – but really, what comes first? The information or your death?



    “You’re familiar with computer hacking, I presume? Their technology literally hacks into the universe’s operatingsystem and makes changes. Because of thenature of the system, you can change anything and it just falls intoplace. Magic, in other words. Some humans are supposed to have a verylimited ability to affect the universe through mental force alone – perhaps, tosome extent, it is the last flickers of magical power within us. Given the power, you can alter reality andignore the natural laws of the universe.”



    He nodded to Waldo, who pushed GBW towards the monolithwith one claw. “Take the classic example– evil witch transforms the innocent young maiden or the sickeningly handsome,brave and true knight into a frog. Quiteimpossible, wouldn't you say? The massof even the smallest maiden is far greater than a frog, so what happens to therest of her? But if you hack theuniverse, you simply change the piece of information that says human to frog and the girl transforms.”



    GBW winced as Waldo’s claws started to press into hisback. “Is that what you’re going to dowith the power of a god?” He asked,trying to stall for time. “You’re goingto turn people into frogs?”



    Doctor What shrugged. “Maybe if they annoy me,” he said. “But really...why should I allow myself to be troubled with those whoonce thought they could sneer at me for having a working brain? I am Doctor What now. I do not need to lower myself to their level.”



    Waldo pushed harder. GBW yelped in pain and tried to run, only to be knocked right into themonolith. It glowed with bright light,seeming to blaze right into his mind...



    ...And then he found himself plunging into darkness.
     
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  16. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++


    Chapter Eight<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />



    “You’ll need these,” Collins said, as they prepared todepart Paradise. He held up a gun-shapedmachine that reminded Erica of a science-fiction ray gun. “This shoots translation devices into yourheads.”



    Erica shook her head. “You’re not putting anything like that in my head,” she said, firmly.



    “You need it,” Collins said. “Many of us come from timelines where theydon’t speak English, sometimes where they’ve never even heard of English. Wesalvaged this piece of technology from one of the more advanced ships in thejunkyard. They seem to work perfectly.”



    “But surely they won’t have every language in the entiremultiverse programmed into them,” Bruno pointed out. “How do they work?”



    “One of the...scientists who came here speculated thatthey actually worked through a limited form of electronic telepathy,” Collinssaid. “Another used to think that theywere just so capable at dissecting languages that they could reason out anentire dictionary from a single word. Wenever found details in the ship’s database. The damn thing was protected with heavy security.”



    “They were very paranoid in that timeline,” Abdulagreed. He spoke a short sentence inArabic. “As you can see, those devicesare very useful.”



    “Sounds like it,” Bruno agreed. He leaned forward. “Put it in me first, and then the others cansee that it is harmless.”



    Erica watched, unable to repress a thrill of horror, asCollins pushed the device against the side of Bruno’s head. There was a quick buzz and then he pulled thedevice away again, leaving nothing more than a tiny spot of blood on Bruno’sskin. Erica wondered, suddenly, if theimplants were actually designed to read and control a person’s mind, leavingthem nothing more than automatons. She’dread horror stories where one mad scientist had successfully implanted most ofthe world, turning himself into its absolute ruler. He’d mostly used his powers to have sex withcelebrities and torment his former enemies.



    “I just felt a sting,” Bruno said. He rubbed at the side of his head. “How long does it take to work?”



    “A few minutes,” Collins said. He nodded to Kit, who stepped forward and hadthe same procedure done to him. Ericahesitated, and then allowed him to do the same to her. There was a tiny prick against her skin andthen nothing, apart from a strange sensation in the back of her skull. Her ears seemed to suddenly become a greatdeal sharper. “I’ll get our bags readywhile the implants bed into your skull.”



    Erica suddenly felt dizzy and had to sit down, hard. It had been difficult enough to believe thestory of Bruno’s mad alternative, but now...her head kept spinning, as if she’dbeen drugged. A strange taste appearedin her mouth, forcing her to swallow hard; her entire body started to shake, asif she was feverish. She glanced up intothe darkness, towards where the black hole kept silent domination over theentire solar system, and shivered. Collins had told them what he knew about his world, but while Bruno hadunderstood, Erica still found it hard to grasp. Why would a power capable of crushing a sun into a black hole need toplay games with warships?



    Or perhaps it was justa game to them. She’d seen plenty oftelevision episodes where supposedly advanced and all-powerful beings hadplayed games with lesser entities, merely for the sport. Maybe the entities who’d crushed the sunwanted to play games with humanity, games they couldn't lose. If they were shifting warships throughalternate timelines, who was to say that they all ended up in the junkyard? They might end up in timelines where their mere presence altered thebalance of power. She remembered the Graf Zeppelin and shivered again. What might have happened if it had been sentback in time to 1940, just after the Battle of France had concluded? Hitler might have been able to use the shipto successfully invade Britain.



    One of the stranded sailors walked up to her. “Are you all right?”



    It took Erica a moment to realise that he’d spoken in French. She’d heard him, but the English words hadoverlaid his own words. For a moment,her head spun dizzily, before she caught herself. She tried to answer and discovered that shecould speak French back to him, even though the only French words she knew weren'tsuitable for polite company. Theimplants were clearly from a far more advanced technology than most of theships on the junkyard world.



    “I feel strange,” she admitted. Her balance seemed to have been restored, buther head still spun when she stood up. “Howcome I can speak French to you?”



    The Frenchman shrugged. “And Bourbon French at that,” he clucked, “nothing like the barbarousversion of French from a dozen different timelines. It’s another gift of the implants. You can speak to anyone and they willunderstand you.” He grinned. “Not always a good idea, to be sure.”



    Collins marched over from where he’d been assembling thesupplies. “Are you all feeling ready fora ten-mile forced march?”



    “No,” Bruno said, quickly. “I’d much prefer to take one of thehelicopters...”



    “If we could convince one to work, your counterpart wouldjust see us coming and blow us out of the air,” Collins said. He picked up one of the bags and tossed it toBruno effortlessly. “Some exercise willdo you good.”



    Bruno staggered as he caught the bag. “You expect us to carry this for ten miles?”



    “Be glad you’re not a Roman in the legions,” Collinssaid. “Do you know how much they had tocarry?”



    Bruno was still struggling ten minutes later, when theystarted walking away from the settlement. Erica was staggering slightly under the weight of her own bag, but shewas determined not to show any weakness in front of the men. It was clear, from what she’d heard from theother women in the settlement, that they endured a more protected existence thanErica would have preferred for herself. The men outnumbered them at least fifty to one, which raised alarmingquestions about how they coped. Ericasuspected that some of them shared their favours with many men, but not all ofthem would want to do that – and she certainlywouldn't want to do that. But thereseemed to be no alternative. The warshipcrews had always been largely male.



    “You said that some technology doesn't work here,” Ericasaid to Collins, hoping to distract herself from the weight on her back. “What happens when you try to use it?”



    “It seems to vary,” Collins explained. “Some technology seems to work perfectly –other pieces of technology seem to fail the moment we turn them on. The reactors in the nuclear ships seem to beticking away, but there’s no power and no radiation. Unless the radiation detectors we improviseddon’t work, which is a very real possibility.”



    “They must have established a hyperspace dampening field,”Bruno said. He was still staggeringhimself, although an absolute lack of sympathy from everyone else had clearlypushed him to try harder. “All theenergy above a certain arbitrary level is automatically zapped into hyperspaceand absorbed.”



    “I...see,” Collins said. “And how does someone go about building such a...hyperspace dampeningfield?”



    “I haven’t the slightest idea,” Bruno admitted. “You must admit that it sounds plausible,though.”



    “Maybe,” Kit said. “More importantly – how does one shield equipment from a hyperspacedampening field?”



    Bruno shrugged. “Dependson the science behind it,” he said. “Inthe worst case, nothing we could build with the tools the field allows us touse could shield equipment. There was astory about a modern world being hit by something that imposed a technologicalspeed limit, instantly crashing civilisation back to barbarism. Guns didn't work...”



    “Guns do work here,” Collins said. “If we could have broken through your madcounterpart’s defences with the weapons we have, we would have done it yearsago.”



    “...Nor did cars or any other form of transportation,”Bruno continued, ignoring him. “If weend up being stuck here ourselves, I’d have to set up a few experiments – pushthe limits a bit and see what we can do. Maybe put electronic equipment in a faraday cage and see if it works properly...”



    Erica stopped. “Theimplants,” she snapped. “How the hell dowe know that they aren’t going to fail at a critical moment?”



    “They never have before,” Collins said. Somehow, Erica didn't find that veryreassuring. “One of the scientists wehad here used to think that the smaller the item, the less chance of itglitching in this world. As near as we can make out, the implants drawtheir power from the electrical currents in the brain and...well, no one hereseems to be dropping dead because their brains stop working.”



    “Interesting thought,” Bruno said. He shook his head. “We’d have to devise a set of experiments –measure the speed limit, see what we can do.”



    Erica glanced up as she sensed the presence of yetanother of the giant creatures flying overhead. For a moment, she thought she saw it against the darkness, somethingseemingly far darker than the gloom enshrouding the world, before it vanishedinto the shadows. The absence of anymoon – Collins had said that none of the stranded sailors had reported seeingthe moon since they’d arrived – sent chills down her spine. This universe was dominated by entities thathad crushed the sun and stolen the moon. How could any humans hope to compete on such a scale?



    But maybe they cared more than it seemed. The Earth should have died by now, if the sunwas no longer providing light and heat. Perhaps the ever-present dark fog created a greenhouse effect thattrapped heat within the planet’s atmosphere. She’d never been one to accept the story ofglobal warming without question, but maybe they would have had a point on thisworld. If someone had been engineeringit to allow the stranded sailors to survive...she leaned down, ignoring theweight on her back, and touched the ground. It felt like solid stone. Whathad happened to the planet when the sun was turned into a black hole?



    She looked around at the silent warships and shiveredagain. How many were there? Collins had said that he’d sent explorers outfor miles around and none of them had reported any end to the junkyard. There might be billions of warships stranded here. If each choice created a new timeline, which would bud off itself intocountless other timelines...therewould very quickly be trillions oftimelines with their own aircraft carriers. This world could be overflowing with aircraft carriers and theirsurviving crewmen. But why would theyhave done what they could to ensure that survivors could live here, after a fashion?



    “Maybe there are two sides in the game,” Bruno said, whenshe asked the question out loud. “Ormaybe some of the first survivors had access to more advanced technology thanlater settlers. The aliens might havedecided to put the hyperspace dampening field in place after discovering thatthe survivors could reach orbit...”



    “Unlikely,” Collins said. “They never brought a space rocket through the dimensional warps.”



    Erica looked up at him. “How would you know?” She asked,quietly. “You said yourself that thejunkyard seems to extend for thousands of miles.”



    “I’ve never heard of one,” Collins admitted. “But my timeline didn't produce more than afew rockets by the time my ship was...taken. Many of the other timelines don’t seem to have included rocket ships ontheir aircraft carriers.”



    “A terrible oversight,” Bruno said.



    They paused to rest for a few minutes and eat snack barsthat tasted universally disgusting, before Collins insisted that they startedmoving again. Erica kept going, somehow,even when they walked into the dark canyons created by the warship hulls. The darkness seemed to press around them likea physical thing; she was convinced that she saw moving shapes within thedarkness, closing in around them. Collins and the rest of his team were clearly jumpy as well, even thoughthey should be used to the sensation. They kept swinging their weapons around, looking for targets. The shadows seemed to move when no one waslooking.



    High overhead, Erica suddenly saw a ball of lightshooting across the sky. Collins barkeda curse and ordered them into the shadows, hiding under the extended flightdeck of yet another carrier. The lightseemed to be heading towards the settlement, its silent flight a reminder ofGBW’s kidnapping. Collins insisted thatthey remain in the shadows until the light had been lost within the darkness,even though it didn’t seem to have been looking for them. What had Bruno’s counterpart discovered,Erica asked herself silently, that allowed him to dominate this part of theworld?



    She looked over at Bruno and suspected that she knew theanswer. Her Bruno had been full of suggestions for trying to measure andevade the hyperspace dampening field – if there was a hyperspace dampeningfield. But the laws of physics didn't changeon their own, did they? There had to besomething unnatural at work – and if aliens could crush the sun, they could nodoubt interfere with technology that might be a threat to them. If her Bruno had ideas about evading the speedlimit, there was no reason why an alternate Bruno might not have the sameideas. How close were they, anyway? Collins hadn't been able to shed much lighton Doctor What’s home timeline, apart from noting that it had been moreadvanced than his own. Maybe Doctor Whathad brought something with him that had worked in the junkyard world.



    “There,” Collins said. “The fortress of the dark lord awaits.”



    Erica followed his gaze. In the distance, illuminated by frequent flashes of lightning, was asingle spire reaching up towards the dark sky. Each successive flash of lightning brought more detail, detail thatseemed to change almost at random. She couldn'ttell if it was an illusion, or if the building was actually something the humaneye couldn't quite grasp. Maybe thereason it functioned in this dimension was because most of it was actuallyelsewhere...



    “Looks rather pretentious,” Kit commented. “My dear Bruno – I didn't know that you hadsuch awful taste in buildings.”



    “Looks like something out of a Lovecraft story,” Brunosaid, grimly. “Look at the buildingsaround the spire. They weren't build forhumans.”



    His words echoed in Erica’s mind as they walkedcloser. The endless field of warshipswas slowly replaced by buildings that seemed subtly wrong. It took Erica severalminutes to realise that Bruno was right. The strange towers and blocky buildings hadn't been designed for humanforms, but for something very different. Inside one open building, the darkness seemed almost malevolent, waitingfor someone to step into the building. Erica shone her flashlight inside, but saw nothing. The sense that something was watching andwaiting was almost overpowering. Even asthey walked onwards, towards the tower, she kept glancing behind her, expectingto see a monster following their trail.



    “As near as we can tell, we’re alone on this world –apart from the bats,” Collins said. “Butevery so often, people go out alone and they don’t come back. We used to think that they’d been taken byyour counterpart, or maybe the bats pick them up, but...too many people killthemselves when they realise that they’re stuck here forever. Some are unhinged by the transition throughthe dimensional warp, others...others miss their family and friends backhome. I was due to be married before Icame here. The only thing that keeps megoing is the thought that suicide is a sin and that I would be condemned toHell if I killed myself.”



    The lightning flared brighter, striking the darktower. Erica saw purple flashes of lightshimmering down the tower, before fading away. The air crackled with electricity, making her hair stand on end. Each flash of lightning seemed to be brighterthan the last, forcing her to cover her eyes as they kept walking onwards. They turned off the flashlights, conservingtheir power. The lightning and the glowsurrounding the tower gave them enough light to make their way towards the building. High overhead, Erica saw another of thebat-like creatures floating in the air. Reddisheyes seemed to glint down at her before the darkness swallowed the creaturewhole. The next flash of lightningrevealed nothing, but empty air.



    “Scouts got this close to the tower before,” Collinssaid. “We just couldn't get through the securityfield. I’m hoping that your friend canhelp with that – his genetic profile will be identical to Doctor What’sprofile.”



    “Now he tells us,” Bruno said. “And there I was thinking that you had areally cunning plan.”



    Up close, the tower was the largest building Erica hadever seen. It seemed to stretch upwardsfor miles, far taller than the tallest skyscraper in New York. The lightning flared down the side, revealingstrange symbols cut into the black material. Erica gasped as she recognised one of the symbols, a snake permanentlydevouring its own tail. There was a similardesign on the device that had sent them hopping between dimensions.



    “There,” Collins said. There was a faint wave of energy floating in the air. “Bruno...it’s up to you, now.”



    Bruno stepped forward. A beam of light appeared from nowhere and illuminated him. “DNA template confirmed,” a voice said. A holographic set of keys materialised. “Please enter password.”



    Erica froze. They hadn'tknown that there would be a password – and if they entered the wrong one...



    Bruno typed a word out on the pad. A moment later, the security field vanished,allowing them to enter the tower. Collins clapped Bruno on the back as he took the lead, gun in hand. Who knew what other security measures awaitedthem inside the dark fortress?



    “But how did you know?” Kit asked. “Or did you just guessat random?”



    Bruno leered. “Itwas obvious,” he said. “It was my pornpassword.”



    And he laughed.
     
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  17. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++


    <b style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;"><font size="3">Chapter Nine<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com[​IMG]


    “A key,” Doctor What was saying. “You found a key!”



    GBW winced, feeling as if his head had just been turnedinside out. His memory was hazy –perhaps what had happened had all been a dream, caused by too much pizza andbeer the previous night. There had beena tribe of Amazon women and a world of wrecked warships snatched from athousand different worlds – yes, it had to be a dream. He opened his eyes and found himself staringup at Waldo’s painted face. The monstrousrobot guard seemed to be leering down at him.



    “You should have told me,” Doctor What snapped. “You found a key!”



    He caught hold of GBW and shook him. “Why didn't you tell me?”



    GBW rubbed his head. It hurt; whatever had been in the monolith, it had reached into his mindand ransacked it. Doctor What’s ravingsuggested that he’d learned something,perhaps by reviewing what the monolith had pulled out of his mind. It clearly meant more to him than it did toGBW. He tried to pull himself to hisfeet, only to discover that his legs had failed him. It took three tries before he managed tostand upright. He resisted thetemptation to lean against Waldo – or the monolith. Either one would probably prove fatal.



    He looked up at the vast banks of computers and had aterrific shock. The incomprehensiblereadings on the computer screens were suddenly understandable. He knewwhat they all meant, from the device that measured local gravimetric fluctuationsto the early-warning system tracking extra-dimensional entities as they flockedaround the network of black holes they’d created over the last few thousandyears. The sheer scale of its still awedhim, but the new understanding that had been hammered into his head made iteasier to grasp. Everything could be solved with science, even science so advancedthat it might easily be mistaken for magic.



    Carefully, he looked from machine to machine. One monitored tachyon pulses that seemed tobe coming from halfway across the universe. Another seemed to be analysing and constantly reconfiguring the forcefields that acted as lightning rods, drawing power from the excited atmosphereand storing it in huge batteries buried deep under the surface. A third seemed to measure a field that seemedto feed on energy that reached above a certain level. With his new understanding, it was easy tounderstand what the field did – it ensured that any survivors from thethousands of scattered warships could never rebuild a proper technical base andpose a threat to the entities. And afourth machine seemed to produce drinkable coffee. Oddly, GBW found that reassuring. His Brunohad invented a coffee machine as well.



    “You found a key,” Doctor What said. “Why didn't you tell me how you got to thisuniverse?”



    GBW considered several answers, and then decided to tellthe truth. “Because you kidnapped mefrom my friends and took me captive,” he said. “Do I owe you the truth?”



    Doctor What snorted. “I gave you insight and you rewarded me with betrayal,” he said. “The device you found is capable of creatinglimited dimensional warps. You couldhave used it to return home.”



    GBW was tempted to point out that once Doctor What had achievedhis ambition of becoming a god, he wouldn't need the RV to jump between worlds,but his new insight – even if he didn't fully understand all of the knowledgethat had been dumped into his head – told him that it would be a very badidea. The possible consequences ofDoctor What attempting to subvert the alien network and failing were terrifying– and if he succeeded, the threat could be far worse. A mad god, utterly unstoppable, rampagingthrough countless dimensions. The entirefabric of the universe would be at stake.



    “You took me before we could leave,” he said,instead. Even knowing that he would bestranded, he hoped that the others had been smart enough to take the RV and abandonhim. But they wouldn't. None of them would run away, leaving a friendin trouble. And with Doctor Whatsuddenly aware of the RV’s existence, it would be the worst thing they coulddo. “I’m sure they’ve already left mebehind.”



    “I saw your memories,” Doctor What hissed. “They wouldn't leave you. Erica wouldn'tleave you.”



    GBW flushed. He’dhad a crush on Erica for a long time, but he hadn't been able to find the wordsto tell her. She’d been a friend for solong that he was scared that declaring his love would spoil theirfriendship. Or so he told himself, inthe dark of night when he cursed himself for being a coward. How other guys did it he really didn't know. The thought of talking to a girl, asking herfor a date, was terrifying. He wouldalmost have sooner faced Doctor What in a mad scientist duel.



    Doctor What tapped his remote and a holographic screen appearedin front of them. It came to life,revealing the Graf Zeppelin,illuminated only by flickering lightning. Any hope that Doctor What had focused on the wrong carrier was dispelledwhen he zoomed in and saw the RV, parked where they had left it on the flightdeck. There was no sign of any of theothers – GBW found himself silently praying that they were inside the vehicle,even though it would put them in immense danger. Surely Bruno could think of a way out of thissituation. Or maybe Kit would have asmart remark that would make it all feel better. He had more knowledge in his head than he’dever dreamed of possessing and yet he felt utterly helpless.



    A ball of light appeared around the RV, picking it up andtransporting it through the air towards the dark tower. GBW’s new knowledge whispered through hismind, informing him that the ball of light was actually a precisely balancedaura of forces, almost a form of mechanical telekinesis. The knowledge didn't help; the RV was theironly hope of getting home and Doctor What was about to take it apart for hismad schemes.



    The roof opened and the ball of light dropped to thefloor. It faded away, revealing the RVin all of its shabby glory. Doctor Whatlaughed and reached for the door handle, only to curse as it proved to belocked. He said a vile word out loud andwalked back to his desk, picking up what looked like a sonic screwdriver. As GBW watched in horror, the RV unlocked andallowed the mad scientist access to its interior. The computers Bruno and Kit had collected,the tools they used to jailbreak cell phones and wire new components intocomputer networks – and the mysterious device. He found himself frantically looking for a diversion, just as Waldostarted clanking his claws behind him. There was no hope of outrunning the automated killer.



    “You know,” he called, “there’s more in there than justthe key.”



    Doctor What emerged from the hatch. “And what would that be, pray tell?”



    He didn't seem to be holding the device, GBWnoticed. But Bruno had wired it into alaptop and Doctor What, even though he was Bruno’s counterpart, would need towork very hard to untangle it. Hell, hemight even trigger the device byaccident, blasting himself into another world. GBW wondered if that wouldn't be the best possible solution, beforerealising that it would leave him stranded – and with the god-machinesproviding unlimited temptation. He could become a god...



    “There’s a massive porn collection in there,” GBW said,desperately. Bruno was a porn addict. Doctor What might be as well. “Every kind of porn you can imagine – nuns andnovices, lesbian love affairs, hardcore ****ing – there’s even a copy of thelegendary sex tape featuring Big Boobs Horton and her entire band, the one without the musical accompaniment.”



    He found himself babbling on. “But isn't that a good thing?” He added. “How many times can you sing ‘I love to ****, ****, ****...’ beforepeople grow sick of it? No one buys heraudio CDs, but the DVDs of her video performances sell out like hot cakes. There’s the bit where she thrusts out herchest and...”



    “I’ve seen it,” Doctor What said. “When I am a god, women like her will havetheir voices removed. Someone like hershould be seen, but not heard.”



    “Well, no one buys her videos because they want to listen to her,” GBW said. “But there’s even more porn in the harddrives in the RV. You should check tosee if there’s any you haven’t watched.”



    For a moment, he thought it was going to work – and thenone of the machines started to chime. “Onemoment,” Doctor What said. “Waldo –watch him. Don’t let him move.”



    GBW felt a claw pushed against his back. One snip – and his body would be cut inhalf. He froze while Doctor Whatscurried from computer to computer, checking each of the displays one byone. GBW tried to understand what wasgoing on, but he could only see a handful of the monitors without moving and hewas sure that Waldo would kill him the second he tried to move. He held himself as still as he could, prayingthat Doctor What would come back, even though he suspected that it was badnews. There was something increasingly triumphantabout Doctor What’s muttering. He just couldn'tmake out the words.



    “I have done it,” Doctor What cried. “I have finally cracked my way intounderstanding their power! And now I cantake control.”



    He ran back to the monolith, tapped it with a finger andwatched as glowing symbols appeared out of nowhere on its side. “I’ve done it,” he said, again. “I have hacked the universe itself!”



    “But don’t you think that you should wait and consider,”GBW said, desperately. “Are you surethat you’re ready for godhood?”



    “I have been ready since I was a child,” Doctor Whatsaid. He laughed, unpleasantly. “They tried to hold me back when I wanted togive them technologies that could improve the life of the entire humanrace. I’m not going to wait anylonger. I shall be a far more benevolentgod than others. The ones who tried tostop me will be condemned to an eternity of fire and suffering...”



    “But you’ll go mad with power,” GBW said. “What will you do if no one can stop you?”



    “No one will stop me ever again,” Doctor What said. He removed his hand from the monolith andstrode over to a chair wired to one of the machines. “I shall thrust my mind into the aliennetwork and take control. My mentalpatterns will be written into hyperspace, granting me power beyond the dreamsof humanity. And those who tried to holdme back will discover that I am not a merciful god. Quivering cowards, fearful of the demonscience; loathsome lords, fearful of losing their grip – they will all sufferin my world!”



    He grinned. “Oh,and don’t try to move,” he added. “Waldowill kill you if you move more than a muscle.”



    GBW tried to find the words, but couldn't think ofanything to say as Doctor What sat down in the chair and fiddled with theremote. A helmet came up from behind andsettled over his head, tiny tendrils of metal reaching down into hisskull. GBW’s new knowledge told him thatthe tendrils were actually so thin that they reached through his skin, literally moving between the atoms. It had originally been developed for medicalpurposes, part of his mind whispered, but it hadn't taken Doctor What long torealise that it had other uses. He heardthe sound of an almighty generator thrumming to life and shivered again. There seemed to be no way to stop Bruno’scounterpart from either finding apotheosis, or nemesis. The aliens who’d built the network of blackholes, exterminating life on countless planets in the process, wouldn't takekindly to Doctor What trying to hack their system. They would certainly strike back at him...



    A low hooting echoed through the room. “What’s that?”



    The helmet retracted from Doctor What’s head. “Intruder alarm!”



    ***

    Inside, the dark tower seemed to have been built for a giant. The corridors, illuminated by stripes oflight on the ceiling, gave way to endless chambers filled with great machinesof unknown origin. Erica listened to Brunoand Kit speculating endlessly on what the machines might do, but neither ofthem had a clue. The machines werecovered in writing the implants declined to translate, suggesting that therewere limits to their new capabilities. Or maybe the implants just couldn't do written words. The sound of machinery at work echoed throughthe entire complex. From time to time,they saw robot moving through the corridors with grim purpose; some humanoid,others built to reassemble spiders or ants. They seemed almost intelligent, yet they completely ignored theintruders. Erica could only hope thatthat would last.



    “Makes sense, if you think about it,” Brunocommented. “Why bother buildingCommander Data when you can build a six-armed robot that can do three things atonce?”



    “And Data might have had moral scruples,” Kitagreed. He glanced into the next chamberand froze. “Shit!”



    Erica stepped up and peered inside. It was a chamber of horrors, a medical wardoperated by a madman. There werenineteen beds in the room, each one holding a man with the top of his skullremoved, exposing the pulsing brain underneath. As Erica walked closer, drawn by a sick fascination she couldn't haveput into words, she realised that the captives were still alive. The machines monitoring their conditionensured that they remained alive, perhaps even aware of what was happening tothem. She glanced over at the far walland saw a field of blue light, holding at least a dozen other livingpeople. They appeared to be suspended intime, unaware of their surroundings. Shedevoutly hoped that that was the case.



    “My God,” Bruno said. “And he’s supposed to be me?”



    The inner chamber seemed larger, filled with far morehorrors. There was a man whose lowerbody had been removed, to be replaced with what looked like a spider’sbody. Erica met his staring eyes for asecond and realised that he’d found a refuge in madness. There was a girl who had had all of her limbsremoved, leaving her completely unable to move, kept alive solely by medicalattention. She too looked to have gonebad. A naked and hugely pregnant womenfloated inside another force field, looking as if she was on the verge ofgiving birth. Erica had heard all sortsof stories about Nazi and Soviet medical experiments on helpless victims, butthis was far worse. It looked as if thetrue purpose of the experiments was to make the people suffer, rather thanlearn anything from their plight.



    Another chamber revealed a girl huddled up in the corner,unwilling to look up at her visitors. She was shaking so badly that Erica was about to walk in and comfort herwhen she saw the claws that had replaced the girl’s hands. Whatever had been done to her, it had turnedher into a killing machine – if she ever overcame her fear and walked out ofher room. Erica looked at her for a longmoment and felt a little of her heart break. How could anyone, and a version of Bruno at that, do such things to anyone? She’d kneed Duke in the balls when he tried to grope her, but that hadbeen different. This was sadism for thesake of sadism.



    “That sick bastard,” Collins said. He glanced over at his team. “Remember – we need to kill him before hemanages to sic the rest of this place on us. God alone knows what else he has in here...”



    Bruno picked up a notebook from one of the tables. “The writing is very much like mine,” hesaid, grimly. “He was runningexperiments on human DNA, as far as I can tell – God alone knows what sort ofexperience he has that I never even dreamed existed. Some of his notes talk about mapping a mentallattice onto a hyperspace field and then giving it independence of actionwithin the multiverse.”



    “And what,” Erica demanded tartly, “does that mean?”



    “I’m not sure,” Bruno said. “My counterpart might have put it down merelyto make himself sound intelligent.”



    “I'm sure you wouldn't do such a thing,” Kit said, with awink.



    “Focus,” Collins snapped. “We don’t know how long we have before he realises that we’re here.”



    He lead the way onwards, weapon at the ready. The sound of machines crashing away wasgrowing louder. They glanced into achamber which was filled with green and red lights, flicking in and out of existenceso rapidly that Erica found her eyes hurting within moments of peeringinside. She had to blink away coloursfrom her retinas afterwards. Several ofCollins’ team looked as if they’d almost been hypnotised by the lights. Collins shook them violently until theyreturned to normal, although they still looked dazed.



    “Blinking strobe lights,” Bruno said. “They may be a defence or...”



    A caterpillar-shaped robot appeared at one end of thecorridor and stopped. It’s eyes – or whatlooked like sensor blisters where it’s eyes should be – seemed to peer at theintruders.



    “It can see us,” Collins snapped. “Blow it away!”



    The gunshots sounded awfully loud in the confinedspace. “I think we’d better run,” Brunosaid. “I think we can take it forgranted that he knows we’re here.”



    A small wave of flying robots appeared and swoopedtowards them. “Yes,” Erica agreed. “He definitely knows we’re here.”
     
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  18. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++

    Comments would be nice...


    Chapter Ten<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />



    “Blow them away!”



    The flying robots swooped down on them, only to beblasted out of the air by Collins and his men. Erica covered her ears as they ran further up the corridor, headingtowards the upper levels of the tower. Bruno’s evil counterpart had to be based at the top – it was where their Bruno would have placed himself –and he wouldn't be sitting on his hands, waiting for his robots to eliminatethe intruders. Given time, Erica wassure that he’d find another way to dispose of his unwanted guests.



    “Keep firing, but conserve ammunition as much aspossible,” Collins ordered, sharply. “Wedon’t know what else we’re going to run into...”



    Heavy doors slammed shut, trapping them in a long sectionof corridor. Collins swore out loud andordered two of his men to fix explosive charges to one of the doors. The entire team cowered against the otherdoor as the charges exploded, blasting what remained of the heavy door down thecorridor. Collins led the way over the debrisand further up into the tower. More andmore robots were swooping around them now, lunging towards the team. Two of them managed to stab people before theywere destroyed. They didn't seem tocarry any real weapons, but the tools they carried were more than sufficient tokill unprotected humans. Erica ducked asone robot buzzed over her head, just before Kit hit it with a short burst fromhis assault rifle. Her ears were stillringing when they finally broke into the main chamber – and walked right into aforce field.



    She staggered back, feeling electric sparks crawling allover her body, and looked into the chamber. Doctor What was seated in a metal chair, staring at them with hating –uncomprehending – eyes. He looked like abad parody of the Bruno they knew, complete with a neat goatee that sparked offa memory in her mind. Their Bruno hadonce tried to grow a beard, only to discover that the most he could raise was abit of fuzz. This Bruno had evidentlywaited long enough to allow it to grow properly.



    GBW was standing in the middle of the chamber, held in apair of claws from a giant robot with a painted smile. The robot’s head turned slowly towards themand Erica heard Collins curse again. Itlooked to be more heavily armoured than a tank. Erica saw GBW’s mouth moving, but she couldn't hear a word. She couldn’t tell if her ears were stillfuzzy or if the force field was blocking her from hearing his voice.



    “Look for the force field generator.” Kit said, glancingaround frantically. It was impossible tosee where the force field was coming from – and it would have been a sillydesign flaw to leave the generator on the outside, where intruders coulddestroy it and take down the force field without having to punch throughit. “There has to be something we cando...”



    The giant robot shoved GBW to one side – so sharply thatErica thought for an awful moment that it had cut their friend in half – and advancedtowards the intruders. It’s painted faceseemed to leer at them as it’s claws reached out towards the force field. Erica braced herself, convinced that DoctorWhat would have to lower the force field to let his robotic attack dog get atthem, but the claws slowly reached right through the protesting field and outinto the corridor. Erica jumped backsharply as the claws clicked at her, like a giant crab. Inch by inch, the robot rolled towardsthem. Kit let out a rebel yell and firedright at it’s armoured side. Bulletsbounced off and ricocheted everywhere.



    “Watch your ****ing fire,” Collins yelled at him. “The damn thing has to have a weak pointsomewhere!”



    “Oh, I’m afraid that there is no weak point,” a voicesaid. It sounded like Bruno’s voice –but there was an edge of madness in it that sent shivers running down Erica’sspine. “Waldo is designed to have noweak points at all – and the kind of weapons they left you with on this worldare unable to even scratch his paint. You can run all you like, but you can't hide – Waldo is tireless and indestructible. There is no escape.”



    Bruno snorted. “Butwe’re in a confined space,” he said. Erica realised what he meant a moment later, just as Waldo lashed outtowards one of the team with blinding speed. The robot rode on tank-like wheels, as armoured as the rest of it, butit couldn't really manoeuvre in such a confined space. As long as they were careful, Waldo wouldhave real problems catching them. “Keepmoving...!”



    Waldo’s head seemed to spin, followed by his claws. Erica ducked down beside the tank treads andfound herself praying as the claws clicked, just above her head. Waldo seemed to be sweeping the air around it– she heard one of the men cry out as Waldo’s claws sliced through flesh andbone – while spinning its wheels to give it some sideways motion. She cursed Bruno’s counterpart under herbreath as she realised that Waldo was learning from experience. Bruno’s computer genius was clearly reflectedin Doctor What.



    Kit jumped forward and scrambled up Waldo’s armouredhull. Erica watched as the claws movedwith terrifying speed, reaching out to pluck Kit from the hull, but somehownever quite reaching him. Waldo had ablind spot right on top of him. A propertank would have had a hatch to allow someone to get inside, but Waldo was allmechanical. There was no way to breakinside and disrupt the control systems...



    “Stay there,” Collins ordered. Waldo was thrashing about, trying to murderKit. Its claws couldn’t quite reach him,even though there was nothing Kit could do. While Waldo was distracted, Collins ran forward and shoved the lastexplosive charge under Waldo’s treads. Erica jumped away as there was a shattering explosion, blowing away partof Waldo’s undercarriage. The robotseemed to tilt, almost as if it was about to roll over, before it steadieditself. It might no longer be able tomove properly, but it was still dangerous.



    “You haven’t wrecked the brain,” Doctor What called. “And you still can’t get in...”



    He pulled a metal helmet from behind his chair and placedit on his head, almost like a convict on the verge of execution. “Goodbye, mortal world,” he said. “It hasn't been fun...”



    The sound of mighty generators grew louder and brightlight seemed to spill down around his form. Erica had no idea what was going on, but it sounded ominous. Doctor What couldn't be committing suicide,even though his tower had been breached. What the hell was he doing...?



    ***

    GBW ran forward as soon as the machines began their task,hacking their way into the alien control system that dominated the galaxy. Doctor What’s own mental patterns would bewritten into hyperspace, allowing him to transcend his mortal form. The controls for the force field were obvious,once he knew where to look for them. Doctor What could have overridden them with his remote, but the madDoctor had other things on his mind. Theprocess might have worked perfectly in other universes, yet this one was farfrom normal. It was unlikely that thealiens who ruled this world and snatched up aircraft carriers for fun wouldallow themselves to be challenged so blatantly.



    The force field came down and Erica and Bruno raced intothe room, while Kit jumped down from Waldo’s back and followed them. Two other men came after them, a tall Americanand a dark-skinned man. Erica introducedthem briefly as Mike and Abdul, but GBW didn't have time to pay muchattention. He was too busy looking atthe computers Doctor What had wired up to support his transcendence into agodlike form. The readings suggestedthat the process was well on the way to completion.



    Erica caught his arm. “What the hell is this thing doing?”



    GBW found the technical explanation rising to his lips,but he knew that she would never understand. “He’s trying to turn himself into an energy-being,” he said,finally. “He wants to become a god.”



    The light surrounding Doctor What’s human form wasgrowing brighter, so bright that GBW had to shield his eyes from thesight. It seemed somehow more real than anything else, a blindinglight that burned through reality itself. GBW had a sudden hint of what it must have been like to be standing atthe dawn of Creation itself, watching as the universe came into existence, overwritingall that had gone before. Waldo’s formsuddenly drooped and went silent as all power was slowly drained into DoctorWhat’s glowing form.



    Collins and Abdul pointed their guns into the light andopened fire. GBW could have told themthat it was useless, but it was too late. The bullets vanished within the light, harmlessly reduced to theircomponent energy and added to the gathering storm that would propel Doctor Whatto godhood. He was already tapping intothe vast alien power collector orbiting the black hole, sucking in enough powerto start rewriting chunks of the universe at will. And once he’d started, he’d redefine theuniverse to uphold his dominance, stamping his name on every atom of realityitself. The aliens might not have timeto stop him before he’d hacked them out of their own creation.



    Or maybe they’dfight and all of reality will be torn apart, he thought. It seemed impossible to comprehend the scaleof the danger, even with his knowledge. Reality wasn't a fragile bubble, just waitingfor an angry god to pop it...but it was, from the right point of view. Doctor What would look down from his loftyheight and redesign the universe as he saw fit, and no one would be able to oppose him. GBW looked up into the blinding light and saw,just for a second, the ghostly trace of a smile. Doctor What was succeeding...



    “No,” he said, and threw himself at the consoles. He’d never operated anything like thembefore, but the knowledge lay in his brain, just waiting for him to needit. His hands danced over the panels, accessingthe power tap linking Doctor What’s creations – and the alien monolith – to theblack hole power network. Doctor Whathad been subtle, drawing a tiny trickle of power from a network that channelledenough power to light or extinguish a star. His touch was anything, but subtle. The aliens would have to notice – and investigate. “Bruno – take the other console and unlock it!”



    Bruno seemed shocked, but Erica pushed him forward. “I don’t know if it’s the same password,” hesaid, as he tapped at the console. “Thissystem is strange...”



    “He’s your counterpart,”GBW shouted at him. The temperature inthe room was rising rapidly. Systemswere threatening to overload and start melting. Doctor What had had to put much of his devices together from salvagedmaterial from a thousand different timelines. They’d never been designed to channel so much power for more than a fewseconds, if that. “You should be able toguess the password! You never know – he mighthave porn in there!”



    The system unlocked as Bruno tapped in a password. GBW took control instantly, trying to wrestaway power from Doctor What’s transcendence. Strange equations floated in his head, pointing to a single overwhelmingfact. Without enough power to supporthis rise to godhood and hold back the laws of the universe, Doctor What’senhanced thought processes would be literally snuffed out. The normal universe, the one defined by Einstein,couldn't support something that operated at the levels of a god. He heard – or felt – Doctor What yelling inrage, trying to direct his power towards drawing energy directly from the aliensystem. Combined with what GBW hadalready done, it should definitely attract attention...



    And then it wasthere, materialising at one end of the vast chamber. GBW felt his eyes start to hurt the moment hesaw it, his merely human mind unable to comprehend something that existed in athousand different dimensions at once. It was vast, thousands of miles across, and yet it fitted into thechamber...his mind almost blanked out as it struggled to resolve the contradictions. He heard the flutter of mighty wings as thecreature reached further into reality, its mere presence distorting the laws ofnature. Some of the machines started totransform, warping into devices that seemed to extend beyond the human universe. GBW staggered backwards as the unreality field grew stronger. Merely being close to the creature was likelyto be lethal.



    It seemed to move towards Doctor What, the warpingmachines sliding out of its way as one insubstantial claw reached towards theshimmering light. The light seemed togrow brighter, condensing into a beam of light that burned deep into thecreature’s darkness; for a moment, GBW wondered if they’d been too late andDoctor What had already achieved his hoped-for godhood. Brilliant red eyes flickered and the creatureseemed to step around the beam oflight, reaching out towards Doctor What. There was a howl of pain that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhereand the beam of light grew brighter, burning with a glare so bright that GBWhowled and dropped to the floor, covering his eyes. He feared that they might be burned out, justbefore it dropped to a more manageable level. Carefully, he looked up and saw Doctor What standing in front ofhim. His form was glowing with light,almost as if it was no longer human. Andthen Doctor What turned and marched straight towards the alien.



    Reality twisted madly as blinding light met utterdarkness. The struggle between them wasn'ton any plane a human would understand, GBW realised. They were both trying to literally rewritethe universe so it no longer contained their opponent. Around them, he saw shadowy images of distortedworlds, worlds touched and broken by their conflict. Images of people blinked in and out of existence;some he recognised, but others were completely unknown to him. Just for a second, he saw a tall angular manwith pointy ears winking at him, before he was gone. What kind of timeline had he come from?



    Erica caught his arm. “What do we do?”



    “Get into the RV,” GBW ordered. There was no time for debate. Between them, Doctor What and the alien werelikely to tear reality apart. He fanciedthat he could already hear the fabric of this timeline bending under the strainof the conflict. “Hurry, damn it!”



    There was a final flash of bright light and then DoctorWhat’s glowing form simply winked out of existence. The alien had had far more power to call onthan the human who’d thought he could become a god. Doctor What’s plan had depended on surpriseand he’d lost it before he'd been ready to take the aliens on and wipe themfrom existence. The shadowy alien formseemed to move in and out of reality, slowly turning towards them. GBW felt absolute terror as he realised justhow powerful the alien was, far more than even Doctor What had realised. It was a god of chaos, a primal entity –chaos defined it, even as order defined its opponents. Red eyes seemed to bore down into his from animmeasurably great distance and he understood, finally, the truth behind thejunkyard world. The aliens didn't setout to cause chaos – they were chaos. They’d abducted the ships because it was intheir nature to abduct the ships. Therewere hints of something more behind their actions, but nothing quite seemed tomake sense. They were chaos...



    Collins ran forward, howling incoherently, and openedfire on the alien form. The sound brokeGBW out of his trance and he dived for the RV, hoping that they’d have time topower up the device and jump out before the alien caught them. Collins kept firing until the alien’stranslucent form overshadowed him and then he stopped, dead. His appearance seemed to shift randomly – onemoment a Texan wearing a Stetson hat, the next a man wearing a Japanese robe –until the alien found a version of him that was dead. GBW hesitated, just before Kit grabbed holdof him and pulled him into the RV. Thedoor banged shut, but GBW had no illusions. It wouldn't be enough to keep the alien from killing them all...



    “Hit the switch,” he bellowed. “Get us out of here!”



    Bruno hit the device’s switch. There was a scream – as if the entireuniverse was being torn apart – and then the RV shook, violently. GBW saw, just for a second, the alien lookingat them, reaching out towards them...it’s very nature preventing the device fromtaking them to safety. And then theworld shook one final time and they were gone.



    GBW staggered suddenly, feeling immeasurably tired. How long had it been since he’d slept? He couldn't remember. They’d jumped from one frying pan into thefire and...



    “Hey,” he said. Abdulwas seated opposite him, pushed against a pile of computer equipment. “You're still with us.”



    “Yes,” Abdul said. He sounded shocked. “What was that thing?”



    GBW hesitated. Thenew knowledge was still floating through his head. “I think...” he began, and then stopped. Nothing seemed to quite make sense. “I think it was an alien space bat.”



    There was a long pause. “Never mind that now,” Erica said. “We’re safe now, but we’re still lost. Where the hell are we now?”



    A low wailing sound started to penetrate through theRV. “That’s the call to prayer,” Abdulsaid. He jumped towards the door andtore it open. Warm air spilled into theRV “I'm home!”
     
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  19. ChrisNuttall

    ChrisNuttall Monkey+++


    Chapter Eleven<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" />



    “Well, it’s not quite home,” Abdul said, an hourlater. “But it’s close enough for me.”



    Erica shrugged. The locals had greeted the travellers with enthusiasm; the local imamhad explained that welcoming guests was an important part of theirtradition. He’d been less able to talkabout the history of the new timeline, but they’d been able to speak to acouple of teachers at the local school. From what they said, it was clear that history had taken a verydifferent path from their home timeline. Arab sailors, balked when they tried to expand into what would becomeTurkey, had ended up sailing around China and then discovering California. Islam instead of Christianity had spread intothe New World, although the effects on the natives had been just ascatastrophic. Smallpox had slaughteredmillions of Native Americans, leaving their lands free for settlers from therest of the world.



    The history of Europe was a great deal morepuzzling. Christendom had apparently managedto rally around a series of Popes, who had created a Holy Catholic League thatclaimed Europe and half of Russia. Therewas a network of smaller states, all of whom contributed men and money to theVatican – which was, in effect, the ruler of Europe. Erica’s grasp of European history waslimited, but it was clear that there had been no Reformation and no Protestantism. The Church had remained a single unitedwhole. Europe now claimed Eastern America,while the Caliph claimed the West.



    “I’m surprised that they don’t have more wars,” Ericasaid. “But I suppose the local technologydoesn't really allow for it.”



    “They don’t have so much pressure to advance,” Brunocommented. The locals hadn't reallytapped steam power, let alone anything more advanced. Erica could see why Abdul would want to stayhere. Given what he knew, he would beable to become a wealthy and powerful man within a short space of time. “And religion doesn't tend to encourageindependence of thought and mind.”



    “I’ll have you know that in my timeline Arabs made manyof the great discoveries,” Abdul said, hotly.



    “And then the conservatives took over and innovationstalled,” Bruno said, quietly. “If you’resure you want to stay here, we’ll leave tomorrow once we’ve had a nap.”



    Erica yawned, covering her mouth. The locals seemed remarkably interested inthem, although they probably hadn't seen many white faces before. They were a curious blend of Arabic, Indian,Black and Hispanic features, the results of centuries of intermingling. Some of the girls were stunningly beautiful;some wore scarves and some were bare-headed. There was probably a reason for it, but Erica felt too tired to pry.



    “You should stay and look around,” Abdul said. “You never know what you might find in awhole new timeline.”



    He strode away, leaving them alone. Erica looked up at Bruno and saw the troubledlook in his eyes. “Do you want to talkabout it?”



    “About Doctor What?” Bruno asked. “I’d prefer toforget that he ever existed.”



    “I don't think that that’s an option,” Erica said,quietly. “He was a version of you....”



    “He was a sick and twisted man who thought that the endsjustified the means,” Bruno said, sharply. “I used to flout rules all the time. Who cared what stodgy old menthought about computers, or what corporation wanted to maintain itsmonopoly? I broke their codes, hackedinto their systems, copied their DVDs...how long would it have been before Istarted experimenting on people?”



    “You’re being silly,” Erica said, sharply. “Hacking into computers for fun isn't thesame as cutting open a pregnant women to take a look at the baby inside. Doctor What was mad – all he shared with youwas the same genetic code.”



    “We had the same passwords,” Bruno said. “How much else did we have in common?”



    “You have friends,” Erica said. She gave him a quick hug. “Get some sleep. We don’t want to outstay our welcome.”



    Bruno grinned. “Youdon’t want to stay here?” He asked. “There is something to be said for the simplelife.”



    “I think you’d be bored stiff within a week,” Ericapointed out. “This place has nocomputers for you to play with.”



    “It isn’t playing,” Bruno objected, as he stood up. “It’s pushing back the boundaries ofknowledge.”



    ***

    The following morning, after a breakfast of rice andcurry, GBW found himself in the RV, studying the device. Now that it had been pointed out, it wasclear to him that the marking on the device was the same that they’d seen inDoctor What’s stronghold – a snake forever eating its own tail. The knowledge Doctor What had burned into hishead seemed to whisper that the sign meant something, but it persistently refusedto surface from the depths of his mind.



    He picked up the laptop Bruno had attached to the deviceand tapped at it, seeing what output he could draw from the device. It was a frustrating experience. Some of what he was looking at almost seemed to make sense, and then hismind would refuse to grasp the underlying principles. Doctor What’s gift hadn’t been designed tomake him an instant expert, even though he’d been able to operate the madman’s equipment. GBW suspected that repeated doses ofknowledge had helped to turn Doctor What into a lunatic, with dreams of risingto heaven and punching the face of God. It didn't help that the user interface on the laptop was definitely notdesigned to sort and assess the device’s output.



    Some bits were obvious. The device needed a power source that would allow it to access anotherpower source. Judging from what DoctorWhat had ranted at him, GBW suspected that the device opened up a portal intohyperspace and drew energy directly from there, using it to rotate itselfthrough alternate timelines. It alsoneeded time to recharge, which suggested that it was drawing power fromsomewhere else as well. Perhaps it drewpower from the universe, or perhaps it drew on the batteries in the RV. He checked the laptop’s own power supply andfrowned. It was clear that there had been a drain on its reserves.



    Other bits made no sense. As far as he could tell, they were shifting through time and spacerandomly – and they were moving inspace as well as through alternate timelines. There seemed to be no way to actually steer, which raised the worrying possibility that they might find themselvesin orbit, or in the ocean. It madeabsolutely no sense. Whoever had builtthe device had to have had some way to steer, it just wasn't obvious to thecasual user. He prodded the device thoughtfully,wondering if he’d understand if he opened it up and had a look inside. The only thing preventing him was the grimawareness that if he broke it, they would be stranded in an alternate timelinefor the rest of their lives...



    ...Unless the alien space bats came after them. He felt their shadow on his soul, a permanentlegacy of the time he'd looked into their eyes. It was impossible to escape the feeling that they were still watchinghim, wondering what they’d do next or considering simply destroying the entireteam. Their thought routines were farfrom human, but surely – no matter how alien they were – they would fear thatsomeone else might try to rebuild Doctor What’s technology and make a secondtry at hacking their black hole power complex. It would be much safer to eliminate anyone who might know how to do it.



    He glanced up as the door opened and Bruno clambered intothe RV. GBW hesitated, unsure if hewanted to see Bruno again – even though he knew that it was silly. It hadn't been Bruno who’d kidnapped him, and then forced so much information intohis head that he felt as if he had no room left for his own thoughts. Doctor What had merely worn his friend’sface...but despite himself, GBW wondered just how close Bruno was to becoming asecond Doctor What. He had the opportunityto start rebuilding the device his counterpart had produced...



    “I was wondering how you were getting along with thedevice,” Bruno said, as if he couldn't sense the tension in the air. “I really cannot believe we can't find a wayto steer.”



    “Me neither,” GBW said. It wasn't Doctor What, he told himself. And if he kept telling himself that often enough, he might even believeit. “But I can't figure out a way todetermine where we’re going to end up next time.”



    “Or we may have produced something that does tell us where we’re going, but wedon’t have the referents for it,” Bruno said. “Telling someone that there’s sixty somethingto go doesn’t make much sense if the somethingisn't defined as miles, or metres...”



    “Or light years,” GBW agreed. It was hard to relax, too hard. And yet Bruno was right. “How do we begin to determine how eachuniverse is marked?”



    “Maybe by Point Of Divergence,” Bruno said. “Hitler invades France in 1939 instead of1940 – bingo, instantly you have two timelines. And then you have one where he wins the battle in 1939 and another whenhe loses...”



    “But everythingcan't produce a new timeline,” GBW objected. “Is a whole new universe created every time I put on white socks insteadof black ones? Does every one of Kit’sboyfriends create a whole new universe?”



    “You’d think so, the number he brings home,” Brunosaid. They shared a chuckle. “But...just because something is possible doesn'tmean it’s plausible. I mean...theremight be a universe out there where every one of the actors who played Doctor Who was terrible, and the showbecame almost as popular as Galactica1980, but that isn’t likely to happen. The BBC wouldn't have kept paying for umpteen years of crap programming.”



    “That never stopped the morons who write soap operas andthose goddamn chat shows where people confess to everything from incest to openrelationships that weren’t as open as they thought,” GBW pointed out. “But I take your point – every little change can'tproduce a new universe...”



    “Or maybe it can,” Bruno said. “What if there are trillions of trillions ofpossible universes, each of them stacked on top of each other? There might be universes where the onlydivergence is that I put on a different colour of underwear on Monday 23<sup>rd</sup>of March – and if that is true, how would we ever know if we’d got back to theright universe?”



    GBW hesitated. “Youmean...we’d get home, it would look just right...and we wouldn't really be homeat all?”



    “Yes,” Bruno said. “Or what if the difference is who got elected in the last election? We might come to the universe, spend a fewdays in our lives, and then look up to discover that it’s a different Presidentin office!”



    “Logically,” GBW said, slowly, “that universe would alsohave its own versions of us.”



    Bruno grinned. “Butour counterparts might have gone off on their own cross-time road trip,” hesaid. “They might get to our universe, settle into our lives, and then look up to discover that it’s the wrong President. Or there might be an infinitive number ofcounterparts, all moving up the stack of universes and... They wouldn’t do it on purpose – they’d justthink they were home, until they discovered that something was wrong!”



    “My head hurts,” GBW said. He rubbed his skull thoughtfully. “Maybe there are laws that prohibit you fromcrossing into timelines too close to your own.”



    “Or maybe it’s something to do with quantum theory andthe observer effect,” Bruno said. “Perhapsif the only difference between Timeline A and Timeline B is that some nobodyput on a different pair of shorts one day, Timelines A and B merge backtogether after the change is no longer important. Maybe you have to wear a dozen differentpairs of shorts before there is a permanent split between timelines...or maybethere is just a local split and the rest of the timeline is unaffected. Perhaps all the times where people think theygot something wrong or misplaced their keys happen because they’re walking acrosstimelines without ever realising it.”



    GBW scowled, still rubbing his head. “I don’t think I want to visit a timelinewhere that makes sense,” he said. Andyet the knowledge at the back of his mind seemed to hint that Bruno wasright. “All that really matters isgetting home without getting into any more scrapes.”



    “Which would be a lot easier if we knew what we weredoing,” Bruno pointed out. “Right now,it feels like we’re driving a car without knowing anything about how roadswork, let alone the engine. How couldanyone drive a car without knowing how it works?”



    “My Aunt was famous for knowing nothing about drivingwhen she drove,” GBW said. Hegrinned. “After she knocked down apoliceman, I think they banned her from driving for the rest of eternity.”



    “Don’t let Erica hear you say that, or she’d knock yourhead off,” Bruno warned him. Hechuckled, unpleasantly. “We’re just asignorant about that device” – he pointed to it with one long finger – “than thelittle woman is about the car her husband bought for her. And we don’tknow where we can find a garage.”



    He stepped over to the door and opened it, climbing outinto the bright California sunshine. “We’llfigure it out eventually,” he added. “There’sno technology, no matter how alien, that we cannot understand and eventuallyduplicate.”



    GBW watched him walking over towards the town. Despite the heat, he shivered. Bruno, in that moment, had soundedterrifyingly like Doctor What. Theknowledge at the back of his head seemed to shiver in anticipation. It wanted to be out and free...



    Shaking his head, trying to convince himself that he wasimagining it, he returned to the device. Bruno was right about one thing. Given time, he was sure that they would understand how it worked. And then they might be able to get home.



    ***

    “Don’t worry about me,” Abdul said, as they walked backtowards the RV. “I’ve already made acouple of contacts. One of them has abrother who works as a blacksmith – I think I can probably sell him on the ideaof making a few steam engines. It won’tbe easy, but once we get the hang of it we can move up to railroads and thenstart linking the various towns and cities together.”



    “You’d have to be careful about the metals you use,” Kitwarned. They’d gone through the RV andprinted out what data they’d been able to pull from Bruno’s offline copy ofWikipedia, but there was a considerable difference between theory andpractice. “Build it too solidly and you’dhave an explosion on your hands.”



    Erica nodded in agreement. “Oh, I don’t intend to start running before Ican walk,” Abdul assured them. “I wish afew of the others could get here...do you think your RV could pick them up?”



    “We don't know how to steer,” Bruno reminded him. “You might be safer here than coming with us.”



    “Happier, definitely,” Abdul agreed. “This place is so...peaceful compared to myown world.”



    Erica frowned. “Areyou sure you want to introduce steam technology then?” She asked. “You’re talking about making a massive change in the localenvironment. It's only a short step fromsteam technology to all the machines that polluted the land in Britain and America...”



    “We can do better than them,” Abdul assured her. “We’ll be aware of the dangers – we’ll bemore careful.”



    He looked over at them. “You should stay here,” he said. “You’dbe safer than jumping from timeline to timeline at random...”



    Erica shook her head. “This isn't our home,” she said. “It’sa nice place, but it isn't home.”



    “And it’s boring,” Bruno added. “I need computers and high technology tolive.”



    “The people here live without high technology,” Kitpointed out.



    “They don’t know any better,” Bruno countered. “How long will it be before steam power leadsto computer technology? A few hundredyears? I’m not going to wait around thatlong.”



    “You won’t live thatlong,” Kit said. “Besides, I have afeeling that this world will be more restrictive than we might prefer.”



    Erica couldn't disagree. There were other reasons to go as well. The locals didn’t understand diseases and their medical science was appallinglyprimitive. Abdul might be in danger ofcatching something from the locals that he wasn't immune to, just as theexplorers of America had brought disease to the Native Americans. Or maybe their rulers would kill him whenthey realised that building railways would change the face of their world.



    They waved goodbye and clambered into the RV. Bruno managed to pull himself towards thedevice and then hesitated. “Checkoutside,” he said, clearly remembering the last two worlds they’d left. “Is there an angry mob chasing us?”



    “Not this time,” Kit assured him. He laughed. “I wonder why that mob was chasing us anyway.”



    Erica smiled. “Andthere isn’t a super-weird alien monster either. Just Abdul, waving goodbye.”



    Bruno pushed the switch. The RV shook and the sunlight vanished. There was a moment of absolute darkness, followed by a crash that shookthe entire vehicle. Erica scrambledupright as she heard voices outside, shouting in German. The implant allowed her to understand them,but they weren't making any sense. Carefully, she pulled herself up to the window and peered outside. The sight that greeted her eyes stunnedher. There were men wearing Nazi uniformsand carrying guns...and red blood on the windscreen.



    “Guys,” she said, slowly, as the shouts grew louder, “don’tlook now, but I think we just squashed Hitler.”
     
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  20. kom78

    kom78 OH NOES !!

    this ones great so far Chris always good to catch up on one of your stories
     
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