Posted 1/11/2010 03:25:00 PM
Really big. Doc didn't quite realize how mind bogglingly big it is. He has traveled to Saturn in hours, halfway to Alpha Centuari in days, and he once went to Miranda for a weekend alchoholiday with some mining surveyors he met after he left the service. It took the Younger Brother Pear mere minutes to reach the asteroid belt, but now, unable to use it's XD drive, it has to limp back across half the solar system.
They're still traveling faster than any man-made object for years, but it's still a three month trip. Early on it's not so bad, but with the TV busted and the holobooths inoperative boredom quickly sets in. Many hours are spent sitting on the observation deck, staring at the stars. It's surprising how little they actually move.
Their route is direct to Earth. Since the Pear holds a moon's worth of exhaust mass in an extra-dimensional pocket, the ship has nearly unlimited fuel. So there's no dicking around with transfer orbits or anything like that.
"Just turn up the juice until you're halfway there, then turn around and slow down," Veronica had explained. "Artificial gravity means we can accelerate at maximum Gs and not have our brains seep out our ears. It's just too bad we just doesn't have the power to get us there faster. If we didn't have so many problems, we could get there in 26 hours."
Mark and Thunderhorse spend most of their days floating around the ship in space suits spraying on the new thermal coating. It took a while to convince them that they wouldn't be left behind if they stepped outside the ship while it was moving. Veronica taught them how to use the spray guns and goes out every once in a while to smack them around and keep them on track.
Steve and Veronica spend their time wiring and re-wiring, building complicated electronic systems, reprogramming interfaces, and generally cleaning up the mess. The Cook's head is permanently detached, since there is one microscopic and vital component missing that no one can find a replacement for. It's okay, though, since Jazelle too can cook. She has a much more limited repertoire, but she cooks with passion.
And such passion she has. Her gazes towards Doc intensify with passing days, but she conceals it with vitrol towards everyone and everything. Doc is careful not to allow her to corner him for fear she might simply mutilate him with lust. Everyone but Thunderhorse, who is blindly in love, is irritated with her if not somewhat frightened. But she cooks a hell of a meal.
Veronica and she nearly came to blows one day. A snide remark about the lack of work ethic on the ship quickly devolved into rude comments on personal hygiene, which then spiraled further into derogatory accusations concerning breeding, in both the familial and habitual senses. Jazelle became frustrated by her inability to use her extrovertant willpower on the android, and Veronica was similarly frustrated by her moral inability to squish the human's skull with her bare hands. Thus Veronica permanently excused herself from the dinner table, and Jazelle permanently excused herself from happy hour.
Since Thunderhorse was practically chained to Jazelle by his own member, he too was absent from happy hour, which made the occasion much more quiet, sullen, and slightly dull. But such is life on a space ship. Mark, having no one to compete with at his usual level of drinking, began to curb his appetite for hard liquor in order to keep up in conversation with Veronica, Doc, and Steve.
"So, those guys who chased us into the asteroid field? They were time cops, weren't they?" Doc asks Steve pointedly.
"What makes you say that?"
"Veronica showed me the message they were trying to implant in our computers. It said, 'Halt immediately. We are the Time Police.'"
"It was dangerous to watch that. It could've melted your brain."
"Veronica saw it first. Then she showed it to me when she knew it was safe. But you knew what was going on the whole time, didn't you?"
"Have they come after you before?"
"What will they do if they catch us?"
"I don't know, for sure. I think there's a trial by jury where we're instantly convicted retrospectively, and then either executed or exiled."
"When, more likely. The far future, maybe? Somewhere we can't step on any butterflies."
"How can they tell if we're changing the time-line? If we've changed it isn't it a permanent part of history in the future?"
"Remember how the Q-Net articles from the future were fluctuating so wildly because the outcome isn't yet decided for this time-line? Well, the further in the future you go, the more wild those fluctuations swing. By studying the variances, you can calculate how far back and how significant an event a change is. When someone goes back in time, the fluctuations begin to change. If the Time Police think it's a big enough event, they come back and try to stop it. But if they're too late, like they were for us, their past is altered and, yes, it is a permanent part of their history. "
"So they won't be after us again until we start to change something?"
"Do they know about the end of the galaxy and that we're trying to save it?"
"No, they wouldn't listen. I tried to explain it, but they're bent on upholding the law as-is."
"If an alteration in the time-line is really just us traveling through alternate realities, what difference does it make whether we alter it or not? Why do they care where we go or what we do?"
"There's an alternate hypothesis, which much less evidence to support it mind you, that essentially states that there's only so much reality to go around, and that by changing a time-line we're not traveling through alternate realities, but creating new ones and spreading the 'fabric' of reality thinner and thinner. The more drastic the change, the more stretched the fabric becomes. No one has put forth a reputable interpretation of what happens when that fabric tears. In my opinion, no one reputable has contributed to that idea in any way whatsoever.
"But to alleviate fears that the universe will be prematurely ended by rampant time-travel, or probably more-so to give people a more comforting sense of linear time, the government of the future will pass laws limiting intentional time travel, and will create the Time Police to enforce them. I can only imagine the corruption, hypocrisy, and misuse of power that has brought. Will bring. Whatever."
So far the most significant event on the journey was the halfway point on the forty-fifth day. Everybody gathered on the observation deck to watch as the stars turned mechanically halfway around the glass dome and then stopped. The automated process took less than two seconds. Everyone cheered.
Today is the sixty-second day. Less than a month to go. Doc has been continuing the task of monitoring the sensor equipment which is mostly concerned with analyzing broadcasts from Earth. More easily said, he was watching TV. Among the few shows in English is Abbot and Costello doing their famous Who's on First skit in full color with an 8-bit electronic soundtrack. On another channel is the Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts, a live boxing match in Madison Square Garden. There's a German sitcom starring a beautiful blonde, blue-eyed actress being pursued by the affections of a gorgeous-but-shy young blonde, blue-eyed man and a clumsy caricature of a Jew, played by a blue-eyed blonde in a costume. The serial seems to revolve around the Jew trying to win the affections of the woman by use of greed, cowardice, and temptation, while the perfect Aryan specimen either undoes the evil the latter has done, or competes with him using
humility, modesty, and courage. Every day, the serial ends with pretty much the same result: the Jew is humiliated and sulks off to plot and the Aryan just misses kissing the girl by some comedic error.
It makes Doc want to puke, but there is honestly nothing else to do. Except, of course, for going down to the cargo bay and cataloging the artifacts there, which Doc decides to pick up again when Goebles comes on the tube for his daily white-power hour. It's almost as bad as Rush Limbaugh.
Doc makes his way down the elevator. He's been combing through the cargo bay the last week or so, trying to identify what's in the crates and barrels there, and if they've been broken. So far nothing has been damaged, so far as he can tell. There are thousands of artifacts, though, all vessels, spoons, masks, anything concave representing nearly every era in human cultural evolution. He's found that the cargo manifest was not remotely completed. Steve must've abandoned the effort to catalog them years ago.
There are, at least for the most part, rough piles of crates by culture and era. Doc has made his way through to the early Imperial China section. Doc begins the tedious task of separating the Qin artifacts from the Han.
Many of the crates were packed with hay which has long since rotted into dust. Doc wears a bandanna over his mouth and nose to keep the stuff out of his lungs. However, as Doc cracks a rather difficult one open, some of the dust gets up his nose and he sneezes. As he flexes over from the sneeze, he ends up projecting most of the expectoration into a small ceramic urn. He wipes his nose on the hankercheif and catalogs the urn into the late Qin pile, and returns to his task.
A moment later, he is aware of a faint screaming sound. It's growing louder. Doc turns to the Qin pile, which seems to be the source of the noise. It's coming from the urn. It begins to shake.
Out pop six men, all Chinese. They're dirty and dressed mostly in rags and carrying iron short swords. All of them are burdened with gold, jewels, and other trinkets far too extravagant for these men to have come by them honestly.
Surprised and alarmed, they drop their booty and draw their swords, shouting something Doc can't understand.
The crew of the Younger Brother Pear meets in the galley for dinner. The host has set the largest table for them, and the wine is already breathing.
Mark and Thunderhorse are already seated when Doc arrives from his office. Steve and Veronica arrive shortly after.
"Where's Jazelle?" Doc asks.
She shows up with a platter on a cart. "Cooking, what else would I be doing?" she says with a sneer. "That strange headless man was trying to roast one of those chicken lizard things in the washing-up device. I know there are many strange things on this star boat, but, honestly, why put a headless man in charge of the kitchens?"
She unveils her platter. Roast chiguana, mashed glazed yams, and cheesy sprouts. It's smells like Thanksgiving. The Host begins dishing it out.
"Well, I suppose we should start with the damage report, then," Steve says. "The Chef is apparently decapitated. Thank you for reporting it, Jazelle. Life support is back in the green, no problems there. Computing systems are back at 80% operational capacity. Main generators are at 20%. Our particle cannon is still online, there's just not enough power to use it. The replicator caught a power surge and needs some replacement parts that the concept for won't even be discovered at least a century. The Electromagnetic shield generator overheated and fused into a ball of gold and copper and if it weren't we wouldn't have enough power for it either, so we're sitting ducks if there's a solar flare. The thermal shielding still needs repaired. Structural integrity is still critical. XD drive is operational, but with all the micro-fractures in the skeleton we can't use it. Priorities are power, structure, shields, and thermal coating. The TV and holobooths have to remain offline until further notice."
"Fuck me," Mark says. "What're we supposed ta do then?"
"Help fix things," Veronica replies impatiently.
"I don't know nuthin' about fixin' this ship. Shit, I don't know half'a what Steve was talkin' about just now."
"Ever paint a house?" Veronica asks.
"Good. You can paint a new thermal coating on the ship. Thunderhorse, you can help him."
"Uh, don't that mean we gotta go outside the ship?"
"Don't be a pansy about it. I go out there all the time."
"Yeah, but you don't need ta breathe."
Steve interupts. "Mark, we can discuss your vacuuphobia later. Veronica, continue."
"Well, if those two monkeys can paint the ship and Doc can help me with the structural repairs while you're working on the power and shields, I'd say two weeks."
"Flying into an asteroid you are currently drilling into with nuclear warheads tends to rattle things up a bit. There's exactly fourteen thousand nine hundred and twenty one microfractures in the framework. Each effected beam needs to be removed, heat treated, and welded back into place. We have the cutting and welding equipment, but nothing that can re-crystalize the diamondsteel. We're going to have to fabricate something."
"We can't use thermite patches?" Steve asks.
"Not if you really want the ship to stay together in warp. There's just too many fractures."
"We don't have anything to fabricate a forge with. We can power something, but we need a shitload of tungsten and a forge to melt that into shape, not to mention the hydrolics and everything else we'll need to keep the pressure up."
"Is there much tungsten in the asteroid field?" Doc asks.
"There is some, but it will be hard to find. Still doesn't solve our forging problem, though."
"So, long story short, we need to get supplies from Earth," Doc says.
"Well, that will be a trick. We've arrived in the middle of World War Two, and not just your average hum-drum World War, but one with jets and rockets. Imagine World War Two taking place in the 1980's. As a matter of fact, I dug up this picture off their television broadcasts."
Doc shows them his I-Browse.
"Also, the United States seems never to have existed. The Q-Net entry is wigging out because of all the undetermined factors, so it's hard to figure what's going to happen, but from what I can tell without the US involvement, the world is much more likely to fall into Hitler's lap."
"What the fuck happened to the United States?" Mark asks.
"I tried to figure that out. Apparently, Father Nathan and his monks made a more permanent copy of the star chart. Nathan studied it for a few years before returning to France to give a lecture on what he'd found. He was not only laughed out of the conference, but branded a heratic and forced to flee back to Norway. He and the monks still loyal to him formed a sort of underground branch of Catholicism focused on new-found tenants of science and astronomy.
"A later pope took action against them and invaded Norway to root them out with an inquisition. The subsequent war forced many Norse to flee across the Atlantic to Greenland and eventually Nova Scotia, where they became the first permanent European settlers to North America. They brought with them 13th century tools and technology, and this was during the 12th century. This technology acceleration seems to have somehow effected all of Europe and Asia, although now it seems to have slowed to only 40 years ahead of where it should be."
"So this is World War Two with nuclear weapons?" Steve asks.
"Not yet, but soon. Possibly within two years. Strangely enough, some things didn't get accelerated. I think it has to do with the minds involved in inventing them. Nuclear physics really relies on Einstein and his contemporaries, even though in this timeline Gallileo describes Newtonian physics and Newton lays the framework for Relativity. Still, the world needed Einstein to really understand it, though."
"Interesting discovery," Steve hums. "We'll call that Shaw's Great Minds hypothesis."
"The Native North Americans got the best deal out of it. The technology the Norse brought, metallurgy, swords, chainmail, longboats, horses, things like that, gave them more of an advantage when dealing with the other European settlers that started coming around the time they should have. Earlier exposure to diseases like small pox and the plague allowed them more time to discover treatments and build immunities to them, certainly not like the Europeans but enough that it made a great difference. All in all, the Indians never got pushed aside by European culture and instead absorbed it."
"Are you tellin' me that injuns run the United States?" Mark replies incredulously.
"I'm telling you there is no United States. There are several smaller nations composed of tribal groups. They seemed to have taken to the European notions of political borders and real estate much easier than the indians we know. There are European settlements, New England and the Confederated States of America. They were never united, hence there was never a civil war. Slavery is still legal in the Confederated States."
"What about Lincoln? If the Great Minds hypothesis is correct, he must've accomplished something."
"Yes, in fact. He was an itinerant lawyer who successfully lobbied to have slavery outlawed in New England, settled several disputes between the Cherokee and Shawnee, and brokered peace treaties between nearly every warring nation in North America. He was asassinated by John Wilks Booth at Ford's Theater after he started lobbying to liberate the slaves in the Confederated States."
"So what does all this mean?" Mark asks.
"Well, on one hand the Native American tribes never suffer genocide at the hands of the Europeans. On the other, slavery still persists in the South. Color TV, video games, supersonic passenger jets, personal computers, and other foundations for modern society have already been invented, but some of the most evil men in history stand a good chance of conquering the planet."
Posted 5/28/2009 10:05:00 AM
While Steve and Veronica perform some critical repairs, Doc decides to do a little research in order to see if anything in history had changed. The ship's Q-Net uplink is still functioning, fortunately, and Doc downloads an entry onto his i-Browse.
"In 1933, Adolph Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, marking the beginning of the Third Reich. His broad reforms over the government placed him as dictator and sole leader of the country. He sought to expand his influence over the rest of Europe, starting by taking back lands that Germany had lost in World War One.
"Although he had annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia, the invasion of Poland in 1939 is considered to be the official start of the new World War. France, England, and the Arctic Alliance disapproved of the military action and declared war on Germany.
"Under stealth of night in June 1940, German bombers slipped through the French RADAR screens and attacked Paris. With their air defense crippled and otherwise occupied, German helicopters flew around the French Maginot line, inserting SS special operatives in the heart of Paris. After capturing the Curie Nuclear Reactor, the French government was finally forced to surrender.
"The Germans had much more difficulty invading England, as the British RADAR screens had been amplified for wartime, and new laser guided surface-to-air defense systems were brought on-line shortly before war was declared. It was German stealth technology that finally broke through the line and brought London to it's knees. The British government was forced to retreat across the Atlantic her colonies in New England.
"The Arctic Alliance had more success in maintaining ground against the Germans. Their submarine networks beneath the Arctic ice allowed them to bring supplies undetected from their North American states. The excellence of the Nordic Navy combined with the vast natural resources and industrial power of their North American territories allowed them to maintain a hold of their ancestral homelands for much longer.
"After Norway fell, the focus of action took place in Africa as the Axis and Allies vied for valuable oil and mineral resources there. The Germans also continued fighting in England and France, as resistance movements began to spring up and cause disturbances to the Nazi logistical systems.
"In June 1941, Hitler retracted his peace treaty with Stalin and declared war on Russia. The German Luftwaffe was no match for the performance of the Russian jets, while Russian ground forces, while superior in numbers, were no match for German armor and artillery. Intense rocket fire from both sides devastated Russian and German cities and infrastructure while rapidly draining both sides resources.
"Meanwhile the Japanese began their invasion of North America. The Republic of California allied with the Japanese, allowing their forces to gain a foothold on the continent. The Republic of Nevada fell next, while the Northwest Nations held fast. British Columbia was annexed by the Japanese.
"The United Territories of Utah, the Apache Alliance, and the Crow Nations formed a mutual defense pact and were able to hold back the Japanese. Meanwhile, New England and the American Confederation formed an alliance, resulting in their ultimate victory against the Axis. The remaining American nations joined the Arctic Alliance.
"By 1945, after years of stalemate between Germany, Russia, and the Arctic Alliance, German scientists perfected the Atomic bomb. It's use against Stalingrad ended the war at last. Hitler had at last united the Earth into one glorious empire."