Doc sits down at the bar next to Thunderhorse where the Cook had swept away the broken glass.
"What would you like, sir?" asks the Cook in his friendly, unaccented computer voice.
"I'll have what he's having," Doc replies.
"One hundred beers, coming right up," replies the Cook who promptly grabs a glass, fills it, and places it before Doc in a series of swift, precise motions. It then waits patiently for him to finish the first.
Since Doc was small, he's had the ability to sense what others were feeling. Not only sense, but actually feel their emotions as if they were his own, if he concentrated. It's a great trick to tell if someone is being sincere, or when he's in trouble with a woman. He concentrates now, and tries to get a sense of Thunderhorse.
Despair, loneliness, confusion, and above all, fright. This giant, rough, stinky hulk of barbarian death machine is scared for his life, but not just for his life, for his horse. Lightning. If he could only know that Lightning was safe and alive.
Of course, Doc doesn't know where the horse is. Most likely, he thought, he's back in Thunderhorse's era.
Doc tastes the beer, a lovely Bavarian ale. It's good. "This can't be Hell," he says. "The beer's too good."
Thunderhorse looks up from his distraught mood for a moment. "Huh," he replies disdainfully.
"We're not in Hell. Have you looked out a window? We're in the heavens," Doc tries again to explain.
"Window?" asks Thunderhorse, again confused.
"We're on a ship. A boat that sails the heavens. We are amongst the stars."
"I don't believe you."
Doc thinks a moment. There's a view-screen behind the bar currently advertising Space Schlitz. "Computer, can you show us the ship on this screen?"
The computer chirps a delightful affirmative and displays the Q-Net Entry for MARV-IN.
Thunderhorse stares at the screen. "I don't understand. What is this dancing tapestry?"
Doc admits he doesn't get much of the technical junk either. "Computer, can you give us a window here? What is the forward view?"
The computer beeps again and the screen changes. They're high above the Earth moving swiftly, crossing the Pacific towards South America. Thunderhorse stands up, knocking his stool to the floor.
"THOR'S BALLS!" he shouts, staring at awe at the sight.
Doc cannot help but laugh.
"Is that ...ocean?! Are those clouds?! What land is that?" he asks loudly. The screen begins overlaying meteorological information and political borders on the planet in response to him as he shouts.
Doc notes with interest the fact that Ecuador is labeled "Quito" and Columbia is listed as "New Grenada" and includes parts of Panama, suggesting the date of 1835 given to him earlier is correct. He briefly considers explaining the concept of time travel to Thunderhorse, but decides he's not quite there yet.
Eventually, Thunderhorse picks up his stool and sits back down, still staring at the screen as they fly above the Andes.
"So where are you from and how did you get here?" asks Doc.
Thunderhorse stares at the screen a moment longer, but then comes back to the conversation. "I am from the Winterlands. My village, Hilton, was destroyed by King Nathan the Pickled. My Jazelle was taken to his castle, the Tower of Venis, and befouled by the monster himself. The surviving men of my village and I vowed revenge and rode out into the night. A blizzard struck, and we lost our way. We wandered the frozen north for three cold, deadly years. Many of us fell to the ground, frozen, but the rest of us rode on. When only three of us remained, we at last came upon a village...it was Hilton! Still in ruins and full of scoundrels! We rode three long years across icy planes in a circle! I could not bear it. I rode right into the tavern, slaughtered the filthy Venis scum that littered the place, and crawled into the whiskey barrel. There I stayed for two more years, until today.
"I woke up about three in the afternoon as I usually do. I got on Lightning and rode through the hills. I killed four of King Nathan's men at the crossroad to Bridgeton. I gathered their swords and armor and rode back, sold it all to Groth the blacksmith. It was another day, as usual. Back at the tavern I began my evening as I usually do with a tankard of whiskey.
"The bartender was new, though. He was a tiny man, even smaller than you, and old, much older than anyone I've ever met. He was probably as old as fifty! He was like a dwarf, only he did not have a beard. He took my tankard and poured the whiskey. Then he brought out a strange thing from his tunic. It was a small, shiny metal rod, like a quill without feathers. He stirred the whiskey with this funny stick, then gave it to me. I took it and drank. This was a mistake. I remember looking at the whiskey as I drank. It was black, black as pitch or blacker.
"As I tilted the tankard to my lips, I felt as if I was shrinking. Soon I felt as if I was falling into the tankard and about to splash into the black pool within it. But then, blackness all around me. Suddenly, the darkness disappeared and I found myself in a wooden box! I thought it was a coffin, so I smashed myself free of it. I was in a place full of boxes, some wood, some steel, and some like I've never seen.
"The ghost of that beardless dwarf appeared before me and gibbered at me in some strange language, the same words you speak when it is not in my head. His words were not in my head then, I could not understand what he said. The ghost of the dwarf faded away. Then a man appeared, a man who was not a man. Some kind of magical being, too pretty to be a man. I thought he was a god, perhaps Balder. Balder cannot be hurt by anything, as Odin has commanded all things take oaths not to harm him. So I threw a piece of wood at him, and when it hit him and he fell, I knew he was not Balder. So I ran. I know not where I went.
"Such things and creatures I saw! I ran out of the mouth of a great stone bird. In its cavern nest was its dead chick and strange weapons lying about the lair. There was blood splashed upon the wall in some strange runes. I escaped the cavern into a hallway of light with mossy wool floors. Suddenly, two flying monsters came at me! They were huge metal bugs without wings! You would not believe them if you saw them! They came at me, humming a strange, endless dirge. I swung my axe at them!" Thunderhorse begins to get excited as he relives the moment. He stands up and re-enacts his encounter.
"Alas, they were too fast! As one dodged my blow, the other came round behind me and bit me! It felt like a thousand little bites made of fire! It smelled of a sheep that was hit by lightning. As I cried out in pain and turned round to hit it, the other came and bit me, too! Oh, the pain of it! But I would not fall. I swung at them again! Again they dodged! Then, one shot a tiny arrow into my neck! You would think such a tiny arrow would do no harm against me, but it was poisoned! I became drowsy and fell to my knees as the world became black again." Thunderhorse sits back down.
"When I awoke, I was in a strange room on a soft bed, just over there," he points to a room on the other side of the ship from Doc's. "The door had no handle, but it opened when I approached. Beyond was this tavern and this strange non-man bartender. He offered me a drink, and I've been here ever since. I don't know when I will leave. You say we are on a ship in the heavens, but I know not where we sail. I will never see my horse again and I will never have my revenge! Oh, if only this god 'Kom Putor' of yours will show me where my Lightning is!"
With that the viewscreen switches to a picture of a horse chewing on some luscious green plants in a garden near a pond. Strangely, the scene of planet Earth they were viewing hangs in the background, beyond a gazebo and some trees and cut by great, arching pillar. Thunderhorse's jaw drops and he once again loses his shit.
"Where is this?!" he cries. The screen plays a 3-D animation detailing the route to the elevator and up a floor. "BY ODIN'S EYE!" he yells again, kicking his stool across the galley. He runs out the galley door. Doc follows, beer in hand.
The elevator door slides open on the Observation deck revealing a wonderous sight that Thunderhorse totally fails to appreciate as he rushes out to find his horse. The grass is green. The water of the pond is crystal blue and full of fish. The small sandy beach at one end is golden. The trees are rich and full of fruits. The garden is full and ripe. The strange chicken-lizard creatures are plump. The even stranger goat-like rabbit things seem healthy. The Earth hangs above them in all her pre-greenhouse-crisis unpolluted glory. The stars of the Milky Way stand vigilant beyond.
Doc takes it all in as he wanders the grounds. Thunderhorse stands with Lightning, brushing him and talking to him softly. The two go their own way for a while.
Doc considers how to explain time travel to Thunderhorse and when they are, but finds he cannot fully explain it to himself. The time travel wormhole in the Smithsonian is opened up within a concave space on a specific object, like a cup or a bag. This creates a portal between the present and the past as far back as when the cavity was formed and only up until the wormhole is deactivated. The theory stated that you cannot send things forward in time; after the wormhole was shut off. Someone had to be at the future end running the thing.
This morning he was in 2098. He had entered into what should have been the past-end of a wormhole. But he is now in 1835, meaning the end he went into was in the future, and the generator must be here in the past. Impossible. Besides, the room he fell into (the cargo hold on the Pu) didn't seem to have any kind of wormhole equipment in it. He was in a crate when he arrived. It seemed like he smashed out of the very urn into which he fell.
These thoughts are interrupted when dinner arrives. The Host and the Cook appear from the elevator door. The Cook pushes a cart with silver platters and domes over to the picnic table near the gazebo. The Host brings the wine.
The Host calls them over. "Dr. Ritenrong took the liberty of ordering dinner for you. Roast Gobbit in a chanana sauce with mashed tompatoes and soypeas in butter. All grown and raised aboard ship." The Cook reveals the meal with mechanical flourish. It looks and smells delicious. The Host pours the wine. The Cook returns to the galley. The Host patiently waits on them, keeping a respectable distance from Thunderhorse.
Thunderhorse is at first apprehensive, but hunger overtakes him and he wastes no time in tearing apart the Gobbit. He had been hungrily eying the creatures running around up here since they arrived. Doc takes his time and uses dishes and utensils.
As the meal comes to a close, the Host approaches the table. "Dr. Ritenrong apologizes he cannot join you for dinner. He has been detained on Earth unexpectedly and, as he explains, is in some dire need of assistance. He asked that I play this message for you."
The holographic image of Dr. Ritenrong appears next to the Host. He's wearing a suit befitting an American undertaker of the mid-19th century. he seems a bit disheveled.
"It's that fucking beardless dwarf again!" exclaims Thunderhorse with a mouthful of meat.
"I'm sorry I can't be there to greet you," says Dr. Ritenrong's hologram, whispering closely and hurriedly at them, "but I've, uh, been arrested. I'm in the municipal courthouse in Toledo, Ohio. Or Michigan. It's not clear yet which way that'll go, but I'll explain that later. I need you to, uh, get me out. Soon, please; Sunday morning at the absolute latest. It's almost Saturday here. The Autopilot can drop you off here in the Pu. I've already sent the coordinates. It's a couple miles out of town where you won't be seen landing, so you'll have to walk in. The replicator in the galley can provide costuming. Dr. Shaw, I'm trusting in your knowledge and skill to outfit Thunderhorse and yourself appropriately. I've allowed $5,000 cash for this mission. You can get it from the ARSE, also in the galley. My bail is set at $500 so there should be plenty left over for bribes and auxiliary supplies. Proceed carefully, gentlemen. Our mission is of the utmost importance to the future of civilization! We must start this war!"
The message ends abruptly as Dr. Ritenrong looks over his shoulder and fades away.
Doc sits down at the bar next to Thunderhorse where the Cook had swept away the broken glass.
MARV-IN stands for Multidimensional Astral Research Vessel, Series I, November class. It is the first run of civilian semi-luxury, XD Star drive cruisers designed for extended voyages across the galaxy. It is manufactured by Virgin Galactic on Earth in the 2350's.
The Younger Brother Pear is the only N-class ever manufactured, as it was designed specially for the Astrophilosophy department of U. Berkley-Shanghai. Special features include an ancient film screen, compartmentalized variable gravity controls, extradimensional trans-existence paradox sensors, smuggler compartments on every deck, and detox-rehab facilities.
The MARV is actually two vehicles. The main portion of the MARV is the living and research space and contains the interstellar drive engine. The other is a SHITS, the interplanetary shuttle and landing craft which docks with and provides sublight propulsion for the main vessel.
MARV-IN Main Features
Superluminal Dive: Extradimensional Strange-core Neutron Star Drive
Sublight Drive: Dual He3-DT Fusion drive (on SHITS) w/ Bussard Ramjet turbocharger
Backup ion drive
Emergency solar sail
Aurora particle shielding
Carbon-fiber Lead composite Hull
1 Forward Probe/Torpedo launch tube
2 Full spectrum, high intensity pulse Lasers
1 Particle beam cannon, civilian defense grade
Internal Microwave emitters
Hi-Res X-Ray camera
Ultra Hi-Res Visible Spectrum camera
Life support: Self-sustaining hydroponics
1 Computing office
1 Conference room
10 crew rooms
Fully equipped galley
Full medical bay
3 Shuttle hanger
4 Android Crew(Butler, Chef, Maid, and Autopilot)
8 Cleaner drones
4 Security drones (non-lethal)
Crew: 8 (Captain, First Officer, Pilot, Navigator, Engineer, Security, SciMed, InfoCom)
Dimensions: 26m high, 44m diameter
Empty Mass: 300 tons
Max. Load: 2500 tons
XD fuel mass: 120 billion kg
Engine efficiency: 12.5%
Theoretical Max. Velocity: 55,000 C
Acceleration: 11 C/s
Time to Max. Velocity: 1 hour, 23 minutes, 20 seconds
Cross Galaxy Time: 1.8 years
A Star drive is essentially a large, controlled fusion reaction used to power a ship's flight through space. There are several types and sizes of star drives, from very small thermonuclear reactors to superdense Neutron core drives. The larger the reaction is, the further and faster ships can fly. The reactions are controlled and contained by powerful magnetic fields.
Standard superdense star drives such as Neutron star drives or Strange-core drives require extremely large ships with vast distances of empty space between the reaction and the crew. Such ships are capable of crossing the galaxy by mere brute force Newtonian and Einsteinian physics, taking thousands of years and carrying whole civilizations. These ships are generally built for extremely short range trade routes to neighboring star systems, one-way trips to start a new colony on a distant planet, or to rid a planet of an undesirable population.
Extradimensional star drives, however are much more robust. By placing the entire mass of the reaction in the second-tier spacial dimensions (4th, 5th, and 6th) and propelling the exhaust mass into these dimensions, the speed of light is broken. Small ships capable of crossing the galaxy in only a few years can be built at a fraction of the cost. XD drive ships don't have to park across the solar system from an inhabited planet to avoid disrupting its orbit, nor do their super structures have to be the size of a small moon to keep from collapsing in on its self, buckling the crews' knees, or blasting them to cinders with radiation. Catastrophic containment failures no longer mean the total annihilation of every star system in a five light year radius. And since the propellant mass and thermal radiation are expelled into undetectable dimensions, XD drives achieve something that has frustrated military scientists for centuries: stealth in space.
Unfortunately, navigating through real space by propelling one's self through extradimensional space is still a complicated and imperfect task. Imagine you have no sense of up or down, and you are traveling from the north pole to the south pole by tunneling through the Earth. The two points are connected in a much shorter distance across a dimension you cannot conceive. You cannot see or feel that dimension until you've traveled through its corners, ripples, curves, and waves. The rippling nature of extradimensional space is not very predictable, thus it is much safer to make a series of short jumps than one long one, which reduces fuel efficiency.
Most of the major trade routes across the galaxy have been mapped and are available across Q-Net, however some remote locations have never been visited in all the history of time. Heading off in uncharted directions without proper mapping or probing will more than likely result in your not ending up anywhere near where you wanted to go, if you don't end up in the middle of a star or someone's beach house.
Traveling through extradimensional space can be a strange experience. You may not seem to move at all for most of your journey. When you finally do arrive, an outside observer will see you appear as if you were painted on the side of a faceted crystal drinking glass and the glass was turned until you were in front of them, and this is photographed with a long exposure so it looks like one long streak. Aboard the ship, you experience the universe distorting; sometimes contracting, sometimes expanding, often both at once. Worse, though, is the wild emotional ride one goes through. Current theories suggest that the second-tier dimensions are somehow tied to specific emotions or psychic events. One experiment linked travel through the fourth dimension with a feeling of giddiness, which tended to ripple through the subjects along the same spacial waves they were traveling through. Another study has tentatively linked the fifth dimension with moroseness and depression, but the results were deemed inconclusive when the lead researcher and half the study group committed suicide after only a month of travel. No one is sure what the sixth dimension is all about since the research team assigned to it ended up involved in a drug trafficking scandal and all research materials were confiscated.
Time travel, is, of course, a natural result of the superluminal velocities achieved by the XD Star drives. This has resulted in a sort of temporal barrier to the future for the galaxy. Anyone who needs to go anywhere ends up going backwards in time, so galactic civilization does not really exist much past a certain point in space-time. Q-Net ties most of inhabited time together, though, and technology and civilization advance in what has been deemed "meta-time," that is, time outside of space-time that can only be measured by the a-temporal nature of the galactic collective conscious.
The most common solution for anyone who wishes to return to their home era involves various flavors of cryogenic hibernation. There are artificial wormhole systems that can return one to the future, but they must be created in that future and linked to the past, and the toll gates demand outrageous prices. Creating wormholes to connect the present to the future have been deemed impossible. The only known option to travel to the unknown future is to find a natural wormhole from that future, but the odds of that are nearly nothing and a sane sentient being does not simply wander into strange wormholes.
The distant future is presumed to be fairly boring anyway. As all stars die off and distances become extraordinarily vast, ancient computers and civilizations orbit decaying black holes thinking the same thoughts and repeating the same actions over and over again for millions of years until at last all is dead, quiet, and dark. Hopefully, there will be at least one good restaurant.
The Subluminal Hypersonic Interorbital Transatmospheric Shuttle is manufactured by a SpaceBus-Boening collaborative group for the Virgin Galactic corporation. It's rather unfortunate designation was released to the press by a Chinese media relations officer who was in a hurry to meet a deadline. Internally, it is referred to as the Number Two.
The Whiskey class shuttles are designed to dock with Series I MARVs. They offer little in the way of comfort, and are used for quick runs to the surface planets. It can be used as a cross-system shuttle, although it is painfully slow, cramped, often messy, and can be quite smelly. It is very well suited as an atmospheric transport, however.
Since the Whiskey SHITS is a transport only, it carries no weapons and has very limited shielding.
Whiskey SHITS Features
Dual He3-Dt Fusion Thrusters
1 Emergency Ion Drive array
Scramjet atmospheric compressor
Active cryo-ceramic heat shielding
18 months basic Life Support
Top Atmospheric speed: Mach 25
Crew: 2 (Pilot, Copilot)
Empty Mass: 95 tons
Cargo Capacity: 20 tons
Fuel Capacity: 20 tons (9 tons He3, 6 tons Dt, 5 tons Xe)
DeltaV: 1257.1 km/s
Max Acceleration: 41 m/s^s
Estimated Range: Earth to Mars in 12 days
Avg. Ion Drive DeltaV: 4.06 km/s
Ion Drive Estimated Range: Earth orbit to Mars orbit in 8.5 months
When Doc woke up this morning, he had a relaxing cup of coffee, read the paper, and thought about how nice his recent visit to the Library of Alexandria had been. He did not think at all about being attacked by a large, drunken barbarian armed with a mug on a Chinese-made time traveling space ship several hundred years before he was even born. Being placed in such a situation, however, tends to put one on edge, and being on edge is often advantageous when a fight breaks out.
Doc gets out of the way of the one man stampede as it stumbles forward, swinging wildly. He runs around a table, across the galley, and dives behind the bar.
Thunderhorse throws his mug at where Doc was standing the last time a synapse fired. It sails out of the galley and smashes against the corridor wall.
"WO IST BLITZEN?!" he screams. "WO IST MEIN PFERD?!"
Doc musters all the powers his high school-level German. Where is my horse? He replies: "Ich weiß nicht wo Ihr Pferd ist!" (I knows not where you horse is!) He pulls out one of the golden, yellow treats and waves it above the bar "Mögen Sie ein ...uh... Twinkie? Es ist ...um... kö-, er... köslik? Est ist gut." (Like you a Twinkie? It is de-, delshus? It is good.)
Thunderhorse looks surprised, through his drunken haze and hair. "Was?" (What?) he asks, approaching slowly.
Doc stands up a bit. He places the Twinkie on the bar before him and gets the other from his pocket. He opens it and takes a bite. "Mmmm... ist ...köstlich!" he says enthusiastically.
Thunderhorse approaches the Twinkie and picks it up. He examines the thing. He pokes it. He pounds it a bit with his fist. The wrapper pops and a bit of the cream filling squishes out. He picks it up and sniffs it. "Was ist das?"
"Es ist ein Twinkie," Doc replies with his mouth full.
Thunderhorse takes a bite. His teeth don't penetrate the wrapper, but in pulling it out of his mouth he manages to squeeze out some Twinkie. He chews it a bit. "Ja, das ist gut!" He squeezes some more Twinkie out of the wrapper and into his mouth.
"Wer sind Sie? " asks Thunderhorse with a mouth full of Twinkie.
"I'm Doc," Doc replies accidently in English, also through a Twinkie. He swallows. "Mein Name ist Doc."
"Wo sind wir? Ist dieses Valhalla? Sind wir tot?" Thunderhorse asks, distressed. Doc is having trouble understanding and can't keep up with the German much longer.
"Computer, can you translate for us?" Doc asks the ceiling. Thunderhorse looks perplexed, and is downright frightened when the ceiling chimes an affirmative. "What did you ask me?" Doc asks Thunderhorse.
Thunderhorse looks extremely confused. "What is this magic?!" He shouts in German. Doc can hear it, but he hears the translation over-top of it, almost inside his head, like the directed personal sound systems they use in the Smithsonian and those annoying billboards in the streets. "Is this Valhalla or Hell?! I did not die in battle so surely this must be Hell!"
"We're not dead," Doc tries to explain, but Thunderhorse does not listen.
"We're cursed for eternity!" he continues to rage. "I drank so much in life, it finally drank me back! The very tankard its self swallowed me whole! And now I will rot in Hell forever, and I will never see my Lightning again!" He looses a wail of sorrow and slumps back down on a barstool. The Chef merrily pours him another beer.