A Luxurious Room

Their suite on the IDS Marseille Marriott is the most luxurious apartment Doc has ever seen. It is trapezoidal shaped with soft corners, opening from the entrance to the full-wall window on the opposite side. The window is something like 100' wide, 20' tall, and 50' from the entrance. The walls are marbled white and gold. The ceilings are white fleur de lis patterned tin. The floor looks like tiled light-blue marble, but it is impossibly soft. Bananna trees and palm ferns are potted in cobalt blue glass all around. The living room sinks into the floor, with a couch extending in a single, plush cushion all around its the semicircular edge. Bars surround the living space like crenulations on a castle turret, each contain glasses, taps, and a combination microwave-dumbwaiter. The taps and dumbwaiter hook into the ships automated room service system, and nearly any potable liquid can be delivered to any individual tap. It faces the window wall, which currently holds an incredible view across Saturn's rings towards a collection of moons lazily orbiting their planet.

The entrance is immediately flanked with service tables and palm trees. There are welcome baskets for each of them. The baskets contain soaps, robes, chocolates, little bottles of scotch, soda, and champagne, pens and paper, and an electronic book containing the Bible, Torah, Koran, a Wiccan spell book, the Satanic Verses, the collected works of Nietzsche, and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.

Along the side walls are three sliding doors; two bedrooms rooms and a shared bathroom on each side. The bedrooms and bathrooms are soft triangles, about 20' from edge to corner, fully furnished with luxury facilities. The beds are soft and round, in the corners opposite the bedroom doors. They each have their own dresser desks, video monitors/mirrors, and recliners. The bathrooms are a black marble tile, have hands-free controlled faucets, a dispenser for white terrycloth towels and washcloths and a hamper for them after use, all automatically cleaned and refilled. The bathtubs span the wall opposing the corner entrances.

"You rented us a fucking castle?" Mark asks. "Hot damn you're the best boss a man could want."

"This was the cheapest room they had," Steve says. "for four people, anyway."

The adventurers settle in, claiming their rooms. Doc and Steve take one side while Mark and Thunderhorse take the other. It doesn't take long to get relaxed here.

Doc flips through a brochure to find the other amenities. It's like a small town phone book. The ship has a sports arena, several olympic swimming pools, an enormous spa-lake with its own beach, variable gravity golf course, Freeball sphere, ski slopes, hundreds of bars, restaurants, and casinos of any theme imaginable, an art museum, a space history museum, amphitheaters, a pit fighting arena, more clothing stores than can be imagined, video and holo arcades, and a 3100 acre wooded park on the top deck beneath the skydome.

It doesn't take long for Mark and Thunderhorse to discover the taps and the endless flow of liqours within, and not long after that to stumble upon the controls to flood the living room with hot, sweet smelling water. They even manage to turn on the enormous holovid screen, but they can't seem to change the channel off of a low-g golf game being played elsewhere on the ship.

After a quick drink and another lesson on why we don't press random buttons, Doc convinces Mark and Thunderhorse to head down to the arcade and practice their shooting skills.

Meanwhile Doc and Steve head to the nearest bar, which is a casino called The Paper Doll. It's a sort of oriental themed place dimly light with red paper lanterns and decorated with gold dragon statues and Chinese watercolors and tapestries. They have all the standards, roulette, craps, and black jack, but they also have pachinko machines and mahjong tables.

The place is pretty packed. There are several people at the bar where they grab a stool. To Doc's left sits a nice looking woman in an expensive business suit. Her hair is held to her head in a bun with two ebony chopsticks and she's wearing invisiframe glasses. Next to her sits a balding older man in a suit and red tie that screams politician. There's an United States of Earth flag pinned to his lapel. Beyond him sits another, younger man who is talking very loudly about God to the politician.

To Steve's right sits another man in a suit with an USE pin. He seems to be drowning himself in scotch. Next to him sits another well dressed woman, this one in a very fashionable casual evening gown. Her hair is green and cut evenly around the top of the neck, almost spherical. Next to her sits a large, physically fit man whose muscles barely fit into the casual dress shirt he's managed to stuff himself into.

While Doc examines this man, he starts feeling a bit hungry. The last thing he ate was a package of peanut flavored wafers on the sublight shuttle. As his gut rumbles, the buff, overly tanned man looks up to meet his eyes. There is a strange moment between them.

The man turns to the bartender. "Hey, dude. Can I get some nachos or something? I'm starving all of a sudden."

The woman next to him berates him. "You just ate like ten minutes ago! What are you, a chernoboar?"

Doc orders some spring rolls for Steve and himself. He can't quite understand what just happened. He must've accidentally read the man's emotions, but it was Doc that was hungry. The other guy had just eaten. Somehow Doc had transferred his feeling to the other man.

"What's up with you?" Steve asks.

"I don't know." Doc answers. "Remember how I told you I could sometimes get into people's heads and figure out what they're feeling?"

"Yeah, I remember."

"I think I just did the opposite. I think I just made that guy hungry."

"Interesting. That's very strange. Try it again. Try it on me."

"Okay, uh, what should I try to make you feel?"

"I don't know. I'm already hungry. Surprise me."

Doc takes the suggestion literally. He looks hard at Steve and thinks Boo! at him.

"Well?" Doc asks.

"Well what?" Steve asks back.

"Damn. Must not have worked."

"Maybe it was because I was expecting it. Try someone else."


"I don't know, anyone."

"You know, I can't believe you actually believe me. Most people I try to tell this stuff think I'm crazy. And you're a scientist. You of all people should think I'm crazy."

"Not at all. I've seen weirder stuff. In fact, I've been developing a theory about these kinds of pheonmenon. Remeber how the Younger Brother Pear was origionally built as a research vessel to detect the effects of pan-dimensional space travel on the human mind?"

Doc tries to remember "Not really."

"Well, it was. They determined that excessive travel through the fifth dimension can cause severe depression, while the fourth dimension tends to cause giddy mania. Unfortunately, the research team spent a whole lot of time going back and forth in the fourth dimension, and they never really go to the sixth. My theory is that the sixth dimension is somehow tied to what we would call psychic powers, that perhaps somehow our sentience and consciuosness are tied together in some way there. I've got some experiments designed to test this, but we've got to get to the Pear first, and there are more important tasks beyond that."

"So you think that somehow I'm tapping the sixth dimension, like I can move my consciosness, or at least parts of it, through this dimension just like a starship?"

"In a localized sense, yes. I think so. But we need more experimental data. Pick a person at the bar and try to make them feel it something. Maybe you have to tap into their emotions first to see what they're feeling?"

IDS Marseille Marriott

Sublight Transport Flight 993 arrives at Titan six hours after its departure from Earth. Dr. Ritenrong insisted they abandon the Python on the Moon mainly because the number of check points between Earth and Saturn would allow the Exkoreans to track them very easily. That and it smelled like puke. Doc had no disagreements.

The only trouble was smuggling their weapons across the solar system. While still unimaginably fast at one sixth the speed of light, the sublight transport business has been dramatically declining in favor of near-light and FTL transportation. It is still a preferred option for people who don't want to deal with the mental stress and hassle of arriving somewhere before they left, but most prefer FTL travel to the even bigger hassle of going on a month long trip and missing six years of their childrens' lives. The depricated state of the service means that cutbacks had to be made, and security was one of the first on the chopping block. Thus it is the perfect choice for anyone looking to transport unlicensed firearms or otherwise evade law enforcement.

In fact, the Sublight Transport industry has found new life in this situation, and caters to the criminal element almost exclusively. Titan Station was a pioneering achievement when built; the furthest, foremost cutting edge of human expansion and exploration. It is now populated with seedy space bars, bodegas, and cosmetic surgery centers (advertisign duty free procedures, "Avoid the unfair titty-taxes!" their sign reads).

After retrieving their bags, careful to avoid getting mugged on the way, they grab a cab and head out to the rings. The cabbie is a gristled war veteran down on his luck.

"Served three tours on Mars. Lost a limb in each one. Lost my arm on Olympus Mons to a mortar round. Lost my left leg on Deimos to a frag grenade."

"And the right leg?" Mark asks.

"Got it caught in an atmosphere fan while trying to catch a baseball. Not an easy game to play in half gravity."

As they circle around the orange moon, the queen of the solar system reveals her glorious self. Her brightly coloured, flowing gaseous gown and crown of icy rings majestically enters the sky. All but Steve and the cabbie stare in wonder at this awesome sight. Doc snaps some pictures with his glasses.

The small yellow and black shuttle dives towards a gap in the rings. The Enke Gap, the cabbie mentions. There, the small moon Pan dances merrily around its queen, picking icy flowers that wander into its meadowed path. Behind this small moon, in what is possibly the most scenic orbit in the solar system, is a huge luxury cruise ship. It's shaped a lot like a giant sneaker, about 10 kilometers long. It has a bubble dome over the flat, top deck where one might otheriwise put an enormous foot. It is prestine white with millions of shimmering blue portals. Across the side, in letters as huge as skyscrapers, is written IDS Marseille Marriott.

Marseille Marriott is, of course, a famous hotel chain-heiress layabout with minor acting credits, most popular for scandalous sex videos and public displays of genitalia. Her name evokes fun, freedom, extraordinary luxury, and dirty, dirty sex.

The cab docks on the aft side. They carry their bags towards the security check-in.

"Uh, Steve, how are we going to get our stuff past the guards?" Doc asks.

"I've already taken care of it," Steve explains. "This ship is as dirty as the woman whose name is on the side. Included in our ticket prices was a significant, eh, enticement to have them stow our gear in a safe place for us."

"Welcome aboard the Indestructible Ship Marseille Marriott!" The porter welcomes them and takes their bags, as well as a large amount of money Dr. Ritenrong slips into his palm. The backpack they'd loaded with weapons is tagged with a tracking device and carried off seperately. They are given palm scans and told about their apartment, a lovely four room suite with a common automatic kitchen/bar and sunken living room that converts to a jacuzi spa. A bellboy loads their remaining bags on a hover-cart and leads them down the hallway, extravegently decorated with contemporary minimalist art.

"Nice. How much was it, if I may ask?" Doc asks.

"Let's see, with tickets and 'tips' so far I think I've spent, oh, somewhere around twenty billion dollars."

Doc is astonished. "Twenty...billion?"

"Give or take, yeah. This luxury cruiser is damned expensive. It takes the energy of a small star to fling this ship here to Alpha Centuari, and anti-matter is not cheap in this era. It's never cheap, come to think of it. Now that I think about it, without Dmitri Valia's engine designs it's much more expensive than it should be."

"Twenty billion dollars? No wonder your accounts are running thin."

"We're going to have to do something about that once we get to the Pear. We should get there in about a week. In the meantime I'm hoping for a smooth, peaceful ride."

The Lights Fade In And Out

As Doc sits down in the seat for their flight he notices how the seat automatically adjusts to his height and weight and adjusts accordingly. It contures to his body and warms to a pleasant temperature as it reclines. "This beats the hell out of catching a cargo plane in the army," he muses.

Steve seats himself next to him, but immediately starts fiddling with his glasses as he reviews large amounts of info from what Doc can only imagine as the World Wide Web. As Doc cranes his head, the seat adjusts again to allow him a comfortable view of Thunderhorse and Mark two rows back who are pushing all of the buttons and messing with the seats, much like kids turned loose with power tools. The stewardess politely asks them to settle down, but Thunderhorse just rubs his glasses and mutters, "Why does X-Ray mean I can see her underclothes? What is this X-ray and why does it not show me her smeltch? Mark, do you understand what this T.V. says?" Mark ignores him and beckons to the stewardess to lean closer, as there is something he wants to tell her in a whisper. Doc doesn't need the glasses translation program to read Mark's lips to know that he has made an improper suggestion to her. The loud smack of her hand striking his cheek is enough. She storms off to consult the security officer while Doc settles into the most comfortable seat the universe has had to offer so far.

Even though the anti-vibration servos are working to full capacity, Doc still notices the hum of the engines through his seat and the docking bay slides out of sight slowly in his window seat. He relaxes into the seat and closes his eyes. The hum is relaxing and the length of the day falls in upon him. The beer, long hours, and sausage have hit home. With the warmth of the seat at his back he falls into a blissful sleep of the just.

As Doc sinks deeper into sleep, his unconscious provides a little entertainment as the rest of him enjoys it's nightly shut-down.

His dream starts him off at a favorite fishing hole of his youth and he is reclining on the bank with a fishing pole in his hand and a large chew in his mouth. It is summer and the birds are singing in protest of the heat. Doc watches the bobber as it follows the current down stream and it quickly dives under water signaling a bite and he yanks back quick in an effort to snare the fish. He has snagged not a fish, but a raft and he reels it in. He steps onto the raft with the idea that he will have much better luck fishing if he rides the raft to the middle of the stream where he can cast far and wide.

Now he is dressed in camo and his fishing creel is turned into a medical bag. There are corpses of men he couldn't save floating by and his fishing pole has turned into a rifle at his feet. Ian is there with him and keeps pulling at his elbow as if he has something to say, but he is pale like a corpse too and while he mouthes the words, his speech is gone. A thunderstom fills the air and the sky crackles with lightening and all of the floating corpses look like Ian now and they all mime his soundless warning.

The corpses on the river fade from view and Ian stands behind him in a pregnant silence as displays from the Smithsonian pass by along the shoreline and Doc feels a moment of peace as the thunderstorm rolls away into the distance. But as he watches the dino bones and ancient tools slip by he notices a sword and axe that beckon to him from the shore. He finds a pole in his hands and he steers the raft to the shore to pick them up for reasons he can't understand.

"I am a healer," he contemplates, "I have no need of a sword or an axe," but he cannot bring himself to steer further down the stream without them. The bank is soft and the sword and axe climb aboard without much encouragement before the current gathers speed and rapids appear.

A balding disembodied head appears above the river and explains that this is the way. Ian nudges him in the ribs and nods his accent. The water churns and washes over the edges of the raft but Doc steers them through the slanty rocks, but not without a few scrapes along the edges. The effect is both harrowing but also enlightening. The raft fells stronger because of it but it doesn't last long.

The ropes that hold the raft together have been frayed and the raft seems to drift apart as the loosen their hold. But as Doc struggles to steer and repair the breaking ropes at once, there is a tug at his elbow. It's Ian and he is pointing towards the sky. Doc turns and looks to see the balding disembodied head hovering above the rapids ahead and the head whispers one word, "ropes" and they transform into steel cables and pull the raft into a sailboat and as the sails fill, they pull the little boat forward, faster into the rocky shoals ahead.

Doc turns back to Ian and mutters his thanks as Ian smiles. Ian is dressed in a flowing white robe and he makes a big production of uniteing his belt and retieing it after pulling it very tight. He scratches his chin and then points down stream.

The balding disembodied head is gone but a waterfall is looming and the storm in the distance has strenghtened in to a full blown hurricane, discharging not lightening bolts anymore but blistering swastikas that seem to burn the ground they struck into ruin.

Doc paddles in vain to steer the boat to shore but the pull of the current is way too strong. No amount of elbow grease is going to save him now. The sword chimes in and yells, "Here we go!" while the axe mutters about peasant tools and the dire need to stay sharp through more drinking as the boat crests the edge of the waterfall. And as the boat noses over the abyss Doc notices a glint of binoculars in the distance and hears the sound of the flutter of many wings.

Doc feels the boat fall out from underneath him as he falls and he looks into the churning water below him. The fall seems to stretch out for hours, but even as Doc clutches his medic's shoulder bag close, he twists his head in freefall looking for Ian, but he knows he has gone.

The water greets him with a cold sweat and he awakens to find the stewardess pulling the blanket up to Steve's chin even as he mumbles math in his sleep. "Could I get a glass of cold water please," he questions the stewardess. She nods and heads towards the galley, only pausing long enough to thank Mr. Johnathon Simms-Veet, the security officer, for his foresight in offering these two rowdy passengers free drinks that were spiked with "Til U Get There".

The water is painfully cold on Doc's tongue but his thirst is quenched and he rests the bottle in his hand on the armrest. When he awakens from a dreamless 9 hour sleep later, he will find the water bottle in his hand and it will still be very cold as he sips it before exiting the craft with a yawn and a stretch and pats his pockets to reassure himself that his knife and wallet are still where they belong. the Brother Pear is going to seem like home and Doc reminds himself to sharpen his knife.


Back to the Grind

Steve is waiting for them outside the Milwaukee Hilton when they arrive. He looks rested and clean. He's carrying some bags and wearing new sunglasses.

"God, who puked?" he asks as he steps inside the Python. "Nevermind, I don't care. God, I miss my spaceship." He takes a look at Thunderhorse's new threads. "I see you got him to wear pants, finally."

"So what's in the bag, Steve?" Doc asks.

"Aha. Eager, are we?" Steve smiles. "Here," he hands Doc a glasses case. "Don't lose these, they cost a bloody fortune." He hands a pair out to everyone.

Inside the case is a pair of sunglasses. They're lightweight and stylish. Doc tries them on. They fit nicely. Once they're resting comfortably, a bright light flashes briefly across his retinas. An HUD lights up inside them. A little splash screen welcomes Doc to the Time Operative ComNet.

Doc's own face suddenly appears in the glasses, lightly superimposed over his own field of view. "They're brainwave reactive. Just think about what you need them to do and they'll do it." Steve's words echo in his head, and Doc realizes Steve had just called him over the glasses, and he's seeing what Dr. Ritenrong is seeing.

"They also have binocular, nightvision, and infrared modes, and are auto-tinting. They have all the functions of your I-Browse. The communication system is encrypted, and that encryption is modulated, so it's extremely difficult to listen in on our conversations. Although, they still work on electromagnetic relay so if you use it, you'll still light up a detector like fireworks. It's also jamming resistant, but not totally jam-proof. As you may have noticed, the retinal scanner as well as the brainwave pattern monitor ensures that no one can use them but you.

"One last detail. They can be loaded with special software to assist in certain tasks. I couldn't afford much of the military grade stuff and I didn't have time to code anything myself, but I've got some basics together. Everybody has translation modules for all languages know to Earth at this time. We can load more later. Thunderhorse, your glasses have been loaded with a text-to-speech program, so you can learn to read. They also have a tactical soft-spot analisys. Hit something exactly where it tells you and you'll probably kill it."

"Doc, yours have a threat alert, which should improve your reaction time and a targeting system which should help your aim. Mark, yours is loaded with a brainwave response feedback system, which should help keep you focused and concentrated."

"What the hell does that mean?" Mark asks.

"It means that it keep you from getting distracted. Alright, one more thing." Dr. Ritenrong reaches into another bag. He pulls out three black jumpsuits and hands them out. "These are even more expensive, so don't lose them either."

"What are they?"

"Body armor. Spider silk, carbon fiber weave, electroeramic reactive plating, and a magnetic field generator powered by your own bioenergy. The magnetic field has two modes- low and high power. Low power will remain on and protect you from limited exposure to charged particles. High power will keep you safe from a much larger exposure for a brief period. The high power burst will drain the microcapaciters, and the neither low power field nor the high power burst will work until they're recharged. Be very careful about using the magnetic fields. Absolutely do not use it in the presense of unsecured, lightweight ferromagnetic metals. For instance, do not activate the high power field while in a knife store. Also, be careful with it around people with pacemakers and unshielded electronics. Also, using the magnetic field at all will light you up like a spotlight on any respectable scanner.

"You should wear it underneath your clothes, and remove any other armors you have, since they'll only block the effectiveness of the reaction plating. Oh, yes, reaction plating. Doc, your military armor had something similar, although far less advanced. This does not require an induction sensor to activate, thus it will work against non-metalic objects including rocks, glass, and ceramic knives. When hit, as you know, the armor will suddenly stiffen as the electroceramic gel hardens up and absorbs the impact. This should protect you from penetration by bullets, but can still cause bruising. The nature of the electroceramics will also help protect you from pain guns and the like."

"I do not understand anything you said," Thunderhorse declares, almost proudly.

"It's new armor and it's better than that damned horse barding you got on," Mark tells him. "Other than that I don't know what the hell he said, either." He looks the jumpsuit over. "Looks like long underwear to me. How the hell do you take a shit with this thing on? It ain't got no fanny-flap!"

"You've got to pull and hold open these two flaps. It's like a dick hole but bigger."

"Well, thanks, Steve," Doc says. "You really care about us staying alive. I appreciate it. So what's the next step?"

"Well, I'm not sure. Sergi attempted defection somewhere towards the very end of the war in the west. The records I've found about him are spotty at best, but I think he was in Prauge when he was captured. I don't have an exact date, but it looks to be about May 1945. Now, we can either go back then now and hope that the Pear is still in the Solar System at the time, or go to Alpha Centuari and get the Pear when we know where it is. There's a luxury cruiser leaving from Saturn today to head over there, and they should be arriving somewhere near when we want to be there, but we can just use the Q-TIP to adjust our timing if it's not exact. What do you think?"

Time for a Vacation

Doc puts the Python on an autopilot course to Germany. They're facing the wrong way, so they'll have to complete a couple orbits before they come down.

Steve comes back on the com. "Okay, your afterburners are ready. Hey- wait. Why is the ship on autopilot again? Did you get clear?"

"We're hiding in traffic. I don't know if we're clear yet. We're going to take a little side trip to make sure they're off our backs and get some rest. We'll contact you again tomorrow."

"Understood," Steve replies, reluctant and rather put out.

The trips around the globe are slow, as the orbits and transfer lanes are congested. It takes almost an hour for the ship to begin descending. Meanwhile, the party finishes the bottle.

From the backseat, in a sickly drunken mumble, Mark sings:

"Turkey in de straw, turkey in de hay
Turkey in de straw, turkey in de hay
Roll 'em up an' twist 'em up a high tuc-ka-haw
An' twist 'em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw"
The ship descends smoothly to a landing zone in Munich, and the party exits the ship in search of a hotel. It's 3:00 am here, but the night clubs are still pouring heavy, thumping music out into the streets. People wander between bars dressed in glowing neon clothes and accessories. The entire town is like a giant rave. One musician plays a Tesla coil organ in a large open park. The lightning bolts sing out a loud, electric tune, lighting up the array of multicolored florescent tubes surrounding the performer as they strike.

After grabbing some sausages from a street vendor outside a particularly rowdy club, they find a hotel situated in a good compromise of distance to the ship and away from the noise. There is a suite available, and Doc takes it without hesitation. Everyone gets a well deserved, peaceful night's rest.

They roll out of bed about noon. After a quick pack-up, they all have a hearty breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

"Alright, boys. We've got to figure out how to plot the course of existence," Doc says after washing down some breakfast sausage with a good hot cup of coffee.

"Well, see, the way I figure it," Mark says, "we get a whole bunch of this future stuff together. Toasters, microwaves, dildos, and guns, you know? And we take it all back to the past, patent 'em, and sell 'em off as our inventions. See? Then we live like kings forever! And no one can give us shit, 'cause we got the good guns, right?"

Doc furrows his brows at him. "I meant the future of humanity. Stop the galaxy from being winked out of existence and all that? Remember?"

"Oh, yeah. I forgot. I really don't get all that shit."

"This creature," Thunderhorse chimes in. "that is said to destroy the world of worlds? Why do we not fight it directly? We wander from world to world, collect many weapons and allies, and bring the fight to it, as Thor fought the Frost Giants?"

"Well, because it doesn't exist in our universe. We can't even see it, let alone fight it."

Thunderhorse doesn't understand a word of this, and his quizical expression reveals it.

"It's invisible and invincible. We can't fight it."

Thunderhorse disagrees. "Anything can be fought." He turns back to his eggs.

"The only way to avoid the total existance failure of the galaxy is to make sure that no ship enters a particular spot in space. In this time line, there is a warship and apparently only one person in all of history can stop it. Alyss Valia. But she doesn't exist here. Why?"

"Because her dad's a kook?" Mark says.

"Yes, well, partially. He's a kook because he didn't get the opportunities he had in other timelines. If he had a college degree, VelociTech wouldv'e hired him instead of stealing from him. Where did his timeline go wrong?"

"He is crazy because his father did not discipline him," Thunderhorse says. "Had I a son who did not work or fight and instead studied scrolls and runes all day, I would box him in the ear until he put down the tomes and picked up an ax."

"Did your father do that to you?"

"He did not have to. I fought off the wolves along side him. Only the wealthy layabouts study tomes. We were not nobles, we had to fight for our living. Thus we had no time for such leisures as reading."

"You're right, there. If his family were still rich, he would have been able to go to college."

"So," Mark follows, "we go back and give 'im a bunch of money to go to school?"

"It's possible, that could work." Doc digs back through his I-Browse. "Dmitri said his family became miners and famers after World War 2, when his ancestor Sergi was captured while trying to defect. He said that his leg had been crippled when he got shot down by the Luftwaffe. That probably slowed him down. Maybe if we help Sergi escape the Stalinists, the Valias will be prosperous."

"What's a loft vaffer?" Mark asks.

"The German airforce from World War 2."

"World War Two?" He asks, incredulous. "You future folk sure know how ta' party."

Doc calls Steve up. "Hey, boss. How are ya?"

Steve answers. "Feeling better, are we? Any sign of the Exkoreans?"

"No, I think we lost 'em."

"Good. Get back here as soon as possible. I'm ready to go."

"Do you know where the Pear is?"

"I think so. It was definately at Alpha Centuari 40 years ago, which is when we will arrive. The Python can't get us there, though, we have to catch a ride on an FTL Transport."

"I think we've figured out the Valia situation."


"We either need to put up the money to send Dmitri to college, or go back to the 1940's to rescue his ancestors from the Stalinists."

"Well, seeing as we've spent nearly my whole account on this mission, I say option two is preferred. By the way, I'm billing last nights hotel stay and meals to your account, as well as all the alcohol you've been consuming. Take it up with the others if they need to chip in. I'm running thin here. I just got a whole lot of new equipment for us."

"Alright, I'll talk to them about it. We'll pick you up soon." Doc hangs up.

Doc pays for breakfast on his ID card again, since splitting the bill seems out of the question at the moment. They'll just have to sort out the money situation later. Doc also picks up two cases of Weihenstephan dunkel from a small shop near the parking lot. This should last us a day, he thinks.

Chase Scene!

Doc demands the computer relinquish control of the ship to him. It complains, but he's able to override it. He points the ship west. If he can get to Germany, they might at least be able to blend in.

Doc tries to get a grip on the tactical situation.


There's a magnetic field for protection against charged particles and solar discharges, probably what just saved his life. The hull is made of layers of parafin and lead for resisting neutrons and x-rays respectively sandwiched between two thin sheets of titanium to resist hull breaches from micrometeorites, a subdermal ceramic layer to resist the heat of re-entry, all coated in carbon fiber to further deflect the damage of impacts.

None of this sounds like it would do much good against anyone making an honest try to kill you. The blackened carbon stains on the windshield are testament to that. A few more shots might have broken through.



The good news is that their persuers won't have any weapons either. Doc hopes.

Doc checks the aft view. They're closing in fast, but they're not shooting anything at him. He opens the throttle as wide as it goes. The sleek Python slips through the sound barrier with a gentle thud and races faster and faster.

The other ship is keeping pace with Doc's acceleration and is still closing.

"I know this thing can go faster," Doc says to himself aloud. He studies the controls. The engines have several modes and works similar to a car's transmission, at least from a driver's perspective. Liftoff is a subsonic turbojet powered electrically and thermally from the fusion generator. At supersonic speeds, the intake and exhaust nozzles reconfigure themselves to further compress and heat the air, like a RAM jet. Faster still, and the nozzles adjust into a SCRAM jet configuration, allowing the ship to reach hypersonic speeds. After that, the intakes close and the fusion rockets take over completely, blasting the ship to escape velocities and interorbital trajectories.

All these phase shifts are automatic, but also have manual overrides. There are numerous safeties attached to this control, since suddenly throwing into high gear at full throttle would be a lot like hitting a concrete wall at 90 miles an hour backwards. There is, however, a control which allows him to engage more of the fusion rocket into the exhaust, giving him a sort of afterburner effect. However, there are safeties attached to this as well, not the least of which are legal.

"You are not licensed to exceed this velocity," the computer complains whenever he hits the button.

Doc is at top "legal" speed, and the other ship is still closing. Apparently they're allowed to use their afterburners. Doc calls Dr. Ritenrong.


"Are you clear?"

"Not yet! Help me override the stupid safeties on this thing! "

"Let's see. I could alter your ID data, but you'll have to land, get out, get back in, and take off again to reset it and I'm not sure you have time to do that."

"Not really."

"Okay, I can hack the system, but it will take some time. If you've got any tricks, use 'em."

Doc indeed has some tricks to pull. First he weaves a bit, left and right, up and down. The enemy ship gains on him. He lets them. He makes an easy turn south towards Irkutsk and starts to lower the altitude and slow down. The enemy ship follows and is almost on top of them.

Suddenly, he pulls hard up-right and guns the throttle. The ship wants to disobey and strains against him, but Doc convinces it to forget about physics. The ship banks hard and goes up and over their persuers. This puts the ship on an orbital trajectory. The computer, now believing he wishes to leave the atmosphere, finally obliges him and engages the fusion rockets.

With a sudden burst of energy, they tear out of Earth's protective blanket into the cold of space, leaving the men in black sixty miles below them in almost an instant.

Doc eases the ship into the spacelanes, joining traffic and trying to look inconspicuous. The butterflies of gravity leaving them as Doc eases off the throttle mix with excitement and adrenaline. Doc's never felt so good.

Mark vomits.

Not So Loud!

"Sober up boneheads! We've got company!" Doc shouts over the clash of Nordic dirge versus Turkey in the Straw.

The two fall silent as Doc points out the second ship and the man in black standing between the two.

Doc calls Dr. Ritenrong again. "Steve, the men in black are here. Can we call the cops on them? You know, maybe tell them they're smuggling drugs and they have fake IDs? "

"Good God, no. Who are they going to believe, the guys with the fake Government IDs or the guys with the fake civilian IDs? At least their fake IDs give them permits to carry guns. You guys are fucked if you get searched, and you will because the cops will do a weapons scan before they even show up. Besides, anti-drug laws were abolished when drugs like SoberAll and ToxiCleanse were invented."

"So what can we do?"

"If you can't sneak past them you'll just have to beat the shit out of them. Move quickly, they're probably scanning for you now. This channel is encrypted, but we can't use it too much or they'll catch on. Don't call back until you're clear." Steve hangs up.

Doc takes a moment to retrieve the assault rifle from his satchel and assemble it. He plays with the computer to try to get a tactical view of the situation, but this van's navigator is just not designed for that kind of task.

"Okay, boys. We've got to be quiet. There might be more of them, and they're probably better armed than last time. We're going to sneak onto the Python."

Doc readies his new weapon. It's all charged up and ready to do some damage. Mark pulls out the ION pistol, and Thunderhorse clutches his new axe. Doc slowly slides open the door and steps out.

Thunderhorse is not used to moving slow, especially when he's been drinking. He trips and stumbles out of the van, rather loudly, pushing Mark out in the process.

"Hey! Watch it!" Mark practically yells and pushes back. Thunderhorse falls on top of Doc, nearly pushing him to the ground, shattering any illusion Doc had about being quiet about this.

Doc clenches his teeth and readies his weapon. Amazingly, the MIB has not moved a bit. Their loud clambering out of van has not attracted his attention.

Doc tries to keep low and slow as they make their way towards the Python. The two wastrels behind him are pushing each other and arguing in a loud whisper. Doc turns around, angry and forgetting himself. "Would you two knock it the fuck off?" He almost shouts.

He stops again, remembering, and waits for the MiB to come running towards them. Nothing. He's not moving. They continue forward. They're halfway there.

"Stop pushing me, you big dummy!" Mark says aloud.

"Shut Up!" Doc accidentally yells. DAMNIT! He thinks. Amazingly, the man in black is still not moving. He must think they're just some family with two rowdy kids walking to their car.

Finally, they reach the Python. Doc opens the side hatch and they all hop in as quickly as they can. Only then does the Man in Black notice them. He comes running around the side of the ship, but not in time to reach the hatch before Doc closes it. He's shouting and yelling outside, inaudibly.

While Doc starts firing up the engines, the hatch of the other ship opens. Another MiB steps out, pistol in hand. He grabs a radio device from his pocket and starts shouting into it. He opens fire at the cockpit with his pistol.

A burst of blue light splats and crackles loudly against the cockpit window right next to Doc's head, then another. Doc has to take a moment, a mere instant, to check if he's still alive. No worries, he's okay. Mercifully, the engines are at last fully charged and Doc lifts off.

The two men in black shout into their radios again, then get in their own ship. Doc punches the accelerator hard. The Exkorean ship is quickly in the air and giving chase.

Back to Yakutsk

Doc grabs his I-Browse and runs out the cabin door. Dmitri rants and screams at him as he leaves.

"Don't come back you demented pervert!" is the last thing Doc hears him yell.

Doc hops into the van and throws the door shut behind him.

"So, how'd it go?" Mark asks sarcastically.

Doc answers honestly, massaging the bruise on his forehead. "Not so good." He climbs into the drivers seat and orders the van back to Yakutsk. The autodriver politely obeys.

The little car zips back along the old, broken road.

Doc pulls out the medkit, pops some painkillers and slaps an iodized bandage on his now bleeding head. A quick check in the mirror reveals that stitches will not be required, but some rest would do him some good. It's now almost 10 am here, but to them it's 9 o'clock at night. It's been an incredibly long day, especially considering it was 1835 when they woke up this morning.

Doc calls up Dr. Ritenrong. His image comes up at low angle, his watch looking up at him from the desk. He's staring at a screen with his hands on a keyboard. His face is lit only by the array of monitors he sits in front of.

"Hey," says Steve, obviously distracted by whatever he's working on. "How's it going?"

"We came up snake-eyes. What do you want us to do?"

"Did you talk to Dmitri?"

"Yes. He was somewhat beligerant."

"Did you get anything?"

"Not much, just a brief family history. Nothing really about his personal life. He said he never went to college, but he's read a lot about star drives and technical stuff. He said he tried to sell his stuff to VelociTech, but that they threw him out and stole his designs. Now he's a paranoid schitzophrenic worried about people stealing his ideas with mind rays."

"Yeah, he's probably right. Didn't go to college, eh? What did he say about his family history?"

"That the Valia's were a noble family up until the end of the 19th century when they sided with the Marxists and became Revolutionaries. They've been poor laborers in Siberia since World War 2."

"How'd they end up in Siberia?"

"An ancestor of his, Sergi Valia, I think, tried to defect to the west to get away from Stalin, but was captured."

"Hmm. This might be enough. Send me what you've got- no, nevermind, I can get it from here." Steve picks up his watch. The perspective changes to his full, grey bearded face. He manipulates some controls on the device. Doc feels like he's on the other side of a GameBoy. His conversation with Dmitri begins to play back at Steve's end. "Okay. I'll analyze this and see what we come up with. You just get back here and pick me up."

"How about the Pear? Any word on it?"

"I've got a lead, I'm processing it now. I should know by the time you get back."

"Okay, see you soon." Doc ends the transmission.

Thunderhorse is staring blankly at his satchel.

Mark is smacking his lips. "Hey, there, is it party time yet?"

Doc tosses them the bottle of vodka. Thunderhorse snatches it up greedily.

By the time they get back to Yakutsk, Mark and Thunderhorse are competing to see who can sing the loudest. It's quite a cacophony of atonal shouting and arythmic knee slapping.

They pull up to the parking lot where the Python sits.

It has a twin.

It's parked right beside the Python on the opposite side from them. Same black arrowhead shape. A thin whisp of smoke rises from between them. From beneath the Python, Doc can see a pair of legs supporting a body leaning agaist the aft section of the other ship. The legs are wearing black slacks.

Meet Dmitri, Part 2

"Mr. Valia, in all honesty, I am not who I say I am. I have lied to you and I am truly sorry. I have misrepresented myself, but in my defense, I did it to protect you."

Dmitri is unmoved. "To protect me from what? Knowing that you would steal my secrets? Does your mind ray not work if I am aware of it?"

"I have no connection to VelociTec Stardrives, and while I'm certain your ideas are brilliant, I couldn't care less."

"I don't believe you." Dmitri slams back another glass of vodka.

"My name IS Dr. Lucas Shaw and I am a historian for the Smithsonian museum, and the ID card is correct. You see, Mr. Valia, as unbelievable as this sounds, I'm not so much interested in you as I am the daughter you never had."

Doc has caught his attention at last. "What are you talking about?"

"You see, I am a time traveler and I find myself caught up in saving the universe. It turns out that this can't be done unless you sire the greatest pilot the universe has ever known. Her name is Alyss Valia and her mother is Nadine McClaren. Here are their pictures and histories." Doc gives him the I-Browse, displaying the files of the mother and daughter.

"Hah. Time traveler." Dmitri takes it and looks closely.

"There. I've laid all my cards out on the table. I'm in trouble bad and you are the only person in all of time who can help me. I need to find a person who doesn't exist and you are her dad. I have just come from her would-be mother and I find myself on your doorstep and at your mercy. If you cannot help me, everything that has ever been or ever will be is lost. From all of my research, you SHOULD have been hired by VelociTec Stardrives. You SHOULD have met Nadine McClaren and have found your soulmate. You SHOULD have reaped billions in patents and enjoyed the life of the independently wealthy and pursued the experiments and inventions of your dreams. Forgive my deception from before, but there are those who would seek our demise. And these people will stop at nothing to insure that we wink out of existence in the blink of an eye. You are wise to be a little paranoid and block their transmissions with the foil. That has proven very successful in several of the case studies I've read. In essence, Mr. Valia, I've come to set things right and I can't do it without your help. I've come to turn back time and give you the break you should have gotten. If you turn me away now, you may as well shoot me in the head, as I could never bare to witness the end. You come from noble stock and I'm certain that there is good in you. Would it be too much to risk telling me a few tales of yourself in the small chance that it might save the universe? I know that this is more than a little to odd, but you are my only hope. So how about it?"

Dmitri pauses for a moment. He looks closely at the portrait of his daughter. He looks up at Doc. He throws the I-Browse at him and threatens to do the same with the bottle of vodka. "GET OUT!" he shouts. "Why do you say such evil, heartless things?! What kind of trick is this? Playing on the heart of an old, lonely, broken man! You will never get my secrets! They will die with me, as my family dies with me!" He throws the bottle.

The face of the bottle hits Doc square on the forehead with a glassy thunk! It spins backwards to the ground where it shatters, splashing the 100 proof alcohol all over the floor and Doc's pants.

Meet Dmitri

"Mr. Valia? Hello, my name is Dr. Lucas Shaw. I'm with the Smithsonian Museum and I'm writing a book and I'd like to ask you a few questions."

Doc produces his Smithsonian ID, careful to discretely obscure the century old expiration date.

Dmitri snatches the card from his hand and looks it over carefully.

"This ID expired almost a hundred years ago." He looks Doc up and down, and back at the card. "Why would you forge an ID and make it expired? Who are you really?"

Doc catches his gaze and puts his mind against his. He's a tough old bastard, lived a hard life in isolation. His heart was forged in the mountains around them, and his mind is cool and sharp as the ice on their peaks. He's also incredibly paranoid, almost schizophrenically so. It's the loneliness that does him in, though. He's been alone all his life. Doc hooks on this and reels him in.

"That's a misprint. I am Dr. Lucas Shaw, sir, and I am from the Smithsonian. I've come to talk to you, Mr. Valia. You're very important to my research. May I come in?"

The old man is very hesitant to allow him in, but ultimately is curious to find out what Doc really wants. He motions him inside. Doc tells Mark and Thunderhorse to wait in the car.

The cabin is sparsely furnished. There's a coffee table and reading tables surrounding an old, broken recliner. The rest of the room is surrounded by bookshelves. There's no TV, but there is a very old vacuum tube radio in the corner. There's an appreciable amount of dust all over everything. What few windows exist in the house are covered with aluminum foil and towels.

The living room opens up into a kitchen to the back right, and a closed door at the back left conceals what must be the bedroom, while a toilet is visible in the darkened, closet like space between the two rooms.

Dmitri clears away some books to make a space on the short wooden coffee table for Doc, then seats himself on the recliner. Doc sits on the coffee table. The books are mostly science magazines, detailed technical manuals on a wide variety of confusing devices, reference books of all kinds, and some random pulp mystery thrillers.

Doc produces a bottle of vodka from his satchel. He offers it to Dmitri. "Care for a drink?"

Dmitri takes the bottle from him thankfully, and sets it aside. Leaning back in his chair, he folds his hands over his gut and stares at Doc, waiting for him to do something.

Doc kicks on the voice recorder on his I-Browse.

"What is it you want to know?" Dmitri asks.

"Have you ever worked for VelociTec Stardrives?" Doc asks directly.

"Nyet," Dmitri responds, just as bluntly.

"Have you ever been to Milwaukee, Wisconsin?"

"I have never been to the Americas. I've never left Russia, even."

"Have you ever met or spoken to Nadine McLaren?"


"Does anyone else in your family have the name Dmitri Valia?"

"No, I am the only Dmitri Valia in over seventy years."

"Have you ever heard the name Alyss Valia?"

"No. And before you ask any more stupid questions, I have no brothers or sisters. My parents are dead and I've never had aunts or uncles."

"So you've lived here all your life?"


"What do you do here?"

"I read."

"Do you work?"


Doc is getting a bit frustrated. "What is it you do?"

"I repair fusion generators. I work for Stevil Ludnik's repair shop in town."

"Did you go to school for that?"

"Nyet. I taught myself. I read a lot about these things."

"I see. Is your family from here?"


"What can you tell me about your family history?"

"My family history is the history of Russia its self. The Valia line dates back to the Varangians, pirates who invaded the lands of the Turkish Khazars in-"

"In the 860's AD," Doc interrupts, merely to convince Dmitri that he's the real deal. "Sorry, go on."

Dmitri is more irritated than impressed. "Da. Val was one of these vikings, a successor to Rurik who ruled Kiev for thirty years. His sons were overthrown, but the Valiis survived as fur traders and trappers between the Black and Caspian seas. We escaped the destruction of Kiev by the Mongols and moved to Moscow. The Valias lived in Moscow for centuries, all the way to the time of the Revolution. By then, we were nobles. We had an estate just south of Moscow where wheat was harvested. Our soldiers helped put down the Cossaks in 1670 and battled the Swedes in 1721.

"In the time of Cathrine the Great, the Valias became even more wealthy by buying and selling serfs. When Nepolean came, we did not have to field troops. Instead, we manufactured cannons and muskets and sold them to Alexander I at a premium. Our family was quite wealthy by the end of his reign.

"However, a young noblewoman, Petra Valia, was one of those who joined the Decemberists in 1825. She had visited the west when she was young and came back with different eyes for the serfs under our rule. When the Decemberists were defeated, she was arrested, and our estates and property were siezed. She was sent as a prisoner to Siberia where she lived for over thirty years. She eventually escaped and became one of the matriarchs of the anarchist movement. She died in France in 1852.

"Her son, though, Vladimir Valia, was part of the Nihilist movement. He was part of the Narodnik movement, and we suspect that either he or one or both of his sons, Peter and Michael, took part in Alexander II's assasination. When his son came to power and began killing revolitionaries, Peter escaped to Germany. Michael was captured and killed.

"Peter lived the rest of his life in Germany. His son, Sigfreid, came back with Lenin and the Bolsheviks. He fought in the Revolution in 1905 and helped consolodate the Soviet Republic."

Dmitri clears his throat. He finally pours himself a small glass of vodka. He doesn't offer Doc any.

"Sigfried became a Colonel in the Red Army and fought with Trotsky. When Stalin came to power, he fought against it, trying to uphold Lenin's Testament. He was arrested and executed. His family lived on in Moscow, however. His son Sergi was a Red Army pilot in World War 2. He was shot down twice by the famous German pilot Erich Hartmann and survived. His leg was crippled in the second crash, however. He never forgave Stalin for the murder of his father, however, and so, in 1946, he attempted to defect to Allied territory in Western Europe. He was captured and exiled to Siberia, just like his great-great-grandmother.

"And here we've stayed. The last 10 generations of Valia have been living in Siberia. Sergi's sons grew up in Kytyl as gold miners. Their sons, and their sons did the same. Most of the family died of black lung. My great-grandfather and his father were corn farmers during the Greenhouse Crisis. My grandfather helped build the launch loop. My father worked in the loop's base station at Khandyga all his life.

"And myself? I was a layabout, according to my father. I did not want to mine or farm or load cargo. All I ever wanted to do was read and study. I never had the chance to go to school or buy a fancy education. I wanted to invent. I wanted to create. I had an idea for the Einstein-Bose condensate coolers for the XD-Drive that would've made me millions, but since I did not have an education, no one would listen to me.

"It's funny that you mention VelociTec, because that's exactly who I approached with my ideas. They turned me back, saying I was just some backwater peasant from Siberia with no knowledge of such things. And within a year, they started using my condenser design on their star drives!"

Dmitri pours himself another drink. "I'm lucky I did not tell them my other ideas. I have resolved that they will die with me. Let those boars figure them out on their own. They have no business stealing from me. I know they've tried. That is why I put aluminium foil on all the windows."

"Why's that?" Doc asks.

"To keep out their mind rays. They will not be reading my mind, stealing my secrets. If they want them so bad, they will pay me. So you will tell them that, da?"

Doc is a bit confused. "Me? Tell them what?"

Dmitri's getting agitated. "Do not be stupid for me. You are working for them, I know it. You are a VelociTec spy come to read my mind and steal my ideas. I know it. I know you've connected. I can sense that I've fallen for your trap, in my ignorance and vulerability. I should not have let you in. How dare you play upon the loneliness of an old man! I tell you now, though, you will not get any more of my secrets! Now get out!"

Over the River and Through the Loop

"We'll take the best you have, something with cargo room, cruise control, Gps, and the full insurance policy please. Do you have a strict 'no tobacco' policy?" Doc asks.

Vladimir Petrovic smiles. "Ah, then you will want the Astrovan. Is good for cargo and has full autopilot. It is good hover vehicle, luxurious interior. It will take you to your friend in comfort and relaxation. Normally for out-of-towners, I charge $800 for the day. For you, only $600, and only $200 every day after. Insurance is good thing, I'm glad you agree. Full coverage is only $400. Unfortunately, there is a smoking fee of $50. I will give you smokeless ashtray you can keep. Very nice, fits in the cupholder. It has my logo on it!"

Doc knows full well he's getting taken by this sheister. However, his ID card is linked to the mission account; the budget of which Dr. Ritenrong said is "at any expense." Doc just wants to get on with the mission. "I'll take it."


The Astrovan is an egg shaped burgandy minivan without wheels. Vladimir drives it over to them, and it seems to be in working order. No funny sounds or smells, although Doc's not sure exactly how to tell if a fusion powered hover vehicle is in good condition. The side door slides open for them.

Vladimir steps out and welcomes them aboard. "Manual drive controls are a little sluggish, but autodrive is working very good. Just tell it where to go and relax. Have a good trip!"

The party loads up. Doc takes the driver's seat. Thunderhorse and Mark sit behind him in the middle bench.

"Closest hardware store, please." Doc orders the autodrive. It doesn't respond. He tries again in Russian. "[Go to the nearest hardware store.]" This time it works. "[Set language to English]" he tries to tell it, but it doesn't know what he's talking about.

A quick stop at the hardware store and another $39.95 of mission cash later, Thunderhorse has a shiny new 3.5' double headed lumber axe with a shock resistant fiberglass handle. He complains about it being a "peasant weapon," that is too long, the head too small, it's improperly balanced for combat, and that he misses his battle axe. Doc tells him to deal with it.

At both Thunderhorse and Mark's insistance, they stop at a grocers and grab a couple bottles of vodka as well. Doc figures it'll keep the troops calm and might be useful in dealing with the natives.

Doc finally gives the order to go to Khara.

The Astrovan is a smooth quiet ride. On the way, Doc opens a bottle of vodka and pours Mark a shot, and Thunderhorse a double.

"Why does he get more?" Mark complains.

"Because a viking with the shakes is not something I want to be cooped up with, no matter how short a ride. We've got a job to do, and we don't need to be getting ripped right now."

The landscape is desolate. The van hovers swiftly two feet over a broken old road running along the Lena River. It is summer time, and there's no snow but that which remains throughout the year on the moutains to the north and east. The ground is muddy, though. The trip is only a hundred miles, and the van is clipping along happily at 120. They'll be there in fifty minutes.

There aren't any other vehicles near them, but there are a few cargo ships and fishing boats in the water, weaving slowly through the maze of small islets within the river. As they approach a fork in the river, where the Lena turns sharply west while a tributary joins it from the east, Doc can see the launch loop. From the ground, it is a thin, gossimer thread hanging high in the air like a spider's anchor line. A boxy cargo ship follows the line, as if the spider is climbing into space.

They pass beneath the loop and cross the river. Khara is only a few more miles north.

They arrive. The town is small and somewhat suburban. The houses are mainly single story log cabins, but there are a few small stores built of brick and concrete. One building looks a lot like a military bunker. An ancient razorwire fence reveals its former presence around it with few poles standing and strands of rusted metal dangling from them.

The van stops at Dmitri Valia's log cabin and lands. His yard is less kept than the others around it. While his neighbors have grass and shrubs and other trappings of modern (although far from en voge) suburban life, his yard is muddy and barren except for the overgrowth of weeds.

Doc knocks on the door. Slowly, a rustling within shuffles its way to the door. It opens partially, revealing a disheveled looking man with a long, greying beard.

He looks Doc up and down. "What do you want?"

Pick a Ride

Doc has to practically drag both Mark and Thunderhorse out of the Hot Topic.

"Did you see that maiden?" Thunderhorse swoons. "She looked like a mace. Tough and ready for battle. I've never seen such a woman!"

Mark is spouting off on his share of cultural discovery. "Did you see the size of that purple cock? That's the funniest damned thing I ever seen! Haha, you could beat a pig to death with that thing!"

Doc can merely roll his eyes. This backwards town is nearly two hundred years behind the times but to these two clowns it's the cultural center of the universe.

Thunderhorse continues as if Mark was talking about his own thoughts. "Yes. Tonight, I will have that wench. After we kill the Sons of Loki."

Doc stops him. "We're not going to kill anyone."

"Haha, no, no. We will kill them. I am sworn to do so."

"They're not warriors. They're musicians. Minstrels. It's a battle of the bands. Groups of musicians? She thought that's what we are."


"They want to fight with music, not axes. Can you play any musical instruments? Can you sing?"

"My mother told me I sing like a dying sheep."

"Then this is a fight we cannot win."

"But, free drinks! And the wench!"

"I'll buy you drinks later on and we can wench it up somewhere else. For now, let's just do our jobs and get out of here."

They stop back at the Python so Thunderhorse can get dressed. He puts the Manowar t-shirt on over his armor, and the pleather jacket fits nicely over that. He puts the jeans on so that the flaps of his loincloth still hang out, but that the rather disgustingly dirty groin support is concealed. His boots go on over the cuffs of the jeans, and his bracers over the cuffs of the jacket. In all, he looks like someone stuffed Conan the Barbarian inside a mall goth. The most interesting effect is the t-shirt, which makes it look like he's wearing a shirt with his own picture on it. He even mimicks the pose when the outfit is complete.

Meanwhile, Doc is able to dissassemble the assault rifles. He can fit one in his own satchel and one in the backpack without the tent. He doesn't know quite to expect from this place, but if it's anything like the last time he was in Russian controlled territory, he'll want to have heavy weapons available.

He makes a quick mental inventory:
Mark has his sword and an pulse ion pistol. He can carry the backpack with the tent.
Thunderhorse only has his shockstick. He'll take the backpack with the assault rifle in it.
Doc has a pain gun, pulse ion pistol, and his switchblade. He's got the assault rifle and an advanced medkit in his satchel, along with various other tools.

"Okay, boys. Let's go."

Doc leads them down the street towards the car rentals. Again they are assaulted by street performers trying to get the attention of the only foreingers in town. Doc stops them only briefly to purchase some nesting dolls from a trinkets store. He has them wrap it up and tells them to ship it to Nadine.

The car rentals is everything you would expect from a backwards town such as this. The place is filthy, run down, and filled with rotting vehicles, ranging from the very ancient to the slightly less ancient.

Doc wishes he had his jeep right now.

The car dealer anticipates their arrival as they walk down the street. He greets them at the curb and speaks heavilly accented English. "Hello! Welcome to Petrovic Automotive! I am Vladimir Petrovic! We have vehicles of all kinds for sale or rent!"

"We need to get to Khara. What do you have that will get us there and back?"

"Oh, everything I have will get you there! Which do you prefer, a hover car or wheeled car? The old wheeled cars are cheaper, but the roads are old and cracked. Not much ice this time of year, but mud is thick in places. My hover cars will get you there smoothly in no time, though."

"Do you have a Jeep?"

"No Jeeps, sorry. I do have very nice vintage hybrid Hummer 4. Very stylish. I also have old petrolium Land Rover and a hydro-cell Terran. Hover cars are much better, though. No need for gasoline at all, no worring about wheels and shocks and suspension and getting stuck in mud. How about a Honda Astrovan or a Toyota Primavera? I also have an Ultraranger and a GM Utilift. Which will you have?"

Tourist Trap

"I know it's early, but let's see if we can find a shop that's open and buy some clothes for Thunderhorse that fit. You look way too out of place and we need to blend in with the locals better. Then we'll have some hot breakfast and try to track down Dmitri. I haven't eaten in ages and my belly is empty. Look lively gentlemen, cause I'm not sure what we are getting into."

"Was it not just the evening? Did we travel time again?" Thunderhorse asks, rocket-lagged.

"No, dummy, we're on the other side of the planet," Mark replies.

Thunderhorse remains confused, but quiet about it.

The party disembarks from the Python. The main road through town runs parallel to the river. Their landing site has conveniently placed them in the midst of a large commercial zone, what might be considered a tourism welcome area. They are surrounded by bauble shops and street performers. Fire jugglers, robot dancers, contortionists, even a geek show.

"They havin' some kinda fair today?" Mark asks.

"I don't think so," Doc replies. "I think they're just desperate to entertain visitors."

Indeed, they seem to be the only non-locals on the streets. Doc stops to talk to one of them.

"[The morning good.]" Doc says. His Russian is a bit rusty.

"[Good morning! Welcome! What brings you to Yakutsk? Business or pleasure?]" replies a man juggling a burning devil's stick.

"[The business is.]"

"[Well, then! Allow us to make your business pleasurable! We have many fine places to visit, sights to see, and shops of all kinds!]"

"[Thank you.]" Doc pauses to remember the language. "[Where for is good breakfast place?]"

"[You speak Russian well!]" the juggler bullshits. "[There is Nadia's just over there. Finest blini in town! Surely after breakfast you will wish to see the sights?]"

"[A clothing store there is nearby?]" Doc asks.

"[Yes, we have many! We have a Hot Topic, a Gap, and a Banana Republic! Few are open this early, but I'm sure they will make an exception for you!]" The juggler is very good, he hasn't even come close to dropping the torch yet, even through the distraction of conversation.

That seems a bit odd to Doc. Aside from the fact that none of those stores have been popular in America since Doc was even born, everyone seems to be paying special attention to Doc, Mark, and Thunderhorse. "[Why do they that?]"

"[Well, honestly, the city has been pushing hard for tourism income for years, but you're the first visitors we've had in a month. Even with the old airspace restrictions still in place, no one ever lands here. That's why everyone's out this morning. Your arrival was even broadcast over the radio. You're in for quite a treat, though. We have much to offer!]"

"[Such as?]"

"[Oh, there's the Soviet Prison Camp museum to start. The Art museum, the library, the Cossack Casino, and we have the world's only remaining Planet Hollywood! It have props from the classic movie Waterworld!]"

Planet Hollywood was bankrupt four times before Doc was born and convicted of fraud for it when he was young. "[Uh, Not sure am I the time for these all will have we,]" Doc says. "[We are visiting Khara someone there. How to go may we transport?]"

The juggler is a bit dejected. It doesn't show in his juggling, though. "[There is a taxi service or you can rent a car.]"

"[Thank you.]" Doc turns to lead the party towards Nadia's for breakfast. There is a clearing of the throat. The juggler spins the flaming stick around a baton with one hand, and holds the other palm out.

"Mark, toss him a penny, will ya?"

"Fuck that. You pay him."

"I don't have any change. Besides, I'm buying breakfast. Plus, you dumped my beer all over the ship."

"Fine." Mark digs into his pocket and flips the coin into the juggler's palm.

"[What's this? One copper?]" The juggler is upset.

"[Date the check. Is worth it more than think you.]"

The juggler does. "[1830?]" He pockets it. "[Thank you!]" he calls out.

The party heads out to the restaurant.

"What the heck is that about?" Mark asks.

"Your change is worth a lot more money now than in your time. First there's inflation. What you could buy for a penny these people pay ten bucks for. Second, there's the historical value. If he finds the right collector I bet he could get three hundred bucks for that coin."

"Holy shit! You mean I just tipped a geek three hundred dollars?!"

"What did it cost you, really? A loaf of bread?"

"Maybe, but as far as I'm concerned you still owe me three hundred bucks. And that ain't no spilt beer."

Breakfast at Nadia's is fairly good, a Russian version of a greasy spoon. Eggs, buckwheat pankakes, black sausage, and tea all for a reasonably inexpensive price. Doc charges it to his ID card. The locals are very friendly, and everyone is asking them where they're from, where they're going, have they seen the sights yet, etc. They comment on Thunderhorse and Mark's clothing. Doc keeps the conversations short.

After breakfast, they head over to the Hot Topic to find Thunderhorse something to wear. The woman working there greets them as she unlocks the doors for them. She's got a blue mohawk and lots of piercings.

Mark goes off and marvels at the rude noise machines and sex toys, proclaiming this to be the most incredible store he's ever seen. Doc takes Thunderhorse to the clothing. Thunderhorse gets excited about a Manowar Triumph of Steel shirt. They also pick out a faux-leather jacket with studs on it and a pair of black jeans with the chain hanging down.

"[I like your leathers. It's bad-ass,]" the woman at the counter tells Thunderhorse.

"[What did she say?]" Thunderhorse asks Doc.

"[She says she likes your armor.]" Doc translates. He remembers the translator button on the I-Browse.

"These are some sweet ironic-retro threads," she says of their purchases. "Are you guys in a band or something?" she asks as she rings them up.

"We are a band of time travellers," Thunderhorse answers proudly.

"Time Travellers. That's our band name," Doc interrupts.

"Time Travellers, eh? What kind of sound do you play?"

Thunderhorse answers with a loud, gutteral roar.

"Metal." Doc tries to explain.

"Rocking. You guys here on tour?"

Doc answers. "No, just passing through."

"Where are you headed?"


"Really? My brother runs a boat service. I can get you a deal if you need a ride. So, what do you play?" she asks Thunderhorse.

He doesn't understand the question. "Shoot Out?"

She giggles. "No, what instrument?"

He's still a bit confused. "I wield an axe."

"He's lead guitar and vocals. I play bass, and civil war hero back there is our rythm section."

"Power trio, huh? Metal. So what are your names?"

"I am Thunderhorse. This is Doc, and Captain Daniels is behind us playing with the false horse penis."

"Daniels? Like the whiskey?"

"Yes, I like whiskey. I like it very much."

She laughs again. "$81.08" Doc hands her the ID card.

"My name's Nastia, but everyone calls my Nasty. Here you go, Thunderhorse." She smiles as she hands him the merchandise. "If you guys aren't busy tonight, stop by The Pit. I'll be there and we can hang out or something."

"Hang in a pit?" Thunderhorse is having a hard time with the modern colloquialisms.

"Hang out at The Pit. It's a bar," Doc explains. "Isn't it?"

"Yeah, it's the only place to be around here. This whole town is stuck in the 1990's. If you want to hear some real noise, come by around eleven. If you want, you can even play a set or two. We haven't had a new band down there for almost a year now. Free drinks if you do."

Although he doesn't understand the rest of what she's said, Thunderhorse certainly understands the concept of free drinks. "Free drinks are the best kind of drinks. We will be there."

Doc tries to get them out of this. "We didn't bring our instruments."

"Yes, this is true," agrees Thunderhorse. "I do not have my axe."

"That's okay. You can use the house equipment. It's pretty modern. The house band, Sons of Loki, got second place at the battle of the bands last summer. They bought all new stuff with the prize money. Hey, maybe you guys can have a little battle of the bands with them. Honestly, they suck."

Doc keeps trying. "I'm not sure we can make it..."

"You wish us to battle the Sons of Loki? This is a challenge I must accept. We will destroy them!"

"Sweet! See you guys there!"

Around the World in 80 Seconds

"Take us to Khara, Siberia," Doc orders the Autopilot.

Mark is finally awake and rubbing his cheek. "What the hell happened?" he asks, wearily.

"You were beat up by a wench!" laughs Thunderhorse.

"That weren't no damn woman. She was some kinda bull, and boy can she kick."

Doc lets the autopilot do its thing. He goes into the back and grabs a couple med kits from the backpacks. He checks Mark out, dosing him with some painkillers, applying disinfectant, and slapping on some bandages. A sharp pain in his gut reminds Doc of the MiB's boot. He downs some pain killers as well.

The Python winds its way through Milwaukee traffic towards the orbital entry lanes. Ahead of them, the other ships in line begin to leap high into the atmosphere and out into orbit. The feeling is much like going up the chain on a rollercoaster, only when they reach the zenith, they'll be going up very fast before they come down. The Python's seatbelt alarms move from mere insistance to urgent demand.

The operatives strap in.

"Hey, is that beer I smell?" Mark asks. "Can I get one of them?"

Doc tosses Mark a lukewarm one. Pity there's no mini-fridge on this bus. Mark pops it open and begins to drink. As he brings it to his lips, the Python leaps into high gear. The force of the acceleration dumps the contents of the tallboy into Mark's face.

"Pfff! Fucking hell!" Mark sputters.

Within moments, they're in orbit once again. The spilled beer begins to float all around the cabin in freefall, bouncing off the walls and apholstry but sticking to clothes and hair.

"Great. I just washed this jacket, Mark."

"Hey! It's not my damn fault. The fucking space boat did it."

The trip into orbit is not long. The ship follows a ballistic trajectory over North America, peaks over the Arctic Circle, and begins the descent into Siberia.

During the Greenhouse Crisis, the governments of Earth were scrambling to find suitable farmlands as the American midwest suffered severe droughts and the deserts began to expand. When the permafrost began to melt in Siberia, much of that land was claimed for farming. Large expanses of what was once harsh, endless tundra became a quilt of cornfields.

Looking down on it now reminds Doc of the early midwest, covered in farms and dotted with suburban communities, only more broken by mountains. The villageof Khara, however, is so far north that it was not affected much by the Crisis. For them, it was a spot of good weather.

Doc sets the heads-up display to label the landmarks on the planet below them. Their flight path is taking them miles south of the target to a landing sight in Yakutsk.

"Computer, why are we landing this far south?"

The computer displays the flight zones in the area. Doc sees something very interesting, a launch loop is in service out here. A launch loop is an iron conveyor belt wich is strung across two base stations a thousand miles apart. The belt is moving so fast it is held fifty miles aloft by its own momentum. Ships can hook on to the iron belt magnetically and let it fling them into low orbit, from which they can fire their own rockets. It was an elegant and inexpensive solution for putting large amounts of cargo into space. Construction of these super huge devices had only just begun in Doc's time. In this time, with all the cheap clean fusion rockets flying about, it seems a bit dated.

Khara is located within the airspace safety zone of the launch loop, which means that no unauthorized traffic is allowed. This law seems a bit archaic considering all the safety devices on board the ship, but the autopilot is dutifully following the traffic laws.

The Python sets down in Yakutsk, on a crumbling parking lot right next to the Lena river. It's about seven thirty in the morning here, and the city is bustling with morning traffic. It's a fairly large town, certainly not as big as the Great Lakes Sprawl, but it reminds Doc of Columbus, OH from his day.

A message pipes in over the ship's com as they land. "[Welcome to Yakutsk!]" it says in Russian. "[The Tourism Council of the Republic of Sakha wishes you to enjoy your stay!]"

To Love or to Leave

Doc is tempted to screw her. Right here on the kitchen table, just to make things interesting. But it just doesn't seem right.

"Nadine, I want to assure you that I will do everything in my power to set things right. I have a crack team of specialists who can help me change things for the better, and that is what we are going to do."

"You are going to change the past? For me?"

"For everyone. Without Alyss, the entire galaxy is lost. And as much as I would like to sit and share more time with you and get to know you better, I have to go."

"So soon? Don't you need my geneology? Its just in the bedroom closet, we could look for it together! Please stay!"

"My portal only lasts just so long and I have miles to go before I sleep. Take care of yourself and in a week or two look for a package from Russia. And Nadine," Doc's voice takes a serious tone, "remember your promise. You can never tell anyone about me. You can't repeat my name or that I was ever here. If anyone ever asks, I was selling magazines. Much like a birthday wish, if you tell it, it won't come true."

"I promise. You're my secret time traveler. You'll come back, right? Will I ever see you again?"

"Maybe, but if I do my job right, your husband wouldn't appreciate it."

She laughs a teary eyed little chuckle.

"Oh," Doc remembers, "should a couple of oriental looking gentlemen stop by, lock the door and call the cops."

Nadine nods. She looks at her daughter's picture again. She hands the I-Browse back to Doc. "Can you send that file to me? The address is sundialdancer16@yahoogle."

"Sure." Doc fiddles with the thing a bit. "There, I think I got it."

"Thank you."

Doc get up to leave. Nadine escorts him to the door. He pauses. He gives her a nice peck on the cheek, and gets the hell outta there.

"Goodbye!" Nadine calls down the hall. "Good luck!"


Thunderhorse is on his third of Doc's PBR tallboys. He's sitting in the pilots seat, his feet kicked up on the console. His boot heel is pressing some button, and an alarm is intermittently buzzing.

"Doc! I'm glad your back. This infernal bird will not cease it's wicked chirping."

Doc knocks his feet off the console. The buzzing stops immediately. Doc snatches up the remainder of his six pack and tears one off the rings. He pops the tab and sucks it back.

"How was your visit? Was the wench as beatiful as her voice?" Thunderhorse asks.

"Yes," Doc replies tersely.

"And did you enjoy her warmth and share in her bed?"


"Ah. I have some gold to lend if you were short on-"

"How's Mark doing?" Doc interupts.

"He has not stirred. You were not gone long, though."

"Yet you managed to drink half my beer in that time."

"I am sorry. This nectar is sweet as mead but half as potent. It is good."

"I know."

"So, what did happen with the wench? Were you unable to satisfy her?"

"Look, nothing like that happened. We're on a mission, remember? We've got work to do." Doc fires up the engines. "Autopilot?" The computer dings in acknowledgement. "Take us to the DataPlex."

With a quick chirp of confirmation, the Python takes off into the evening sky. The sun is sinking lower behind the endless sea of buildings. Traffic is getting heavier as they approach downtown. Everyone is heading out for food and drinks as the day winds down and the evening begins.

Mark begins to groan and rustle as they approach the DataPlex parking lot. Doc calls Steve over the ship's com.

"Steve, come in. Are you there?"

"Yes, I'm here. How did it go?"

"I met Nadine. Her life is on track with the timeline, but Dmitri isn't here. He's in Russia. I think we need to pay him a visit."

"So they never even met? Where is Dmitri, exactly?"

"Uh," Doc looks up the search records. "Khara, Siberia. It's the only Dmitri Valia I can find. Is it possible he's not listed in the database?"

"No, every human in the solar system is in there, has been since the Exkorean war. He's got to be the guy."

"Well, what about you? Any luck?"

"Not much. I couldn't get into the courier's database. Fucking SecAdmin there's got some balls. I did manage to get into the Department of Interstellar Transportation's system. According to them, the Younger Brother Pear was in the Alpha Centuari System forty years ago. That's the only record I can find and it doesn't mean much. Depending on how fast she was going, she could've left from here last week and arrived there back then."

"How's that?"

"Relativity is a bitch. Anyway, I've got more work to do here. Why don't you go ahead and visit Dmitri on your own and meet me back here when you're done? Find out what happened in his past or his family's past that made him stay in Russia."

Mother of God

Doc goes to Nadine McClaren's apartment door and knocks. She answers quickly.

"Good evening, ma'am. May I come in?" Doc greets her warmly as the door slides open. He's got his I-Browse in hand, and kicks on the voice recorder.

"Come on in," she says. She's a strawberry blonde with green eyes. She's a slim build, no more than 5'6", in her mid forties. She's wearing business slacks and a rough old T-shirt advising Doc to "respect the rack." She's obviously just home from work; her briefcase and jacket are slung over the nearest chair. "Have a seat," she offers as she clears some clutter from a chair.

Doc sits. "Thank you,"

"Would like some sweet tea?" she asks as she approaches the fridge of the small studio apartment, grabbing a glass off the drying rack.

"Yes, thank you."

She pours two glasses and sits with Doc at the small dining table just off the kitchenette.

"Ms. McClaren, I've come to ask you a bit about your family. I'm working on a ground breaking book that includes the history of the most prominent Milwaukee families. The government has commissioned a healthy stipend for this book and my boss, Mr. T. H. Horse is looking to expand our civil war wing. So if I could just have fifteen minutes of your time I would be truly grateful."

"...okay," she responds. She seems a bit confused. Doc works his magic, focusing on her eyes and peering into her mind. She's open to inquiry, more than she should be to a total stranger. Whoops. Doc's little mind trick has backfired. She's infatuated.

Doc has to keep this conversation under control. "So, uh, tell me about yourself. Where are you from, and why did you come to Milwaukee?"

"Well, I'm from Neoleans. My family has lived there since the Reconstruction in the 2010s. It's kind of a tradition in my family to leave town for a while, see the world and live life outside Louisiana, then move back and raise a family. That's why I came out here, I guess. To find a man and bring him home. I haven't had much luck with that, though. That's why I'm still here."

"When did you move out here?"

"Oh, it's been almost thirty years now. I move out here in, oh, '72? When I was 18. VelociTech was hiring everybody and anybody out of high school all around the planet. They made me a great offer; good pay, free schooling, room and board, food vouchers, even free trips around the globe and across the solar system. I went to Saturn once, stayed at the Casini Hotel in the rings. It was so beautiful there. I always wanted to go back, have a romantic getaway with someone special, you know?"

Doc clears his throat and pretends to take notes. "What do you do at VelociTec?"

"Well, I started out as a seceratary, but now I'm the lead interior designer. I design showrooms mostly, but I also do the investors banquets and other special events. I also keep the home office looking nice. Sorry my place is a wreck right now. I wasn't expecting company."

The apartment is actually very well kept and beautifully furnished. There's only a thin layer of typical house clutter; some business papers, half emtied shopping bags, un-closeted laundry, a couple dirty dishes, etc. Doc can tell she's got an eye for decorating.

"Oh, no. Your home is beautiful."

"Thank, you," Nadine replies, fluttering and blushing. "I want to go into business for myself, but I could never afford to leave my job. The cost of living is just too high for a single girl by herself in the Great Lakes Sprawl."

"Tell me about your family. Who is your father and mother? Your grandparents?"

"Well, my mother, Marla Owens, owned a chocolate shop in downtown Neoleans. My father was Pete McClaren. He was a mechanic. He worked on heavy equipment, cranes and backhoes and things. His father operated them. My father's family worked in construction since they moved to Neoleans in 2012 after all those hurricanes finally did in Old New Orleans. The government was offering big money back then to help rebuild the city. You probably know more about that than I do, you're a historian, right?"

"Yes, I've read a lot about that. Everyone who worked on the construction projects got free housing, tax refunds, health insurance, and government pensions. So how many generations were there? Five or six?"

"Let's see, there's pappa, Pete McClaren, grandpa Taylor, his father was Joseph, and before him was Gabriel McClaren, uh, I forget his dad, but the origional Neoleans McClaren was Tory. So, six. I don't know much about the family before that. I've got a family geneology around here somewhere, would you like to see it?"

"Absolutely," Doc answers overenthusiastically.

Nadine gets up slowly, smiling. She goes over to the bookshelf across the apartment and looks around a bit. She gets up on her tiptoes to reach the top shelf, arching her back and throwing a smile at Doc. She looks around a bit but comes back empty handed.

"It's not out here, it must be in a box in the bedroom closet. Wanna help me look for it?"

"Oh, uh, that's okay for now, I've got a few more questions to get through."

"Sure," she says, sitting back down. She leans on the table at him, chin in hand and smiling.

"So, you're single, right?"

"I am," she replies quickly.

"Have you ever been married? Ever have children?"

She leans back away from him a bit. "No, I've never been married and I've never had kids." She's sadder now. "It- I don't know. I've always wanted a daughter. It's like, hmm. I've always felt like a part of me was missing, you know?"

"You don't happen to have a cousin named Nadine McClaren or anything?"

"No, why?"

"I'm looking for someone in particular. I was told she is your daughter."


Doc brings up Alyss's entry on his I-Browse and hands it to Nadine.

"Alyss Valia, daughter of yours and Dmitri Valia, your husband of thirty years. She's a gifted student, a war hero, racing champion, and the finest pilot in all of history."

Nadine is confused. "I don't understand. What's this about?"

"Ms. McClaren, may I be frank? I'm about to tell you something that you may never repeat. I am only sharing this with you as you seem like an honest person and I feel I can trust you. Part of my work for the Smithsonian involves fact finding tours to provide vital information to authors and historians the world over. Some of these tours involve time travel. And I totally understand your confusion, as I do this sort of thing so often that I'm not certain if I am coming or going, but the truth of the matter is I'm looking for a person that is somehow related to you. Sure you have heard about the ban on time travel, but the government was crafty enough to include a small clause about 'educational purposes' and here I am. Forgive me if I sound forward, but what do you know about Alyss Lin Valia?"

"Alyss Lin? My grandmother was Linda, her mother was Alice," she's confused to the point of fear, or at least extreme stress. "Time travel? You're a time traveller?"

"Have you ever met anyone by the name of Dmitri Valia? Perhaps working at VelociTech?"

"I don't think so, no. I know everybody there."

"Ever been to Russia? Talk to anyone there online?"

"No, I've never been to Russia. You're telling me I'm supposed to be married to someone from there? And I really am supposed to have a daughter?" She's tearing up. "I thought momma's stupid voodoo tea leaves were wrong all this time!"

"I'm sorry if this is a bit weird," Doc tries to console her.

"I've always known it was supposed to be true!" She strokes the picture of her non-existant daughter, sobbing. "She looks just like my pappa! " Her mood swings a bit, she's in a full on cry. "What happened? Why is she not here? What did I do wrong with my life?!" she screams.

"Nothing! Nothing," Doc tries to calm her down. "Everything in your life seems to be in place."

Her temper shifts quickly towards Doc. "Was it you? What happened? Did you fuck up the past?! Did you break that fucking treaty and start some kind of time war? She's a war hero, right? She'd be a perfect target for some kind of time travel assassination! Did they kill her father? Will they try to kill me?!"

"No, no. It's not like that. Dmitri is alive and living in Siberia. For some reason, you two have never met. I don't know what's changed, but I'm going to find out. Everything you've told me about yourself lines up with the history I know. It's Dmitri's past that seems out of place. He was supposed to be living here in Milawukee with you. Perhaps if you met him, or something-"

"No! It's too late," she cries. "It says here she was born in 2173. Even if I did meet this Dmitri and he was my soul mate, I can't have babies anymore. It- it's just not possible!" she manages to stem the flow of tears and calm down. "I had an operation last year. It... it was cancer! They had to remove my ovaries!" She's crying again.

Doc reaches over and pats her shoulder. She grabs his arm and holds his hand against her face.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you," she says. "I'm sorry I'm a mess. It's just that, my whole life I felt that there was something missing, and here you come and tell me exactly what it is. And I know I'll never have it! I'll never meet her! I'll never have that life!"

"You have, though. Reality has many faces. I've seen a few of them. Somewhere, right now, you do have a daughter, a very special daughter, a loving husband, and an interior design company all your own. It may all be in another dimension, many other dimensions, in fact, perhaps most of them. Your life here is just another facet of your existance. Different, perhaps, but not bad. In another life, you may have never seen Saturn."

"In another life," she sniffles,"I may have never met a hansome time traveller..."

Cpt. Alyss L Valia

Name: Alyss Lin Valia
Rank: Captain
Faction: Earth Defense Forces, Star Force
Flight Group: SF Alpha Six, Flight Leader
Marital Status: Single
Primary Residence: Munich, Germany, Earth
Origin: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Earth
Date of Birth: July 18, 2173
Education: MIT, Class of '89. Mohave Aerospace Accademy, Class of '93. PhD in Aerospace Science, Masters in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering.
Flight Hours as of '99: 9,360
Interests: Robotics, Racing, Dancing, Backpacking

Congressional Medal of Honor. Purple Heart. Star Force Cross. Formula X Racing World Series Championship 2196-2199. MIT Robotic Combat Championship 2189.

Criminal Record/Reprimands: 64 Civilian moving violations. Piloting an experimental vehicle through civilian airspace. Piloting an experimental vehicle through military airspace. 23 unauthorized fly-by's. 8 Flight plan violations. Piloting military vehicles through civilian air space in a non-emergency. Piloting civilian vehicles through military airspace. 3 Altitude and Noise violations. Destruction of property, OVI, and assault. Currently owes 360 hours community service.

Born to Dmitri Valia and Nadine McClaren who both worked for VelociTech Stardrive Systems. Alyss was exposed to physics and engineering at a very young age, and proved to be an exceptionally gifted and talented young girl. She graduated MIT at 16 and earned a PhD at 18. She graduated top of her class in flight school at 20.

Holds several patents relating to ALICE-5 Combat EVA suit power systems, flight controls, and environmental regulators.

She earned Ace status while on her first tour cleaning Exkorean forces from the asteroid belt. In her first combat encounter, she engaged and destroyed 4 XNU-Vipers. She got her fifth kill on the very next mission, as well as two more. Also served several tours in the Kuiper belt theater. In all she has scored 338 kills, the standing record for EDF Star Force, and holds Top Ace status. She still wishes to surpass the Luftwaffe's Erich Hartmann's 352 and become the Top Ace of All Time.

On August 4th, 2195, Cpt. Valia's SF-112 Starfire flight group was on an anti-sattelite sweep near Ceres. A squadron of 18 XNU-Stealth Vipers and one EK-Deathbus Transport attacked from a hidden Exkorean asteroid base. Her flight group was destroyed and nearly all captured. Captain Valia used her remaining oxygen supply and a superheated piece of titanium from the wreckage of her Starfire to cut through the cockpit window of the transport. She then piloted the transport back into Allied space with a massive hull breach and a limited oxygen supply, nearly suffocating in the process. Five of her six member flight group survived the encounter thanks to her bravery and ingenuity.

On May 27th, 2197, Alyss Valia was arreseted for assault, destruction of property, and operating a vehicle while intoxicated. According to the police report, she had gotten into an argument with her ex-boyfriend earlier in the day. She went on to win a FX race that day, and consumed a magnum of chapagne on the podium. Intoxicated and upset from the conversation earlier, she commondeered the Ferarri-Schumacher FX Hover racer, tore through civillian, commercial, and military airspace at extremely illegal speeds, and broke the sound barrier at ground level just outside her ex-boyfriend's house, shattering he and his neighbors' windows. She then came back and landed on his personal vehicle. When he came out to confront her, she headbutted him with her helmet still on, knocking him out cold. She did not resist arrest when the police arrived shortly thereafter. Ferrari-Schumacher did not press charges for theft, but instead payed her extensive legal bill.