Space is Big

Really big. Doc didn't quite realize how mind bogglingly big it is. He has traveled to Saturn in hours, halfway to Alpha Centuari in days, and he once went to Miranda for a weekend alchoholiday with some mining surveyors he met after he left the service. It took the Younger Brother Pear mere minutes to reach the asteroid belt, but now, unable to use it's XD drive, it has to limp back across half the solar system.

They're still traveling faster than any man-made object for years, but it's still a three month trip. Early on it's not so bad, but with the TV busted and the holobooths inoperative boredom quickly sets in. Many hours are spent sitting on the observation deck, staring at the stars. It's surprising how little they actually move.

Their route is direct to Earth. Since the Pear holds a moon's worth of exhaust mass in an extra-dimensional pocket, the ship has nearly unlimited fuel. So there's no dicking around with transfer orbits or anything like that.

"Just turn up the juice until you're halfway there, then turn around and slow down," Veronica had explained. "Artificial gravity means we can accelerate at maximum Gs and not have our brains seep out our ears. It's just too bad we just doesn't have the power to get us there faster. If we didn't have so many problems, we could get there in 26 hours."

Mark and Thunderhorse spend most of their days floating around the ship in space suits spraying on the new thermal coating. It took a while to convince them that they wouldn't be left behind if they stepped outside the ship while it was moving. Veronica taught them how to use the spray guns and goes out every once in a while to smack them around and keep them on track.

Steve and Veronica spend their time wiring and re-wiring, building complicated electronic systems, reprogramming interfaces, and generally cleaning up the mess. The Cook's head is permanently detached, since there is one microscopic and vital component missing that no one can find a replacement for. It's okay, though, since Jazelle too can cook. She has a much more limited repertoire, but she cooks with passion.

And such passion she has. Her gazes towards Doc intensify with passing days, but she conceals it with vitrol towards everyone and everything. Doc is careful not to allow her to corner him for fear she might simply mutilate him with lust. Everyone but Thunderhorse, who is blindly in love, is irritated with her if not somewhat frightened. But she cooks a hell of a meal.

Veronica and she nearly came to blows one day. A snide remark about the lack of work ethic on the ship quickly devolved into rude comments on personal hygiene, which then spiraled further into derogatory accusations concerning breeding, in both the familial and habitual senses. Jazelle became frustrated by her inability to use her extrovertant willpower on the android, and Veronica was similarly frustrated by her moral inability to squish the human's skull with her bare hands. Thus Veronica permanently excused herself from the dinner table, and Jazelle permanently excused herself from happy hour.

Since Thunderhorse was practically chained to Jazelle by his own member, he too was absent from happy hour, which made the occasion much more quiet, sullen, and slightly dull. But such is life on a space ship. Mark, having no one to compete with at his usual level of drinking, began to curb his appetite for hard liquor in order to keep up in conversation with Veronica, Doc, and Steve.

"So, those guys who chased us into the asteroid field? They were time cops, weren't they?" Doc asks Steve pointedly.

"What makes you say that?"

"Veronica showed me the message they were trying to implant in our computers. It said, 'Halt immediately. We are the Time Police.'"

"It was dangerous to watch that. It could've melted your brain."

"Veronica saw it first. Then she showed it to me when she knew it was safe. But you knew what was going on the whole time, didn't you?"


"Have they come after you before?"


"What will they do if they catch us?"

"I don't know, for sure. I think there's a trial by jury where we're instantly convicted retrospectively, and then either executed or exiled."

"Exiled where?"

"When, more likely. The far future, maybe? Somewhere we can't step on any butterflies."

"How can they tell if we're changing the time-line? If we've changed it isn't it a permanent part of history in the future?"

"Remember how the Q-Net articles from the future were fluctuating so wildly because the outcome isn't yet decided for this time-line? Well, the further in the future you go, the more wild those fluctuations swing. By studying the variances, you can calculate how far back and how significant an event a change is. When someone goes back in time, the fluctuations begin to change. If the Time Police think it's a big enough event, they come back and try to stop it. But if they're too late, like they were for us, their past is altered and, yes, it is a permanent part of their history. "

"So they won't be after us again until we start to change something?"


"Do they know about the end of the galaxy and that we're trying to save it?"

"No, they wouldn't listen. I tried to explain it, but they're bent on upholding the law as-is."

"If an alteration in the time-line is really just us traveling through alternate realities, what difference does it make whether we alter it or not? Why do they care where we go or what we do?"

"There's an alternate hypothesis, which much less evidence to support it mind you, that essentially states that there's only so much reality to go around, and that by changing a time-line we're not traveling through alternate realities, but creating new ones and spreading the 'fabric' of reality thinner and thinner. The more drastic the change, the more stretched the fabric becomes. No one has put forth a reputable interpretation of what happens when that fabric tears. In my opinion, no one reputable has contributed to that idea in any way whatsoever.

"But to alleviate fears that the universe will be prematurely ended by rampant time-travel, or probably more-so to give people a more comforting sense of linear time, the government of the future will pass laws limiting intentional time travel, and will create the Time Police to enforce them. I can only imagine the corruption, hypocrisy, and misuse of power that has brought. Will bring. Whatever."

So far the most significant event on the journey was the halfway point on the forty-fifth day. Everybody gathered on the observation deck to watch as the stars turned mechanically halfway around the glass dome and then stopped. The automated process took less than two seconds. Everyone cheered.

Today is the sixty-second day. Less than a month to go. Doc has been continuing the task of monitoring the sensor equipment which is mostly concerned with analyzing broadcasts from Earth. More easily said, he was watching TV. Among the few shows in English is Abbot and Costello doing their famous Who's on First skit in full color with an 8-bit electronic soundtrack. On another channel is the Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts, a live boxing match in Madison Square Garden. There's a German sitcom starring a beautiful blonde, blue-eyed actress being pursued by the affections of a gorgeous-but-shy young blonde, blue-eyed man and a clumsy caricature of a Jew, played by a blue-eyed blonde in a costume. The serial seems to revolve around the Jew trying to win the affections of the woman by use of greed, cowardice, and temptation, while the perfect Aryan specimen either undoes the evil the latter has done, or competes with him using
humility, modesty, and courage. Every day, the serial ends with pretty much the same result: the Jew is humiliated and sulks off to plot and the Aryan just misses kissing the girl by some comedic error.

It makes Doc want to puke, but there is honestly nothing else to do. Except, of course, for going down to the cargo bay and cataloging the artifacts there, which Doc decides to pick up again when Goebles comes on the tube for his daily white-power hour. It's almost as bad as Rush Limbaugh.

Doc makes his way down the elevator. He's been combing through the cargo bay the last week or so, trying to identify what's in the crates and barrels there, and if they've been broken. So far nothing has been damaged, so far as he can tell. There are thousands of artifacts, though, all vessels, spoons, masks, anything concave representing nearly every era in human cultural evolution. He's found that the cargo manifest was not remotely completed. Steve must've abandoned the effort to catalog them years ago.

There are, at least for the most part, rough piles of crates by culture and era. Doc has made his way through to the early Imperial China section. Doc begins the tedious task of separating the Qin artifacts from the Han.

Many of the crates were packed with hay which has long since rotted into dust. Doc wears a bandanna over his mouth and nose to keep the stuff out of his lungs. However, as Doc cracks a rather difficult one open, some of the dust gets up his nose and he sneezes. As he flexes over from the sneeze, he ends up projecting most of the expectoration into a small ceramic urn. He wipes his nose on the hankercheif and catalogs the urn into the late Qin pile, and returns to his task.

A moment later, he is aware of a faint screaming sound. It's growing louder. Doc turns to the Qin pile, which seems to be the source of the noise. It's coming from the urn. It begins to shake.

Out pop six men, all Chinese. They're dirty and dressed mostly in rags and carrying iron short swords. All of them are burdened with gold, jewels, and other trinkets far too extravagant for these men to have come by them honestly.

Surprised and alarmed, they drop their booty and draw their swords, shouting something Doc can't understand.