The Portal

Author : J. S. Kachelries

“Well, Tom, what do you think?”

“Joe, if you made me hike 50 miles through the jungle, climb a freakin’ 10,000 foot mountain, and craw through a cave for half a mile on my hands and knees, just so you could show me another cave…” Tom pointed a threatening finger at Joe’s chest, “Teri Hatcher had better be in there, or one of us isn’t going home.”

“Calm down,” Joe said with a reassuring smile, “this is better than Teri Hatcher. And, that’s not another cave, it’s a doorway. See all that writing above the opening. That’s ancient Greek. I looked it up on the internet, that phrase at the very top translates to ‘The Portal to VakEishn’.”

“VakEishn? What’s that? And why is it so dark in there? My flashlight doesn’t seem to brighten the inside.”

“First of all, it’s ‘where’s that,’ and it’s not really dark. There’s some kind of energy barrier. I don’t know what’s on the other side, but I plan to find out.” He reached into his backpack and pulled out two camcorders attached to each other with a wire wrapped in aluminum foil. He turned on one camera and gently tossed it through the portal. It disappeared. As he turned on the power to the second camcorder, he said, “I’m hoping the aluminum shielding will allow the signal to pass back.” He flipped open the video display and gazed in astonishment at a sandy tropical beach. But it wasn’t like any beach he’d ever seen. The sky was pink, and the ocean was almost orange. “Yes,” he said enthusiastically. “This is better than I had hoped. I think this is a portal to another planet.” He stepped closer to the portal. “And, I plan to go there.”

“What! Are you nuts? If that is another planet,” conceded Tom, “there may not be oxygen there. It might be minus 300 degrees, that ‘ocean’ could be liquid methane.”

“Now you’re being crazy. Why would an advanced civilization build a portal to a place where they couldn’t breathe the air, or tolerate the temperatures? I’m going. You can watch through the camcorder. I’ll let you know if I need anything. But whatever you do, don’t follow me.” He tossed Tom the camcorder, and stepped through the portal.

Tom quickly looked down at the video display. He saw Joe’s calves come into view as he jogged toward the crashing waves. Minutes later, Joe was performing Olympian-type feats; jumping vertically six to eight feet high. Tom could hear Joe laughing and shouting like a child in an amusement park. Tom stood open mouthed, staring at the display. Apparently, the portal did go to another planet, one with much lower gravity than Earth. And it was habitable. The temptation to pass through the portal was unbearable.

As Joe bunny hopped back toward the camcorder, Tom suddenly appeared. Surprised, Joe tripped and slowly tumbled face first into the sand. He looked up at Tom and screamed, “Nooo! What are you doing here? I told you to stay on the other side. I needed you to supply me until I could find the return portal. Oh God, I forgot to tell you what the rest of the Greek writing meant. It said, ‘Caution. Enter only, not an exit’.”

Tom turned back toward the portal. But all he could see were miles and miles of sand dunes.

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Task Force

Author : Patricia Stewart, featured writer

“I’ll take two,” said Joe Ferry, the rookie member of the Preemptive Anti-Criminal Activities Task Force. It was traditional for the elite four-man teams to play poker prior to the start of the shift. It was a way to relax and bond before the mainframe department head handed out their assignments.

“So, Joe, how did your blind date go last night?” inquired the team leader, Mark Robbins. “I’ll take three.”

“Not so good, Sergeant. I thought it was going real well, until I mentioned to her that I work for PACATF. Man, she ran away so fast, I swear I saw her red shift. What’s up with that anyway? We’re the good guys. Why does the public think we’re monsters?”

“That’s easy, Joe. They think we’re spying on them. They think we have a time portal, or something, that looks into the future to see if they do anything illegal. If they do, we arrest them preemptively. Then throw them in jail for crimes they were about to commit.”

“Is that true? I thought our information came from informants, or high tech surveillance equipment? Time machines? Are you sure?”

“Did you really think that we achieved a 99.8% conviction rate using moles and wire taps?”

“I never really thought about it before. I just assumed the mainframe had irrefutable evidence. Is there really a time machine?”

“That’s not our concern, Joe. The mainframe gives us a name and address, and we go pick up the perp. That’s our job. After that, it becomes the judicial system’s problem.”

“Wow. I don’t know if I like that. To be arrested for a crime you might commit.”

“Will commit,” corrected Robbins. “Why do you think the first word in our task force is ‘Preemptive’?”

“There’s got to be hard evidence. Not the word of some computer who says it saw someone commit a crime a year from now. How do we know that’s the true timeline? Maybe it’s an alternate reality. Some other future. Not our future. This is wrong. No wonder they hate us.”

Before Robbins could respond, his communicator signaled. “Listen, kid, we’ll continue this discussion when we get back. In the meantime, keep these accusations to yourself. Understood?” Robbins activated his audio implant to take the call. “Yes sir. I understand sir. Right away sir.”

All four men stood up, and began collecting their gear. “Hold on,” instructed Robbins as he reached into his equipment bag and extracted a pair of wrist restraints. “Joe, you are under arrest for the future destruction of government property. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you will say or do can be used against you…”

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Author : JTHeyman

My cell door opened, revealing a woman dressed all in grey. I was dead. With an ordinary interrogator/judge, I would have had a chance. Not with one of the Grey Ladies.

“United States Time Court Interrogation/Trial 66017002,” she said in a voice that was about as close to mechanical as a human could get. Her optical implants scanned me on every frequency from deep infrared up to x-ray. Her audio receptors would catch every decibel. Scans were transmitted to medical computers for instant analysis. Lying was not an option.

In that flat voice, the Grey Lady said, “First charge: one count, unlawful use of timeslip equipment. Plea?”

“Guilty,” I said. That was just a misdemeanor.

“Sentence: one year, stasis.”

I nodded. A year in stasis was easy. Unfortunately….

“Second charge: one count, disruption of timeline. Plea?”

That one, on the other hand, carried a death sentence. “Guilty,” I admitted sadly.

“Felony or misdemeanor?”

I was confused. Since when was screwing with the timeline a misdemeanor? “I … don’t understand.”

“Pursuant to Temporal Law 2051-C-9, disruption of timeline is a felony if resultant temporal shockwave would reset current timespace without intervention. Amendment 507 specifies that if disruption results in an action that is consistent with recorded history, said offense is reduced to misdemeanor, penalties appropriate to reduced charge. Felony or misdemeanor?”

“I don’t know,” I said, suddenly realizing that if the law had changed, I might get out of this alive.

“Testify: events of recent timeline incursion.”

“It was a standard job,” I said. “Timeslip into the past. Grab something ordinary that no one would miss. Timeslip out again. No one gets hurt.”

“Testify: nature of disruption.”

“It was like this. My clients,” I began.

“The Association for the Re-Creation of Chivalry,” the Grey Lady interjected. “ARCC. Continue.”

“ARCC. Right. You see, these guys in ARCC said they were going to re-create a jousting tournament. They paid me to go back and get something authentic to give the participants a thrill. They said no one would miss a cask of genuine medieval horseshoe nails. Anyway, I found the nails and gave a bushel of oranges to the guy who had them. They were seedless oranges,” I added quickly. “There’s no way he could have planted them.”

“Timespace coordinates?”

“Um … eleventh century, France, somewhere on the northern coast.”

The Grey Lady paused, accessing the relevant historical data. “Analysis complete. Second charge: one count, disruption of timeline, misdemeanor. Sentence: five years, stasis.”

I breathed a sigh of relief but I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Uh, by the way … how could a couple of nails disrupt the timeline?”

The Grey Lady looked at me and then said, “The displaced cask of nails was intended for the cavalry of William of Normandy. Historical records confirm: unable to field his full cavalry, he was defeated at the Hastings, England, 1066. Interrogation/Trial 66017002 complete. The Time Court of His Imperial Majesty Harold XXVI is adjourned.”

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The Wilderness

Author : Duncan Shields

There’s always going to be a few things I can’t get used to here. The green sky, for instance, and the fact that the animals are mimics. All of the animals have the same abilities as Earth parrots, no matter what they look like. Every animal that comes up to me has a simple vocabulary.

I’d say I feel like Dr. Doolittle but I don’t. They don’t understand anything I say back except for rudimentary commands after they’ve been trained. Just like dogs. I’ve learned not to swear when I tell them to get away from me. All it does it get them to say swear words to me when they come back later to bother me again. For such a wordy wilderness, it’s still a pretty lonely place.

At least for me. I’m still camped out by the ship. The younger ones went into the woods first in a Lord of the Flies moment of instant rebellion. Like the Lost Boys from Peter Pan, they paint their faces and try to stay young forever. The young adults went next to take care of them. They have huts that protect them from the weather and they’ve identified which of the local animals and plants are poisonous. It’s like a primitive civilization. It’s like Gilligan’s Island.

I was the oldest one on the ship. I’m the only one that hasn’t given up hope of a rescue. With everyone else off in the jungle, the ship’s rations will last me for years.

I walk in a perimeter circle around the ship’s landing crater underneath the green sky and watch the animals sniff the burnt patches of ground where the ship landed. I saw something that looked like a bright green bear once. Blue three legged dog-things eat the crackers I sometimes throw at them. They’re scared of the ship’s smell, though, and rarely come close. It’s only the young ones that might wake me up by licking a hand before getting scolded by their parents later.

The survivors from the ship who have gone native in the woods think it’s hilarious to teach the animals my name.

The animals bark my name, hiss my name, whine my name, and shout my name all the time when they’re close to my ship. Sometimes this makes me scream and when this happens, I can hear the forest tittering in a very human way.

I’m not sure how long I’m going to last. I think I’ll probably change out of my ripped and soiled earth-suit into a loincloth soon enough. Until I do, though, I’m going to cling to memories of Earth as long as I can. I’m going to hold onto my humanity and pretend that technical terms aren’t sliding away from me.

“Jason!” shouts a pink hyena-looking thing to my left with too many legs. I almost find it comforting. It won’t be long now.

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USS Dreadnought

Author : Patricia Stewart, featured writer

Captain Leonard Thompson stood at attention as Admiral Richards’ shuttlecraft docked to the Dreadnought. Moments after the shuttle was secure, the hatch opened, and Admiral Richards stepped over the threshold. “Leonard. It’s good to see you again. How have you been?”

As Captain Thompson reached out to shake hands he replied, “Fantastic, Admiral. Thanks for asking. Well, this is certainly an unexpected surprise, considering our upcoming mission. Central Command did not notify me that you were coming. Is there a problem, sir?”

“No, Leonard. In fact, Command doesn’t know I’m here. This visit is strictly personal. I was on Thaxion V when the Dreadnought was commissioned. And, since you’ll be gone for four years, I was hoping you’d give me the 50 credit tour, off the record, of course?”

Somewhat nervous about an unauthorized guest, but helplessly outranked, Captain Thompson relented. “Aye, Admiral, it would be my pleasure,” he said with a forced smile.

Captain Thompson gave the Admiral more than 50 credits worth of tour. They started at the shuttle bay and worked their way forward through the cargo bays, engine room, armory, sick bay, gymnasium, recreation area, crew’s quarters, battle bridge, main bridge, and finally, two hours later, into the officer’s lounge for coffee.

“Absolutely, fabulous ship, Leonard,” said the Admiral with more than a little envy. “Does it live up to the contractor’s advertising?”

“Mostly, sir. The performance of the ship is exemplary. But, I have to admit, sir, the computer is beginning to get on my nerves.”

“In what way?”

“I’m probably overreacting, sir, but it seems hesitant about obeying certain commands. It seems overly concerned about protocols, etiquette, and political correctness. Last week, I gave it an order, and it replied that it was inappropriate because it might offend some members of the crew. On another occasion it replied that I was putting one ethnic group at more risk than another ethnic group. Frankly, sir, I never even heard of the ethnic groups it was referring too. I’m somewhat apprehensive about proceeding with this mission if I can’t count on the computer following my orders.”

“Ah, O.C.P.C.M.C. (Obsessive Compulsive Politically Correct Main Computer). I’ve run into them before. I can fix it, if you’d like.”

“Please, sir. I would be very grateful.”

He spoke into the air, “Computer, this is Admiral Horatio S. Richards, per the authority of Earth Force Declaration 24532.8, I order you to obey any command given to you by Captain Leonard Thompson, instantly, and without question.” He took a gulp of coffee then said with a wink, “Well, Leonard, that should solve your PCMC problems.”

They finished their coffee, and returned to the shuttle bay. “Well, Leonard, thanks for the tour, and good luck on your mission. Oh, don’t forget, erase the logs. This visit never happened.”

“Aye, sir. As soon as I return to the bridge.” They shook hands, and the Admiral disembarked.

When Captain Thompson returned to the bridge he walked to the forward observation port and watched the Admiral’s shuttle pass by. “Computer, remove all traces of Admiral Richards…” all of Dreadnought’s phasers fired simultaneously at the shuttle, vaporizing it instantly in an explosion of light and ion gas, “…from…the…logs.”

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