Dalton Quasar
in
The Doom Ship of Time!

A 6-Chapter Adventure of the Future


by D.K. LATTA
About the author

Two hundred years before he had been one of Earth's first interplanetary astronauts. A disaster on board his ship had killed his crew and he was bombarded by cosmic rays. What happened next, even he was not sure. He awoke two hundred years in the future, imbued with abilities no mortal man had ever known.

He was Dalton Quasar...


Episode 1: "The Doom Ship"


STAND BY 1 WAS A SMALL OUTPOST jutting from the equator of Io, all but lost against the forever blackness of space.

One hundred years before it had been erected as an early warning station on this moon of Jupiter in the event of unwanted intrusions from outside the solar system, the "vanguard of Earth's defences" as it was labelled by a particularly zealous general whose name has long since been lost to history. That was long ago. It was now little more than a glorified inter-planetary and inter-stellar traffic control tower.

That's when it served any function at all.

Traffic routes had long since shifted and re-routed, and the skeleton garrison found their main activity was counting the days till they were rotated home -- or at least rotated to some place where things actually happened.

Which is why the appearance of the blip was cause for some excitement.

"Ah, Cap'n, you should get in here," 2nd Communication Officer Beau Beauregard said, thumbing the intercom switch.

"I've told you not to call me that, Beau Beau," snarled his supervisor as the big, burly man marched in from the next room. "Now what's so important that you gotta wake me from my mid-shift nap?"

"Ship on the scanner, Cap, uh, Mike."

Supervisor Mike Manneli leaned over Beau Beau and stared at the green blur blipping lazily on the screen. "Where's it coming from? I don't recall there being any scheduled runs today...or this week"

"No, sir, Mike sir. That's why I called you. And it's big, too. Big as an ore hauler-"

"Those aren't the specs of an ore hauler," muttered the supervisor thoughtfully, more to himself.

"No, sir. Think...think it might be an F.C.S. -- a first contact situation?" said Beau Beau, eyes wide with wonder, his throat dry.

Mike Manelli, more pragmatic, had visions of the endless reports such an incident would entail him filing dancing before his eyes. "God, I hope not. Have you hailed it?"

"Yup. No response, other than what seems to be a transponder pulse. The computer's doing a match search on the specs and the transponder frequency, just in case it's stolen or anything -- though I figured we'd have been notified of something like that."

A soft ping drew their eyes over to a secondary screen as the computer furnished the data it had been able to unearth.

Mike Manelli let out a sigh of relief. "Nope," he said. "It's one of ours. The Sir John Franklin. A research vessel." He pursed his lips. "Funny, never heard of it..."

Then his eyes grew wide, his mouth slack, as information continued to scroll up the screen. The two men stared in silence, till the soft hum of machinery seemed almost deafening by comparison. Finally, Mike Manelli said, hoarsely, "Uh, Beau Beau, get Mars Base on the line. Tell 'em...tell 'em we've got a situation out here."

* * *

HE WAS A MAN, YET HE SOARED through the endless darkness of space as readily as a bird might through the skies of earth.

Two hundred years before he had been one of earth's first interplanetary astronauts. A disaster on board his ship had killed his crew when the plating failed, and he was bombarded by cosmic rays. What happened next, even he was not sure. He awoke two hundred years in the future, imbued with abilities no mortal man had ever known.

He was Dalton Quasar. And he was curious.

He had detected the flurry of radio communications shooting between Mars and Io, though the actual content of the messages he could not interpret. He still adopted his ancient spaceman's uniform -- white pants and boots, red flight jacket with the maple leaf on the arm. The maple leaf was a strange reminder of a dimly remembered country of origin -- strange, since Dalton Quasar no longer even entirely regarded himself as an earthman, let alone identified himself with any given nation.

He wore dark safety goggles -- though he seemed impervious to the vacuum of space, his eyes could be harmed by the bald glare of the sun, much as earth-based Inuit could get snowblindedness from the glare off the snow. He still wore his ancient sender-receiver unit, and it was on this that he detected the signals.

As he arrived in the vicinity of the frantic messages, to see if any help was needed, he espied a small vessel cleaving hurriedly through the cosmic ether.

"Ahoy, the ship," he said. Of course, in the airless void of space, no sound issued from his throat, but his sender was pressed to his throat and translated the vibrations into signals.

On board the vessel, a man looked up. "Uh, Agent Lila Volt?"

A young woman, long, kinky black hair spilling past beautiful ebon features, and dressed in the uniform of Solar Security, looked over.

"A, um, a man...is hailing us."

"What's the ship?" she asked.

"That's just it...there is no ship. It's a...man."

* * *

DALTON QUASAR EMERGED FROM THE AIRLOCK of the vessel christened as Safeway 7. A dozen people stood waiting for him, with a mix of expressions that ranged from incredulity to disbelief. And back again.

A plump woman stepped forward and peered at him intently. "I'm Captain Doris Szajako. You gave us quite a start."

"I'm-"

"Dalton Quasar. Yeah. I've only ever heard of one person in the galaxy who can fly around without a spacesuit. This is Agent Lila Volt of Solar Security," she indicated the beautiful black woman, "and B-780, her science advisor." A stocky, silver-plated robot with spindly, prehensile arms and legs nodded at him.

"What are you doing here?" asked Lila abruptly.

He glanced at her. "Actually...I was about to ask you the same thing."

* * *

HE WAS ESCORTED TO THE BRIDGE and Lila, after a moment of hesitation, explained all that had preceded their arrival.

"Stand By 1 detected an unknown ship appearing suddenly on their scopes -- like it appeared out of nowhere, was how the duty watch described it. It was huge. Their computer identified it as the Sir John Franklin, a research vessel that disappeared without a trace 150 years ago."

They had stopped before the main viewscreen and the Sir John Franklin was spread before them in all its antique glory. The sides gleamed in the dull light that reached this far from the sun, the front spires still proudly pointing its way inexorably forward through the mysteries of the infinite.

"There is is," said Lila.

"An odd name for a ship," mused the captain, more to herself than them.

"Darkly prescient, actually," said Quasar.

They looked at him blankly. Living a few centuries out of his birth-time, he realized, often led to him saying things others did not quite understand. "John Franklin was an earth ship captain, whose expedition vanished centuries ago -- no one ever knew exactly what happened to him and his crew. I assume that vessel out there was named to honour him."

"And instead they echoed him," finished the captain subduedly.

After a few moments of silence, contemplating the derelict, Quasar remarked, "It doesn't look 150 years old."

"What?"

"No pitting or scratches from particle impacts. If this thing has been out there for a hundred and fifty odd years, I'd expect it to look a little more battered."

"My thinking, precisely," agreed B-780. "It's almost as if...as if..." The robot did not finish his thought.

"We're still registering power, though," added the captain. "And since, as you noted, there's no obvious signs of damage, it's reasonable to expect the inner environment is still active."

Quasar stared at the vast vessel, his cosmic senses attuned to the motion beneath his boots, aware they were drawing ever closer. "I'd like to accompany you, if you'll have me."

The captain shrugged. "I'm just the ferryman. Whatever happens over there is up to her," she indicated Lila.

"Ma'am?" inquired Quasar.

She regarded him dubiously, then shrugged. "I guess you've got a good reputation. Besides, the more the merrier."

* * *

QUASAR, LILA, AND B-780 STOOD IN THE AIRLOCK of Safeway 7, waiting quietly for the vessel's Multi-Adaptable Sealing System to adjust itself to the more-than-a-century old mechanism of the Sir John Franklin's airlock.

What awaited them on the other side was anyone's guess. What had the vessel seen in the last 15 decades? Where had it gone? Why? These were the questions that tumbled riotously through Dalton Quasar's mind, though his features remained controlled.

Mysteries intrigued him.

Suddenly he started as a green light flashed and a hiss of air announced success.

"We're going in," Lila told her wrist-comm. "Move the Safeway to a discreet distance once we're inside, Captain."

B-780 reached forward and thumped a small yellow button. With a roar of mechanics, the airlock cycled up and they were staring at a long, dark, cylindrical corridor.

Like the barrel of a gun, Quasar thought grimly. He inhaled tentatively, but the atmosphere appeared breathable. There was something more about it, though. Something that he couldn't quite put his finger on.

Lila stepped forward. The hall was dark, but not fully, light leaking in from the area beyond. Power was definitely still being conducted to areas of the vast ship. "Let's go. We're looking for clues as to what may've happened, so we'll make our way to the main bridge. Keep an eye out for anything odd. The way this vessel just returned...well, it could be a Trojan horse, some sort of alien trick."

As they moved through the vast, arching halls of the ancient ship, Quasar felt a shudder of regret. So many people, lost and unremembered. What had happened to them all those years ago? There were no bodies, which there should have been even after all this time. The ship would have been well sterilized of bacteria, greatly retarding any decomposition.

The corridors were a mess, and chambers looked as though they had been overrun by maurauding barbarians. Chairs were overturned, computer screens smashed, blackened walls showing evidence of fires.

They emerged into a central square, the ceiling disappearing into the shadowy distance above. Circling overhead were terrace after terrace. This was obviously the main juncture of the ship, where all corridors, on all levels, eventually met.

"The bridge should be somewhere up there," Lila said, peering up.

"Lila," said B-780, "I am concerned. About the lack of pitting, about the abrupt nature of the ship's appearance and, indeed, its disappearance all those years ago. Space travel has not been common in this sector -- there could be phenomena that we-"

"We're not alone," interrupted Quasar, his eyes widening.

"What?" Lila turned toward him. "You see something?"

"No. But I knew there was something wrong with the air."

"Wrong?" Her nose crinkled as she inhaled. "It smells perfectly normal to me."

"That's what's wrong. If this ship had been deserted for centuries, the air being manufactured by a machine, it should be incredibly rich, a heady oxygen-nitrogen compound. But it's not. It's normal. That means the oxygen-nitrogen is being diluted by carbon dioxide -- animal respiration."

Something shifted in the shadows of one corridor. Quasar looked up as more movement sent debris cascading from one of the balconies overhead.

Very quietly, B-780 said, "I think we're surrounded."

Lila pulled her Ray-gun from her hip, thumbing the switch to stun. "We're a rescue team," she called out. "From earth. We mean you no harm." Under her breath, she muttered, "Any idea what they are?"

Quasar shook his head. "But there's a lot of them."

Something screamed, a blood-curdling, bone shattering shriek of primordial fury, and something leaped from the shadows.

It was not what any of them expected.

The figure hurtling at them, waving a rusty pipe like a club, was a stocky, hairy-chested, bow-legged humanoid. More colloquially, he resembled a pre-historic caveman.

Lila was startled only for a moment, then she fired her Ray-gun and the caveman ran into a beam of light as though hitting a brick wall. He fell down, unconscious.

"They're primitives of some sort," said B-780.

"But how the hell did they get here?" demanded Lila.

"I don't know. But our alien weapons should frighten them off for a-"

"Guess again," snarled Quasar as, with an ear-shattering roar, a veritable army of cavemen came pouring out of corridors and spilling over the balcony overhead. Lila and B-780 opened fire with their Ray-guns, while Quasar simply pointed and golden energy lanced from his finger tips, knocking the creatures from their feet.

But there were too many. In moments a second wave had made it past their energy beams and they were struggling hand-to-hand. Quasar grabbed two by the throat and knocked their heads together. Then he kicked another in the groin. Lila employed a few judo throws that were obviously well beyond the understanding of her primitive adversaries. B-780, though artificial, was actually frailer than they in some respects, and so endeavoured to keep between their backs, still firing his Ray- gun at those who got close.

"Up!" screamed Lila. "We can't take them all."

So saying she and B-780 fired their rocket packs and shot up, Quasar using his own, unique power to follow. The mob of cavemen dwindling rapidly below howled defiantly, waving clubs of broken furniture and old pipes after them.

The three continued to shoot up the central well, Lila obviously making for their original objective. The bridge.

She banked and alighted on a corridor some five stories above the main level below. As Quasar and B-780 landed beside her, she said, "That should buy us a few minutes."

"We're not going to get past them to the airlock," said Quasar, peering over the rail. "Not without killing some. Even then maybe not."

Lila moved on, ducking through a wide doorway.

Something crackled beside him and Quasar looked over as B-780 put his wrist-comm to his voice-grille. "Say again, captain? You're breaking up."

"Get -- crickle -- there -- now! A space rift is opening -- crickle -- crickle -- swallow the whole damned ship!"

B-780 looked at him, glowing glass eye-ports brightening as if with terror. "It's what I feared. This ship vanishing, then reappearing. It didn't just become lost -- it was swallowed by some kind of unstable dimensional vortex." He looked down at the mass of cavemen far below, between them and their only hope of escape. "And it will swallow us, too!"

"Oh my God!" shouted Lila.

Quasar whirled, thinking she was responding to the direness of their plight. Then he realized she was still in the other room, that she hadn't heard them.

He felt the hairs on the back of his arms bristle, perceived in a way more penetrating than sight that the walls around them were shimmering as the huge vessel was once more being drawn back through time and space as it had 150 years ago. He raced for the next room. "What is it? What's happened?"

"There are artifacts here, some sort of collection. There's some sort of cave painting..."

Quasar rounded the corner and his eyes went wide.

"..it's a painting of you, Quasar!" she said.

Next episode ... "Through the Well of Time"


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The Doom Ship of Time is copyright D.K. Latta. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)