Dalton Quasar
in
The Doom Ship of Time!

A 6-Chapter Adventure of the Future


by D.K. LATTA
About the author

Previously: Space hero, Dalton Quasar, Solar Security Agent, Lila Volt, and her robotic science advisor, B-780, investigate the re-appearance of the space vessel, The Sir John Franklin, which had vanished 150 years before. Inside, they find the ship over-run by cavemen, but no sign of the original crew. Then the ship begins to fall into a space-time warp, repeating what had clearly happened to it 150 years ago...


Episode 2: "Through the Well
of Time"


 DALTON QUASAR WAS THROWN VIOLENTLY against the reinforced frame of the wide doorway as the floor lurched beneath him. From somewhere deep in the ancient vessel, a howl of metal being tested to its limits echoed like a mournful beast.

"What was that?" demanded Solar Security Agent Lila Volt, kinky black hair spreading like midnight gossamer across her ebony features as she was flung to the floor. "What's going on?"

Quasar lurched unsteadily to his feet and managed to throw himself at one of the portholes. "Trouble," he muttered, staring out the window. Outside the derelict research vessel, The Sir John Franklin, space was a spasm of rainbow colours. And though he knew that sound did not carry in the vacuum of space, he could almost swear he heard the crackle of electrical discharges. "We're being sucked into a spacial anomaly."

"What?" Lila exclaimed. She collided unsteadily with him as she tried to join him by the window.

"It's what B-780 was worried about. That's what happened to this ship 150 years ago, and why it reappeared out of nowhere. This area of space must be prone to such phenomena."

"We've got to get out of here."

He grabbed her. "It's too late. Look!"

Unwillingly, she turned her gaze back to the porthole. Outside, the lightshow had subsided, inside, the insane lurching of the floor had ceased. Whatever the phenomenon had been, it had ended. Her mouth dropped open. "Then we're O.K.?" she asked, knowing even as she said it the horrible truth.

"Sure, we're safe. Physically. But we have no idea where...or when...we might be."

She looked at him, her eyes shimmering ever so slightly, panic lurking on the fringes of her mind, just waiting to close in. Then she looked around. "B-780," she gasped. Breaking away, she ran in search of the robot.

Left alone, Quasar turned his attention to the curiosity that had caused Lila to call out just moments earlier. The room appeared to be a storage room filled with odds and ends, some clearly handicrafts of some indigenous population -- collected from who knew where? Among these items was a slab of stone with a crudely painted image on it of a man in a red jacket with white pants, his hands aglow as if with sunlight.

It was an image that was clearly meant to be him, Dalton Quasar.

But how could that be? A ship that had been missing for 150 years had a prehistoric painting modelled after him?

"My goodness."

He turned as Lila helped B-780 into the room, the silver-plated robot looking a bit dazed, but relatively unharmed by their recent shake up. He stared at the painting. "How...curious."

Quasar put his hands on his hips. "We're all O.K. That's something. But we're trapped on a derelict ship, lost somewhere in time and space, with a whole army of what looked to be Neanderthals, or possibly Cro-Magnon people, just a few floors below us. And they probably won't stay down there for long."

"And that painting?"

He regarded it. "I...don't know. It's not the immediate threat, so let's find the control centre and see if we can figure something out."

* * *

THE CONTROL CENTRE WAS JUST a few corridors away -- like the rest of the vessel, the original crew was nowhere in evidence. Despite knowing the ship was still inhabited by strange sub-humans, here they were confronted once more by a breathless stillness, a sense of eerie bereftness. Lights blinked, consoles hummed, the huge vessel maintained itself with an oblivious efficiency, seeming unconcerned, or unaware, that the men and women it was designed to serve no longer existed.

But what had happened 150 years before? thought Quasar. And was it happening again?

B-780 went to one of the primary consoles and, clumsily at first, as he tried to adjust his thinking to the antiquated equipment, began to coax what information he could from the computer utilizing the keyboard.

Lila checked the energy pak for her Ray-gun, preparing for when the cavemen found them again. Last time they had escaped by flying up and away. That would be impossible in these lower-ceilinged chambers. She shucked out of her rocket pack.

"Thank goodness," muttered B-780 after a moment. "We appear to have worried prematurely." His eyes glowed warmly as he pressed a key and instantly a huge screen at the fore of the room crackled to life. "We have been displaced...but not very far."

On the screen began to form the image of a blue-green planet, wreathed in misty clouds.

"According to the computer, we're in orbit around Earth."

Lila closed her eyes briefly, allowing herself a small grin of relief. Then she said, "Can you get the communications system working?"

"Hailing now," said the robot. "We'll be rescued in no time."

Quasar scowled, staring at the image on the screen.

"That's odd," said B-780. "No response."

"It's probably a low band frequency or something," said Lila, moving beside the robot. "This is an old ship. Try adjusting the frequency."

"No one's going to answer."

Lila and the robot looked over at Dalton Quasar.

Grimly, he looked back. "Look at the planet on the screen. It's all wrong. The continents, the ratio of water to land masses. That's not the Earth we know."

They stared, in silence, feeling the joy drain out of them as if someone had pulled a plug. B-780 looked dumbly at his console. "But...but the computer seemed so sure."

"That's because where we are is correct," Quasar said. "It's the when that seems muddled. Earth hasn't looked like that in millions of years. We're orbiting Earth ... but an Earth of the distant past."

Quietly, unconsciously, Lila wrapped her arms about herself, as though she were cold. For a moment, Quasar wanted to go to her, to hold her. Then he thought better of it. After all, they'd only known each other for less than an hour.

"Wait..." B-780 said, a trifle hollowly. "If that's true, and if I'm reading these figures right, there's some sort of power source on the planet below."

"Power source?" Lila went to the robot. "You mean artificial?"

"That's what the ship's reading. Millions of years before human civilization -- no doubt where our friends below are from -- and I'm picking up indications of civilization."

They regarded each other. Finally, it fell to Quasar to speak. "There's not a whole lot we can do here. We're marooned in both time and space. Just maybe -- maybe -- whatever's down there can help--"

"Or is itself responsible," interjected Lila grimly.

He nodded slightly, acquiescing to that possibility.

"Now that we're here, and can examine the specs," said Lila, turning to B-780, "is there another way off the ship? I mean, not past those...creatures? And a way down to the planet?"

The robot worked mechanical fingers over the keyboard, a low humming escaping his torso indicating thought. Then he nodded as information scrolled up the personal screen. "Yes. There's a shuttle bay that's only a few levels away." He hesitated, his eyes seeming not to be focused on anything before him. At last he looked at the others. "But there's no way I can decipher these computers and controls enough to put things on automatic. If we leave, we might never be able to get back on board...unless one of us stays behind to man the bridge."

Lila looked as though she'd been slapped in the face. Quasar opened his mouth, then closed it again. They all knew who that someone would have to be, even as they knew that just a few levels below was a horde of blood-crazed cavemen. A horde that, quite possibly, even as they contemplated matters, was making its way closer, floor by floor.

"I'll stay," said Lila.

"Don't be ridiculous," said B-780. "I'm the best one equiped to understand the controls. And the least physically equiped to handle whatever's down there -- sabre tooth tigers and the like. And I'm the most easily...repaired," he finished dubiously.

Lila stared.

Flatly, Quasar said, "There's no reason to assume they'll make it up here. I mean, there doesn't look to be much damage."

"Of course," agreed B-780 neutrally. "I've got energy paks for my Ray-gun, in any event, so I'll be O.K. You two go, now. The sooner you go, the sooner you can be back."

Lila stared helplessly at the robot, then at Quasar. "Let's go."

* * *

THEY HURRIED THROUGH A DARK CORRIDOR, following B-780's instructions for finding the shuttle bay. Quasar studied his companion, her beautiful, ebon features set in grim hardness. He wanted to say something, offer some comfort, but knew nothing he could say would be anything more than what it was. Hollow consolations.

They approached a big, reinforced door far sooner than he expected, then as they got closer, he realized it was not the shuttle bay. They started to hurry past, then he stopped in mid-step, peering through the thick view window. He moved closer.

"Come on," hissed Lila.

"It's a cryogenics chamber," he muttered. "The tubes look empty from here, but there are scores in there, perhaps enough for the whole crew. Some of them might be occupied."

"And they might not," said Lila. "Meanwhile, we'd be wasting time. We--" She stopped, looking around.

Quasar heard it too. The sound of bare feet shuffling in the distance.

"We've got to hurry, or they'll find us again."

"But if someone's alive in there..."

"They can't help us. Otherwise, they wouldn't still be here themselves. Besides, do you know how to deactivate a 150 year old cryogenics chamber, without risking the life of the person inside?"

He looked at her, but said nothing.

"Then there's nothing we can do for them, or them for us, and we certainly don't want to risk letting those cavemen in there to start smashing the place up." She looked over his shoulder, eyes wide. "They're getting closer."

He hesitated a moment longer, then turned and raced with her down the corridor.

They found the shuttle bay and encountered yet another oddity. Almost all the ship-to-shore vessels were still in their moorings.

"This is like the Mary Celeste," Quasar muttered.

"What?"

"An Earth boat from centuries ago -- ocean-going, that is -- that was found derelict, no sign of the crew or any sign of what went wrong. I was sure we'd find evidence of evacuation here." The only oddity was scorching on one of the hangar ports -- had there been an impact?

"I think it's obvious what happened to the crew. Our barbarian friends happened, that's what. They must've brought them on board for some reason. That reason, hopefully, we'll learn on the surface below."

As if to punctuate her comment, a howl issued from the other side of the shuttle bay door and they looked over, to see snarling sub-human faces pressed against the glass. Lila stepped back, startled, and found herself in the protective arms of Dalton Quasar. For a moment she looked at him, and he at her, then she pulled free with a nervous cough.

"Uh, let's get to a shuttle," she said.

They found one shuttle and, after quickly establishing contact by intercom with B-780, were able to get the robot to remote activate it from the bridge. As the bay door dilated and the shuttle dropped into the empty vacuum beneath the vessel, Quasar hoped they weren't abandoning the robot to certain destruction.

Then he closed his mind to those thoughts and sat back as Lila manipulated the limited controls. The shuttle was not designed for anything more than ferrying from a planet to the ship and back, so it was easy to master. It rocked as it hit the fringes of the atmosphere and the heat registers quickly twitched into the red, as the shuttle endured re-entry burn.

He hoped the shields were still good after 150 years.

* * *

THEY WERE.

Dalton Quasar and Lila Volt stood before their shuttle on the surface of what would one day be the planet of their birth. It was sweltering, the air muggy and oppressive. They were clearly in the middle of a tropical region. In summer. During a heat wave, no doubt, thought Quasar wryly.

Around them lush green vegetation erupted with fulsomness, surging over the landscape in verdant waves.

The air was heady and sweet to breathe.

"Now what?" Lila asked.

"Now we find the source of the power emissions."

Something coughed. Something growled.

Something big.

B-780 had mentioned sabre tooth tigers. Quasar instantly knew that what was behind them was too big to be a big cat.

As one, he and Lila turned.

His first thought was that they had miscalculated a little about when they were in Earth's history.

His second thought, as he stared at the towering behemoth and the slavering jaws with teeth like knives, was to wonder whether Lila's Ray-gun and his photonic blasts would do much good against a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

* * *

ON BOARD THE DERELICT SIR JOHN FRANKLIN, B-780 fingered his Ray-gun nervously, turning in slow circles in the swivel chair. Every unknown sound, every pop of a girder, ever burble of a computer, caused the robot to jump, terrified that the cavemen had found him.

He almost went through his shiny metallic skin when the console beside him bleeted alarmingly.

He whirled, glowing eyes roaming over the information beetling up the screen.

The vessel's scanners had perceived another ship, just on the fringes of its detection range.

Was this related to the power source below? the robot wondered. Was this connected to the disappearance of the crew?

Carefully setting aside his Ray-gun, he typed commands to the computer, asking for greater definition of the unknown vessel.

After a moment it came back.

Without a shred of confusion, or a hint of irony, the computer aboard the Sir John Franklin confidently identified the other vessel as an Earth research ship.

A ship christened...the Sir John Franklin.
 

Next episode ... "Men Who are Not Men"


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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.)