Dalton Quasar
in
The Doom Ship of Time!

A 6-Chapter Adventure of the Future


by D.K. LATTA
About the author

Previously: Lost in the Cretaceous, the crew of the Sir John
Franklin has a plan to return to their own time--a plan which B-780 says has a fatal flaw.  They have taken Lila Volt hostage and are planning to attack the lizardmen one last time, something which Dalton Quasar must somehow prevent.  The crewmen themselves are acting very strangely.  Meanwhile, something is wandering around on the other Sir John Franklin, something other than the cavemen, that is.  And now, for the startling conclusion...


Episode 6: "Last Stop - Infinity!"



WHAT DID A MAN DO WHO KNEW THE FUTURE? What were his obligations to the present?

Dalton Quasar wrestled with that very dilemma. This village of primitive lizard men was about to be attacked by marooned humans from the far future, perhaps even as a reprisal for his thwarting of a previous attack. This attack would succeed. He knew that because he had seen the spoils of war stockpiled on board the future version of the Sir John Franklin. If he did nothing, he doomed the lizard men. If he acted on his knowledge, he could change the future-past and, given theories on time travel, create a paradox that could trap eternity in a time loop.

As well, he had Lila Volt to worry about. She was with the crew of the Sir John Franklin, perhaps even their prisoner. If they took her with them in their journey into the future, he might lose track of her forever, and she would suffer the same mysterious fate that was destined to wipe out the whole crew.

Speaking to his communicator, he said, "Explain it to me again, B-780. You say their calculations are wrong? How? Do they not reach their time?"

"On the contrary," the robot's voice came back over his receiver. "They overshoot their period...perhaps by millions of years."

"What?"

"By my calculations, if they fire their second radium spread to emerge from the vortex when they intend, they will emerge in what, to us, is the distant future."

"But somehow, after that, the ship ends up back in our time."

"Somehow, yes."

"O.K., we can't worry about that now. Can you duplicate their plan, but compensating for their error? If Lila and I get back to the ship, can you get us home to our time?"

"I can recalculate the correct exit time," the robot said after a moment. "But there isn't enough radium energy left in the radium canons to create a vortex and to burst out of it at the appropriate time. There's only enough power for one spread."

"Then you have no choice. When the other Sir John Franklin opens up its time vortex and goes in...we'll have to follow right behind it, riding its vortex."

"Quasar, I have to tell you...there's something else on this ship, besides me and the cavemen. I don't know what. It won't let me see it. Maybe they picked it up in the far future."

"Are you in danger from it?" asked Dalton.

"Not so far, no."

"O.K., sit tight. I'm going to try and rescue Lila. Out." He finished speaking and looked around at the village. He couldn't leave them, he couldn't just desert them to a fate history decreed for them. A history that would forget them in a few million years.

After all, just because history did not know about them, it didn't make them any less real, or their suffering any less...

He stopped. That was it! he realized. A time paradox was only a paradox if you changed what you knew to be in the past. But everything you didn't actually know for sure...well, that was open to interpretation.

"Chief," he called to the village leader. The lizard man approached. "Do you trust me?"

After a moment, the chief seemed to acquiesce. "Yes, I trust you."

"Then here is what you must do to save your people..."

* * *
DALTON QUASAR CLIMBED INTO THE SHIMMERING clear sky over the verdant hills made of giant forest tress. In the distant, on a sprawling golden plain, he could see a heard of herbivorous dinosaurs grazing contentedly. Elsewhere, the calls of wild beasts trumpeted through the sultry air.

He banked and flew off toward the base compound of the earth crew.

* * *
B-780 BEGAN TO WORK MECHANICAL HANDS over the controls, powering up rockets, fine tuning the navigational board, rearranging polarities as described by the plan formulated by the crew of the Sir John Franklin. All the while, keeping one eye on the readings the scanners were picking up from the other vessel. The moment it fired its radium spread, he'd have to ease this ship in behind it, following it into the vortex it was creating.

What if Lila and Quasar had not returned to the ship by then? the robot wondered. Did he just carry on? Leave them stranded in this distant past?

B-780 did not want to, even as he knew that any delay, no matter how noble, would accomplish nothing, save stranding him with them as well. If they missed this one window, then they would lose their one and only hope for getting home.

The robot stiffened, hearing screaming echoing from outside in the corridor. The cavemen were getting closer, but clearly a fight had broken out. Hopefully it would delay them long enough for him to finish his tasks.

* * *
LILA STRAINED AT HER BONDS FOR THE umpteenth time, with equally futile results. She was sprawled in one corner of the bridge of the transport shuttle -- a bigger boat than the ship-to-shore shuttle that had brought her and Dalton Quasar to the planet's surface. She had been stripped of her belt and Ray-gun...and just barely avoided being stripped of her panties and bra, as well. She was truly terrified. It was not simply fear of being taken on board the Sir John Franklin prior to it launching itself into the future on a voyage doomed to failure, nor was it even the fact that she was being kept simply to serve as a plaything.

No, it was what motivated these actions.

The crew was well-trained, with no history of bizarre or criminal behaviour. So why were they making mathematical errors that B-780 identified just with a cursory glance at the data? Why were they planning on raping her? Why had they begun a war with the lizard men, when their whole training was geared toward first contact and exploration?

They were acting irrationally.

Clearly they had been driven unstable by their ordeal. Or was it more? Although time travel was nothing more than a theory, that didn't stop theories from being formed around it. She remembered once reading about temporal equilibrium -- the belief a creature was tied into its temporal environment on levels science couldn't even guess at. She and her companions were unaffected, but they had only been here a day or so. The lost crew, on the other hand, had been marooned millions of years out of their time for all these months. Had it had a biological effect on them? Had it driven them insane?

Abe Kennedy walked onto the bridge, checking some lift-off numbers with one of the crew. Then he glanced at her. He blew her a kiss.

Lila was very scared.

* * *
TREES FELL AWAY BELOW DALTON QUASAR and a clearing opened up, a clearing dominated by a garish structure unwelcome in the pristine beauty of this virgin world. It was a fortress of steel and mud, plastic and wood. It was clearly the compound of the Earthmen.

Flying over the ramparts, he spotted in the centre of the compound a large, needle-nosed rocket ship. A rocket ship in the early stages of preparing to launch.

So where was Lila?

Raggedly dressed men and women stumbled out into the square, some bearing laser rifles and Ray-guns. Dalton banked quickly as energy beams stabbed up at him. He had assumed the crew had long since exhausted their energy paks. Clearly they had just rationed them more stringently, not feeling the need to bring them to bear against spear carrying lizard men.

But a flying man was something else again.

He climbed rapidly, then rolled, diving down again, firing photonic bursts to scatter them, even as the sky became a deadly gauntlet of blinking light beams trying to cut him to pieces.

He did not see the nose laser of the rocket ship pivot soundlessly toward him, was unaware of a targeting system inside the ship lock onto his flying figure. He certainly did not hear Lila Volt inside that rocket cry out in futile warning.

He was aware of none of that until he was blasted out of the sky.

* * *
AS QUASAR FELL, A WOMAN LOOKED UP from her console on the bridge of the transport shuttle. "Sir, our second war party is reporting in."

Kennedy grinned. "Well, we've blasted their flying freak out of the sky, so I imagine those lizards aren't putting up much of a fight now."

"That's just it...they report the village is deserted. The lizards are gone. But the centre of the village is piled with pottery, carvings." She finished listening to the report. "They say it's as if it's an offering, as if the lizards want them to take it."

Kennedy frowned, feeling cheated out of his final thrust against his scaly nemesis. Then he shrugged. "Tell them to gather what they can and return. We're going home, but not empty-handed."

* * *
DALTON QUASAR HAD NO IDEA FOR HOW LONG for how long he lay unconscious in the lower branches of a great tree. All he knew was that his head ached, his muscles screamed with pain, and that the only reason he knew he wasn't dead was because he imagined death would be more pleasant.

For the record, he had been unconscious for five hours.

What woke him was a voice screaming in his ear. "Quasar? Quasar are you there?"

"Whu--?" he mumbled. "Y-yes. I think so."

"What's happening?" demanded B-780. "Their transport shuttle lifted off hours ago. Where are you? Is Lila with you?"

"No," he said, forcing himself to think clearly. "I failed. Lila must still be with them."

"You've got to...oh no," the robot whispered. "Quasar, their radium canons are building up a charge. They're about to attempt it. What do we do? What--?"

"What we planned. You'll have to go in after them. Alone."

"But you?"

"I'm going after Lila!" And he shot into the air, climbing higher and higher, feeling the heat drop away, feeling the cold, the thinness of the air. Seeing the blue sky darken as he reached the limits of the atmosphere and just kept going, the fingers of gravity slipping from his body.

Then he was in space and the Sir John Franklin was above him, angling itself preparatory to firing a radium spread that would activate a space rift like vinegar on an ulcer. In the distance, he could make out an identical vessel hoving gradually into position, this one piloted by B-780.

He swung around under the belly of the ship, aiming for the hangar, remembering the scorching he had noticed there before. Now he knew what that scorching was. Even as the hangar ports swelled before him, a soundless light flared at the far end of the ship. The radium spread! He had seconds to get inside, or it would be too late. He fired off a massive photonic burst, almost ripping his body apart with the strain, and exploded through one of the hangar chutes into the belly of the Sir John Franklin.

Sirens wailed even as emegency repair systems kicked in, resealing the hole. He landed clumsily, gasping, and dropped to his knees. He felt the familiar eerie vibrations, the earthquake-like shudders that told him the ship was once more leaving the regular time-space continuum.

Then he passed out.

* * *
LILA HAD BEEN DEPOSITED IN THE BRIG after being brought on board the Sir John Franklin. She had remained in the brig when the ship intentionally threw itself into its self-created time warp, had heard intercom babble, shouts and orders, had felt through the soles of her feet the second radium spread that heralded their return to normal space.

And then a sort of calm had prevailed.

She dreaded that most of all.

It was twenty minutes before Abe Kennedy arrived at her door, grinning. "Home sweet home," he said, drawing aside the security door.

She stared at him, unbelieving. "Really?"

"Yup. Oh, we're farther out than we were. More around Uranus. But it's still our system."

She considered that information. But it was the same space-time warp that they entered and exited from, she theorized. It was only the passage of eons, as the universe expanded, that made it seem like different vortexes. It had been near Earth, then 65 million years later it was near Jupiter, now it was by Uranus... "Oh God," she whispered. "You've overshot by...by millions of years."

"Don't be ridiculous," he sneered. He grabbed her, pulling her scantily clad body to his. "We're home...and we're going to celebrate." He made to kiss her.

"Bastard!" she screamed. She rammed her knee up into his groin, doubling him over. Then she kneed him again, with all her might, in the stomach. She knew she might have used enough force to rupture something inside him, but she did it anyway. Intellectually she knew he may not have been responsible for his actions, but viscerally... Viscerally, she knew only that he had stranded her in the distant future, far from her companions, and was determined to have his way with her. He sprawled on the ground and she made to kick him again.

Then she stopped. It was a physical strain, but she did it anyway. Hurting him further served no purpose, she told herself, except to make her more like him. She turned, arms still bound, and collided with Dalton Quasar.

"Are you O.K.?" he asked.

"Dalton!" she sobbed, letting him hold her. "Oh, thank god. I was...I was..." She stopped, burying her face in his chest. "Not really the way a Solar Security Agent should act, is it?"

He held her to him tightly, stroking her hair. "If it makes you feel better, the only reason I haven't collapsed into your arms is 'cause you're tied up."

That illicited, not a laugh, but at least a smile, from her. "Quick, untie me." As he turned her around to unknot her bindings, she gasped, "Good Lord!"

"What?" He followed her line of sight to the man at her feet.

"He...he's different," she said, staring at the features of Abe Kennedy. "His features are thicker, his skin rougher, he's..."

"...becoming a pre-historic man?" asked Dalton, already knowing the answer. "The crew didn't disappear, they were still here -- they devolved. I don't quite understand how or why, but I began to suspect as much."

"Temporal equilibrium," she said, breathless. "An animal tries to maintain a temporal balance with its environment. Millions of years in the past, before man existed, and the temporal environment just drives them crazy. But millions of years in the future..."

"An organism tries to readjust to its proper evolutionary niche," Quasar finished, "by devolving. Of course. If it's millions of years out of its time, it reverts to what it was millions of years ago."

Lila looked at him, eyes shimmering. "That means us, too. We'll become like those cavemen. Or worse."

"Not necessarily," he said. "As I said, I'd begun to suspect this would happen. I've got a plan...sort of. With any luck, B-780 has already returned to our time. We just have to make sure we're with him."

"What?"

"Come on." He took her hand and they raced out into the corridor. Already they could hear coarse voices, hysterical shouts from down the halls as the crew sensed the physical changes overcoming them but were unable to understand why. Voices became hoarser, shouted words incomprehensible as their throats became incapable of speech. The two of them were momentarily O.K., Dalton figured, because they hadn't been out of their normal temporal environment as long, but Lila was right. It would happen. Unless his plan worked.

He stopped at a wide door and slammed the release button. As the door hissed open, they raced into the cryogenics chamber.

"Why here?" she asked.

"If we can slow your metabolism, we can retard any devolution."

"But we know these chambers were empty when we found them in our time," she said.

"No." He grinned. "We thought they were, but we don't know. And as long as we don't know, anything is possible."

"You mean...we could've been inside these, even as we were running by outside that time?" (see Chapter 1 ~the Supreme Plasmate.)

He looked at her. "Weird, huh?"

"I'll say." He lifted her easily and laid her out in one of the pods. He wasn't sure how to deactivate them, but activating them was pretty simple. As she lay down, grasping at the one straw of hope still left to them, he pressed the engage button, and the lid began to close over her.

"Just in case this doesn't work," he said. "I like your outfit."

She grinned and started to reply, then the lid closed, there was a hiss of something...and she remained frozen, mouth open, as though about to speak.

Dalton turned, raced outside, and flew off down the corridor.

* * *
THE BRIDGE WAS DESERTED, THE MACHINES carrying on, oblivious to what had happened to the crew. Dalton Quasar hunched over a console, carefully returning the ship's polarity to its original configuration, programming in a binary sequence of radium spreads that would fling the ship into the vortex, hopefully for the final time, and have it emerge somewhere in the vicinity of Jupiter.

He heard growling and scampering from down the corridor, but nothing close to the bridge, at least for the moment.

The main viewscreem showed a swollen red sun, the final years of the once vibrant yellow sun he knew from his own time. He wondered what this future held. Did humans still exist, or had they been lost to memory like the lizard men?

If he were to activate the radio and scan frequencies, what would he hear?

It was so tempting. But he was beginning to be aware that knowing too much about the future, or even just a little, caused more headaches than it cured. Besides, what he didn't tell Lila was that he wouldn't be going into cryogenic suspension. Someone would have to man the controls during time warp. His hope was that his unusual metabolism, the one that allowed him to fly through space without oxygen, and fire energy bursts, would make him resistant to the temporal strain long enough for him to return home. Something B-780 had said led him to believe that was true.

He took one last look at the red sun and wondered about this far distant universe. Then he started the countdown.

* * *
B-780 BURIED HIS SILVER FACE IN HIS mechanical hands. The robot had left his friends behind, lost in time and space. There was nothing else he could do, but that did not alleviate his conscience.

The radio crackled to life. "...this is Captain Szajako, does anyone read me? Agent Volt? B-780? Are you there?"

The robot looked up, glass eyes brightening. Unbelieving, B-780 stared at the little speaker, then, with shaking hands, activated his end. "This...this is B-780."

"Thank god," came the response. "The ship disappeared, then reappeared almost instantly. What happened? Are you O.K.?"

"I'm fine." The robot bowed his head. "The others, though, they--"

"We're fine, too."

B-780 whirled to see Dalton Quasar standing in the doorway. "But...how? Where did you come from?"

"I was here all along. Even when you, Lila and I first came on board, I was already here, but I couldn't show myself for fear I'd change history. I've been hiding, occasionally fighting with the cavemen, keeping them from reaching here, reaching you."

The robot remembered his conviction that something was moving about, but not wanting to be seen, and the distant sounds of fighting in the halls. "And Lila?"

"In cryogenic suspension. She'll be fine once we get her out. Tell Captain Szajako to send a team over armed with sleeping gas -- we've still got a ship full of cavemen to subdue. Though, in time, they might actually revert back to being their normal selves again." Seeing the robot's confused expression, he said, "Don't worry, I'll explain it all. Just as soon as I have the time!"

The End.


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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.)