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Mr. Harper brings us an epic space saga that proves before you open the door see who is on the other side…
Soontill – From the Chronicle of Heroes
John Harper

Time.  They needed more time. 

“Get that recon-light fuelled!” Jake Sinclair yelled, eyes scanning the hill top.  His breath billowed in the evening air as he gestured to the recon plane and computers.  His men rushed between the two, finalizing settings for the launch.  The crystal portal sat in the center of the depression.  It protruded from the dirt, glowing opaque blue.

It was ready to make history.  They would be the first people to send something through it.

            “Boss, they’re coming,” Zep called, half running, half skidding down the cup shaped hill surrounding the portal. 

            Jake bit his lip.  No.  Too soon.  Things were unraveling.  He clapped his hands.  “Move, move!”  The scientists jumped to the portal computers; ancient machines, rigged with human controls. 

They needed another minute.

            Shots fired over the hill rim.

            He swore.  Too late. 

The grey uniformed men spread through the depression.   They threw the scientists to the ground, holding them in place with muscle or weaponry.

            It was pandemonium.  Commander Tyberius Colt swaggered toward Jake, boots unnaturally shiny, uniform crisp.   A scientist threw off his attacker and lunged at the computer panel.  He slammed his hand down—

            —The soldier swung his rifle up.  He fired.

            The scientist’s chest exploded.  His mouth gaped and went rigid.  He dropped to his knees then crashed backward into the ground.

            Jake screamed, but the roar of the recon-light launching drowned him out.  It sped across the depression and hit the portal.

            And disappeared. 

            Jake stared, dumbstruck.  He knew he should have felt victory and relief; he had just witnessed seven years of work, validated.

            But all he felt was shock, anger and confusion.  Everything had suddenly gone terribly wrong.  Anger welled up inside him.  He spun toward Colt, finger stabbing the blond officer’s chest.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? You just killed one of my men!”

            Colt rolled his eyes at Jake and shrugged.  “There are rules for a reason, Doctor Sinclair.  They aren't meant to be broken.”

            “You didn’t have to kill him for Christ's sake!”  Jake couldn’t believe Colt’s callousness, despite the pilot’s kill ranking of ‘Invincible’.

            His hands curled into fists.  He needed to hurt Colt.  But his hands were no match for the commander’s HEMA pistol.

            Colt pushed past Jake, already waving instructions to his men.  They swarmed the portal computers, taking control of the project.  Jake’s project.

            “Don’t ignore me you son of a bitch,” he yelled, restraining Colt.  The officer narrowed his eyes.  His stare was colder than any blizzard, but Jake held firm.  He was too angry to care about the consequences.  “The Commodore is going to hear about this.”

            Colt knocked the arm aside.  He actually laughed, as if it was all a game.  “The Commodore sanctioned­ this move.  You’re a flight risk.”  He pointed to the portal.  “You know we couldn’t trust you with this.”

            Jake’s cheeks reddened.  He had been planning to escape; back to his wife and the life he had left behind.  He had been a prisoner here for seven years.  Not long enough, obviously.  “I’ve been on this project since the start.  I think I’ve earned some goddamn closure on it.”

            Colt smiled, spreading his palms.  “NERA is a community, Doctor.  You might do the hard work, but we get the hazard pay.  Imagine if the other side was dangerous?”

The Navy Exploration and Research Arm.  A bunch of elite pilots with egos to match.  Jake waved the false concern aside. “Commander, please. You have your kill rankings, we have our science. Don’t take this from us.  We deserve it.  I need it.” 

He locked eyes with Colt.  His heart thumped with fear.  His breath raced.  He felt the cool breeze. He forced his eyes still.  He couldn’t lose.  Not now.

“These idiots won’t even know how to use the equipment,” Zep called out.  The kid, trapped under a soldier’s knee, received a rifle butt to the face, silencing him.

“For fuck’s sake!” Jake yelled.  He saw red.  What the hell was going on?  He brought his fists up.  Colt’s outstretched pistol stopped him cold.  The gun barrel rested between his eyes, steady, unwavering.

Jake’s eyes widened.  He forced slow, deep breaths.   He had just lost a man.  Was he next? Either way, he wasn’t going quietly.  “Teach your men some discipline!  What the hell are you doing this for?  We’re not your goddamn enemy!”

The wind rustled through the grass, around his ankles and up his legs.  He felt cold.   A second lumbered past. 

Colt stepped forward, grinding his teeth together and pushing the pistol into Jake’s skull.  Ozone wafted from the gun barrel.

“What do you know of discipline, dropout?”  Jake flinched, but pushed past the painful memory.    “At least I have some honor and dignity.”  He held his breath.  Had he taken it too far?

The side of his head exploded in pain.  He saw stars.  He was on the ground.  Colt stood over him, shaking his left hand.  The pistol was steady in his right.

He looked furious.  Jake knew Colt took his squad and its reputation seriously.  He stared at the barrel, mind blank.  One moment stretched into another; each heartbeat a minute of pulsating agony. 

Colt’s jaw clenched and chewed, as if a debate was raging inside his mind.  His eyes burned into Jake.

            He lowered the gun.  He looked past Jake to his men.  “Get ‘em up!” 

            Jake released his held breath.  It was ok.  He wasn't going to die today.  He picked himself up and glared at Colt. 

            The commander spoke in a cold, calm voice.  “It’s time for you and your men to leave, Doctor.”

            The scientists got to their feet, unaided by the soldiers.  They helped Jake pick up Simon’s body.  Jake felt hollow.  His body moved mechanically.  He held the body in front of Colt and spat at the man’s feet.

 “Come on boys, let the fly boy’s have their fun.”


The portal disappeared behind the cup shaped hill.   The sun was slowly setting to the north east; the NERA base lay to the south.  Jake focused on the command tower at the city center. 

Commodore Butler.  The man didn’t know what was happening in his own command.  Jake was going to give him an earful.  A part of him knew it wouldn’t make a difference however; the pilots were the golden of boys of NERA.

He sighed as he offloaded Simon’s body to another.  During the Crystalline Martyr war, NERA had been humanity's shining beacon of hope, courage and strength.  Now it was covert and black ops.  No recrimination, immune from consequences.  Like when they silenced his father, General Sinclair.

He shouldn’t have left Jemima to avenge his father.  His impatience, anger and incomplete military training had led him here:  Imprisonment.  NERA eventually used him for his science background. He had worked on projects unimaginable back home, but Simon's death echoed the lack of control in his own life.  He could never leave this planet.

Until he reactivated the portal.  Then even that chance was stripped away from him.

Was Jemima still waiting for him, or had she moved on?  He squashed the anxiety from his face. And forced her from his mind.  He couldn't breathe, couldn’t think, if she stayed in his mind.  Pure torture.

He realized Zep was muttering.  He stopped. 

The kid pulled him around.  “What the fuck was that about?”  His face was red; veins protruded from his bear-like biceps.

Jake slapped Zep’s arm aside.  He wasn’t in the mood for this.  “What was what?”

“I heard Colt.  You’re a flight risk.  You ruined our experiment and killed Simon.  You’d better have a bloody good explanation.”

That was a slap in the face.  This punk was going to lay that on him?  “I wasn’t the one that put us two weeks behind schedule, you little shit.  You and your fucking theories,  going off half arsed, disobeying instructions and fucking up the plan.  If anyone is to blame, it’s you.”

Zep stepped forward.  Their noses almost touched.  Jake felt Zep's hot, fast breath, smelt his sweat and anger.  His pupils were wide, staring. 

Jake’s reaction was to jerk back, but he held firm.  He stared back, teeth clenched, unwilling to yield.  He also had frustration to vent; if this punk wanted a lesson, he was ready to give it.

The earth shook.  Jake blinked; Soontill wasn’t tectonically active. 

“What have those flyboys done?” Zep yelled.

Jake turned.  Purple lightning streaked upwards from the cup hill, illuminating the dusk sky.  The ground bucked again, throwing his men to the ground.

A piercing roar filled the air. A triplet of Saber Mk II airfighters buzzed overhead.  The wind blast ripped at Jake’s clothing.

They headed straight for the portal.  “Surely they aren’t. . .” said Jake.

The airfighters dipped their forward swept wings, disappeared over the hill. . .

And nothing.

“That bastard just sent men through the portal,” Zep roared.  Jake narrowed his eyes, waiting for something to happen.  Zep had a right to be angry; Colt was crossing the line, in more ways than one.  Hadn’t he heard of safety procedures?  He had to be stopped.

Zep grabbed Jake's shoulder.  “We have to tell the Commodore.”

The others looked scared, bewildered.  Jake chewed his lip.  He hated to admit it, but Zep was right.  Colt had lost it.  He was out of control.  Only the Commodore could rein him in. 

“Ok, let’s go—”

The cup hill disappeared in a fireball.  Jake’s team fell back, shouting in alarm.  The shockwave rippled upwards through the sky.

Jake spotted a black dot, silhouetted against the setting sun.

No, several dots, growing in size.

Heading straight for them.

The dots grew.  They took shape:  wings, knobby extrusions.  Triangle shaped.  Ships! 

Jake watched, transfixed.  They screamed through the air, ripping molecules from the sky.  The noise smashed into Jake like a physical force.  He cowered back, hands over his ears, screaming from the pain.  The bottom of the ships parted.

Realization hit him.  His eyes widened in fear.  “Bombs!”  He pushed someone forward and dived to the ground.

The fist of god struck the planet.  The concussion wave washed over him, punching, slapping and smashing his body. Dust and debris billowed.  He coughed and rolled over, waiting for his eyes to stop bouncing in their sockets.

The ships flew through the smoke, straight for the city.  More orbs fell.

Soontill bucked and jumped.  Buildings collapsed.  Metal shrieked and groaned.  Fireballs blossomed through the streets, screeching their own torturous music.  The shockwaves slammed into the surviving buildings.

He heard screams.

Loud, long shrieks of pain.  It was pure mortal terror.  There were hundreds of researchers in the base.  They were all being burnt alive.

He climbed to his feet, swaying as his mind spun.  The triangle ships had destroyed the base in mere minutes. 

The screams continued, filling his ears, each a splinter of guilt stabbing into his gut.

A bomb went off behind them, throwing dust and debris.  Blair screamed.  Jake turned.  Blair lay face up, eyes wide and still and a bloody tear in his stomach.  Andrew writhed across the ground, flames raking his clothes.  Zep crashed into him, smothering the flames with his lab coat.

Jake’s face hardened.  He blocked out the screams for the city.  He couldn’t do anything for them.  But he could still save his team.  What was left of it, anyway.

A guttural, booming scream eclipsed the roar of the burning city. It sounded like Cerberus itself.  Jake faced the cup hill.

The sky was dark with triangles.



They were everywhere.  They blocked out the sun.  They raced toward the city.

The sound of ion displacement engines emerged from the south.  A wing of  Saber Mk II’s and Belligerent bombers thundered toward the triangles, firing missiles and torpedoes.

The air filled with smoke and fireballs as ships exploded and rained down upon the earth.  Jake watched with wide eyes, horrified.  They had to get to cover. 

“To the bunker,” he yelled, voice coarse with dust.  The air smelt burnt, poisonous.  He stumbled forward, choked by the smoke. 

They headed for the city.  Jake hoped he wasn’t leading his men into danger.  The bunker could have collapsed from the attack.  What would they do then?

A Saber screamed toward them, engines coughing black smoke.  It was going to crash!  It shook as its pilot tried to regather.  It was too late.  The ship shot overhead and smashed into the ground.  It exploded in a shriek of sound and flame.

Jake fought his heart back under control.  Despite the danger in the city, at least they could find cover. 

He realized they had left Blair and Simon’s bodies behind.  He fought the urge to go back.  He had to think of the living.  He thought of Jemima, but buried her deep.  Not now.

“Go!” he yelled, sprinting forward.


Zep led them through the city remains.  A fuel silo exploded, shrieking and howling as the ships continued to battle above them.  The primary star slipped past the horizon, its final rays struggling through the smoke ridden sky. 

It was hard to breathe.  Fire reached out from every building, taunting them.  Blackened corpses lined the streets.  Some still burned.

 It was Armageddon.

The bunker building had collapsed, but Zep spotted the intact doors leading down into the earth.  The men cleared the debris, fear fuelling their arms.  They ripped the doors open.  Jake pushed from behind, urging them down.  He stared at the sky, pleading for a few more seconds of relative peace.

He was last in.  He raced down the stairwell.  Despite the panic, his neck still crawled as the meta-steel stairs change to the molded alien excretion.  He never liked it down there.

The scientists collapsed to the floor, grunting and gasping. Heavy breathing echoed around the moist alien walls.

Jake doubled over, hands on his knees.  His chest heaved, sucking in oxygen.  The bunker was empty, plundered of all its ancient technology.  His neck crawled.  He had never understood why all the artifacts were buried in the bunker, while the portal was left out in the open.  The NERA brass hadn’t thought twice about it however.

The building shook gently, loosing ceiling bonding.  The men shivered.  They looked upward, moaning. 

They weren’t safe yet.  What if NERA couldn’t repulse the attack?  The background rumble kept everyone on edge.  A nearby explosion made the men jump, startled.  Jake’s breathing slowed, but everyone was still covered in sweat, their faces pale.

His eyes wandered to the metal lockup in the far wall.  It stood out from the organic masonry like an infection.  It still housed the ‘Oberdrive’ prototype he had reverse engineered from the alien hyperdrive found in the bunker.  The project had been left on ice after it was found to cause strange manifestations in darkspace, the highway of interstellar travel.  The thought still gave him goosebumps.

The vibrations faded.  Jake sighed in relief.  Perhaps NERA had turned the tide.  The adrenaline faded.  He needed sleep.  He stretched his stiff muscles and sat on the floor. 

His men whispered to each other.  The occasional face looked up, listening, as a distant explosion broke the silence.  Zep stood straight, breathing slowly, scanning the room.  His narrowed eyes settled on Jake.  “We have to shut the portal.”

The scientists grumbled in alarm.   “It’s the Navy’s job!” said Andrew.

“That's what they get paid for,” said Victor.

Everyone turned to Jake. He straightened up and squared his shoulders.  His men needed a leader.  He had to look­ like one. 

But they were just scientists.   It was the NERA soldiers who trained for the unknown threats.  “There’s nothing we can do, Zep.”

Zep snarled.  He punched his left palm.  “Dammit, those aliens will keep coming through unless we stop them.”

“The soldiers can do it.”

Zep snorted.  “You saw them out there.  They're outnumbered.  They're losing.  They don’t have the spare manpower, even if they knew how to operate the portal. We're the only ones that can do it.”

The bunker went quiet. His men looked away, but Zep continued to stare.  He snarled.  “Cowards.”

Jake flinched.  The truth hurt.  He dropped his gaze, ashamed.  He felt the kid’s eyes burning into him.

“Boss,” Zep urged.  He sounded desperate.  “Think of your family back home.”

Jake tried to fight it.  Her face, her touch, her breath.  Her whole being filled him, flooded through his mind.

Then he saw her ravaged body in the street, as alien ships flew over a charred earth.  He screwed his eyes closed and clenched his fists.  A possible future.  One he wouldn’t, couldn’t allow.

He opened his eyes, feeling calm.  If he was going to die, he was going to do it protecting the woman he loved.

Jake looked at the others.  Wet eyes, trembling lips.  Someone was sobbing.  He knew his men had never been in a fight before, let alone risked their lives.  At least he had some military training, cut short as it was.

And Zep was a punk kid with a death wish.  Jake breathed deeply.  It was up to the two of them.

 “No one move.  Stay here until we get back,” he ordered the others.  He nodded at Zep and raced up the stairs.

Zep bounded after him.  “What’s the plan?”

“Find a radio, see what’s going on and get over to the portal.”

They reached the surface.  Brown smoke curdled around them, blocking the faint light from Soontill's secondary.  Ship wrecks littered the road, gutted by fire and belching smoke.  Bombs and fire had gutted or flattened the buildings.

Jake gaped.  Where were they going to find a radio in all that destruction?

“Hangar 2 might still be standing,” said Zep.

 “Worth a go.”


They sprinted down the cratered road.  The aerial dogfight blazed to the north; the city itself was eerily quiet, save distant thuds and the crackle of flame.

Jake kept an eye on the sky.  The ruined city made him feel exposed.  He heard the whine of an alien ship, followed by a new sound.  A whistle, growing louder.  A bomb.  He clenched his jaw and pushed his body faster.  Sweat dripped from his face.

A building exploded, throwing Jake to the ground.  Bonding and glass billowed over him.  Flames clawed at his legs. His lungs burned.  He began crawling but collapsed, coughing.

Something yanked him up and pushed him forward. Zep smiled through the clearing dust.   “You ok Boss?”  He pointed down a side street.  “The hangar is just up there.”

Jake spat out dust and coughed.  His throat was hoarse; his skin tingled with heat. He pushed Zep forward with a grunt.


They raced through the ship sized doors into the dark hangar.  They climbed the stairs into the control booth.  Zep powered up the radio; Jack grabbed the handset.

Colts voice boomed over the speakers.  “Report.”

Jake’s professionalism failed him. “You fucking idiot, what the hell did you do?”

Colt went silent. Jake hoped he was sweating up there.  A small explosion registered over the radio. 

“No time for blame, Doctor.” His voice was tight, strained.  From the conversation, or the dogfight?  “We need to shut the portal down remotely.”

 A chill gripped Jake’s spine.  He grimaced at Zep.   “Remotely?”

“They’ve brought in ground troops.”  Colt paused again.  “And they'd advancing through the base.”

Jake’s eyes widened in fear.  He locked eyes with Zep.  He burst out of the control room, heart in his throat.

The hangar doors were clear.  For now.  He raced back inside and dialed up to the orbiting surveyor satellite.  A computer screen flicked to life, showing an overhead view of the NERA base.

Then a second layer activated.  Red.  Infrared. Hot.

A swarm of enemy troops flowing through the city.  They were like a virus, swallowing everything in their path. 

“Holy shit,” said Zep.    He saw it too. 

The troops were almost at the hangar.

“We don’t have any weapons,” Zep blurted.  “They’ll kill us!”

Jake scowled.  “What did you expect?  This isn’t a goddamn game, Zep.  It’s real life and death.”

“The Commodore has called in the cavalry,” Colt said. “We just need to hold out until then.”

Jake snorted.  The fleet was in civilized space.  Weeks away.  His eyes drifted back to the satellite display.  The flood of red grew. They had minutes, if that.

They were on their own. 

“We have a duty here, gentlemen. We’re not fighting for ourselves – we’re fighting for our civilization.”

Jake narrowed his eyes.  “I know what I’m fighting for.”  And it's not for you.

Colt's voice darkened.  “We’re outnumbered, outgunned and surrounded.  Their technology is too advanced.  We can’t get past them to blow up the portal.  We’re out of options.  I need you to shut it down.”

 Jake gulped.  They couldn’t.  Not remotely.  That left them with one option.  He straightened his shoulders and stared at Zep.  “We’ll have to do it manually.”

Zep went pale.  “We can’t take on an army.”

Colt’s voice carried no emotion.  “You'd better hurry.  We won't last much longer.”  An explosion echoed across the speakers. 

Jake dropped his head.  NERA pilots were the elite of humanity.  How could they have been routed?  Who were the aliens?  Were the Crystalline Martyrs back?  Had they somehow survived extermination a millenium ago?

He chuckled sadly.  He had opened the portal without understanding the coordinate system.

The aliens could have been from anywhere.  Hopelessness swelled inside him.  You have to save her.  Think of something!

He activated the hangar lights, blinding himself.  He blinked away the spots. 

A spaceship sat in the far corner, encased in an extended life docking collar.  His heart skipped a beat.  “Hello old girl.”  He grabbed the handset.  “Give me her lock code.”

Colt inhaled sharply.  He knew what Jake was talking about.  Zep frowned.  He didn’t know anything of Jake’s arrival on Soontill.  He was about to find out.

“Dammit, Commander.  You’ve got bigger problems than me escaping.  If you want our help, you need to unlock her.”

 Colt muttered to himself.  “Transmitting unlock code now.”

Jake’s stomach flipped.  He was free.  For half a moment he thought of flying straight home.  But what would happen when the aliens got to earth? 

Colt was right.  They had a duty.  

“We’ll be airborne in a few minutes.  Give us some cover.”

Colt almost sounded excited.  “Roger.”


The Magellan class explorer sat high on its landing skids.  Its sharp, aristocratic nose curved upward.  Two stubby wings straddled the four huge engines which dominated the rear superstructure.

Jake checked the hangar door.  Still clear.  He gestured at the control platform for the docking collar.  “Get her undocked.”

Zep leapt to the controls.  Jake looked up, noting the letters along the lower superstructure.

J E M I M A.

He smiled, remembering happier times.  He climbed the right landing strut and unplugged the umbilical cords attached to the ships inlet ports.  Zep grunted positively.  The umbilical cords hissed and retracted.  The collar could maintain a ship at flight ready status for twenty years; fuel, lubricant and oxygen would all be full.

The boarding ramp lowered from the ships lower superstructure.  The engines whirred to life, filling the hangar with noise.

Jake jumped from the landing strut.

A laser bolt hit the strut above his head, sparking with a shriek.  Jake ducked.  He whirled to face the entrance.

 Five troopers raced forward, weapons firing.  More and more armored men appeared behind them, filling the entrance with soldiers.  Laser blasts rained into the ship and floor. 

Jake screamed at Zep.  Doubled over, he ran for the boarding ramp.  Shots flew past his head.   

He hit the boarding ramp, footfalls clanging against the steel.  He dived through the opening into the ship.

He spun around.  Where was Zep?  He knelt toward the opening, flinching as laser bolts screamed past his face. 

Zep lay trapped under the collar controls, curled into a ball. 

He was trapped.   Shaking, he made eye contact with Jake.  His eyes were wide.  Jake swore; he couldn't help Zep from the boarding ramp.

He raced through the ship's narrow corridor to the cockpit.  He fell into his acceleration chair.  The main engines were still spooling up, but the maneuvering jets were primed.  He toggled the starboard jets.  The ship moaned then tilted.  It rolled over further, further.  Jake held tight, juicing the jets harder.

The ship lurched sideways.  The landing skids shrieked.  The ship leveled out, skidding across the floor, showering the hangar in sparks. 

The soldiers ran forward, shouting, firing their laser weapons. 

Only a hundred meters away at most.

Jake pushed the ship faster, wincing at the screams of metal.

The ship scraped sideways. 

He clenched his jaw, focus switching from Zep to the soldiers.

The ship's nose hit the wall.  Jake stopped and jumped from his seat.  He raced to the boarding ramp. 

Zep was already moving, protected by the body of the boarding ramp.  He scaled the ramp and collapsed to the ship's deck.  He grabbed Jake’s arm.  Jake got the message:   Thank’s for not leaving me behind.  It was something Zep could never say out loud. 

As Zep raised the ramp, Jake charged back to the cockpit.

The sight outside chilled his blood.

Only half the soldiers were charging the ship.  The other half were arming a pair of howitzers.

Jake swallowed hard.  He activated the shields as Zep bounced into the co-pilots seat.

The engines needed another ten seconds.  Jake grimaced, watching their speed and temp. 

“You sure you know how to fly this?” Zep said, an edge of uncertainty in his voice.

“This is my ship, kid.”

Jake's eyes flicked between the howitzers and the engine readout.  He felt Zep staring.

“You came here chasing the legends, didn’t you?”

The soldiers loaded the howitzers.  The barrels began moving.  They looked big.  One shot could punch right through their shields.  He transmitted a command to the hangar mainframe to open the roof. 

“My recruitment was different to yours Zep.  I came here looking for revenge, but I ended up as a prisoner.”

Zep's jaw dropped.

The roof split with a groan, halves folding away.

Smoke billowed in from outside.

The howitzers rocked to a stop.  They were ready.

Jake pulled back on the controls.

The howitzers fired.

The Jemima jumped into the air. 

The howitzer round flew straight at them.  Jake and Zep watched on, hypnotized.  It bore down on them.

Jake closed his eyes, knuckles white around the controls.

The ship shook.  Jake snapped his eyes opened.  They were still alive; the shell had missed.

He roared in victory as the Jemima roared into the sky.


Smoke, missile exhaust and laser coolant choked the sky; smoldering shipwrecks beset the cratered city.  A cloud of black triangles filled the northern sky, tinted with the odd speck of Saber-silver.

“Jesus, they’re getting hammered,” Jake murmured.  This was his fault.  He was the one who opened the portal.  It was his job to close it again. 

He routed weapon power to the engines and opened the throttles.  The ship surged forward, heading straight for the portal, keeping low to stay out of the dog fight.

A flight of Saber’s broke from the fight and fell into formation behind them.  Alien laser beams scythed after them.  Black triangles surrounded them.  The Saber's opened fire.  They smashed a hole in the alien line.  Jake pushed the engines to their stops, urging the ship faster as they blasted through the ambush.

The ship shook from an explosion.  Jake fought the ship stable and checked the scanner.

“Shit.”  The Sabers were all gone.  They had sacrificed themselves to get him and Zep through.  Where was that camaraderie two hours ago?  Regardless, Jake felt an empty pit in his stomach.

They were on their own.


They blasted out of the city, shaking from the ground effects.  Soldiers took pot shots as they continued to march into the city.

Jake chewed his lip as they breasted the cup hill—

—Just as five alien ships materialized from the portal.

He yelped, pulling back on the controls.  The ship struggled against air friction.  “Come on!” 

The alien ships opened fire.

The ship finally jumped, leapfrogging the aliens.

Jake wiped his sweaty forehead and pushed the controls forward.  The nose arced down, centering on the portal.

Soldiers filled the hill depression.  They looked up and fired.  Jake’s shields flared from the attack. 

He was coming in too hot for a solid missile lock.  Would a missile even destroy the portal?  It was made from an unknown element.

He aimed at the portal computers. 

A laser beam flashed past.  He grimaced.  He was only going to get one shot at this.

He crossed his fingers.  He fired the missiles dumb—

—The ship slew sideways with a bang.  Smoke filled the cockpit.  Klaxons blared and red lights flashed.

Panic gripped him.  He yanked on the controls.  The ship jerked then continued forward . . . straight towards the portal.

Time slowed.  The missiles scrambled toward the computers, leaving smoky contrails.  The ship limped forward.  Jake’s eyes widened.


He pulled at the controls with all this strength.  His knuckles went white.  No response.

Time sped up.

The computers exploded.  The portal shimmered, losing transparency.

The ship hit it. 

Everything went black.


Jake’s eyes flicked open.  A faint oil lamp hung beyond a wall of rusted bars.  Its flame flickered from a breeze.  Shadows danced across the walls.

He sighed as he edged up to sit against a wall.

A prisoner again.

He ran through his last memories.  The portal, an explosion.  Had they gone through?  What happened to the ship?  To Zep?

            The cell was small and square.  Crumbling mortar lay across the pitted floor.  He wondered why a race with warships superior to NERA would have such a dilapidated prison.

A bundle of fabric sat on a slab of ‘crete jutting from the far right hand wall.

The bundle shook. Jake’s skin prickled.  An alien?  A rat?

A face appeared from within the fabric. 

Jake leapt to his feet, heart racing.  “What the hell?”  The face was filthy, blistered and cloaked in slimy hair, but there was no doubting its identity.

He was looking at himself.

Jake stared, frozen with shock. 

“I’ve been expecting you,” croaked his doppelganger.  Despite dehydration and age, the voice was definitely Jake’s. 

His head throbbed from a thousand thoughts:   Had he traveled through time?  Was this a paradox?  How could his other-self be expecting him?

He slid down the wall, mouth agape, staring at himself.  His mind felt heavy.  His mouth went dry. “How?”

The doppelganger smiled, cracked lips parting like boiling flesh. “The fourth coordinate.”


Jake's eyes widened.  The first three coordinates of Minkowski, or ‘Ordinary’ space, designated three-dimensional space; the fourth represented time. 

But they had never changed the fourth portal coordinate.

“Son of a bitch.”  If they had traveled through time, then Minkowski space wasn’t the basis for the portal.

He shivered.  The consequences of the discovery would completely rewrite human science.

He pushed the thought aside; he had bigger problems to deal with.  “How long have you, me, us been prisoner?”

The doppelganger grinned.  “I’m not you, Jake.”  The lantern flame danced in his pupils.  He looked possessed. “Genetically yes, technically no. Understand?”

Jake snapped. “No I fucking don’t.” He lunged across the cell and grabbed his double’s collar.  “Tell me what’s going on, right now.”

“Is this a joke?” said Zep.  He sat up on the floor with a confused expression on his face. 

Jake dropped his doppelganger and helped Zep up. “You ok?”  He nodded at his double.  “Say hello, Jake.”

“Call me Skippy.  Save some confusion.”

Jake raised an eyebrow.  That was his nickname too.  He cleared his throat:   “Skippy was about to tell us what year it is.”

“Fifteen thousand AD, give or take.”

Zep stiffened.  “Eleven thousand years,” he whispered.  Jake brought him up to speed.

“So, you’re a time traveler too,” Zep said to Skippy. 

Jake frowned, remembering Skippy's earlier words.  Technically not the same person.

 “Time travel?” snorted Skippy.   “Are you professors or post grads?”

Jake struggled to keep a calm façade as his blood boiled.  What was more complex than four dimensions?

He gasped.  “Five dimensions.”

Skippy winked. “Congratulations.”


“The portal doesn’t travel through physical space at all - it’s a dimensional gate, centered on Soontill,” said Jake.

Zep's jaw dropped.  “The legends are true.”

The color drained from Jake’s face.  Every spacer he had met on the fringe had a story on Soontill:   A point in space where dimensions intersect.  An outpost of the ancient race, destroyed in a prehistoric war.  “I guess they are,” he mumbled.

Zep paced the cell, rubbing his chin. “Pearse-White penta-space predicts an intersection point. The portal builders obviously harnessed it.”  He punched his right palm.  “I can’t believe we didn’t think of it.”  Zep looked, thrilled, alive with energy.  Another discovery for his ego.  “What dimension are you from?” He asked Skippy.

The doppelganger cackled and went quiet.

Jake coughed.  He ran a hand through his hair.  “As we didn’t alter our coordinates, I would guess we're in our own dimension, eleven millennia in the future.”  He faced Skippy.  “You obviously changed yours.”

 Skippy’s snorted in obvious contempt. “As any true scientist would.”

Zep forced a laugh.  “And look where it got you, old man.”

Skippy's chuckle came in gasps. “I would do it again. Just like you.”

Jake shook, barely holding back his anger.  Was he as big an asshole as Skippy? “I’m sure you would you selfish bastard. What about Jemima? You disgrace our name!”

Zep held Jake's shoulder. “He’s not you, boss.”

Jake breathed deep and unclenched his fists. “Yes, he’s just an insane old man.”

Skippy’s vacant expression returned.  The cell lapsed into silence.  Even the whispers of the breeze had died.  Jake looked at the bars and shuddered.  He had no idea what lay beyond them.  The cell suddenly felt smaller.

”At least we disabled the portal,” Zep said.

"You sure?"

"The portal went blue once we passed through.  No reinforcements for those aliens."

Jake sighed with a smile.  They did it.  Jemima was safe.

 “Aliens?” Skippy asked.

“The ones holding us prisoner, old-timer."

“They’re not aliens.” Skippy pointed a bony finger at the bars.  Jake stared at the darkness beyond, heart racing.

A repeating clink echoed up from the darkness.  He froze. 

It grew louder, separated.  Footsteps.

Three bipeds appeared.  They wore cloaks of metal rings.  The center figure moved his hand toward the bars.  They swung inward, narrowly missing Jake.

The figure stepped forward.  The lantern illuminated his face.

Jake and Zep gasped.

He was human.


The darkness led down a winding staircase which fed into a dirt stained corridor.  Fused wiring hung from wall sockets; light orbs dangled lifelessly.

Their escorts were tall and gangly from Soontill's weak gravity.  Their lopsided gait and albino skin gave them a tortured look. 

A window overlooked an airstrip.  Several of the black triangle ships lay scattered across the tarmac, in various states of repair.

Rusty red clouds crowded the hangars and the distant skyscrapers.  The planet looked sick.

They entered a guarded door.  Jake gaped, dumbstruck. A faded velvet chair crested a marble pedestal.  Threadbare purple carpet flowed outward.

It was a throne room.

His escorts pushed him forward.  A tapestry on the far wall depicted a spaceship flying from a planet into a tiger’s mouth.  Before he could decipher its meaning, a curved blade pressed into his shoulder, forcing him to kneel.  Zep knelt to his left. 

Jake studied the carpet.  He was totally out of his depth.  He tried to control his breathing, all too aware of the blade at his shoulder.  If it slipped. . .

Water dripped from the ceiling.  He heard the breathing of the guards behind him.  There was a fast chatter from behind the throne.

He pursed his lips, listening.  It was English.  “We lost how many?”  Fast and accented, it was nevertheless understandable.  

 A pair of blue boots and stockings appeared before Jake.  He looked up.  The King wore a thick red robe and a jewel-studded crown.  An orange beard licked his face, but a scared cheek ruined his regality. 

The King slithered into his throne, bracketed by aides.  He twirled a finger through his mustache and stared at Jake.  “You two will detail the mineral resource and military strength beyond the crystal.”

Jake frowned, not fully understanding.  His eyes flicked to Zep’s.  “We’re just scientists.”

 The blade pushed into his neck.  Jake froze, unable to even swallow.  He struggled to speak, but then thought of Jemima and held fast.  She would be safe if the King stayed on this side of the portal.

“I can do worse than kill you,” The King said with a vicious smile.  The words oozed like poison from his tongue.  Jake shivered, scared.  The King’s eyes burrowed into him.  He fought the urge to flinch. 

“Wrong answer,” smiled the King.

Jake felt his arm wrenched around and to the side.  He was pushed into the floor, facing his outstretched arm.  His heart raced.  What was happening?

One guard separated out Jake’s little finger, while crunching his heel on the other four.

Jake’s eyes darted side to side.  He struggled, but the guards held him tight.  

Another guard dropped to his knees and lined his blade up against the finger.

Jake’s eyes widened in realization.  His stomach flipped.  His heart slammed against his ribcage.  “Wait, wait, wait!”

The blade swung down.

The world exploded in pain.  Fireworks shrieked through his vision. Everything went dark.  His throat was coarse; he was screaming.

 “Fucks sake, he’s telling the truth!” Zep cried. “We just worked on the portal.”

Jake struggled to open his eyes.  His hand throbbed violently.  Blood pulsed from the stump.  The pain filled his entire being.  He felt underwater; all other senses dulled in comparison.

He clutched his hand, feeling sick.  A guard threw a towel in his face.  He numbly wrapped the fabric around the stump.  He rocked back and forth, hyperventilating, willing the pain away.  He held the bandage tight.  Despite the shock, he knew he had to control the blood loss.  He felt light headed.

“Then tell me about the portal,” said the King, ignoring Jake.

“Pearse-White penta space,” Zep blurted.  He caught Jake’s eye and gave a half nod before he began explaining fifth-dimensional theory.  He shifted to darkspace mechanics and the King’s eyes glazed over.  Several aides glanced up at the tiger mural and shivered.

“Enough!”  Bellowed the King, face screwed into a grimace.  “You will reopen the portal now.”

Jake groaned as he struggled up onto his knees.  The bandage was dark red.  He ground his teeth together, steeling himself.  He wasn’t going to let this bastard through.  That was kind of deed his dad would be proud of.

“The portal needs twenty one megawatts for activation,” he said through clenched teeth.  He was dizzy.  He clutched the bandage tighter.

A murmur rippled through the aides.  The King was silent for a moment.  “You shall have your power.  What else—”

“My Lord!” an aide stepped forward. “If we deactivate the radiation shield, we—”

The King silenced him with a glare.  The throne room went silent.  He fingered his beard.  “We need the resources beyond the crystal to rebuild our society and defeat the Eastern Alliance.”  He sighed wearily.  “We must sacrifice a few to save the whole.”

The aide straightened. “The easterners may be our last brothers, Lord.  We should make peace before it’s too late.” 

The Kings arm snapped outward. The aide staggered back, hands clutched to his throat. Blood flooded through his fingers.  He collapsed to the floor, arms dropping to his side before he went still. The King wiped his knife on his chair and returned it to his robe.

Jake stared as the expanding blood stained the purple carpet.  He suddenly realized that by flying through the portal, he had condemned Zep and himself to death.

The blade returned to his throat.  He stared at the King, deafened by his own pounding heart.

 “—have peace with the Sky Darkeners. Not after what they did to me. No peace until we destroy them!”


The castle doors creaked shut behind them. The hot dry wind grabbed at Jake’s clothing and hair. 

He cradled his burnt stump against his chest.  The King’s ‘doctor’ had seared the wound closed and fed him a pale powder.  The pain had subsided to a throb, allowing him to walk and work.

The air stank.  It tasted sour.  He sneered at the red sky.  He frowned.  The distant skyscrapers were just rusting hulks of ancient buildings.  There was no metropolis out there.

They stepped down the crumbling steps and onto a road, all but disintegrated with time.  Derelict buildings lined the street.  The flicker of flame was visible through empty window sockets. 

White face peered out at him, eyes sunken and scalps hairless.  Jake shivered and he cupped his wound.  This world was straight from the lowest, darkest level of hell.  It just didn’t make any sense.  He always imagined a utopian future, not a toxic, barren wasteland that struggled to find twenty-one megawatts of power. 

“What do you think about the radiation shield?” He whispered to Zep.  When the kid actually used his head, his insights were invaluable.  “To protect them from the ‘darkening’ of the sky - nuclear fallout, I guess.”

Jake pursed his lips.  If they couldn’t rely on solar energy, they could still use wind turbines and thermal gradient engines.  All they needed was a little knowledge and raw materials.

He stopped cold.  Raw material.  The King had been obsessed with the raw material beyond the portal.  And everything in the castle had been old and in disrepair.  The realization hit him in the chest.

Soontill had no raw materials left.


A guard growled and prodded him forward with his cleaver, rusted with dried blood.  Jake leaned toward Zep, whispering.  “These people don’t have any resources.  They can’t build anything new.”  The thought sunk in.  “Jesus.  Life has to be a daily struggle here.”

 Zep rubbed his chin.  “Surely they could import supplies from neighboring star systems?”

Jake tilted his head.  “Your explanation of darkspace confused the King.”

“And did you see that tapestry?”

Jake nodded.  The spaceship heading into the tiger’s mouth; the darkness.  “The advisor said the Eastern Alliance were their ‘last brothers’.  They’ve obviously lost touch with the rest of humanity, if it is even out there.”

“You’re right,” said Zep.  “But would a thousand colonized worlds simultaneously lose the ability to build hyperdrives?”

“No, hyperdrives are a simple technology,” said Jake, shaking his head.  “There must be something wrong with darkspace itself.”

They walked in silence.  Zep chewed his lip.  “We can’t let these barbarians through.  Can you imagine if they got hold of our hyperdrive technology?”

Jake grimaced.  He hadn’t stopped thinking about it.  He couldn’t let the King’s forces through.  That was the only way to keep Jemima safe.  He had failed her as a husband, abandoning her to seek revenge.  But he had a chance to redeem himself.

 “If we don’t open the portal, the King will kill us.”

 Jake’s gaze dropped. “I know.” 


The road passed the airstrip.  The triangle ships were either in pieces, or held together with welds and bonding tape.  Battle damage.

“The war with the Eastern Alliance,” Zep said.

Jake’s shoulders slumped.  The pieces of the jigsaw clicked together:   War.  It was all about war.  Without darkspace, Soontill’s population had splintered instead of uniting.  Gangs fighting for food turned into continental resource hoarding, ultimately leading to planetary war. 

Just like World War III.   “Man kind can’t escape its past,” Jake mumbled.  History always repeated itself.

            They entered a plaza of shattered golden tiles. The remains of a broad arch lay across a dry water fountain.  At its base sat an obsidian plaque, its lettering faded with eons of decay:

 “T-e f-rst –erdrive pow-ed ship –aunched here on –s day, 4300 AD

Jake snorted. Was this some kind of joke?  The first hyperdrive was launched from Earth, in the 22nd century.   He turned to reread the plaque, but his escorts pushed him around a bend and into a marketplace.

Hundreds of grubby people shuffled past stalls of pale, sickly food.  Despite their lethargy, the people still managed to scuttle away from Jake’s escort.  A man on crutches tried to hobble out of the way.

The lead soldier swung his cleaver. 

Jake screamed.  The man's head toppled onto the ground.  Blood sprayed everywhere. 
The body remained upright for a moment before thudding to the ground.

Jake clenched his eyes shut in horror.  His legs were rubber.  A guard pushed him forward.  His mind screamed insanity at the casual murder.  It was pure barbarity.  How could his world of science and civilisation have turned into this?

What had gone wrong with humanity?


Zep kicked the intact and functional portal computer.  “Good aim, boss.”

Jake's cheeks reddened.  If the portal computers were intact now, then he clearly hadn't destroyed them in the past. “Perhaps I only damaged the NERA attachments to the computers.  That would have been enough to close the portal.” 

"Well someone fixed them in the last ten thousand years."

Jake followed Zep's gaze.  The computer was ready for commands.

Zep froze.  He looked from the computers to the local 'technician' and leant toward Jake.  “I bet we can figure this out and then escape back to our own time."

Or earlier, thought Jake.  Reality sunk in and he shook his head.  "You want to figure out in ten minutes what we couldn't do in seven years?  Besides, we can't risk letting these people through again.  You know what'll happen."

Zep's hands shook as he gestured to the computers.  He looked excited.  "We didn't have all the information before.  Thanks to Skippy, we know it's based on penta-space.  And we can program a virus to disable the portal once we've gone through."

His enthusiasm was infectious.  Hand forgotten for a moment, Jake thought of home.  He would give anything to hold Jemima again.

But this tainted future would still exist, would still be a threat.  Now that the King knew the portal worked, he wouldn’t stop until he opened it again.  The only way to keep Jemima safe was to remove this future. 

Jake stared at the portal.  He had a time machine, right here.  He could fix this.  He waited until a patrolling guard was out of earshot. “Ok, you’re the expert.  How do we correlate four coordinates to penta-space?”

            Zep scratched his chin. “In penta-space theory, every choice splits reality into multiple existences.  This means that all possibilities actually occur, leading to infinite ‘splinter’ realities.”

Jake nodded, mind racing.  “So we would need to know both the particular ‘splinter’ reality and the time along that splinter that we want.”

Zep gasped and pushed past Jake to the computer.  “This is what I did my thesis on:  historical fractals.”

Jake grimaced, making Zep’s smile widen.  “Imagine a three-dimensional snowflake. The beginning of the universe is the center of the snowflake. Each choice splinters reality into branches, which then grow their own branches. Eventually you get a three-dimensional field filled with all possible realities.”

Jake snapped his fingers. “So the first three coordinates don’t represent ‘real space’, they represent ‘snowflake’ space’?”

“Exactly!  Which means the fourth coordinate is the ‘time’ along that splinter reality.”

Jake moved in closer, examining the computer display. “Can you backtrack? Choose an exact time?” he asked.

Zep gave Jake an indignant look. “Of course.”

Jake looked at his throbbing, disfigured hand.  What if they just escaped?  No, he had to do this.  This future was a threat as long as it existed.  It had to be removed from the space time continuum.  Permanently.  “We have to fix whatever went wrong here.”

Zep breathed deeply.  He finally nodded, as if in protested acceptance.  “We know isolation is the key.  If there hadn’t been a problem with darkspace, they wouldn’t have run out of material and devolved into murderous scum.”

“So what could distort darkspace enough to make it inaccessible?”

The red sky continued to darken.  Jake wanted to be gone before dusk.

“I’ve never read about it in any hyper-mechanics journals,” mused Zep.  “Have you?”

“No, but I have read a. . .”  He recalled the last Oberdrive prototype report:

. . .It is the conclusion of this report that the turbulent and unstable manifestations detected in darkspace are an effect of the OB-2 engine.

“Fuck me,” he breathed.  The writing on the obsidian plaque suddenly made sense.  “It wasn’t the first hyperdrive powered ship.  It was the first oberdrive ship.”


Zep frowned in confusion.  “The plaque by the fountain,” said Jake.

Recognition flashed across Zep’s face.  “Holy shit.”

Jake was light-headed.  If NERA released the oberdrive to the public, as it obviously had, the sheer volume of civilian traffic would have increased the darkspace distortions exponentially, eventually causing a collapse.

He groaned, squeezing his eyes shut.  How could he have been so blind?  The answers had been right in front of him.  The Soontill legends spoke of an ancient race’s extinction.  Now he knew why they had died, and why NERA had had to dig to find the alien bunker.

Because it wasn’t a stockpile.  It was a grave, to hide the dangerous technology. 

He slumped against the computer.  This was his fault.  His work on the OB-2 engine had doomed his entire species.  “No, no, no. . .”  He couldn’t handle it.  It was too much. 

Deal with it.  You’re a scientist.  Identify the problem, then fix it.

He opened his eyes.  He could solve both problems in one go.  He straightened up.  He felt calm, determined.  Zep looked pale, his mouth agape.  Jake grabbed his shoulder, shaking him out of it.  “Set the coordinates for 3804, the year I arrived on Soontill.”

“Why?” Zep asked, but his shaky hands were already moving over the keys.

            Jake clenched his good fist.  “We’re going to destroy the Oberdrive.”


Zep frowned.  “What about the grandfather paradox?  Without your oberdrive experience, you’ll never be able to reactivate the portal.  Without the portal, you won’t be able to change the past—”

“—I’m aware of the Novikov self-consistency principle,” Jake snapped.  “Time paradoxes are one theory.  The universe doesn’t have to correct itself.  Once I do something, it’s done.  It’s in the past.  The future should just adapt.”

 “Penta-space predicts nonlinear time,” Zep mumbled, obviously unconvinced.

Jake pursed his lips. Although success would fix everything, failure could trap them in an infinite time loop.  Did he have the right to risk the kid like that?  

He sighed.  Anything bet staying where they were.  They had nothing to lose.  He had to do everything he could to protect Jemima.  Even if he lost her forever.

“Screw it,” said Zep.  “I’m in.”

Jake smiled.  “Let’s rewrite history.”


The King gestured at the portal.  “This will open on your planet?”  

Jake’s adam's apple scraped past the blade at his neck.  He and Zep were once again kneeling before the King.  “Yes, my planet.”  He wasn’t lying, but he was glad the King didn’t fully understand the portal.  Was he doing this for his people or just selfish revenge?

The King chortled.  “Are your troops ready, General?” he asked a tall, uniformed man.

“Yes my King.”  A wave of thunder crashed around the portal as the armada of soldiers snapped to attention. Their uniforms were patched and grubby; their guns were grimy, but still effective. 

The King motioned past Jake’s head to the cup hill then turned to the sweaty technician.  “You have power.  Activate the portal.”

The technician, cowering beneath the King’s glare, turned to the portal computer.  His shaky hands picked at the controls.

The sky danced and shimmered then went deathly still, a darker red than before.

“The radiation shield is down,” Zep whispered. 

Jake cringed.  He looked at his hand.  Disfiguration and radiation poisoning.  He had to get out of there. 

The portal hummed, building in frequency and pressure.  Jake held his ears tight as the noise squeezed on his brain.

Then it passed beyond audible range, bringing blissful silence.  He could feel the vibrations on his skin.  The portal lightened, fading to a light sky blue.  It flashed. . .

. . .and turned transparent. 

It was open.


Jake began counting.

Five.  The troops snapped from attention and twisted to their left.

Four.  They raised their left feet.

Three.  The earth rumbled as they stepped.

Two.  A sheen of blue shimmered over the portal.  They raised their right feet.


The portal groaned.  Its transparency delaminated at several points, which rolled across the crystal like sunspots.  Jake grinned at Zep.

Veins bulged from the King’s red face.  He grabbed the technician by the collar and shook him furiously.  “What’s wrong? Fix it!”

The technician cried out, his tears mingling with sweat. “I..I.don’t kn.know….how!” 

The King screamed and tossed him aside.  His finger shot out at Jake and Zep.  His lips curled into a snarl. “Fix it, or die.”

The guards retreated.  Zep helped Jake up.  They raced to the computer. 

The King was frantic. “Faster, faster! Fix it! Fit it!”

“Nice one Zep,” Jake whispered.  Disable the virus and let’s go.”

Zep’s cheeks flushed as he initiated a delayed shutdown.  “Ready?”

Jake smiled and nodded.

“Ok, go!”

Jake tensed.  He sprang sideways.  He skidded around the computers as Zep vaulted over them.  Jake bent forward and sprinted for the portal. 

His breathing pounded in his ears.  The distance to the portal evaporated.  Just a few more seconds. . .

A laser beam shrieked overhead.  Like a bursting dam, a whole wave of laser beams followed, exploding all around him.  The noise was dizzying.  He focused on the portal, less than three steps away.   His muscles burned.  They’d been through hell already.  Just two more steps.  He reached his good hand out.

Zep screamed.  Jake slowed.  He knew stopping was suicide, but the kid was under his command.  He couldn’t abandon him.  Just couldn’t.

Something pushed him forward.  Jake yelled as he tumbled over.  His arm stretched out for the portal. . .


Jake hit the ground hard.  He tried to gasp in pain, but no air came out.  He sucked in deep ragged breaths.  His hand felt on fire; everything hurt.

He clamped his mouth shut and sat up.

He’s gone.   Zep had pushed him through in his last moment.  “Thanks, kid, for everything.”

He swayed as he clambered to his feet.  He shook the cobwebs from his mind.  The sky was healthy night black.  Neither of the suns were up.  The grassy depression was empty; no soldiers, no human computer interfaces.  His heart skipped a beat.  Was he in the right time?

The ringing in his hears disappeared.  He registered a long, continuous wail.  An air siren.  Favoring his right side, and clutching his wounded hand – it was bleeding again - he scaled the hill.  He dropped to the grass at the top. 

The NERA base was smaller than he remembered it.  A good sign.  At least he hadn’t arrived before NERA did.

Someone sprinted behind a distant building, disappearing from view.  Jake smiled.  It was his younger self.  He remembered the tiring, desperate and ultimately futile chase like it was yesterday.

But it was seven years ago.  Exactly when he wanted to arrive. 

He scanned the horizon, remembering where he had landed the Jemima the first time. 

There.  He got to his feet and raced down the slope.  He hoped his younger self would cause enough distraction to allow him to get to the ship.

But first, he had to make sure Zep’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain.


Tables and research equipment lined the bunker walls.  His footfalls echoed through the room.

The artifacts were locked up for the night.  Jake ran a hand over the vault security keypad.  He dredged through his memory, and entered what he hoped was his seven-year-old pass code. 

He held his breath as the keypad glowed red.  It had to work.  NERA security wasn’t something to trifle with.

His blood pulsed in his ears as the seconds stretched by.  It wasn't working.  Had the silent alarm already been tripped?  He wiped away the sweat.  He glanced at the stairwell.  Should he run?

Beep.  The light flashed green.

He released his breath.  His heart slowed.  He opened the heavy door. An internal light winked into life.  Secondary lights played over the shelved artifacts:

A magneto-fusion array.  A handheld tachyon gun.  The Oberdrive pattern replicator. 

His target.

He grabbed the oval tachyon gun with his left hand.  The replicator’s simple shape belied its complexity - well beyond human understanding. It was the crucial part of the alien drive.   When the technology was developed naturally, hopefully mankind would be ready for the responsibility.  Because it wasn’t yet.  

He aimed the weapon at the replicator.

His arm faltered.  He didn’t have to destroy it.  It just needed correct use.  He could educate humanity, make everyone more responsible, talk sense into NERA.

He growled and shook his head. This wasn’t about science. This was about Jemima, and the rest of humanity.  That horrible future could not be allowed to exist.  The technology had already destroyed one civilization.  He couldn’t let it happen again.

But what if Zep was right and the replicators destruction caused a paradox?

No, it was too late for doubt.  He was committed.

He pulled the trigger.


Jake opened his eyes.  He was still in the bunker, arm outstretched, gun wrapped in his fist.

The replicator was gone.

He laughed, feeling giddy.  What had he been expecting?  He shrugged.  No time paradox so far.  One problem down, one to go.  He tossed the gun aside and ran for the stairs.

It was time to leave.  Once and for all.


He slammed into the building. Panting hard, he peered around the corner.

He pulled it back just as fast.


He looked across the road to an empty side street.  He couldn't see another way across.  He would have to risk it.  He sucked in a deep breath and sprinted out into the open.

The road felt a mile wide.  His feet pounded into the ground as he pushed his tired body.  His breath came in gasps, but the corner was still out of reach.

He hit the side street.  Out of sight.  He stopped, doubling over, trying to listen over his ragged breath.  It was quiet.  They hadn't seen him.

His hand throbbed.  Adrenaline blinded the pain, but blood loss was going to get him soon.  He had to keep moving.

He weaved through the streets, keeping out of sight.  With his younger self keeping NERA busy in the west, he headed east. 

The road petered out into gravel before merging with the prairie plains.  He waded through, turning south and looping around the city.

He heard a noise.  He dived to the ground. 

Voices!  Grass rustled as people waded past him.  Jake's heart sunk:  a patrol.  He curled into a ball, hoping the tall grass provided enough cover.  He couldn't see anything from his vantage point.  If they had heat sensors, he would be done.

The rustle of grass stopped.  He heard the murmur of conversation.  They broke out in laughter.  Jake sighed, dropping his head to the ground.  The soldiers weren't alert; they weren't actively looking for him.  He just had to wait them out. 

The patrol continued to loiter, in no apparent hurry.  Jake was sweating, despite the cool night.  If one of the soldiers wandered a little closer, they would spot him. 

After an eternity, Jake heard rustling grass.  It grew fainter until he was alone once more.

He slowly got to his feet.  He checked the area.  Clear.  He regained his bearings and headed south.

He moved quickly; he couldn't afford to run into another patrol.  A rocky outcropping loomed out of the darkness.  On the far side he found Jemima waiting for him. 

Grinning, he opened the hidden keypad and entered his password.  The boarding ramp lowered. 

Jake paused.  If he took the ship now, then how could his younger self use it in seven years?

He groaned.  He had already changed the future.  By all rights, he shouldn't be here.  But he was, and he was going to escape.

He raced up the ramp and into the cockpit.  There was no time to lose.  His younger self would have been captured already; they would be after the ship next.

He reactivated the still warm engines and ramped them up to maximum.  He sealed the ship and pulled back on the controls.

The engine washed torched the outcropping, turning it to slag.  The Jemima blasted away and tilted back, heading into space.

His good hand kept the ship straight while his bad hand adjusted the scanner.  Seven years ago, he had been ignorant of the defense satellite.  He wouldn't be caught off guard a second time.

He found its orbit and adjusted his climb.  A green box flashed on the HUD, growing larger as he approached.  The missile lock glowed red.

Jake pulled the trigger and swerved the ship away.

The scanner beeped.  Twice.  Three times.  Then it wailed continuously.

He had been spotted.  And NERA seemed to be sending every single ship they had in response.  They couldn't afford for the secret of Soontill to get out.

The missile tracker went blank an instant before an explosion bloomed to the right. 

The satellite was gone.  They couldn't track him anymore.  He checked the distance back to his pursuers.

"Too far away, bastards.  I'm out of here."

He was free.  It was probably two months back to Earth, three with an indirect route; NERA wouldn't give up easily. 

But he would get there.  He would get back to Jemima, less than a year after he had left her.  He could almost feel her in his arms, her breath on his neck, her lips.

"I'm coming home, baby.  And I'm not leaving you ever again."

Jake engaged the hyperdrive, leaving Soontill behind.