On The Corner of Galaxy and Fifth
by Robert Wynne and Jeffrey Williams
Part One of Five
It was well after dark when George Pembroke arrived to
home. He loosened his tie as he locked the door behind him, and set his
briefcase next to the sofa on his way into the kitchen. Two minutes
later, the microwave had begun its nightly resurrection of some long
George was of average height and average build, with
that was noticeably thinning on the top. He wore rimless glasses and a
conservatively cut three-piece suit, typical of the other accountants
who toiled in London's corporate labyrinth. If anyone were to notice
George on the street, and likely as not, one wouldn't, there was
absolutely nothing to distinguish him from being completely and utterly
While he was waiting for the microwave to spit out his
pulled off his jacket and went to the closet to hang it up. The small
man standing inside his closet handed him a piece of paper as he
threaded the jacket onto an empty hanger.
"Thanks," he said amicably, closing the door and
The small man
inside his closet.....
George jerked the door open with a start and began
the closet. There were several suits, a small box of books that he kept
meaning to take by the charity store, and various assorted items one
expects to find in closets, but the small man was no where to be found.
George knocked on the back wall of the closet, perplexed
hear a sold
thunking sound. "Hrm. Most definitely peculiar." he thought to himself.
Straightening up, he located the small folded paper the
handed him. It read:
XVNQ 131730M 131818 05008XG C6FZ FPG045 SZ2200 IEO03XG C6FZ FXP
Hand-scrawled underneath was the inscription: Quickly --
universe may depend upon your action.
"This is exceedingly odd," George said aloud, in case
listening. They weren't apparently, so he wandered back into the
kitchen and ate his microwave lasagna.
* * * *
That night, George slept fitfully.
In his dreams, a carnival clown came to him with
"Dark and dismal winds will sweep the land, George," the
murmured. "Till Birnan Wood shall come to Dunsinane Hill, " he added
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Behold, I shew you a mystery. We shall not all sleep,
be changed" The clown swept his hand gravely, and the landscape around
them changed. Strange primordial creatures wearing cowboy hats shuffled
vaguely across the landscape.
"A-are you trying to tell me something?" George
I'm afraid this isn't precisely clear."
The clown shrugged. "Foreboding prophesies never are.
they're foreboding. They will come back, again and again, for so long
as the red seas roll..."
"No, Who's on first..." the clown began,
"Look," George insisted firmly, "are you actually
going to be
of some help whatsoever, or shall I just wake up now?"
The clown blinked in surprise. "My dear boy, I am
warn you. Yes, warn you. One if by land, and two if by sea!"
"Warn. Me. Why?"
"You are in grave danger." The clown looked serious,
no mean feat for a man with a painted on smile. "Running from the
rising heat to find a place to hide..."
George exploded. "WOULD YOU STOP QUOTING
shrieked, his face turning purple with rage.
The clown broke into a wide, toothy grin. "Ahhhh,
now we have
something.....seek the man who is not from now....."
George sat bolt upright in his bed, sweat pouring
face. He swung his legs out of the bed and into the precisely placed
slippers on the floor, then padded down the hallway to the kitchen.
Rummaging in the refrigerator produced some elderly mayonnaise and
not-quite-yet distressed ham, from which he proceeded to make a
sandwich. He concentrated on slowly chewing his snack and
mulling over the odd dream from which he had just awakened.
Finally, deciding that sleep was out of the question, he went to see if
anything interesting was on the late night.
George was still awake when the rays of the morning sun
struggle above the tops of the buildings and sift lazily through the
back alleyways. Half dozing in his chair, he quickly sat upright when
he heard the thunk
of the morning paper colliding with his doorway.
George tried to rub the sleep from his eyes as he shuffled to the front
hall to get the paper, which he deposited unceremoniously in his
armchair on his way to the kitchen. Moments later, the smell of brewing
coffee wafted through the house and tendrils of steam crept from
beneath the bathroom door, along with the faint strains of George
singing slightly off-key.
Suitably refreshed, George poured himself a cup of
and settled down in the armchair to read the paper. The headlines were
the usual bit. "MP fingered in Sex Scandal", "Middle East Peace Talks
Break Down", "EC Nations quibble over Exchange Rates"....honestly,
George couldn't figure out why they bothered to print a new paper every
day....much more economical to reprint the same one over and over
again. He rifled through the paper's sections, looking for the sport
He opened the sport section and was just about to
read up on
yesterdays matches when an advert caught his eye. The events of the
previous evening surfaced in his mind as he read:
ANYLIZED AND NIGHTMARES APPREHENDED
IMAGERY TOO ARCANE
FANTASIES TOO BIZAARE
special this week on Jungian Archetypes
Galaxy Street (at the intersection of 5th Avenue)
George thought to himself. How
singular. He got
up from his char and went over to the bookshelf, and began idly leafing
through the phone directory, but there was no listing for a Dream
Police. Well, I suppose
it won't hurt to go round and check into it.
Perhaps it's one of those psychoanalysis chaps who delve into your
George put the paper down and got dressed, and headed
find the intersection of Galaxy and Fifth.
* * * *
A shadowing figure pulled his hat down over his eyes and
newspaper up in front of his face as George strolled North on 5th
Avenue. After he passed, the trenchcoated man slipped into a nearby
phone booth and quickly punched in a memorized number.
"Control, this is Ground. He's on his way to Martin's."
He was greeted by a raspy voice. "Excellent! Continue to
"As you wish. Only....do I have to dress this
"Our research has indicated that it is appropriate
undercover agent at this time and venue."
"It's rather uncomfortable. It doesn't have the
of arms, for one, and..."
"Lest I need to remind you, Ground, you were not hired
comfortable. You were hired to help us carry out our plan. It is
possible of course, that someone else would rather become fabulously
"Understood, Control. Ground out."
* * * *
George Pembroke arrived at the corner of Galaxy
5th Avenue and examined the squalid building on the corner. He
double-checked the folded newspaper advert that had prompted him to
this location, and then tried the front door.
The door creaked easily open, allowing George into a
dim, naked bulb swung gently in the breeze blowing in from his back,
and stairs led both up and down. He glanced from the dusty
hallway to the newspaper ad still clutched in his hand, and then took a
tentative step inside.
At the end of the hall, a door with a large B tacked on
near the corner, daring anyone to open it. At the top of the stair, he
could see the A unit defiantly staring down at him. George tried to
recall the last time a piece of architecture had displayed such malice
towards a potential occupant. Deducing that unit C must be below, he
carefully edged past the huddled doorway and crept down the creaky
stairwell. As he disappeared from sight, the door marked B opened
slightly, and a figure peered out from the shadows.
The door at the bottom was indeed unit C, a doorway
from the others in the building by both being freshly painted and by
having a large painted sign posted on it to announce its occupant:
We get inside of your head...
T. Martin, Proprietor
George marveled at the sign, and then knocked
lightly on the
door. He waited a moment and then knocked again. No hours posted, he
noted with irritation. I
think I shall be quite cross to have come all
this way to find no one in. He knocked a third time,
loudly this time,
and then tried the door.
To his surprise, the latch yielded to his attempt,
found himself standing inside a small reception area. A small square
brown desk sat off to one side, with a telephone and a swivel chair and
one of those address roll things that secretaries always have. There
was not, George noted with irritation, a secretary. Another door beyond
the desk stood open, and George could hear a voice coming from within.
Adjusting his glasses, he moved to stand in the doorway.
The far room was a marvel to behold. Crammed floor
with books and filing cabinets, there seemed little room for anyone or
anything else. A desk was placed in the middle of the room, and a tall,
lanky man lounged in an overstuffed armchair behind, propping his feet
on the desk while engaging in furious combat with his telephone.
"Yes, yes, I can certainly understand," the strange
easily, then paused to listen to his caller. "No, I don't think that
would...." Another pause. "Mrs. Wallace, I understand what you so
desperately desire, but there are times, I feel, when a cigar is simply
a cigar. Thank you, and have a good day."
The telephone having been vanquished, at least for
moment, the man behind the desk turned his attention to George. He had
unruly black hair and a neatly trimmed Vandyke which carefully framed a
wide and infectious grin. His dark eyes sparkled as he stood from
behind the desk.
"Good morning, sir. If you are a salesman, I already
six." The grin widened as he placed both hands palms first on the top
of the desk.
"Um, no", George stammered, spellbound by this
"My name is Pembroke....George Pembroke, and I've come in response to
"An advert? Me? Fascinating! What on earth did it
"Er," George began intelligently, then decided
explanation. He handed the folded sport section over the desk, and then
settled into the only other chair in the room, a weathered loveseat
that might, at one point in its long and tragic life, have been green.
He carefully studied this odd, Cheshire Cat of a man as he bounded from
one side of his desk to the other, eyes locked onto the newspaper. He
was wearing a very well tailored linen suit which would have been the
very height of fashion had it not been a very deep and engaging shade
of violet. A black silk dress shirt and spit-shined black boots tucked
under his pants completed the image. What on earth have I gotten
in for? George wondered silently.
"My, my, my! How wonderfully clever of me! I wonder
thought of it?" He sat back down in the large armchair and grinned
lazily at George. "This is sure to bring people to me, don't you think?"
"Um, not to put to fine a point on it, it already
George said testily.
"So indeed it has! How remarkably perceptive of
bounded out of his chair again, his grin even wider and his hand thrust
across the desk. "My name is Trauma....Trauma Martin. However may I be
of service to you?"
Bewildered, George shook Trauma's hand. "I'm sorry,
your name was......."
The question hung in the air for a moment like an
guest. "Trauma, " said Trauma easily, as though patiently explaining
something to a small child or errant puppy. "My name is Trauma."
certainly see where that might be fitting, thought
"Yes, well, I came to see you because I saw your advert, and I've had
the most peculiar thing happen to me last night..."
George went on to explain about the apparition of
in his closet, and the note, and the strange carnival clown that
visited him in his dream.
Trauma kept his eyes closed through-out George's
the last 24 hours events, his fingertips pressed together in front of
his chest. The more George talked, the smaller Trauma's grin became,
until at the end he looked as stern as a headmaster.
"Very interesting, and disturbing, Mr. Pembroke." Trauma
measuring his words now. "Many things about your story intrigue me. Let
me go over this again, if you don't mind?
George shook his head silently.
"You claim that an apparition appeared to you, and
a note. Later you had a dream about a clown, hmmm?"
"Well, yes, I realize they don't seem like connected
but I imagined them both in one day, and...."
"Did you then? Imagine them?"
"Well, of course I did, don't be silly. There WASN'T a
closet!" George responded angrily. "I checked twice."
"Then who did
give you the note?" Trauma remarked
George's hand flew instinctively to his jacket
withdrew the carefully folded piece of paper. "Er, I haven't the
slightest idea. I mean, surely I had it all along, and..."
"Mr. Pembroke, I have made many observations about
you walked in the door. You are impeccably if rather blandly dressed,
despite the fact that today is Saturday. You are, judging by the line
it leaves in your jacket, used to carrying a pocket calculator with you
at all times. Your forefinger and thumb both have the indentations that
would come only from holding some instrument in your hand for long
hours each day. This leads me to believe that you are a methodical man,
who is not used to an interruption of routine. Let me know if I lose
George could only nod dumbly. Trauma got up and began
the small room.. He stopped suddenly and removed a leather-bound book,
flipped it open to a random page, and resumed pacing.
"I find it very unlikely, Mr. Pembroke, that a stray
would find its way into your hand without your notice of it. I find it
even more odd, if you don't mind my saying so, that you would have such
a telling dream the VERY night that you encounter a strange man in your
closet who, under subsequent investigation, was not there."
"But what did the clown have to do with the dwarf?"
quite believing those exact words had just escaped his mouth.
"What indeed? That is the mystery, no? May I see that
George handed over the folded document. Trauma made a
unfolding it and examining its contents carefully. He walked in circles
around the room, mumbling softly to himself. Every so often, he would
pull down a book, rifle through its pages while continuing to circuit
the room, and then lay the book, open, on his desk.
Suddenly, he stood bolt upright and shouted "Amazing!"
"Um, is it really?" George asked.
Trauma thrust the note underneath George's nose, his
excitement. "Do you have any IDEA what this note means? Do you realize
the implications this note has??" His voice was almost shrill with
"No. No, I don't, Mr. Martin. That is why I came to see
Trauma's face fell. "Ah, I see. How disappointing. You
me a great deal of time if you had."
George could see his time here had been wasted. "I'm
have wasted your time, Mr. Martin." And mine. he
thought to himself.
Trauma looked up at him in surprise. "Oh, not at all,
What you have found here is of the utmost interest to both of us. It
merely means that we will have to look harder and longer to find the
answer. And please, call me Trauma. All my clients do."
"C-c-clients?" George stammered.
"Well, of course. You wanted to know what your dream
The key to
your dream is in this note. Now I know a little bit about this note. I
know that this is some form of navigation code. What sort, precisely, I
cannot say. For that we must do research, but rest assured, I will get
to bottom of it!"
"Ah, so should I call you, or check back by?"
"You shall come with me, Mr. Pembroke, you shall come
Trauma was grinning like a madman again, and guiding
into the reception area. "We need to go to a particular library to do
this research. I insist that you come along, as I may need your
assistance later in this endeavor."
"Ah well, a library sounds quite relaxing, actually...."
Trauma looked at him, smiled wildly, and hooked his arm
George's. He brought his hands together, and gave the ring on his left
hand a quarter-twist. The walls of the room shimmered and vanished.
George's stomach fell away with the sudden sensation of
he looked around in a panic. Behind him, as tall as skyscrapers, a wall
of fiery energy swept towards him....
Arn Pendlgraf had spent twenty years of his life being a
at the Timeline Authority Project Library. It was, for the most part, a
pleasant job. He said hello to the patrons, conducted occasional tours
if the library was short staffed, and tossed troublemakers and errant
children into the airlock. That being said, it wasn't exactly what you
would call an exciting job.
He scratched the back of his head and tried to figure
Four wasn't working again. He had just repaired the circuit himself
after maintenance had thrown up their hands in despair for the fourth
time and said there was nothing to be done for it. Oh well, he thought
to himself as he stared at the asymmetrical interference scrolling from
the top to the bottom of the screen in random hypnotic patterns. Its
not as if anyone ever bothers to visit the Terran History stacks anyway.
Yeah, he thought to himself as he scratched the stubble
wiped a speck of dirt from out of his third good eye, nothing exciting
ever happens on my watch.
Unless, of course,
who's never traveled through a warp
makes their first entrance into the library portal.
Trauma Martin emerged from the portal first, did a
tuck and roll and landed lithely on his feet. It would have been a
spectacular entrance had George not come flailing headfirst out of the
portal behind him and struck him squarely in the back. The two men fell
writhing to the floor together, the violet of Trauma's suit blending
with the conservative gray of George's three-piece in a swirling
confusion of colour within which one could, almost, see the pattern of
the galactic disk.
Arn glanced at Monitor One to ensure his cameras were
I go home, he chuckled to himself, I'll have to go by the recorder
and dub a copy of this for my collection.
"What....what....what...." George stammered as he
himself from the floor. Struggling to his feet, he slowly turned in a
wide circle, attempting to take in the impossible nature of his
surroundings. Finally, his view brought him fully around so that he was
standing face to face with the hulking mass that was Arn, who was now
laughing openly at the befuddled newcomer.
"What...." he repeated unnecessarily, "is THAT!"
"Shhhhhhhh!" Arn hissed, pointing to a sign above the
where he was
George tore his gaze away from Arn, and stared
on the wall. It read:
PATRONS: SILENCE MUST BE OBSERVED FROM THIS POINT ON!
VIOLATORS WILL BE REMOVED!!
This was not, George noted, the only writing on the
the only writing he could understand.
"Very funny, Arnold," Trauma said, brushing the dust off
should recommend you to the comedy circuit."
Arn redoubled his laughter. He began shaking so hard, it
use of two of his arms to hold himself aloft.
"Please don't fall over, Arnold," Trauma grinned. "There
or forklift for miles around."
"Trauma, that man is.....is....is...." George stammered
"An overbearing, under-worked git." Trauma tsked. "Yes,
Sad to say, but bad help is not a curse only on your world."
"B-b-b-but...but...but he's...but he's GREEN!"
"But not little, George. Not little at all! No use
all those silly legends on your planet." He paused in mock
contemplation. "Possibly his brother, Myorg..." he continued
brightly. Trauma's grin had returned with vigor. He wiped his
hands clean on George's sleeves. "Arnold, has anyone seen Myorg these
"Not since he became a missionary. Think he gave up on
Arn tapped on Monitor Four, hoping it would clear itself up. "Y'know,
between the size problem and that irritating 'beep-beep' speech
impediment, he wasn't exactly going to cut it in Security."
"Yes, well Arnold, as much as I would love to chat with
the....fascinating....things that happen in library security, I have a
client and I have research I desperately need to do. Mr. Pembroke..."
Arn blinked all five of his good eyes in surprise, and
head around to stare incredulously at George. "You mean, you actually
hired this guy?"
"As if your life was so wonderful!" Trauma scoffed. "'No, put
book at once, or I shall scowl at you.'" he mocked
"Yeah, you're lucky I don't just throw you out now on
principles," said Arn, rising slightly from his chair and flexing his
"Mr. Martin," George began weakly.
"Please, please George, call me Trauma."
"Trauma," George started anew, "that man has six arms."
George was still in a deep fog as Trauma led him into
he didn't immediately register the enormity of the building he was now
standing in. Around him, in front of him, and stretching to seeming
infinity above him were books. Shelves and shelves of them for as far
as the eye could see. The lights in the ceiling far above his head were
useless tools for judging distance, and the main illumination in the
room seemed to filter in from somewhere else entirely.
Before him were tables, chairs, desks, and
expect to find in a normal library. But this wasn't a normal library,
and a persistent voice deep inside George began to make frantic noises
to that effect. As Trauma begin an enthusiastic conversation with the
librarian at the counter, George's subconscious began releasing the
locks it had placed on his memory and flooded the engine compartment of
his head with the events of the last few hours.
He could certainly recall arriving at the office on the
Galaxy and Fifth, and vividly remembered his chaotic conversation with
the erratic Mr. Martin. In his mind's eye, he could recall the
sensation of being hit by a towering wall of fiery energy, the dreadful
feeling of his stomach falling away as he was suddenly carried forward
through walls that no longer seemed to exist.
He was vaguely aware of being pitched forward in a
god, he thought to himself, I've fallen through the floor
tube! I'm a train's hood ornament!
As the world rushed away behind him, his life began to
eyes. He recalled his childhood, his halcyon days in University, being
named Finance Executive of the year by the Accounting Weekly Ledger,
his trip to Edinburgh with his cousin, Jessica. His trip to Edinburgh...
Unfortunately, George's memory system was not equipped
Suddenly, the darkness which surrounded him changed to
the sky, if you could call it a sky, was streaked with the occasional
sparks of fireworks. As far as the eye could see, in all directions,
including up and down, the air was criss-crossed with broad white
walkways made of a shimmering energy, weaving a seemingly endless and
infinitely intricate cat's cradle. George looked down and saw he was
travelling along one of these walkways. Trauma was just ahead of him,
arms outspread in a classic surfers pose. What the hell?
At this moment, a grudging sense of pride crept into
matter how bizarre this all was, he had kept his composure. Inebriated
with self-confidence, he craned his neck over the edge to look below
him. This was, he quickly discovered, a mistake.
In order to gaze downward into the infinite abyss,
his weight imperceptibly. He was not prepared however, for the glowing
walkway to suddenly pitch downward. His feet flew out from under him
and he found himself sliding headfirst on his stomach into another of
the vortex tunnels, and towards a glowing portal...
Standing now behind Trauma Martin in the Timeline
Library, George felt something like a huge rubber band snap into his
back, and the sudden jolt cleared the fog in his brain.
"Trauma!" he yelled, "What the bloody hell just
"Ah, Mr. Pembroke, you've recovered!" Trauma said with a
disinterest. He smiled slightly at George, and then turned his
attention back to the librarian at the counter. "He's a bit
disoriented. His first time and whatsuch." Trauma shrugged helplessly
at her and flashed a Cheshire grin.
George was vaguely annoyed at this and was about to
litany about his trip to Edinburgh with Jessica when he realized he
still had no idea what anyone was talking about. "My first time for
what?" he fumed.
"Travelling on the time lines, my dear fellow," Trauma
casually. "It's quite disorienting if you aren't used to it. Rather
like jet lag." He smiled warmly at George. "Except of course, that it
is rather entirely unlike jet lag. How hopelessly silly of me."
"If you ask me, love, I just hate it," the librarian
behind the counter. She was a lithe redhead with dark brown eyes which
that danced from behind a pair of small wire-rim glasses. "That's why I
took a flat here in the complex. So I wouldn't have to use them."
"Mr. Martin, I insist..." George began testily.
"Please, call me Trauma." said Trauma wearily, dragging
great effort back to the corners of his mouth.
"Trauma . . . where? what? I mean.."
Trauma wheeled around to face George and stared directly
"Mr. Pembroke, you came to me with a problem. 'The future of the entire
universe may depend upon your actions' the note said. For
time is urgent. This warning, this message is," he flourished the note
under George's nose, "a clue, and one which we must decipher quickly if
we are to proceed. Please forgive, if you will, my phenomenal lack of
interest towards your predicament, hmm?"
Pausing just long enough to ensure that the fuming
to say anything else to delay him further on his quest, Trauma whirled
to face the librarian again. George glowered at his back.
"Now, madam, you were telling me about possible search
to look up
information on navigation codes."
"Sure. There's a wide range of terms you can search on.
navigation, old code, navcodes, tongue-in-groove..."
"Tongue-in-groove?" Trauma's pencil hovered above his
The librarian shrugged helplessly. "They get bored in
"Ah." Trauma committed the note to paper.
George exploded. "Now wait just one minute, Mr. Martin!"
From the galleries above, a thousand voices, beeps, and clicks hissed
"Call me Trauma," Trauma replied absentmindedly, not
up from his pad. "Any other terms?"
George violently spun Trauma around and grabbed him by
"Trauma," he hissed. "Since yesterday evening, I have
dwarves in my closet, endowed with nightmares featuring immensely
worrisome carnival clowns, and inundated with adverts for the Dream
Police. I've been handed scraps of paper covered with scribbles of
gibberish, I've seen walls of fire, white walkways, giant six-armed
security guards..." His voice was growing more and more frantic with
each word, and he shook Trauma harder and harder. "I am having what I
believe can be most accurately and without question classified as a bad
Trauma flashed a broad grin at his companion. "Of course
dear fellow. "And I must confess to being horribly inhospitable towards
you. I have been," he continued as he pried one of George's hands from
his lapels, "preoccupied with this universe problem, and in so doing, I
have shamefully ignored my duties as a host and guide. Madam..." Trauma
turned back towards the librarian.
"Call me Mia," she smiled.
"Mia, I am afraid that my friend here is most confused,
lost, alone, alone on a wide, wide sea of mystery." His grin impossibly
broadened. "That reminds me," he said amiably to George, "did you know
that Rhyme of the
Ancient Mariner can be sung, in its entirety, to the
tune of House of the
Rising Sun? Really, perhaps I can get Mia here to
locate you a volume of Coleridge and you can try it while..." George
began to shake violently again. "No? No, perhaps not. Mia, I think my
friend here needs answers from professional sources. Could you direct
him to the sections containing the TPA history archives?"
"Well, sir, he could just use..." she began, gesturing
nearby terminals. The left side of Trauma's mouth twitched and he
jerked his head upwards, then winked slyly at her.
"Ah, he could just use the, um, lift," she rallied
end of the hall and take the lift to the 18th floor. In section
45-632.003, you'll find a copy of volumes 49-60 of Galban's Concise
Encyclopedia of Everything. The fourth column of each page
should be in
a language you understand."
Trauma beamed at George, gently removing the other hand
"And you will come and get me," George insisted, "as
"With the utmost haste and urgency, Mr. Pembroke. Upon
angels I shall verily fly to you."
"Good, Mr. Martin. Excellent." George tugged at his
to bring some semblance of his normal professional appearance back into
"Call me Trauma," said Trauma brightly. Slowly and
pivoted on his heels and walked down the corridor, disappearing into
"Er, excuse me," Mia asked, a puzzled look of concern
face, "But he's from a pre-contact era, isn't he? Earth in the 20th
century, unless I miss my guess."
"Quite correct, madam. You are quite astute, and a
aide to any
seeker of knowledge."
"Well, not to cause any undue worry, but don't you think
unprepared for the sort of people he's likely to meet up there?"
"It is possible I was a trifle harsh a moment ago,"
"But I have great faith and confidence in Mr. Pembroke. He will adjust,
slowly perhaps. Hopefully, with the assistance of your renowned
collection of data and archival material, I will be able to resolve the
matter of this note quickly and to everyone's satisfaction."
George stepped out onto the 18th floor and looked about
far as the eye could see in any given direction, shelves stretched
floor to ceiling filled with large leather-bound tomes. Here and there,
computer terminals flashed bibliographical data in unintelligible fonts.
George hadn't taken three steps out of the lift when he
dead in his tracks by another of the library's more colourful
inhabitants. The yellow creature was easily eight feet tall, and almost
as long. Six powerful jointed legs supported his lower body, while his
torso stretched centaur-like at a right angle. The alien had a book in
either hand, and was reading them both, each with a separate eye
mounted atop a snakelike stalk.
George paled. He took three stops backwards, only to
unceremoniously with the lift door.
Either the movement or the noise caught the creatures
Lazily, it lifted one of its eyes to swivel towards George, the other
apparently uninterrupted from its reading. George froze in his tracks
as the creature's independent eye looked him up and down twice. The
other eye glanced briefly at him as well, decided him uninteresting,
and returned to the volume of Coleridge it was reading.
"Geezo, grak mook dal segnak, derg nak Taquin," it
George swallowed hard and smacked his lips together.
to get out into the library without passing the creature.
The creature's eye blinked slowly. It pondered George
then tried again. "Geezo, Frieden ist mit Ihnen. Dieses wird Taquin
George blinked, surprised. While he had no idea what had
to him, he was sure that it had been said to him in German!
"Er, I'm terribly sorry, but I never did learn
George said incredulously. Terrific,
he thought. With my
still be fighting the War.
The creature put his other book down and brought both
George. "Geezo, peace be with you. This one is known as Taquin."
"Um, you speak English?"
"Of course, Geezo. Taquin is conversant in several
many of which are standards for communication in the Alliance."
"They are? I mean…well, why?"
"Alliance did not ask Taquin for this one's opinion,
"Ah, yes, well, I am terribly sorry to have bothered
direct me to the history section?"
Taquin put down his book and raised a spindly arm. "That
Take a left at the first junction, and then look on the 7th row. Geezo
will find Galban's
in English there."
"Thank you…er, I'm sorry, what was your name
"This one is known as Taquin."
"Thank you, Taquin. You've been most kind." George
confidently as he could to the junction and disappeared around the
shelving. Taquin's right eye followed him as he left, the left having
apparently tired of George and gone back to the Coleridge.
"Silly Geezo," he muttered, and scanned the page of the
find his place.
* * * *
George located the section, and pulled down the 49th
Concise Encyclopedia of Everything. Apparently, this
entirely taken up with a discussion of the Timeline Authority Project,
which did not, George discovered by leafing through to the end, appear
to end in this volume, either. He settled down in a comfortable chair
nearby and began to read:
At the beginning of
century, several member states of
Alliance began developing the means to achieve safe, reliable time
travel capability. Each state used it's own science to do so, creating
a number of time travel standards. While each had merits, and while
each state developed rudimentary guidelines for preserving the natural
flow of time, it was quickly realized that competing time travel
systems and standards carried with them the increased possibility of
abuse and, more importantly, the increased possibility of the
corruption of time itself.
Calls for regulation
scrutiny of the new technology came
and a special meeting of the Grand Assembly of the Most Noble and
Munificent Alliance of Planets and Star Systems was called to enact
regulatory statutes. The end result of that meeting, which stretched on
for nearly four tumultuous months, was the creation of a single
standard of time travel and a large body of law governing the use of
The standard itself
adapted from the work of Dr. E. Bolan
a natural move considering his work in the field of temporal mechanics
had allowed for the development of time travel in the first place. It
called for the creation of a single matrix of time lines contained in
what would come to be affectionately called the Cat's Cradle Zone.
Access to virtually any time and spatial location could be gained by
traveling these time lines. However, access was to be strictly
regulated, and to this end the technology was designed to be accessed
only by authorized personnel who had passed through rigid screening
programs which determined their fitness for use of the time lines.
Entering and navigating the zone could be accomplished only through the
use of special travel devices, usually coming in the form of a ring or
some other seemingly ornamental piece of jewelry."
George thought, that
must be why Trauma gave that jewel
ring a quarter twist.
"The assembly also
create, within the time matrix
stable zones where authorities and scientists could assemble in the
event of a temporal catastrophe. The first of these, known originally
as Zone 1, was later made the Time Lines Project Authority Library."
He began to skim over the material, finding much of it
understand. A large, blue, gelatinous mass pulling a rucksack slithered
by on the floor. Just
keep calm, George intoned, just keep focused.
It's only using the library. George's tongue felt sticky
in his mouth.
He returned to the entry at the first section that did not seem to
include numbers and scientific equations.
standard had been settled on, the
Assembly also voted to create the Time Lines Project Authority, which
was given full regulatory and policing power for, as the original
charter stated, `The protection of the safety and sanctity of time.'
Over time, as the usage of the Time Lines pointed towards new and
unforeseen questions and problems, the power of the Authority was
increased and augmented to meet the new challenges and issues. Today,
they are considered to be one of the strongest law enforcement entities
The entry began veering into detailed regulations
of time travel, and while the entire concept fascinated George, he had
never found dry lists of regulations and laws particularly interesting.
he thought, noticing his scratchy throat. I could really
spot of water.
George set the book aside, and wandered to the hallway
intersection of shelving. A library terminal sat at the end of the
bookcase, Recalling his recent reading, George tapped the name
"Gerpuppy" into the Author field of the query screen. A few minutes
went by, and then the computer began listing a series of books, by
title. A notation at the bottom of the screen indicated that this was
page 1 of 723 under the name "Gerpuppy, E. Bolan".
George thought. Whimsically, he typed his own name
computer. which began a new search. I wonder if I can find a water
fountain anywhere around here? One thing for sure, if there is one, it
will be in the least obvious place for one.
George wandered off down the corridor. Behind him, the
to display the results of his query:
|The Two Hamlets
|A Study in
|The Sign of the
and a Half
Adventures of Trauma Martin
A man wearing a hat and trenchcoat put down the
reading and wandered up to the terminal. He pressed the ERASE key, and
then stalked off after George.
Downstairs, Trauma was beginning to feel frustrated. So
the cataloging index words had yeilded anything remotely useful. He
briefly considered how much trouble he would cause if he just dumped
the entire terminal into the dustbin, decided rather a lot at the end
of the day, and, in the end, chose to reserve such action for a later
time. Closing his eyes, he pressed the tips of his fingers together and
began to formulate a new plan of attack.
A pair of hands came to rest on his shoulders. Opening
glancing upwards, he recognized the young librarian, Mia, who was now
standing behind him and gently massaging his shoulders. "How's it
going?" she smiled.
"Achingly slow. It is a most agonizing and desultory
natural end in sight," he sighed. "Beyond that, everything is
Mia giggled at his forced attempt at levity. She plopped
cross-legged into the chair next to him and propped her head up on her
hands. "Maybe I can help, love. What exactly are you looking for?"
Trauma fished the note out of his pocket, and passed it
taking his eyes off the scrolling data in front of him.. "My young
friend up there was handed this note yesterday. Because of its rather
cryptic message, we are attempting to decipher it's meaning, so that we
might follow it to its source. I know it's a navigation code, but I
cannot for the absolute life of me figure out which one. It's certainly
not one in current use, but it's amazing how many competing navcodes
were in use before the Timelines Authority Project was able to pull
them all together and create the Unified Temporal Maritime Code."
He paused, furrowing his brow as a promising bit of data
the screen. Quickly, he decided it was of no help, and exhaled slowly,
turning at last to face Mia. "I'm terribly afraid without some sort of
context to place the origin of the code, the coordinates are completely
Mia blinked at him, and chewed her lip casually as she
an elusive passing thought before it wandered away from her. "What did
"I said it was useless. That note. This entire
and indeed upon reflection most likely, the entire expanse of time and
"Maybe that's it!" Mia leapt to her feet and dashed over
"How refreshing. You are a beacon of light in an
bleak universe," said Trauma, puzzled.
"No, no." Mia grinned impishly as she returned to the
electronic tablet in her hand. "Take a look at my crossword puzzle.
Trauma took the tablet from her and held it at arms
"Eighty-seven Diagonal: Designation of one of the many archaic
navigational codes obsoleted by the Uniform Temporal Maritime Code," he
recited. His eye wandered back across to the puzzle body. "Useless."
"Freaky, innit? I've never seen that clue before today.
ever figured it out without filling it in from across and down," Mia
Trauma's eyes narrowed slightly. "How very peculiar."
suspicions, he added the word useless to the search words on the
terminal. Almost instantly, an new article flashed up on the screen.
Trauma absorbed the flickering text quickly. The new
was an old
whitepaper on the navigation code now designated by the Timeline
Authority Project as "Useless". He flipped his notepad to a clean page
and began to scribble notes furiously. Mia perched on the chair beside
him, attempting futilely to keep up with Trauma's rapid assimilation of
the contents of the article.
Trauma turned to Mia and smiled. "The note, please."
Mia glanced down in surprise, having forgotten that she
carrying the enigmatic piece of paper. Wordlessly, she handed it back
Trauma smoothed the folded paper on the table and began
cipher with his notes. Finally, he sat back with a satisfied smile. "My
dear Ms...Mia, you have been of invaluable assistance to me. My work
here is at last done."
"You know what it means, then?" Mia asked excitedly.
"I haven't a clue, nor even the inkling of one." he
I do know precisely where
it means, and that locale shall give forth
* * * *
George stood frustrated and exhausted in front of the
dispenser. The machine offered him a bewildering array of choices to
satisfy his every need, and many needs that were obviously someone
else's. One button offered what he assumed was blood, another fire, and
yet another some sort of gaseous nourishment. In all, there were
forty-seven choices, not one of which was, as far as George could
ascertain, water. Certainly, there was a button with a picture of a
clear liquid on it, but George was not at this point charitable enough
to assume it was water.
To make matters worse, George had spent the last two
aimlessly over the vast and labyrinthine 18th floor. In those two
hours, he had seen shapes and sizes of creatures he had never dreamed
of, and had indeed, found the very last places that anyone might ever
think to place a water fountain. In the end, it was in the most obvious
place after all.
Taquin stared at him as he fiddled with the buttons,
slightly but never quite hard enough to cause the machine to give forth
any of its dubious refreshments. Finally, with a great deal of
trepidation, finally selected the clear liquid. Above the dispenser, a
glass of fluid materialized, suspended in the air by some unseen
mechanism. Clever, thought George, very clever. But is it water?
George wrapped one hand around the glass and pulled it
dispenser. He paused with it at his lips, recalling an old poem he'd
heard in college chemistry:
Charlie was a chemist
Charlie is no more
For what he thought was H20
With a great deal of trepidation, he selected this clear
liquid. He sniffed at the glass, but the liquid had no odor
that he could detect. Finally, he took a drink. It had no taste, but it
was definitely water. Distilled water, he finally concluded.
As he finished the tepid water, the lift doors opened
bounded out. Taquin made a soft, rude noise.
"George!" cried Trauma breathlessly. "Quite astounding
news! " He did a little dance of scientific joy and flourished the note
above his head, looking for all the world like a deranged toreador.
"The code is Useless!" he declared triumphantly.
George sighed. "Ah, well, all this trouble and
"No, no no! You don't understand! The code is Useless,
Alliance designated it Useless. It was one of the last new navigational
codes put in use before the Uniform Temporal Maritime Code standardized
everything, so it was never more than a novelty." Trauma smiled broadly
as he scanned the translation he had made on his notepad. "Quite the
sadist, your benefactor."
George seemed oddly unexcited by the news. He walked
and turned left at the end of the final stack. Trauma's face fell
slightly, and he scurried after him.
Trauma caught up with George, who was staring
window, from which the exterior of the library grounds could be seen.
Various creatures scurried about on the grounds, on their way to and
from unknown errands.
"All of this was very hard for me to take, Trauma."
"Believe me, George, I do understand." Trauma solemnly
replied. "I had
much the same feeling when I first visited New York." Trauma slowly
inched his notepad in front of George, like a child who wished to show
off to his mother a particularly clever drawing he had created.
"Do you realize that not too very long ago, I was
understand the writings of a man named Gerpuppy?!" George shot Trauma
an incredulous look. "How on earth can you take a name like Gerpuppy
"George, George, names are useless things, mere
for the sake of telling one thing from another. Only important to other
people, really." Trauma slid the sheet of paper onto the viewport,
where some form of static held it to the glass. "They are absolutely no
indication of intellect or character."
"Easy for you. Your name is Trauma."
"That, my dear Mr. Pembroke, is neither here nor
have even the smallest iota of curiosity about the contents of this
George, still transfixed by events outside the window,
"These coordinates are for Earth, George." Surprise
George's face, and he turned to face Trauma for the first time since
coming to the viewport.
"I thought that might gather your interest." Trauma
slithered between George and the window to explain the minutiae of the
document. "I can get us there, using the Timelines." He pointed to the
first set of numbers. "Now, these are spatial coordinates indicating
the sector that Earth is in. That was difficult to figure out, since
for some reason the Useless code was never designed to handle numbers
in that range. Then, see here, this set indicates time. This set is
location, and this..."
"Trauma," George interrupted. "Where the Hell are we
"No, George, not Hell. Earth." Trauma said reassuringly.
the region of the American-Canadian border, probably on or near the
Trauma took back the notepad and began twisting and
in the center of the Operating Ring. "Now, what I am doing here is
translating these coordinates into the appropriate Gerpuppy equations."
Despite his resolve to remain annoyed with his
to laugh out loud. "I'm so sorry, Trauma. I just can't..." He began to
lose his breath as he laughed even harder.
"E. Bolan Gerpuppy was a brilliant man," Trauma lectured
few years ago, I paid my respects to the good professor at one of his
seminars. A consummate professional. I did, of course, ask him if he
had read my monograph on the use of color, shade, and texture to
determine the characteristics of any given Temporal Matrix. Had great
hopes for the future of time travel." Trauma sighed. "If only he had
listened to me more carefully."
"What?" George snickered. "What on Earth should he have
listened to you
"Oh, nothing." Trauma suddenly cleared his throat and
concentrate on the jewel.
"Oh, no you don't, Trauma. You're not getting out of
wiped tears out of his eyes. "What did you tell him? What was
this...monograph, as you called it?"
"I just had a few...humble...suggestions," Trauma said
few ideas about his equations."
"Trauma!" George said, suddenly serious. "Were you
"I was young, George. Impulsive. Subject to flights of
fancy that I have long since outgrown in favor of reason, deduction,
and science! But I did publish a small volume under the name of...well,
the name isn't really important, is it?"
"But what were you trying to get him to get him to do?"
Trauma touched his ring, and the scene in the viewport
an image of the Cat's Cradle Zone. George could see strange beings
being whisked about on their way to unimaginable destinations.
"That." said Trauma, pointing at the window. "that
background." Trauma waved his hands about in a thousand different
directions. "Every time I travel the timelines, I feel as though
everything is dire and gloomy! All it would have taken was one minor
alteration to the original matrix theorem, and then the original matrix
construction would have had a rather pleasant azure tone, instead. A
peaceful, relaxing color, don't you think?"
"How petty." George scoffed. "This system is a marvel. I
people have actually managed to harness time travel! Thousands of races
have been united into a peaceful coalition of worlds, and you're
worried about the decor?"
"Well," Trauma shrugged, "he didn't listen to me, in the
practical good I managed was to cause those occasional firework sparks
in the background. It does help to make the trip that much less
"I can't believe the Authority would let anyone near Dr.
man who invented the time matrix."
Trauma's bolted out of his hazy remembrance with a
Authority? What about the Authority?" he asked, alarmed.
"I was reading about them." George said, pleased he had
remembered something he had learned on this strangest of days. :"The
Timeline Authority Project. The group vested with the responsibility of
regulating time travel."
"Ah." Trauma muttered. "Yes, well, there are many things
know, Mr. Pembroke. And at this point, perhaps you are no worse off for
not having found them out."
"But the Project history," said George, with some degree
"The dire need to protect the past, present, and future..."
"Oh, they are protected, George. Very well protected. In
terrifying of ways." Trauma made a last adjustment to the time crystal
on his ring.
"I must tell you, Trauma," George said, turning his gaze
again. "You could have handled all of this better. You just threw me
into the fire here, and I really believe you'd have been content to let
"Nonsense and balderdash, my dear fellow. Nothing could
further from my mind. I just believe that the best way to learn about
anything, with the possible exception of dangerous explosives, is
through practical experience. Besides, if I had told you, you would
never have believed me, hmm?"
George cast a doubtful eye on Trauma. "Well, despite
concern, I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of this. Sure, it
was difficult to come to terms with the idea that all of us on Earth
are not alone after all. But," he turned his gaze back out the window."
I do believe the worst is over."
Suddenly, a long tentacled slapped itself onto the
across George's face. From below the windowsill, the tentacle pulled up
a giant squid-like creature, whose giant saucer eyes stared directly at
Arn Pendlgraf's good eyes were starting to flutter shut,
to drift into a peaceful level 23 sleep.
The sound echoed throughout the library. Bolting
cycling through his monitors to try and find the source of the
disruption. Narrowing the search to the 18th level, he began switching
from camera to camera (odd,
#4 is still out), for any sign of
disturbance. Finally, he was rewarded with a video of Trauma holding
down the Earthling to the floor, apparently attempting to keep the
creature from injuring himself.
A deep, rewarding belly-laugh began to rumble from the
was, indeed, Arn's belly. He reached for the toggle switch that locked
that camera shot and ensured that it would be recorded.
"Well," he smiled to himself. "This is my lucky day. The
* * * *
Trauma cried, shaking George by the shoulders. "Pull
"Ah....ahhhh....eeeeeee!! " George yelled intelligently,
focused deliriously on the creature in the viewport.
"For goodness sake, George, it's only the window
"Ahhhh....eeeeeee......ah....what?" George stopped and
to examine the creature suctioned to the window. Sure enough, while
four tentacles were holding the creature to the outside of the glass,
another was holding a squeegee bottle and another a washcloth. Wrapped
around its body was a complicated harness which suspended a belt
containing cleaning fluids, wash cloths, and brushes.
"I'm sorry," George panted, recovering both his wits and
"Why did he have to do that?"
"He's merely doing his job, George." Trauma soothed. "We
station in life. His is a custodial one." Trauma stood and straightened
his jacket, then knocked gently on the glass and waved to the alien. It
lifted one of its tentacles from the glass and waved back happily.
"It's a Thromboid. They've very cleverly and astutely carved themselves
a tidy little niche in the service industry for the Alliance. Of
course, by the time they were along, not much else was left, but they
did turn out to be rather well suited for it, don't you think? Look at
that toolbelt harness. Genius, pure, unmitigated..."
"Trauma, let's just go," George said wearily. "The
Earth, and I really just want to go home."
Trauma helped him to his feet and the two of them walked
lift. As the doors closed, George turned towards his companion.
"Trauma," he asked. "Why do they all have to be green?"
* * * *
The lift doors opened onto the main floor of the
and Trauma walked swiftly up the hallway and past the librarian's
station. Mia was engaged in conversation with a co-worker. At least,
George assumed that the floating silvery sphere pushing the bookcart
was another library employee. As they passed, she glanced up, and
smiled sweetly at them.
"Goodbye," she called out. "and good luck
"Madam," Trauma said with vague disinterest as he
towards the main portal. "I thank you kindly for your invaluable
assistance and your words of encouragement." He stopped, turned towards
her with an impossibly wide grin, and bowed deeply and ceremoniously,
then pivoted on his heal and paced into the portal area. In the
process, his notebook slid from his jacket pocket onto the floor, but
neither he nor George noticed this in their haste to depart.
Mia nimbly bounded over the counter. "Back in a sec!"
coworker. "That poor guy would be lost without his notes, I imagine."
She fetched the notebook from the floor and hurried after the pair.
* * * *
George and Trauma paused in front of the library portal.
"So, do you have any idea when we're going to?" George
"Oh yes, of course, but then, I am always dressed
the coordinates are for a small distance into your future, no more than
a century or two. I don't think we'll stand out too much." He hooked
his arm through George's, and reached for his ring.
"As he gave the ring a quarter-twist, Mia dashed out of
"Excuse me, sir, but you dropped your..."
Her words were cut short as she collided with George and
into the warp tube by the ring's power field.
* * * *
A man clad in a trenchcoat and a wide-brimmed hat
comm-booth and punched in a memorized number.
"Control, this is ground. Anchors away."
"Excellent!" An alien voice rasped. "You have done very
the show really begins."
An evil laugh was cut short by the comm-line
* * *
Trauma, George, and Mia hurtled down a side timeline.
collision had thrown them all off balance, and they flailed their hands
wildly in an effort to keep upright. "We're coming up on the exit
tube," Trauma yelled to his companions. Get ready to land!"
George watched with fascination as the line began to
one of the warp tubes that signaled the end of a line. The three had
more or less gotten their composure and prepared to make a more or less
The trio shot out of the tube, approximately 30 feet
what appeared to be some sort of engineer's laboratory. Free of the
native suspension of the warp tube, they tumbled to the floor in a heap.
"Drat it all," Trauma moaned. "I must have transposed a
Gerpuppy equations." He fetched the notebook from the top of the pile
of bodies and began running through the numbers.
"No, no, its all correct. Who in blazes
puts an exit tube
off the ground. Someone could get hurt."
"Speaking of that, if you don't mind," Mia said, "but do
could possibly do me the great favor of getting off me?"
"Ah, saner heads prevailing as always. My apologies."
himself from the disorganized pile of limbs and torsos collected on the
floor and began to fussily dust down his jacket. "And my apologies for
a most unpleasant trip. I'm sure you can understand now why it's ill
advised to rely on other's coordinates."
George clambered to his feet and helped Mia up from the
well, at least we all came out of it, alright. No blood, no foul, what?"
"Er, who is that?" Mia asked.
The trio stared at the spot they had just landed. Lying
still was a fourth body. George knelt down and turned over a
distinguished looking man, in his late forties. He had a scroll of
paper clutched tightly in one hand.
"Trauma," George glanced up, alarmed. "Trauma, he's
To be continued...
© 1998,2007 Robert Wynne and Jeffrey Williams
Robert Wynne ("Doc") is a gentleman rogue and a scholar of truth. He has been, at alternate times, a writer, an editor, a salesman, a teacher, a freelance computer consultant and a charming vagrant. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While herding a sturdy diesel across the highways of life Jeff Williams dreamed of becoming a writer. In between haunting railroad yards he scribbles cryptic notes on slightly-used paper napkins and posts them off to his colaborator, Rob Wynne. They brainstorm these abstruse anagrams into the tales that you've just been reading. And people say the youth of America have no goals in life.>
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