Aphelion Issue 294, Volume 28
May 2024
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On The Corner of Galaxy and Fifth

by Robert Wynne and Jeffrey Williams

Part One of Five

Chapter One

It was well after dark when George Pembroke arrived to his small London 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 frozen dinner.

George was of average height and average build, with short brown hair 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 normal.

While he was waiting for the microwave to spit out his dinner, George 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 unfolding the piece of paper.

The small man standing inside his closet.....

George jerked the door open with a start and began rummaging through 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 to hear a sold thunking sound. "Hrm. Most definitely peculiar." he thought to himself.

Straightening up, he located the small folded paper the little man had handed him. It read:

GNS XVNQ 131730M 131818 05008XG C6FZ FPG045 SZ2200 IEO03XG C6FZ FXP

Hand-scrawled underneath was the inscription: Quickly -- the entire universe may depend upon your action.

"This is exceedingly odd," George said aloud, in case anyone was 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 foreboding prophesies.

"Dark and dismal winds will sweep the land, George," the clown murmured. "Till Birnan Wood shall come to Dunsinane Hill, " he added helpfully.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Behold, I shew you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all 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 stammered. "Because, I'm afraid this isn't precisely clear."

The clown shrugged. "Foreboding prophesies never are. That's why 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, enthusiastically.

"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 here to 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, which is 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 THINGS?!?!?" he 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 down his 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.

Chapter Two

George was still awake when the rays of the morning sun began to 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 the coffee 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 updates.

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:


Two-for-one special this week on Jungian Archetypes

1452-C Galaxy Street (at the intersection of 5th Avenue)

City of Westminster College

Curious, George thought to himself. How very 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 childhood.

George put the paper down and got dressed, and headed out the door to find the intersection of Galaxy and Fifth.

* * * * *

A shadowing figure pulled his hat down over his eyes and flipped his 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 monitor his progress."

"As you wish. Only....do I have to dress this way?"

"Our research has indicated that it is appropriate attire for an undercover agent at this time and venue."

"It's rather uncomfortable. It doesn't have the right number of arms, for one, and..."

"Lest I need to remind you, Ground, you were not hired to be comfortable. You were hired to help us carry out our plan. It is possible of course, that someone else would rather become fabulously wealthy..."

"Understood, Control. Ground out."

* * * * *

George Pembroke arrived at the corner of Galaxy Street and 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 dingy foyer. 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 to it huddled 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 which stood out 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, and he 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 to ceiling 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 man said 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 the 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 have six." The grin widened as he placed both hands palms first on the top of the desk.

"Um, no", George stammered, spellbound by this amusing man. "My name is Pembroke....George Pembroke, and I've come in response to your advert."

"An advert? Me? Fascinating! What on earth did it say?"

"Er," George began intelligently, then decided against 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 myself in for? George wondered silently.

"My, my, my! How wonderfully clever of me! I wonder how I 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 has." George said testily.

"So indeed it has! How remarkably perceptive of you!" He 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, you said your name was......."

The question hung in the air for a moment like an uninvited guest. "Trauma, " said Trauma easily, as though patiently explaining something to a small child or errant puppy. "My name is Trauma."

Well, I can certainly see where that might be fitting, thought George. "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 the dwarf 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 recital of 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 was carefully 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 handed you a note. Later you had a dream about a clown, hmmm?"

"Well, yes, I realize they don't seem like connected things, 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 dwarf in my closet!" George responded angrily. "I checked twice."

"Then who did give you the note?" Trauma remarked casually.

George's hand flew instinctively to his jacket pocket. He 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 since 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 the trail?"

George could only nod dumbly. Trauma got up and began walking around 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 piece of paper 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?" George asked, not quite believing those exact words had just escaped his mouth.

"What indeed? That is the mystery, no? May I see that piece of paper, Mr. Pembroke?"

George handed over the folded document. Trauma made a great show of 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 hand shaking with excitement. "Do you have any IDEA what this note means? Do you realize the implications this note has??" His voice was almost shrill with enthusiastic fervor.

"No. No, I don't, Mr. Martin. That is why I came to see you."

Trauma's face fell. "Ah, I see. How disappointing. You could have saved me a great deal of time if you had."

George could see his time here had been wasted. "I'm terribly sorry to have wasted your time, Mr. Martin." And mine. he thought to himself.

Trauma looked up at him in surprise. "Oh, not at all, Mr. Pembroke. 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 meant. 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 with me!"

Trauma was grinning like a madman again, and guiding George gently out 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 through 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 movement., and he looked around in a panic. Behind him, as tall as skyscrapers, a wall of fiery energy swept towards him....

Chapter Three


Arn Pendlgraf had spent twenty years of his life being a security guard 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 out why Monitor 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 on his chin and wiped a speck of dirt from out of his third good eye, nothing exciting ever happens on my watch.


Unless, of course, someone who's never traveled through a warp tube makes their first entrance into the library portal.

Trauma Martin emerged from the portal first, did a graceful forward 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 recording. Before I go home, he chuckled to himself, I'll have to go by the recorder room and dub a copy of this for my collection.

"What....what....what...." George stammered as he attempted to lift 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 wall where he was sitting.

George tore his gaze away from Arn, and stared openmouthed at the sign on the wall. It read:


This was not, George noted, the only writing on the sign. It was simply the only writing he could understand.

"Very funny, Arnold," Trauma said, brushing the dust off his suit. "I should recommend you to the comedy circuit."

Arn redoubled his laughter. He began shaking so hard, it required the use of two of his arms to hold himself aloft.

"Please don't fall over, Arnold," Trauma grinned. "There isn't a crane or forklift for miles around."

"Trauma, that man is.....is....is...." George stammered incoherently.

"An overbearing, under-worked git." Trauma tsked. "Yes, I know George. 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 blaming Arnold for 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 days?"

"Not since he became a missionary. Think he gave up on Earth though." 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 you about all 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 swiveled his 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 down that book at once, or I shall scowl at you.'" he mocked gleefully.

"Yeah, you're lucky I don't just throw you out now on general principles," said Arn, rising slightly from his chair and flexing his impressive biceps.

"Mr. Martin," George began weakly.

"Please, please George, call me Trauma."

"Trauma," George started anew, "that man has six arms."

Chapter Four

George was still in a deep fog as Trauma led him into the library, so 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 computers...things you would 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 corner of 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 swirling vortex. My god, he thought to himself, I've fallen through the floor into the tube! I'm a train's hood ornament!

As the world rushed away behind him, his life began to flash before his 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 with a rewind button.

Suddenly, the darkness which surrounded him changed to vivid red, and 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? George thought.

At this moment, a grudging sense of pride crept into George's mind. No 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, George had shifted 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 Authority Project 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 happened?"

"Ah, Mr. Pembroke, you've recovered!" Trauma said with a vague 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 launch into a 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 remarked 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 offered from 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 his smile with great effort back to the corners of his mouth.

"Trauma . . . where? what? I mean.."

Trauma wheeled around to face George and stared directly into his eyes, "Mr. Pembroke, you came to me with a problem. 'The future of the entire universe may depend upon your actions' the note said. For this reason, 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 George was not about 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 terms to look up information on navigation codes."

"Sure. There's a wide range of terms you can search on. Archaic, navigation, old code, navcodes, tongue-in-groove..."

"Tongue-in-groove?" Trauma's pencil hovered above his notepad.

The librarian shrugged helplessly. "They get bored in cataloging."

"Ah." Trauma committed the note to paper.

George exploded. "Now wait just one minute, Mr. Martin!" he yelled. From the galleries above, a thousand voices, beeps, and clicks hissed "SHHHHH!"

"Call me Trauma," Trauma replied absentmindedly, not bothering to look up from his pad. "Any other terms?"

George violently spun Trauma around and grabbed him by the lapels.

"Trauma," he hissed. "Since yesterday evening, I have been greeting by 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 day!"

Trauma flashed a broad grin at his companion. "Of course you have, my 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, most horribly 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 towards the 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 gamely. "Go to the 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 from his lapel.

"And you will come and get me," George insisted, "as soon as you find something out?"

"With the utmost haste and urgency, Mr. Pembroke. Upon the wings of angels I shall verily fly to you."

"Good, Mr. Martin. Excellent." George tugged at his clothes, attempting to bring some semblance of his normal professional appearance back into focus.

"Call me Trauma," said Trauma brightly. Slowly and deliberately, George pivoted on his heels and walked down the corridor, disappearing into the lift.

"Er, excuse me," Mia asked, a puzzled look of concern crossing her 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 valuable aide to any seeker of knowledge."

"Well, not to cause any undue worry, but don't you think he might be unprepared for the sort of people he's likely to meet up there?"

"It is possible I was a trifle harsh a moment ago," Trauma said easily. "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."

Chapter Five

George stepped out onto the 18th floor and looked about nervously. As 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 was stopped 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 collide unceremoniously with the lift door.

Either the movement or the noise caught the creatures attention. 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 gurgled.

George swallowed hard and smacked his lips together. There was no way to get out into the library without passing the creature.

The creature's eye blinked slowly. It pondered George for a moment, and then tried again. "Geezo, Frieden ist mit Ihnen. Dieses wird Taquin benannt."

George blinked, surprised. While he had no idea what had just been said to him, he was sure that it had been said to him in German!

"Er, I'm terribly sorry, but I never did learn German…" George said incredulously. Terrific, he thought. With my luck, he'll still be fighting the War.

The creature put his other book down and brought both eyes to bear on George. "Geezo, peace be with you. This one is known as Taquin."

"Um, you speak English?"

"Of course, Geezo. Taquin is conversant in several Terran languages, 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, Geezo."

"Ah, yes, well, I am terribly sorry to have bothered you. Could you direct me to the history section?"

Taquin put down his book and raised a spindly arm. "That way Geezo. 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 again?"

"This one is known as Taquin."

"Thank you, Taquin. You've been most kind." George walked as 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 other book to find his place.

* * * * *

George located the section, and pulled down the 49th volume of Galban's Concise Encyclopedia of Everything. Apparently, this volume was 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 the last century, several member states of the 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 and scrutiny of the new technology came quickly, 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 this technology.

The standard itself was adapted from the work of Dr. E. Bolan Gerpuppy, 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."

Aha!, George thought, that must be why Trauma gave that jewel on his ring a quarter twist.

"The assembly also voted to create, within the time matrix itself, 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 too technical to 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.

"...Once the technological standard had been settled on, the Grand 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 ever created..."

The entry began veering into detailed regulations concerning the usage of time travel, and while the entire concept fascinated George, he had never found dry lists of regulations and laws particularly interesting.

Dry, he thought, noticing his scratchy throat. I could really use a spot of water.

George set the book aside, and wandered to the hallway created by the 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".

Impressive, George thought. Whimsically, he typed his own name into the 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 computer began to display the results of his query:

The Trauma Martin Casebook Pembroke, George
The Two Hamlets Pembroke, George
A Study in Azure Pembroke, George
The Sign of the Six and a Half Pembroke, George
The Further Adventures of Trauma Martin Pembroke, George
---Page 1/3---

A man wearing a hat and trenchcoat put down the newspaper he had been reading and wandered up to the terminal. He pressed the ERASE key, and then stalked off after George.

Chapter Six

Downstairs, Trauma was beginning to feel frustrated. So far, none of 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 one eye and 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 ordeal with no natural end in sight," he sighed. "Beyond that, everything is completely magnificent!"

Mia giggled at his forced attempt at levity. She plopped herself 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 to her without 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 flicked across 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 useless."

Mia blinked at him, and chewed her lip casually as she tried to snare an elusive passing thought before it wandered away from her. "What did you say?"

"I said it was useless. That note. This entire investigation. Perhaps, and indeed upon reflection most likely, the entire expanse of time and space."

"Maybe that's it!" Mia leapt to her feet and dashed over to the counter.

"How refreshing. You are a beacon of light in an otherwise dismally bleak universe," said Trauma, puzzled.

"No, no." Mia grinned impishly as she returned to the table with an electronic tablet in her hand. "Take a look at my crossword puzzle. Eighty-seven Diagonal."

Trauma took the tablet from her and held it at arms length. "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. Doubt I'd have ever figured it out without filling it in from across and down," Mia shrugged helplessly.

Trauma's eyes narrowed slightly. "How very peculiar." Dismissing his 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 article 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 was still carrying the enigmatic piece of paper. Wordlessly, she handed it back to him.

Trauma smoothed the folded paper on the table and began to compare the 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 grinned madly. "But I do know precisely where it means, and that locale shall give forth its secrets."

* * * * *

George stood frustrated and exhausted in front of the refreshment 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 hours wandering 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, depressing each 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 away from the 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
Was H2S04

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 and Trauma bounded out. Taquin made a soft, rude noise.

"George!" cried Trauma breathlessly. "Quite astounding and providential 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 excitement for naught. I'm sorry."

"No, no no! You don't understand! The code is Useless, or rather, the 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 down the corridor 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 impassively out a large 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." George said quietly.

"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 seriously trying to understand the writings of a man named Gerpuppy?!" George shot Trauma an incredulous look. "How on earth can you take a name like Gerpuppy seriously?"

"George, George, names are useless things, mere designations invented 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 Lithuania. Don't you have even the smallest iota of curiosity about the contents of this note."

George, still transfixed by events outside the window, silently nodded his head.

"These coordinates are for Earth, George." Surprise danced across 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 grinned, as he 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 going!"

"No, George, not Hell. Earth." Trauma said reassuringly. "Somewhere in the region of the American-Canadian border, probably on or near the West Coast."

Trauma took back the notepad and began twisting and rolling the jewel 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 companion, George began 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 sternly. "A 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 about?"

"Oh, nothing." Trauma suddenly cleared his throat and began to concentrate on the jewel.

"Oh, no you don't, Trauma. You're not getting out of this one!" George 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 idly. "Just a few ideas about his equations."

"Trauma!" George said, suddenly serious. "Were you trying to change history?"

"I was young, George. Impulsive. Subject to flights of incorrigible 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?" George insisted.

Trauma touched his ring, and the scene in the viewport was replaced by 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 dreadful crimson 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 mean, you 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 end. The only practical good I managed was to cause those occasional firework sparks in the background. It does help to make the trip that much less unpleasant."

"I can't believe the Authority would let anyone near Dr. Ger....um, the man who invented the time matrix."

Trauma's bolted out of his hazy remembrance with a start. "The Authority? What about the Authority?" he asked, alarmed.

"I was reading about them." George said, pleased he had at least 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 you do not 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 of confusion. "The dire need to protect the past, present, and future..."

"Oh, they are protected, George. Very well protected. In the most 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 out the window 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 me burn."

"Nonsense and balderdash, my dear fellow. Nothing could have been 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 your pittance of 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 window directly across George's face. From below the windowsill, the tentacle pulled up a giant squid-like creature, whose giant saucer eyes stared directly at him.

Chapter Seven

Arn Pendlgraf's good eyes were starting to flutter shut, and he began to drift into a peaceful level 23 sleep.


The sound echoed throughout the library. Bolting upright, Arn began 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 volcano that 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 wife'll love this one..."

* * * * *

"George!" Trauma cried, shaking George by the shoulders. "Pull yourself together, man!"

"Ah....ahhhh....eeeeeee!! " George yelled intelligently, his eyes focused deliriously on the creature in the viewport.

"For goodness sake, George, it's only the window cleaner!"

"Ahhhh....eeeeeee......ah....what?" George stopped and forced himself 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 his breath. "Why did he have to do that?"

"He's merely doing his job, George." Trauma soothed. "We all have our 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 coordinates are for Earth, and I really just want to go home."

Trauma helped him to his feet and the two of them walked back to the 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 library, and George 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 with...whatever it is that you're doing."

"Madam," Trauma said with vague disinterest as he swiftly lead George 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!" she said to her 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 asked. "Are we dressed appropriately?"

"Oh yes, of course, but then, I am always dressed correctly. I assume 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 the library. "Excuse me, sir, but you dropped your..."

Her words were cut short as she collided with George and was pulled into the warp tube by the ring's power field.

* * * * *

A man clad in a trenchcoat and a wide-brimmed hat slipped into a comm-booth and punched in a memorized number.

"Control, this is ground. Anchors away."

"Excellent!" An alien voice rasped. "You have done very well. And now the show really begins."

An evil laugh was cut short by the comm-line disconnecting.

* * * * *

Trauma, George, and Mia hurtled down a side timeline. The last minute 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 drop and entered 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 graceful landing.

The trio shot out of the tube, approximately 30 feet above the floor of 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 number in the 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 thirty feet off the ground. Someone could get hurt."

"Speaking of that, if you don't mind," Mia said, "but do you think you could possibly do me the great favor of getting off me?"

"Ah, saner heads prevailing as always. My apologies." Trauma extracted 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 floor. "Yes, 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 motionless and 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 dead!"

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 doc@america.net.

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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