On The Corner of Galaxy and Fifth
Part Five of Five
By Rob Wynne and Jeffrey Williams
Timelines Project Authority Library sat empty, quietly
succumbing to the forces of entropy and neglect. A great deal of chaos
caused by the Temporal Enforcement agents as they seized control of the
facility, and in the confusion of patrons and library workers
scrambling to get
away, falling under the effects of the Biologic Disabler, and flailing
they awoke, frightened and unsure about what had occurred, many shelves
computer terminals had been overturned, and papers had been scattered
they awoke, library officials escorted patrons into the
residential section of the complex, where medical personnel certified
one had been harmed by the Agency's weapons. Once settled, depositions
taken for the TLP Authority, which would be used to prosecute those
for the destruction of the timelines if in fact any recognizable court
to prosecute them in.
few officials stayed behind to repair damaged equipment,
and the Thromboid custodians were called out to help clean up the
a task they launched themselves into with cheerful abandon.
Kudschu," Will Soma called to the janitor as
he emerged from the lift. "I need to you to dispatch a team to the
eighteenth level at once."
Thromboid drew itself up to his full four foot height,
and saluted Soma smartly with a tentacle. "Yes sir!" he rasped.
really did a number up there," Soma
continued mournfully. "They managed to knock over several stacks and
the entire section into complete disarray." Kudschu nodded and began to
amble towards the lift. "While you're there, see if you can discover
the emergency exit up there triggered."
you wish," the Thromboid said dutifully, bowing
slightly. He entered the lift and pressed the button that would send
to the eighteenth floor. I will take
great pleasure in watching you squirm when our roles are reversed, it
thought, chortling softly as the compartment began to rise.
* * * * *
you are absolutely sure about this?" Trauma
asked for what seemed the tenth time. Mia's fingers rapidly danced
keyboard, and the screen began to display multiple windows full of text.
have documented proof. At least, I did before the
Maritime Codes catalog went offline." A duplicate of the file emerged
the screen. "I couldn't find direct references to other FTL projects,
I realized very quickly the search was getting nowhere. I started
crossword puzzle to help myself relax, and that's when it hit me. The
that started this whole crazy mess in the first place -- at least for
"The Useless code," Trauma murmured softly.
Mia said. "The note was written
using Useless coordinates, so who would be in the best position to
such a code?"
who used it to begin with," George answered,
checked the catalog. Useless was the last navigation
code registered with the Alliance before the adoption of the Uniform
Temporal Code. And it was filed by a representative of the developers.
Thromboid representative." Mia concluded triumphantly.
just because they filed the code doesn't
mean..." Trauma protested. Mia held up her hand, and he trailed off.
checked the Thromboid Historical Database," she
said. "Once I knew where to look, it was easy to find. The Thromboids
a relatively new star-faring race. They decided as a culture to take a
gamble." She tapped at a few more keys, and new information from the
database appeared on the screen. "Just the fact that I can still get to
their database should be evidence enough," she muttered beneath her
breath. Finding the data she was searching for, she pointed at the
"Here it is. They decided to put all of their resources into the
testing, and production of an FTL engine. They had inferred evidence
astronomical research that other space-faring races existed, so by
this engine they felt they could unite-their words-and help shape the
of a hundred less fortunate societies."
looked at the screen and absently stroked his beard..
"Unite and help shape, or pull together by force and domination I
think what's happening now answers that
question," George said.
may be right," Trauma admitted.
took twenty years and many unfortunate
accidents," Mia continued, "but with the cooperation of the entire
Thromboid scientific and business establishment, they built a stable
Then, they equipped an entire fleet and set out to give--probably
cosmos their wonder of technology. When they arrived, they found
representatives of the Alliance who informed them that FTL had already
achieved but they would welcome Thromboid into the Alliance."
stood and shook his head. "Are you certain they
would have been first to achieve FTL if Boltz hadn't existed?"
as certain as I can be," she said. "The
Thromboid first contact was in 2075, thirty-one years after Earth
sold, and licensed the FTL engine and helped to form the Alliance.
really a long time in the scheme of things, so circumstantially it all
Plus, there are two other bits of information that seem to seal the
She pulled up another file. "The Thromboid economy had been shattered
the single minded drive for FTL, and the hope was that the manufacture
engines would make the entire world a fortune. Instead, they had
sell. To make matters worse, the Alliance had come together pretty
there was really nothing left for them to do. Thrombia had nothing
the way of goods, raw materials, or high tech services to offer, so
launched themselves into the one area that was still open."
service industry!" George said. "Trauma,
you said yourself they were late getting to the Alliance and there was
left for them to do." He wrinkled his nose. "So that...thing is
responsible for all of this?"
janitor, or someone like it. I've always admired
the native ingenuity of the Thromboid race." He turned to Mia. "And
what is your last piece of evidence, madam?"
furrowed her brow. "It's the thing I found most
puzzling and disturbing. I can't find any reference to what exactly it
it is mentioned in several places. Within five years after the
contact, there is a mention of something called the Temporal
Society. It's some sort of religion apparently, but there's very little
about what they actually stand for or believe in, beyond this little
tidbit," She punched the keyboard, and a picture of a ceremony filled
screen. A large ebon statue of a human figure was being held aloft by
priests in ceremonial dress, while figures from the crowd were
smashing the statue into pieces.
George and Trauma peered over her shoulder at the image
on the screen, each attempting to puzzle out the meaning of the bizarre
Suddenly, George stood upright, horror-stricken.
Boltz," he whispered. "They're ripping
apart Thomas Boltz in effigy."
bar in the Karl Johans Center was active, but not
crowded. Patrons sat scattered about the room carrying on quiet,
conversations in Norwegian, English, and a half-dozen other world
a booth in the darkest corner of the bar, Hamlet and Falstaff sat and
and I worked together on the AF-400,"
Falstaff said. "It was the first big project either of us had worked
and it became apparent right away who was the prince and who was the
lord." He smiled slightly and took a sip of his drink. "By my
reckoning, since he left college, I have spent more face to face time
Thomas Boltz than anyone else on the planet. He was reclusive to a
and after the project ended and he left AirFrame, he virtually
Johans Center paging guest Olvig Ullman," a
pleasant voice said over the public address system, "Olvig Ullman,
call your office. Thank you."
is an assistant for Fortinbras," Hamlet
muttered, remembering the name from the conference notes.
good," Falstaff mocked. "I once
considered Boltz a good friend. But I guess I just wasn't genius
material." he said bitterly. "Who are you, sir? Why are you
Hamlet said, "I mean no harm to you
or to anyone, nor would I wish to besmirch the good name or reputation
Thomas Boltz." He took a long drink from his glass of dark ale.
doesn't answer the question," Falstaff said,
slamming his drink on the table . "If you're here to insure that the
isn't built, you're doing a damn fine job."
the contrary, Mr. Falstaff," Hamlet said
indignantly. "Tis vital to the future of everything that you think you
know, indeed, of everything that I do in fact understand, that the
be built, tested, put into production, and set free to roam the stars."
may be well intentioned," Falstaff said,
"but why isn't the real Tom here? Tell me what is going on here? I
to know the answer!"
scanned the room, looking to see if others were
listening in on their conversation. No one seemed to be paying them the
slightest bit of attention.
look you now," Hamlet quietly snarled.
"You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you will
out the heart of my mystery." He leaned back in the booth and drank
ale. "There is much music in this little organ, yet you cannot make it
speak." He set his glass to rest on the table, punctuating his sentence
with a loud thud. "Things wondrous strange abound beyond your abilities
comprehend. To explain them would make me sound the fool, and in so
you further against the noble cause."
stared at the Dane incredulously, both infuriated
and intrigued by his words. "Well,
you certainly seem to have Boltz's temperament." he remarked dryly.
Johans Center paging guest Thomas Boltz," the
pleasant voice said again over the intercom, "Thomas Boltz, please call
your suite. Thank you."
put Karl and me in two rooms in the old
building," Falstaff said quietly.
must depart," Hamlet said soothingly. "I
offer you my assurances that by any means possible, the Boling 808 will
built." He began walking towards the exit.
will be speaking again," Falstaff said with a
faint hint of menace. Hamlet stopped to stare at him impassively, then
regally out of the room.
* * * * *
streets of Oslo were quiet. The snow, which had fallen on
and off since the previous evening, was tapering off again, but several
lay in drifts upon the ground, and the cold arctic air contributed to
inhospitable environment. Those who were about in the city reflected
light from the streetlights and the light which bounced off of the
them seem to be glowing beacons of dancing fire in a cold, dark world.
was this condition which allowed the agents to walk about
virtually unnoticed. The combination of the city lights and the light
from the ground caused them to very nearly disappear from sight. They
a snow and ice covered square, and the ten agents scattered about the
buildings, near enough to one another for teamwork, but far enough
they would not be wholly conspicuous.
and Sergeant Werm were farthest ahead of the group.
Ellis surveyed the scene in front of him, the snowscape and the city
in his mirrored sunglasses. Without speaking, he motioned to his
raised a device, about the size of a school book-bag, and pressed a
streets are conforming to known maps," Werm
said. "At our current pace, we can be there by the morning."
Ellis nodded approvingly. "And the
least one signal of unusual character for this time
period," Werm said passionlessly as he scanned the readout.
"Stationary time is required for the device to pinpoint the
nodded and raised his right hand. Another agent
materialized out of the shadows. "Approach pattern Bravo." Ellis
commanded without turning to face him. "Pass the word. Follow planned
procedure. Unless circumstances change dramatically, we will proceed
and cautiously. And Colpan, pass the word also: if any party intercepts
or his companions prior to our arrival, they are to take them into
custody. By any
sir," the agent acknowledged,
disappearing into the snow and shadow. Ellis turned to examine the
Werm's device. "That could be Martin," he said disdainfully. "Take
no chances. When the opportunity presents itself, I want a firm
sergeant nodded, and the two of them moved forward into
do you mean Falstaff knows who you are?"
George protested, as Hamlet settled into a chair and removed his tie.
say it like this isn't a bit of a problem! I mean, this could be the
bloody match, couldn't it?"
down, George," Trauma soothed. "Mr.
Falstaff has had all afternoon to expose Hamlet as a fraud, but he
Obviously, he's still curious about what is going on."
emissary from AirFrame desires something,"
Hamlet said quietly, "else he would no doubt have reported his
-- nay, his absolute understanding -- of my identity."
certainly makes sense," Mia agreed. "If
he was completely opposed to what was going on, or if there was no
motive, something would have been said by now."
leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes and
pressing his fingertips together. "If that is the case," he said,
"then the question becomes: 'What is it that John Falstaff hopes to
could be money," George said. "Looking at
the investment figures and the value of Boltz's contract, a great deal
capital has already changed hands, and there is obviously more of that
seems out of place here," Trauma said,
slowly shaking his head. "Why hasn't he named his price if it is only
money he wants?"
answer to your query is simple," Hamlet said.
George marveled at the amazing level of quiet power and authority
the prince's voice. "Why sir, he is a bitter man, mourning for the loss
a friendship, yet also angry over the loss of prestige." Hamlet stood
if to address courtiers. "Several times, he mentioned sadness and a
of loss. But I sense it is much deeper than that. His place and title
AirFrame doth not indicate great power or prestige. Perhaps it is this
gentleman hopes to regain."
piece of the action, in other words," Mia mused.
"A chance to get a slice of the 808's pie. Perhaps, even a chance to
his name associated with Boltz again."
we let him in, then?" George asked.
"Things are already so tenuous that I for one would be very worried if
destabilized the situation any further than it already is."
motivated by envy would be a dangerous
ally," Trauma said, getting up to pace the floor. "No, that is out of
the question. The issue now is: what do we do about Mr. Falstaff?"
took off her glasses and stared thoughtfully into empty
space. "Let me run the search program. Maybe there is something in the
Boltz papers and related documents that can help on this one."
you gotten all the financial data you needed,
George?" Trauma asked. The accountant nodded.
have a mission here," Trauma said. "We
have no allies here. Boling and Fortinbras are trying to discourage the
companies from participating in the venture, thereby dooming the 808.
Falstaff is playing a game of his own, one which may prove even more
and difficult to overcome. We have a long night ahead of us, and I
get to work immediately."
the speeches over, Mia quickly got to work on the
computer, while George, Trauma, and Hamlet gathered in the bedroom,
together as if at a council of war.
* * * * *
Anthony Hazleton," Burton said to Fielding and
Melton, both of whom were pouring over sheets of paper on an oak table
Launch Systems," Melton said, locating
the name on one of his papers. "No successfull products or product
associations for 12 consecutive quarters."
can't rest on the Virgo booster forever,"
Fielding said, taking a bite of chicken sandwich. "Have you heard
that would make him want to gamble?"
shook his head and smiled. "The orbital abort
motor contract won't pay off unless we build at least a hundred 808s,"
could find a new contractor for that if we had
to," Fielding said, "but I don't think we'll have to worry about that
for the time being." Fielding silently turned to Burton, who eagerly
the next name from the list.
Lin Wong," Burton intoned.
Wind Avionics," Melton said.
conservative," Fielding enthused.
"Remember how much trouble our boys had convincing him to go with the
integration system contract?" Again, he looked at Burton, who scanned
page for another name.
* * * * *
can't get over the money Boling and Fortinbras have
spent," George said as he went over his figures. "How can they just
summarily decide to write off something in which they've already placed
investment of time and resources? I mean, the money they're paying to
alone is enough to finance a few football clubs in northern England for
a point to develop then," Mia said.
"They may already be counting on SkyBird to pay off the 808 debt."
try this then," Trauma interjected. "Point
out the immediate gains from a project such as this in terms of
know-how and in
terms of beating the curve. Plus, they are counting on those Japanese
appear, and there's no guarentee that will happen. 'Alternative
we'll call them, would therefore amount to nothing."
laughed as she checked the information on her screen.
"The funny thing is that that Japanese, when they built their first
used 808s to launch the materials and service the stations."
808 has practical applications for near-future
space missions," Trauma whispered as he wrote notes on a legal pad.
"I don't suppose they will actually consider how quickly this plane
get from point A to point B on Earth alone. That's another point we
all of their dealings, though," Hamlet said
from the far corner of the room, where he stood staring out the window
darkness of the Oslo night, "one cannot help but admire our foes'
tenacious and clever acts of cautiousness. " He turned to face his
compatriots, who were each giving him dirty looks from across the room.
"In their own ways, they are worthy and devious generals in a time of
Death by attrition is their stratagem. Deprive the 808 of its
leaned back into his chair and cupped his hands over
his eyes, rubbing sleep from the corners. "No bloody way you can admire
people!" he said angrily as his stood up.
is merely expressing an opinion," Trauma
soothed, attempting to return to his notes. "I say, that reminds me of
time I met Dame Ariel Throttyl. She had a distinguished run with the
Systems Opera company during the Operatic Wars of the 23rd century.
conquered two-thirds of the territory by..."
George snapped. "I do not even want
to begin to consider contemplating the possibility of learning at this
what the Operatic Wars were. I've had enough of this futuristic
been enduring the last few days!" He stormed into the bedroom.
dear," Mia muttered, slipping quickly away
from the computer and disappearing after him into the bedroom. Trauma,
slightly offended, turned hopefully to Hamlet, who redoubled his
wallow in his own melancholy and looked back towards the outside world.
the bedroom, Mia carefully approached George, who sat on
the edge of the bed starting at the television set, which he had not
to turn on. Softly, she eased onto the bed next to him, propping her
his shoulder and looking hopefully at the side of his face.
mil for your thoughts," she said, smiling
corner of George's mouth twitched slightly, but he still
continued to stare morosely at the blank screen. Suddenly, he exhaled
violently. "Why are we having to fight so hard
for this?" he said with exasperation.
real Boltz had to fight just as hard," Mia
said. "Why should we have it any better than he did?" She giggled
slightly. "And at least he knew what he was doing without the aid of
own notes and papers."
spite of himself, he smiled just a bit. "I just can't
understand why they can't see," he whispered. "They have a marvelous
feat of engineering at their fingertips, a quantum leap in technology
understanding in their grasp, yet they point-blank refuse to see it."
turned to face her, smiling slightly at the site of his own face
her dark brown eyes. "I can only conclude that they are fools, or are
least willfully ignorant."
looked at him with a mixture of sympathy and amusement.
"We'll turn you into a citizen of the future yet," she smiled.
"You're halfway there already."
what does that mean?" George asked, bewildered.
stood up and turned to face him. "You've so accepted
what the 808 did that you can't see how someone from this time might
project differently." She placed her hands on his shoulders and locked
eyes with him. "George, you believe in the 808. I believe in the 808,
Trauma believes in the 808, even Hamlet believes in it. But we do so
that it will be successful. To them, it's a frightening
risk -- something that is essentially unproven."
straightened up and slowly walked back towards the door
which led into the other room of the suite. Turning back towards him,
continued, "Stop looking at them as if they were willful fools, and
starting looking at the participants of the conference for what they
businessmen who are afraid for their futures. Once you do that, you'll
to stop being angry." She smiled and motioned for him to follow.
"We'll do a better job of preparing for this with you rather than
George stood up and walked over to where she stood.
Taking her hand gently, he followed her back into the living room to
the corner of the headquarters of the Thromboid agents,
Ground slowly surveyed the racks of weapons. Removing his gun from
trenchcoat, he placed it gently in an empty rack, then picked up a
higher-powered version of the same weapon.
heard this guarantees full disintegration,"
Ground said lovingly as he examined the shiny surfaces of the rifle.
on the plans!" Gaabick hissed, and
Ground slowly returned to the conference table. "You were saying,
is following the plan you outlined to
me?" Control rasped over the speaker system.
Learned Reverend," Maxis said. "Our
listening devices indicate general lack of support from the humans
addition," Gaabick continued, "We picked
up a brief exchange between Falstaff and the Shakespearion. If he has
so already, he should discredit the Boltz impersonator by the morning."
are no guarantees that this subtle plan of
Gaabick's will succeed," Ground said forcefully, picking up the gun and
checking the weapon's scope. "We are being too cautious. We should act
with force and with firepower!"
Reverend," Gaabick said, his voice
betraying his frustration, "as you can hear, his insubordination
will be no dissention from within," Control
hissed. "Success is nearly ours, and our People are soon to move from
bondage into the Light of Prosperity, into the New Universal Order as
prophesied by Hyglac the Green." Silence filled the room, but it was a
silence filled with stern rebuke. "Ground, Gaabick, do not, so close to
deliverance, risk excommunication with the Holy Mother-of-All"
seek absolution, Learned Reverend," Gaabick said
me, Learned Reverend," Ground muttered
quickly, forcing as much humility as he could bear.
may be wise to be cautious, Ground," Control
said. "These individuals have already slipped their bonds once. It is
time, I believe, to send in our special agent." Control laughed
All in the room, with the exception of Ground, began laughing heartily
* * * * *
meal from room service had arrived at Boltz's suite at
two-thirty that morning. Hamlet and Mia had eaten heartily from the
of eggs and breakfast meats, while George had settled for cereal and
entire pot of coffee.
on the other hand, decided to give in to the sense of
exhaustion that had begun to overtake him an hour earlier. "Wake me at
3:15, " he said to his friends, and he leaned back into his chair and
slipped into a deep sleep.
images of George, Mia, and Hamlet eating danced in his
mind. Replays of the events since George Pembroke came into his life
in a seemly endless loop, like a record skipping on a scratched section.
was fascinating to him as he dreamt, though, were small
details from the events -- things he had missed in the general
excitement. In a
corner of the library that he hadn't noticed at all, there was a single
painting by renowned artist Leegon Hajulk of Londonberry III, one of
multi-legged nudes that the painter was famous for. Later, in Boltz's
laboratory, a single issue of The Atlantic New York magazine from 2001
commemorating the American debut of the AF-400 had been tossed
carelessly on a
countertop. Yet, it was there, and Trauma marveled at the quiet nature
Boltz's ego. In the bar on Earth, one of the women had been wearing a
a black onyx gemstone.
cycle through the dreams, he seemed to fall further and
further into sleep, all the while relishing the discovery of all the
details of the last few days. Suddenly, he noticed a faint alarm
ringing in the
distant corner of his mind. Curious,
he thought, that I should feel so sleepy,
and then have the very type of dreams that I love. Slowly at
fighting the waves of fatigue that seemed to sweep over him, Trauma
methodically probing his mind. The more he searched, the more he felt
prisoner in a movie theatre. All the films were available, but the
patron could never leave. Trauma was determined to get out, if for no
reason than to get his box of popcorn.
he fought against the current of sleep, the dreams began
to dissipate and he became aware of another force at work inside his
something completely alien to his being. He followed his sense of
finally finding his way into a long dark hallway, the sort that one
expect to find in an office building after hours. In the darkness, he
make out doors lining the hallway on both sides.
sudden flash of light caught the corner of his eye, and he
moved slowly towards it. As he crept closer, he noticed the light
bobbed up and
down in a narrow beam behind one of the doors about halfway down the
corridor. He approached the door, and read the writing on the frosted
and Planning Department
felt for a doorknob. Locating it, he grasped it
firmly, and counted to three carefully and deliberately before throwing
door open and reaching for the light switch. Illumination flooded the
chasing the shadows to the four corners.
before him, obviously startled, was a carnival clown
holding a flashlight. Several filing cabinets in the room had been
and files lay strewn across the floor. On top of the cabinet was a
radio which was playing soothing lullabies.
flashed a Cheshire grin at the clown.
well," he said, a hint of malice in his
voice. "Mystery number two solved." He moved slowly towards the
clown, who immediately flashed a maniacal grin of his own at Trauma.
take it for granted that your name isn't Piangi."
to Trauma's surprise, the clown broke into song:
Isn't it deep?
Me all alone in your head
And you -- fast asleep!
You can't beat a clown
arched his eyebrows slightly, clearing his throat
before responding in a rich baritone:
this a bad joke?
I do not approve.
From out of my mind I insist
That you remove!
I've no time for clowns!
I won't stand for clowns!
clown blinked in surprise, and a hint of fear clouded his
eyes. Gamely, he rallied:
when I'd searched through dreams
Finally knowing that this one was yours, so it seems
Making my entrance again, with my usual stealth
Sure of my task, to steal your wealth
Invading your thoughts,
Aren't you confused?
I knew that you'd know what I want --
You can't even choose!
And why not a clown?
You can't beat a clown!
smirked wickedly as he stepped on the clown's line:
bother, you lose.
Isn't it strange?
Don't you agree?
That all your plots were confounded
by little me?
What use is a clown?
You all are just clowns!
Just get out of here!
clown gazed at Trauma in horror, as he realized that he
was being evicted from the steel trap of Trauma's mind. He looked at
pleadingly, but the detective just grinned madly at him as his body
into mist. Trauma shook his head sadly. He turned and flicked off the
closed the door behind him, and sauntered off down the back corridor of
sleeping mind, whistling merrily to himself as he walked.
his eyes flew open and he sat upright, feeling both
refreshed and thoroughly satisfied.
tears of a clown," he sang with gusto,
"when there's no one around."
looked up at him, puzzled. "What are you on
flashed him a toothy smile and stood up. "Oh,
just thinking of Smokey." he enthused. Now, where were we?"
the years of torment and indecision that surrounded the
death of his father -- the murder, as many had insisted, including his
ghost -- Hamlet had known moments of fatigue and exhaustion that nearly
him to the tender mercies of sweet oblivion, yet it had been quite a
since he had awakened from an hour of sleep as fitful as his had been.
looked about, allowing a yawn to escape his mouth when he was sure that
was watching. The weight of the responsibility he was carrying was
affect him, and Hamlet suddenly yearned for a skilled troupe of
group with whom he could experiment, test, and revise the various
approaches that he and his compatriots would be going over that day.
would be able to count on the support of Mia, George, and Trauma, the
weight of the performance fell to himself as Thomas Boltz.
a man," he muttered softly to himself,
"take him for all in all. We shall not look upon his like again." His
instincts suddenly came alive and he scanned about the room. He saw
Falstaff emerging from an elevator and walking towards him with a
Boltz," Falstaff said, looking refreshed and
ready for the day. "I'd like a word with you." He pointed towards the
art gallery. "In private," he said, his grin widening.
you," Hamlet intoned politely, returning an
even more menacing smile. Falstaff nodded and walked slowly into the
turning every few steps to make sure that Hamlet was following.
slow fits and starts, the two entered the small exhibition hall.
glanced nervously around the room, making sure it was free of other
Satisfied that it was empty, he turned to address Hamlet.
he chuckled. "I still have no idea who
you are, but I can guess you are here because the real Thomas Boltz is
dead or incapacitated. My presumption is that you have been chosen to
place on a more or less permanent basis." Falstaff's smile was now
devoid of warmth.
or less," the prince replied, wondering to
himself just how long he might be forced to play the role of Thomas
I'll be honest with you, old son, I don't much
care who you are. But you do play the part well." Falstaff positioned
himself between Hamlet and the door. "Whether you are even a quarter of
the genius that Thomas was is in serious doubt, but you have the name.
the demand. You sir, have the money and the reputation.
you want a share of both," Hamlet said
have my talents," Falstaff continued, "And
I can help to maintain the charade for longer than I suspect you can.
return, for my talents and my time, I want several things. First, I
immediate cash payment of four hundred thousand euros, with the
that future cash payment requests may be made from time to time."
scowled, and Falstaff moved even closer to the prince. "More
however: I want to be listed in all future Thomas Boltz contracts as a
and to be paid directly from those contracts."
wish the power of reputation," Hamlet said.
"Of prominence by association."
I said," Falstaff muttered bitterly. "I
have my talents, but they may never see fruition unless I am able to
ride with your.--Thomas's--reputation" He turned to look at one of the
paintings, a blurry print by Claude Monet. "The more I see of this
work, the more I'm convinced he could have done with a good pair of
glasses." he laughed to himself. "One more thing...Boltz. If
resistance to the 808 continues, you are to drop the plans."
had been regarding the conversation with something
more akin to amusement than danger, but Falstaff's comment cut to the
the entire reason he was even in the situation he was. He spun to face
angrily. "It is vital," he said emphatically, "that the winged
bird be allowed to leave its nest!"
If you go down with the 808, you'll prematurely
diminish your reputation and, therefore, your earning power. That harms
both, and I am not prepared to see you go down in flames just yet."
Falstaff," Hamlet said, barely controlling his
fury, "I have regarded your proposals with amusement. But what
I may hope from thee that hath no revenue but thine own good spirit?
must be built, and neither you, nor demons from across the rivers of
shall stop it from its flight. I decline your generous
took a quick step back, so that he was easily viewed
from the hotel lobby. "You are not in a position to decline. Think
it. You have until lunch." He turned and walked deliberately towards
conference room. Hamlet followed him closely. "Tell me no, Mr. Boltz,
the charade ends today." The engineer disappeared through the door.
and Trauma emerged from the elevator, notebooks and
charts in hand, and Hamlet turned his attention towards them. As he did
tapped on his pin. "Mia," he said, "how goes the search we spoke
of in darkest night?"
* * * * *
yours doesn't appear to be having much of an effect on the
Ground muttered angrily to the others at the table. Gaabick and Maxis
glared at him, while Hathram worked the dials and buttons, clearing
interference which had begun to creep into the signal from the
know that Falstaff contacted Boltz," Maxis said,
while Gaabick joined Hathram in clearing the difficulties. "Falstaff's
master profile indicates that one way or the other, he will be
successful." Maxis walked over to stand nose-to-nose with Ground,
openly. "You have been a constant source of disruption, a continual
point irritating an open wound. You may have acted resourcefully, even
tracking these cretins to Oslo, but you were forced to do so by your
failure! Do not attempt to pass your faulty procedures to us!"
waxen face contorted with anger and humiliation. His
eyes began drifting back towards the armory that lined the back wall.
burst of static mixed with a loud whine pierced the ears of
the four conspirators. "...and how
would the stockholders react...:" could be faintly heard
noise before being drowned out again. The signal hissed in and out of
and Gaabick and Hathram made continuous adjustments.
your pathetic listening device is letting you
down," Ground whispered just loudly enough to be heard.
is some exterior interference," Gaabick
muttered. "This close to the North Pole, electromagnetic pulses often
cause such interference." He made more adjustments, and Hathram smiled
triumphantly. "This one was worse than the others, but we've pushed
through, and the signal should remain clear. As for you, Ground, I
you make no further comment until the successful completion of this
mission." Gaabick, Maxis, and Hathram laughed heartily while Ground
mental daggers into each of their throats.
meeting began at eight the next morning, and the
controversy began immediately.
the conclusion of yesterday's session," said
a short, balding German man with the name Ernst stenciled on the name
pinned meticulously on his sport-coat, "General Thermodynamics team
members met to discuss the details brought up, particularly the
the deHavilland Comet." He looked down and flipped a page on a legal
"With any new venture, there is going to be risk involved. A man of Mr.
Boltz's standing should be given the chance to take that risk, as
all. Gentlemen, my team is for the Boling 808, and I can give
General Thermodynamics stands behind my team."
Connelly from Sisler Motors stood, and Burton recognized
him. "I am addressing Ernst Otto, aren't I? Sorry, y'all, but there are
great many people here, and so many names to remember." Portions of the
group laughed and nodded their heads in agreement. "I'm sure that all
us respect, and in some ways admire, General Thermodynamics. And our
companies have a couple of things in common here. Both of us stand to
great deal of money from this project. If it flies and flies well. But
don't quite figure how you could come to the conclusion that this thing
worth the risk, unless you're lettin' the potential money put you on
like a bloodhound on a raccoon." Some quarters of the gallery laughed
Connelly," Burton said, more for appearances
than out of genuine anger, "we did agree to avoid personal accusations
laughed, but then affected a very serious
expression. "I meant no harm," he said genially, "Only wanted to
make a point." He sat, and Burton recognized Sir Anthony Hazleton.
and Hamlet watched and scribbled more notes on the margins of the notes
had already written.
won some people," George said hopefully.
Hamlet maintained his stoic expression.
Thermodynamics is merely an enlightened and
visionary fiefdom," he muttered softly away from his microphone.
"They may have been convinced 'ere they came." He tapped on his lapel
"Go ahead, Hamlet,"
Mia's voice immediately rang in his ear.
I will need shortly a sword with which to fight,
sting, and prick upon the reputation of Mr. Falstaff.," he said,
but angrily. He could hear the keys tapping in the background.
"Working on it,
love," she said, "Boltz
didn't care for him very much, that's certain."
shrugged his shoulders and sighed. "We must find
failure isn't something my company can
tolerate," Sir Anthony Hazleton said to the conference goers. "Without
solid and unequivocal support, CastleStar will not expend the effort to
suitable emergency reentry engines! And, unlike my learned colleague's
CastleStar has no short term financial benefit from this. The
production costs will not be offset by sales until well into the future
808, and that future may never come."
were more murmurs of dissent and agreement throughout
the conference room, and Fielding surreptitiously gave a thumbs-up sign
rough down there," Mia said in Hamlet's ear.
he replied. "The drums of war beat
tapped the prince on the shoulder. "A little too
loud," he said. "Don't blow it now."
Anthony began to whip himself into a froth. "Mr. Boltz,"
he said as loudly as he could manage without actually shouting, "you
there idly watching the proceedings! Defend this folly of yours!"
this as their cue to begin, George passed a set of
notes to Hamlet, who quickly arranged them in front of him.
Hamlet said, "indeed, all of
you in attendance with the exception of my former employers, my past
acquaintances at AirFrame, all of you need to query your souls. You
forth not the question of why should you build, but how can you afford
to." He again examined his notes, trying to remember not to tip his
and reveal that he had access to confidential information.
the interests of discretion," he continued,
"I will not reveal information that is not generally privy to the
discourse, nor shall I venture guesses that may, upon reflection, be
false." He shot a glance to George, who mouthed the words "plain
language" to him. With a slight nod, Hamlet acknowledged the advice.
"Tremendous amounts of time and resources have already been expended in
pursuit of this goal. Now, I do comprehend that losses and write-offs
part of the game, however--" he paused for dramatic effect, taking the
time to scan every face in the room. "However, why suffer a loss, why
a write-off, when success would do more for your profits, and for the
confidence of your investors?"
Anthony sank into his seat, listening intently, though
skeptically, to Boltz. Connelly also listened, though his expression
his extreme revulsion to what was being said.
your financial statements and assessments,"
Hamlet continued. "Balance the ledger of failure and regret against the
tallies of success and exaltation."
Boltz," a voice called from the crowd.
recognizes Mr. Clark," Burton said.
tall, lean man stood up and placed a monocle over his right
eye. "Mr. Boltz, ComfortCruise has nothing to lose by not participating
this ill-considered venture." His voice was heavily accented, although
sounded very much like he was deliberately trying to sound more foreign
S.O.B." Melton said with enough volume
to be heard by Hamlet.
good fellow," Clark continued, "What is my
motivation?" Hamlet did not immediately answer, and George came close
calling Mia for help.
chance for unlimited and unbridled conveyance to the
endless possibilities of the future!" Hamlet's voice suddenly exploded
with fervor. He leapt from behind the table and began pacing up and
front of the podium, playing to all parts of the audience. "A man's
should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for? In the end, after the
and balances are weighed without the golden thumb of greed, when you
sleeping on your deathbeds, will you be able to say to yourself that
you made a
placed one hand
firmly on the corner of the lectern, as if for balance.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage
their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea we
afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our
paused, sweeping his
iron gray eyes across the assembly.
"Will you be able to say that instead of waiting passively
history to sweep you along its ceaseless current, that you seized the
opportunity to take captain the ship of your destiny and to plot the
that mankind takes to the future?"
I may," George said, looking to Hamlet for
approval. The prince nodded his head in assent, turning to consult his
again. "No one is proposing flying a Boling 808 without thorough
of the operation of all its components." George said, standing up and
making sure that his eyes touched each face in the crowd. "Many of you
feel that you are taking a great risk, and the truth is, by approving
project you will be. But it is that risk, that sense of doing something
one has ever done before, that in the end will drive all of the
this project to ensure that the best, most reliable, most user-friendly
built, with a minimum of risk to passengers and crew."
was a time," Hamlet said, "when man
huddled in caves, trying to stay warm, trying to hold out the
He paused, specifically turning to face Connelly, then Hazleton, then
and finally Norgaard. "Then, humanity harnessed fire. Gentleman, verily
say unto you, fire in that context is no less important than the
matter and anti-matter will be in our time. Can you sleep, knowing that
this slip quietly into oblivion, a mere gloss upon the pages of a
forever unchanging history?" Hamlet turned his back on the conference,
walking back towards his seat. Suddenly, he stopped, and turned to face
hushed crowd. "Weigh the costs, ladies and gentlemen. Measure the
in your ledgers."
* * * * *
Odin Chambers were nearly empty during the mid-morning
break, as Karl Johans Center employees scurried about, placing glasses
ice and pitchers full of water on all of the tables. Near the door to
Preparation Room, Richard Fielding and Sven Norgaard talked in quiet
far away from any possible open microphones. Each held pieces of paper,
frequently exchanged documents.
looks good to me," Fielding said quietly.
"When all of this becomes official, and after your people and my people
check the fine print, I think we can seal the deal."
Richard," Norgaard said in his heavily
accented English. "Nothing is certain yet. At least not until the end
the conference this afternoon." He looked out into the mass of tables
chairs. "Are you hearing the same things I am?"
808 is as good as dead," Fielding assured him.
"I'm hearing a good amount of negative rumblings." He tsked to
himself. "Maybe I should have listened to Chuck on this one, though. A
anonymous information packets on the price of failure might have given
extra edge of assurance."
me, Richard," Norgaard said thoughtfully.
"Could you have ever imagined us, standing together at a conference
as this, savoring the possibility that a project such as this would be
cancelled? How often have we, as you Americans put it, sweated it out
if a government or airline would purchase one of these marvelous
enough," Fielding laughed. "At least
you have other manufacturers to work with if one of your engines
on one of my aircraft."
Norgaard agreed. At the top of the Odin
Chambers, figures in business suits began to slowly make their way down
aisles and settle into their seats. "We'd better take our places,
be talking to you after all this is over with,
Sven," Fielding said, and the two of them quietly moved to their
George and Hamlet maintaining contact?" Trauma
asked into his cell phone. He was standing in a corner of the lobby
obscured by plants and by suits being carried out on rolling carts from
Karl Johan Center's dry cleaner.
"I just passed
along some dirt on Falstaff," Mia chirped. "If
he speaks up, Hamlet has something to hopefully stop him cold."
Trauma smiled broadly and kissed the ear piece of the phone. "What was that?" Mia asked.
Trauma said, suppressing a laugh.
"Must have been static." Several carts of suits were being carried
by, forcing Trauma deeper into the corner. "Are we ready for the grand
finale if the moment arrives?" There was a pause as papers shuffled and
printouts were made.
"George and Hamlet
have all the stuff we put together last night." Mia said. "And I've got more at my disposal here.
Between the supporting information and the notes, I think we can pull
Trauma said. Just around the corner from
where Trauma stood talking, a number of men began filing into the
wore large floppy hats and bulky trenchcoats. Some made their way
towards the Tower Asgard stairs, and others moved towards the
stood before the entrance to each of the three elevators, and four
entered the stairwell. While their clothes were not inconspicuous, each
moved with such grace and skill that no one, even the security
hand, had paid them any attention.
two slid open with a pleasant chime, and several
people left. As two of the figures climbed aboard the elevator, they
joined by a third man.
fellah's going up?" the man asked genially.
up," one of the figures said, lifting his
head just enough to reflect the glimmering light from his mirrored
* * * * *
Whitley sees no reason why we can't proceed, at least to the testing of
flight ready prototype," Roger Strom's voice echoed over the
Mia continued typing at the computer, stopping only occaisionally to
bite from a biscuit and take a sip of a diet drink.
never thought I'd find anything more vile than a
NutraDrink," she said into the telephone cradled between her ear and
Trauma wheezed over the phone. "Sorry,
my dear, it seems I picked the wrong corner to converse from."
sound of rustling plastic overpowered his voice, and Mia had to pull
away from her ear. "I am currently
being assaulted by freshly laundered clothing." Mia giggled
love," she smiled. She highlighted some
bits of text and rearranged them on the page in front of her. "How long
before you can get back up here to command central?"
"A few minutes,
perhaps." Trauma said. "I
was thinking that there might be some sort of break before they started
at each other's throats."
"As for AirFrame's
position on this matter," Karl Wingruber's heavy German
from the transmitter/receiver, "at
present, we cannot promise equipping our planes with any such engine at
time." Shouts and murmurs echoed throughout the hall.
think you're too late for that," Mia said.
* * * * *
the eight floor of Tower Asgard, the doors of elevator two
slid silently open. Two trench coated figures emerged, dragging the
of an unfortunate passenger between them. Removing the man's room key,
the agents walked to room 800 and unlocked the door. The other drug the
body into the room. As he returned to the hallway without the body,
one and three opened to reveal four more agents.
each end of the hallway, stairwell doors opened, and two
more sets of agents appeared. Silently, they all converged on the door
823. One pulled a small device out of his pocket, and placed it above
on the door. He tapped a few buttons, and the front of the device lit
up, as it
worked through millions of combinations per second. Suddenly, the front
of the small box began to flash, and there was an audible click as the
lock released. Silently, the door was pushed open and the agents
from the hallway.
anyone bothered to think about the lessons of the
Loughneed 1112?" a short Canadian man asked from the floor.
recognizes Mr. Swinburne," Burton mumbled.
He was no longer standing at the lectern, but rather sitting at the
to it with his head propped in his hand.
Swinburne continued, addressing the
President of Fortinbras. "You have to know the stories. Those were
relatively conventional high-power engines that were built for that
the development costs and under-performance of the M-1112 sent
bankruptcy. A big bloody battle in the end lost. Can you afford to
things if the market never materializes for a matter/anti-matter engine
on Mr. Boltz's design?"
is of real concern to us--" Norgaard began.
and Hamlet exchanged glances. He doesn't know what
an M-1112 is either, George thought. Quickly, he tapped at
the lapel pin.
"Hold on just a
moment," Mia said. "George
your time, dear lady." Trauma said, smiling
softly and trying to disentangle a plastic laundry bag which had
around his legs. In the background, he could hear Mia pick up the radio
"What is it,
George?" she said. Before any answer could be heard, there
was a soft thwack sound. Mia
screamed, and there
was a soft hissing sound, followed by a thud.
Trauma yelled into the phone, spinning
around and looking frantically about the lobby. Suddenly realizing the
implications of what had just occurred, he ran back to the corner of
and set the phone, still connected, into the thick leaves of a potted
and began to run for the door to the conference room.
* * * * *
bolted upright, sending a shower of papers onto the
floor and momentarily stopping debate. He complosed himself and sat
allowing Norgaard to continue his discussion. Shaking, George quickly
the words "Mia's in trouble" on a scrap of paper and slipped it over
to Hamlet. Seconds later, he rose and quickly hurried out the of the
room, leaving a stunned Hamlet to face the crowd alone.
* * * * *
conference room door flew open, knocking Trauma to the
happened to Mia!" George said
frantically as he reached down to help his friend to stand.
slightly and shaking his head to clear the cobwebs,
Trauma nodded. "I know. I was on the phone with her when it
bolted towards the Tower Asgard elevators, but Trauma
grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back. "George, not that way,
violently wrenched his arm from Trauma's grasp and ran
towards the elevators. "Something's happened to her, and I'm not going
stand around to find out what!" he called over his shoulder.
furrowed his brow, caught in a moment of indecision.
"It's a trap!!!!"
His voice echoed through the lobby, and everyone
around him turned to stare. George, seemingly oblivious to Trauma's
punched the button for the eighth floor, and the doors slid closed.
muttered obscenities to himself between clinched
teeth, and began to run towards the elevator himself. Pulling up short,
thought better of committing the same fallacy as George, and turned
stairs. As his hand closed on the doorknob, he stopped again.
he commanded himself. "Think. No, this
is just what I would do. Monitor both ways in." He turned and walked
quickly over to the front desk, pushing his way past several people
there any way into Asgard other than the stairs and
the elevators?" he demanded.
the startled woman behind the counter
replied with a thin reserve of patience. "You'll need to wait."
closed his eyes and silently counted off the first 25
prime numbers. "A thousand pardons," he said, mustering up his usual
veneer of charm. "I was merely wishing to surprise a friend of mine. I
should not have barged in like that." He flashed a Cheshire grin to the
woman, who seemed to be torn between running away or pushing the
"panic" button that would summon security. Selecting a third option,
she pointedly ignored Trauma, turning back towards the businessman she
checking into the hotel and continuing with her work.
to the tenth floor of Tower Midgaard," she said
coldly as she entered data into the computer. "You can use the Bifrost
connector to get back into Asgard."
eyes lit up. "Bifrost!" he said, smiling
broadly. "Thank you very much, madam." Before she had a chance to
he pushed back through the crowd, sprinting towards the elevators
leading up to
* * * * *
elevator door opened with a chime, but no one emerged
into the empty hallway of Tower Asgard's eight floor. Slowly, the
ticked past, and the door began to slide closed again. At the last
hand shot out, forcing them to open again. Cautiously, George emerged
car, carefully looking both ways before inching his way down the hall
We should have moved from
one room to the next! he seethed. We
were sitting ducks! As he moved along, George began to
mentally prepare for
what he planned to do when he reached the room, and quickly came to the
realization that he had no idea. One by one, courses of action based
various strategies were evaluated, then discarded, for each ran up
very real obstacles. First, George had no idea who or what might be in
room. Secondly, and the small part of George's brain that was still
was sounding this alarm as loudly as it could, he had no idea how he
to stop this enemy once it had been conclusively identified.
entire venture was, frankly, beginning to look rather
froze in place, waffling between the single minded
passion to protect Mia and the practical reality that was confronting
as the better part of valor seemed to be winning out, however, George
blunt object nestle into the small of his back. Had he never gotten
this adventure, he still would have understood the meaning of that
object nudged George foward, and he began walking slowly
to his room, sweat beading on his forhead. Finally, he stood before the
entrance to room 823. The door opened silently from the inside, and
walked into a room full of white-clad agents.
Mr. Pembroke," Ellis smiled. "How nice
of you to save us the trouble of tracking you down."
will--we will be breaking for lunch in just a few
minutes, "Daniel Burton said into the microphone, tapping at the
with a gavel. "To save time, I'd like everyone to pass up written
suggestions for our afternoon agenda." Papers began shuffling in the
conference room amid assorted shouts and murmurs. "I've been advised
several of you have to leave by no later than this evening, and we
accommodate you. Barring some truly extraordinary circumstance, we will
this conference by seven o'clock."
was beginning to feel alarmed. It had been nearly
twenty minutes since George had left to check on Mia, and since then,
heard anything over his comlink. He feared that the situation was
desperate, but even more, he feared that he was going to have to finish
tapped on his lapel pin at an opportune moment, but all he
heard in his ear piece was dead air. "What was it that scourge and
trickster the king once said to me?" Hamlet whispered to himself.
"How is it that the clouds hang on you?" Hamlet forced a laugh,
to chase away his melancholy. "Oh, mine Uncle, I am too much in the
sun." Hamlet broke from his reverie and looked quickly over the mass of
notes in front of him. He scanned the sea of faces, attempting whenever
possible to avoid meeting eyes with Falstaff, who grinned at him
He saw Connelly, who was looking even more bitter and angry. As he
person, he suddenly became aware of the character of them all. "A
council of warriors, all of them!" he muttered. "Each with his own
sword to wield, each with a body politic to respond to in the confines
own home." The room suddenly became alive with images of counselors and
courtiers, all moving and interacting in an exquisite ballet. The
threads tying their means and motives revealed themselves to be
attached to one
another as much as to their respective companies. As he began to
intricate nature of the web laid out before him, he slowly began to
could feel the return of a skill and instinct that had been missing
mind for what seemed to be ages.
those that play your clowns," he muttered,
"speak no more than is set down for them." He stood, and was vaguely
aware of Burton signaling the end of the session and the beginning of
period. "Each has a responsibility, covered o'er with fear and most
wounding doubt, though in the mean time, some necessary question of the
then to be considered!" He scanned the room, finally catching sight of
hotel employee coming in to begin cleaning up for the next session.
child," Hamlet called softly, as he walked
down off the podium and towards the front of the room.
sir?" the young man asked nervously. Hamlet
again smiled, though the employee did not seem to find it reassuring.
have a task must needs be done," Hamlet said,
taking the young man by the arm and pulling him aside. He sat at the
table and began writing a series of names, referring often to his
"A fair measure of ducats to you if thou dost complete this errand
and within no more than twenty minutes." He finished writing the names
handed the sheet of paper, along with a one-hundred euro note, to the
"One more of those for completing the task. Two more if thou dost
in the time specified."
boy looked at the money, then at the list, and grinned
widely at Hamlet. "Thank you, Mr. Boltz," he said. "I'll get
right on this!" He rushed up the aisle and out the door.
briefly, felt satisfied, but his worry about his
friends crept over him like ivy on a castle wall, and he tapped his
repeatedly without success.
* * * * *
had taken Trauma nearly twenty minutes to reach the tenth
floor of Tower Midgaard. Initially, he had stopped in the room that had
booked for him but which he had never actually occupied during the
Searching carefully, he poked at the walls and ceiling tiles, searching
something he hoped he would find. It took about fifteen minutes, and a
deal of damage done to the room, but thing he was searching for turned
be accessible, if a bit cramped.
out of the elevator, he carefully approached an
archway. Above the arch, in neon script, was the word "BIFROST".
Directly below that, in smaller lettering, was a separate sign which
"The Rainbow Bridge.". He stopped through the doorway and felt his
breath catch in his throat.
every material used to construct the connecting bridge
between Towers Midgaard and Asgard was transparent, offering a sight,
mused, not unlike that of a fully operational timeline, although
more colorful. Six stories below his feet, he could see the old section
Karl Johans Center. To each side of him, he could make out portions of
skyline, and even see a hint of water between the buildings on the
front of him, Tower Asgard loomed like an impregnable fortress, daring
scale its walls. Above his head, the walk was covered with snow, but
light filtered in to give the illusion that he was really walking
across on a
allowed himself but a moment to marvel at the amazing
construction. "No time for tourism, Trauma," he said aloud to
himself, and forced himself on. He crossed the bridge quickly to Tower
and, after taking three steps into the hallway, stopped and closed his
stood stock-still while counting silently from ten to zero. His eyes
open and he grinned with delight when cold hands failed to close on him
pressure of a biologic distortion device failed to materialize in the
a spot," he whispered, his gleeful
expression turning serious once again. He eased the door to the
craning his neck to peer downwards. Seeing no one, he slipped inside,
the door carefully behind him so as not to make a noise. Creeping down
level, he slipped out onto the ninth floor and began quickly moving
to door, looking for one he could get into.
he thought to himself, dashing down the hallway only to find that door
secured with an electronic lock. Very
well, he thought. The issue is
The actions to be taken are clear. He reached into his jacket
fought back a look of panic. The tools
are in the room. Trauma felt momentarily deflated, and he
looked about in
desperation for a solution to his sudden dilemma. Spotting a room
the hall, he seized upon a plan, and began to rummage in his pockets.
out the transmitter-receiver, he smiled broadly and positioned himself
room the cleaner was working in.
ten minutes went by before the cleaner finally exited
the room. Trauma crouched in the doorway of the next room, trying to be
inconspicuous as possible. The cleaner loaded her cleaning supplies
large blue rolling bin, then turned and pulled on the door so that it
close behind her. As she walked off, Trauma reached out and slid the
transmitter-receiver across the floor, just hard enough that it came to
next to the doorframe. His timing had been perfect, and the door came
gently against the small box. He waited patiently for the cleaner to
further into the next room. Once she had disappeared from his sight, he
crept forward, collected the transmitter, and slipped into the empty
quietly sealing the door behind him before anyone noticed what he had
823 had undergone a rather remarkable transformation in
the short period of time since Ellis's men had occupied it. The
still in use, though it had been joined by two other laptop systems. In
addition to the data collected by the group, there were also data
and streams of information concerning local conditions. Near the window
living room, Sergeant Werm sat with a remote system, tracking signal
information from the city. George sat on the floor, Mia's limp body
his arms, while Ellis stood sneering down at the two of them.
people," Ellis snickered triumphantly.
"Always thinking too literally. Of course
you didn't see the guard in the hallway." He crossed his arms and
his back on George. "You should have considered the top of the car.
small hole in the cover, observe those who enter, lower the car after
quarry has egressed. Pity it was you and not Martin who reacted first."
had best be alright," George said flatly.
"You attacked the person least deserving of it!"
spun around, glowering disdainfully. "Capture the
base," he lectured. "Take captives. Gain the position of strength.
Elementary tactics, my boy." He pointed at Mia. "And did she consider
her actions? One Tyson Selkirk would no doubt argue otherwise.
is, he makes a full recovery." He adjusted his sunglasses and turned to
signals are being resolved," Werm responded to
Ellis's unasked question. "I should have the results momentarily."
Sergeant." Ellis smiled. Without
warning, George lunged forward, trying to knock the Chief Law
Officer's legs out from underneath him. Ellis, however, deftly avoided
maneuver. "How very crude," he said, looking down upon George with
mock pity. "It's not easy being beaten, is it?"
bastard," George shouted, finally losing his last
grip upon his temper. "We're here trying to maintain the flow of your
precious history, yet you mock us! You stun us! God knows what
already taken with the citizens of Oslo! And if anything has happed to
laughed out loud. "The citizenry never
understands," he said, "no matter how often we tell them. The
Biologic Disabler has but a temporary effect. She will wake
moment." He stared at the ceiling. "If only Mr. Martin hadn't discarded
his cellular communications system. We'd have him in custody now as
what of Hamlet?" George asked. "Are you
going to capture him too? The man is the only thing keeping a whisper
that the 808 will ever be built."
Ellis interjected, "he might be working
here to insure that time is never corrected. Our files indicate a host
conflicting motives. But no, he is not at threat of capture at the
too high profile to just be snatched and taken out." He lifted his hand
his chin, and used it to cradle his head for a moment. "No, whatever we
with the Shakespereon will require subtlety."
then?" George continued. "Have you even
considered that? What happens to Earth? What happens to the Alliance?"
George was seething now. "The conspirators were right under your noses
entire time. I don't know how many janitors there are at that library,
Thromboids are your villains. Check your records, why don't you? They
have the motive! They have the method, those time rings."
indeed," Ellis snickered. "Your
attempts at humor are really quite pathetic."
the data she compiled," George said weakly,
realizing that his cause was, for the moment, nearly hopeless.
hope that Mr. Martin gives himself up soon,"
Ellis said seriously. "Many issues must be resolved and resolved
quickly." He again turned to confer with Werm, who was completely
with the device in front of him. "Your task must also be completed
quickly," he said, looking back towards his captives.
* * * * *
crawl space was cramped, crowded, and extraordinarily
dirty. Dirt was, in fact, rapidly revealing itself to be the primary
life in the area.
all his travels throughout the universe, Trauma had noted
three constants wherever he went: airports and spaceports were always
unpleasant, local law enforcement nearly always overlooked the obvious,
every hotel or place of lodging had a crawl space. Granted, these
in many cases impassable, but they still provided aid in various and
inched his way forward, peering down as well as he was
able into the rooms as he passed them.
a surprised mouse remarked.
Trauma whispered, trying very hard to
inhale as little dust as possible. "And rather a tight one at that."
The mouse continued chittering angrily, as it moved to and fro, trying
a way around this impolite intruder into its home. "Tell me, mouse,"
Trauma continued, "would you by chance have a small energy weapon lying
about? Perhaps some sleeping gas?" He stopped and gasped for air. "At
least, a respirator?" he added plaintively.
mouse chattered at him with annoyance, casting a last
angry red glare in Trauma's direction before vanishing into the
Trauma wheezed, "Nice--humph--chatting
with you too." Suddenly, he found himself wedged tightly between the
above him and some piping below. He struggled, but his actions were
by his need to be quiet. He rocked side to side, tried pushing
even attempted sitting still and waiting for his weight to have some
effect on the overall gravimetric situation in the area. These all
Trauma exhaled every ounce of air from his body, willing his chest
collapse as far back into his body as possible. Finally, he was able to
through and make slow progress towards his destination.
Preparation Room in the Odin Chamber had not been
designed to hold a large number of people, but Hamlet did not trust the
of the entire room. Plus, he had discovered to his delight that one of
walls easily slid back to allow the area to be expanded slightly.
men and women in addition to Hamlet squeezed into the room, each
muttering, some carrying plates of food hastily grabbed from buffets
stood by the door, waiting for the last of his invited
guests to arrive. As he waited, Falstaff worked his way through the
you decided?" he whispered discreetly.
have, Mr. Falstaff," the prince replied regally.
"I have indeed. Your generous offer has been considered, and I have
decided that I have far more important things to do with my time than
continue making talk with the like of you. Good day, sir."
filed in behind the last of his guests, closing the
door behind him. Falstaff stood sputtering with rage as he heard the
click of the door's bolt being slid home, and he stormed out of the
and gentlemen," Hamlet finally said,
gathering the attention of the group. "I have requested this grave
convocation, this solemn meeting, because each of you are in a position
swing the balance towards the Boling 808. Mr. Wingruber, for instance.
interest from AirFrame, or at least from you, personally, would
motivate--" Hamlet sighed, reluctant to speak the name,
"Fortinbras." He turned to smile at a middle-aged brunette woman in
the crowd. "Dr. Van Lytton, your engineering expertise gives you rare
insight into the soundness and basic design of the Boling 808, and the
of Carlysle-Electric would be a boon for Boling."
Boltz," an irritated voice came from the back
of the room. Hamlet scanned for the origin of the voice, finally
Bob Carrack from Sisler Motors. "Mr. Boltz, this is what the entire
conference is for. Why are we here? I'd kinda like to eat my lunch in
simple, Mr. Carrack," Hamlet answered
genially. "That conference is not for answering these questions. This
conference is a farce. All of you have been summoned to this gathering
Boling and Fortinbras to damn the 808 to eternal limbo." He mentally
reviewed the notes in his head, trying to keep track of events and
"Why call such a meeting? Can any of you swear that something like this
has been done, on this grand a scale, in the past?"
crowd was now rapt with attention as Hamlet's presence
began to draw them all in.
of you, through the actions of Mr. Fielding and Mr.
Norgaard, are being denied the privilege decide for yourself what must
We cannot afford to let the 808 vanish." Hamlet decided it was time to
play one of the cards he'd carefully stacked into his deck.
I remove myself from all suspicion of ulterior motives. I will forgo
remaining payment of funds from my contract with Boling. I will
agreed upon contract for free, or I should say by funneling my own
back into the construction."
crowd murmured nervously, and more than one mouth hung
open at this admission.
we agreed," Carrack called out. "I
see no reason why I would not, but ok, supposing we agreed. What then?"
your coworkers, your comrades at arms."
Hamlet paused. "Your friends, even. With your support, the Boling 808
yet become a reality." Moving forward, Hamlet scanned the gathering
his eyes, looking for signs of having gained or lost any of the
support in this room. While he was pleased with his result, he could
many teetering on the edge, uncertain of which way to come down.
back on the group, he began to summon forth his will and his energy for
he turned, cutting across the room with his gaze like
a scythe through the harvest. Every eye was focused on the man from
Shakespereon. With quiet deliberation, he began to speak:
build, or not to build: That
is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The ignoble chains that bind us to the earth,
Or to take arms against the demon gravity,
And by opposing, overcome it. To fly, to soar --
No more -- and by a flight to say we end
the heartache, and the thousand natural deaths
that Earth is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. To fly, to soar --
to soar, perchance to dream: aye, there's the rub,
For in that flight to soar what dreams may come
when we have shuffled off this sphere of Earth
must give us pause. There's the respect
that makes calamity of a grounded life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's greed, the proud man's reputation,
The pangs of supposed safety, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself his destiny make
with a lone starship? Who would fardels bear,
to grunt and sweat under a weary sky,
But that the dread of something after earth,
that undiscovered country to which borne
no traveler has ever gone, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear the ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution.
Is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action!"
froze in place, letting his last words echo in the small
chamber. Every eye was locked solidly on him, and he waited for his
condemn or confirm him. For what seemed like an eternity, and for what
certainly at least ten or even fifteen seconds, there was a deafening
in the room. Then, suddenly, there was a shout, and a cheer, and the
rose as one to applaud the man who would give wings to humanity.
* * * * *
return signal has been drowned out again,"
Ground said impatiently, staring morosely at the status screens.
solar disturbance," Hathram reported
matter-of-factly. "We will compensate more."
didn't completely lose the signal last time, did
you?" Ground sneered. He snapped open his coat, checking the status
display on his rifle. From behind his line of sight, Ground was
slammed in the face by the back of a hand. He stumbled to the floor,
his fall by using the display screens to support his weight.
have had enough of you," Maxis snapped, standing
over his fallen comrade. "Control will hear about this! The Grand
will hear of this! Petty differences put to work for the wrong cause!
Bah!" Maxis kicked Ground in the ribs, then went back to consult with
others, who were still trying to reclaim the failed signal.
in a heap on the floor, the pain from half-healed
wounds renewed with full fervor, Ground could feel small trickles of
flowing again. While the pain was harsh, it was not unbearable, and it
to bring to a boil his lingering anger and resentment. Gaabick, Maxis,
Hathram were gathered together, focusing on a listening device that had
more and more intermittent in its reliability Reaching into his coat,
clicked the power button on the rifle and deftly felt his way towards
dispersal controls. He thumbed the knob all the way to the left,
deadly weapon for a wide beam.
the sub-frequency modulation," Maxis
suggested, and Hathram began adjusting the controls. Ground slowly
the rifle from its holster, careful to neither move to quickly or too
Hathram bolted out of his seat, looking to Maxis and Gaabick with alarm.
signal is being reflected back," he said.
"We're being traced!" Gaabick opened his mouth to speak, but the
words never came. A sizzle of energy caught the three agents directly
their midsections, killing them instantly.
leaned the rifle against the wall and pulled himself
up, using the control banks for leverage. The air was pungent with the
freshly burnt plastic, of burnt wiring, and of burnt flesh. Just as things ought to be, Ground
thought, satisfied at last, and he eagerly began to survey the weapons
Karl Johans Center was well constructed, but even it had
a few cracks, small spaces between seals and tiles that offered viewing
well placed individual. In his trek through the crawlspace, Trauma had
into a number of rooms, trying to ascertain where precisely he was.
What he had
seen in the rooms ran the gamut from Mafioso figures extorting money to
couples engaging in activities best left to the imaginations of people
more time than Trauma could afford himself.
clothes thoroughly run through with dust and dirt,
Trauma made it to the area above suite 823. Peering in through the
viewing areas, he was able to see at least two agents, though
him there must be more of them. if not in the room, then in the
itself. He moved from crack to crack, carefully searching for a glimpse
George and Mia, hoping silently to himself that they were safe, though
reading will be available in two minutes, sir,"
a voice called out from below.
Sergeant!" another voice responded.
Trauma immediately recognized the voice of Ellis. Inching slowly
crawlspace, he moved in the general direction of Ellis's voice, plans
crystallizing and then breaking apart as Trauma quickly deemed each
Where are you, old son? he thought,
peering through more tiny pinholes. Finally, he caught sight of the top
graying head standing near two figures on the floor. Trauma assumed
George and Mia, but only their legs could be seen from this vantage
the room below, Ellis continued his combined lecture and
sustained diatribe, suddenly whipping a wand out of his jacket pocket
flourishing it at his captive. "Ingenious device, don't you agree, Mr.
Pembroke?" he asked politely. "It is capable of blinding virtually
any type of creature for a duration of up to two hours. For those
of such, it also has a blinding capacity for other sensory organs as
then, with a simple pushing of a button, the Biologic Disabler is
keyed in." He grinned malevolently as he demonstrated this action.
eyes grew wide as Ellis leaned towards George.
Preparing himself, he began to lean off of the crossbeam he was resting
was quite close to George when Trauma's dirty violet
frame plunged through the ceiling tiles, spiking his heels squarely in
middle of the chief temporal agent's shoulders. Ellis went down like a
pole-axed steer, fumbling the wand towards George, who managed to catch
mid-air despite his obvious surprise at someone falling through the
Trauma yelled, closing his quickly. George
just managed to close his amid a fury of flashes and thwack
sounds. Ellis struggled to his feet, staggering wildly as he
attempted to orient himself. Quickly, Trauma grabbed Ellis by the
pulled the sunglasses off of the agent's face, and shoved them onto his
"Wand!" he barked, and George flipped the small wand to him. He
caught it with his freehand, and wrenched Ellis around, pressing the
against the side of his captive's neck.
well," Trauma said gleefully, "it would
appear that the tables have been well and truly turned." Five of the
agents, Werm being the only exception, converged on the pair from both
the suite. "I suggest you call them off," Trauma said playfully. "I
have no idea what might happen if I were to discharge the Disabler into
neck repeatedly. Do you," Trauma paused, flashing a Cheshire grin at
terrified Ellis, "sir?"
back," Ellis commanded. The agents stood
motionless, confused about how to proceed.
assume my friend and colleague, Mr. Pembroke, has
informed you of our intentions here," Trauma said, as he positioned
himself more securely over the agent.
tried vainly to turn his head to face his captor.
"Your associate has spun quite a fair tale," he said with difficulty.
"If you were going to suggest scapegoats, Mr. Martin, I would have
a more likely lot than the Thromboids."
you would say that, you arrogant little troll.
Don't you understand that this is their greatest weapon?" Trauma began
patting down Ellis's suit, searching for other weapons and devices.
your eyes shut, George. He doesn't seem to have another set of glasses."
this matter we are in total agreement," George
said, holding on more tightly to Mia’s inert body.
in their right mind would ever suspect the
janitors, the cleaning men, the butlers....surely they aren't capable
grand pan-temporal conspiracy," Trauma continued. "It never entered
my mind, and if it were not for my stunned colleague on the floor doing
brilliant bit of detective work, I might well have never known." He dug
the point of the wand more forcefully into Ellis's neck.
is sufficient to graze the skin," Ellis warned
uncomfortably. "They'd be useless if they required any greater
I'm not doing this to stun you, old chap."
Trauma said brightly. "I'm merely enjoying myself. For once, you and
merry band of cut-throats and hooligans failed at your task. The
that you didn't see the Thromboid conspiracy building, and then, once
dead, you didn't have any plan for dealing with it. The answer was
in the face, but you were too busy chasing your tails trying to catch
bother and ask the most important and obvious question any detective
'Why?' There are exactly three people in this room who have any
productive plan for dealing with this, and not one of them is wearing
immaculate white. If I have to sit on you here for the next five weeks
can succeed in getting the 808 built, I will. The question now is this:
going to help us, or are you going to hinder us?"
Ellis could answer, Werm stood from his position by
the window. "Sir, I have the coordinates for the signal return."
signal return?" Trauma asked suspiciously.
is a listening device in this building."
Ellis explained. "It is not of terrestrial origin. The Sergeant has
confirmed the location to which the device is transmitting."
device is transmitting to a location in
Akershussstranda. 378 by 758 by 1268. The system is preparing a
now, sir," Werm supplied helpfully.
What is the technology?" Ellis asked,
his tone of voice suggesting he already knew the answer.
sir." Werm said blandly.
jaw dropped and he stared at the Sergeant in
disbelief. "Are you positive, Sergeant?" he asked incredulously.
are accurate with a margin of error of less
than one half of one percent, sir." Werm confirmed.
felt the body of his captive deflate slightly. Leaning
forward, he whispered in Ellis's ear. "Now, are you prepared to believe
us? Everything we have told you, from the moment you first questioned
us in the
library, has been true. We
are not your enemy."
did not ascend to his illustrious rank by being slow to
make decisions. He looked up at his assembled agents and nodded to four
rapid succession. "You four go to those coordinates and apprehend
you find there. Werm, pull in our corridor agents. All units not on the
will stand down until further orders are given."
four agents slipped quietly out the door as Werm began
calling in the rest of the ground team on the radio. Satisfied that the
situation was under control, Trauma allowed Ellis back to his feet,
back over the sunglasses and the Disabler in the process.
say that there is a non-terrestrial signal?"
George asked, suddenly realizing the implication. "There are Thromboids
Oslo? That means we've been under threat the entire time we've been
likely," Ellis said, brushing down his
rumpled white suit. "But my agents are taking care of the situation
suggest that you send for reinforcements."
Trauma said, rubbing his hands as best he could along the small of his
"We've done the best we can with the resources we had available, but a
Temporal Corrections Unit would be quite helpful."
shook his head. "We are the entire force
available," he said matter-of-factly. "The Cat's Cradle is virtually
impassable. The Timelines are destroyed. We came here in environmental
and we barely made the trip alive. Had our projections been off, this
have been a mission from which there would be no possible hope of
his disdain for Ellis and his men, Trauma smiled
warmly at him. "Without that unit, I'm afraid you'll just have to hope
this plan works. Thanks to your intervention, Hamlet has been carrying
for well over two hours as Boltz."
Ellis scoffed. "Employing him may very
well prove to be your undo--oooph!" Ellis slowly collapsed on the floor
and curled up into a ball as Mia's foot retracted from his groin area.
still slightly giddy from the effects of the mind-fog
brought about by the Biologic Disabler, smiled widely at Trauma and
"Oh, yes, I have ways," she said weakly. "Oh, do I have
conference room was abuzz with chatter and discussion
when Hamlet, Burton, Fielding, and Norgaard took their places at the
the room. As Hamlet returned to his seat, a Karl Johans Center employee
large stack of photocopies in front of him. The prince nodded his head
slipped another 10 euro note to the boy.
need to go ahead and resume these discussions,"
Burton said into the microphone. "We have received a number of
Burton," a representative from Oldham
Industries shouted from the floor.
Ginsberg, we have a great deal to accomplish in a
my purpose for this statement, Danny Boy,"
Ginsberg interrupted, much to Burton's chagrin. "Many of us in
consultations during the lunch period have reached some conclusions
future of the project, and I move for an immediate yea or nay vote from
Mr. Ginsberg, the vote is not scheduled until--"
Burton was once again interrupted, this time by Ginsberg ripping apart
of the conference agenda.
& Whitley seconds the motion," Roger
Strom said, standing to address the front. Ginsberg smiled triumphantly.
Fielding and Norgaard began shifting uncomfortably in
their seats. Sitting at the Boling table in the conference area itself,
Melton also began looking rather concerned. He stood to face the other
everyone will wait, I have seen some of the
questions forwarded to Mr. Burton." Melton rubbed his hand through his
hair. "I believe that hearing the answers to these questions may be
it will move to put an end to this damn folly, I'm
all for a vote right now," Connelly called out, propping his boots up
the Sisler Motors table. Murmurs of support for an immediate vote
through the hall.
Burton," Falstaff said suddenly. "If I
can have a word with the conference, I think we can solve this issue
entirely." He shot an I-told-you-so glare at Hamlet.
had given up any pretence of controlling the floor,
and stood slumped over the lectern, his gavel dangling loosly from one
"Chair recognizes John Falstaff," he said, resignedly.
and gentlemen," Falstaff said, walking to
the center aisle and turning to face the audience. "We have been
on a debate about this fever dream project, but how can we even
building such a plane when the very person who is singing that
praises is," he paused for dramatic effect, "an imposter!"
of disbelief and heckles rippled through the audience.
Both Fielding and Norgaard leapt to their feet. "What did you say?"
walked slowly down to the well of the chamber.
"Oh, yes," he said, stopping in front of Hamlet, who merely smiled
benignly at him. "I worked with Boltz on the AF-400, and this is not
him." He turned to address the crowd. "My friends, I didn't say
anything about this before, because I wanted to see what he was trying
Well, now I know. It is obvious he is trying to ruin us all by getting
to support some fantasy pipe dream. I don't know what happened to the
Thomas Boltz, but this man is not him!"
was a long pause, and all eyes turned to Hamlet, who
was sitting passively in his chair, looking down at his accuser with a
that was somewhere between bemusement and pity. "Gentlemen," he said
deliberately, "I regret to inform you that one of your own is a
less than honest individual. I had expected some sort of silly outburst
this man, and I have prepared a document to attempt and explain the
situation." He snapped his fingers, and the young bellboy who had been
assisting him so ably materialized at his side. Making no comment,
merely picked up the sheaf of photocopies and handed them to the
began distributing them throughout the room. Falstaff reached for one
remaining documents, but Hamlet grabbed them up quickly and gave a copy
Fielding, Norgaard, and Burton.
tsked at Hamlet. "What is your petty game
now?" he asked suspiciously.
everyone now have a copy before them for their own
perusal?" Hamlet inquired, smiling with satisfaction as he noticed the
shock on the faces of some of the people who had already scanned the
Hamlet said, unconsciously dropping
into a more formal mode of oratory, "this man approached me with the
preposterous notion. He claimed that I was not who I appear to be. I
curious as to why he would accuse me of such a thing, when we have
other for so many years, so I set out to divine what purpose he might
leapt towards Hamlet, trying to grab one of the
documents from his hand, but Hamlet casually strolled down the stage at
the right moment, leaving his tormentor grasping at thin air. "This
morning," he continued, as if he were unaware of the interruption, "I
received confirmation of certain matters. Firstly, Mr. Falstaff's
claim was a petty attempt at extorting ducats from my purse."
Falstaff said impatiently. "Can't
you see what is going on here? This imposter has been cornered, and now
trying to escape."
Falstaff," Hamlet said breezily,
"demanded that he be given immediate payments of four hundred thousand
euros and inclusion in all future contracts bearing my name, or else he
'expose me'. Looking at the document in front of you, you can see why
choose to do something of this nature." Hamlet grinned cat-like at the
mouse scurrying below him. He casually allowed one of the documents
lightly to the floor, where Falstaff grabbed it. He glanced over it
but as he read, the blood drained out of his face.
Wingruber," Hamlet said to the AirFrame
representative, "please call your auditors. Now that they are aware of
precisely what they should look for, they should be able to quickly
when and how John Falstaff began embezzling money from AirFrame
will also find a rather large debt load associated with his failed
projects. I regret that this information had to come to light in this
but as you can see, the actions of this pretentious knave presented me
stared dumbly at Falstaff. "You told me that
money had gone into the contingency fund." he said.
you see," Falstaff protested weakly.
"it's all a pack of lies." He spun angrily and lunged at the Danish
prince, but Hamlet side stepped his clumsy attack effortlessly and
attacker headfirst into the lectern.
story is utterly ridiculous, Mr. Falstaff,"
Burton said from the podium. A company official emerged at the exit
security in tow. As the officers approached, Falstaff attempted to
his feet were tripped out from underneath him by Hamlet.
get you for this," Falstaff threatened as the
security guards tightened their grip around each of his arms.
am rather sure you would like to think you
could," Hamlet smiled as they led Falstaff away. Thank
you, Mia, he thought. "Mr. Burton, I believe there was a
seconded motion for an immediate vote," he provided helpfully. "I
have no objections to the motion and have every confidence that these
and women will vote their hearts and minds."
limped through the snow-encrusted streets, wincing in
pain with every labored step. Driving a ground vehicle had proven more
difficult than he had imagined it would be, and he was finally forced
abandon the car when he smashed it into the side of a building. But the
served its purpose. He was very close to Karl Johans Gate, and a walk
another mile did not make much difference to him at that moment.
cold did not bother him. The pain did not bother him. The
thought of dealing with Control and later with the Grand Cleric did not
him. Only months ago, he had been satisfied performing contract hits on
the Grand Cleric had deemed to be apostates. Now, he was shuffling down
in the most miserable locale he'd ever been forced to endure. Someone
to pay, and that someone was Trauma Martin.
he approached the hotel, Ground ran through his choices of
attack options, finally deciding that entrance through the rear of the
would be most prudent. He made a quick trek down a side street so as to
approach the Karl Johans Center.
* * * * *
Trauma said into the transmitter,
"we're back on the air. How goes the conference?"
approaching the final vote," he
said softly. "What has transpired?
Where hast thou been?"
grinned widely, not so much from the question as from
Ellis's uncomfortable gate as he approached the laptops on the table.
"Don't ask," Trauma said. "I'll fill you in on the grisly
details in good time." Mia lay quietly on the bed in the next room, and
from his vantage point he could see her body curled beneath the covers.
stood in the doorway, never for a moment taking his eyes off of her.
"Is my presence
required?" Hamlet asked.
Trauma said firmly. "Stay there. Work
the crowd. We have to get this project approved. I'm signing off now,
be down to watch the proceedings from the doorway." Trauma put the
transmitter down, and turned to face Ellis.
still angry with you." he said. Ellis did not
jump on the taunt.
agents have entered the Thromboid complex. The
report is being updated in text form now. It seems the situation may be
more complex than we imagined. Corporal Hilbern reports they found
freshly deceased Thromboid bodies buried inside half melted Chameleon
nodded thoughtfully. "Internal dissent, do you
than likely," Ellis agreed, wincing slightly
from the lingering pain. "The killer is also a Thromboid. They found a
light trail of Thromboid blood leading from the point where the weapon
fired leading out to the street. It appears the killer has changed his
coming here." Trauma said flatly.
seems very likely. Sergeant Werm, take Private
Gaulen to the Ground floor. Search pattern H313. Jyx and I will protect
would recommend you get your men back here
immediately," Trauma said dryly. "I have great respect for the
talents and abilities of the Temporal Authority, but there are only
four of you
here now, and that force has been split. We do not know for certain
is only one Thromboid."
glared at him, then pointedly jabbed a button on the
ill-temper a prerequisite for being hired as a
Temporal Agent?" Trauma asked as he left the room to check on Mia.
smiled at him, and nodded his head slightly. Trauma smiled back, then
made his way to the door, pulling it quietly closed behind him.
* * * * *
the front of the conference room, Burton and two hotel
employees recorded the votes that had been cast by each company. These
sent forward on folded pieces of paper to be counted. Sitting nearby at
table, Hamlet waited calmly, yet anxiously, for the result. Just before
votes had been cast, he had made one last speech to the assembly
to strive for the future and stressing that the best decisions in
not always seem the most popular or even the most wise courses of
pursue at the time.
the counting table, the group seemed to have made it
through all the ballots, but Burton remained unsatisfied. The hotel
sighed loudly, and began recounting the ballots. Hamlet scanned the
in the chamber, catching sight of Trauma at the top of the room. He
right way that his companion was agitated, though he could see no
cause beyond the vote itself, and had no opportunity to ask.
long last, Burton stepped up to the microphone, looking at
turns shocked and frightened, as though he were afraid someone might
his announcement and shoot the messenger. "Ladies and gentlemen, if I
have your attention, please. Uh, It appears that this conference body
voted, by a margin of approximately two to one, to recommend
the Boling 808."
was the sound of breaking glass, as Norgaard's drink
slipped from his hand and crashed the floor. Fielding sat open mouthed,
as though he had just been slapped. Burton looked over at the two
and then referred to his notes. "I believe the plan is for Mr. Fielding
and Mr. Norgaard to now make their final decision based on the
of this conference."
Fielding stammered. "I--need a few
do I," Norgaard agreed quickly, still glassy
eyed from disbelief.
the exit to the lobby, Trauma smiled widely. Boling would
almost certainly now decide to build. For a moment, Trauma forgot the
he had and rejoiced in the knowledge that they had done their best.
happened from this point on was more than likely out of their hands.
large rack of dry cleaned jackets rolled out from the
cleaners and maneuvered its way through the lobby. To anyone watching,
have appeared to be moving itself. The rack began to slow to a stop in
middle of the floor, and a small cylindrical object emerged from
coats. Ground stared through the scope mounted on top of his lethal
make sure that Trauma was squarely in the target, and then slowly
trigger, savoring the moment for as long as he was able.
In the name of the
Mother-of-All, in the name of the Great Cleric, and in the name of the
planet Thrombia, I sentence you to death, Trauma Martin, he
himself as he pulled back on the trigger.
gun discharged into the floor as Ground was attacked
savagely from behind. A hail of fisticuffs pummeled his head and body,
dropped the pistol harmlessly to the floor as he attempted to fend off
unseen attacker. Slowly, he slumped across the trolley and slipped into
over him, grasping at his hands and wrists, which
were now relaying irritated messages to his brain, George nodded with
satisfaction. He walked over to where Trauma stood dumbfounded.
couldn't stay in the room any longer," George
said by way of explanation. "What was going on down here was more
important even than what is going on up in that room." His shoulders
slumped suddenly as the adrenaline which had been propelling him for
finally exhausted its supply of energy.
you," Trauma said, putting his hand on
George's shoulder. "I appear to--" he cocked his head slightly.
"Owe you one."
and George quickly herded the trolley and its cargo
onto the elevator before security could respond to the fracas. George
to massage his hands and wrists, which now throbbed persistently.
to examine the fallen man, he gasped in amazement. "Trauma," he
cried. "It's the dwarf!"
looked at George incredulously. "Him?" he
asked, gesturing at the motionless body.
the wrong height, but I'd swear that was his
leaned forward and looked. Quickly, he began feeling
along the legs of the man in the trench coat. "Ah, yes." he smiled.
"The agents said they had found three Thromboid bodies in half-melted
Chameleon suits. The bottom half of the legs are artificial." George
him a puzzled glance. "Thromboids. Standing up on their tentacles,
only about four to four and a half feet tall." he explained.
elevator doors opened onto the eight floor, and George
and Trauma wheeled the cart down to suite 823.
alone together in the Preparation room, Richard
Fielding and Sven Norgaard hunched over a large decanter. They took
pouring glasses of brandy for the other to drink, and both men were
large cigars in defiance of all known hotel restrictions. The room was
thick with smoke.
we go wrong, Sven?" Fielding asked, taking
a long sip from his drink.
stared sullenly at the crystal shot glass. "You
hired Thomas Boltz," he said flatly.
smiled grimly, resisting the urge to throw his
brandy into Norgaard's face. "You may be right, my friend. You may be
what are we going to do about--" Norgaard
gestured vaguely towards the door, which was momentarily shielding them
the collective will of the conference. "about that situation?"
else can we do," Fielding shrugged. "We
made the bed. We bought the sheets. We own the frame." He drained the
entire glass, and Norgaard immediately refilled it. "If we back down
the reporters will get wind of all this and we'll never be able to live
was afraid you were going to say that," Norgaard
grimaced, downing his glass.
when the board of directors fires you, what do you
think you'll do with your life?"
understand there are some lovely monasteries in the
south of France," Norgaard said without enthusiasm. He raised his glass
above the table. "Well, Richard, here's to the biggest white elephant
either of us will ever have the misfortune to be involved with."
clinked the outstretched glass with his own, shaking
his head sadly. "Even if it gets off the ground, who's going to want to
buy it? A museum?"
* * * * *
agents closed the door to suite 823, pulling the
Thromboid and its suit onto the bed. Mia, who had only earlier awakened
her slumber, watched as they methodically disassembled the artificial
What had only recently passed for human was quickly revealed to be a
is the Alpha," George said to Mia, pointing
at the disassembled Chameleon suit. "Those leg extensions hid the fact
that this was the man in my closet who gave me the cryptic note." Mia
looked at the Thromboid, who was now being given medical treatment by
the agents. Probably only want to keep
him alive for questioning, she thought.
makes sense now," Trauma said, running his
finger around his Time ring, which no longer flashed urgently. "He used
time ring to pop into your closet, handed you the note when you were
vulnerable, and then popped out again before you had a chance to
Trauma smiled widely, almost despite himself. "I've always said the
Thromboids were one of the more brilliant species in the Alliance, and
rather confirm it."
I remind you," George said testily,
"that that so-called brilliance nearly cost the Alliance."
reached out and grabbed his arm. "Now, George, calm
down. It's over." She smiled nervously at him, relaxing slightly as she
felt the tension ebb from his body.
not quite over yet," Ellis said, checking
reports on the computer system. "HQ reports that the normal flow of
is re-establishing itself, but the Cat's Cradle will need to be
Fortunately, we stowed a portable line erector at our landing site. It
create a very small line, but it should be enough to make one trip."
can at least get everyone back to the library,"
Mia said. "Speaking of which..."
contingent is already on their way there, with orders
to detain all Thromboids present in the complex." Ellis finished typing
his report into the computer and shut it down. "It might take a while,
we will establish who is a part of this--conspiracy, and who is
hate to think just how much work I've got to do over
the next couple of months," Mia said, holding her hand to her forehead
melodramatically before breaking into a fit of giggling. She poked
the stomach to stop him from tickling her. Growing serious again, she
"I just hope he hasn't gotten around to erasing the backups."
then, of course, there is the matter of the Prince
of Denmark," Ellis continued.
looked startled. "Omigosh," she said. "I
never even thought about what needed to be done with Boltz if we were
will return to Seattle by aircraft," Ellis
said. "We will meet him there, and then arrange for Boltz to die on the
way home, placing his body in a wrecked automobile." George cringed
visibly. Ellis smiled slightly, and nodded sympathetically. "I prefer
think of it as a practical solution. All our projections say that only
shirts in the temporal flow will occur if Boltz dies after the 808
then," Mia said playfully, reaching out to
ruffle Ellis's hair, "you finally get to face a real menace on this
Ellis yelped, ducking from under her hand.
"What in the blazes are you talking about?"
grinned, slipping her arm around George and squeezing him
slightly. "You get to tell Hamlet he has to fly again."
and George stared at each other in disbelief, before
the three companions collapsed in a fit of laughter.
orchard was quiet and still. A thin coating of snow and
frost lay upon the ground, and icicles dangling from the tree branches
in the light of dancing torches nearby. The pale sun shining down
branches washed out what few colors could be found in the still
giving it the air of a desolate graveyard. Only moments before, it had
just that. On the ground in the center of the clearing lay a tall,
His gray beard spilled out around his flowing purple robe, and nearby,
crown lay neglected where it had rolled.
only inches away from the body, a shorter, stockier
man wearing almost pure white hovered over the body, barely visible
background if not for the clouds of vapor he exhaled. The small gold
his hand also stood out against the white, snowy background. He knelt
prodded the body, as if to assure himself that the figure was actually
Standing, he slipped the golden vial back into his white furs, laughed
to hismelf, and scurried quickly into the foggy winter afternoon.
was an audible click, as Hamlet pressed the stop button
on the video camera. He rewound the tape, pressing play again, watching
images in the tiny view monitor. It was horrifying to see what he had
for so long played out, but the camera had recorded first the sleeping
Hamlet, and had recorded everything up through that point that Trauma
was now official. There could be no denials, no
hesitations, no pulling back. Hamlet held in his hand the proof that
Claudius had murdered the King, and this proof could be used to justify
actions he would be taking as soon as he returned to present day
said a silent prayer for Trauma Martin, who, as
promised, had come to the garden at the moment before the King arrived
afternoon nap and placed a video camera to record once and for all what
occurred. In the two months that had passed since he had seen Trauma,
George, he had waited patiently for the word that the Timelines were
operational. Clutching the camera tightly in his arms, he reached down
began to manipulate the crimson jewel in the amulet that hung around
Just before activating the operating unit, handpicked by Trauma from
that had been available on the black market, Hamlet reflected on what
he must now do. Taking a deep breath, he gave the jewel a quarter twist
disappeared into the Timelines.
* * * * *
Mycroft Space Terminal was not a friendly or happy place
to be under the best of circumstances, and these were not by far ideal
Long lines of passengers waited to board flights to destinations
Alliance. Many of them had been stranded in the terminal for days.
a single day, seemingly in the wink of an eye, entire
flight schedules and fleets of spacecraft seemed to appear and
appear again, and it had taken days for the hundreds of organizations
in the industry to straighten out the errors.. While a split second did
make much difference to Holigoth businessman, for instance, it did make
of difference between being on-course and being light-years off course
ships travelling through the depths of space.
credible explanations for the sudden upsets of flights had
been given. Officials explained it in terms of "galactic hiccups",
but when pressed, none could give a reliable explanation for what that
meant. Other agencies passed off the disturbances as "localized
anomalies", and in one case, "mass sustained psychotic
episodes." For its part, the Alliance offered no explanation beyond a
simple, if cryptic, remark: "We refer the recent unexplained phenomenon
the doorstep of the gods, and suggest that perhaps you might check with
for further information."
course, there were rumors. Prominent conspiracy theorists
pointed their fingers at the Temporal Authority, charging them with
some giant galactic plot to destroy all of space and time. Indeed, they
with pointed interest the sudden "temporary" closure of the Cat's
Cradle to all but "necessary traffic", an event termed routine by the
Authority, who claimed the closure was necessary to effect maintenance
lines and ensure their integrity.
the very fringes of society, crackpot journalists,
survivalists of low breeding, and revolutionaries postulated that a
existed between these strange events and the Thromboid Cult of the
which had been the subject of a sweeping series of crackdowns and
various law enforcement officials. These people, generally considered
by society, cited as their "proof" the supposed high level secret
meetings which were taking place in the Thromboid capital--allegations
denounced as preposterous by the officials who were denying they were
interesting as all the speculation and general hysteria
was, however, it offered little comfort to those stranded in spaceports
throughout the galaxy. Already, an entire colony of Hulgar'la on their
after attending their obligatory bicentennial holy pilgrimage, had been
to go into molt in the terminal, severely increasing the level of
annoyance, and discomfort felt by everyone around them.
Spryte, briefcase and travel bags in hand, had
already missed two connecting flights at other terminals.
is ridiculous, ain't it?" Spryte moaned to
the person in line behind him at the boarding gate. "I didn't go into
outside sales to ride on some klyxoisht
discount line." He huffed loudly, his throat sacks expanding and
contracting with every breath. "First class, all the way? Bah!" He
wheeled about to address the line directly. "Whoever heard of Space
A flygran cattle call line!"
Gazing out the window, he accosted the nearest passenger in line. "Look
that ship! It's a blasted antique, that's what it is. They call that a spacecraft? Oh, this is
target of this diatribe straightened his violet jacket
and ran a casual hand through his thick black hair. "Oh, I don't
know," he said, flashing a Cheshire grin at Spryte. "I'm rather
looking forward to the trip myself."
weary travelers filed down the jetway, lugging their bags
and suitcases along the long tube that stretched out from the terminal
connect with the entrance door of the spacecraft, just above its huge
Martin was the last man to step on board. He paused at
the door, turning to survey the crowded spaceport behind him, the
bustle of the
teeming masses of passengers on their way to and from unknown
the scramble of the maintenance workers completing their final
Slowly, his face split into a wide smile, and he nodded with
satisfaction as he
turned and stepped into the waiting hatchway, which slid closed behind
later, the giant Boling 808 lumbered onto the runway,
and roared off to the stars.
© 1998,2007 Rob 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. He currently works as a Systems Administrator for an Atlanta area ISP, and in his spare time enjoys gaming and figuring out ways to get cheap airline tickets. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While herding a sturdy diesel across the highways of life Jeff Williams dreame d 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. You can reach Jeff at email@example.com
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