When their autocab dropped Jantraz and Gelantrik at Gantoorn Central, the spaceport was a whirl of voices, signs, causeways, shops, restaurants and travelers. Jantraz darted about, looking for the landing bay, while Gelantrik calmly consulted an information booth.
Minutes later, she pointed her harried supervisor in the right direction. As Gantoorn’s Chief Astronomer, Jantraz had free access to any government facility. After flashing his ID badge, he led Gelantrik into the landing bay — just as members of the alien crew were emerging from an astonishingly sophisticated lander.
Jantraz gasped. The visitors resembled a ghastly parody of Gantoorn physiognomy. A quiet gulping sound to his right told him Gelantrik agreed. But, he reminded himself, this was a scientific breakthrough. Except now, the breakthrough was reaching out her misshapen hand in an apparent greeting ritual.
“Hello, Director Jantraz,” said the visitor’s silky voice.
“How did you know my name?” asked the Gantoorni astronomer.
“Your ID badge,” said the voice. “My neural implants patch directly into my visual cortex. Translation is instantaneous.”
“But you’re speaking fluent Gantoorni,” said Gelantrik.
“Forgive me,” said Jantraz. “This is my research associate, Gelantrik. Did you know that, too?”
“What I know is, we must speak privately. I’m Commander Ludovica Russo of ConsolidatedEarth, LLC. I’m here to inform you that Earth, your origin world, is in grave danger.”
“Our what?” asked Jantraz.
“Please,” said Ludovica, “we must hurry. Soon your entire population may cease to exist.”
Jantraz felt the blood drain from his face and barely heard Gelantrik’s whispering voice.
“Sir,” she said. “What about the Observatory situation room, the one for joint missions with the military?”
“But the security cameras …” Jantraz started.
“We’ll disable them,” said Commander Russo. “And insert a video loop to cover our visit.”
Jantraz glanced at Gelantrik and wondered if it was right to drag her into espionage. Yet, surely, one look at the aliens and Admiral Prelvac might never let them leave. On that bleak note, Jantraz led Gelantrik, the Commander and her three-member crew to within 20 feet of the spaceport’s secure elevator.
“We’ll be recorded from this point forward,” he said.
Ludovica motioned to a member of her crew, who produced a handheld device from a pouch in his encounter suit and entered a string of commands.
“Cameras disabled, Commander,” he said, presently. “Commencing video loop.”
His stomach in knots, Jantraz approached the elevator, flashed his ID and ushered the others inside. A dozen floors up, the elevator opened directly into the situation room. Once they were all seated around a large conference table, Jantraz stared into Ludovica’s repulsive blue eyes.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“For a chance at salvation,” said Ludovica.
A century ago, she explained, their scientists had developed a temporal stasis field to stabilize patients at an accident site or on the battlefield. Eventually, they learned to project similar stasis fields through hyperspace, taking advantage of the very gravitational inflection points that starship pilots avoided.
Soon, they’d created a network of stasis points, stepping stones, as it were. They enabled travelers to enter a stasis capsule and leap back and forth between fixed eras of time.
“Marvelous,” said Jantraz. “What’s the problem?”
“The stasis points have pulled space-time out of alignment,” said Ludovica.
“Why haven’t we felt anything here?” asked Gelantrik.
“The temporal distortion hasn’t extended far enough,” said the Commander.
“Fine,” said Jantraz. “But, our science is too rudimentary to …”
Ludovica glanced at her crew’s sullen faces.
“We don’t need science,” she said. “We need a volunteer.”
Ludovica explained that only someone who was still temporally fixed could shut down the network. Anyone else would increase the distortion.
“We thought every ConsolidatedEarth colony was already affected,” said the Commander. “Then we stumbled on a forgotten record of Gantoorn, our experimental colony at the edge of space-time. You must help. If the distortions aren’t repaired soon, the physical laws of the universe will collapse.”
“I’ll go,” said Gelantrik. “No, Director Jantraz. If you leave, the WorldCouncil will notice and force me to tell them everything. They’re liable to storm into Earth and get caught in the distortions.”
Jantraz smiled. The young were so impetuous.
“With non-hyperspatial ships,” he said, “the fleet would be dead a hundred thousand years before reaching Earth. However, you’re partly right. My absence would raise suspicion. Whereas I can simply say you’ve returned to your home province on family business.”
“Good,” said Commander Russo. “We leave at once.”
And before his astonished eyes, Jantraz saw Gelantrik, the Commander and her crew dematerialize.
(To be continued)
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