Although the hideous Earth creatures had described the distortions caused by the temporal anomaly, nothing could have prepared Gelantrik for experiencing them first hand. As their ship entered the so-called Milky Way, the impact of the enveloping cataclysm became disturbingly clear.
Starships of varying degrees of sophistication were stacked up at random, like dishes in the kitchen sink of a feckless homeowner. Some of the ships had accidentally materialized into the same spatial coordinates, and were badly mangled.
Nor was Ludovica’s ship immune. One afternoon, after a suspiciously quiet night, a Medieval Irish shepherdess appeared in the command center, complete with a flock of goats. A chorus of desperate bleats arose at once — and nearly shattered Gelantrik’s sensitive eardrums.
Fortunately, Captain Ludovica’s ship was equipped with a temporal stabilizing field-generator, capable of sending the involuntary time-travelers away. Gelantrik ran a spindly hand through her bright orange hair.
“Will they reach their homes safely?” she asked.
The Captain hung her head.
“I wish I could be sure,” she said. “All I know is, we must prep you for your mission before more damage is done. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” she said. “But if you don’t mind, I do have a question. This … crisis … is the result of your technology. How can you use the same technology to solve it?”
“Well, we have to try,” said Ludovica. “And we’re lucky. Some of our annoying descendants have given us useful advice.”
“What’s so annoying?” asked Gelantrik.
“Sadly, our descendants are just as snobby about people from the past as we used to be,” said the captain. “They think we’re too … primitive … to understand them.”
Gelantrik’s nearly spherical torso swelled up under her flexible, metalized polymer foil robes.
“So let’s show them,” she said. “And then change history on our end, so no more generations grow up so arrogant.”
Ludovica put her hands on Gelantrik’s bony shoulders.
“Good luck with that,” she said. “Come on, we must get started.”
During their return trip to Earth, the humans had taught Gelantrik how to use one of their stasis chambers. The determined Gantoorni had also spent eight hours a day in a simulator, which created the sensation of arriving at each temporal inflection point and shutting off its spatiotemporal relay.
“But with every bridge broken,” said Gelantrik, “I might end up thousands of years in the past, with no way to get home.”
Though the human captain would have preferred to reassure Gelantrik, the fact was, no one knew what might happen to her, even if she followed instructions to the letter.
“Never mind,” said the brave Gantoorni, “I don’t want to live in a world where everyone I care about has vanished. Let’s go, please.”
At the theoretical level, Gelantrik’s assignment was immensely complex. But the actual steps the humans needed her to take were much less challenging than her work at the Gantoorni observatory.
“Remember,” said Ludovica, “each spatiotemporal relay is located less than a meter away from its corresponding stasis chamber.”
“Right,” said Gelantrik. “But what if someone sees me?”
Ludovica pointed out that her people had concealed their equipment in out-of-the way locations.
“The chances of anyone finding you are astronomically low,” she said. “Though, after this, I’ll have to rethink my definition of ‘improbable.’”
Her face pale, Ludovica handed the young Gantoorni a pocket-sized transmitter, studded with switches, buttons and miniature dials.
“Listen carefully,” she said, through tense lips. “Once you shut off the last spatiotemporal relay, you’ll be stranded. This transmitter generates a specialized gravitational field that will keep you, essentially, outside of time. When you complete your mission, climb back into the last stasis chamber and press this red button. The device will send out the signal we need to bring you back.”
“But what if the transmitter causes a new anomaly?” asked Gelantrik.
“It’s not like this has come up before,” she said. “We can only hope that any damage you might do would be much less severe than the crisis we face now.”
Gelantrik nodded and entered the specially prepared stasis chamber the humans had installed in an empty cargo bay. What, she wondered, would happen to her parents, her siblings, her friends — and dear old Director Jantraz?
But before she had a moment more to worry, the doors of the stasis chamber slammed shut. The daring Gantoorni astronomer-in-training whooshed off to an uncertain future in, of all places, the Past.
(To be continued)
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