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Fractime Timestone (Part -1)

 

Fractime Timestone (Part -1)

Steve Hertig

 

Shakespir Edition

All characters in this book are fictitious.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved.

Copyright 2016 Steve Hertig

ISBN 9781310599170

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please download an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not download it, or it was not downloaded for your use only, then please return to http://www.Shakespir.com and download your own free copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

You can connect with other Fractime fans and the author online at Facebook: http://facebook.com/fractime

 

 

Version 1.0

 

Like all books in the Fractime Saga, this story is a living work in progress so check http://www.Shakespir.com for any free new versions.

This book contains mature content.

 

 

 

Part -1 Timestone

 

“Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi”

(Without foresight or vision, the people will be lost)

– Tawhiao Potatau te Wherwhero, Maori King

 

 

 

Chapter -11

RefPlane -22: 24 November 1859

Cutting through the flat, deep-purple water, a taut line led the waka farther offshore. The bow piece, a simply carved tiki, stared at droplets running up the nano-braid only to quiver and fall back into the dark water. The line hissed softly as it flowed over the canoe’s plain strakes.

The craft was not a waka taua, a great Maori-carved war canoe, but rather a common waka tētē, a coastal boat used for commerce and in this case fishing. A finely woven triangular flax sail flapped gently as the fish pulled them through the sea and air. Lars and Miri paddled steadily ahead trying to ease tension from the outgoing line. Miri’s father, Arapeta, the chief of the local tribe, struggled on the foremost thwart to keep the line from chafing too deeply into the canoe.

Matariki was nearing its apex, and the first great fish had not yet emerged from the northeastern waters of the northern island. Lars knew the chief considered this another potentially devastating omen, as food shortages grew more common with a British treaty now in effect for almost twenty years. But over six hours ago and just before noon, Arapeta had felt a nibble on one of the several deep trailing hooks baited with tuna. Speaking his ancestor’s dialect, he had coaxed the fish to swallow the bait, but now, as his hands bled, cut from the line, he cursed it in English peering down into the depths below them.

Miri looked to Lars as the line slackened slightly across the chief’s back allowing them to rest briefly.

“Bro,” he said resting his paddle across his knees, “it looks like that line will slice our waka in two before it breaks.”

Misinterpreting his son’s wit, his father cast a fierce look over his shoulder; his face, like Miri’s, displayed the tribal patterns in black ink of their ancestors.

“That stainless hook should bend out before that line breaks,” Lars whispered to his boyhood friend as the line again peeled over the strake into the depths demanding them both to resume paddling quickly.

Lars kept any concern for his adopted father to himself, but the line had already cut deeply into the chief’s left hand when he had set the hook hours ago. Arapeta had tried to heal and wash the cuts by dragging his hand in the saltwater, but blood still trickled down his forearm as he continued to battle with the fish.

The chief shook feeling the summer seawater. “Too cold,” he said in disgust.

Landing the fish would mean momentary prosperity for all the tribe. Cured flesh should last all winter and would mean the end of bad luck that brought no billfish to shore so far that summer.

Miri blamed the whalers and the chief cursed Tangaroa, his god of the sea, but Lars hoped the hook and line from the future would bring the end of the tribe’s misfortune.

The last glimpses of land as well as the sun were long gone when they caught a small tuna on a line trailing over the stern. They ate dark meat in silence as the fish below continued to tow them out to sea to where the stars of the Milky Way met a gradually brightening horizon.

At sunrise, the line was flatter signaling the fish was shallower. As the chief pleaded to Tangaroa for the great fish to jump to witness its magnificence, a gull landed on the bow piece. The chief spoke to the bird kindly but abruptly shooed it off the bow after it shit on the tiki.

“Father, wants the bird to tell the fish to fly as it does,” Miri said while cutting on his paddle the last strips of tuna to share.

Lars saw the chief subtly wring his hands to push cramps away then curse to himself. The weakness would humiliate the chief, and Lars quickly looked aside as the line for the first time noticeably slackened.

“Pōteretere!” The chief shouted for Lars and Miri to back paddle as he cushioned the line along his back expecting renewed tension.

The two men frantically paddled backward as a school of flying fish emerged from the sea in front of the bow then scattered. Their wings humming, sent them in all directions, several landing at Lars’ feet. The tiki dipped astern as the line slowly rose and the sea bulged ahead of the waka.

A dark sword swiftly pierced vertically through the air as the fish emerged. Water poured from its sides revealing a huge cobalt, blue head and back. Dark stripes flashed from its side as it leaped to its full-length. Its bill of nearly two meters swirled in a slow circle before the great fish bent sideways then entered the sea smoothly with barely a splash. The blade of its tail followed, slicing into the water then with a quick slap sending salt spray on to the men’s faces.

As the line raced across the chief’s back leaving a bloody trail, the fish resumed its escape out to sea. Miri and Lars began paddling forward again to relieve the chief’s agony as he prayed for the continued lack of sharks and then chanted about past battles against papura takeketonga, the blue marlin.

Lars knew the possible death of such a great creature would deeply saddened Arapeta, but the chief’s determination also to kill it was plain.

The hours floated by as clouds grew high above the horizon to which the great fish was dragging them. Miri predicted bad weather would come soon adding to the constant concern of the line breaking. Lars grew weary of watching it come to breaking point repeatedly only for the chief expertly to release then reassert the correct tension. Nearing exhaustion, they ate a few of the flying fish in the silence of the calm sea as they journeyed towards Pleiades rising.

They woke at daybreak to jerking of the waka as the great fish jumped suicidally, filling its swim bladders with air and denying itself another deep escape.

As the fish dove and the line tightened, it cut deeply into the chief’s hands again. His blood dripped into the sea as the fish began to circle the waka allowing the chief to gain line. The occasional flash of its side betrayed the outlines of numerous remoras accompanying it.

“Rāti!” The chief shouted at Miri who then handed his father the harpoon from the bottom of the waka. The chief’s grip on the weapon was not strong enough to ensure a clean kill. He proudly handed the bloody harpoon back to his eldest son but the fish was now out of the weapon’s reach.

Watching the line circle the waka, they quickly ate the last of the flying fish waiting for the marlin to swim near. Miri spat the last bite of fish into the sea and stood on the nearest thwart as he raised the rāti watching the great fish come closer.

Lars watched the marlin rolled onto its side to eye the weapon just as Miri heaved the harpoon deep into the fish just in front of its dorsal fin. The fish convulsed then disappeared into the depths, but Arapeta was ready and gave it line. Within seconds, the line went slack as the fish ascended to break the sea’s last hold on it in a final leap that nearly overturned the waka.

As it lie motionless, floating next to the rocking waka the chief said, “Maté,” then softly chanted a brief prayer to Tangaroa.

Lars stared at the great fish. He reckoned it weighed at least 1000 kilos.

“Now that’s a fish, eh Bro,” Miri said admiring the specimen.

As Lars had no family, he had the luxury to adopt the time and people he needed. The Maori boy, Miri, and his tribe had taken him in as a young man that just walked out of the bush alone one day. It was not long after his first successful test of his multiverse-translation device that he disguised as a pocket watch of the period. Although he was pākehā, an outsider, the chief treated him as his own son. Lars loved them and the pacific island his tribe called Aotearoa.

He had learned difficult lessons in his travels and kept such long-term intrusions to the distant past where any future effects should be negligible. However, even now in the mid-nineteenth century, he was getting uncomfortable as the British colony was now firmly established.

“We still have to get it back,” Lars said as he saw a tip of a fin break the water a few meters away.

“Mangō bastards!” the chief yelled at the shark while pulling his bloody hands out of the sea. “Danger still follows you both,” he added with sharp glance to his sons.

Several more fins emerged then vanished into the depths just as quickly as they had appeared.

Lars and Miri began to paddle toward the setting sun and back to shore. The chief removed the harpoon then secured the great fish to a flax line to drag the carcass through the sea.

Arapeta dozed as the young men paddled, the flax sail providing a comforting boost to their progress. They used the setting sun and then the stars to ensure their course was correct.

By midmorning the next day, Lars’ shoulders and arms burned. Vague outlines of distant blue-grey hills announced their impending arrival back to the tribe’s beach, but a subtle lurch of the canoe turned Lars away from his pain.

Sea swells had increased with the coming change in weather, but Lars felt something was wrong. A look to Miri affirmed his suspicions.

Miri nudged his sleeping father with his barefoot.

“Father, a taniwha comes,” Miri said as a thick, black fin came into view next to the waka then vanished silently beneath the grey waters.

The chief reached for the bloody harpoon at his son’s mention of the mythical devil as Miri and Lars began to pull the great, dead fish closer to the waka.

A fin rose in front of them soaring nearly two meters, as high as the flax sail, and then slowly sank below the waka.

“Maki!” Miri shouted while pointing to port at two more black fins.

“Not a taniwha, but bad enough,” Lars said grasping his father’s shoulder while instantly recognizing the fins of Orca. He now knew why fishing had been poor that summer.

“He Kōtua,” the chief said gravely turning to Lars.

Lars nodded, agreeing with the chief’s interpretation of the pod’s arrival as a bad omen.

The large bull’s white, belly skin flashed as its teeth tore for the first time at the marlin’s tail. Another fin rose to starboard as another circled the carcass.

Miri took a swing with his paddle at a large calf as it swam alongside, but a cow behind it pushed it away then rammed the waka nearly toppling the men into the sea.

The chief launched the harpoon into the cow’s blowhole as the bull thrashed, tearing another bite from their catch.

As another black shape passed alongside, Lars swung his paddle, but it broke off at the neck against the hard, leather skin of the creature. He tried in vain to stab another Orca with the paddle’s jagged end.

The pod was devouring the fish in front of their eyes as the cow frantically dragged the waka closer to shore. As a thin ribbon of sand came into view below grey hills, Miri just had time to untie the harpoon’s cord from the gunwale before the Orca could swamp the canoe plowing through growing swells.

Lars could now see wakas coming to aid them as quiet descended on the red sea around them. All that remained of the marlin was its head. Lars looked away from the fish’s huge, lifeless eye staring at him, to the beach before them. He could not help but scan the sand for her. Looking for her to run through the surf as she had done countless times when Miri and he returned from fishing.

The chief found her, an outsider, like Lars, on the beach near death. Abandoned or shipwrecked, her arrival was a mystery but the tribe adopted the young woman despite the local missionary's stern disapproval. She had no memory of her past except her name- Helen.

When the taniwha took her and Miri’s sister, Tui, from atop nearby Tara Tara Mountain, his heart broke, and he vowed to find and destroy the evil that had taken them.

Lars jumped into the surf to help the others pull the canoe ashore.

On the beach, his tribe marveled at the remains of the fish. They would stew its head for a feast in a ceremony to mark the end of their bad luck, but first the chief cut off the great fish’s sword. He then drove it into the sand next to him. It was a tribal treasure, a taonga, to accompany the incredible fish tale throughout future generations.

The chief grasped Lars and Miri by their aching shoulders and turned them to face the tribe.

“We have won a great battle,” he proclaimed to his people on the beach, “not with a lonely fish but with ourselves.”

He pulled a carved whalebone pendant on a thin, flax cord from around his neck and over his head. He had carved it decades ago into the form of a Orca’s tale and now slipped it over Miri’s head.

“For the Traveler,” the chief told Lars removing another pendant, green and wedge-shaped from around his neck.

“It is no longer safe in Aotearoa,” the chief whispered placing the stone around Lars’ neck, “and it is fitting the stone goes with a true traveler.”

“My sons,” he said proudly so the elders approaching them could hear, “you have shown great strength at sea,” He grasped both carvings around their necks before other elders could see the tribe’s treasures. “You both must now leave this world,” he said sadly while turning them away from the elders. “Like the marlin, extreme dangers trail you both,” he added in a whisper before greeting the elders.

Miri nodded. “It is time then,” he said gazing out to sea.

“Past time,” Lars added solemnly.

RefPlane +1: 14 June 1984

It was not like Mick to be late. In fact, Sam knew it was damn near impossible. If he had not been at his favorite corner table in the back of Mick’s bar, O’Shanley’s, in the middle of the afternoon in west Pittsburgh, he might have worried a bit more. He took pleasure in his now limited time at O’Shanley’s as he had come to miss the regulars he had grown to know over the decades of the bars existence. Home life in Texas was not too stressful but with a savant four-year old, it just seemed more complicated than necessary. A brief stopover at the bar between missions was welcome and always reasonably therapeutic.

“Sam!” the bar’s relic of a piano player and skinny drink of water patrons knew as Blisterin’ Benny Powel, said as he strode through the place’s open door. “Long time no see. You around long?”

Benny was still sharp as Sam usually could sit at the back table unnoticed even on a busy Thursday evening. “Probably not,” Sam replied. “Still jamin’ on Sundays?” he asked hopefully.

“Don’t miss many in jazzy June. The guys and I are workin’ on a new arrangement of Birdland,” he said while taking a cloth from within the bar’s piano bench to dust off the old upright. “But man, we’ve gotta practice.”

“You see Mick lately?”

“Last night, right up to closin’. And thanks for openin’.”

"No problem. The key was in its usual place- as usual," Sam said before taking in a sip of beer that he had pulled himself earlier.

He wondered which local, icy draft would be his next victim as one of his sisters ran into O’Shanley’s. She glanced behind the bar, then seeing Benny, rushed to him.

Sam smiled at his concealment.

“Tye Brasca!” Benny said taken by surprise. “How’s my fav-o-rite niece? And congrats on the new Family name.”

“I’m good and thank you. It took long enough,” she said giving Benny a kiss on the cheek.

“Things take time, you know,” he said with a chuckle.

“Have you seen Uncle Mick?” she asked

“Get in line,” he said with a nod to Sam.

“I see another troglodyte is restless,” Sam said as she joined him. He had guessed she had just translated upline from the Pruchlais, a Family subterranean sanctuary under Oklahoma, rather than their main base of operations on the temporally shielded planet Trua.

The Pruchlais existed downline in an adjacent universe or fractime, just one in an infinite string of fractimes composing their sector within the fractal multiverse. The fractime was the Family’s universe of origin they called the Reference Plane or just RP.

Basic translation technologies developed by the Family allowed travel between fractimes but had a temporal limit. Travel to one of the two adjacent universes were always either in the relative past or future, downline or upline, respectively. However, advanced temporal technology, such as the translation device or TD Sam had in his cargo shorts pocket, made travel between fractimes largely time independent.

“How’s similarity duty going?” Sam added with a smirk.

“It is the archives that are backlogged,” she said holding her dreads off the back of her neck to ease the affect of Pittsburgh’s summer humidity. “We could use some help,” she added with a sigh.

“Be careful what you ask for,” he said still studying the bar’s beer engines.

“Have you seen the last in-house, back-change report for the RP?” she asked.

Sam groaned. He had given up reading the reports dealing with changes in the past or future even though a huge analysis effort went in to processing comparisons between RP data sets to detect timeline meddling.

Strict family canon forbade the flow of information into the past but the rule did not apply to the Family’s first generation and only for the RP for second generation like Tye and he. Nevertheless, he still knew a sketchy near-future account of the RP but with enemy infiltration from future, upline fractimes now confirmed, such meddling made any model fallible.

Even so, the reports represented a rare glimpse of one possible future for the RP but topics in the reports were usually irrelevant to the Family much less him personally. Nevertheless, there were often notable exceptions.

“The Challenger is not blowing up at launch in four days like it will here,” she whispered. “It survives until STS-51L, eighteen months from now, Breeze time.”

“The shuttle.” Sam said shaking his head while remembering the coming disaster. “Thanks for the info, but that still sucks big time,” he added with a scowl.

“There is no idea as to the origin of the similarity departure,” she said. “You think that is suspicious?” she asked.

“You know how much I hate those reports,” he said trying to ignore her question as well as the pain of the coming loss. “And I’m sure one of our brilliant siblings will figure it out. It’s probably just another glitch in the local anomaly,” he added flatly.

“Suit yourself,” she said narrowing her eyes to a squint. “Now, I do not suppose you know where Mick is?” she asked while glaring at him with hands on hips.

“I’ve been waiting for him myself,” he said and then smiled at the touch of an Irish brogue in his sister’s question.

The first generation fled to the Pruchlais from the Western Isles in the third century BC during the Celtic exodus from Europe. It amused him that some remnants of that distant past still surfaced even though Confederation basic had eventually weaned out nearly all of any inherited first generation family accent.

It also pleased him to believe Tye’s subtle Irish brogue seemed reserved for just for him during stressful occasions.

“Waiting?” she asked.

“Now, don’t go getting worried,” Sam reassured her.

She leaned close to him. “You have new orders?”

“Now Sis,” Sam said sitting back in his chair. “If I answered that I’d be in breach. But I’d be more inclined to spill my guts if you tell me everything you know.”

She shook her head while glaring at him again.

He knew he would tell her what he knew. He just did not like giving in without at least a token effort. “How about you buy me a beer then? I’ll have an Iron City.”

“I don’t understand how Sara puts up with you,” she said pushing her chair back with a clatter against the bar’s uneven wooden floor before heading to the long row of beer engines.

Sam glanced at Benny, who mockingly shook his finger at him. Sam just shrugged his shoulders in reply.

Tye returned and then with a smirk she placed a glass full of Iron City foam in front of him.

“Ces misses you,” he said feeling a familiar twinge of brotherly guilt when the teasing goes a bit too far and while watching the beer rise ever so slowly in the bottom of his glass.

After a rare Family bio-birth of his daughter, Ces, four years ago, the Family council gave his life-partner, Sara, and he an alternative from frontline duty. He was still getting used to it but running an alternate, RP+1 command post and another bar, The Gulf Breeze in South Padre Island, was more than a decent compensation but supposedly temporary.

But, there were was a backlog of investigations about missing antiquities or important relics, past and future, the queen had personally asked he investigate. Such tracking could take months or years and mean a significant duration commitment but he could usually return to the Breeze and his family only a few minutes after leaving. He was thankful for the often interesting, but usually unglamorous work.

“Sorry I missed her birthday,” Tye said. “How is she?”

“She understands,” he said looking into her violet eyes guessing the coming upline war would take a huge toll on her. “And she’s good but generally freaking Sara and me out on a regular basis,” he added.

“Still thinking the outposts med-AI is somehow responsible?” Tye asked referring to Ces’ rapidly advancing intelligence.

“Figures, but there’s no real proof,” he said with an affirmative nod, “We’re still wondering how she, got Dotty to activate the system.”

“She’s a blessing,” Tye said touching her brother’s hand gently. “Ces not the cat,” she added with a smirk.

Sam shook his head at her mention of the Family’s cat, Dotty. “Anyways, there are no new orders,” he said, “but, I got a message about a downline lead on the missing Great Phosphophyllite.”

“The big blue crystal whose twinning inspired a revolution in twenty-second century pharmaceuticals?” Tye asked.

“That’s the one and it’s gone missing two fractimes downline,” Sam said. “Mick is supposed to coordinate an information exchange with a downline contact tonight. I would’ve thought the message would have been routed through the Pruchlais.”

“I never saw it,” she said, “and I have just come from there.”

“What have you got?” Sam asked with a sigh.

“Temporal glitches. The Pruchlais’ translation monitors have recorded a number of echoes in and out of O’Shanley’s. Obviously Uncle Mick needs to know.”

“Echoes?”

“They are like someone is piggy backing on a translation,” Tye said looking around the bar, “but there is no corresponding event from either fractimes upline or downline. Luc only picked them up during system maintenance of the temporal monitor’s history bank.”

“Strange,” Sam said thinking Luc, the oldest of the Families key AIs, should have had a more detailed analysis. He took a slow sip of beer while wondering how an echo could form within the linearity of separate fractimes given the fractal geometry of the whole multiverse. “How long?” he asked, refusing to do the math in his head.

“Variable. A few to over a dozen a year for the last six years, possibly longer. Luc thinks there is a high probability that it represents another translation technology.”

“Another traveler stopping in at O’Shanley’s? Now that is unusual,” Sam said sarcastically with a glance at the small sign hung in supposed jest on the mirror behind the bar that read ‘Time traveler’s first drink free’.

“It is the possibility of an alternative translation tech that is unusual,” Tye said with evident frustration.

The clientele at O’Shanley’s could be extraordinary to say the least especially with all the Family and Time Corps activity surrounding the war still accelerating towards them from upline. This universe, RP+1, containing O’Shanley’s was to be the last barrier against the enemy invading their home universe and preparations were ever increasing even with invasion estimated still over a century distant.

“It’s probably a thirsty Laith slipping away from Ghost Town,” he added hopefully.

“You know the containment is continually monitored and there is no correlation to these echoes,” she said.

Sam was not sure they could ever contain much less monitor the actions of the family afflicted with a usually permanent change that saw a minority turn into demons or monsters.

“So what do you think?” she asked. “And you owe the box,” she added reminding him he had not paid for his last beer.

“I am going to set up a plus-five-minute monitor with the old TV in the storeroom. I don’t like Mick being late,” he said looking at his remaining flat beer that somehow added to a growing ominous feeling giving him goose bumps in the summer heat.

Sam pulled a fin from his wallet and handed it to her, but she refused. “And I can watch the replay of tonight’s game,” he added trying again.

“Your beer,” she said staunchly with a nod to a honesty box on the bar.

“I still want to know what you’re thinking on these echoes,” he said standing up to stretch before treading the familiar path from the table to the bar’s gents.

On his way back by the bar, he flipped the box’s lid open to drop in the fin when he saw a sharpie next to a folded piece of paper with reverse handwriting bleeding through.

“Mystery solved,” he said as he returned to the table and handed the note, unread, to Tye.

“I am not so sure,” she said after unfolding the note. “It seems Uncle Mick’s gone to hell.”

Chapter -10

RefPlane, Planet TarTarus

Mick took a deep breath as he rubbed his cigar dead against a nearby stalagmite before dropping the rank butt. The slightly cooler air at the cave’s entrance contrasted the rest of the planet, searing from its nearness to the orbital limit for human survival to its red dwarf star.

He still shivered despite the heat and the dark-green cloak that had delivered him to the cave’s entrance. The cloak, the Turas Luath, was a living, temporal entity. The Family’s first queen, Zuinall bestowed it and its mate, the Amhrán, to her descendants soon after her mysterious death. Both entities could perform complex and precise space-time translations as well as extra-universe displacements by interfacing with the thoughts of the wearer.

Blinking against the harsh, red daylight cast into the cave’s opening, Mick plucked a torch from the cave’s wall and it whooshed into bright flames. It had been centuries since his last visit to the hellish planet. His thoughts turned to his foolish oath never to return to the planet taking the first familiar steps down a vast spiral staircase towards the darkness below from which the last Watcher had summoned him.

The torch flickered as he finally reached the base of the stairs to face an oval, stone portal. Delicately chiseled tree branches filled the top of the slab; its roots, intertwined, filled the bottom. He pressed his right hand with fingers opened slightly into a matching recess in tree’s trunk just below a concave, hemispherical recess. As he removed his hand, the door vibrated slightly as it floated to his left revealing the blackness of the Mandorla and spilling out a wretched stench.

He dropped the torch and leapt through the portal without hesitation.

 

 

Null Space

“Armaros?” Mick called out while covering his nose from the stink.

A weak moan was the only reply.

He crouched on the white marble floor beyond the blackness of the portal to scan quickly the brightly lit chamber. In front of him, a lone leather chair sat atop a heap of hundreds of dusty books, scrolls and storage devices dumped from their places on shelves lining the surrounding walls.

Another moan originated underneath the mound. Tossing some of the rarest and most valuable manuscripts and books of the multiverse aside without reservation, he finally uncovered a frail, wrinkled face.

Pulling the rag of a man into his arms, Mick whispered gently into the monk’s ear, “Armaros, can you hear me? I’m here. It’s Michael.”

Eyes, mere slits, lost in timeless lines of age fluttered then opened. The corners of his mouth rose slightly at the glimpse of his former apprentice.

“I knew you would come,” he said weakly. His white robe shimmering erratically.

“I will get you to Trua,” Mick said, his eyes teary.

“There is no time,” the monk said as he grasped Mick’s arm causing the Turas Luath’s sleeve to glow a deep emerald beneath his frail fingertips. “The three must save all that is and ever was,” he whispered hoarsely.

“How did the vault become breached?” Mick asked ignoring the old man’s riddle.

“No time.” Armaros coughed weakly while pulling Mick closer and raising a frail finger toward a solitary book left upright on a shelf.

“Who did it do this to you?” Mick asked after quickly rescanning the monk’s sanctuary.

“You,” Armaros said weakly with his last breath before his robe consumed him in a brilliant white flash just and the portal’s carved, oval slab slammed shut.

Tears flowing down his cheeks, Mick slumped into the pile of books; he had just witnessed his ancient friend’s final translation.

 

RefPlane +1: 14 June 1984

“Is that all it says?” Sam asked nervously while looking at the handwritten note in his sister’s hand.

Tye nodded and handed him the paper. She was right. Mick in the best times could be excessively cryptic but this note was one for the record books. He reread it, ‘Gone to Hell. Hope to be back soon. Mick’.

“Where the fuck is hell,” he said staring at Tye.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe the citadel’s history archives might give us a clue?”

Sam pulled the note back out of his pocket. “Maybe you’ve got a good idea there Sis,” he said while reading the note a third time.

“What do we do now?” Tye said.

“We wait,” he said as Benny began a familiar warm-up piece and three more musicians, instrument cases in hand, entered the joint, “but first, I need to install that temporal cam. It might not be a bad idea.”

“Those are illegal and banned,” Tye said while looking at the tiny device that Sam pulled from his shirt pocket. “Just how do you have one?”

“I get around,” he mused looking around the bar and trying to figure out the best place to position the device. “I even recovered a future-memory coin last trip upline,” he added with a wink.

“Another accord breach? After four years and with the war coming, you are just asking the queen to send you back to the archives.” Tye said referring to Sam’s last assignment and her unspectacular current job analyzing similarity between fractimes.

In his present role, he often dealt with parts of humanity that mostly ignored the Time Corps and their accords. The worst were Outer Lár freelancers, often paid by rogue, fringe cartels that had a set wish list of objects of interest from the outer spirals.

Freelancers hunted not just a wide array of antiquities, but also biospecimens. There was no shortage of these unscrupulous collectors throughout fractime. Sam knew the odds were against the TC to make a dent in the illicit trade. TC agents had too many self-imposed controls not to mention a bureaucratic behemoth to juggle. Therefore, Sam had become an expert on covertly bending or rarely, even breaching the Time Accords to suit his mission.

His first-generation Family mentor in traveler craft, Flint, considered accord breaches were like a pendulum’s over-swing trying to find its null point and some reverberations were simply unavoidable.

Sam shuddered at the thought of returning to the similarity archives. Fucking war, he thought gently rubbing the coin in his pocket.

 

Sundays were usually busy at O’Shanley’s but during summer, it could be hit or miss. Tonight was a miss and even Benny and the other jazz junkies had packed it in by ten. An hour later, just two regulars remained to hold the bar up as Tye pulled another round of beers as Sam fiddled with the rabbit ears on a small black and white TV.

He sighed and switched the set back to its previous channel with disgust. The old set now monitored the bar from five minutes in the future and from a vantage point above the bar’s thick, oak front door.

“The Pirates?” one of the regulars asked Sam while sliding a beer to him across the bar revealing his unusual tattoo: a delicate red swirl on his left forearm.

“Did you get to Port of Spain for Carnival this year?” Sam asked nodding.

“Didn’t make it,” Lars replied while wearily.

“First time in a while, but there’s always next year. Right Miri?”

“Yup next year,” Miri said. “And I heard the score earlier,” he added giving a thumb up to Sam.

“Miracles never cease,” Sam said before taking a gulp of an icy Iron City lager.

“What was the score?” Tye asked.

“Three-two, Bucs,” Sam said.

If there was a diversion from the boredom of his light duty, it was baseball. Although Sam liked the Pirates, he could care less about World Series results or regional pennant winners. He just liked the sport and had secretly had attended game seven of the 1960 World Series three times.

“Where is Mick?” Miri asked.

Tye shrugged her shoulders. “Last call,” she said glancing at the clock behind the bar, “You’ve got fifteen minutes.”

“So this is O’Shanley’s,” a deep voice crackled over the TV’s speaker.

“Shit, the cam,” Sam said.

The tiny set showed the voice’s owner, obscured beneath a shimmering, black cloak, stride into the empty bar from its doorway.

“Who is that?” Lars asked while looking behind him where the figure should have been and Miri rushed to scan the bar’s frontage from a front window.

“Creepy,” Tye said still staring at the TV, “even for O’Shanley’s, and a black cape? That is a bit much.”

“It’s more like a cloak,” Miri said now behind her and studying the small TV’s screen. “It’s got a hoodie.”

“But that’s the bar and we’re not there,” Lars observed staring at the small screen.

As the figure raised its arms over its head, thin, ghostly, hands emerged from the cloak’s sleeves, long, gnarled fingers interlocked and then bar began to implode.

Sam watched in horror as the bar’s interior distorted and shrank along with everything including the emerald-green labradorite bar, a smoldering TV, tables, chairs and the squeaking ceiling fan. The bar’s dartboard swirled in the air accompanied by countless, mostly faded, Polaroid photos of patrons.

All the debris that was once O’Shanley’s flew then accreted into a small, shimmering ball between the cloaked figure’s outstretched arms.

“How is the cam seeing and illuminating this?” Tye asked looking at the cam over the bar’s rickety, front door just as the old TV set popped and sparks flashed from its rear air-vents.

Sam just shrugged his shoulders as he watched the set’s image shrink into a bright dot in the screen’s center then slowly faded into nothingness. All that remained was a reflection of fear on Lars’ face.

As a regular for decades, and despite the lack of any tangible personal details, Sam trusted him. That was just how it was with O’Shanley’s regulars.

“Four minutes,” Tye announced. “We need a plan,” she added looking at Sam.

“I don’t know who that was,” Sam replied. “And by the looks of it the double barrel behind the bar won’t do much good,” he said feeling for the translation device in his cargo short’s pocket.

“That broadcast was from the future,” Lars said in amazement.

“Yes,” Sam said nodding his head. “I can explain, but we don’t have time just now,” he added hastily.

“Try,” Miri said firmly grasping Sam by the forearm.

It had taken Sam awhile to accept Miri’s the full facial ink and still found it could be intimidating.

"We're just a family," Sam said looking at Tye as she rolled her eyes at the serious breach of protocol, "trying to keep things- balanced."

“What can we do?” Lars said with a curt glance at Miri causing him to release his grip on Sam.

“Unless you have some serious weaponry on you,” Sam replied, “we don’t have much choice.”

“We run,” Tye added. “But it’s too dangerous to leave. The bar will be under surveillance.”

“So how do we run if we can’t leave?” Lars asked.

“Don’t worry we can take care of that,” Tye said pulling a quantum pad from her jean’s pocket. “I’ll need to record events of the next few minutes,” she added while making inputs onto the pad.

“We’ll join you in a minute,” Sam said ushering Lars and Miri into the bar’s storeroom before joining Tye back behind the bar.

She shook her head.

“We can’t leave them,” he said sternly.

“I know and Uncle Mick is going to be pissed,” she said looking around at the bar then stopping with the coffee machine on the bar.

“Time?” Sam asked.

“Two minutes and more than enough time for you to save The Machine,” she said. “Take it to The Breeze; it should be safe there.”

Sam pulled the translation device from his pocket and made a quick input to its simple controls. “Be right back,” he said placing the device on the floor. Then hefting the machine with a grunt, he strode over the TD and vanished only to reappear nearly instantly empty-handed.

Tye was waiting for him holding a cardboard box that he recognized that held the bar’s books and tax records. He saw Tye had stuffed the winter darts and summer washer-toss winner plaques in the box, too. He chuckled at her effort as her name appeared more often than not on the plaques.

“For all the bureaucrats,” she lied as Sam recovered his TD from the floor.

“Let’s all get out of here,” he said opening the storeroom’s door for Tye.

“Agrona!” she said stretching to look behind crates of beer, whiskey and cartons of new beer mugs. “Where did they go?” she asked just before Sam activated his TD.

 

Tye and Sam materialized in front of the Breeze’s bar as Sara was fiddling with the Machine.

“I never knew there was no plug,” she said ignoring their sudden appearance while carefully inspecting an empty condiment drawer then gently closing it.

“Just pull the start lever. There,” Tye said pointing to The Machine’s internal nuclear-power activator.

Sam sighed. He knew The Machine’s coffee had besotted her for decades. “We’ve got more to worry about at the moment than The Machine,” he said.

Sara gave him one of those looks. He knew it all too well. It was her what-the-fuck-are-you-talking-about look.

“Sam’s right,” Tye said, “O’Shanley’s is about to be destroyed,” she said while checking the timepiece on her wrist, “in one minute.”

“What?” Sara asked shaken.

“We need to go to the Pruchlais to monitor the implosion,” Tye said. “I am guessing it will be a temporal event.”

“Ces just went for a nap,” Sara said nervously. “You go, I’ll be fine.”

Sam adjusted his TD, grasped Tye’s hand, and blew his concerned partner a kiss before disappearing.

 

They arrived in the Family’s subterranean refuge. A familiar draft cooled Sam’s cheeks as they ran from the translation ingress point to the complex’s primary laboratory.

Tye got to the lab’s entrance first and began to adjust the main temporal monitor as Sam initiated the complex’s high-level defense routines on an adjacent workstation.

“Focused on Pittsburg,” Tye reported as Sam looked over her shoulder at the monitor. “Just seconds to go.”

“Shit,” Sam said as the monitor’s readings spiked then returned to normal.

“It appears as though the implosion was restricted to the block around the bar,” Tye said with a sigh.

“Hold on,” Sam said reaching to make inputs on the nearby workstation. “Data indicate a high degree of divergence within the reference plane at the time of the implosion.”

“Meddling!” Tye said as she nudged Sam to access the workstation’s analog keyboard. “Let me have a look,” she added franticly.

Sam slumped against the station as Tye accessed past and future similarity datum regarding all recorded details of the RP at the instant of O’Shanley’s demise. Sam used the same analysis routines on the vast collection to discover lost temporal-critical antiquities.

“Could we have been shielded by the Pruchlais’ defense routines?” he asked while glancing at the complex structure of the strata exposed on the interior of the cavern.

Created by their ancestors in 271 BC, the sanctuary still held many mysteries Sam knew must have rational explanations and now he would have to add one more to the list.

“I can’t believe these readings much less that O’Shanley’s is gone,” Tye said.

Sam saw subtly violet tears welling in her eyes. “We’ve got to report this to the council,” he said as Tye picked up a nearby pad and quickly thumbed a message announcing their planned imminent arrival at the citadel on planet Trua.

RefPlane -22: 20 March 2304

“They’re really time travelers?” Miri asked in disbelief while taking a seat in front of a workstation in Lars’ lab.

“It looks like that long running joke at O’Shanley’s had some truth to it,” Lars replied as he rushed to adjust several apparatus.

“Some?”

“Okay. Lots,” Lars said now adjusting inputs on the workstation in front of Miri. “Look, a temporal event at a twenty-three fractime upline departure, 14 June 1984 at quarter past eleven.”

“That’s it,” Miri said as his hands flew over an analog keyboard lying before the station’s display.

Lars stared at the workstation as more graphs depicted overwhelming evidence for the same event in the fractime where they had just escaped.

“You think that was the beast?” Miri asked studying Lars’ face. “It spoke,” he added with a shudder, “and in English.”

“I guess it should be able to speak English,” Lars said as he stared out the nearest window at the volcano in the distance.

“We have to go back now and kill it,” Miri said opening the nearby weapon cabinet.

“I will not affect our own timelines again,” Lars said. “Last time it nearly cost us our lives not to mention untold changes to countless others. Our enemy surely sees into the future.”

Miri sighed subtly.

Lars knew it was a point of debate between them but he would not budge from his conviction.

“The beast is even more powerful than we thought,” Miri said selecting a disrupter rifle with several power cartridges.

“No weapons, at least not now” Lars said thoughtfully, “but it is time we got some help.”

Chapter -9

Planet Trua

On translating from the Pruchlais direct to the Family’s main base of operations on planet Trua, Sam suddenly felt the chill of the stonewalls of the citadel surrounding him.

A slender male whose jet-black skin appeared in stark contrast to his simple white robes appeared next to them. “Welcome back Tye, Sam,” he said. “The council waits,” he added pointing down a narrow corridor leading from the translation station.

“Thanks, Luc,” Tye said heading off at a trot down the corridor.

“We know where the chambers are,” Sam scoffed while rubbing his arms and hurrying to follow Tye, “but I like the new haircut.”

Luc was an advanced AI unit. The first teacher and nurturer that Sam had known as a young boy. Then, Luc was Luca and female.

In the ninth century, an attack on the Pruchlais corrupted her program and then just over a hundred years later, a Family conflict led to her erasure. On both occasions, the council sanctioned the AI’s recovery despite the program growing more unstable with each reboot generating sporadic gender choices.

Sam and Tye strode through the colossal, stone citadel, passing many brothers and sisters processing similarity data on their way to the council’s chambers. Sam sighed, thankful of his new duties.

Luc was waiting for them again as they reached the council’s chamber and opened its door, an additional temporal barrier, for them before disappearing.

Sam drew a deep breath as he entered the space, the timelessness of the chamber filled with only a worn, round limestone table surrounded by ancient oak chairs unnerved him.

Their queen sat opposite to the door and waved them toward empty chairs while studying a pad in front of her but otherwise ignored them.

Mick’s partner, Clare, sat next to the queen and it was no surprise to Sam that she appeared anxious.

“The rest of the council,” the queen said weakly, “is unfortunately indisposed, upline war matters.”

“Any breakthroughs?” Sam asked knowing their mysterious enemy’s front line was closing in on the Reference Plane. Thankfully, their enemy appeared only to have linear TD tech that severely constrained any potential tactical translations. They could only translate downline into the relative past and towards the RP, jumping linearly from fractime to fractime. This made it difficult for their enemy to sustain a supply chain sufficient to equip great numbers of troops in multiple universes; therefore, their enemy fought the war largely one fractime at a time.

Moreover, although Confederation troops were waging an exhaustive campaign on the enemy’s rear flank, the chase downline seemed stymied with little relative progress in the last few centuries. The Family was their only forward asset, which explained why the TC tended to ignored minor Family breaches of the Time Accords. However, those same accords prevented the TC from intervening between the RP and the nearest fractime currently under siege or even father downline.

The Family detested this doctrine and Sam figured the council had plans of its own regarding a RP invasion in less than a century, Breeze time. He also knew the enemy had patience and had infiltrated many fractimes ahead of the front to sabotage and weaken any possible counterattack. They all suspected there were many enemy scouts already in the RP despite only limited confirmed infiltrations.

The queen subtlety shook her head at his question.

“You’ve seen the imagery?” Tye asked her referring to the video of O’Shanley’s implosion relayed from the pad that she had left behind in the bar.

“Of course,” Clare injected matter-of-factly.

The queen tried to sit up a bit straighter while giving Sam a look that made him shudder. “The two men with you at the time?” she asked.

“Regulars,” he said.

“Interesting face,” the queen said.

Sam assumed she must have been referring to Miri’s facial ink rather than Lars’ subtle first-nations’ appearance. “He’s Maori,” he said, knowing the queen had extensive knowledge of all indigenous peoples of Earth so he did not elaborate further.

“His appearance,” the queen said seemingly lost in her own thoughts, “and to a lesser point, both their disappearances are troubling.” She then looked to Tye. “Have your new elder sister review the imagery and trace subjects plus and minus ten fractimes,” she added.

“Of course,” Tye said. “Current RP historical accounts indicate that O’Shanley’s was thought destroyed by a faulty gas main late night the 14th of June 1984,” she said uneasily.

“Fascinating,” the queen said shaking her head. “A long time ago, a naughty, young girl visited an O’Shanley’s bar decades in the future.”

“Just another shift in reality outside Trua’s protection,” Clare said sadly to no one in particular and seemed intent on studying the tiny alien fossils within the limestone table. “At least it should make for an interesting back-change report for once,” she added with a sigh.

Sam was well aware of the council’s debate for decades about the instability of the Higgs field resulting from translations. Such field changes were incredibly small but added up with each translation.

Clare wanted to conserve the field as much as possible and with the RP’s field already near instability, Sam knew her concerns were valid.

The Higgs field aside, Sam knew Clare agreed with the rest of the council that the affects from extra-universal meddling were mostly beyond their control. Active intelligence gathering as well as the strict Family canon not to intentionally influence your or another Family member’s individual timelines was their best defense.

Sam looked to his queen.

“This unfortunate event will not be spoken of again,” she announced. “Future cam, indeed. I want to know yesterday who destroyed O’Shanley’s and the reason behind why our eldest brother is missing.”

“Probably one in the same,” Clare added.

“It could have been an enemy infiltration,” Tye suggested.

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places,” the queen quoted in a whisper.

Sam recognized the author as a favorite of hers and wondered if she was still paying surreptitious visits to nineteenth and twentieth-century writers in RP+1 despite her poor health.

“Sorry about the future cam,” he said as the queen fought a cough. “I acquired it as well as a memory coin from my latest case. I was going to show them to Mick. Thought he might want them for his collection. I’ve never seen either before,” he explained truthfully, saddened her rare illness appeared worsening.

“A coin?” the queen asked hoarsely looking to her twin.

“Magic tricks that are highly illegal,” Clare replied. “They contain entangled quanta that actives a future brain-scan and then translates the captured short-term memory into the past to the activator. Complex and expensive, but poor range and intra-universal only. Obviously, their use would break family canon by meddling with one’s own timeline.”

“Yet further indiscretions concerning the Time Accords and Family canon,” the queen said sternly looking into Sam’s eyes and then softened, “may be of benefit.”

She reached out and grasped his hand only to release her frail touch a moment later.

“The nearly simultaneous destruction of a stable Reference Plane monitoring post and Mick’s disappearance begs too many questions,”
she said.

Clare failed to suppress a shiver. “It’s catastrophic if the enemy has discovered us,” she said.

Sam pulled Mick’s note from his shorts pocket and handed it to her.

After quickly reading it, Clare just shook her head as she handed the cryptic note to the queen. “Just like Mick,” she added angrily.

“Any ideas?” Tye asked.

“I usually do not ponder mythical religious locales, Middle Sister,” Clare replied bluntly.

“But there is one who may have insight into this,” the queen said studying the note.

“The ambassador?” Clare asked.

“The historian,” the queen clarified.

Sam knew they were one in the same: Draconous.

Sam had often used Drac’s extensive knowledge of humanity’s history in the galaxy before while shifting through masses of similarity data to pull out subtle evidence of meddling regarding antiquity theft. In addition, as Family representative to the other planets in the Confederation, Drac had invaluable connections to galactic-wide power and influence that were indispensible to his mission.

However, Drac had the affliction like many other members of the Family resulting in an unpredictable transformation into a demonic manifestation. Fortunately, unlike the majority, his shift was not long lasting and he somehow kept his gentle, if not audacious personality during what Family specialists referred to as simply the change.

He was also the queen’s main communication conduit to that part of the Family they called Laiths that shared his affliction. Most thought an error in their genetic code caused the change but intensive research had not found a cure. The Laiths believed prejudice that surrounded the condition plaguing the Family for centuries contributed to the failure.

“Really?” Tye said with disbelief at the mention of the historian.

Sam knew she had issues with Drac’s stability surrounding his rare changes in the past. “It’s okay,” he said reassuring her.

The queen struggled to clear her throat. “The upline war approaches and we are no closer to understanding our enemy. We need to know if this was a direct enemy attack on the Family. We need a full council, especially Mick, as certain war initiatives are close to launch.”

“Agreed,” Clare said with a curt glance at Sam.

“Then I assume our alliance of sorts with the US government has been successful,” Sam said.

“At this point,” Clare said, “let’s just say things are progressing well.”

“We must find Mick and soon,” the queen injected.

Sam looked to Clare who cast her eyes back to the note still in the queen’s hand and wondered why she had been so vague.

“With the council shorthanded,” the queen continued, “Clare is needed on other urgent matters.”

“Looks like it is just us,” Tye said to Sam.

“It’s just Sam,” the queen told her. “You are also required elsewhere. New Elder Sister, Luinan, has the details.”

“And you,” she added looking to Sam, “are reassigned to Mick’s search and rescue immediately and will report directly to me.”

“Understood,” Sam replied, relieved to have a break from pulling pints and antiquities retrieval if only for a short time. “Do we know where Drac is?” he asked and sensing Tye’s excitement regarding her new mission.

As the queen touched the table over a smooth, calcified shell, Luc appeared.

“How may I assist you?” the AI asked.

“The current location of Draconous?” the queen asked the program.

“The ambassador is here on Trua and is currently in the citadel’s deep archives,” Luc replied.

"You're in luck- again," the queen said looking at Sam and handing him back Mick's note as the council chamber's door swung open. The meeting was over.

 

The depths of the citadel contain three main areas. The deep archive, the auxiliary archive laboratory and a containment sphere, which the Family use to restrain Laiths considered too insane for release into the multiverse.

Sam’s trek through the citadel to the deep archives was a familiar path but still he felt awe as he past the various statuary and art works that adorned the walls flanking him.

He stopped to study a gargoyle mounted on a podium that grimly guarded the archives entrance. It was a favorite of Ces’s. For some reason she liked the sad eyes staring out from their sunken orbs.

Sam sighed as he stood before the ancient oak door of the archives. He and Sara more than understood the need to protect Ces and her growing special abilities, but he still had felt anguish being on the sideline from the real war efforts. Besides, his suspicions the queen hoped that Ces someday would be an effective weapon as well as play an important part in the war effort worried him.

He pushed the door inward to reveal an air lock allowing access to the archives beyond. Activating the familiar controls on the lock, the door behind him closed and as the decontamination began, he considered the Family’s historian.

He knew Drac had taken on the plight of a minority of Laiths with a demonic change above most else and now devoted most of his time to funding a cure. Being the Family’s ambassador-at-large gave him the resources to follow his quest throughout the galaxy, so it was unusual to find him on Trua.

As the air lock’s door opened before him, the vastness of the deep archive hall caused him to try to repress a shiver. He failed as usual.

The deep archives contained mostly historic information and artifacts rather than the similarity data on which the Family now focused most of their resources to detect the enemy’s advance.

Drac could be anywhere in the large complex so Sam depressed another control on the nearby wall.

“How may I assist you,” Luc said appearing beside him in elegant dark green robes befitting his presence in the archives.

“The historian’s location, please,” Sam asked glancing down at his old tee shirt and faded shorts.

“Ambassador Draconous is in the fifth section, tenth element. Shall I accompany you?”

“No thanks, Luc. I’ll walk.”

Luc nodded politely and then disappeared.

Sam had been to the section before. It held the early historical accounts of the Family’s arrival on Earth during the Iron Age as well as the ancestral documents for all second generation. He had combed many of the archives in the fifth section researching his biological parents who both died in a Laith uprising during the Earth’s tenth century.

“Draconous?” Sam asked, arriving at the section and seeing a portly human form at a small table sorting through a pile of scrolls illuminated only by a dim, flickering candle.

The small man jumped slightly then pulled a pocket watch from his yellow waistcoat, flicked it open and then looked to Sam.

“Event’s are progressing at an alarming rate,” Drac said shrilly. “And you’re late, my good boy,” he added as he began to tidy the pile of documents.

Sam smiled at his old friend’s informality as well as at Drac’s typical colorful attire. “What events? And, I arrived at the Citadel just under an hour ago.”

“My boy,” he said standing up to stretch and adjust his purple suspenders, “Luc advised me of Mick’s disappearance and your impending arrival. You have the document?”

“Sure,” Sam said digging the wrinkled paper out of his jeans pocket and handing it to Drac.

The historian gazed at the post-it note then held it up to the flickering candle.

“Interesting,” he muttered.

“Something?” Sam asked hopefully.

"There's nothing but the visible indelible ink," Drac replied. "I was expecting something hidden and more definitive. Very curious indeed. Hell- that is different given the Mick’s strict rules against meddling into Earth’s religious activities.”

Mick’s ban had caused Sam to abandon recovery of some significant artifacts. Sam believed considerable Laith meddling contributed to Mick’s ban on influencing Earth’s religions but the council staunchly withheld specific details from the second generation. He shuddered as his suspicions rose again on just how colossal the impact of Laith meddling could be in RP and surrounding fractimes.

Drac stroked his short green goatee. “There are a few cryptic scrolls surrounding that place name during the Alpha times around here somewhere.”

Drac stopped and scanned corridors leading to other elements of section five. “Yes, I remember,” he added then scurried off down a long corridor flanked by high shelves filled with multitudes of dusty books and crates.

Sam knew there were parts of the deep archive in sore need of restoration, but these areas never got organized or even cataloged. In these areas, Drac’s knowledge was invaluable.

“Alpha times?” Sam asked to Drac’s back. He had believed Luc’s first program corruption following the deaths of most of the first generation during the Laith revolt had resulted in the loss of most details of the Family’s origins.

“Believing everything you’re told, Sammy?”

“Shouldn’t I?”

Drac chuckled. “Hell may be closer to us all than you think. You don’t accept the Family creation stories?”

“Which one,” Sam said with a sigh. He had not given much credence to any of several versions of the Family’s arrival on Earth. However, his own triple-helix DNA proved he was not Solarian but Auriane; a people history said rogue cyborgs had nearly wiped out when they destroyed the Family’s home planet. Many of the survivor’s progeny, initially scattered across the galaxy, now found sanctuary on Trua.

“They all may have some truth. Perhaps this scroll may shed some light on the matter,” Drac said excitedly. “I have felt for some time that both our own alpha times and origin of the change is somehow also linked to the common galactic concept of a hell,” he added.

Sam just watched Drac’s footfalls in front of him as they continued to weave through dusty shelving. Sam had many rather lengthy discussions surrounding similar family dogma with Drac. He had learned to take most of Drac’s conjectures with silence.

Drac stopped abruptly, climbed a nearby ladder to a top shelf at the end of a rack of shelving, and then carefully handed down to Sam a small, dusty wooden box. “There are some truths that remain only as clues to test us,” he said sliding down the ladder’s rails like an adolescent.

Sam placed the box on a table positioned at the end of the shelving.

“If this contains information on the Alpha times,” Sam said, “why has it not been revealed before now? It would be critical Family history.”

“Good question,” Drac said breaking a wax seal over the boxes latch.

Sam noted there had been at least one other seal in the past from remnants of a different color wax surrounding the latch.

As Drac pushed the lid back, its two small hinges protested and Sam caught that odd but familiar smell of old.

The crate contained just three small scrolls. Two partially unrolled scrolls had broken wax seals. One remained wound tight.

“Ah, just as I remembered,” Drac said gently lifting the sealed scroll out of the crate.

“What about the other two?” Sam asked.

“A collection of puzzling parables and astronomical data, mostly meaningless or untranslatable and scribed much later than this one. You can tell by the security fibers and wax,” Drac said while running an index finger over the circumference of the scroll’s unbroken green seal. “And I’ve recorded them both centuries ago,” he added.

“What makes you think that one has bearing on Mick’s disappearance?” Sam asked.

“Let’s see,” Drac said thoughtfully. “It was mid-thirteenth century, Earth when I first showed Mick this crate. After inspecting the other two scrolls, he insisted on preserving the seal on the third. I found it very curious but I felt it better not press the issue with him at the time.”

Mick, although declining to serve in various political circles within the Confederation, was a natural, respected leader that insisted on openness above most else. The fact he had secrets was surprising to Sam.

“Luc, we’re going to my quarters, please power up the archival laboratory. Sam and I are on our way,” he added.

“Of course,” Luc’s disembodied voice said from somewhere above.

“You’ve moved into the auxiliary lab?” Sam asked wondering why anyone would want to live in the dank depths of the Citadel.

Drac nodded with a wide smile as they stepped on a nearby inter-citadel transporter platform.

 

The environment with bright white surfaces and stainless equipment in which they appeared was a stark contrast to the musty, deep archives. Sam gazed at the extraordinary large rocks and minerals scattered around on the floor and surrounded by smaller specimens behind glass doors of oak cabinets lining the interior of the lab.

“Like what you’ve done to the place,” Sam mused looking around.

Drac lifted a meter-long, multifaceted quartz crystal off the main worktable and on to the floor with a grunt to make room for the scroll. He then brushed a sonic opener over the scroll’s wax seal, which slid off the roll in one piece.

“So far so good,” he said. “Several data scrolls of the same apparent age and security fiber have disintegrated upon the seal being broken. Even so, we may have just one chance to obtain the information contained on this scroll.”

“To unroll it would be too dangerous,” Drac added as he carefully picked up the loose roll and placed it gently in a nearby scanner. “We will have to try to retrieve the digital information as it is,” he added closing the scanner’s door and touching a control.

After the scanner beeped completion, Drac slowly opened the scanner then sighed. “As I feared,” he said as wisps of dust exited the scanner and floated around them.

Sam peered into the unit to see the crumbled remains of the scroll. “How?”

“Old security tech,” Drac replied. “But our modern scanners are pretty good. We should have something,” he added, as a two-dimensional display appeared floating over the worktable.

After Drac brushed several controls on the display, Sam saw it fill with countless vertical, parallel and subparallel lines intersected by a few short, subparallel, horizontal lines.

“Probably an ancient Celtic text,” Drac said studying the script. “Translate, twentieth-century English,” he ordered the display. “My Ogham is a bit rusty,” he added sheepishly as the display filled with a stream of unrecognizable characters.

“Fascinating,” Drac said.

“Yeah?” Sam said peering over his shoulder.

“Mostly gibberish,” Drac said. “Translate into Gaelic,” he told the display as he adjusted a control on the workstation.

Drac sighed and Sam remembered enough Irish gleamed from his parents to know the translation had failed again.

“Maybe it’s not Ogham after all,” Drac said. “Search the open Galactic encyclopedia for similar alphabets and translate,” he told the display.

His request returned a single result.

“Interesting,” he said while tweaking a control on the workstation.

“The characters are an early Calma language I’m not familiar with. It appears to be a citation containing numeric, galactic coordinates just outside the uninhabitable zone of the Lár. The non-numeric characters are still untranslatable.”

“How early?” Sam asked recalling that inner galactic species like the enigmatic Calma had called the supper-massive black hole at center of the Milky Way the Lár for eons.

“It seems such characters have been observed in the past near the Lár,” Drac said studying the display.

“How early?” Sam asked again getting a chuckle from Drac.

“The citation does not have that information, but it’s probably referring to the famous Library ship and the ensuing salvage war over its contents.”

“That is ancient,” Sam muttered, remembering the mysterious myth about a colossal battle near the center of the galaxy over the contents of a research vessel over a billion years ago. “Could this be from that ship?” he asked.

The historian shrugged his shoulders. “This will take time. I’ll need to review older research and perhaps even access to the Calma archives themselves,” he said. “And a visit is long overdue,” he added thoughtfully.

“When do we leave?” Sam asked.

Drac straightened and then bent backwards in a stretch as he chuckled while subtly shaking his head. “I’ll find you when I have results.”

Chapter -8

RefPlane +1, 17 June 1984

Sam sipped a strong Columbian espresso from The Machine and although he had countless similar cups from O’Shanley’s this one, although every bit as luscious as previous cups, seemed different.

“Exceptional but, not the same,” Sara commented after sipping her own Irish variant as they sat on stools at the Breeze’s bar admiring their new acquisition.

Sam nodded. “The regulars are going to love it,” he said looking around at an empty courtyard, thankful the bar’s patrons let Sam and Sara have Sunday mornings alone.

“Maybe the power modulator needs a tweak,” Ces said sitting on the bar next to The Machine.

“Uhuh,” Sam said to the four-year old peering into one of several ventilation slits on The Machine.

“It’s unusual for Drac to impose duration for a trip, especially for one across the galaxy,” Sara said.

“Uhuh,” Sam muttered mid-sip knowing Sara could easily tell he was getting anxious about the delay of his new mission as his concerns for Mick grew. It had been three days since his return.

Besides, the first generation usually kept their duration private, unlike the second generation linked directly to the Family clock. Drac might be taking months or even years to frame his interpretation on the ancient scrolls to reappear with his report in only a few hours or days.

“Maybe uncle Drac will change for us when he gets here?” Ces said hopefully.

“You know he does not choose when he changes,” Sara said with a subtle eye roll directed at Sam.

Sam was well aware that Drac’s changed appearance was horrendous. A nearly three-meter tall, hairy, smelly torso supporting a bulbous purple head with smoking horns protruding from its temples, clawed feet and a long, devilish forked tail all figured into the changed Draconous. Nevertheless, Ces loved her flamboyant uncle, even in his changed state.

Ces shook her head. “I know, Mom. Luc has told me all about the Laith change. Maybe we’ll get lucky?”

Sam smiled at his daughter. “Don’t count on—

“Incoming!” the breezes parrot, Barney, squawked from his perch above the Breeze’s brick barbeque.

“Shit,” the four-year old cursed while staring past her father.

Shaking her head in disbelief, Sara said, “Ces, that language—

“It’s okay,” Lars said as he appeared behind the barbeque with Miri. “But I agree about the language,” he added smiling at Ces while avoiding peanuts the parrot was tossing at them from its perch.

“Ma’am, we can explain,” Miri said with a cautious look up at the Orange-Winged Amazon. “But a cup of joe from The Machine would be great,” he added following Lars to the bar.

Sam quickly moved behind the bar and had two coffees dispensed before his old friends could take the necessary steps to join them. Then adjusting his TD below the bar, he set the devices defensive protocols to their highest state before slipping it back into his short’s pocket.

“So, you must be Ces,” Lars said after his first sip of a strong Arabian blend. “Your dad brags on you all the time,” he added with a smile.

“And you are Sara,” Miri said taking her hand gently while obviously admiring her long dreadlocks.

“Lars and Miri are, uh, were regulars at O’Shanley’s,” Sam explained.

“A great tragedy,” Miri said solemnly.

“A great unforeseen tragedy,” Lars corrected him.

Sam nodded also worried about the lack of future knowledge on O’Shanley’s implosion.

“It seems there are explanations missing all around,” Sara said.

Sam looked to Miri then to Lars.

“I assume you are travelers,” Lars said bluntly.

“As you both are,” Sam said with a smile.

“My father calls my brother the Traveler,” Miri added earnestly looking at Lars.

“I’m guessing you’re not Time Corps?” Ces asked staring at Miri’s facial ink framing a kind smile.

Lars shook his head. “No, not the time cops.”

Sam had many dealings with freelance travelers but he had never suspected Lars and Miri. He wondered what their real motives were.

“Homework time,” Sara said looking sternly at Ces.

“Aw Mom,” she said, “I never get to listen to good stuff.”

“Off you go and no TV,” Sara said lifting her down from the bar. “You have several research papers to prepare before tomorrow for Luc.”

Sam watched as his daughter dejectedly entered their home adjoining the bar and hoped Drac’s arrival now would be later rather than sooner.

“So,” Sara said to Sam’s old friends as she moved behind the bar.

Sam knew she was within easy reach of several weapons.

“I guess I should start from the beginning,” Lars said.

“That would be how you found us,” Sara said.

“The fact that Sam and you are part of a community at the Breeze is no secret from O’Shanley’s regulars,” Miri injected.

“There has been crossover by patrons of both places over recent years,” Lars said. He looked around the courtyard and pool surrounded by several small cottages that flanked the main house and bar. “But I regret never paying the Breeze a visit before now,” he added wistfully.

Sam saw Sara relax slightly.

Lars sighed. “I was raised by a generous and kind family two universes downline,” he said.

“Reference Plane minus one,” Sara said.

“The RP is our universe of origin, one fractime downline,” Sam added still hopeful he could trust his old friends.

“We assumed you would be familiar with the fractal geometry of the multiverse,” Miri added.

Lars continued, “My birth certificate indicates my birth occurred in the early part of twenty-first century, but I suspect that may not be totally correct. At any rate, at a young age, like Ces, I became aware I was different. My abilities grew until I had to leave my family for their sake. The key reasons should be obvious.”

Sam nodded. He knew well the pressures and issues arising from the power of both intra- and extra-universal travel much less a super-savant four-year old.

“But I felt I was still out of place,” Lars said, “fundamentally not meant to be where I was. It’s hard to describe but somehow I just knew there must be other universes and I became driven to find them. I found it easy to accumulate wealth and by age twenty I had the first working prototype of this translation device.”

He pulled a pocket watch from his jeans, thumbed the cover up and showed it to Sam and Sara before gently setting it on the bar. “This version is much smaller and much more versatile but there’s still more improvements I need to incorporate into my next timepiece.”

“Kind of ironic for a traveler, don’t you think,” Sara said looking over the matte-grey watch with a red swirl engraved on its lid.

Sam noted the pattern matched Lars’ tattoo on his left forearm.

“I suppose I should apologize for my oblique sense of humor,” Lars said.

“Most don’t get it,” Miri said then adding a chuckle.

“Go on,” Sam said to Lars.

“I missed family,” Lars said. “My uniqueness set me apart in the multiverse. I decided to choose a new family. One from the past with no encumbrances and fear of technology.” He smiled at his brother. “And one distant in both time and space to be safe.”

“But something followed me into the past,” he added with a subtle shudder. “I could sense it and I made it my mission to find out what it was. I devised elaborate detection devices but for decades it eluded me.”

“Until one day,” Miri said solemnly.

“It was soon after an upgrade of this device,” Lars said gently closing the lid over the watch’s simple display. “The increase in its spatial translation distance to galactic scales brought disaster to my new family.”

Sam knew his TD theoretically could perform translations across the galaxy but the precise inputs needed would test even Luc. He appreciated that Lars had revealed technical details of his TD and relaxed further on his bar stool.

“A taniwha,” Miri said.

“A monster,” Lars clarified, “a beast, maybe even the beast. It attacked our tribe and abducted several women including Miri’s sister and my beloved Helen.”

Miri sighed. “I fear they are dead or worse.”

“Buy why kidnap civilians?” Sara asked.

“After long pursuit of the beast across fractime,” Lars said setting his empty coffee mug on the bar, “I can’t even speculate. I can only surmise it exists to hate and bring pain from callous meddling into the realm of humanity.”

“It seems to be the root of most evil since the dawn of Earth’s early civilization,” Miri said solemnly staring at the minerals composing the Breeze’s unique bar.

“Mankind has generated a lot of its own evil, but not on the scale of this beast,” Lars clarified.

Sam knew that coincidentally some Laiths had caused serious issues for the Family from constant, inappropriate relations with women. This perverse attraction had been one of several motivating reasons for the Family’s exodus from the Western Isles to the Pruchlais.

“We need your help,” Lars said into Sam’s dark violet eyes.

“Maybe the Family is to blame?” Sara said with a worried look to Sam.

He guessed she also saw a possible connection to the Laiths.

“How?” Miri asked.

“We are part of a larger family,” Sam said with a quick glance at Sara and then moved behind her and The Machine to set down his coffee mug.

Sara looked up at the parrot.

It gave a loud squawk just before Sam touched his TD’s activator in his short’s pocket.

Planet Trua

“The queen is in the tower,” Luc said as Sam returned to the citadels Family ingress station.

“Thanks,” Sam mumbled at the AI that again somehow knew his plans.

As he finally reached the top of the tower stairs, he saw the queen looking up at Trua’s moons through the bright midday sunshine.

“Sam,” she said turning to greet him. “You have news of the two men that disappeared from O’Shanley’s?”

He knew asking any questions about how she knew his reason for being there was useless. “They have arrived at the Breeze. They are travelers.”

“Describe the translation technology.”

“It is small, but exquisite,” he reported while gazing at a deep green nephrite set in a delicate, but simple, gold Hallstatt broach that ritually adorned his queen’s tunic below her left shoulder. He knew it was a gift from Mick.

“Fitted into a pocket watch,” he added, “but it may have galactic reach.”

The queen smiled. “A pocket watch you say? Fairly cliché,” she said with a subtle smile. “And the red ink?” she asked referring to the swirl on Lars’ forearm.

“As Lars chose nineteenth-century south pacific in which to grow up, it could be tribal.”

“Lars,” the queen repeated. “A coincidence his name appears to be connected with a swirl?” she asked rhetorically.

Sam shrugged his shoulders. The queen’s suggestion seemed a reach.

“What do they want?” she asked.

“Our help,” he replied, “to find a monster of that has plagued them across fractime. It has taken Miri’s sister and Lars’ wife.”

Sam noticed the queen stiffen at the mention of the women. “Another coincidence?” he asked and guessing she also made the weak connection to the Laiths.

“You personally will offer them full cooperation,” she said ignoring his question, “thus provide whatever resources available. I will leave disclosure of Family details to your discretion. Far too many coincidences lately to worry about secrets or family canon.”

The queen’s decision shook Sam. He had expected her to assign another middle brother or sister to help them find this monster and the unprecedented admission of Family details to other travelers disturbed him. He wondered if her illness was affecting her mentally. Besides, how was he supposed to help Lars and Miri as well as find Mick and his possible abductors?

“And Draconous?” she asked.

“He is researching a scroll recovered from the deep archives that may have bearing on Mick’s disappearance,” he replied. “I am expecting an update at any moment.”

“And Ces?” she asked.

He raised his eyebrows. The queen did not usually intrude into personal lives of her family. “She is exceptional,” he replied.

“I would like to see her,” she said weakly. “After Mick’s return we must make time.”

“Of course,” Sam said as the queen turned back to the celestial view from the tower.

“You’re very special to Mick,” the queen said. “And it’s not the unusual lack of melanocytes you both uniquely share,” she added turning back to him briefly to give him a youthful wink.

“You know I love him as my father,” Sam said, again surprised by the private path his queen took their conversation.

“Good bye, Sam,” she said through a feeble smile. “I fear there may be a connection between our fellow travelers quest and Mick’s disappearance.”

He stared into her still bright violet eyes for an instant hoping to understand such an enormous intuitive leap.

“Much is resting on your success in these matters,” she added in a weakening, horse whisper.

“By your leave,” Sam said and then touched the control on his TD.

 

Luc was waiting for him when he arrived back in the Citadels ingress station.

“I assumed you would translate directly to the Breeze,” the AI said.

“Please have Doctor Fanua attend to our queen,” Sam said with satisfaction that he had caught the AI unaware.

“The good doctor is already in attendance,” Luc said. “I share your concern,” the AI added sincerely. “But since your last visit, I believe she has found new, inner strength. I believe her duration will lengthen significantly.”

Sam reached out and grasped Luc’s shoulder. “I hope you’re right and I know she’s in loving hands,” Sam said sympathetically before again touching the activator on his TD.

RefPlane +1, 17 June 1984

Sam reappeared behind The Machine next to Sara and continued to fill his mug. “Refill?” he asked Lars and Miri, both out of sight on the other side of The Machine then raised both eyebrows to Sara before whispering to her ear, “Our queen wants no secrets.”

Her face flashed a brief air of disbelief before she subtly nodded acknowledgement.

“The answer to Miri’s question will probably take a while,” he added as he heard both Lars and Miri’s set their empty coffee mugs on the bar.

“Maybe we should provide some back ground,” Sam said with a subtle sigh while moving out from behind The Machine to collect their empty mugs. “A cyborg race destroyed Auriane, our planet of genetic origin over two centuries ago,” he said.

"Based on the current earth calendar- Breeze time," Sara clarified. "Our home planet was located somewhere in the outer Delta Quadrant," she added cautiously looking at Sam.

Miri wrought a low, long whistle.

Sam nodded to Sara then said, “We believe there are more survivors scattered across the universe, but our common ancestor appeared on Earth in the late Iron Age.”

“You are over two thousand years old?” Miri asked.

“No,” Sara replied. “Sam and I were born before the first millennium and as missions take us throughout fractime our duration differs greatly from the current calendar.”

“Sara and I have durations of just over three hundred years,” Sam said.

Miri duplicated his previous whistle.

Lars looked at Sam as he took a sip of coffee. “I’m just a kid in my thirties. I’m afraid that’s just a guess to my exact duration.”

“How do you keep up with the time?” Miri asked Sam and Sara.

“We have a Family clock that keeps up with each family member,” Sam replied, “well, second generation, like Sara and I anyways.”

“The clock also provides a critical reference frame,” Sara added.

Lars nodded.

“We avoid the past if at all possible as small changes can have a future impact,” Sam said. “We are not always successful,” he added.

“What exactly is your past?” Lars asked.

Sam smiled knowing Lars’ intellect. “With respect to traveling upline from the distant past,” Sam said, “there is a subtle divergence of similarity between fractimes that begins with Earth’s agricultural revolution.”

“And is significant by the latest stages of the planet’s urbanization,” Miri said.

“We take great efforts in capturing similarity data between fractimes to analyze this divergence, natural or otherwise,” Sara added.

“Conversely,” Sam said, “traveling downline this divergence appears as a convergence and what lies beyond, we consider the true past as dissimilarity between fractimes further downline is insignificant.”

“We’ve seen this,” Miri said. “Fractimes can be very different in the future.”

“We know the Time Corps has a great interest in preserving similarity of pre-divergent fractimes,” Lars said but offered no further explanation as Miri quickly took a sip of coffee.

“We have an allegiance of sorts with the Confederation of Planets,” Sara said, “and specifically with the far-future Time Corps,” she added.

“We have had joint missions that the TC has insisted on commanding,” Sam explained, “but those are rare. We mostly pass on information on similarity anomalies.”

“The TC can be very bureaucratic,” Sara said with a hint of distain and receiving a nod from Miri. “Our own Family missions are prioritized with respect to specific instances of meddling surrounding the Reference Plane that also may have considerable social consequences,” she added.

Lars said, “Your technology is obviously advanced.”

“But it has its limits,” Sara said.

“And confidential,” Sam added quickly, ignoring the queen’s orders.

“Of course,” Lars said.

“Our taniwha must have sent your meddling meter off scale,” Miri said after a sip of steaming coffee.

“The O’Shanley’s incident was obviously momentous. But meddling can be masked by simultaneous events across many fractimes,” Sam said.

“And even the Family does not have the resources to monitor all of fractime,” Sara said. “Even in our home similarity sector, we only regularly follow a few fractimes closely.”

“You know of the destruction looming in distant upline?” Lars asked.

"The TC has kept us informed," Sam said breaking the strictest of family rules- providing future information to the past.

“And we are preparing,” Sara said solemnly.

“Hopefully that distant war has no bearing on what brings us together,” Sam said.

Lars sat back in his bar stool and turned his face to the sun. “I hope you are correct Sam,” he said slowly and while exchanging sideways glances with the Breeze’s parrot that was clearly growing agitated on top its perch.

“You said your family could have a connection to Helen and Tui’s abduction,” Miri said.

Sam sighed just as Barney let loose a feather-splitting squawk.

Chapter -7

RefPlane +1, 17 June 1984

“Drac!” Sara said rushing to the side of the Breeze’s pool and then diving in.

She pulled the coughing historian to the surface and then gently pushed him toward the nearest ladder.

“Good work, Hon,” Sam said with a chuckle as Sara climbed out of the pool after Drac.

“Java with three sugars, please,” Drac asked of Sam as he adjusted his dripping lime green waistcoat while smiling at The Machine on the bar.

“Draconous,” Sam said, “these are the fellow travelers, Lars and Miri.”

“Good to meet another Family member,” Lars said kindly while slipping of his bar to greet Drac.

“Choice,” Miri said heartily shaking Drac’s hand.

“Never amazes me to find travelers speaking twenty-sixth century confederation basic even with the most curious of preserved idioms,” Drac said looking at Miri. “It’s virtually unchanged from the twentieth century English you know,” he added.

“Miri has studied extensively across fractime,” Lars explained as Miri shyly looked into his remaining coffee. “He has obtained several PhDs in New Zealand as well as elsewhere during the twentieth century and beyond.”

“I guess I just like learning,” Miri said to his coffee.

“Most admirable,” Drac said.

“You’ve been briefed?” Sam asked Drac.

“Of course,” he replied. “The queen has taken a keen interest in our new friends. And these are a couple of kind faces,” he added studying Lars and then Miri’s face.

“Ces is expecting you,” Sara said. “But be stern, we have much to discuss and you should find another of your suits in the guest bedroom. I know you like orange this time of year,” she added with a smile.

“Then please excuse me while I put on something more suitable,” Drac told them quickly with a big smile as he left.

Sam eyed the overhead sun. “Time for a beer?” he asked with a sigh knowing it may be a while before Drac could extract himself from Ces.

Sam was glad the Breeze was empty. The local Kingfish tournament had just finished. And they were closing the Breeze starting Monday for refurbishment of the remaining three cottages for O’Shanley’s regulars following the way of life revolving around a Family bar. It was not unheard of to pick up dedicated followers during a long mission. In fact, they were often critical assets and idea generators and the Family spared what resources it could to help them.

“Negra Modelo?” Lars asked.

“A Modelo sounds great,” Miri added while studying Barney, now strutting side-to-side as he vigorously head bobbed atop the barbeque.

“Cuatro cervezas coming up,” Sara replied as Sam gave her a quick nod. “But first, I’ll just check that our historian doesn’t get held up too long by Ces,” she added as she bypassed the bar’s beer refrigerator to follow Drac.

“Mick is missing,” Sam said stoically while watching his partner walk into their home and then smiled. They had been together over two hundred years and he still could not help himself.

“The fuckin’ taniwha?” Miri asked somehow mimicking the queen’s suspicions.

“We don’t know it and the ghoul at O’Shanley’s are one in the same,” Lars said. “But if they are, maybe we can help you find Mick. Pool our resources.”

Sam studied Lars’ face.

“Trust is a rare commodity among travelers,” Lars said looking Sam in the eye.

Sam sighed looking at Lars’ translation device on the bar.

“Miri did the scroll work,” Lars said seeing Sam studying his TD.

“It’s beautiful and similar to your ink,” Sam said referring to the swirl tattoo on Lars’ left forearm.

“Not my work,” Miri added. “We think it’s the galaxy.”

"My parents died in freak accident," Lars explained, "when I was barely one-year old. My new mother's gave me a new name- their interpretation of the swirl."

“Makes sense,” Sam said. “And just four controls,” he added after gently raising the watch’s cover.

“Don’t let its apparent simplicity fool you,” Miri said. “There are complex activation sequences for many applications.”

“Comparing your toys?” Sara asked with a smirk as she arrived with four beers from the bar’s chiller.

“I have the default set to follow,” Lars continued, “at a small negative temporal disparity, any translation that takes place in its vicinity.”

“The beast chaser default,” Miri explained.

Sam resisted the temptation to pry further and instead pulled his TD from his cargo short’s pocket and placed it next to Lars’ timepiece.

The advanced TD was dark green and rectangular about the same size as a deck of cards. Only Sam and Sara’s triple helix DNA and thoughts could activate its controls.

“Although my family also tends to be very artistic,” Sam said as Drac returned, “this is what amounts to a military spec device.”

“Lars, your timepiece is particularly beautiful,” Drac said gently nudging Sam aside to get a better look at the timepiece.

“Miri is the engraver,” Lars said.

“Hand work? Extraordinary,” Drac said in awe.

“Draconous, your coffee is coming up,” Sara said as she made several quick inputs to The Machine.

Drac smiled. “Ah, one of life’s huge pleas—

“Mom, Dad, I smell something bad!” Ces called out from the house. “Is uncle Drac with you?” she asked cautiously.

“Yes,” Sam yelled back.

“Ces?” Sara called out worriedly, still behind the machine.

“What’s the red glow surrounding your TD, Sam,” Lars asked cautiously just as Barney shrieked.

“Shit!” Sam said, quickly reaching across the bar to bring Sara into the necessary proximity for an imminent defensive translation.

 

RefPlane, 17 June 1984

“Fuck!” Sam yelled, echoing through the Pruchlais. His TD’s defensive routine had made the emergency translation to the subterranean complex.

“Where are we?” Miri asked looking around the caves ingress station at the delicately deformed strata surrounding them.

“More importantly, where are Sara and Ces?” Drac asked.

“Sam?” Lars asked cautiously.

“We’re not in danger,” Sam replied straining not to show the panic raising in him while picking his TD up from the fine-grained sandstone floor. The device’s display glowed subtly green. “We are in a Family safe site,” he added.

Sam saw anguish in Drac’s eyes that came close to matching his own feelings. “I need to check the monitors,” Sam said as he touched his TD to display a feed from the post’s temporal monitors.

“There were two translations at the Breeze following Drac’s arrival earlier,” he said, “but it should be safe now.”

“Two? Very curious,” Drac muttered.

“We are going back with you.” Lars said and getting a nod from Miri.

“We must return now. The temporal consequences of our unexpected existence here cannot be predicted.” Drac said looking around fearfully.

Sam nodded then activated his TD.

 

RefPlane +1, 17 June 1984

They appeared across the street from the Breeze.

“The place is still there,” Miri said with relief while watching Barney fly in high circles over the enclave.

“Unlike O’Shanley’s,” Drac muttered as they rushed into the Breeze’s courtyard.

“Sara! Ces!” Sam called out as they neared the bar.

There was no response.

“My watch is gone,” Lars said angrily while scanning the rest of the bar as Sam ran to check the house.

“Nothing,” Sam said returning, “except the remnants of the stench Ces mentioned.”

“The beast?” Miri asked.

“Definitely most likely,” Drac said pulling his orange waistcoat down tight over his not-so-subtle potbelly. “Sam, we must not rush. You know the protocols,” he added.

“Fuck protocols,” Sam whispered sitting heavily on the nearest stool and downing the nearest beer.

“Oh my. Now this is most unbelievable,” Drac said noticing Lars rubbing his thumb nervously over the wedge-shaped greenstone pendant hanging from his neck. “May I?” Drac asked reaching for the stone.

Lars pulled the black cord over his head and handed the stone to the historian.

“Could this be one of the three?” Drac asked in wonder while pulling a small magnifying lens from a waistcoat pocket to study the stone in detail.

“Three what?” Sam asked sharply.

“It is one of the three segments of the Timestone,” Drac replied enthralled while staring through his lens.

“Not that old myth.” Sam said with a subtle moan.

“Never heard of it,” Miri added.

“Hardly myth based on the data recovered from the scroll and the hint Mick left,” Drac said.

Sam looked to Lars then Miri. “Mick left a note saying he had gone to Hell.”

“Our only clue,” Drac added.

“So,” Sam continued after taking a deep breath, still trying to calm himself, “A search of Family archives produced an old scroll that we thought could shed some light on Hell.”

Miri chuckled.

“First a bit of history,” Drac injected. “Put simply, a genetic flaw is thought to have produced a horrendous illness in our family.”

“However,” Sam said, “the afflicted believe the condition is caused somehow by the Mór, a fabled omnipotent race inhabiting the innermost reaches of our galaxy.”

“The Lár?” Miri asked.

“The same,” Drac replied.

“Shit,” Lars mumbled into his beer.

"An uncontrollable change occurs in about thirty percent of the Family," Drac continued. "This change can transform the afflicted into frightening beings such as demons, ghosts, ghouls- most anything reflected in the horror-filled, religious culture of the first millennium. Of course, centered on a domain called Hell."

“The majority are exceptions,” Sara said looking fondly at Drac. “Most transformations can be into quite gentle, caring and insightful beings.”

“Or just mischievous,” Sam said knowing even the mostly limited translation skills Laiths could be a real problem.

“In fact,” Drac continued, “our best guess as to the cause of this change in the Family’s second generation is the first nightmares in early childhood. In most, this change becomes permanent within a short time. Thankfully, I appear to be a rare exception.”

“We call those with the condition Laiths,” Sam said, “and the worst affected have a sexual obsession regarding Solarian and Family females.”

Miri appeared deep in thought and shook his head.

“So you think,” Lars said after a long swig of beer, “that there’s a connection between the ghoul that destroy O’Shanley’s, the message Mick left behind as well as Ces and Sara’s disappearance?”

Drac nodded as he handed the greenstone pendant back to Lars.

“How does this Timestone fit in?” Miri asked.

“A few recovered data segments of the scroll Sam and I analyzed indicate the Timestone is the key needed to pass through the tree into the Mandorla. An overlap between our existence and somewhere else.”

“And that, I would venture to guess, would be Mick’s Hell,” Sam said.

“Yes, a definite possibility,” Drac said.

“The tree?” Miri asked.

“The tree of life, my boy” Drac replied.

“And beyond this Mandorla is where this breast could be holding Helen and Tui?” Lars asked.

“And hopefully,” Drac said, “Sara and Ces.”

“Our first true lead to getting our women back, bro,” Miri said excitedly to Lars.

“But how did Arapeta come by this?” Lars asked Miri.

“It’s been taogna forever, bro,” Miri said. “The elders pass its story down in song.”

“I remember,” Lars said reflectively. “It was supposedly given to the tribe for safekeeping by spirits from the west. I always thought it was just another piece of scared greenstone.”

Sam watched as Barney flared a soft landing on the barbeque. “The other segments of this Timestone?” he asked Drac.

Drac shrugged his shoulders. “Cross-referencing several key parts of the scroll indicates two places of potential interest: a planet called TarTarus and Fauth produce probability spikes within the continuum.”

Sam groaned at the mention of the Laith city, Fauth, found in the galactic Outer Fringe. Apart from the Family sanctuary, the planetoid had become a home to free Laiths that regularly spawned, degraded duplicates. There were just too many to care properly for on Trua and countless souls had immigrated to Fauth. For many it was home even though it was overflowing with what humanity would call true sin.

“TarTarus is the Greek underworld,” Miri said. “The planet could be known as Hell.”

“And also figures into early Family myth regarding the line of Watchers,” Drac added.

Sam knew the Watchers, supposedly mystical beings banished from fractime, predated the first generation. Banished by whom and for what reasons were lost to time, but somehow connected to the Family.

“As in the biblical Watchers?” Miri asked.

Drac shrugged his shoulders nervously.

“We should just go back and get Sara and Ces before the beast arrives,” Lars said.

“You could,” Sam said, “if we still had your TD. Unfortunately, mine won’t influence my timeline.”

“It’s inherent in any Family TD,” Drac explained.

Sam knew exceptions were rare but he suspected Mick somehow had bent the rules before using the Turas Luath. Even so, Sam made a few quick inputs to his TD and then touched the device’s activation control. “See,” he said before finishing off the last of his beer.

“That’s a bit of a restraint for travelers,” Miri said, “but understandable,” he added with a sigh and glance at Lars.

“So what’s the plan?” Lars asked.

“There is more research required on the scrolls’ recovered data and I have some ideas on a few other searches in the deep archives,” Drac said. “But I could use some help,” he added looking to Miri.

“Sounds intriguing,” Miri said happily.

“Sounds like we are going off planet,” Sam said to Lars.

“TarTarus or Fauth first?” Lars asked.

“Fauth seems more likely to provide some answers than some mythical planet,” Sam said feeling a severe need to do something now while trying to hide a subtle tremble in his hands.

“Oh, TarTarus is real enough,” Drac said. “I have partial galactic coordinates from the scroll. It is located just outside the inhabitable zone of the inner galaxy. The exact coordinates should be able to be refined with further analyses and comparison to other citations.”

Sam frowned. “Have Luc relay translation parameters to Fauth to my TD upon your arrival at the Citadel,” he told Drac. “And TarTarus when you have them,” he added with a sigh as he slid off his bar stool.

“I have a contact on Fauth,” Drac said, “so I’ll ensure the translation terminates near their location.”

“What is the contact’s name?” Sam asked. “And can we trust them?”

“Silho,” Drac said, “Just don’t leave the House as it may take time for you to find each other. And yes, I would trust her with the fate of the universe.”

Sam moaned. The Laith-run House was notorious for debauchery. Besides Laiths, it sported diverse alien species and fringe elements of humanity. A hundred and fifty years ago, he would not have flinched at such a mission. He took a deep, deliberate breath knowing he had to find Sara and Ces.

“Ready?” Drac said ignoring Sam while looking to Miri.

“Anytime historian,” Miri replied as Drac reached out and grasped the Māori’s shoulder before they both disappeared.

“Have you ever been to Fauth?” Sam asked Lars while recovering a small daypack from behind the bar.

“Never,” he said slowly eying Barney flapping his wings hard enough to lose several feathers.

“Nevermore! Nevermore!” the Amazon squawked.

 

Null Space

Mick sighed as he nestled down into in the monk’s worn, leather wingback chair. Armaros had always insisted Mick sit on a wooden, three-legged stool when they had any serious topics to discuss. He scanned the chamber but it was missing. It was not surprising as it had been centuries since their last long chat.

With help from Armaros’ AI, he had managed to replace all the books and data stores, to their rightful places on the bookshelves. The chore had helped take his mind off his situation.

It annoyed him that he lacked a precise sense of duration and could only guess it had been several days since his arrival. There should have been a mission plan filed as he had convinced the council to enact that among other standard mission protocols ages ago. He knew Clare would never let this one go and shook his head recalling the subtle attempt at humor with the simple note. Nevertheless, the note represented a glimmer of hope for rescue. However, when was a great unknown and he preferred not to think of the worst case-scenario.

Instead, Mick had resigned himself to catch up on some reading. He had already selected a reading list of books during the libraries reorganization that could shed some light on the tight spot in which he found himself. He knew which work would be first.

Armaros was always fond of simple illusions and the solitary book left on the shelves after the attack was a prime example. It now lie on a small table to the right of the chair next to a steaming cup of green tea the AI had just delivered. He had met the author briefly on an innocuous mission a few hundred years ago. He had never read the classic but that was about to change.

Glancing at the steaming cup of tea, Mick was thankful the monk’s replicator and AI, both useless in all but the most basic tasks, still functioned. He would not starve even though the replicator’s menu was quite plain. He wished for an Irish whiskey as he gazed at the book.

He picked it up, announcing the title aloud to the other books, “The origin of species by means of natural selection or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life.”

Chapter -6

RefPlane, Planetoid Fauth

The stench of sulfur mixed with pungent smoke from a nearby group of patron’s elaborate hookah surrounded Sam and Lars as they arrived at the House. They found a voluptuous woman of small stature sitting cross-legged on the reception desk of the House.

“Jeez,” Lars said quickly turning his head.

The view under her short, green skirt caused Sam quickly to focus on a small monkey swaying side to side on her right shoulder.

“Uncubu, it’s been a long time,” Sam said while battling a stare back from the primate. “See Lars,” Sam added over this shoulder, “a majority afflicted by the change are not walking horror stories or insane.”

“That’s kind of subjective,” Lars replied studying the intricate Celtic patterns comprising the ornate ceiling of the House.

“We all have our peculiarities,” Sam said with a smile and subtle nod to the madam.

Lars stammered after another regrettable glimpse, “I never knew there were female, ah—

“Leprechauns,” Sam injected. “Just be glad she’s not a cluricaun; they’re big trouble in a bar,” he added to a blank stare from the madam.

The Leprechaun slid off the front of the registration desk then adjusted her large, bare bosoms beneath the suspenders holding up her too short skirt. She then frowned as she glanced at Lars then stared up at Sam.

“It’s Sam,” Sam told her emphatically and relieved that she had finally decided to abandon the top of the House’s front desk.

“Sammy!” she exclaimed in recognition just as the small monkey screeched at Lars. “Didn’t recognize you without the beard,” she added ignoring the creature now atop her head, secured by two, handfuls of coarse, red hair. “How’s Sara?” she asked and then added, “Terrible news about O’Shanley’s but I’m glad to hear the Machine is safe.”

“News travels fast,” Lars whispered behind Sam’s back.

“Sara is missing,” Sam told the madam while trying to ignore the monkey’s series of bizarre facial contortions directed at him.

“More terrible news,” she said thoughtfully. “Lots of Laith traffic through here lately, especially demon forms. Think there could be a connection?” she added touching the side of her nose with a stubby index finger.

“That’s why we’re here,” Sam said. “Boo, let me introduce Lars.”

“Does he have a last name?” she asked looking up at Sam’s lanky companion then down to his crotch at eye level.

“Not one that matters, madam,” Lars replied politely just before the monkey shrieked again as it bounded onto her left shoulder.

“Don’t mind Jué,” she said. “Poor thing hates men,” she added with a wink at Lars before she turned and jumped on the desk to grab the register.

The resulting aft view of the leprechaun made Sam shutter as he heard Lars gasp.

“It’s the beginning of tourist season,” she said while sliding off the desk. “But we should have accommodation. No extra’s, if I remember correctly,” she added flipping through the register.

“Hopefully we won’t need to stay that long,” Sam said with a sigh.

“Extras?” Lars whispered.

“Don’t ask,” Sam replied deadpan.

“We’re looking for Silho,” Lars said. “Have you seen her?”

“I wouldn’t be expectin’ her tonight,” Boo said. “But I’ll tell her you’r—

“Is the dungeon open?” a dark wisp in roughly humanoid form interrupted. “So sorry Boo,” it added sheepishly after noticing Sam and Lars.

“It’s Wednesday night, organic night,” Boo said. “No mechs, ghosts, pookas or other intangibles, including sentient wisps. Besides, there’s a high-stakes, speed poker tournament starting down there. Invitation only. Sorry, you know the rules,” she added kindly as she pointed her small thumb over her shoulder at the door.

“Be thankful we arrived tonight,” Sam whispered to Lars as the wisp did not bother to open the door but flowed outward, vanishing through the door’s tired fit within its jam.

“We probably need to thank Drac for that,” Lars muttered now studying the Celtic knots in the House’s carpet.

“Drinks are still free to travelers,” Boo said pointing across the crowded parlor to the bar.

“Thanks,” Sam said, feeling the need for whiskey.

“Most gracious,” Lars said as he scanned the depths of the House. “And a most unusual crowd,” he added turning his attention to the bar.

Patrons crowded along the extensive bar included vampires, sirens, satyrs, imps, elves as well as two zombies and one large centaur. Interspersed with the not so mythical creatures were a few humanoids of various alien races. An obviously frustrated grogoch behind the bar was trying to serve the demanding customers.

Sam saw more patrons loitering on the staircases flanking the bar that led up to private, group and novelty rooms. He recalled the archway behind the bartender led to administrative offices and a security center.

“Organic night is popular,” Sam said.

“Very,” Lars replied and then gulped as he tapped Sam on the shoulder to get his attention.

“Hi Sammy,” a beautiful female vampire said.

“Blemmyes,” Sam said turning around. “How’s business? And this is Lars.”

“Always good to meet a friend of Sammy’s,” she said before baring her fangs in a smile of sorts while examining Lars’ neck. “And business is always good; not that you’d know,” she added with a sigh.

“Have you seen a Laith called Silho?” Sam asked.

“Does one ever really see her?” Blemmyes asked inspecting her impeccable blood-red fingernail polish. “Its organic night, so good luck finding that bimbo, Sammy,” she added while coyly wrapping several strands of her flame, red hair around her left index finger.

Ink covered her entire body, only her face remained pure, porcelain white. She licked her lips staring at Lars.

“I like you tattoos,” Lars said with contrived composure.

“They are not tattoos. Don’t call them that,” Blemmyes said scornfully while twisting the strands of hair to breaking point. “They’re skin illustrations,” she added harshly, pulling out a small clump of hair.

“Oh boy,” Sam muttered.

“Of course,” Lars said nervously. “Skin illustrations. Very beautiful.”

“Philistine,” she disdainfully proclaimed at Lars just before morphing into a large bat and flittering agilely between patrons and up the left stairway.

“Temperamental,” Lars said solemnly.

“Long story,” Sam said with a sigh. “We might as well have a drink,” he added looking over at the busy bartender.

“Think they have Guinness?” Lars asked.

“The house has everything including exceptional Guinness,” Sam said with a chuckle and then leaned over the bar and whispered something in ear of the grogoch tending.

Getting a quick nod from the bartender, Sam ducked under the bar’s hatch to help. He then made the first pour of Guinness for Lars then set the pint down behind the bar.

After serving various beers and cocktails to several other patrons, Sam slowly finished filling Lars’ pint of Guinness, producing a rich, creamy head of foam mounding just above the brim of the glass.

Lars took a deep swallow of the dark brew. A big smile followed as he proudly displayed thick remnants of the foam on his upper lip. “This is an Irish pub,” he added slowly as the revelation dawned on him.

“We get around and there’s big business in bars in the right location,” Sam said thankful the crowd around the bar was beginning to thin significantly. “And it seems the Irish side has become a bit over commercialized,” he added handing Lars a bright green bar napkin with a sparkly shamrock in its center.

“Thanks for the help, Sam,” the grogoch said in a thick Scottish brogue. “Can you cover for me for a few more minutes?”

“Sure, Donnan,” Sam replied and gave Lars the daypack he had brought from the Breeze as the grogoch headed through the archway behind the bar.

“What time is it anyways?” Lars asked receiving a chuckle from Donnan before he was out of earshot.

“Good question,” Sam replied. “But one without an answer.”

“Like Vegas then,” Lars said with a nod while absentmindedly rubbing the greenstone around his neck.

“Gaming is on the third floor and best keep that under your shirt,” Sam said quickly scanning the few remaining clients that thankfully ignored them.

“Sorry. It’s getting to be a habit,” Lars said sheepishly as he tucked the pendant under his tunic. “I feel a bit anxious without my watch,” he added.

“I can imagine,” Sam said, knowing how vulnerable he felt without a TD as he poured himself a shot of ancient Bushmills.

“I know this is all very weird,” Lars said. “You and me on a mission after all these years of mainly talking baseball and bullshit.”

“Welcome to the party,” Sam said clinking his shot to his old friend’s beer glass.

“I have a prototype TD in my lab that’s ready for final, field trials,” Lars said. “A gold version. I’d feel better with the flexibility to correct any bad situations after they happen.”

“I could never use it,” Sam said downing his whiskey. “Family rules.”

“But I could,” Lars said with a sly smile.

“Let see how this pans out,” Sam said reluctantly. “But there are good reasons not to impact our own timelines.”

“I know all too well,” Lars said. “Believe me, it’s not something I take lightly.”

“Sam,” the bartender interrupted from the archway, “Your presence is requested in the Hefner room. Thanks again for the help. I owe you.”

“Think it’s our contact?” Lars asked grasping his pint glass still nearly full of dark ale.

“One way to find out,” Sam replied pulling a dingy bar towel from over his shoulder and handing it to the grogoch.

They made their way up the left staircase, now mostly empty of patrons, then along a hallway, stopping at the fourth door on the right. A small, hand-drawn bunny’s head complete with black bow tie roughly centered in middle of the door was all that betrayed their destination.

Lars shrugged his shoulders as Sam guessed the crude sketch was just about the height of Boo’s reach. Sam knocked gently, but not before both stepped to the side of the door.

“Come in,” a sultry female voice said from within as the door slowly swung open.

The source of the voice was not obvious. Just inside the threshold, the gaudiness of the room stopped them as the door closed behind them. A large heart-shaped bed, complete with red, frilly comforter, dominated the room. To one side was a shower stall and bidet. A small bedside table overflowing with various bizarre sex toys for humans and aliens was the only other furnishing.

“Hello,” Sam ventured trying not to stare at the multitude of karma sutra positions covering the red wallpaper over the bed. Then he saw her, or at least her form subtly superimposed on the complexity of the erotica.

“You must be Sam and Lars,” the curvaceous silhouette said.

“And you must be Silho,” Lars said. “Nicely incognito,” he added with a small nod.

“Ambassador Draconous has informed me of your predicament,” she said. “You have a segment. May I see it,” she added while turning two-dimensionally to Lars.

Lars pulled the greenstone from beneath his tunic and showed it to her.

“I thought the last piece was lost forever,” she said wistfully.

Sam said, “It’s my understanding there are three components to the Timestone.”

“Shhhhh,” she hissed sharply. “Do not mention it by name here. And you are correct,” she added as Lars tucked the pendant back beneath his tunic.

“So you know where the other segments are?” Lars asked.

“I believe so,” she said. “They are still joined and are now here on Fauth. However, their true power has been lost to myth. The one that possess the other segments values them as only priceless artifacts.”

“What or who has them?” Sam asked.

“A collector called Eligos,” she replied, “a most evil demon.”

“So how do we obtain them,” Lars said. “I didn’t expect them to be held in a collection.”

“Well there are there obvious options,” Sam said. “We can offer to buy them—

“Impossible,” Silho injected sternly. “Eligos has no interest in money, just rarities and power.”

“Or we can steal them,” Lars said.

Sam sighed.

“Also impossible,” Silho said. “Eligos’ collection is held in an intra-dimensional safe.”

Sam sighed again. “That would complicate things,” he said knowing the usual paranoia of most temporal antiquity collectors as well as dealers.

“Any suggestions?” Lars asked the shadow.

“Poker,” she said flatly. “It’s the only way.”

“What?” Lars asked.

“It’s Eligos’ only weakness,” she explained, “and it seems fate has timed your visit to coincide with the eighty-eighth annual, high-tempo game. Collectors and dealers from across the galaxy should be at the table.”

“What’s the buy-in?” Sam asked nervously.

“Anything deemed of high enough value by the moderators,” she replied, “and the standards are extreme. Eligos should use the segments as his buy-in just to show off. He’s done it before.”

“What exactly is this speedy poker?” Lars asked.

“Kinda like Russian roulette but more painful,” Silho said.

“What do we have?” Sam asked.

“Draconous has already provided a cover as well as your buy-in,” Silho said. “There,” she added as the shadow of her index finger extended around two corners of the room before pointing at a small box behind them next to the door.

Sam placed the box on the bed, released its simple latch and gently lifted the lid as the boxes ancient hinges subtly squeaked.

“Shit,” Sam said seeing the box’s content as Lars leaned over to get a closer look. “This is the buy-in?” Sam asked Silho in disbelief.

“It that what it looks like?” Lars asked.

“Yup,” Sam said while gently lifting the plain, unadorned wooden chalice from the form-fitted, padded interior of the box. “The Family heirloom,” he said as the cup glowed softly around its smooth edges as he held it. “Mick knew the turner,” he added while shaking his head.

“What?” Lars asked incredulously.

“It been out of Mick’s museum and on display in the queen’s reception,” Sam said. “Drac has taken an enormous risk in borrowing it,” he added then sighed as he pushed his fingers through his short, hair.

“He must have time-snatched it,” Lars said with a chuckle.

Sam wondered if borrowing things, only to return them to the owner a millisecond later, was common practice for his friend.

“A demon’s dream acquisition,” Silho said breaking Sam’s thought. “Not that its power would do it any good, but owing it would bring much influence.”

“I don’t know about this,” Lars said. “What if we lose?”

“We can’t,” Sam said, “for the women’ sake as well as the power balance in surrounding fractimes.”

“Lars will be your second and can accompany you near tableside,” she told Sam.

“I do have an excellent knowledge of statistics as well as an exceptional memory,” Lars said warily.

“Draconous also provided a simple disguise,” she said pointing to a old baseball hat and a pair of mirror sunglasses on a hook on the back of the door. “It should prove effective as your competitors will be focused on discovering any tells.”

Sam smiled as he instantly recognized the hats logo; it was a Pirates cap.

“And our cover?” Lars asked.

“Two independent travelers, treasure hunters, that recently discovered a Nazi horde including the relic in the box,” she said. “Its value will be obvious to the moderators regarding your ad hoc request to enter the game.”

“And they will know what this represents?” Lars asked gazing at the cup.

“Absolutely,” Silho replied earnestly. “Registration is about to close down in the dungeon, so you both should hurry,” she added.

 

Sam’s last-minute buy-in delighted the game’s moderators and the crowd swelled around his table expecting the deal for the first of two rounds of the tournament.

As an official explained the rules to Lars, Sam noted there were six tables with six chairs each arrayed in a large circle in the smoky dungeon. The tables’ winners would take a seat at a final table, which stood empty on a small stage in the center of the other tables.

One seat, besides his was still empty at the first-round tables; he guessed it had to be Eligos’ as the only other demons had a subservient look about them. Lars thought they were only proxies and Sam agreed.

Settling into his chair, Sam pulled the brim of the Pirates cap down a bit more as he nervously fiddled with one of the 1000 plain, green chips he had earned with the chalice. He sighed as Lars told him the game was pot-limit Galaxy Hold ‘em. It was a variant of Texas Hold ‘em with three hole cards and the player’s choice, discarded prior to the river.

“This should be quick,” Lars added, “as single denomination chips are most unusual.”

“Merciful might be more apt,” Sam said, thinking the House’s demon stench control could be a bit better.

“The house deals and the blinds escalate fast but there’re only four levels in the first round,” Lars continued while reading the schedule from a pad one of the moderators had provided. “There’s a one-time re-buy in either round,” he added, “not that we have anything now to use to get back in. The table winner in the first round gets to choose one buy-in from the losers. The rest goes to the House. The final round winner gets all of the final round loser’s previous winnings.

“Fair enough,” Sam said.

"Here's the mandatory blind schedule," Lars said. "If you don’t have the chips for any blind- you're out," he added handing Sam the pad.

“Agrona, this is going to be fast not to mention cutthroat.” Sam said. “We’ll need to size up our opponents fast,” he added while studying the others at the table from behind his sunglasses.

He immediately decided to call the three weasel-faced demons sitting to this left the Three Stooges. Next to them sat a three-eyed beast with long, delicate blue fur- Big Blue. He didn't recognize the species of a humanoid alien hissing through a breather on his right and decided to name him Snake.

“Oh yeah, don’t cheat, nasty consequences,” Lars said. “Ah, this must be Eligos,” he added whispering in Sam’s ear.

A small entourage accompanied a tall, handsome red-skinned devil to an adjacent table. He wore an impeccable, crimson sequined, three-piece suit from which a thin, deep red, forked tail emerged. Two pale, small horns flanked his high forehead in contrast to jet-black, long hair, and waxed goatee that he stroked as he glanced briefly at Sam before taking a seat.

“Good luck,” Sam said to the others at the table over the hiss of the breather beside him but received no reply.

Sam could tell the sequins on Eligos’ expertly tailored suit irritated Donnan as he ripple shuffled three times, strip shuffled once, and then rippled once more. Squinting from the sequins, he placed a green cut card in the center of the table then put about half the cards on top of it. He then added the rest of the deck to the pile before placing the deal button next to Sam.

“Bad luck there,” Lars, leaning forward in his seat, said in Sam’s ear, “those demons get to pay the low-value blinds. So, by the time the expensive blind gets around to you, we will have to have taken at least one player out.”

Less than a dozen hands then I can get Sara back, Sam thought as he pushed the sunglasses tight against his nose. He took a deep breath as the dealer burned the first card then dealt three-facedown cards to each player starting with Moe, the demon to Sam’s left.

This first hand was over quickly as players were obviously buying precious time to analyze their opponents. The hand ended with the Big Blue taking the blinds as well as several hundred chips from two of the stooges. Sam had a pair of three’s with jack high after the flop and folded with Snake.

Before the next hand, the dealer moved the deal button to the heavily tattooed stooge, Moe. This forced Larry and Curly to make the small and big blinds.

Sam took another deep breath as Big Blue bet two hundred and fifty chips pre-flop.

Snake called.

Sam spread and lifted the right corners of three cards stacked in front of him to disclose their values: the nine and deuce of hearts and the nine of clubs. He pushed chips to match the big blind as well as two hundred-fifty chips into the pot.

Moe folded as Larry and Curly called.

The dealer burned a card then dealt the face-up flop: the six and queen of hearts and the king of spades.

Sam knew a rough flush was possible with two more cards to go and possibly a winning hand by the look of the sad flop.

Big Blue checked, as did Sam after Snake folded.

Larry, a bright green-skinned imp, giggled as he pushed a hundred-count stack into the growing pot followed by Curly.

Sam knew he probably would have to beat at least a three-of-a-kind as he followed Big Blue adding a stack matching the imp’s to the pot.

The dealer burnt another card then dealt the turn: the nine of spades.

It was the best Sam could hope for but still probably not enough for a win.

Big Blue took a few minutes to check and that gave Sam time to consider his cards. He knew exactly the unlikely possibility of a heart flush and his three nines did not stack up too well against a three-of-a-kind with any of the two face cards on the table. He checked knowing Larry would bet.

“Two hundred,” Larry announced in a gleeful, shrill voice as his delicate hands shakily pushed two stacks of chips into the pot.

Sam smiled at the demon’s lack of control.

Curly grinned, showing a mouth full of chiseled teeth then said, “All in.”

Sam watched Big Blue’s fine fur gently wave in the drafty dungeon. The creature was taking his time again. Sam figured it was considering backing out as Big Blue folded. It was now just Sam and the two minor demons.

The problem was Sam hated the luck that had given him a sucker’s hand and he was about to pay a killer big blind for a hand that probably would be worse.

Sam turned his head to Larry knowing the demon could not see his eyes behind the sunglasses.

“Call,” Sam said while pushing matching stacks into the pot.

“You’ve got to be joking,” Lars whispered nonchalantly in Sam’s ear.

Larry’s green skin grew subtly paler as he uneasily followed suit.

“Pot’s right,” the dealer said. “Please discard a hole card,” he added looking at Larry.

The demon flipped the king of clubs face up into the pot as he bared brown, pointed teeth in what Sam took for a smile.

Head games, Sam thought at the demon’s risk of revealing such a high hole card.

Also against protocol, Curly laid the eight of hearts gently on the mound of chips in the center of the table.

The dealer gave a subtle nod to Sam.

Sam flicked his deuce in the hole, face down, into the center of the table.

The dealer burned another card and then dealt the river.

Sam heard Lars exhale subtly as the nine of diamonds fell in to line with the rest of the cards next to the pile of chips.

Larry’s demeanor changed abruptly. It stared at its chips then to the large pot; only a barrage of guttural Scottish obscenities from Donnan brought him back to the present. “Straight, King high,” it said flipping his remaining hole cards, a jack and ten, and then looked expectantly at the demon next to him.

Curly smiled evilly at him as he turned over his hole cards: a pair of kings giving him a full house.

A startled Larry disappeared in a puff of putrid green smoke.

“Recalled,” Snake hissed through his breather then chuckled.

The dealer looked to Sam.

“Four nines,” Sam said flipping his hole cards over one at a time.

Curly imploded just as Sam revealed the last nine and Snake chuckled again.

“Shit, those were big hands so early,” Lars said as Sam pulled the stacks of chips to him.

Sam could not believe his luck as he pushed his big blind to the center of the table and the dealer pushed the deal button to Big Blue.

Donnan shuffled then dealt hole cards to the remaining players.

Sam peaked at his cards; he had a pair of aces and the seven of clubs, a decent hand.

Blue called and matched the big blind as did Snake.

“Pot’s right,” the dealer said as he dealt the flop: the queen of diamonds, and the three and jack of spades.

Big Blue fiddled with a few of his remaining chips then said, “All in.”

The crowd surrounding the table gasped.

“Call,” Snake said quickly.

Sam had no alternative. “Call,” he said pushing the required stacks into the pot. Even if he lost, he still would be significantly ahead to last another hand.

Sam looked at Big Blue. If he was nervous, it was impossible to tell.

Shit, Sam thought, as the dealer dealt the turn. It was the four of clubs.

“Please, the discard,” the dealer directed the players.

Big Blue pushed one of his hole cards into the middle of the table.

Snake did likewise as Sam added his seven of clubs to the other discards with a subtle exhale.

“The river,” the dealer said as he dealt the last card: jack of diamonds.

Sam sat motionless waiting for Snake to show his hole cards. It seemed the rhythm of his breather’s hissing quickened as he turned over another queen and three.

Sam quickly turned over his pair of aces and with the two common jacks, his hand beat Snake’s queens and threes.

Big Blue muttered something incomprehensible as he tossed his cards into the pot face down; he was out of the competition.

“Nicely played,” Lars whispered as Sam pulled his winnings into the stacks in front of him.

Sam glanced over at Eligos. The demon, a large stack of chips in front of him, smiled as two of the players at his table were already out.

Sam counted out his blind and pushed the five hundred chips into the center of the table.

The dealer slid the deal button to Snake and then dealt the hole cards.

Sam took a quick glance at his three cards.

Snake looked over his remaining chips as vapor from his breather swirled above his head.

Sam knew Snake might not meet the next blind and that would be mean disqualification. His opponent needed a good hand or he was out.

“Call,” Snake said and matched Sam’s blind.

The dealer dealt the flop: two threes and the queen of spades.

“All in,” Snake said pushing his remaining chips into the center of the table resulting in most of the crowd surrounding them applauding.

“Call,” Sam said adding chips to the pot to match Snakes all-in.

“Brave,” Lars whispered, “but what choice did he have?”

“Pot’s right,” the dealer said then dealt the turn: the eight of hearts.

“Please, discard prior to the river,” Donnan told them.

Sam sighed as he peaked at his hole cards again. He selected the six of clubs and tossed it onto the pot.

Snake pulled the top card from his hole cards and expertly flipped it on top of Sam’s card.

“Pot’s right,” Donnan repeated as he dealt the river: the ace of spades. “Gentlemen,” he added looking at Sam.

Sam turned his hole cards over revealing the ace and seven of diamonds.

Snake stood up with quick hiss then strode out of the dungeon leaving a trial of vapor.

“A resignation is not a fold,” the dealer said and then turned Snake’s hole cards over – the queen of clubs and ten of hearts.

The win had come down to Sam’s ace in the hole giving him a strong two-pair.

A moderator came and stood behind Sam. “We have the first winner of the first round,” he said.

Sam saw Eligos smirk at the announcement.

“You may now choose your winnings. Chimes will help you,” the moderator added while pointing to a skinny, purple-skinned, reptilian alien seated at small table in a corner next to a large rack of wine kegs.

“Might as well see what we got,” Lars said.

“And another drink would be good,” Sam said.

“Buy the looks of the other tables,” Lars said as they approached the reptile, “we’ll have time to size up the final round winners.”

“Table number?” the female retile asked causing numerous golden bangles and tubes hanging from its long, curved dorsal spikes to chime harmoniously.

“Six,” Lars said.

“Here’s the list,” the alien said in tune to her growing symphony.

It listed each players buy-in as well as its brief description.

The Three Stooges all had various lifetime protection spells of various degrees of specialty.

As Lars eyed Eligos, he said, “Those could come in handy.”

Big Blue’s buy-in was monetary, an even twenty-five million Confederation credits.

“What’s this?” Lars asked pointing to Snake’s buy-in as there was no picture and the description only referred to it as a T-ship.

The reptilian shrugged its four shoulders adding complex layers of shimmering notes to its song currently under composition. She then handed Sam a hard copy specification sheet.

“We’ll take it,” Sam said smiling after reading the specs while listening to the alien’s beautiful melody.

The alien checked a box next to the item on her pad. “Congratulations and no refunds,” she said deadpan as its song slowed only slightly. “You can claim your winnings at space dock six,” it added, tossing a set of hatch keys to Sam. Her opus quickened to a resounding crescendo in seconds then abruptly ended in a gentle fade to silence.

Sam and Lars applauded, receiving a broad smile from the musician.

Chapter -5

Planet Trua

Miri stared down an aisle in the deep archives at its dim vanishing point. “The family has a lot of data,” he said awestruck.

“Most of these archives hold information rescued from our planet of genetic origin, Auriane, in its last moments,” Drac said. “Our first queen made it her mission to find as many historical records and artifacts as possible that had survived the holocaust. It reportedly took her many centuries of searching the galaxy, even so, a few rare additions still turn up now and then,” he added solemnly.

“Amazing,” Miri said casually inspecting a detailed classification sticker of on a nearby trunk.

“We’re in one of the few Sol elements containing hardcopy,” Drac said twirling around. “All time insensitive, of course.”

He pulled a dusty, leather bound book from an old crate. “I think this is it,” he added brushing dust off the cover of the tome, “the Lapidem Temporis.”

“The stone of time,” Miri repeated then coughed.

“You speak Latin,” Drac said.

“I take to languages,” Miri said shyly.

Drac turned to look at the young Maori. “Excellent. Are you versed in any of the Calma dialects?”

“A bit,” he replied. “Mainly technical jargon. Lars and I have relied on their published temporal research for several major upgrades to the watch.”

Drac blew more dust from the book’s jacket before guiding Miri into a chair at a nearby workstation. “See what you can find out about TarTarus,” he said happily taking a seat next to Miri while reaching over to the station to release its security protections.

Miri activated the workstation’s holographic display and quickly brushed his fingers through the screen to find and then enter the Calma research domain.

Drac flipped over several pages of the book. “Hmmm. It is as I remembered. It been ages since I have had a look at this,” he said.

“And?” Miri asked.

“Mainly superficial information,” Drac replied feeling focused on the task before them as he rapidly scanned pages.

“Hey, from my perspective,” Miri said, “anything is better than nothing.”

“Of course,” Drac said apologetically. “You keep digging while I summarize, my good boy. The Time Preceptors first brought the Timestone into this sector sometime in the first galactic epoch.”

“Preceptors?”

“They are secretive, distant sector meddlers. Seemingly not a bad bunch, reportedly having a touch of Mór in their humanoid genetics,” Drac explained.

“Like the Laiths,” Miri added. “But that’s not necessarily bad?”

“History tells us that on Earth,” Drac replied, “and in at least one case, the change can be an incredible good. However, like most things, good also tends to come with equal, if not more than its fair share of malevolence. The change most Laiths endure is benign, like mine that is hideous but I’m still me. Unfortunately, a growing minority of Laiths is not so fortunate and with every spawn it gets worse.”

“And how do sectors fit in to the fractal geometry of the multiverse?” Miri asked while leaning the top of the book.

Drac nodded as he delicately to flipped pages of the ancient tome. “Infinite sectors compose Fractime,” he said, “Our RP, the Reference Plane, both up and down history, is but one.”

Miri paused interacting with the holo display. “Lars and I have had many long arguments over the multiverse’s true nature. He’s fairly convinced upline and downline are fabrications from basic linear translation tech.”

Drac nodded thinking there was no harm in providing his opinion on such a basic physics controversy. “Non-linear TDs such as the Time Corps use and I suppose your exquisite timepiece simply jump across the fractal, but that nature still underlies all.”

“Guess Lars owes me a beer then,” Miri said happily.

“You must not let that watch fall into enemy hands,” Drac said knowing the danger of another nonlinear translation tech represented.

“We have many built in safe guards,” Miri responded stoically.

Drac felt sadness as he thought of Sara. “Of course,” he said softly.

“And the Family travels to these sectors?” Miri asked.

“Goodness no,” Drac said blinking teary eyes. “One would have to access the Mandorla.”

“But the Time Preceptors did,” Miri said.

“Apparently,” Drac agreed opening the book to an illustration of the Timestone showing it in three distinct parts. “There are rumors our first queen had rare but fruitful contacts with them,” he added in a whisper.

Miri leaned over to study the picture. “That’s the taogna,” he said pointing to one segment.

“This book tells of the Preceptors trying to halt extra-sector travel of several nasty entities so they hid the segments for safe keeping,” Drac explained.

“Why Earth and this sector?” Miri asked.

“Good question,” Drac replied shrugging his shoulders. “Some unidentified evil in our home sector in the second galactic epoch attempted to find them but only succeeded in joining two segments,” he added pointing to the illustration. “The third, up to now, was lost.”

“And my family has had it for countless generations,” Miri said shaking his head, “and now Lars has it around his neck.”

“It seems so and it’s a dangerous situation,” Drac said flipping pages to the last few of the book. “Ah, here it is. Trees are scattered across our sector with two in our home galaxy. The rest are all located within the Local Group.”

“Trees?” Miri asked cautiously.

“Tree’s of life,” Drac said. “Portals into or through the Mandorla, who knows?”

“Lucky us,” Miri quipped.

“Very,” Drac agreed believing Miri sincere.

“I’ve found two vague references to the planet,” Miri reported turning the display to face Drac. “They are in the same general galactic neighborhood but have slight deviations in spellings in the Calma domain and different coordinates.”

“Interesting,” Drac said pushing his figure through one of the citations on the display. “There’s advanced security wrapped around its position. However, it just so happens I have had admin privileges in the domain for a long time,” he added activating a virtual keyboard then entered several text commands.

“Wow,” Miri said as a galactic 3D image opened next to the display.

“There and then it is,” Drac said while pointing to a faint star tagged by a partially transparent, spherical icon near the inner Milky Way. “That’s where the portal should be,” he added while copying both the spatial and temporal information with a stubby pencil to a small paper pad he had pulled from his waistcoat.

“When is it?” Miri asked.

“I’ve used the reference we, as well as Sam and Lars, all have in common. The Breeze, 17 June 1984. Standard operating procedure.”

Miri zoomed the display and then gazed at the gray, cloudy planet. “What model does the Family use for translations?” he asked.

Drac smiled at Miri’s clever question knowing the galactic structure seen from Earth at any instant was a hodgepodge of then-planes limited by the speed of photons.

“The TC has a model that we use with a few but important adjustments,” Drac replied not yet ready to reveal more details. “It’s fairly accurate for the last billion years.”

“So, do we know where the planet is now?” Miri asked.

“I hope so, my good man,” Drac said reverently as he closed the book.

 

“I have the latest projection and the results you requested,” Lunian said to her queen atop the citadel’s eastern tower.

“Yes,” the queen said then hesitated, “of course, the facial recognition results for our independents and has the event stabilized as predicted?”

“It appears so,” Luinan, Elder Sister of the Family and next in line of succession replied. “It has settled somewhen summer to early fall of 2068, RP+1 of course. Tye’s calculations were accurate, given the uncertainty surrounding a great solar flare,” she added.

The shock to local dark matter by such an enormous solar burst would have widespread effects including inducing large anomalies in the Earth’s magnetic field and temporarily halting extra-universe translations. Lunian knew such an event could be a rare tactical opportunity in the coming war.

“That’s the timetable,” the queen said softly. “The snowball is rolling.”

“We’re on schedule,” Luinan said, as the queen drifted away, lost in thought.

“You’ve seen the TC’s report on the solar system search?” the queen asked.

“I was hopeful,” Luinan replied disheartened. “Where are the bastards hiding?” she asked referring to the base of operations of the enemy’s command structure.

“We better find them and soon,” the queen said with a sigh, “as the TC seems incapable of accomplishing anything lately.”

“I hope your visit to Plus 1 went well,” Luinan said hoping it was a good time to breach another thorny subject.

“Just a quick visit,” the queen replied curtly.

“The queen repeatedly breaking family canon would not be a good look,” Luinan kindly told her mother.

“The end times approach, Elder Sister,” the queen responded sternly. “I am sure your conscience will wrestle over much worse when you are queen than stimulating a few writers to aid indirectly in the war effort,” she added before coughing deeply.

“I’m sure that will be long time in coming,” Luinan said. “It’s just that we continue to meddle. I fully understand RP+1’s tactical importance with this insane war racing at us from upline, but—

“The traces?” the queen asked sharply, interrupting her daughter.

Luinan took a deep breath. She was furious at the queen and the council’s repeated refusal to discuss constant changes to RP+1.

“The Maori boy appears in fractime far up and downline,” she reported stoically, “and has a minimal historical coefficient.”

“And the man, Lars?” the queen asked.

“He exists only within the local anomaly,” Lunian said referring to long-studied similarity difference between four factimes: RP-1 through RP+2. She recalled the unusual discovery in the early twentieth century of that significant difference of similarity between the fractimes.

It had been a research focus of hers for decades, but she and other Family scientists still do not understand the disparity. Enemy infiltration seemed to be the best explanation but Luinan remained unconvinced.

“You think their limited existence spurious?” the queen asked.

“There is a small variance in birthdays and they are all scientists of different disciplines. Also, his fractime twins’ female partners only exist in the same fractimes,” Lunian added.

“A mystery for sure child,” the queen said grasping Luinan’s arm. “And scientists you say. Maybe the ancient legend is upon us,” she added seemingly deep in thought before releasing her frail grip.

“Given the war will surely destroy what we know of future history within decades, it is impossible to predict,” Lunian said soberly. “But there’s another’s far more troubling connection,” she added cautiously.

“I don’t have all morning,” the queen said squinting against one of Trua’s binary suns to look her daughter in the eye.

“The RP+1 partner of our adopted councilman links to at least one future association with the same versions of Lars,” Luinan explained. “Although, as you know, the war’s future arrival has contaminated the statistical model.”

“Plus one you say,” the queen repeated in a whisper.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Monitor her,” the queen ordered. “See if we can determine any more linkage to the Family. She or her RP twin may be of use later as an asset, so best to keep an eye on her as the future starts to unravel.”

“We cannot discount the possibility of First Accord breaches being responsible for the local anomaly,” Luinan added thinking the Family, especially the Laiths, was responsible by continuously influencing their own timeline.

“I’ve heard your theories before,” the queen said with subtle exasperation, grasping a crenellation for support.

“On another but possibly related subject,” Lunian added respectfully.

“Yes?” the queen said with obvious fatigue.

“I have informed Tye of her forthcoming posting in RP+1,” Lunian said. “She’s relieved to get out of the similarity archives.”

“She’s a warrior sister,” the queen said gazing over the large, cobalt bay in the distance. “She’ll be fine, even on such a long-duration entrenched, assignment.”

“She’s critical to your unprecedented plan,” Lunian said flatly, concerned for her sister on such a lengthy assignment.

“You mean the one where we give linear TD tech to the American government in desperation?” the queen asked rhetorically.

Luinan, born under Oklahoma and technically an American citizen, had concerns about the Family’s right to influence the behemoth that was the US government.

“I have verified several possible deep covers for her use,” Luinan continued, softening her attitude to her queen.

“Let’s let Tye decide on her cover,” the queen said gazing into her daughters violet eyes.

“Of course.”

“And Flint has agreed to handle her,” the queen said and then sighed before adding, “until Mick returns.”

Lunian took a deep breath, bowed her head then turned to leave but stopped. “And what of Uncle Mick’s disappearance?” she asked with her back to the queen.

The queen, staring down over the parapet at Cosain city below, said. “I trust brother Sam will resolve the matter soon.”

 

Null Space

Closing the last book, Mick replaced it neatly on top of the others on the small table. He pulled the bottom book from the stack recalling his fondness for breeding fancy rabbits and pigeons centuries ago and then stared at the back of the shut portal.

The book shed no light on his problem. He pondered the significance the obvious parallel Darwin’s work had with the tree of life that adorned both sides of the sealed entrance to the monk’s realm. It remained another of Armaros’ riddles.

The other volumes held no clues either. He glanced at his half-full teacup, long cold, and then stretched grabbing hold of the top of each wing on the old leather chair. A subtle clank issued from beneath the chair as he gently pulled part of his weight off the worn seat. Standing up, he heard a gentle thump beneath the chair.

Great, he thought, after all the years the monk had sternly refused a young Mick a seat in the old chair, now he had broken it.

Shaking his head, he bent over to examine what damage he had done only to find a book. Its leather binding, severely cracked, barely held the volume together. Mick chuckled as he examined the bottom of the chair finding no obvious hiding place for the book. Just like Armaros, he mused.

Mick gently picked up the tattered book and then sat back down. Releasing the books clasp then tenderly opening the unadorned cover, he smiled recognizing the monk’s handwriting on the otherwise blank first page.

 

My Little Brother,

The time of the watchers has ended. Eons ago, I swore an oath on my soul to watch over this galaxy in secrecy as we judged humanity far too immature to involve in such a conflict that consumes us. Yet, I felt no shame in confiding in you some of the truths you have needed up to now to aid us in this battle

The Family is now all that stands between humanities future and the many-sided malevolence we have fought for centuries. I rejoice in my death that has released my oath so I can at last give you the meager knowledge you so well deserve.

 

Know that I pray for you,

Armaros

 

Mick wiped away tears as he sat back in the chair. He was still young, perhaps only eight years of duration, when Zuinall, the Family’s founding matriarch, brought him to TarTarus. She had told him Armaros would help him see the true nature of the multiverse.

Mick had no siblings then, just version one of the AI Luc. The rest of the first generation would appear years later at the Family haven in the Western Isles. So when Queen Mother Zuinall was absent, sometimes for decades, he treasured his visits with Armaros even more.

Mick gazed at the scarred floor where his mentor had passed and again, sadness flooded through him at the loss of such goodness in the universe. He recalled their journeys across the galaxy, long discussions on every topic imaginable, and most of all the early missions the monk had assigned to him.

Those missions were just dangerous enough that Mick understood well the cost of failure. In hindsight, he knew those experiences framed his education into the complexities of both good and evil. The Monk had given him an invaluable gift: grounding.

As Mick gently turned the first page, Luc appeared standing before him.

“Master O’Shanley, I see you have returned,” the AI quipped.

“Luc?” Mick asked, wondering which copy of the AI this projection represented.

I am a condensed copy, coded for this meeting only,” the AI explained. “After which I shall expire. I suggest we begin. There are several topics to cover.”

“You can’t teach the replicator to create a Partagas cigar can you?” Mick asked hopefully.

Luc laughed stiffly.

“I thought not.” Mick sighed. “Please, continue.”

Mick grinned as Luc clasped his hands behind his back in an all too familiar pre-lecture ritual.

“Your understanding of the early history of the Family is incomplete,” Luc said. “And please ask questions if you require further information,” the AI added before continuing.

“Armaros as well as the other few Watchers scattered across the Reference Plane are your genetic brothers,” Luc said. “Your shared code reflects both Solarian and Auriane composition.”

Mick knew his Auriane genetics well enough but the fact he was part Earth human as well as somehow shared origins with the order of monks was surprising. “The Watchers and I have the same origins?” he asked realizing this could explain his difference in appearance to the rest of the Family.

“I do not have that information,” Luc replied, “but the successful intertwining of both double and triple helix DNA is a formidable accomplishment. It is curious you have several superior attributes over those in Armaros’ order.”

Mick had serious doubts over the AI’s claim. “Does Sam have the same origins?”

“I have no data on second generation,” Luc said flatly.

“What of Amanda and Sally?” Mick asked of Sam’s parents, both lost in the Laith uprising.

Luc paused briefly. “They lacked Solarian DNA.”

Sam is still a mystery then, Mick reflected. “Who had the capabilities to perform such a procedure?” he asked.

“There are two possibilities. In the First Galactic Epoch, the Red race is reputed to have had such capability,” Luc replied.

“That’s a long time passed,” Mick reflected. “And the second?”

“The Mór,” Luc replied.

Mick frowned at the mention of the boogey beings of the galaxy. “You suggest the Mór are real?”

“I do not suggest. I convey fact.”

Mick knew the spacer stories of juvenile Mór meddling with humanity but never put much stock in them. However, it was an interesting coincidence the Laiths believed the Mór was responsible for their terrible change.

“Why would the Mór meddle in Family history?” Mick asked.

“I am unable to disclose that answer.”

Mick sighed as he wished for a whiskey.

“However,” Luc continued, “the focus of Master Armaros and his order has been an evil entity in the Milky Way. They believed it shares their origins and be a rogue brother.”

“What?”

“However, the center of evil force in—

“Stop,” Mick injected while pondering what the AI had just reveled. “How then is this brother so powerful?” he asked.

“I would have to speculate to answer to your question.”

“Continue.”

“The most likely reason is Mór.”

“And why would the Mór design such an evil?”

“Your premise that Mór could be directly responsible for the evil is weak. Homo sapien as well as Auriane components or their combination is also a possibility. Or that Mór—

“Next topic,” Mick demanded.

“I have one more piece of cross-referenced information regarding Mór,” Luc added.

“Let’s have it.”

“The realm of the Mór, the Mandorla, is accessible through the tree of life,” the AI said turning briefly to face the oval portal.

“The Mandorla?” Mick asked while looking at the portal of the monk’s sanctuary and remembering the arguments he had with Armaros about the door’s decoration.

“Also known as null space.” Luc added.

Mick nodded. His mentor had steadfastly refused many times to discuss the true meaning of the intricate carving. After one such quarrel and in a flurry of childish anger, Mick refused to visit the Monk again believing his studies were complete. It was a decision he regretted deeply over several centuries and never told anyone else in the Family about his mentor.

“Explain the meaning of this carving,” Mick said as he walked over to the closed door.

“Classical literature—

“Stop,” Mick said harshly in frustration as he inspected again the design he knew so well. “What of this?” he asked referring to the hemispheric recess, identical with one on the door’s other side.

“A key space,” Luc replied.

Mick sighed at the limits of this version of Luc. “Describe the key.”

“The Timestone, one of the infinite stones, matches the lock.”

Not more myths, Mick thought shaking his head. “And how does it work?”

“The Mór-derived, three-segment key opens sanctuary portals and allows access to the Mandorla. One can use the complete stone from the interior of a Watcher’s portal to communicate with the Mór providing correct insertion of the key. Such key spaces appear on identical oval gateways in each of the order’s sanctuaries.”

“The order communicated with the Mór?”

“For many eons,” Luc replied, “the watchers tried to enlist the Mór’s aid in expelling their rogue brother from fractime with little success. However, the Mór grew weary of the order’s constant requests and prevented further contact.”

“How can I open this door?” Mick asked deciding pragmatism would be good about now.

“As the last watcher has passed, the Timestone can only open this temporal vault.”

“And where is this stone?”

“When the Mór demanded the Timestone’s return, the order hid the segments in history believing in the future the Mór would change its position and destroy the evil. Such an extensive search of space-time for each segment would not have been of interest to the Mór and in all likelihood they remain lost.”

As Mick sighed, tracing his finger slowly around the key’s circular space, Luc asked, “Are you ready for the next topic?”

“It seems we have the time,” Mick replied dryly.

Chapter -4

RefPlane, Planetoid Fauth

“Impressive first round Sam,” Boo whispered as she joined Sam and Lars studying the remaining players.

“Lucky,” Sam said.

“I hope so,” she said wearily.

“What exactly are you implying?” Lars asked.

“Pocket rockets, four of a kind, and a winning ace-little,” Boo said, “makes one wonder. Not that I think you had anything to do with it.”

“Thanks,” Sam said dryly.

“You suspect someone was manipulating the game?” Lars asked.

“Let’s just say I’ve never trusted demon forms,” she replied. “Not to mention they’re terrible poker players.”

“They are well represented,” Sam said doing a quick count of devils around the dungeon and finding them in the vast majority.

“Why should they help us?” Lars asked.

Boo shrugged her shoulders. “All I know is Eligos is the most egotistical, asshole Laith I’ve ever come across,” she said.

“He must want the grail pretty bad to risk the cheating penalties,” Lars said.

“Hope your luck holds, Sammy. It appears the demons are on a winning streak,” she said as a small, yellow devil at a nearby table pulled its last opponent’s chips into its own pile. “As the first winner you’ll be behind the blinds in the finals,” she added.

“I supposed your TD is inoperable,” Lars whispered after Boo left to join the grogoch and several demons quarreling with a morbidly obese reptilian about blinds at the next table.

“There are temporal shields surrounding the dungeon restricting translations but some features will work,” Sam said. “But I can’t influence my own timeline, Family rules,” he said while running a finger over the small, coin in his pocket.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that,” Lars said flatly.

“Notice anything about Eligos?” Sam asked ignoring his friend.

“Not much,” Lars replied. “For someone from Hell, he’s pretty cool. We’d need more time to discover any subtle tells but the rest of the tables are wrapping up fast,” he added as four out of five demons disappeared at a far table.

“Any ideas for the finals,” Sam asked as boos from the crowd failed to dampen the winning demons’ victory yowls.

“Nope,” Lars said. “And oh yeah, kick ass,” he quipped as a gong rang out signaling the end of the first round.

Boo caught Sam’s eye and nodded.

“Time,” he said to Lars while making his way to the final’s table in the center of the dungeon.

Eligos, already seated, growled at the small green demon that had taken the chair opposite him causing the imp to slink into the only remaining unoccupied chair.

“Samuel,” Eligos said as Sam took the seat across the table. “Trying to recover another ancient relic?” he added squinting through the haze at Lars standing behind Sam.

“I don’t think I’ve had the displeasure,” Sam quipped. He was agitated the Laith had recognized him. “A new spawn?” he asked taking a quick glance at the greenstone segments on a golden chain hanging from the demon’s neck hoping the insult would rattle his opponent.

Sam had dealt with asshole Laiths; it was critical to dish out the first abuse or the demon would be incredibly annoying for hours.

“Hardly.” Eligos chuckled. “I just like keep a low profile in the outer reaches preferring the—

“Ladies, gentleman, aliens and Laiths,” Boo interrupted, “the final round is about to begin.”

“It will just be us, Sammy,” Eligos said as other demons at the table disappeared in putrid purple smoke.

Sam watched the vestiges of the haze mix with the House’s own smoke then swirl around Boo’s head making her nose twitch.

“All resignations defer winnings to the House,” she struggled to say while wrestling with a sneeze desperately wanting out.

Boo then received a small nod from Eligos in acknowledgment as she relaxed, her inner battle with the sneeze seemingly won.

The crowd cheered and the gong sounded.

“One thousand chips. Table stakes with one buy-in, the game is Galaxy hold ‘em,” Boo shouted over the raucous crowd. “Dealer, please begin,” she said to Donnan while placing the deal button next to Sam. She then delivered a fierce shimmy that even her taunt suspenders could not hold back. The crowd that met the unholy spectacle with deafening cheers.

“We need to make this quick,” Eligos said pushing his big blind of 200 chips into the center of the table. “My gallery will need rearranging to make room for the addition and you must know how thrilling a new artifact can be,” he added with a snicker.

Sam barely heard Lars mutter, “Yikes,” as the dealer dealt the hole cards after waiting on Sam to count out his 100 chip small blind.

Sam peaked at his hole cards while ignoring the devil. They were the deuce of diamonds, three of spades and eight of hearts. “Check,” he said confidently adding another 100 chips to the pile to match Eligos’ big blind.

Eligos glanced at Sam then raised 100 chips.

“Call,” Sam said quickly before Eligos could push his raise into the center of the table.

“Pot’s right,” Donnan said as he dealt the flop: the four of spades, jack of hearts, and deuce of clubs.

“Check,” Eligos said after glancing at his hole cards again.

“Check,” Sam said with a pair of deuces, hoping to keep the demon in the hand until the river.

“The turn,” the dealer announced as he paired the deuce of clubs with the two of hearts.

“Check,” Eligos said and received jeers from the crowd, which he ignored.

Sam quickly raised the demon another 200 chips, confident in his little three-of-a-kind.

“Fold,” Eligos said with disgust.

Sam raked in his winnings to cheers from Lars and the crowd.

Donnan placed the deal button next to Eligos then shuffled.

The demon stacked his 200 chip small blind before pushing it towards the center of the table to add to Sam’s 300 chips before Donnan dealt the next hand’s hole cards.

Sam lifted the corners of the three cards to see the ten of diamonds, seven of hearts and four of clubs. He was thinking the last round’s hands might just have been too good to be true when Eligos checked and added 100 chips to match Sam’s big blind.

“Check,” Sam said hoping for a miracle.

Donnan dealt the flop: four of spades, king of hearts, six of clubs.

Sam considered the terrible odds of hitting a straight. “Check,” he said calmly.

“Raise two hundred,” Eligos said adding the stack to his small blind.

“Fold,” Sam said to a startled crowd as the demon confidently gathered in his winnings.

Donnan placed the deal button beside Sam and then dealt the next hole cards after waiting briefly for the player’s to place their blinds in the center of the table.

Sam stared at the back of his cards. Eligos and he were even, each holding 1000 chips. He lifted the corners of his hole cards to show the three of clubs as well as the nine and three of diamonds. A little pair and two suited, another weak hand.

“All in,” Sam said, pushing stacks of chips to equal Eligos’ 400 chip big blind as well as his last hundred chips in a bold pre-flop bluff.

The demon peaked at his cards again. “Fold,” he said tossing the cards face down next to the pot.

The crowd applauded as the deal button went back to Eligos.

Sam was up 800 chips. He took a slow but deliberate breath as he pushed over half his chips into the center of the table for the next hand’s 500 chip big blind. He reckoned one of them had to break the check-fold strategy this hand.

Donnan dealt the next hand’s hole cards as the silent crowd watched.

Sam gently pulled the corners of his cards up: the tens of clubs, spades and diamonds. Shit, he thought, knowing he would have to discard one of the tens before the river.

“Check,” Eligos said nonchalantly adding 100 chips to the pot to cover Sam’s big blind.

“Check,” Sam said coolly while counting his opponents remaining chips.

“Pot’s right,” Donnan announced before dealing the flop: the eight of diamonds with the eight and jack of hearts.

“Check,” Sam said.

“Check,” Eligos said.

Eligos’ control surprised Sam. He guessed it was probably why the demon was a high-level form.

“The turn,” Donnan said, dealing another card into the common: the four of hearts.

As far as Sam could tell, Eligos had still not looked at his hole cards. “Check,” Sam announced receiving moans from the crowd.

“Check,” Eligos said while casually inspecting a long, black fingernail and ignoring jeers from the majority of the crowd.

“Gentlemen,” Donnan said, “the discard.”

Sam discarded the ten of diamonds as Eligos finally peaked quickly at his hole cards. Choosing the bottom card, he pushed it face down next to the pot.

The crowd applauded expecting the end hand.

“Pot’s right,” Donnan announced. “The river,” he added as he dealt the last card face up adding it to the rest of the common.

It took effort for Sam to remain emotionless as he saw the grogoch place the ten of hearts next to the turn.

“One hundred,” Sam said pushing a stack equal to Eligos’ remaining chips into the center of the table.

“Call,” Eligos said adding his last chips to the pile.

“Showdown,” Donnan said with a subtle nod to Sam.

“Tens full of eights,” Sam announced turning his cards over to a jubilant crowd.

Eligos growled as he flipped over the queen and seven of hearts making a losing all pink flush with the common as the crown went wild. He was over a hundred chips light and thus out of the tournament.

“I will buy in again,” he said quickly.

“You have not received management pre-approval of another buy-in,” Boo said.

“That might be okay,” Sam said cautiously looking into Eligos’ bloodshot eyes.

“Are you joking again?” Lars whispered to Sam’s back.

“What was your initial buy in?” Sam said, nodding to the madam and then glancing back at Lars who looked stressed.

“A station,” Eligos said, “in the middle reaches of the Norma Arm. Just your kind of neighborhood Sammy.”

Fuck, Sam thought. It turned out to be a good he had asked, as the demon had not used the remaining segments hanging around his neck as his buy-in.

“When is it?” Sam asked determined not to let the demon swindle him.

“Late twenty-fifth century,” the demon replied dryly.

Sam took a deep breath. “And your new buy-in?”

"Something, I believe you've been searching for- the missing Great Phosphophyllite."

“Not good enough,” Sam said calmly knowing millions of lives would depend on the treatments linked to the massive mineral specimen. He shoved out of his head any speculation about how Eligos came to know Family mission details.

Boo shook her head at Eligos as faint wisps of smoke emanated from the ends of his short horns.

“I’ll play for that pendant,” Sam said while casually looking at the Timestone’s segments hanging from Eligos neck.

“You have an excellent eye for relics,” Eligos said as the demon stroked the greenstone with a long fingernail while the last two of his minions stood stanchly behind him.

“Sam’s buy-in has been authenticated by management,” Boo added with a quick wink at Sam. “What is it?” she asked.

Eligos took a deep breath. “The last of the infinite stones. Guardian of the Vesica Piscis. The rarest of rare. The Timestone.”

“It looks incomplete,” Boo said nonchalantly.

“One segment was lost billions of years ago,” he said deadpan.

“Two thousand chips,” Boo announced to the crowd that went wild with the decision.

“Fine,” the demon said as he handed the greenstone segments to the madam.

Boo smiled setting a tray of chips in front of Eligos and then placed the deal button in front of Sam. The crowd to hit a new frenzy as Eligos pushed a 600 chip big blind into the center of the table.

Donnan dealt the hole cards without emotion.

Sam pulled the corners of his cards up to reveal a troubling deuce and eight of clubs as well as the King of diamonds.

Sam cursed under his breath. He preferred Texas hold ‘em where you had time to weight up your opponent, the blinds escalated slowly and a good bluff could often win. Galaxy was too brutal.

“Check,” Sam said matching the big blind with another 100 chips. He had to give Eligos credit as the demon subtly shook his head, refusing to raise. Sam figured Eligos’ coolness came from ego or, more likely, a forthcoming cheat.

“Pot’s right,” Donnan said then methodically dealt the flop: queen of spades and diamonds followed by the jack of clubs.

“Four hundred,” Eligos said calmly.

Sam sat in silence, already knowing he would fold.

“Irish coffee, please,” he said to Boo.

Several minutes later, a nervous dryad delivered his request. He took a sip then a quick glance at Eligos, who seemed nonplussed.

“Fold,” Sam declared to a well-coordinated moan from the crowd.

As Donnan shuffled, Sam looked back at Lars who gave him a quick thumb up and nod.

As Eligos now had the deal button, Sam pushed his big blind of 700 chips to form the beginning of the next hand’s pot before Donnan dealt the hand’s hole cards. Sam groaned inwardly as the grogoch dealt had him another weak hole: the six and seven of clubs and jack of spades.

“Check,” Eligos said pushing 100 chips forward to cover Sam’s big blind.

Sam decided the in-suit six and seven probably warranted seeing the flop. “Check,” he said.

“Pot’s right,” Donnan said before he dealt the flop: the queen of hearts, nine of spades, and five of diamonds.

“Fifty,” Sam said hoping the small bet with a straight working would keep his opponent in the game.

“Call,” Eligos said quickly adding the necessary chips to the pot.

Sam took another sip of the steaming Irish coffee to stifle an inner chill and then took several subtle but deep breaths. He knew the statistics for each possible hand to several decimal places, but over the years he knew luck was something that just happened, like eddies in a building probability curve.

“The turn,” Donnan announced as he dealt the eight of clubs.

Sam had pulled an inside straight. “Two hundred,” he announced.

Eligos sighed then folded.

The crowd cheered Sam over growls from Eligos’ minions as Donnan slid the deal button was back in front of Sam.

Sam pushed his 700 chip small blind into the center of the table as Eligos added matching stacks and then added another 100 chips for the big blind unceremoniously into the pot.

Sam squared his down cards into a neat stack then slightly spread the edges as he turned up their corners revealing the ten of spades and clubs as well as the jack of hearts.

More tens, Sam thought as he formulated a bet. What were the odds? “Two hundred,” he said to cautious applause from a minority of spectators as he pushed the bet as well as 100 more chips to cover the big blind into the pot.

Eligos stared at his hole cards. “Call,” he said pushing chips into the pot while the minions behind him subtly shifted their weight from hoof to hoof.

“Pot’s right,” Donnan said before dealing the flop: the ace and queen of hearts and the three of clubs.

“The queen of blood and her bullet, not to mention Cerberus,” Eligos said arrogantly as he counted out another two hundred chips then pushed them into the pot. “How fitting,” he added coyly.

“Two hundred to you, mister…ah,” Donnan said grasping for a surname, “Sam.”

“Call,” Sam said quickly picking up two stacks of 100 chips each and placing them gently next to the growing pile in the center of the table.

“Pot’s right,” Donnan repeated before dealing the turn: the ten of hearts.

Sam stifled a smile knowing he had the inside jack to the heart straight flush working in the common as well as a strong three of a kind.

“Two hundred-fifty,” Eligos said adding a forced smile for Sam.

Sam studied his opponent from beneath the pirates cap and chuckled seeing the minion on Eligos left had sweat dripping off his nose.

Sam reasoned that if Eligos was being honest, he thought he had a good likelihood of a winning hand. If not, he was still confident a cheat would succeed. Sam figured the minion on Eligos’ left was not so sure.

“Call!” Sam shouted resulting in a deafening roar from the crowd as he pushed his bet forward.

“Last side bets before the river, please,” Boo announced to the crowd before nodding to Donnan.

“The pot’s right,” the grogoch said, “please discard.”

Eligos selected his top card and gently pushed it towards the pot.

Sam picked out the jack of hearts from his hole cards and flicked it face down next Eligos’ discard provoking an evil smirk from the demon.

Donnan said, “Gentleman, the river,” and then laid the king of diamonds next to the ten of hearts.

“The man with the axe. How apt Sam,” Eligos said gleefully.

Sam knew if Eligos had a flush, he had lost the most priceless of family heirlooms. Because the chances of going forward and overcoming a nearly three to one chip count were dismal. However, Eligos could be bluffing, unaware Sam discarded the key jack.

“All in,” Eligos said with a toothy smile to Sam while shoving his last 400 chips into the pot.

“Call,” Sam said and matched the demons bet before a hushed crowd.

“Showdown Gentlemen,” Donnan said stoically then giving Sam a subtle nod to show his hand.

“Three tens, ace, king,” Sam said turning his hole cards over.

“Nice hand, Sammy,” Eligos said turning over the jack and king of hearts. “But not nice enough, I’m afraid. Straight flush,” he added smugly for the crazed spectators while pulling in the large pot.

Sam fought to suppress his rage as goose bumps rose on his forearms. He reached for the jack of hearts he had just discarded but Donnan grabbed his wrist firmly.

“Not proper, Mister Sam,” he said.

“It’s my card. What if it’s another jack of hearts,” Sam said looking up at Boo.

She nodded and the grogoch slowly let go of Sam’s arm.

Sam flipped over the card; it was the jack of diamonds.

“Sammy,” Eligos said, “Never took you for a sore loser.”

“We’ll see,” Sam said as he activated the coin in his pocket.

The device being tiny did not have much range, less than a minute into the past. The one-use-only device would be perfect to catch this card cheat.

 

T-minus Twenty-six Seconds

Sam whispered in Boo’s ear while studying the cards already on the table.

Eligos said, “All in,” with the same forced smile while pushing 400 chips into the pot.

“Call!” Sam shouted again to the crowd that roared as before.

“Call,” Eligos said pushing the last of his chips into the pot.

“Last side bets before the river, please,” Boo said to the crowd before nodding to Donnan.

“The Pot’s right,” the grogoch said, “please discard.”

Sam watched as Eligos selected his top card and then placed it next to the pot.

Sam picked out the jack of hearts from his hole cards and succeeded to flick it as before next to the large pile of chips.

He activated is TD to slow time to a point he would have several seconds to carry out his plan before anyone would notice. Tye was the Family expert in temporal dilation illusions with TDs, but Sam was no novice. He then flipped over his discard to show the jack of hearts to the overhead security system, then replaced it face down. He resumed his previous position accurately and then reactivated his TD to rejoin the current timestream.

Donnan said. “Gentleman the river,” he added as he laid the king of diamonds next to the ten of hearts.

“The man with the axe. How apt Sam,” Eligos said just as gleefully as before.

“Showdown gentlemen,” Donnan said stoically then gave Sam a subtle nod to show his hand.

“Three tens, ace, king,” Sam said turning his hole cards over.

“Nice hand, Sammy,” Eligos said turning over the jack and king of hearts to the crazed crowd. “But not nice enough, I’m afraid. Straight flush,” he added smugly while pulling in the large pot.

Sam again suppressed a shudder driven by goose bumps on his forearms a symptom of the coins previous activation.

“The winner,” Boo announced looking at the demon.

“I request a security check,” Sam injected. “It’s my right as stated in the rules,” he added sternly while looking back at Lars who just shrugged his shoulders.

“Good luck,” Lars whispered dejectedly as a small 3D view of the table and players appeared over the pot.

“I protest,” Eligos said frantically.

“To what exactly?” Boo asked.

“How should I know? He probably switched the cards,” Eligos said. “Traveler tricks. I bet he has a TD on him!”

“I bet if we replay the card auto-tracking, super-slow motion security monitors we’d see some very interesting vid,” she said looking into his red eyes.

Eligos gulped as the crowd watched the replay of Sam showing his discarded jack of hearts to the overhead recording devices.

“You’re banned from the House!” Boo shouted to Eligos above the now raucous crowd.

Eligos started to say something but choked in a stream of boiling purple vapor emanating from his stubby horns that quickly enveloped him. The retched vapor vanished along with Eligos and his minions. Only fine violet wisps swirled around Boo’s head causing the leprechaun to let loose the colossal sneeze she had held during the tournament.

The crowd cheered wildly as Boo climbed onto the table and raised Sam’s right arm. “The winner!” she yelled.

“Well played,” Lars said as he joined Sam at the table while fanning away the last stinky mist the House’s stench-control measures had not suppressed.

“Just dumb luck, I’d say,” Sam said with a wink to Boo as she handed him the Timestone segments.

“Invisible card changin’ manipulations, who’d believe,” she said agilely adjusting her suspenders. “Nasty touch using your card to cheat with and I think we can ignore your breach of house rules this time,” she added climbing down onto a chair to kiss Sam on the cheek. “And we owe you a great deal. The tournament earned the House a record profit.”

“How’d you ever guess?” Lars asked.

“Later,” Sam replied securing the Timestone segments within his pack and then pulling Boo close. “Who’d recall a high-level, demon-from Laith?” he whispered into her ear.

With Laith numbers increasing exponentially, the miniscule percentage of demon forms that lived their common nightmares were getting plentiful but organization had always been problematic for Laiths. The excellent coordination of his demon opponents was obvious to Sam and now he was sure that more control existed above even the more hardcore, high-level demons.

“Think the devils finally got themselves an el jefe?” she whispered back. “I’ll see what I can find out. You just find your Sara,” she added hopping down from the chair before Donnan dragged her away to the staff party that had instantaneously combusted within seconds after Eligos disappeared. Obviously, the House’s take from the tournament pleased its management as rows of bottles containing the best Irish whiskeys now lined the top of the dungeon’s bar.

“We’ve got to go,” Sam said as Lars handed him his segment of the Timestone.

As Sam positioned it into gap between the other two joined segments, it clicked into place dissolving any hint of the three separate pieces. “Drac and Miri have modeled the coordinates to TarTarus but first we better get your other TD,” he said.

Chapter -3

RefPlane -22: 20 March 2304

Sam exhaled the breath he had been holding after Lars and he completed the translation. He trusted Lars, but having someone else input his TD’s coordinates was still unsettling.

Sam looked around the unkempt, unconventional laboratory then out a transparent wall of the lab at a steaming volcano in the distance. “Beautiful view,” he remarked looking out over the Hauraki Gulf.

A nearby white board with equations scrawled in several clusters drew his attention away from the smooth, blue water covered with a multitude of sails. In one cluster, Sam recognized a temporal, dark matter transformation. Another had parts of the dark energy and quantum gravity, super-fluid balance theory, but he was not positive. His understanding of advanced mathematics was superb but much on the board remained a mystery.

“Interesting stuff,” Sam quipped.

“Oh yeah?” Lars replied looking up from searching a desk drawer for the timepiece. “Doesn’t your nonlinear TD trans-warp a temporal vacuity within the dark-energy anti-field?” he asked.

“Tye would know,” Sam replied. “She has expertise in physics besides horology,” Sam added with a smirk. He sensed the equations could represent an alternative translation technology. The Family’s living, temporal cloaks, their derivative linear and nonlinear TDs as well as the secret Time Corps’ TDs and their ship’s temporal drives were the only others.

Freelancers used stolen TC devices that thankfully appeared too complex to reverse engineer.

“I’ll have to have a chat with her some day,” Lars said.

“Miri’s work?” Sam asked still staring at the equations.

“His baby was the Higgs’ field integration and calibration with dark-quanta charges and spins,” Lars replied.

“Getting physical separation was incredibly difficult,” he said. “A temporal delta was much easier,” he added with a sigh.

“So how come you don’t have this new TD in the field?” Sam asked.

“A minor problem in the temporal, initiator modulator,” Lars replied. “Just sticks somehow with no moving parts. Miri thinks the trouble is sunspots. But it’s easy to reset, just takes time,” he added with a chuckle.

“I bet the TC would love to get their temporal hands on one of your timepieces,” Sam said looking back to the distant smoldering volcano.

“Got it,” Lars said picking out the golden watch from a small basket on the nearest workbench. “I better explain its basic functions, just in case,” he added handing the watch to Sam.

“Shoot,” Sam said flipping up the watches cover to reveal its simple controls below a small display.

“The three input controls entered in sequence from left to right set the time-space coordinates,” Lars explained, “but pressing them in certain other sequences or combinations activates higher-level functions. You shouldn’t need to worry about those. Depressing the stem begins the translation.”

“A follow function?” Sam asked noticing the timepiece was heavier than he expected.

"Unlike the last version," Lars said, "there is no separate follow button but a unique activation sequence of the three controls- part of the programming that still needs coding. To have that activated during its trials would have been a real pain so I left it to last. There's also an emergency return to any one of numerous stored locations and several alarm codes for various proximal space-time events. I need to set links between the alarms and pre-set translations and set a few threshold criteria," he added rapidly thumbing the watch's controls.

The sophistication of the simple mechanism impressed Sam.

“Let’s rendezvous at the Breeze just after we left. Just in case,” Lars said entering more inputs on his TD. “Finished,” Lars added with a sigh.

“Guns?” he asked.

“Usually not my thing for Laiths,” Sam said. “But help yourself,” he added taking stock of the impressive contents of a nearby weapon cabinet.

Lars selected a hand disrupter already in a hip holster. “Ready?” he asked fitting the weapon’s belt around his slim waist.

“Yup,” Sam replied rechecking the coordinates Drac had set to his TD, “but for what?”

 

RefPlane, Planet TarTuras

The blackness took Sam by surprise. “Get down,” he whispered to Lars as his fingers sunk several centimeters into warm mud and his knees confirmed the same.

“Roger that,” Lars replied similarly from behind him.

Sam brushed his TD’s two-dimensional display to scan the area for any nearby temporal signatures.

“Nice touch,” Lars whispered over Sam’s shoulder looking at the TD’s graphics. “Anything?”

“Good choice of temporal reference,” Sam said noting Drac’s choice to continue their conjoined timeline fixed at the Breeze many light-years distant. “Five hundred meters that way,” he added, his face lit only by the TD’s display.

“I’ll follow you,” Lars added with a nod. “I always imagined Hell as a hot, arid place,” he added as they struggled through the dark mudflats, “but bright in its inherent red glow. I might have been wrong.”

“At least the tide appears out,” Sam said.

“Does this planet even have tides?” Lars asked.

“Hold up,” Sam whispered after several meters, and then listened to the darkness. “I don’t hear anything,” he added a few seconds later.

“Not hearing anything is good,” Lars replied catching his breath. “There’s no way to run in this muck. By the way, I wanted to ask you—

“Shoot,” Sam said standing up.

“Why do you think fractimes surrounding your reference plane are so much different to upline and downline?” Lars asked.

Sam shook his head in the near darkness. “The Family factors in there somewhere as well as a few influential freelancers,” he said turning to look at his old friend. “And the RP is the only plane where the Time Corps exist,” he added. “I blame them whenever possible,” he said adding a chuckle.

“Yeah, my guess, too,” Lars said. “It’s like a wall has been constructed somehow out of the universes probability matrix in front of the Universal War.”

“If you mean the RP may have won the multiverse lotto, I agree,” Sam said. “But the coming war still scares the shit out of me,” he added.

“I can see the complexities of keeping some kind of balance must be exhausting,” Lars said.

“The resources of the citadel have saved the RP more than once. It was a wise move by our first queen to fund its development,” Sam said.

“So what’s it like to be so old?” Lars asked with a chuckle while shaking mud from his hands. “I mean the mental side if it. It’s obvious you’re in good shape; you’re hardly winded.”

Sam chuckled. “Most of the first hundred and fifty felt like being endlessly forty,” he replied as they continued their slog. “I fell in love with Sara and the war was still distant, even to the Family.

“The next hundred and fifty brought the war closer downline and life began to revolve around our evolving strategy, centered on analyses of similarity data to pin point enemy infiltrations.

“But, even with a lot of time spent in the very interesting late-twentieth century, finding yourself bored on your two hundred-fiftieth birthday is not good. However, life has a way of dealing with those whom become bored; it’s called parenthood.”

“Ces must be a great kid,” Lars said as Sam stopped to check the TD’s display.

“The best and as far as being in shape, I can’t take much credit; med nanos and beatha treatments are Family standard,” Sam said.

“Must be nice,” Lars said after several deep breaths. “I think it’s getting firmer underfoot,” he said still struggling through the thinning mud.

“I agree and brighter,” Sam said turning off the TD’s display to view a dim ridgeline ahead backlit buy a small moon rising. “Not far now,” he added encouragingly.

The slight burn in Sam’s leg muscles lessened as the mud gradually gave way to fine-grained sand surrounding a few large boulders draped by long strands of a damp, kelp-like plant.

“Maybe the tide is out,” he muttered studying several nearby, large pockmarks interspersed between the boulders.

He could just make out a cliff face looming before them as the sky above brightened from the small moon, now almost overhead.

The number of boulders and landslide debris increased as they neared the cliff, restricting them from easily reaching the rock face.

“The coordinates are just over this cliff,” Sam said while making a minor adjustment to his TD.

“There,” Lars said pointing to their left. “It looks like a way up.”

They both were puffing after a hard scramble up the scree before finally climbing over a last boulder to leave behind the cliff’s edge.

Sam surveyed a featureless plateau that stretched into the distance before them; only a small cairn disrupted the plain several meters before them.

“That must be it,” Sam said as he checked his TD’s display then pointed to the low-lying pile of rocks.

“Not the entrance to the underworld I was expecting,” Lars said as he kicked one of the stones from the pile. “What’s this,” he added, kneeling down to examine a corner of a metallic plaque he had uncovered.

“Old Calma tech script,” Sam said after helping Lars uncover the rest of the plaque.

“I am familiar with some Calma temporal jargon and equations,” Lars said inspecting the plaque. “But most these symbols have little meaning to me. May be some kind of warning, I think. Probably telling us not to uncover the portal below,” he added looking cautiously at Sam.

“Help me with this,” Sam said grasping one edge of the plaque.

“It’s heavy,” Lars said thru clenched teeth as they dragged it off to one side of the underlying stones.

Tossing the remaining rocks aside to form a small pile, they soon uncovered a flat, oval stone roughly two meters long and a meter wide set seamlessly into plateau’s bedrock. An intricately carved tree, its branches intertwined, covered roughly half the stone while its trees roots filled the other half. Centered within the tree’s trunk was a concave, half-spherical recess above a hand-shaped recess, obviously carved to fit a five-digit humanoid.

“That could fit the Timestone,” Lars said pointing at the circular recess.

“And this has no effected,” Sam added dejectedly after pressing his right hand into the matching depression.

“That would be too easy,” Lars quipped.

“I guess that leaves the only other option,” Sam said taking the Timestone from his pack.

Lars removed the disrupter from its holster and made a quick adjustment to its controls then nodded to Sam.

“If there’s any trouble,” Sam said, “we’ll meet back at the Breeze. You have the coordinates?”

Lars nodded as he checked his TD.

Sam studied the details of the semi-circular recess then gently laid the Timestone into its niche.

“Fuck,” Lars said while quickly kneeling to regain his balance as the ground shook launching numerous rockfalls from the cliff’s edge as the oval slab slowly rose.

As the slab stopped almost a decimeter high, the quake subsided.

“What now,” Lars asked peering under the slab into darkness below.

Sam shrugged his shoulders and then gently tried pushing the slab. It slowly glided to one side.

“Good idea,” Lars said reaching toward the pitch-black opening.

“That’s not a hole,” Sam said grabbing Lars hand before it could breach the boundary. Sam picked up a rock from the pile and tossed it onto the blackness.

It hit the boundary then rebounded upward several centimeters only to fall back in a series of dying bounces until it finally settled on top of the blackness.

“Look,” Lars said cautiously as the stone began slowly to sink through the boundary and the ground began to reverberate again. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he added aiming his weapon at the blackness as the ground shook harder.

As Sam watched the last of the stone disappear, a brilliant flash filled his senses. He heard the definitive sound of Lars’ disrupter fire and as his sight recovered, he saw two grotesque dogs had Lars by the legs and were trying to drag him into the blackness. Lars’ weapon lay at Sam’s feet.

As Sam snatched the disruptor and then tried to aimed at the closest creature, a third easily knocked him down from behind taking advantage of the continuing tremors.

Hideous snarls met the barrel of the disrupter has Sam struggled to fix aim on the fetid canine now advancing on him. A single burst dissolved it into a putrid heliotrope vapor.

Sam rolled over and fired at the beast attached to Lars right leg, hitting it in its left flank. The hound released Lars and then let loose a chilling howl as it turned on Sam. Sam fired again vaporizing the cur as the other continued to pull Lars to the precipice of the blackness by his left leg.

Sam held fire in fear of vaporizing Lars as well.

Holding his golden watch in his right hand while unfastening his belt, Lars nodded to Sam.

Sam grabbed the Timestone from the oval slab then tossed it to Lars.

Lars caught the orb with his left hand then said, “Shoot this thing!” He vanished, leaving only his pants in the hound’s mouth above the blackness. The beast was an easy target and Sam did not hesitate.

As its last vapor dispersed above the blackness, the ground beneath Sam came still. “Three dogs, how cliché,” he muttered kicking a small stone onto the blackness just before more chilling growls and howls became apparent from below the nearby cliff’s edge.

Sam ran over to the edge only to see various assorted demonic creatures crawling out of countless pockmarks below and then scrambling over one another in an attempt to climb the cliff face.

Sam thought heard a faint voice behind him.

“Is anyone there!” he shouted after running back to the abyss while watching the cliff edge.

“Dad?” Ces replied faintly. “Hold on. I think you’re over there.”

“Ces?” he shouted hopefully.

“Dad! I’m here,” Ces said clearly. “Where are you?”

“I’m at portal on TarTarus.”

“TarTarus? Are you sure it’s not TarTuras?”

Sam looked around. “Who knows? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Kind of bored that’s all.”

“Is your mother close by?”

“Nobody’s here. Not anymore. Did you throw a big and little stone through that portal?”

“Yes. Do you see them?”

“Dad!”

“Sorry, dumb question. However, that means you can probably cross the boundary.”

“Just get me out of here! Bur, Cer and Rus may come back.”

“Three drooling canine Laiths?”

“That’s them. Bad puppies.”

“They won’t be back,” Sam said as the first demon crawled up and over the cliff. “Hold on I’ve got a problem up here,” he added.

He fired and the creature vanished leaving behind a cloud of violet vapor from which several more creatures emerged.

“Great, the old wizard’s apprentice trick,” he mumbled as he set the disruptor to widest dispersion and crouched behind the low pile of stones.

More demons crawled over the cliff’s edge to join the ones already within smelling distance. Sam fired a salvo of disbursed beams in a sweeping pattern from left to right, dissolving the creatures in to clouds of swirling purple mist, but that resulted in creating only more targets. Another sweep at the line of advancing demons resulted in dramatically adding to their numbers.

“I may have to return with reinforcements,” he shouted into the blackness feeling for the TD in his pocket.

“No need,” Tye said from behind him holding a heavy disrupting rifle. “Lars said you might need some backup.”

“Is that disrupter fire?” Ces asked from below.

“Not just now niece,” Tye yelled into the abyss as she blasted the growing front line of advancing demons. Their numbers multiplying by a factor of at least ten.

“They multiply with every shot,” Sam said moving behind Tye.

“Variable modulation to the disruption field should stop that,” Tye said adjusting her rifle and then swept a wide arc of fire before them.

“Good thinking,” Sam said as no new spawns appeared out the putrid vapor now almost enveloping them.

Tye continued to fire broad, sweeping arcs for several minutes until no more demons appeared over the cliff’s edge.

“Is everyone okay?” Ces asked cautiously.

“We’re fine,” Sam reassured her. “We’ll see if we can get you out.”

Tye handed him a rope from her mission pack and then he fed it into the darkness after tying it quickly around his waist.

“I see a rope coming down through the ceiling,” Ces said. “I knew this place had to be an oubliette,” she added as Sam felt a tug on the line.

“What’s your reference date?” she asked calmly.

“Tie it around you,” he said, desperately wanting her out of the void.

“Ready,” she yelled.

As Sam and Tye slowly pulled on the rope, he realized Ces seemed too heavy. He tried to keep constant tension on the line and as Ces, in a plain brown robe, slowly appeared from the blackness; she was different- much taller and older.

They all collapsed together after a final pull to free Ces from the boundary.

She hugged Tye then her father tightly. “I knew you’d come,” she said crying.

Looking back down at the portal then to Ces, Sam said, “How long?”

“I’m thirteen now,” she said wiping away tears. “Just had a birthday.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said with violet tears running down his cheeks then embraced her again. “I’m referenced to the same day you were taken. It’s been only a few days.”

“Damn,” Tye muttered looking down into the abyss.

“What was down there?” she asked.

“I think it was some kind of monastic sanctuary,” she replied, “but it’s been long abandoned and taken over by crazy Laiths to use as a dungeon. Thank Agrona I got the AI upgraded; I would have gone crazy. And I have learned so much—

“Have you seen your mother?” Sam interrupted her cautiously.

“Only in dreams,” she replied studying her father’s face. “I keep seeing her fumbling with a silver pocket watch. What’s happened to Mom?”

Sam sighed. “She’s missing. I thought she would be with you.”

It now seemed unlikely the beast had abducted Sara and Ces but rather his partner had tried in vain to follow the demon with Lars’ TD.

“Was anyone else down there?” he asked.

“There used to be, now there’s just lots of bones; the whole lower level is filled with bones,” she replied solemnly. “What’s happened?” she asked.

“It’s getting to be a long story,” Sam said. “I’ll fill you in after we get you to safety on Trua.”

“I don’t remember anything after breakfast that morning,” Ces said. “Did uncle Drac come?”

Sam nodded fighting back tears for the lost time with his daughter.

Ces sighed. “I could die for a big bowl of Lucky Charms,” she said wistfully.

Sam smiled at her, dark curls framing her face. “You’re so beautiful,” he said, “but now you need to go to Trua with Tye. Elder Sister will no doubt want to debrief you.”

“But Dad, I’ve got to tell—

“Not now,” Sam said with a nod to Tye. “I’ll see you soon. Promise. Your mom and Mick are still missing.”

“Dad, it’s real important,” Ces persisted.

Sam took a breath and looked at Ces. “Not now,” Sam repeated sternly.

Tye dropped her mission pack from her shoulder and handed Sam the disrupter rifle. “Good luck,” she told him.

“Tell Drac and Miri to meet us back at the Breeze,” Sam told his sister before she translated with Ces.

Sam untied the rope from his waist and then began to tie it around the floating portal stone.

“Shit. Am I late?” Lars asked appearing next to Sam. “The damn modulator hiccupped again. Did Tye make it?”

“Yes and yes,” Sam said. “We got Ces out. She’s safe.”

“Very good news,” Lars said. “And Sara?”

Sam looked his old friend in the eyes and shook his head. “Let’s see if there any clues down there,” he said handing the disrupter back to Lars before repelling into the blackness.

Chapter -2

Null Space

Mick took a deep breath and stood to stretch after the AI finally finished its programmed expository. Mór evolution figured markedly in to the multiverse’s fate and the fact they seemed worried, perhaps even frightened, enough to enlist organics and create the league of Watchers to safeguard the local fractimes was alarming. It was clear the Family was in the middle of some kind of enduring calamity, which could climax with the very end of time. Unfortunately, Luc had no particulars as to the Mór’s dire situation.

Moreover, there was a piece missing. Something was manipulating the fractimes surrounding the Reference Plane in what scholars at the citadel called the local anomaly. He thought the anomaly was the result of meddling by the Family and TC, both originating in the RP. Now, he was not sure.

“Anything else Master Michael?” Luc asked.

“Chi tea please,” Mick said before falling back in the old chair knowing he was no closer to escape from the sanctuary than before.

 

RefPlane +1, 17 June 1984

Drac, Miri, Tye and Ces were waiting when Sam and Lars translated to the Breeze after meticulously searching the oubliette. Sam set a small cardboard box on the Breeze’s bar filled with Ces’ meager personal belongings from her last nine years: a few old books and small paintings.

The simple AI was still functioning but had no insights about the Laiths purpose of taking over the ancient sanctuary. Sam and Lars found the humanoid remains Ces had mentioned and took extensive DNA scans of all. Sadly, one scan returned a match for a young Polynesian woman. Sam knew the remains were probably Miri’s Tui and he assumed Helen’s remains were in all likelihood there as well.

“Well done,” Drac said to the group as he dropped a third sugar cube into a black tea in one of Sara’s fine bone china cups. “Sorry about the coordinates,” he added.

“It was a fortunate miscalculation,” Lars said looking compassionately at his brother. “We have the answers we’ve been looking for.”

Miri nodded then took a deep breath. “An unbelievable device,” he said resolutely while studying the Timestone next to The Machine.

“Your revelation about seeing an older Uncle Mick is what’s unbelievable,” Tye said to Ces.

“And he didn’t recognize you.” Drac said eying his newly teenage niece. “Puzzling indeed.”

“Not to mention he destroyed O’Shanley’s,” Sam added, deep in thought.

“How could Mick shatter Family canon much less align with fanatical Laiths?” Drac asked staring into his beer.

“We have to accept the possibility that a future Mick is in fact the beast,” Drac said solemnly.

“But there’s a more pressing issue,” Ces said. “We have to get Mom back!”

Sam took a deep breath seeing anguish in his daughter’s eyes.

“If she did use my TD,” Lars said, “the result would be disastrous. There’s no way she could have known it had a security access code.”

“Very sad,” Miri said softly.

“What were the translation criteria?” Sam asked Lars.

“Local space,” he replied. “Random coordinates within a radius of several hundred kilometers.”

Sam’s heart sank.

“I can’t even go back and follow my own TD,” Lars said. “More incomplete programming,” he added opening the lid of gold TD only to snap it shut and then stuff it back in its pocket.

“I think I can tell,” Ces said scanning the clear, blue Texas sky. “But it could take time,” she added thoughtfully.

Drac put his arm around Sam’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry Sammy,” he said tearfully.

“I’m not giving up. We’ll find a way to get her back, Ces,” Sam said confidently. “We don’t know for sure she used your TD,” he added looking at Lars, “and there’s another portal we need to check out.”

“This time we’ll be better prepared,” Tye added with a nod to the disrupter rifle leaning against the bar.

“If the black cloak is another temporal entity like the Amhrán or Turas Luath,” Drac said, “Catching the beast will be difficult.”

“I may have an idea,” Ces said while raising her eyebrows, “but Lars, Auntie Tye and I will need some time in the Lars’ lab to run some simulations.”

Lars nodded making inputs to his TD. “We’ll be right back,” he said and then translated with Tye and Ces.

They reappeared an instant later.

“Ces’ plan should work,” Lars announced jubilantly. “We’ll need two of your linear TDs with minor modifications to their activation controls for bio-recognition,” he added.

Sam knew Tye was nervous about changing the priceless devices as the Family had very few temporal operatives and the number of TDs was even smaller.

The Family strictly limited the number of TDs for security reasons. Flint and he had the only two universal TDs, derived from ringlets from the Amhrán and Turas Luath. There were six others, also using ringlet technology that could translate in linear cycles, downline then back upline. The Family used them for the most basic recon missions as well as training.

Sam looked to his sister and as their eyes met, he immediately knew she was on board with the possible sacrifice. After three hundred years of Family life, they could communicate surprisingly well with the most minor of body language.

“No problem,” Sam said.

“Miri and I have a few more leads in the archives to follow,” Drac said. “And as time, as usual, is in short supply, we could sure use your help, Ces,” he added with a subtle wink at Sam.

“It just us then,” Sam said looking to Tye then Lars.

 

RefPlane, Planet TarTarus

“Now this could be hell,” Lars said wiping sweat from his face as they approached the caves entrance on the scorching planet from their translation point several hundred meters behind them.

“We are very close to Drac’s coordinates,” Tye said as they quickly entered the cave to escape the red planet’s harsh heat.

“How many other portals are there?” Sam muttered while looking down a spiral staircase descending into blackness below them.

“Just the two in the Milky Way in your RP,” Lars said. “Miri indicated Drac and he found fewer than two hundred others cited for other fractimes’ galaxies within the Local Group.”

“Let us hope this is the one,” Tye said.

“Looks like it,” Sam said holding up a cigar butt then grimacing as he held it to his nose and then held it out to Tye who then cautiously smelled it.

“Whew,” she said. “That is Uncle Mick’s for sure.”

“As arid as this place is,” Lars said taking a closer look at the desiccated stubby, “it could have been here a long time.”

“One way to find out,” Sam said unfastening a small flashlight from his mission pack and shining it into the darkness beyond the first few steps of the staircase.

After descending worn, stone treads for several minutes, they reached the last step and as Sam shown his light on another Mandorla portal, Tye whistled. This one, formed into the caves wall a few centimeters above floor level and extending upward almost two meters, appeared identical with the other.

“Impressive as the one on TarTuras,” she said studying the carving and then taking several scans and pictures with a pad.

“It looks identical,” Sam said while fighting a deep shiver as he stooped to inspect a cold, dead torch on the caves floor. The possibility of an evil Mick on other side of the Mandorla terrified him.

Lars placed a Family linear TD on the caves floor below the portal then gently covered it with dirt. “Ready,” he said. “It should only take a moment to set up the other once inside.”

Tye gave Sam an anxious glance. “There are just shit loads that can go wrong,” she said.

“It’s a decent plan assuming the beast will play ball,” he reassured her knowing their trap might never make the capture. “I guess we’re all set,” he added while removing the Timestone from a pocket in her mission pack.

Tye checked the disrupter rifle’s charge and then pointed it at the center of the carved tree as Lars pulled his handheld version from its holster.

Sam adjusted his hold on the Timestone so it matched the details of the recess in the carved tree’s trunk then pressed it gently into place.

They fought for balance as the ground trembled, but as the tremor subsided, the portal slowly floated to one side to reveal the inky blackness of the Mandorla.

“I thought I heard someone ring the door bell,” a vaguely familiar masculine voice said from behind Sam.

Turning, Sam saw a cloaked figure standing on the last step of the staircase. A black hood hid his face but Sam recognized the gnarled hands from the temporal camera’s feed during the last moments of O’Shanley’s and an intense chill overcame him.

“Uncle Mick?” Tye asked meekly holding her nose to a horrendous stench.

The figure laughed raucously. “Yes and no,” he finally said, pulling the hood back to reveal an ancient Mick, and then laughed again while leering at Tye’s obvious female features.

“You are not my uncle,” she said raising her rifle.

“My followers refer to me as Abaddon,” he said with a wicked grin. “He’s in there,” he added with a nod to the blackness of the portal. “His capture like yours was too easy. Very ironic where he and you will spend the rest of eternity. The rest of your meddling family will join you shortly and I then can finally get about my business.”

“Which is?” Lars asked indifferently.

Abaddon just laughed again.

Sam knew there would be no reasoning with this being.

Turning to Lars, Abaddon chuckled. “The family is all here!”

Sam exchanged a quick glance with Tye that was enough to tell she had enough of the doppelganger’s bullshit.

“Too bad you won’t enjoy more meddling from your new station,” Abaddon said looking at Sam. “I’ll enjoy drinking out of that family chalice in the near future or maybe I already have,” he added with a nasty chuckle.

“We’ll see about that,” Sam quipped with a shiver and now knowing Abaddon was atop the command structure for the renegade Laiths.

Abaddon looked at Tye’s weapon. “You actually think I can be destroyed with a puny disrupter?” he asked and then laughed again.

Sam could not help but wince expecting his warrior sister to pull the trigger of the mag-spec disrupter rifle, her favorite weapon of choice on most missions needing heavy weaponry.

She fired the weapon nearly point-blank. Its energy continued to dissipate without effect in a brilliant, sustained aurora surrounding the old man until the rifle stopped to recycle its charge.

Sam knew that would be just under three seconds.

Lars then fired his weapon in vain at the center of Abaddon’s face.

Tye fired again. This time at his crotch in defiance but still without effect

“Enough stupidity!” Abaddon shouted as he flung them all effortlessly with a wave of his twisted hands into the blackness of the Mandorla.

 

Null Space

Sam landed hard on a white marble floor an instant before Tye and Lars fell on top of him.

“I wasn’t expectin’ guests this late,” Mick said wearing a large towel wrapped around his thick waist and another, turban style, around his head.

His rescuers just stared at him.

“What?” he said as Sam and Tye embraced the rotund bartender. “It is Saturday night.

“At least the bio-recognition worked and we didn’t start the cycle,” Lars muttered while quickly placing another linear TD beneath the portal. “We should have thoroughly tested these,” he added shaking his head while standing up.

“Lars?” Mick asked recognizing a familiar patron.

“Explanations will take too much time,” Sam said. “The beast is on the other side of the portal!”

“Is there anyone else here?” Lars asked Mick emphatically.

“Just me,” Mick said. “But—

“And me,” the AI interrupted appearing next to Mick.

Mick turned and stared at the now female program.

“Luca?” Sam asked in disbelief staring at the familiar, young and attractive computer display.

“I don’t think she’s Luca,” Tye said raising her disrupter.

“You are correct Tiyehaujitoe. I have many labels but not Luca,” she said kindly as Tye’s weapon vanished from her hands. “Humanity has referred to me as Tiwi Illy Menwu in the past and future. I am Mór.”

“What exactly do you want?” Mick asked.

“Being omnipotent is not exactly what it is cracked up to be,” she sighed.

“I thought the Mór were a myth,” Lars said walking around and inspecting the AI’s field hologram.

“There is no need to fear,” Tiwi told him. “You are safe for now from the evil waiting outside. For it, no time has elapsed.”

“For now?” Tye asked.

Tiwi smiled and nodded. “I thank you constructing this trap. It was beyond my reach to do so. Very complicated,” she said, subtly shaking her head. “This device needed only minor modifications,” she added looking at the TD below the inner portal.

“Getting back to Mick’s question,” Sam said knowing rumors the rare interactions between humanity and Mór generally did not go too well.

“Things have gotten…ah, a bit complicated,” she replied. “Meddling on such a scale has its risks. My elders have asked me to provide proof of character related to probability projections for my subjects. Nothing like a bit of field work, eh?”

“Subjects?” Tye repeated giving Sam a quizzical look.

“And how do you intend to provide such?” Mick asked.

“I thought a simple chat would suffice as your Family’s evolution is well represented,” she replied casting a gaze to each in quick succession. “A few questions should do it.”

“Why would we answer your questions?” Lars asked. “You’ve imprisoned us.”

Tiwi smiled. “You misunderstand. I have saved you from that which is outside. You faced certain death or more likely much worse.”

“So, we owe you thanks?” Sam asked softening his attitude to the Mór.

Tiwi bowed her head slightly to Sam. “And there are no questions for you to answer,” she added looking at Lars. “You can each ask me one question. Just one should do. As appropriate, I will strive to answer them to the degree of completeness possible for your stage of sentience. From those queries I will have my data.”

“What do you ask to someone who possibly knows everything?” Lars asked.

“Where’s Sara?” Sam asked.

Tiwi stiffened. “A poor question, Sam,” she replied. “Nevertheless, understandable. Her bio-sentient programming persists within the continuum, as do and have all others. However, the timeframe of her final amalgamation is uncertain even to me.”

“Riddles,” Tye said while looking to Mick.

“What of the coming war?” Mick asked.

“Now that’s a better question,” Tiwi said with satisfaction. “The outcome of a conflict involving significant influences by an assortment of meddlers cannot be predicted. However in the very long run, there are dire risks for humanity.”

Tiwi looked to Tye then Lars.

“Maybe we should think a bit more about the last two questions,” Mick injected. “My question was way too vague.”

“We have time,” Tiwi said as three more chairs, identical with the monk’s favorite, appeared. “Please confer,” she added with a chuckle before disappearing.

Sitting down heavily, Lars sighed. “I suppose my question would be answered like Sam’s. So, any ideas?” he asked.

“What is this really all about?” Tye asked.

“Looks like a test,” Mick said. “And let’s hope we pass for humanities sake.”

“Could Abaddon be behind the Universal War?” Lars asked.

“Not impossible, but Laiths have erratic translation skills,” Tye replied. “I don’t see how they could have sustained such an upline war stretching millennia into the future.”

“I agree,” Mick said while adjusting his turban. “Laiths are a mostly a Family issue.”

“How about we ask how to win that war?” Lars asked.

They all nodded.

“Should we see how she answers that question before poising another?” Sam asked.

“Good idea,” Tye said.

“Tiwi,” Mick called out just before the AI reappeared. He then nodded to Lars.

“How can humanity win the war?” Lars asked.

“As I indicated, that outcome has not been determined because of a multitude of meddling factors,” she replied. “However, the Family has a great role to play and if humanity is victorious it will be for that reason.”

“Anything more specific?” Lars “And I’m not asking the last question,” he added quickly.

Tiwi paused and then sighed. “There is no single strategy, tactic or weapon that will bring victory. You’ll just need to be open and prepared to embrace luck. This lack of predictability is what has brought us together despite the nothingness that surrounds us.”

“Shit,” Sam said.

“Last question?” Tiwi asked turning to Tye.

“Have at it,” Mick told his niece adding a deep sigh.

“Yeah,” Sam agreed.

“Good luck,” Lars whispered to Tye.

Sam thought, as Tye sat in silent, deep contemplation, that his brilliant sister should come up with a good question. However, would it matter? The Mór’s answers had been useless so far.

“What is the origin of the temporal entities and how did they come to the family?” Tye asked.

Tiwi smiled broadly.

Sam knew this was a good question; the Amhrán and Turas Luath was the true technological power base for the Family.

“The entities,” Tiwi said, “evolved from simple energy into infinitesimal temporal fibers during the early expansion of the fractime you call the Reference Plane. It was a rare and very early departure of similarity, a rare roughness in history, which still has continuing affects in several proximal fractimes.

“Then, the laws of physics were vastly different and allowed a temporal awareness to develop and preserve itself as the universe stabilized into the chaos of entropy in which we find ourselves now enveloped.

“Early humanity in your RP and this galaxy found and somehow discovered how to colonize a few of these sentient fibers into the ringlets to form the living chain mail of those garments.”

“Lucky,” Lars commented.

“Their possession spawned the great wars during the first galactic epoch lasting billions of Sol years,” Tiwi said. “Your first Family mother rescued two of them at great personal peril and sent them to a distant and future Earth to escape those who desired their power,” she added.

Mick sighed. “Enlightening, but I’m not sure that knowledge helps us.”

Tiwi smiled. “All answers I have provided are irrelevant and lack substance because of overly redundant security protocols. You won’t remember them anyways.

“Great,” Tye muttered.

“Fuck,” Lars said eyeing the portal then looking down at the still inactive TD.

“I apologize for the intrusion,” Tiwi said sincerely.

“Did we pass?” Sam asked a bit sarcastically.

She laughed just before snapping her fingers.

 

Sam landed hard on a white marble floor an instant before Tye and Lars fell on top of him.

“I wasn’t expectin’ guests this late,” Mick said wearing a large towel wrapped around his thick waist and another turban style around his head.

His rescuers just stared at him.

“What?” he said. “It is Saturday night.”

“At least the bio-recognition worked and we didn’t activate the start of the cycle,” Lars muttered while quickly placing another linear TD under the portal. “We should have thoroughly tested these,” he added shaking his head while standing up.

“Lars?” Mick asked recognizing a familiar patron.

“Explanations will take too much time. Is there anyone else here?” Lars asked Mick emphatically.

“Just me,” Mick said. “But how did you find me? The note?”

“Auntie Clare is pissed,” Tye said, adding an affirmative nod.

“It activated,” Lars announced as the TD inside the portal emitted a high-pitched tone. “He followed us!”

“We’ve got to go,” Sam told Mick before they all leapt back through the Mandorla and into fractime again.

They blindly ran up the stone steps pushing Mick before them. Then as Sam counted the eighty-fourth step, Tye stopped and pointed her rifle back into the darkness.

They stood in silence for several minutes before Sam whispered though chattering teeth, “Think he really took the bait and entered the sanctuary?”

“The Timestone should have been enough motivation,” Lars said. “One way to find out,” he added with a nod back into the darkness of the descending spiral.

“An explanation would be good,” Mick said while securing his towel.

“Later Uncle,” Tye said rubbing her temples.

“He either crossed over or we’re all fucked,” Sam said as they made the last downward turn on the spiral stairs.

The portal was still open and after Lars gently brushed dirt off the TD, it displayed its activation glow signaling continuous translations in progress.

“Shit. I think it worked,” he said. “I was worried the slab would disrupt the temporal field before the repetitive cycles began. It seems the energy needed to engage the field is also keeping the slab open.”

“What worked?” Mick asked.

“But the dark matter ratios are way out,” Lars mumbled studying his TD.

“The Beast, an older you,” Tye said. “We think he’s trapped in a near-infinite translation loop.”

“This TD,” Lars explained pointing the device below the portal, “is set to only return translate to the other just beyond the Mandorla. That one is set to return translate to this one.”

“All within nanoseconds,” Tye said, “and the forward momentum of the traveler keeps the pair engaged. Ces came up with the idea.”

“Dastardly,” Mick quipped. “I like it! How long will it last?” he asked turning to Tye then Lars.

“Crossing into the warped field beyond does have minuscule energy consequences; entropy will not be denied,” Tye replied.

“Besides,” Lars said closing his watch, “these dark matter ratios suggest the Mandorla has another dimension. It’s has a kind of thickness.”

“What?” Sam asked.

“Tye’s idea,” Lars said. “We just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take readings from an active Mandorla.”

"If the Mandorla has thickness- we can explore it," Tye explained.

“And just what would you expect to find there?” Sam asked.

“Null Space of course,” Tye replied. “Where that sanctuary must exist,” she added looking into the blackness.

“It appears Null Space theory may have a proof,” Lars said giddily.

“I think it’s given me a hell of a headache,” Tye said with a strained giggle.

Sam nodded amid a shiver while watching Mick rub his temples.

“My head doesn’t feel so well either,” Sam said.

Sam knew if a plane of existence sandwiched between fractimes would be a brilliant discovery. However, it was his experience that any challenges to Tye’s competence in physics were usually short-lived. He had no doubt in the discovery.

“You all probably are feeling the effects of a proximal flux of dark matter,” Lars said. “That may be a Family thing,” he added, “and possibly not healthy for a longer duration.”

Mick cleared his throat.

“Ah, sorry,” Lars said. “It should last about fifty thousand years.”

“That doesn’t give us much time,” Mick muttered while tightening the towel around his waist.

“Unfortunately the portal is still open,” Lars said raising his voice slightly in concern.

“We’ll have to seal off this caves entrance,” Sam added flatly while vigorously rubbing persistent goose bumps on his arms.

“Wait,” Mick said. “This beast looks like me?”

“He could even be an older you,” Tye said solemnly.

“He’s responsible for countless abduction of souls across several fractimes,” Lars said. “You’re sure there wasn’t anyone else in there?” he asked desperately.

“She must have been a good woman,” Mick said grasping Lars’ shoulder.

Sam smiled at Mick, again lessening the pain of another patron of O’Shanley’s.

Lars slumped against the carved tree. “She was,” he replied softly.

“A true, evil bastard,” Mick said.

“We know he was in league with the dissident Laith hierarchy,” Tye said.

“And he took Ces,” Sam said. “We just recovered her unharmed but nine years older. However, Sara is missing. I think she tried to follow him after taking Ces from the Breeze using Lars’ TD.”

“Lars and, I suppose, Miri are travelers; I never suspected!” Mick said. “And I’m guessing things must have not gone as she planned,” he added dejectedly.

“TD security protocols,” Lars explained.

“What’s the Family time?” Mick asked.

Tye showed him the chrono on her wrist.

“Only several days,” he said with obvious relief. “We can probably thank another of Armaros’ tricks for that. However, re-entering the sanctuary could come at a terrible dilation cost. What else has this bastard done?”

“It’s a long list,” Lars said.

“Including destroying O’Shanley’s,” Tye said cautiously.

“What?” Mick moaned. “My bar is gone!”

Chapter -1

RefPlane +1, 17 June 1984

Mick wearing Turas Luath took a deep breath just before starting to dispense steaming coffees from The Machine for Drac, Lars, Miri, Tye and Sam. Ces had wanted hot chocolate and Mick had served her first.

“I knew having another bar as a base of operations was a good thing,” he said with a chuckle and wink at Sam.

“Not what I heard,” Ces said coyly sitting on the Breeze’s bar next to Mick and setting her empty mug down next to the Timestone on the bar.

Sam recalled Mick had argued against the idea, but the queen had insisted claiming Ces needed a real home in which to grow up.

“Now,” Mick said, “Any idea’s on getting Sara back?”

“Maybe Lars could change our timeline with his TD,” Tye said.

“Seems there’s too, much at stake to meddle with now, I’m afraid,” Mick said giving Sam a sympathetic gaze.

“I can do it,” Ces said flatly. “Dad, I was trying to tell you before that I can jump.”

“What?” Mick said

“Is that even possible?” Lars asked skeptically.

“Choice,” Miri said.

“I knew you had undeveloped talents,” Drac said proudly.

“With a TD, right?” Tye asked Ces.

“Hold on,” Sam told everybody suddenly feeling sick that Ces could be experiencing an early symptom of the Laith change. “Ces, explain.”

Ces looked around at everyone then said, “I was making tiny jumps before he took me for several months. Just translations of a few seconds and centimeters. But, in the oubliette I couldn’t really practice and I didn’t jump into the future at home. I promise,” Ces said. “Sorry, Dad but I wanted to get better before I told you and Mom.”

“It’s okay,” Sam told as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

“Sara could be anywhere within several hundred kilometers, even within the earth itself,” Lars said solemnly.

“I would know if Mom was forever dead,” Ces said bluntly. “We’re back in this fractime’s timeline just after my abduct—

“Just over four hours,” Lars injected studying the display on his TD.

“So, after some meditation,” Ces continued with closed eyes, “I can now feel everyone’s recent translations. Like seeing smoke trails of subtly different colors or smells. I can still feel Mom’s but it’s faint and it’s leading up there,” she added pointing up into the sky past Barney sleeping on her perch.

“Too risky,” Sam said seeing tears well up in Tye’s eyes and Drac subtly shake his head.

“Sam,” Mick said, “if she gets into trouble, I and the Turas Luath can probably step in.”

“Probably?” Sam asked.

“It will not disrupt a Family timeline,” Tye said with a quizzical look at Mick.

“Dad?” Ces persisted.

Sam shook his head as he looked at his daughter. Even at four, she was more like twenty. Now at thirteen, he had no idea how advanced her mental age was much less the extent of her abilities.

“If I have to,” Lars said, “I’ll come back to this instant and tell you it doesn’t work.”

Everyone held their breath for several seconds as Barney woke then squawked above them at a local cat testing the seaward boundary of the bird’s territory.

“I’m not sure that proves anything,” Drac said. “We’ve been through all those paradox scenarios countless times.”

“Okay,” Sam relented with his eyes closed.

“I’ll be right back,” Ces said quickly, kissed her dad on the forehead, and then vanished. She reappeared a moment later hovering just above the pool. “Just narrowing down the temporal aspect,” she said then translated again.

She reappeared several hundred meters above the Breeze, “Closer,” she yelled down to them. “Mom’s in vacuum,” she added before her next translation.

Sam waited. Each second seemed an eternity until he heard the familiar pop as air expanded instantaneously following a nearby translation. Ces was cradling Sara just above the pool then both fell into the shallow end, drenching Drac.

Sam jumped in after them.

Sam pulled Ces and her mother from beneath the water.

“Mom, are you okay?” Ces said cradling her mother head.

Sara coughed and put her arm around Sam and her daughter for support as they climbed the steps out of the pool.

“What happened?” she asked. “I couldn’t breathe and you’re so much older,” she added while hugging Ces and then bursting into tears.

“Seems our little Ces is full of surprises,” Mick said proudly.

Sara looked at Mick and then backed into Sam, horrified.

“It’s okay,” Sam said while reassuring her. “Seems the older Mick you saw was hopefully an evil twin.”

“It’s so warm,” Sara rubbing her arms and still looking cautiously at Mick but then rushed to give him a long embrace. “I’m so relieved it wasn’t you,” she said hugging him.

“Me, too, Darlin’,” he said giving her a jovial squeeze.

“Have a coffee,” Tye said handing her a steaming mug.

“Thanks, Sis,” Sara said gratefully.

“What happened?” Miri asked.

Sara took a long sip of coffee then said, “I saw him appear behind Ces doing her homework. I could actually feel his malevolence to her. He had a temporal cloak. It was black. The smell was awful, much worse than the standard Laith stink. I tried to stop him but he just laughed then translated with her. Sam and Lars were gone when I got back out to the bar. There was just the TD Lars left behind. I grabbed it and pressed the button marked follow. I guess there was some kind of security code access.”

Lars nodded.

“I left it in orbit,” Ces said to Lars.

“Better lost for good. It obviously needed an upgrade,” he told her kindly and Mick nodded agreement.

“I’ll make sure both TarTarus and TarTuras are quarantined for the indefinite future,” Drac said, “and both Mandorla sanctuaries are sealed at least until after the war for future study and research.”

“Well that was an adventure,” Mick said finishing his coffee and then began to pull a pint of Irish red. “Can’t wait to read the mission report,” he added. “Anyone else want a beer?”

“Apparently it was a profitable adventure,” Tye said shaking her head looking to Lars then Sam.

“Not only did Ces get Sara back,” Lars said with a nod, “but you guys have a new space station.”

“Now how did you manage that?” Mick asked.

“Poker winnings,” Sam said sheepishly, “along with the missing pieces of the Timestone.”

Mick picked up the green sphere, turning it to look closely at its intricate surface details. “Who would have thought,” he said reflectively. “But how can we be sure my evil twin is in your trap?” he asked.

Mick ignored the silence around him and then burst out in laughter slapping Sam on the back. “I can’t believe you won a station!”

“It’s located deep within the Cannon Nebula in the year 2509,” Drac said. “It should suit the Family very well as the necessity of a future outpost to consolidate pre-war relations with the Time Corps has been discussed in council numerous times. It’s currently undergoing refurbishment all paid for in advance by Eligos. Apparently he was planning on turning it into the intergalactic sin city of casinos.”

“Eligos? A nasty piece of ego that one,” Mick said. “I think we should check it out!” Mick added with a big grin to Ces while picking up the Timestone from the bar.

“Now?” Ces asked with a giggle while grabbing a sleeve of the Turas Luath causing it to shimmer softly under her hand.

“I have the coordinates,” Sam said putting his arm around Sara who was already holding Drac’s hand.

“Miri and I will follow you,” Lars said.

 

RefPlane/Trua Outpost: Stardate 189835.0

They all arrived in the uppermost level observation deck. Workers busy with the outpost’s refurbishment ignored the newcomers.

“The gravity generators have been recently overhauled, too,” Drac commented looking around the dusty construction site. “All in all pretty sound. There’s room for a medical bay, library, admin and the Family’s disarmed weapons-of-mass destruction, to coin a phrase. But I’m not sure of a purpose of this space,” he added looking around again.”

“Wow,” Ces said, “look at that!”

They all followed her stare leading above them to a transparent overhead showing the brilliant gas and dust clouds of the nebula.

“Interesting,” Miri said commenting on the two isosceles triangles joined at their apex making up the overhead’s viewport.

“It’s like an hourglass,” Ces said. “See the swirling, red stellar gas? It looks like sand running up and backwards through the neck.”

“Sounds like we’ve got a name for our new bar!” Mick said still staring at the celestial tapestry.

Drac cleared his throat.

“Yes ambassador Draconous?” Mick said still looking upward.

“The Timestone,” Drac said. “I don’t feel comfortable with it here.”

Mick looked at Drac then Sam. “I agree, but first there’s something that’s been long past due that needs doing.”

Sara nudged Ces to pay attention to Mick as he cleared his throat.

“Seems Sam has been adrift for a while now; the new job and all,” Mick said with a wink to Ces and Sara. “By the spirit of family and by the authority gifted by our mother and first queen, Zuinall, I hereby grant the Family name of Greenstone to Sam for continuous service rendered above and beyond space and time.”

Sam was speechless as everyone clapped, even the workers around them.

 

Planet Trua

The last time Mick invited Sam to his private stash of artifacts from across fractime was when Sam was a small boy. Most of the room contained neatly stacked crates and chests but many artifacts lay neatly in transparent cases lining the rest of the space that family called Mick’s museum. Most of the items surrounding Sam were just too dangerous to allow back in circulation.

“There,” Mick said gently placing the Timestone on an intricately carved stand on a pedestal near the center of the museum.

Sam immediately recognized the aboriginal dreamtime, Mimi spirits finely carved into the stand. They held the Timestone above their heads with stick-like arms and he wondered what, if any, connection existed between the two very different objects.

“Safe and sound,” Mick added with a sigh.

“Mesmerizing,” Sam said while focusing his gaze on the Timestone, that Mick had universally illuminated to reveal its true exquisiteness in its new home. Its emerald surface glistened like a deep, shadowy green jade melded to a rare kelly-green labradorite. In addition, covering the sphere’s surface were delicate sutures that held the finest fractal patterns, which on Sam’s scrutiny shrank quickly beneath the limit of his enhanced vision.

“Indeed, brother,” Mick agreed. “And the three segments now seem joined permanently,” he added.

“The inscribed pattern appears the same whatever magnification,” Sam said in awe.

“I’ve got that contact regarding that big crystal,” Mick said.

“I know where it is. Eligos has it,” Sam said still squinting at the emerald orb.

“Interesting,” Mick muttered making a small adjustment to the Timestone’s orientation on its stand. “You know getting rid of Abaddon,” he said not breaking the Timestone’s spell on Sam, “will help us in the coming war. We’ve only one front now even if it is going to be a real bitch.”

“Assuming we ever find out who we’re really fighting,” Sam said and then shivered as he continued to study the artifact. He hoped a good explanation as to the origin of Mick’s wicked twin would surface soon.

“Miri will be a great asset to the citadels R&D efforts but it’s too bad Lars turned us down,” Sam added rubbing his arms, still feeling the cold of the Mandorla.

“Yup,” Mick said putting his arm around Sam. “Maybe you should get a sauna. Fight that chill before it takes hold.”

“In south Texas?” Sam asked then laughed.

“And for some reason,” Mick said soberly while gazing into the Timestone and ignoring Sam, “I think we’ve probably seen the last of our brilliant scientist and watch maker until the war draws closer. I believe he will be a critical asset to help defeat the enemy at some point. And let’s hope his timepiece that Sara used stays lost.”

“Its resurfacing would definitely be alarming,” Sam quipped.

“And really wind up the TC so we’ll certainly have to watch that space!” Mick added as he cracked up into a full belly laugh.

Sam pushed a set of keys into Mick’s big right hand, smiled at his mentor’s infallible sense of punny humor, and then said, “Maybe this can help with the war effort. A single-seat, temporal fighter,” he added while squinting closely at the Timestone in hopes of revealing yet another fractal level on the green sphere. “It needs picking up sometime from dock six at the House and I’m not volunteering.”

“A hell of a prize,” Mick said chuckling, obviously pleased with Sam’s poker winnings. “I’ve got a few favors to call in with the TC so we should be able to properly register the temporal drive. It’ll be good security for our new station and outpost in the Cannon Nebula,” he added while trying unsuccessfully to stifle further laughter.

“Hold it,” Sam said, turning to look at Mick, after remembering Family lore telling of an earth scientist that would end the Universal War. “You weren’t referring to Lars and that old legend, were you?” Sam asked.

Mick just laughed more, a lot more.

 

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Find the entire Fractime saga at Shakespir and connect with the author online at: facebook.com/fractime

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Fractime Timestone (Part -1)

Fractime’s story tells of key times surrounding the Universal War, a conflict pitting humanity against machine and itself throughout time. The Family enlists friends to journey across multiverse to discover their fate and what is behind the Universal War. The Family is in crisis when Mick goes to Hell. Sam must find out who is responsible and enlists old friends from O'Shanley's bar to help find the Timestone, a key through the Tree of Life and into the realm of evil. However, a devilish poker tournament challenges Sam to obtain the ancient stone orb when his wife and daughter also mysteriously disappear. (ver 1.0)

  • ISBN: 9781310599170
  • Author: Steve Hertig
  • Published: 2016-03-08 02:50:13
  • Words: 39766
Fractime Timestone (Part -1) Fractime Timestone (Part -1)