Mystery at Sea

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Mystery at Sea

Postby LilJennie » Mon Jun 20, 2022 9:47 pm

This began as Miki's idea, and as usual we're never quite sure at the start where the idea will lead us. -- LilJennie

Mystery at Sea

by Miki Yamuri and Jennie Flint

The voyage had been a long one over the last year. The men and women scientists were doing the most thorough job they could studying what global warming and the gargantuan amounts of radioactive water that had been spilled in the oceans due to a massive reactor meltdown had caused. They needed to discover how bad the damage it had done to the global biome was.

So far, the voyage had shown that the incredibly huge amounts of floating trash had actually formed a sort of haven for a multitude of living creatures. However, the tremendously large amounts of radioactive water that had been dumped due to a serious reactor meltdown was causing issues with the food chain, and they wanted to discover how serious it had become.

The ship had left the Florida coast, gone north of the Bahamas, and started to trek into the Sargasso Sea, which was now known to contain almost as much microplastic pollution as the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but it wasn’t obvious because it was hidden among the green sargassum weed that floated on the surface of thousands of square miles of ocean.

The research ship Origin was a large trimaran with both sails and motors. Although sails had zero carbon footprint, even the most high-tech sail system couldn’t do much when the wind stopped blowing. On the other hand, the weed could sometimes entangle boats’ propellers.

“Bridge to Captain, this is radar. We ... seem to have a problem and request your presence on the bridge.”

“What kind of problem?” asked Captain Brennan over the walkie-talkie, scanning the horizon with binoculars. He could have sworn he’d seen something glint in the sunlight, looking like a distant aircraft flying dangerously low over the ocean, but now he wasn’t seeing anything.

“Not real sure what to make of this, Captain,” said the voice of McAfee, the engineer, who also ran the radar and the radio. “Never seen anything like it before. On one sweep I get a return of some kind of large phenomenon. On the next is nothing. However on several returns, I got a signal of a small plane flying at wave top, then it too was gone.”

The captain replied, “I’ll be up in a minute.” He took one more scan of the distant horizon through the binoculars before allowing them to hang around his neck by their strap, and quickly headed for the bridge.

When he arrived, McAfee seemed to be in some kind of frenzy as he quickly adjusted his controls trying to improve whatever the intermittent contact was. Captain Brennan felt a strange worry come across his mind as he watched each sweep of the scope show a clear reading, then show some type of unidentified anomalous phenomenon. Every now and again, there was a ghostly reading of some sort of formation of multiple aircraft, several ships, and even some type of large sailing craft that seemed to show for an instant before the scope showed clear once again.

McAfee said, “I’ve tried everything I know, Captain. I just completed a full operational diagnostic that showed all equipment functioning above specs. I can’t explain this.”

Brennan patted the man on his shoulder, “Don’t sweat it. Our purpose is to explore and to investigate. The only way to determine what this might be … is to investigate.” The captain walked from the radar station and sat in his command chair, “Helm, swing ‘er around to port 90 degrees. Give us flank speed until we’re close enough to get a really good eyeball on what this might be.”

The ringing bell sound of the engine throttle mount being reset was heard as Kaluza, at the helm, replied, “Aye, Captain. Swingin ‘er around 90 degrees to port, flank speed. New heading taking us more southwest, around 215.”

The Captain could feel it as the large tri-hulled vessel changed course and swung around towards the direction in which he had gotten the glimpse of what could have been a small aircraft at wavetops. The sails auto-adjusted and filled with wind.

“What’s going on, Captain?” came a voice. It was Dr. Daniels, head of the research team that was the entire reason why this ship was out on the ocean. “We’re on a new course? This wasn’t scheduled, so what’s going on? Is there an emergency?”

“No emergency, Dr. Daniels,” Brennan replied. “We’re just getting some strange radar readings close to the ocean’s surface in that direction, and I spotted what looked like an aircraft off in the distance that way too. I thought we might want to check it out, if there’s any possibility an aircraft’s gone down. There are no other ships in the area, so if someone needs help, there’s no one else to offer it.”

“Oh!” said Dr. Daniels. “Well, yes, obviously, if there’s anyone in distress, we should offer aid. But there’s no distress call?” She looked doubtful.

“That’s a negative,” the captain replied. “We’ve got no mayday. If there is a downed plane, their radio could be out. We’ll know when we get closer. It might be nothing. There are a lot of strange reports in this area – they wouldn’t call it the Bermuda Triangle for nothing, would they?” He grinned, knowing how the scientist would respond.

“Now, you know that’s a myth,” said Dr. Daniels with a wry half-smile. “People report strange occurrences everywhere on the ocean every day, and they’re no more common in this area than they are anywhere else. This place just has a name, that’s all. Besides, we’ve been out here for nearly a year of our lives, and we’ve seen nothing stranger than a bunch of floating weeds full of plastic debris.”

The captain nodded. “Duly noted, Dr. Daniels,” he said with a grin. “We’ll keep you informed.”

“I’ll tell the team,” she said, heading back down the stairs to below decks. “We can help spot, once we get closer.”

“Sounds good,” Brennan replied as the hatch closed. He returned to scanning the horizon ahead of them.

The ship proceeded on its new course for about 45 minutes. Brennan could hear the quiet speculations buzzing around the bridge command crew over what the readings they were getting might be.

The science team reported to the bridge that the water temperature was rapidly dropping and small waves were beginning to arise as weather conditions went from clear and sunny to cloudy and stormy. A very cold wind filled with mist and small amounts of sleet began to pelt the ship. The tri-bow of the ship rose and fell over the growing waves as water began to come over the forward rails and wash the decks. It had become rather rough.

“This is unseasonable for this location and time of year,” said Jorrit Jonsson, the meteorologist, who had come up to the bridge. “And the satellite readings and weather models didn’t predict anything like this. Very odd.” The ship plowed on through the ever worsening conditions as the bridge crew took their rough weather positions and strapped in.

The Captain hit the ship-wide comm button on the arm of his chair. The bosun’s pipes indicating a ship wide notice sounded, “This is the Captain to all crew. Looks like we are in for a blow. Batten down everything, and take rough water positions. Looks like it’s gettin’ kinda rough. Lower sails and switch to engines.”

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Without warning, some type of swirling cloudbank appeared in front of the ship. It looked like a whirlpool filled with lightning and strangely colored lights blinking all through it.

McAfee shouted, “Captain! That thing just appeared. Radar goes right through it.”

“Analysis computers can’t identify that,” added Jonsson. “It’s no kind of weather I’ve ever heard of.”

Before Brennan could order the engines to reverse, Kaluza, at the helm, spoke up with a shout, “Captain, the ship isn’t responding to helm. Something has grabbed us and is pulling us in.”

Instantly, the ship entered whatever this anomaly was. Static electricity arced all around as balls of green and yellow Saint Elmo’s Fire danced along many surfaces. Comms and radar went offline as the ship seemed to pass some sort of eyewall and entered an area of extreme calm. A very thick fog swirled all around. Looking out the conn windows showed only white – a total and complete whiteout.

The sea had become glassy smooth. Jonsson said, “Water temperature’s risen – and the ambient air temperature too, as well as the humidity.” Indeed, it had become hot, muggy, and oppressive with all the moisture.

McAfee said with real worry as he once again ran operational diagnostics on his equipment, “Radar’s offline. Diagnostics say it’s working properly, but I’m not getting any returns. Not even off the water’s surface. That is damn strange.” He started checking the radio.

The bosun’s pipes sounded. “Captain, this is the engine room,” said Kaluza. “Weirdest darn thing I’ve ever seen. The motors have stopped functioning. We’re tearing them apart to figure out why, but so far, we can find no reason for it.”

McAfee looked up from behind the radio equipment and said, “Same here, Captain. Communications are inop, but diagnostics say nothing’s wrong with the equipment.”

The Captain hit the return button on the intercom. “Engine room, we’re going to switch back to sail, but keep working on the motors. Something really strange has just happened that seems to be affecting all systems. Keep me informed, bridge out.”

The super thick fog surrounding the ship dissipated. Everything became crystal clear and sunny. Off in the distance, the outlines of a large landmass could be seen.

The Captain said, “Since engines are out, raise the mainsail and three jibs. There’s a small breeze, so we can make our way towards that land. I don’t recognize what it might be. It’s not on any charts.” He checked the navigation computer as he said this. “We’re getting no GPS, but based on course and last known position, there should be nothing there. And yet there it is.”

“Aye, Captain.” replied Kaluza, setting course.

Shortly, the crew had raised the sails and the trimaran was making good time towards the landmass now filling the forward views. The water was clam as glass, the skies were now cloudless and sunny, and the air was still hot and humid.

The captain was bent over the navigation computer trying to determine where they were. McAfee and Kaluza had joined him. Nothing they saw resembled any of the maps for the location they had been in before they had entered whatever that anomaly had been. “The nearest land was over 300 miles from our last known position. We simply cannot have traveled that far in that amount of time,” said Brennan. The others couldn’t explain it either.

Daniels, an oceanographer as well as the lead researcher, had joined Jonsson on the bridge as well, and they were also engaged in rapid, hushed conversation. “There’s no GPS signal, that land out there isn’t on the charts, and comms are down,” said Jonsson. “I must go by evidence. And we don’t have any.”

“Right, well, we’re a multidisciplinary research team,” said Daniels. “We should be able to figure this out. Let’s try a magnetic compass and sight the sun – like they did in the old days with a sextant. At least our chronometers are better now.”

“Got it,” said Jonsson. “I’m going to go talk to Derricks and Velásquez. We need more than a single sun sighting; we need a series of them. I’ll see if they can rig something.” He left the bridge and went below decks.

Daniels went over to the captain, who turned toward her. “Mobilizing the troops to get this figured out?” he asked her.

“You know it,” Daniels replied. “And yes, we can look at the nav computer as easily as you can, and this is just nonsensical. The data doesn’t add up. There’s something we’re missing. And Jonsson’s going to start collecting the data we’re missing.”

“I’m going on the hypothesis – that’s the right word, right? – that we’re not where we think we are,” said the captain. “I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but we’ve traveled somehow. We’re far from our starting point.”

“Oh, come on, how can that even happen?” asked Daniels. She looked skeptical, but hesitated. “But it’s a hypothesis. Testing hypotheses is my job. Land mass where it isn’t expected. Before that, weather patterns not matching the forecast models or satellite data, according to Jonsson. Those are consistent with the hypothesis. In fact, they suggest we may have … traveled … even before it got stormy. But we need a latitude, and they can get that from the sun and a compass. That’ll tell us whether our latitude’s changed.”

“Our compass up here is … less than helpful right now,” said Brennan. “Hey, McAfee, is it still doing it?”

“Aye, Captain,” McAfee said, going to the ship’s compass, fixed in a liquid-filled glass in the control panel. “See that?” He pointed. It showed that they were going roughly northwest. “Now watch what happens if we change direction just a bit.”

“Kaluza, alter course five degrees to port,” said Brennan, and the helmsman did so. The compass moved with the ship. It said their heading hadn’t changed.

“Well, that’s … inconvenient,” said Daniels, watching the compass. “Still, they should be able to get a good reading. It’ll just take hours, instead of being quick. They’ll have to sight the sun over a period of time, and then they can estimate due north as well as our latitude.”

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The captain and crew piloted the large research trimaran vessel relatively close to one of the large expanses of pristine white sand as the research part of the crew took as many readings and observations as they could. There were places of rocky outcroppings and huge boulders in near the shore. Waves broke over them in spectacular sprays of water and foam.

Inland, the growth was lush and tropical. Through binoculars, Daniels, an oceanographer as well as the lead researcher, could see a variety of colorfully plumed birds, as well of some sort of large scurrying creature with spots and some even had spots and stripes.

Everyone on board now knew that their location was totally unknown. The GPS had power, but was apparently getting no signals from the orbital satellites. It was the same with the radio; it was physically in working order, but it didn’t seem to have any signals to receive.

The only piece of equipment that appeared to work was highly suspect. The magnetic compass floated freely, but its magnet only turned with the ship, apparently not attracted to anything.

Origin rounded a large rocky outcropping to find another beautiful sandy beach, split in the middle by a deep channel that lead into a large, crystal-clear lagoon. It too had sandy beaches and one place where, they discovered, the rock formed a perfect docking location for the vessel. The water was deep enough that there was no danger to the hulls.

They had dropped anchor and explored most of the lagoon and its waters and determined, from their preliminary explorations, that the island was, so far, a tropical paradise … that was, until they found the remains of some type of crashed aircraft.

It was more than obvious that some type of large creature with very nasty claws had attacked one side of the craft and basically ripped it to shreds. From the conditions of the canopy and pilot’s seat, the pilot had put up a decent fight, but from the remains scattered about, it was also apparent that the pilot had lost and had a dinner invitation with the critter.

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The captain sat at the very large conference table with his crew and the heads of the research team. Piles of reports, photographs, and other research data lay in orderly neat stacks on the table and around the chairs where everyone was sitting.

Captain Brennan asked, “Well, people. Has anyone managed to piece together this mystery and make any determination as to where on Earth we might be?”

Daniels stood and activated a small laptop next to where she and her data were. The electronic screen that made up one complete wall of the room lit up and began showing images of the lagoon. It also showed what they knew of the island, which Captain Brennan himself had drawn as accurately as he could, being the best navigator and cartographer on board.

A map of the last verified location of the ship came up with a split down the screen showing what they currently knew about their present location. Daniels said, “Well, when the evidence contradicts everything known, the only possibilities left are the unknown. From what data we currently have, and the fact that GPS is offline … this is going to sound impossible, but we have a good probability of not being on Earth at all.”

A loud, vociferous argument began among the command crew and researchers. Captain Brennan interrupted it when he slapped his hand on the table, making a loud WHAP! “Ladies and gentlemen, we are professionals.” The loud arguing stopped, and the Captain continued, “The basic hypothesis that has been offered by our head researcher clearly states: We have traveled an unknown distance and are currently in an unknown location.”

Alejandra Velásquez, one of the research assistants doing doctoral work for her PhD, who had done some research in quantum physics, interjected at this point, “There is enough data to support such a hypothesis, too.”

Leon Kaluza, the helmsman, spoke up, “Yeah, like all GPS signals are gone. We can’t even find a marker buoy signal. According to the compass, there is no magnetic field. There is nowhere on Earth where the planet’s magnetic field is zero, not even inside the best Faraday cage. You can build a zero-Gauss isolation chamber to block Earth’s magnetic field, but look around. We aren’t inside any kind of chamber. But anyway, there are no signals of any kind to give us a frame of reference.”

The Captain asked, “What did that exercise in using the astrolabe do? Did we at least get some idea of where we might be?”

Eduard McAfee, the Radar and communications tech, replied, “With all comms down and geo equipment acting all wonky, it seems even the sky is broken. Not sure anyone has noticed, but over the last 14 hours we have been here, the sun hasn’t moved.”

A quiet murmur of realization rounded the room.

Daniels said, “This lends support to the hypothesis that we are no longer on Earth. I further propose that we are in another universe, continuum, or dimension previously unknown to mankind.” There were murmurs around the table, but by this time everybody was already sure that they had ventured into the unknown.

“Could we possibly have been transported to another planet within the same universe?” she asked. “Perhaps. But I submit that if that were the case, there are several inconsistencies. One, if the sun is unmoving, we would not in fact be on a planet with a temperate climate. A planet that keeps one face toward the sun at all times soon sees all the air freeze and collect on the cold, dark side. What’s more, a planet without a magnetic field is bombarded by radiation, yet our instruments detect no unusual levels of ionizing radiation. We are therefore in a place where at least some of the physical laws we know do not apply. There is no theory that allows such a place to exist within our universe.”

There was dead silence as that sank in. She used a pointer to indicate the place on their map where they had encountered the anomaly. “The best I can make out is that we were in a northern area of the Sargasso Sea – yes, it’s the region known as the legendary Bermuda Triangle. Now, just a few scant hours ago I was scoffing at that term.” She looked seriously around the table until her eyes fell on Dr. Jorrit Jonsson. “Jorrit, you’re one of the best meteorologists and climatologists in the field. Have you ever, in any of your years in your profession, seen a weather pattern and conditions like the ones we experienced?”

Jorrit replied sheepishly, “I have never seen a weather pattern like the one we encountered. That is, if in fact it was weather at all.” There was another round of short quiet discussions.

Alejandra spoke up as she held up an index finger. “I’m not quite sure of how it would look within an atmosphere, nor the disruptions it would cause, but I have seen simulations of a rotating singularity and some of the electromagnetic readings theory predicts.” She picked up several stacks of papers and glossy pictures and handed them around.

Dr. Daniels looked over the data. “From what I can see here, based on what you have postulated, we might have even traveled in time – not that we’d be able to tell, as we’re completely removed from any points of reference.”

Alejandra replied, “From what data we have so far, it is quite possible. What’s more … there’s no telling what kind of creature it was that destroyed that aircraft.”

The captain said at that point, in a faraway thoughtful tone, “That aircraft and the pilot’s remains looked sort of fresh. Like within a day or so.”

Martina Derricks, one of the research assistants who also loved WW2 vintage aircraft, said with a tinge of wonder in her tone, “That aircraft was a Mitsubishi A6M Zero - 'the Zeke.' It is a 1940 long-range carrier-based fighter the most-produced Japanese combat aircraft. The only thing is, that aircraft looked new, and the war was over 75 years ago. And, since it’s carrier-based, it didn’t take off from shore. However it got here, it launched from a carrier ship and was meant to return to it. Instead, it ended up … here.”

“And the creature,” said the quiet Dr. Lazarov, marine biologist, “I would like to see its claw and bite marks more closely. It may have come from another era of Earth – or indeed another planet entirely, in our universe or another, and seemingly from any time period.”

The captain suggested, “Perhaps we should send out small, well-armed parties to investigate our surroundings more. From what all of your reports have said, we could source fresh water from the waterfall at the other end of the lagoon, and there is an abundance of fresh fruits along with other observed fish, avian, and mammalian life, so food and water won’t be an issue.”

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Forty minutes later, after the expedition’s details had been straightened out, Dr. Daniels said, “The first mate has organized 4 parties to go out. Two of them are resource gathering, although both teams also have a researcher with them able to take samples and make readings. One thing to note, the weapons locker has been opened, and each team has been issued a four-barreled minigun along with several satchels of ammo. Whatever that creature is, we’re hoping that kind of firepower will kill or at least deter it, should it come for us.”

The captain stood, “Very good, ladies and gentlemen. I suggest we hop to it. I’m sure this weirdo place has many surprises in store for …”

The captain never got to finish. The very bright sun’s light from outside faded away suddenly as if someone had turned a rheostat on a variable light switch as it slowly became dark out. Everyone left what they were currently doing and climbed to the deck. They could see the stars scattered all about as they twinkled in the ebony blackness of the sky. Almost directly overhead was a large full moon, and a smaller one hanging lower in the black, adding a bright glow all around.

Jorrit said with complete awe in his tone, “Now, don’t that beat all.” He looked down at his watch, which glowed brightly enough in the dark to be easily readable. “Well, daylight around here lasts at least 16 hours, but it could be more – we’ve only been here 16 hours. As for how long the night lasts … it’s anybody’s guess at this point.”

All the rest of the crew and research teams stood on the main center deck and stared at the very strange but clear and amazingly beautiful starry moonlit sky.

Leon, the navigator, said in complete awe, “This positively proves we are not only not on Earth, but nowhere mankind has ever seen or charted.” He pointed to the beautiful spray of stars in the night sky, “Not a single star there have I ever seen before.”

Raymond Kleets, the ship's chief engineer, said, “Well, I can tell you all the ship’s systems are functioning. The engines started working as soon as we arrived here and the fog dissipated. Fuel would be the only issue. But since it’s a multi-fuel engine, coconut oil can make a decent fuel. All other systems, including sonar, radar, and even the main computers are working properly. The electrics can run on battery, and the batteries are charged via solar.”

The captain said, “Let’s fire up the sonar and start taking proper readings of this lagoon, then. As Jorrit said, we don’t know how long darkness will be, but I do suggest we all take a break and get some sleep. I know we’ve been at it over 18 hours so far.”

While the research vessel’s complement slept, there were many strange and terrible noises from the island that made them think of large beasts. There were also soothing bird sounds, screeching cries that could have been some form of primate, and the very mellow rushing sound of the waterfall off at the end of the lagoon.

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As suddenly as the day had ended, another day began, the sun just appearing high in the sky. Jorrit, who had slept by a porthole, checked his watch and made a note. Captain Brennan had slept on the roof of the bridge, under the stars. Dr. Daniels had slept in her bunk in the female researchers’ quarters and was unaware that day had begun until there was a knocking on the door.

Martina Derricks was in a lower bunk and was thus quicker to get to the door. “It’s Jorrit,” she said. “He says it’s daylight. He also says the night cycle is almost exactly nine hours long. We still don’t know the length of the day cycle, of course, but the next time night falls, we will.”

“Guess it’s time for breakfast,” said Dr. Daniels. She ate an energy bar for now; they would certainly be following their plans for exploring the island, but until they knew what resources it had, nutrition was important.

When she emerged on deck ten minutes later, people were still trickling in from all parts of the ship. “So the solar panels are actually working,” said Kleets. “Whatever that sun is, its light can still make electricity. Never heard of a fusion reaction that could just be turned on and off as if controlled by a switch, though.”

“Means we can use the radar and sonar,” said Captain Brennan. “Maybe there’s no one to talk to on the radio, but at least we can see if anything big’s sneaking up on us, above or below the waves. Morning, Dr. Daniels. Sleep well?”

“Very well,” she said. “Nine hours of complete darkness. I’m not used to that. It’s supposed to be June.”

“Well, once everybody’s awake and ready,” said the captain in a loud voice, “let’s get to executing the plans we’ve already made. Everybody to your teams. We know we’ve got at least 16 hours of daylight, but let’s not waste a minute of it.”

The crew, both nautical and research, got busy picking up the supplies they’d stowed away the night before, and the various teams paddled to shore aboard the canoes.

“I’d like to stop and have a look at that plane,” said Dr. Lazarov again as he helped paddle the canoe toward the beach. “I might not be a paleontologist, but I’m still a biologist, so maybe I … can …”

The team whose canoe was already beached ahead of theirs had stopped moving and was apparently staring silently at something on the beach – something large, from the look of it, as they were spread out in a semicircle around it, looking down. When Dr. Lazarov and his team had pulled their canoe onto the sand and gotten closer to the first team, they were also quite amazed at what they saw.

There in the sand was a trail of very large raptor type foot prints. Close by, there was a nasty bloody mess where the creature obviously had eaten. The remains appeared to be of a large tapir type animal.

Dr. Lazarov commented with a tinge of fear in his voice, “If those prints are what I think they are, we have a real problem.”

The captain asked, “Why a problem? We are heavily armed with those mini-guns.”

Dr. Lazarov replied as he bent and examined the print more closely, “That may well be, but look at the prints – the bone structure, the skin, the scale pattern. I am not confident even those guns could penetrate its thick skin. You might only … piss it off.”

Silence fell over the group. The captain would have suggested armor-piercing or explosive rounds … if they’d had any. This was a scientific expedition. They’d brought weapons just in case they encountered pirates, terrorists, or hijackers. Nobody had expected monsters out of some kind of 1950s creature feature.

Velásquez said, “That may well be, Dr. Lazarov, but we still have to gather food and water.” She pointed off towards the interior of the island, “And that plane is that way about 3,000 yards.”

One of the ship’s crew who carried a mini-gun said as he started moving in that direction, “I think if it opens its mouth, or I can get a clear shot at its head, the thick skin wont matter that much. I’ll give it a lead snack or eyewash.”

The team he was with laughed as they started off in the direction of the plane with Dr. Lazarov actually leading the way. “Now, we are not seeing that many remains left by the creature,” he was saying. “That could be either because it ranges very widely when it hunts and doesn’t come here often, or because there are very efficient scavengers here, or … it hasn’t been here long either.”

It wasn’t long before they came across the wreck of a very old 40-foot sailing vessel. Its name was still visible: Charley's Crab.

Larry, one of the ship’s crew, said, “That name’s ringing a bell. Back a bunch of years ago, that was one of the small boats that vanished into the Bermuda Triangle. There was a storm. Charlie was actually on a cell phone talking to the Coast Guard when it went dead. What he described was very much like what we saw just before we found ourselves here – big cloud, weird vortex, lots of lightning. Then nothing. He and his wife were never found.”

“This must be where they ended up, then,” said Velásquez. “Look, the Bermuda Triangle doesn’t have any more or less accidents or disappearances than anywhere else in any ocean. But its disappearances are weirder than anywhere else.”

“Anywhere except maybe the Dragon’s Triangle,” said Larry. “It’s south of Japan. There are supposed to have been lots of strange ship disappearances and odd occurrences there too.”

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The ship was fortunate to have been equipped with the most highly advanced surveillance and analytical airborne drones currently available. The ship’s perovskite-enhanced solar panels produce all of its electricity requirements, including charging the drones, which had their own solar panels. And the drones’ new iron/cyotheric storage cells had enough capacity to continue operating for more than 19 hours if the sun should vanish suddenly.

The motors had no moving parts, using a technique called Electrostatic Induction Propulsion. What this entailed was many tungsten steel wires about the width of a human hair strung tightly across the leading edges of the airfoil. They were energized by the batteries and created a pull of sorts as charged electrons produced by the energized wire rushed across the top of the airfoil. This flow of energized energy created lift by causing a low pressure area above the airfoil just as any other aircraft. At the rear of the airfoil were collecters that captured the moving electrons and returned them to the power cell which in turn energized the wires once again.

The drones were also equipped with the highest quality sensors and opticals available to insure the data returned was absolutely top quality. Picture resolution at 5 miles was crystal clear with no pixelation. It was also capable of detecting various chemicals, gasses, and certain organics, depending on which equipment was installed at the time of launch.

Several of the drones had been launched to do a mapping expedition of the island landmass, and perhaps get a few pictures of the large creatures currently inhabiting it. They discovered that the island was huge. “Looks like it’s about 40 miles long and 30 miles wide,” said McAfee, watching the screens. He had programmed the drones’ search patterns and started them on their way, and he was now supervising as they collected data.

“That’s about the size of Okinawa, or Martinique,” said Captain Brennan. “What’s the comm range on the drones again?”

“About 10 miles,” said McAfee, “if nothing gets in the way. But we expect they’ll go out of range – they’ve got programmed trajectories, and they’ll return with their memory cards full of data for us to download.” The monitor showing the live feed from the first drone launched was now starting to look staticky. “Yeah, that one’s about to go out of range. It’ll be back when it’s done. They can zero in on the ship’s transponder signal.”

But even before they’d gone out of range, they’d already shown McAfee and the captain a stunning aerial view. There were mountains, rivers, a large lake, and lush, thick jungles. There were also, they noted, many different kinds of wrecks and derelicts scattered all over the island.

“How long until they’re back?” asked the captain once all the monitors had gone dark.

“I’d say about an hour,” McAfee said. “The plan was to go until there was no more land, then come back – and we have all four drones out, with slightly different outward paths. Basically, in an hour we’ll have an aerial map of the island – well, enough data to piece one together, anyway. Without GPS, we don’t have a firm set of coordinates for each still photo or video frame. We’ll have to do some of the stitching together by hand.”

“I suppose now what we do is wait,” said the captain.

The radio suddenly came to life. “Kaluza to Origin, do you read?”

Origin here,” said McAfee, picking up the handset.

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“Yeah, we’re at the plane wreck we saw earlier,” said Kaluza into the walkie-talkie. “Dr. Lazarov is looking at the evidence … bite marks, claw marks, and whatever else. Whatever did this … I don’t wanna meet it. Oh, here comes Doc now. Want to talk to him?”

“Definitely,” said McAfee. “The captain’s here too.”

The men gathered around as Kaluza handed the walkie-talkie to Lazarov. “There are some pretty complete bite arcs,” he said, “which means I can estimate a bite radius. That, plus the height and shape of the claw marks, definitely indicate that we’re looking at something at least resembling a large theropod dinosaur.”

“Dinosaur?” McAfee said on the radio, as the crew looked at each other nervously. “How is there a living dinosaur in this … day and … OK, you already told us about the boat from the 90s, but that’s the 1990s, not prehistoric times.”

“I’m not just making things up,” said Lazarov. “Either it’s a dinosaur, or it’s some large creature very much like one. We got here through some kind of unknown type of portal – who’s to say that those portals only pick up creatures from Earth? It might be from some other planet. But whatever it is, think of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It’s about that size, and it obviously eats meat.” The crew was even more nervous at hearing that.

“More than that,” said Lazarov, “it’s probably more intelligent than your average animal. If it had thought that plane was a bird, or a … pterosaur of some sort, it would’ve taken a bite out of its metal hull, then spit it out and gone away. Instead it realized there was at least one human inside and determined to get them out and eat them. It can tell vehicles from creatures.”

“Any good news, Doc?” asked McAfee.

“Well, all we have to do is think about it,” said Lazarov. “Where is it? It’s on an island. That means it’s an air-breathing land-dweller. The footprints confirm that. To get away from it, we get off land and into the sea. Second … it’s quite large. It would be difficult not to know it was coming.”

The crew was silent, listening. They looked around nervously. At the moment they heard nothing. They began to relax a bit and spoke quietly. “Is that another wreck over that way?” one of them asked softly. Heads turned, and they all looked.

Then McAfee’s voice came loudly from the walkie-talkie, and everyone jumped. “Is this thing still on?”

“Yes, Mr. McAfee,” said Lazarov. “We were just … listening. For the record, we heard nothing but the surf.”

“OK,” said McAfee. “I thought I heard something about another wreck. Just keep in contact if you go to investigate it. We’ve got the drones out mapping, and when they come back, we’re going to put together an aerial map. We’ll know where all the wrecks are.”

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Meanwhile, the water team was heading for the waterfall. “It should be well aerated, and that can kill most bacteria and parasites,” said Dr. Daniels, “but we’re going to want to take a few samples and study them under the microscope before we can consider this water potable. Maybe some chemical analysis too, in case there are toxins.”

“Toxins?” asked one of the crew, who had been about to hold up a test tube into the falling water, as they’d climbed up some rocks and were now close enough that some of them were being sprayed with mist. They backed away now.

“Well, we know nothing about what’s in this water,” said Dr. Daniels. “But our ship’s a floating laboratory, so why not find out before we take any risks? Here, use this pole.” She took off her pack and took a collapsible aluminum pole out of it, with a claw that the end that could easily hold the test tube she attached to it. Extending the pole, she handed it to the crew member.

“OK,” the sailor said, holding the pole out over the pool at the base of the waterfall. The test tube filled quickly with water.

Then a fish jumped out of the pool, as long as a human arm, biting at the pole with rows of sharp teeth. It was to the crew member’s credit that he didn’t completely drop the pole, but he almost did. Everyone gasped in surprise, and the fish fell back into the water. Then they noticed that its teeth had scratched the metal slightly.

Recovering, Dr. Daniels said, “All right … important safety tip … no swimming.”

“Dr. Lazarov is going to want us to catch one of those things,” said Martina Derricks. “It’ll probably eat through a net, though … do we have a bucket?”

They did. The fish was sort of like a cross between a piranha and a barracuda, with long jaws filled with sharp teeth. It thrashed angrily inside the covered metal bucket.

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Three of the four drones returned. McAfee downloaded the photos and video each had taken, and he and the captain stitched them together on the computer into a map of the island, but with a stripe missing nearly down the middle, a bit right of center. “It’s a lot better than we had, Captain,” said McAfee, “but what do you think happened to Drone Three?”

“Beats me,” said Brennan. “Curious pterodactyls? Alien abductions? Around here, it could be anything.”

“What’s this?” McAfee said, pointing to a curious group of features far inland. “This almost looks like …”

“Those look like … huts,” Brennan said. “Could there be a village?” Then sent out one of the drones to get more detailed aerial photos of those coordinates, and later it was confirmed. There was a village on the island, and the huts looked intact and maintained, though visiting it would apparently require an arduous trek.

“But we haven’t seen any smoke rising, from fires,” McAfee said. “Either they’re really careful to make their fires smokeless, or they don’t use fire.”

“If they’re surviving on this island,” said the captain, “they’d have to be careful.”

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The telescope had been carefully tracking the sun, a filter over its lens to ensure no damage to the CCD, and exactly 19 hours, 8 minutes, and 47 seconds after the day had begun, it quite suddenly ended. By this time, Jorritt had returned to the ship anyway, and when the sky suddenly went dark he shouted and ran for the telescope. Removing the filter, he kept the scope pointed at the same coordinates. Setting it for a time exposure, he soon confirmed that the sun hadn’t gone dark – it had just gone. “It’s just not there anymore,” Jorritt said, showing everyone the pictures on a monitor. “Look at the stars. Nothing’s getting in their way where the sun used to be.”

“OK, I know my first instinct is to say that isn’t possible,” said Velásquez, “but there it is. What if … what if some kind of recurring wormhole event is regularly shunting this planet from one part of this solar system to another – or from one solar system to another? I know, it would have to be set up just right in order not to spaghettify the planet and everything on it, and to put it in exactly the right spot again each time. But it’s just barely possible.”

“Still doesn’t answer the question of how we got here to begin with,” said Jorritt.

“I know,” said Velásquez. “There’s so much we don’t know yet.”

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Over the course of several “Island Days,” the captain had sent groups out to explore several of the derelict ships and aircraft on the island and in shallow waters about the island. They had actually found the remains of several humans, and a couple of them, it was obvious, had been the main course for a large beast.

Several remains of bodies they had found were old, and many of the remains were scattered, as would be expected. What upset several of the women were the ones that appeared less than a day old. Those bodies showed massive evidence of predation. The team realized that more people and items were materializing on the island all the time as whatever the anomaly was brought them here.

As part of the team gathered fresh fruits and water from the far end of the lagoon, now that tests had shown that the water was safe, they began to feel minor tremors in the ground. They came faster and more intense, as if something very large were moving rapidly along the ground.

Larry, the crewman assigned the mini-gun, said with trepidation in his tone, “Everyone! Run back towards the beach. I think one of those things is on its way and thinks we’re lunch.”

The men grabbed their baskets, and several of the women with them, and began to run back towards the ship. Then, a large creature jumped from the top of the waterfall and landed about 50 yards behind them in an earthshaking bounce that would have made any predator proud.

It stood about 20 feet tall from the ground to tip of its horny semi-armored head. It stood up full height and roared horridly. It had two arms and was obviously bipedal, although it was definitely not a T-Rex; however, it was about the same size as a fully-grown one. It definitely was not of Earth by any means.

The tips of each of its 5 “fingers” had very sharp claws that were about 6 inches long. It reared back, spread its arms out once again and roared. Larry swung around with the mini-gun and opened fire. It sounded like a jet engine as its whine spewed death at the creature’s open mouth at about 1000 rounds a minute.

At first, it seemed that the creature’s natural armor was absorbing the damage, but then greenish-yellow glowing goo began to splatter. The creature became enraged and leapt towards Larry with an astounding agility. As fortune would have it, another of the combined teams that had been exploring the aircraft wrecks broke through the foliage. They had heard a mini-gun firing and rushed as fast as they could to help. This group had 2 mini-guns, since they were a combination of two exploration teams from another part of the island that had met up while returning to the ship.

The roar of the 3 mini-guns filled the air as massive amounts of ammunition tore the creature to bloody chunks. What was left of the gigantic alien creature hit the ground with a heavy squishy thump, then skidded up to Larry and stopped just short of knocking him down.

Larry looked down at the messy dead critter as it jerked in the last of its death throes and commented, “Man … anyone got a fresh pair of undies? I think I need them.”

A voice rang out, “I think we have some really adorably cute pullups back on the ship.”

The group stood silent for an instant before they all broke out in a stress-relieving laugh.

Velásquez rushed up and knelt beside the still quivering and steaming creature. She removed the large backpack and leaned it on a nearby palmetto bush. She quickly began taking samples of the creature’s tissue, blood, and any other substances she thought pertinent.

She commented, “Man. They told me at college this was the group to join for research for my dissertation. No one ever told me we were going to find weirdness beyond cosmic. I think I’m going to have to change my dissertation topic. But without these actual samples, no one would ever believe it … that is, if we ever find a way back!”

She looked pensively around at the rest of those there, then returned to expertly taking many samples of everything present, storing them in the sealed containers, and recording each with a unique ID number for future cataloging. After this exercise was completed, she stored them safely in her large pack before closing it and putting it back on. The others stared at her, astonished by her presence of mind in the wake of what could have been a deadly experience.

Unknown to the team below, a pair of eyes observed them closely as they hovered over the remains of her mate. She knew the two of them had been preying on those and other types of creatures since they had mysteriously arrived on this island.

It knew one thing for certain: those she had just seen kill her mate weren’t like the others, although they looked and smelled the same. They had some kind of strange tubes that spit fire. She had no clue what those tubes might be. She did remember one similar object from some kind of strange flying thing that had crashed. The creature hiding inside it had a small thing it had pointed at her, and fire had come out of it. It had hurt, but it hadn’t done anything but make her mad. These tubes were clearly something more serious.

Slowly and as stealthy as any cat, she blended back into the verdant foliage at the top of the waterfall. She would have to think about this for a bit. Those creatures might not be worth trying to eat … but they had killed her mate. She was hungry now, not for food, but for vengeance.

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While the biologists basically butchered the creature and took its parts into the hold to store in deep freeze for future study, the captain and navigator worried over the blank place where the drone had been lost.

The captain pointed at the blank strip in their map of the island, “Apparently, the drone went missing about here, between this crag and the lake.”

Leon pointed and commented, “From what we know and can see, the terrain is fairly level through this pass. We should be able to take the electric ATV. It has the twin 80 cannons, and I’m sure if we meet up with another of those creatures we can handle it. We might even find the remains of the drone and can salvage its parts. Might even discover what caused the drone to go AWOL.”

As the captain rolled up this copy of the island map he said, “And those huts at the far end of the blank space look more like emergency shelters than huts. Another strange thing is that the video resolution went south just as the second drone approached the village. Can’t really get a good view of the huts.”

Dr. Jorrit Jonsson, the ship’s lead meteorologist and climatologist, entered the chart room about that time and said with a look of wonder on his face, “You just won’t believe this.”

The other two men stood up straight and asked, “Believe what?”

Jorrit replied, “It’s actually raining. Not a cloud in the sky, sunny as can be, but we are having a torrential downpour.”

About that time, the roar of the downpour intermixed with marble sized hail and the deep rumble of thunder was heard. It was more than obvious when the men went to the cabin door that the sun was indeed fully out, the sky was clear of clouds, and yet they were having a heavy downpour with hail. After a few minutes, just as quickly as it started, the rain and hail stopped and the area cleared as if it had never rained.

The captain, Dr. Daniels, and 6 of the other crewmen loaded the electric ATV. The captain made sure the twin 80s were loaded. They began their journey to the center of the island. It wasn’t long before their current optics got a clear picture of the huts. From close up they looked even more like some kind of emergency survival shelters, but their rounded shapes made them look like huts from a distance. “If they’d been huts,” said Brennan as they approached, “it would have meant that there were people living here, maintaining them, since they’re intact. As it is … we still don’t know.”

Another thing they got a good picture of, almost hidden in the undergrowth and partially buried in the earth, was some kind of aircraft the likes of which none had ever dreamed of before. Apparently what they assumed were its engines were still functioning, since they were getting heat readings from what they assumed were the exhaust ports.

They stopped near the craft and got out. Dr. Daniels examined it first. “Well, as an oceanographer, this is way out of my area of expertise, but I will tell you that I’ve never seen an aircraft like this before. I’m not even sure what kind of engines those are – if they’re engines.”

McAfee was the second one to reach it, and he was fascinated, shining his flashlight into the dark crevices and ports. “This is amazing,” he said. “These are clearly thrust nozzles – you can see the wear patterns where whatever propels this thing has scoured the metal to a mirror polish. But for the life of me, I can’t find where the propellant enters. No air intakes, and if there are fuel lines, they must be entirely internal.”

Brennan frowned. “If there are no fuel lines, how would it even fly?”

“I know, right?” McAfee replied. “But I’m not taking anything for granted anymore in this crazy place. Rain and hail falling out of a clear sky?”

“You’re right about that,” said Dr. Daniels. “It’s as if whatever universe we’re in has a much looser definition of adjacency than ours.”

“I’m gonna have to ask you what you mean by that later,” said Brennan. “I think we’ve just been spotted by some airborne friends.” He pointed at the sky, where there were two distant silhouettes of some sort of flying creatures. They were approaching, and although they were far away, they looked large.

Everyone jumped back onto the ATV, and the captain got it moving. “I’m going to head back the way we came a bit,” he said, “because we got better aerial maps of that area, and I saw what might be a sheltered area, more defensible.” They went downhill between some trees and toward a cliff wall that stretched high above them, then drove along the wall.

“They’re still coming,” said Dr. Daniels, watching the skies and catching occasional glimpses of the two flying creatures between the trees. She had her camera out, trying to get footage of them for Dr. Lazarov.

Brennan drove the ATV along the cliff wall until it curved away from the trees. The cliff jutted out above them now; there was a notch in which Brennan turned the ATV to face outward. Anything that flew would have to descend in order to get to them … and would then be in range of the ATV’s weapons.

“OK, so you can fly,” said Brennan to the flying things, which they could now hear shrieking as they came closer, “but that won’t help you get us.”

McAfee and one of the crewmen readied the guns on either side of the ATV and aimed whenever they heard another shriek, and those noises were getting louder. Finally one swooped into full view, making an impressive entrance. It was a pterosaur, or so close to one as to make no difference, and its thirty-foot wingspan barely fit into the notch at all. Daniels got several good still photos of it … and then the guns opened fire.

The creature’s long beak tried to snap at them, but it took many direct hits and shrieked even louder. It withdrew awkwardly, fighting its way backward past its companion, which had landed and was advancing inward on its hind legs until it too started taking damage from the guns and retreated. The two discouraged creatures left, the second one flying away while the first one crawled away, panicked. Its wings had been damaged.

After waiting a few minutes to make sure the things weren’t coming back, Brennan said, “OK, let’s ease out of here a bit and see if they’ve got friends.”

Brennan drove the ATV out of the notch and back along the cliff wall. “Skies are clear so far,” said Dr. Daniels.

“Now,” said Brennan as they approached the mysterious aircraft from another angle, “if I recall, the drone would have been following a path like this … wait … there it is.” They found the bright white drone among the green foliage. McAfee got out to pick it up. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to claw marks on its frame. “Could these have been made by those pterodactyls?”

“I’m not Dr. Lazarov,” said Dr. Daniels, “but looking at their talons from these photos, I’d say it can’t be ruled out.”

“Well, let’s get it home,” said McAfee. “We need the data on its drives, and it might even be fixable.” Once he had it packed down and stowed in a compartment, Brennan drove them back to the unknown aircraft.

Dr. Daniels took photos of the aircraft from every angle, and some close-ups of its details, while McAfee looked at it more closely now that he had a chance. “Now, I’d say it had rocket propulsion, from the lack of air intakes,” he said, “except that there’s just no room on board for both fuel and oxidizer. I’d even suggest that there’s not much room for fuel either.” The aircraft’s wingspan wasn’t much bigger than that of the pterosaurs they’d just faced. “This looks like the cockpit, but I’m not sure how to get it open. I don’t see anybody inside – but I also don’t see a bloody mess, so maybe the pilot escaped somehow. They didn’t eject – the canopy’s intact.”

“Doesn’t look like it crash landed,” said Brennan, “but it must have gotten partly buried somehow. It’s like it crashed slowly. But if they had that much control over the aircraft, why’d it crash at all?”

“Hey, I think I found the catch,” said McAfee, and the canopy covering the cockpit popped open and slid backward with a whirr, uncovering a seat and a complex system of controls. “This … is unlike any aircraft panel I’ve ever seen. But it seems to be operational!” He touched a button, and a red circle with a slash across its center appeared on what looked like a display, then faded away. He touched another button, and the same red symbol appeared, then faded. “Guessing that means I’m not authorized. But …”

He climbed in and sat down in the seat, then flipped a switch on the canopy, which closed. “McAfee! Wait!” said Brennan, but it was too late. McAfee was watching the control panel with fascination. A safety harness buckled him in, and the engines made a whirring sound that grew in pitch and volume.

“Get away, everyone,” said Brennan, but everyone was already backing away from the aircraft. With a shower of dirt, the plane vertically lifted itself free from the ground, then hovered for a moment, air whipping the grass and other foliage around madly in its vicinity, as landing struts extended from its belly, then it settled back down, and its engines whirred down to a halt. The craft was silent again.

The harness released McAfee, and the canopy slid back open. “That’s what I thought,” he said as he climbed out. “I may not be authorized to operate it, but its autopilot reset its position. This plane is undamaged. Still damned if I know how it works, though. Vertical takeoff, but where in blazes are its air intakes?” The canopy slid closed again, and the plane returned to sitting there silently.

“Adjacency,” said Dr. Daniels. “I want to show this to Velásquez now. What if … what if it’s got a way to grab air from around it and transport it directly inside its jets, highly compressing it in the process? A sort of jet engine that would never work in our universe but is possible here?”

“That … would be fantastic!” said McAfee, the implications of this thought dawning on him. “Then you’d only need to carry whatever energy source powers that compression-transport system – you wouldn’t need to lug around any fuel at all! Lighter but more powerful aircraft than we’ve ever dreamed of! What powers it? Some kind of … reactor? That’d explain why the exhaust ports are warm. The reactor’s always running.”

“Well, we don’t know how to fly it, and we’ve gotten lots of photographic evidence,” said Captain Brennan. “I want to get a closer look at those shelters before we head back to the ship. They’re what we came here to see, after all.” The others agreed, so they got back onto the ATV for the short ride to what they had once thought was a village.

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After taking a few more detailed pictures of the aircraft, several of the crew gathered samples of the blood splatters from the birds that had attacked them. There was also enough skin lying around to get a good genetic sample.

Once all had been stowed and everyone had entered the ATV, the captain turned it towards the domes off in the distance. The drive there was uneventful, but there were some signs that perhaps things hadn’t been so quiet not so long ago.

They pulled into the main open area, which appeared to be some sort of courtyard. Once they had exited the ATV, it was more than obvious that the constructs were made from local materials. “These are what you’d call slagcrete,” said McAfee. “A mixture of local soil, heated molten, then basically poured or printed into the dome shape. They must have had the equipment to do that, though.”

On the first structure they investigated, there was only an empty frame where the door would have been. It had obviously been removed from its frame by some type of explosion. The scorch marks on the walls around the door and the almost worn away splatter marks on the ground caused by an overpressure wave could still be plainly seen.

Dr. Daniels poked her head inside and turned on her flashlight. Her eyes grew huge, and her mouth fell open at what she saw. Much of the area around the door was blasted by the explosion, but the rest of the interior looked like something out of a space movie.

The captain came up behind Daniels and asked, “What’s got you so …” He too stood and stared at the interior. It looked like something from the bridge of a highly advanced spaceship of some sort. “This had to be a command center of some kind,” he finished after a moment of incredulity.

McAfee came up about that time and had a look-see. He whistled softly as he commented, “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we’re actors in some sort of weird science fiction story.”

The captain snorted a laugh, “You really think so? Whatever could possibly give you that impression?”

The rest of the crew laughed as tension abated and curiosity grew. They all turned on their flashlights and began to carefully explore the dome. It was 40 feet in diameter and three levels deep. It was unknown if the two sublevels had been underground originally, but after whatever time had passed, they were now exposed lower floors. Based on the placement of the door they had entered, odds were good that the two lower floors had been intended that way.

The crew began exploring the large dome. What they found intact amazed them to their souls. Of course they documented and took as much video as possible and relayed it back to the ship for the rest of the research team to examine.

In a far back room, when Brennan approached a door, it actually slid open with an angry hiss. Brennan was so startled that he almost wet his pants.

Carefully, he looked in and shone his light around. Within was something that had to be a research area. Against the back wall was a large black square with many silver traceries running to it.

Brennan yelled out, “Hey, guys. I think you might want to take a look at this. You won’t believe it.”

McAfee and Dr. Daniels came running. McAfee stared at the black square in fascination. “It’s … that has to be a data storage system. The cables look like they go to all the other rooms.”

“Data storage?” asked Dr. Daniels. “If we can download the data that’s in it … who knows what kind of treasure trove we might have just stumbled across?”

“Exactly!” said McAfee. “But we don’t know what kind of system this is. I’ll have to figure out its clock speed, its bus parameters, and … well I guess I can’t really assume it’s binary, or if it is, how many bits the system uses … but the problem is that I don’t have any of the equipment I’d need here. We’re going to have to come back.”

“OK, well, the thing was here all this time,” said Dr. Daniels, “until the door opened. If we can get it closed again, it should be protected until we can come back.”

“It … opened when I got near it,” said Captain Brennan. “I guess … if we move away from it, it might close on its own?” They backed away, and the door did not close.

“Or … maybe one of the controls next to the door closes it?” asked McAfee, looking at the panel next to the door. He pressed the largest of the buttons. It clicked, and a light next to it went out. But the door didn’t close.

“Umm … maybe we’ll have to post a guard until we can come back,” said Brennan. The door suddenly snapped shut, causing them all to jump.

“All right, then,” said McAfee. “Let’s see what else we can find.” They searched the various workstations throughout the dome, but without access to the data they were uncertain what the dome’s inhabitants had been working on.

“I have a question, though,” said Dr. Daniels. “These people were obviously very advanced, but what happened to them? Why was the door blown open?” She smiled. “I guess those are two questions we might find an answer to if we gain access to the data.”

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Months went by. The planet’s moons seemed only to exist at night, which was of course very peculiar. Velásquez had a theory that the planet’s “day” and “night” positions were two quantum states that the planet switched between, as if it were a huge superposition of wave functions that somehow never collapsed, so the moons stayed in orbit even when the planet wasn’t there. But they did move, and there were three of them, not two. The largest one had about a 32-day cycle, while the others were farther away, so they’d defined an “island week” of eight days and an “island month” of 32 days. The day, as it turned out, was about 28 hours long, with about 19 hours of daylight and nine hours of night. The day and night periods seemed to be changing slightly, but not in a predictable way.

Over the course of the next several island months, one research team scoured over the computational devices they had found in the domes. Although they meticulously mapped and carefully disassembled everything and returned it to the the ship, nothing they discovered was even vaguely similar, component-wise, to any technology found on Earth. Still, they made some progress.

Raymond Kleets, the ship's chief engineer, and Barry Megllon, head mechanical engineer, had driven themselves to distraction attempting to make heads or tails of the new electronics. By sheer accident, Raymond had stumbled across a technical electronics file in the ship’s archives about experimental quantum computers.

Of course, what he read spoke of an extremely primitive machine that had many components that operated at near absolute zero temperatures and had maybe 1 to 5 qubits of processing ability, which meant that it could model the states of 1 to 5 particles simultaneously. This technology was in its infancy on Earth; the theory of quantum computing was still being developed. Once this avenue of thought had been breached, however, Cleats and Megllon quickly came to understand what they were looking at.

These were advanced quantum computers. The most sophisticated quantum computers on Earth were stone age primitive compared to these devices, which could process trillions of qubits simultaneously and didn’t require liquid nitrogen cooling systems. The major operand electron tunneling and dissipation corruption issues described in the archive file had obviously been overcome.

Now, the only problem they would have was actually getting the system to divulge whatever data was in the storage array. Both Raymond and Barry worried themselves sick over the possibility that there was an encryption key and password required as the computational engine was reassembled in the research area of the ship.

Raymond said, “Ok, it’s time to see if we did our jobs right. I’m powering this thing up.”

As he made minor adjustments to the newfangled power cell they had discovered, Barry said, “Far as I can tell, all is working properly.”

Raymond flipped the power switch, and the quantum computer’s weird monitor came alive and began to display startup diagnostics. Both men stared in disbelief when the splash screen finally appeared.

Raymond said, with incredulity obvious in his voice, “Nano/Gen? They made this machine? I know that company.”

Barry replied, “Yeah, I know. They manufactured the computers in this ship, and most of the other tech we use for our research. But look at that manufacture date. That’s … 200 years in the future. What is going on?”

Raymond typed on his small laptop’s keyboard for a minute before he said, “So, are we in the future, the past, or basically stuck between one second and the next?”

Barry replied with a shrug, “Don’t know. The clocks and watches all seem to be advancing normally. I’m not sure we have any way to test it. Velásquez says we’re probably in another universe, one that opens gates to different time periods on Earth and other worlds, and sometimes things travel through.”

Raymond said in an offhand way, “Maybe we’re in no time at all. Maybe this is just a junction within a space-time anomaly. Time functions here, but it has no relationship to time in any other … universe, or dimension, or whatever.”

Barry nodded, “That actually sounds reasonable, considering how we managed to get here.”

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During the same time span Raymond and Barry were doing their research, the other members of the crew were exploring the other domes, which were scattered in concentric circles around the first one. To the amazement of all, it had been laid out as a well-organized small town of sorts. It was more than obvious that it was also a research facility of some sort as well, although no data as yet verified exactly what they had been researching … that is, until they managed to open the door to the largest of the domes.

The really strange and super advanced device contained within was something well beyond their comprehension. It was also still in operation. The huge ball of energy, contained within what appeared to be gold bands wound tightly with platinum wire, looked exactly like the vortex within the electrical storm that had brought them here.

Much of the many handwritten notes they found, written in what they assumed was a future variant of English, didn’t really make any kind of reasonable sense.

“Well, this makes at least some kind of sense,” said Velásquez, looking at the huge captive ball of actinic light. “Not a lot, but some. The notes mention the possibility of opening of a doorway into other dimensions beyond the Universal Hyperspatial Gravitic Boundary, whatever that’s supposed to be. But this is nothing I’ve ever heard of before. These people were 200 years beyond us. But the questions remain … where are they? What happened to them?”

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Unknown to the teams, a very large bipedal creature observed their comings and goings with the stealthy but sharp and angry eyes of revenge. She was more than determined to get those creatures if possible. Although, from what she had already seen, they had many versions of those fire tubes … and they all seemed to be worse than the one they had killed her mate with. She would have to be careful and catch them off guard – and to make all of them suffer as her mate had, she would have to obtain some of those fire tubes. The bigger, the better.

These creatures were poking around in the funny hard huts up on the hill. The creatures who had lived there had had more than just fire tubes. She and her mate had stayed away from them. But she guessed that these creatures were building an even better fire tube. She would wait until they built it, and then she would steal it and turn it against them. That, she decided, would be acceptable revenge.

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“OK,” said Velásquez, “so right now my theory is that they tried to duplicate the phenomenon that brought them here and use it to get home, and that’s where they went. But there are a few problems with this theory.”

“Like how they got here, and why the door was blown out on one of their buildings?” asked McAfee.

“Those are the two big questions,” replied Velásquez. “We haven’t found a plane or ship big enough to carry all the people who obviously lived in that complex. Another question is whether they actually went home, or whether they made it to Earth in another time period, or whether their experiment sent them to another planet entirely, or out into empty space.”

“If they were thinking clearly,” said Dr. Daniels, “they would have put a failsafe in, so they could recall themselves if they found themselves in the improper place.”

“Maybe that wasn’t possible for some reason,” Velásquez said, “or maybe they actually got back to Earth and didn’t need to come back here.”

“But this place could be a treasure trove for researchers,” said Dr. Lazarov. “Imagine paleontologists wanting to see what a dinosaur really looked like, or linguists wanting to learn languages from civilizations that haven’t existed for tens of thousands of years.”

“They’d have to get here first,” said Dr. Daniels, “and let’s remember one thing: if these people came from our future, and if we manage to get home, they would have heard of us. They would have known about the anomaly that brought us here, what it meant, and how to get back. The scientists of their time would have been using this place as a research treasure trove for 200 years. And it doesn’t look like they have been, or we’d be seeing future scientists.”

“To that I would ask,” replied Velásquez, “how do we know there aren’t future scientists watching us right now? They wouldn’t want to interfere with us, because anything they did could alter their past and prevent their research treasure trove from ever having existed.”

“This is making my head hurt,” said the captain. They were all standing around the quantum computer. “Have you found any useful data on that … jumbo-size hard drive there?”

Kleets replied, “There’s so much data. Just so incredibly much data. This thing stores exabytes of data. Luckily it’s not full. But it still has petabytes to sort through. We’ve found some video records, though, as well as the player software” Megllon played one, and the screen lit up with a three-dimensional image.

“Day 265, hour 8,” said a bearded man who appeared on the screen. “In our efforts to duplicate what we’re calling the Metacyclic Gravitic Portal that brought us here, we’ve had to unlearn a lot of what we know about physics, because this place just has its own rules. They’re not so different from our universe’s, because we can survive here, but they’re just way zayno compared to what we’re used to. Gregor thinks we’ll have to construct what he’s calling a Transfinite Energy State Superposition, or a TESS, which is a contained superposition of matter in an infinite number of quantum energy levels simultaneously. On Earth, that would be unimaginable. Here, though, it might be possible, and it might not take an infinite amount of energy, either. Just a lot of it. Today we start building the reactor to generate that energy.” Behind him they could see the framework of one of the devices they had found in the complex. It looked as if they were dismantling some sort of larger structure for materials.

“And here are the notes that go with that day,” said Megllon, bringing up several pages of equations. “Supposedly these explain their theories about how the MGP works, and why they need this TESS thing to make an artificial, controllable one. Velásquez, you’ll probably want to read these, or try to.”

“Is the TESS the big energy ball thing?” asked Captain Brennan.

“That’d be my guess,” said Velásquez, “right now, at least. And that reactor there, we know where that is. If we can get it working, we can generate the same energy that they used … if we can figure out what fueled it.”

“So that means … we wouldn’t need to build that stuff ourselves?”

“Probably not,” said Dr. Daniels, “but we’ve only got one TESS to work with, so we’ll have to be very careful about experimenting with it. We don’t know how to control it, how to use it to open a portal, how to predict or control where or when that portal goes, how many portals it can make before draining all its energy, or if that is indeed how a TESS works. We’ve got a lot of careful research ahead.”

“I’m totally changing my dissertation topic when we get home,” said Velásquez. “Again.”

Dr. Daniels responded with a pat on her shoulder, “I can promise you that whatever field you choose, you already have a doctorate in it – if we can get back. Not another living soul, besides us from our particular zone, have ever made or discovered the things we have to date. Maybe in the future, but then again, this is how the future would be created for us at this point ...”

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Another month went by. The research into the stored data on the quantum computer was going slowly because there was so much there. So far, they had recovered more than an entire library. Still, they hadn’t even scratched the surface after all this time studying the data store.

They did discover that the initial arrival of the original party was due to a miscalculation when they were testing a brand new interstellar drive. From the data they had studied, the others had apparently discovered a new technology in engine construction which had had some strange malfunction due to a wrong induction setting when it had been enabled for the first time during a shakedown runup.

The entire crew of around 450 men and women had survived the accident, and they even had an operational aircraft as well as much of their colonization equipment. Since it had been more than apparent that they were stuck here until such time as they could build another ship, or discover some other means to transfer back to their own dimensional time sphere, they began research into how they might accomplish this arduous task.

The main ship had been wrecked during the accident, but they had been able to salvage its twisted hull as raw material for their constructions. They had also been able to salvage and reuse a lot of the equipment and materials from within the ship, not to mention the constructor printers and fabrication units. Food and water wouldn’t be an issue, since this island was uninhabited except for many types of edible animals and fruits. The vegetable garden Captain Odessa, their biologist, had planted had grown rapidly and abundantly in its hydroponic dome greenhouse, and was soon able to feed them all as well.

Dr. Gregorius Lazarov, the marine biologist, was overjoyed when they found that the original slagcrete hydroponics dome was still intact and functioning well. The growth was thick, verdant, and the veggies were overly abundant.

After examining the vegetation and supporting equipment, Lazerov commented, “From the looks of these plants and the equipment supporting them, they haven’t been tended to by humans in a very long time.”

Dr. Daniels asked, “Based on what we see here, how long would you estimate?”

Lazarov replied, “It looks like all this has been left to its own devices for well over 3 years.” He pointed to the racks with the many plants in them. “You can see how several generations have sprouted, seeded, then germinated once again.”

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Back at the Command Center Dome

The captain, Megllon, and Kleets were all scratching their heads at several of the videos they had discovered archived. In one, it clearly showed their TESS in operation. It had changed in appearance. Inside the golden wire-wound ring, it now seemed as if some sort of window had opened into some kind of severe winter weather location.

The individual giving the speech about what was going on could be heard to say, “ … and once opened, the system must be shut down. If it isn’t, there will be a reoccurring chronal gravitic dispersal. This would open a one way return window to this location from wherever the wormhole vortices opened.”

Another video played for a minute that the three men instantly recognized as looking exactly like the storm that had brought them here. They looked at each other with open mouthed incredulity.

Finally, after the lengthy video of the vortex ended, the man came once again to the forefront of the screen, “We have, therefore placed a timer set to turn the machine off after two hours if not reset or manually turned off.” The picture panned over to a large panel on the wall by the entrance. Above a rather intricate looking keyboard, something resembling an LED window showed “2 hours - 0 minutes - 0 seconds” in bright red numerals and letters.

Megllon turned and looked at the blackened and scorched entrance. “Now I understand what happened,” he said. “For some unknown reason, the failsafe timer mechanism exploded before two hours had elapsed, so it didn’t shut down the vortex.”

“And it’s been running ever since,” said Kleets. “Making storms that drag things here from all over space, time, and maybe even other dimensions.”

“Seems like it has a fondness for Earth,” said the captain. “I wonder why that would be.”

Megllon replied, “I think they set it for Earth. But it seems to … wander.”

“Wait, is it still on now?” Kleets asked. “I think it is! It might be bringing more things to the island all the time. Why isn’t the island hundreds of feet deep in material sucked in from all over the multiverse?”

“I think … a lot of its wandering is pretty random,” said Megllon. “If the vortex opens to deep space, it’s not going to suck anything in. It only brings things here if there are things to bring.”

“Is there a way to shut it down?” asked the captain. “I don’t like the idea of a vortex opening to deep space. What if it opens right on top of us, and we get sucked out into space?”

“Good point,” said Megllon. “A real big danger is what would happen if it opened on a black hole’s event horizon.”

“Right,” said Kleets. “That’s just become top priority, I think. Luckily we’ve seen enough of these videos. It’s controlled from this console here.” He touched a screen, which lit up with a complicated control surface.

Megllon had come over to look too. “They opened and shut it with … that cluster of buttons there.”

Kleets carefully moved his fingers toward them. “If I recall …”

“Can we not recall?” asked the captain. “Could we look at the video again and be sure?”

“Um, good point, Captain,” said Kleets, pulling his hand back. Megllon went back to the other console and found some of the videos they’d seen earlier of the controls in operation. They both started rewatching them carefully.

Before they were finished, though, there was a sound of rushing wind from outside and a familiar purple lightning. The captain ran outside to see what was going on. But then the noise and light stopped, and he returned.

But he wasn’t alone. A woman was with him. Her hair was gray, and she had glasses, but she looked somewhat familiar.

“Captain?” asked Megllon. “What happened? Did the vortex bring something … or somebody …?”

“There was something like the vortex that brought us here,” said the captain, “and then she was standing there.”

Kleets looked at the newcomer carefully. “Wait. Velásquez?”

“My god,” said the newcomer. “Kleets! Megllon! It’s really you!”

“But how …” said Megllon. “You’re … Velásquez from the future!”

“I’ve come here on purpose,” said the newcomer. “I’m here to warn you. First of all, that thing we – you – fought months ago. It had a mate. It’s still here. You got a warning about it from another me, and that me was … me. But second … you can’t shut off the vortex. And here I’m wandering into unfamiliar territory, because in my timeline you did shut it off, and, well, I’m the only survivor. I’m here because I want things to go differently. But I don’t know if it works that way.”

“Wait, what?” asked Kleets. “What happens if we turn it off?”

“Too much to explain,” said Velásquez. “I’ll put it basically. That creature out there is intelligent. It thinks you’re making a weapon. It wants to turn it against you. You’re going to try to send yourselves home with the vortex. It’s going to interfere, and those who don’t get scattered randomly across the multiverse get stuck back here with the creature, who will kill and eat them.”

“So you’re attempting to change the past?” asked Megllon. “Your past?”

“I want a different timeline to happen,” said future Velásquez. “I finally got back to Earth, and I finally managed to build a TESS. And … I want a do-over. I think I’ll disappear when you do something that doesn’t lead to my timeline. Believe me … I welcome that. It means that I’ll have a better future than the one I’ve had.”

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An expression of total horror came across the Captain’s face as he shouted, “Quick. I need several of you to take our version of Velásquez back to the ship and make sure the two of them do not see or meet each other for any reason. Take her back to the ship, immediately!”

One of the crew asked, “Are you arresting her? For what? She’s one of the people helping the most in making all this mean something.”

The captain replied, “Not sure if it applies, but in my studies of physics, it plainly stated: the same matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time. It results in total annihilation of all said matter in a huge nuclear reaction relative to the mass of said matter. The principle is mathematical, and is sort of how a fission weapon works.”

Several of the crew looked at each other for an instant before they rushed out of the room, and took Velásquez back to the ship. “I demand to know why I’m being detained!” she said as soon as they got there. “Take me to the captain!”

“I mean, the captain isn’t here,” said one of the crew sent to fetch her. “But OK, let’s go to the bridge, and we can call him on the radio.” Velásquez stomped up the steps.

“Captain, why did you send people to drag me back to the ship?” yelled Velásquez over the radio.

“Right, I knew you would call,” said the captain. “You might actually agree once I explain. More weirdness that I know you wouldn’t believe if we weren’t already in this place.”

“OK, I’m listening,” she said into the microphone.

The captain explained about the future Velásquez who had appeared. “So you certainly know more about it than I do, but I really don’t think it’s a good idea for both of you to be in the same place at once.”

“Hmm,” said Velásquez, her temper now cooled. “The fact is that this is all speculation, since time travel isn’t supposed to even be possible … and you’re thinking of the Pauli exclusion principle, which wouldn’t hold on a macroscopic level … but if there’s even a possibility of some kind of fundamental particle reaction, you’re probably right. I shouldn’t meet myself. Actually, there are other reasons too. I’m not sure what it would do to my own timeline, in terms of causality. It’s extremely tempting to want to meet my future self, but it’s also extremely risky. What did she say? She’d probably disappear once her timeline became unviable?”

“Something to that effect, yes,” said the captain.

“And her timeline isn’t a good one for anybody to be in. OK. I’ll stay put. But if anybody needs to ask any questions about quantum physics … never mind. Ask the older me. She knows more. I’ll … find something to do. Maybe I can help in the lab.”

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The captain called a large meeting. Those that were on the ship were conferenced in by radio-phone. Both the ship and the chosen dome had large screens set up to allow telepresence. Once the entire crew had assembled, the captain introduced the older version of Velásquez.

Amid the stunned murmurs, the older Velásquez came to the forefront of the meeting and said softly, “Hello, teammates … and a very large hello to my younger self.” She stopped and waved in the direction of the camera.

Back at the ship, the younger Velásquez’ jaw involuntarily dropped open. It was one thing to be told that your older self had appeared, but it was quite another to actually see her.

“I would like to thank the captain for sending my younger self back to the ship,” the older Velásquez continued. “It was unnecessary, but it’s why I’m alive today.”

The captain asked, “What about that same-matter thing?”

Velásquez smiled, “Right, the Pauli exclusion principle. I remember you bringing that up when this happened before. I’m technically not the same matter. On a quantum level, every quark in every nucleus is constantly created and destroyed, existing as an ever-changing superposition of states that are neither matter nor energy. Frequencies and energy levels change based on the interactions of the waveforms surrounding the energy field generated …”

Kleets interrupted, “So you’re saying we aren’t made of the same stuff today as yesterday?”

Velásquez replied, “Technically, on a quantum interactive scale, yes, you’re different from what you were a even fraction of a second ago. It’s actually a fundamental thing. How fission, fusion, stars, black holes … how everything interacts. The entire fabric of everything actually affects everything else due to quantum bonding and tunneling. It’s also how the TESS functions, by the interactions of all the energy waveforms and bondings. Matter technically doesn’t exist. We are simply holograms operating at various frequencies and energy levels. That being said, the TESS basically changes the waveforms and frequencies of matter into another form of the same thing, only at different frequencies, then transmits it to another bonded location and reconfigures it back to the starting frequencies. Nothing is created nor destroyed, only changed.”

McAfee raised his hand and was recognized, “That’s pretty much how radar and the communications array works. Exactly that way. Takes an electrical frequency operating at one energy level, then modulates it on top of a long wave and transmits it to a receiver that returns the impulses to the original frequencies.”

Velásquez nodded, “Exactly that. We are technically the message the TESS is transmitting to the specified location by the targeting array. No receiver necessary.”

The captain asked, “OK, so what do you propose to do to change something that apparently has already happened? I’m sure when you came back originally, you explained everything.”

Velásquez replied, “I did, but this time around I know something I didn’t know then. I know that creature is out there, is very intelligent, and will stop the transference protocol once you’ve shut the TESS down. When the creature turned off the transference protocol before everyone left the beam, it created a quantum vacuum backwash that scattered many across empty space, and dragged the rest back to be devoured by a mad and ravenous critter. Only I escaped, because Barry Megllon insisted I be the first to go through, being the youngest and having many documents the rest of the scientific community needed to know.”

Dresden McClinnoik, Head of Ship Security, asked, “What would you have in mind? I’m sure foreknowledge makes for a better defense.”

Velásquez played with a small laptop computer in front of her that those on the ship couldn’t see but knew was there. The image on the large screen changed to a schematic architectural plan of the protocol control room. “What I have in mind are minigun emplacements, here and here.” She indicated locations on either side of the entrance. Anything entring the building would walk right into a wall of screaming death. “And just to make sure we get it before it gets us,” she added, pointing to a location directly in front of the door but set far back from it, “we’ll have one of those cannons from the turret on the ATV set up here. Also, several halogen spotlights set here and here to blind it when it enters. We’ll only have a second or so advantage, and we need to use it to its fullest.”

The captain whistled, “Man, I don’t think even Ironman would survive that ambush.”

Velásquez replied, “Not only does that … thing have natural armor plating for hide, it’s extremely intelligent. Do not underestimate it for a second. Now, this is how we will do this …”

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She had been watching. The prey had been putting more of their fire tubes in the big hut. She couldn’t see them, but she knew they were in there. So they thought to lure her in there, to trap her. But that was also where they were making their new big fire tube, the one they thought to kill her with as they had killed her mate. She growled quietly.

Soon, it would be dark. When it was night, the prey went back to their boat. She couldn’t attack the boat, because the water was too deep, and besides, she could see that the boat had fire tubes. She was not a good swimmer, and they would kill her with the fire tubes if she tried to swim to the boat.

But when it was night, they shut up their huts with hard walls. They thought their tough metal walls would keep her out, keep her from taking their big fire tube for herself. They were wrong. It would be tonight. She waited, and when the time came, the sun went dark, and the prey all started to go back to the ship on their wagon with a fire tube on it.

She remembered a place where the sun didn’t suddenly go dark like that, but instead sank low in the sky until it became red, then dropped under the land, only to return on the other side in the morning. This place she had suddenly found herself in with her mate was strange to her.

She had made her plans. Once all the prey were gone, she jumped down off the rock she had been watching from, ran with all her speed toward the huts, and sank the claws of one hand deep into the metal of the wall they had placed over the big hut’s opening. Her claws bit easily into the metal. She wrenched it toward her and pulled a chunk of it away. She used both hands and soon had a big enough opening to walk into.

But something was wrong. She heard heartbeats. There were prey here. They had fooled her into thinking they had left! It was a trap! She sprang away from the opening just as two fire tubes began to spray their fire at her. The fire burned her back, her arms, and her legs. But she still had strength and leaped up onto the rocks where she had waited before, running and jumping until she reached a place where she thought none could see her. No prey were following her, she could tell, when she stopped and stood still, silently, to listen. They were far away.

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McClinnoik swore. “It got away! Tell me we got some bullets into it.”

“We did, Sir,” said one of the crew who had been operating one of the miniguns. “That would have killed an elephant, but this thing just didn’t care.”

“But you tagged it,” said McClinnoik. “That means that at least we can go to Plan B. That future Velásquez thought this might happen. Or maybe even knew it would. This timeline stuff makes my head ache.”

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The creature was really angry, both with the prey, and with itself for underestimating its quarry enough to be lured into a trap. As it angrily ground up some medicinal plants she and her mate had discovered early on, she created a gooey paste that became super thick as she added coconut milk.

Those firetubes the prey had used hadn’t seriously injured her, but if she’d spent another few more seconds in its flames she would have been hurt really bad. As it stood now, she had a rather nasty rash she had to contend with. As she rubbed the soothing paste onto the minor wounds she could reach along her arms and legs, she contemplated how best to approach them on the next encounter. Her tummy rumbled at the sweet memories of the last bunch she had captured. They were soft and very tasty, although they all seemed to have some sort of fire tube.

Most, up until this particular group, had only been an aggravation. This group had some that were far more dangerous. She would have to come up with something to avoid them in the future. This new group of prey, however, were proving to be both resourceful and cunning. If she didn’t know better, they somehow seemed to be able to tell the future.

She shrugged as she finished smearing the paste on the exposed areas she could reach, then improvised for those she couldn’t. One way or another, it was her .. or them .. the real outcome was not too important at this point.

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The captain went over the after-action report filed by the team left to guard the protocol control room. Something bothered him about the outcome of the minigun ambush and the lack of anything they could call blood. The first creature they had killed with the miniguns had also seemed to be highly resistant to the weapons fire at first, but when its armor had degraded enough the weapons had killed it.

After giving it considerable thought, plan B was the best option; however, he still understood Murphy's Law well and was positive something would go wrong.

The captain keyed his walkie talkie, “Barry? This is the captain; respond please.”

Barry’s voice came back about a minute later. “This is Barry – ’sup, Captain? Something gone wrong with one of the vehicles?”

The captain replied, “No, but I have another worry on my mind. If Velásquez was the only member to survive to return and try to aid us in returning to Earth alive as well, then she needs to be on Earth. Don’t care the excuse … tell her she has all the data and whatever and needs to get it back to the researchers on Earth. Also, it leaves the window open so she can return to this time and dimension if we screw up.”

Barry replied, “Gotcha, Captain. She’ll be on her way within the hour or less. Am going to send a complete file cache with here just in case. Barry out.”

The captain turned off his radio except for the call function and sat back in his chair. That took a worry off his mind, but now … there was still this gnawing suspicion … they were seriously overlooking some small detail, that would really bite them in the butt if he didn’t figure out what it was.

He took out the sketches and plans of the dome layouts and began going over them one more time. Plan B had to work, or this would all happen again, if the past could be changed, he was going to do his very best to make sure. Besides, this wasn’t past for him, nor was it future. There was a chance.

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The future Velásquez pointed at the screen of one of the complex’s computers that she’d repurposed. It showed a map of the island and a big red dot. “It’s working,” she said. “The radioisotope Sykes and Wang tagged the creature with isn’t found anywhere else on this island. That’s why I brought it with me. I’ve been working on this plan for 20 years. It’s got too many bullets under its skin for it to ever lose them all. And we’ve cleaned up all the bullets that went astray while they were firing at it. So we now know where it is at all times.”

“Ha!” said McClinnoik. “No more ambushing us. No matter where it goes, we can be ready.”

“But you’re still here,” said McAfee. “Does that mean Plan B will still go wrong? Did things happen this way in your timeline?”

“No,” she replied, nodding understandingly, “this is already different. But the fact that I’m still here does mean there’s still a significant possibility that things may go wrong. We need to minimize that chance.”

“I hope you have a plan C,” said Kleetz.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got a lot of plans,” said the future version of Velásquez. “But the other important part of Plan B is that we can now tell when the creature’s near enough to watch us. If I can get the crew’s help during times when it’s not looking …”

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“But … but I can help …” said the present Velásquez.

“You are helping,” said Barry. “We’ve got the most important data copied onto one SSD, and once we get that portal opened, we’re sending you back first with that data. If Plan B doesn’t work, this will guarantee that there’s still a future you to come back here and do Plan C, or whatever.”

“I don’t like the causal assumptions here,” said Velásquez. “Plan A didn’t work, but the older me is still here.”

“I’m absolutely sure you can figure it out,” Barry said. “But if you’re still here, you could die, and then that future you vanishes too.”

“Well, that does make sense,” she said. “I guess they’re setting up for Plan B now?”

“Yes,” said Barry. “They’re going to try it tonight.”

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It was getting near time for the sun to vanish, she knew. She had allowed the prey a few days to make them less certain of just when her next attack would come. And she was determined to attack when it was dark, because she could tell that her night vision was better than theirs. So she got ready. She spread more of her homemade salve on the itchy spots. Then she stealthily moved to the ledge where she could watch their huts unseen.

It wasn’t a trap this time. The prey were surrounding the big hut, each of them holding a fire stick, except for two of them, who were behind big fire tubes, the kind that had hit her before. If she approached, they would see her and attack. But … did this mean that they were almost ready with the huge fire tube that she was sure they were making inside? She had to stop that weapon from being made, at the very least, or seize it for herself if she could. They wouldn’t be guarding it unless it was nearly done.

Her eyes narrowed. She would wait for the right moment.

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“Is it ready yet?” asked the younger Velásquez.

“Almost,” said her older self. “We didn’t lose TESS containment, so it’s all downhill from here, but I have to get everything hooked back up.”

“There’s so much I want to ask you,” her younger self said.

The older Velásquez smiled and looked at her. “The stuff that’s worth knowing – you’ll find out for yourself. The rest – well, it’s not worth knowing, is it?” She paid out a coiled cable and attached it to a large gray box, which lit up with blinking red lights that then started to turn green one by one. Above them, the coruscating ball of light that was the TESS shone, held by its rings and coils.

“Creature’s still on the ledge,” said McClinnoik, watching his screen. “Not moving. It’s waiting. Probably until dark.”

“Nightfall in 17 minutes,” said the future Velásquez. “We’ll get this set up before then. We’ve been working nonstop in shifts, and it’s almost done. You got the console booted, Barry?”

“There are still some red lights,” he said, “but not as many as before, and … no, now there’s only one left.” He picked up his walkie-talkie. “Captain, we’re almost ready.”

“Don’t wait for me to give the order,” the captain’s voice came from the radio. “The moment that thing’s ready, send Velásquez – our Velásquez, I mean – straight to the designated space-time-dimensional coordinates.”

“And … this should do it,” said the future Velásquez, flipping three switches on a junction box.

On Barry’s screen, the last red light went green. The TESS seemed to shimmer more brightly. He looked at the younger Velásquez. “Ready?”

“No,” she replied, “but I’m gonna do this anyway.” She checked the pockets of her vest, crammed with physical evidence that would be hard to deny and the SSD full of data. There was a device they’d cobbled together from the research, too, that would take readings as she traversed the vortex, hoping to pin down the multi-dimensional coordinates of her entry and exit points.

“Right, starting MGP sequence,” said Barry, tapping rapidly at the screen.

“Energy flow stable,” said the elder Velásquez. “Looks good.”

Around the TESS began a whirling vortex of violet energy surrounded by crackling lightnings. Velásquez squinted at it and put her goggles on to protect her eyes. Everything in her wanted her to run away from the dangerous-looking thing happening before her, but she knew she was going to have to not just hold her ground but walk right into the growing mass of chaos.

“Double-checking coordinates,” said Barry. “Coordinates are go.”

“Vortex stabilizing … younger me, you’re good to go! Good luck!”

“I … thank you! Barry … see you on the other side!” She kept her eyes open, behind the goggles, squared her shoulders, and stepped into the roiling vortex. She vanished.

“It’s done!” said Barry. “Initiating completion sequence …” The vortex started to close and was soon gone, leaving only the shimmering TESS, just where it had been.

“So, about Plan B,” Barry said, turning away from the screen.

But the elder Velásquez wasn’t there.

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“She’s gone?” asked the captain on the walkie-talkie. “Wasn’t that … kind of the point?”

“No, Captain, they’re both gone,” came Barry’s voice. “The future one too!”

“She went into the vortex?”

“No, she just … disappeared! I turned around, and she just wasn’t there anymore!” Barry sounded panicked.

“So does this mean that by sending our Velásquez home, we guaranteed our success?” asked Captain Brennan. “Or does it mean that we’ve completely messed everything up?”

“I … have no way to know that!”

The sun vanished, and it was night.

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Not long now. She watched the prey, standing around the open door of the hut, light spilling out into the night. They were keeping their eyes moving, looking in every direction except up at the ledge that concealed her.

In every direction but … where she was.

They knew where she was. They didn’t want her to know that they knew, but they knew. That meant she could not attack from this direction. But of course they knew where she would attack from – she’d attacked from this very same direction before. She cursed herself for being stupid and made alternate plans. She knew this island like the armored scales on the back of her forearms.

Stealthily she slunk off the ledge and behind a ridge of rock, coming down behind a pillar of stone, then moved behind one of the huts and then another, getting closer and closer. That big fire tube the prey were making would be hers – or, at least, not theirs.

She stopped when she was behind another of the huts. It was closed, but she could hear a sound inside. The sound and the sensation of crackling energy beneath her claws reminded her of the strange storm that had happened just before she and her mate had found themselves on this new island.

But it was not the sound or feel of a weapon, so she dismissed it as odd and slipped behind another hut, continuing to approach the large, guarded one. In addition to their fire sticks, the prey had a box that made strange noises, and sometimes they made noises into it as well. She could smell their fear.

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“It’s getting closer,” said McClinnoik over the radio. “It’s behind Dome 17 now. Do not make any indication that you know this.”

“Acknowledged, Sir,” said Wang, one of the sailors who had volunteered for security duty once they had found themselves on an island with monsters. He released the walkie-talkie handset that hung over his shoulder and gripped his shotgun tightly. He looked at the others out of the corner of his eye and nodded. They silently nodded back. Dome 17 was behind the large one they were guarding, which had been designated Dome 1, not visible from their position. If the creature chose to attack, it would be flanking them, either to the left or the right. He hoped that McClinnoik would let them know which before it happened.

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Earlier the previous day, during a planning session, the captain had voiced his worry that there was something they were overlooking as far as the creature was concerned. It reacted to things in ways it shouldn’t if they were keeping stealth, as all thought they were.

Dr. Gregorius Lazarov, the Marine biologist, speculated, “I know this may sound weird, but we are discussing a highly advanced predatory creature. I know dolphins and whales can use echolocation for navigation and hunting purposes.”

The bosun’s mate piped up and said, “Are you telling me that thing uses radar to hunt?”

A light twitter of laughter rounded the room.

Lazarov held up one finger as he replied, “More like sonar – not active sonar, mind you, but passive. I have examined the male creature we killed. Its auditory cavities are well-developed, as are the other structures in its ears. What if … it can not only smell us, as other predatory animals do, but hear us from miles away, and it may even have some other sensory organs we don’t know about? Sharks have an organ just under their noses that allows them to locate prey by the electrical disturbances the prey creates in the water. It wouldn’t be too farfetched to assume similar capabilities in this creature.”

The captain looked at the chief mechanical engineer and said, “How ‘bout it, Barry? Think you could cobble something together that might disrupt its senses?”

Barry rubbed his chin for a minute then said, “I can deploy several of the low-frequency white noise emitters. That would add noise that could make the detection of any other sound more difficult.”

McAfee said, “Detects electrical disturbances, does it?” That reactor they’ve got generates a lot of power. Wouldn’t take much to run a Tesla coil and fill the air with ions, and if it can detect the tiny disturbances we make through that, I’ll personally eat that very same Tesla coil. Always wanted to build one of those, although I’m not real sure what sauce goes with a Tesla incase I have to eat it.”

There was laughter.

Even the cook had useful input as he said, “I have about a dozen deodorizer things down below. Puts a lot of aromatic chemicals into the air. If we place them upwind of our planned ambush, I think all odors could be masked well enough that it won’t smell us.”

The captain stood from the table and said, “Let’s get to it then, people. Time is short, and I know that thing will try again.”

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Back in the control dome, current time

McClinnoik and several others kept watch over the computer that tracked the isotopes the creature had been tagged with. When the creature had reached the area behind Dome 17, the captain indicated he wanted the emitters enabled now. A low frequency white noise began to permeate the area, a buzzing and crackling sound came from several points throughout the complex, and the air was filled with the smells of ozone and some sort of industrial cleanser.

Immediately, the creature knew something was terribly wrong. Her internal senses stopped detecting her prey. She no longer could hear their pounding hearts, nor could she smell the delicious odor of their blood. She wasn’t even detecting their presence, although she didn’t really understand that what she was detecting were electromagnetic fields; all she sensed were a handful of strange presences that felt nothing like prey. Immediately, the creature realized she had once again underestimated her prey’s cunning. She was no longer the predator here; she had now become their prey. And she didn’t like it. She prepared to run away.

The defenders had 6 four barrel mini-guns and four twin 80 cannons that fired like an auto weapon – for some reason these had been packed aboard a scientific vessel, even though they were overkill for pirates by far. Technically, the twin 80s were anti-aircraft weapons; however, the critter made just as good a target. Three of the mini-guns had been paired with two of the twin 80s. The intent was to kill the critter before it did that to anyone else. Sykes, Wang, and the other crew had their fingers on their triggers, knowing that the creature could appear at any moment.

But before it did, without warning, a wind began to blow, and dust fulled with sand swirled around as purple electrical arcs began to appear. 25 separate electrical maelstroms appeared amid the swirling sand, looking exactly like the portals they had seen before. When the effect dissipated, 25 people stood where the vortices had been. Each was dressed in some type of jet black battle suit with a helmet.

12 of them held a weapon that sort of looked like a mini-gun. The other 12 held a weapon that was connected to a backpack. The backpacks were covered in some type of sparkly material.

One of the new arrivals turned and ordered in the voice of Velásquez, “I want 6 of the auto gunners and 6 of the turbo gunners in a squad. MOVE!!! We’ve rehearsed this long enough that you all should be able to do it in your sleep.”

One of the other individuals saluted sharply and said, “Yes, Ma’am.” They then gathered the rest into the required groups. He could be heard saying, “… this thing is as smart or smarter than some of you. No games, and remember, if you fail … you’re lunch ... no second chances.”

A loud war whoop was heard as the two squads immediately split and began rounding building 17 in both directions with their weapons hot. The captain was totally shocked when Velásquez walked over and removed her battle helmet.

Velásquez smiled as she held out a hand, “I want to thank you for the promotion, and the ability to come back and solve this little issue ...”

A loud scream was heard. One of the new arrivals wasn’t alert enough. Several bloody body pieces bounced away from building 17 accompanied by a blood splatter. No one doubted the danger this creature posed at this point.

A 20 foot tall critter with what appeared to be natural body armor and claws on its hands over 6 inches long sprang gracefully around the building. It stood to its full height, spread out its arms and roared a horrid spine-chilling roar.

All 12 of the turbo gunners came to a knee and opened fire. The captain was totally agog at the advanced nature of what appeared to be some form of plasma gatling gun. The impacts on the armored creature’s body, left large greenish oozing glowing divots.

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She had no thoughts at this point except escape, but here, the only way out was up. She leapt hard and managed to make the high ledge before rolling into the thick foliage. She lay and panted for an instant. This time, the fire tubes were powerful and meant to kill her. She inspected one of her wounds. The outer edges were burnt and scorched, and at the center was a painful and serious injury.

She now knew that attacking these creatures may have been easy and tasty in the beginning, but now it appeared that she may be the prey. Painfully and carefully, she managed to stand. She could only stumble now; she was seriously hurt. She looked down and saw the glowing greenish trail she left behind. She had to do something about the bleeding.

She finally came to a marshy place and gathered what she would need to stop the flow. She also harvested some foxglove. It always had a pain relieving effect, and made her sort of high to boot.

By the time she had managed to bind the wounds and staunch the blood flow, she felt very bad. She managed to reach the cave she had been using as shelter and crawled to the mat she had made for her bed. A soft gray fog filled her mind. Her last thought before passing out was of her beloved mate and how she had managed to kill one of them to avenge him.

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The captain looked at Velásquez for a moment before asking, “Did you … ever decide on a thesis topic?”

Velásquez laughed, “Did I ever. And my new title is General Velásquez. I’m commander and chief of Earth Xeno/Space Defense Corps. As a side note, I’m also the leading authority on wormhole and TESS technology. I’ve even designed an interstellar drive unit that is currently being built at the Nano/Gen R&D division.”

“You must have played your cards carefully,” the captain said.

“I did,” she said, “but here’s the thing … from your point of view it’s more like I will.”

“What?”

“Now, I bet you that thing isn’t dead, but with that radioisotope it’s tagged with, we can still make sure it stays wherever it’s holed up. Let me at your tracking computer.”

It wasn’t long before Velásquez had written code on the quantum computers that would sound the alert the moment the creature’s tracking signature began to move. No one would have to be stationed at the screen to watch it – the tireless electronic sentinel would be vigilant for them.

“And as a result,” Velásquez said, “I’m done here. That bit of coding was overkill – you told me that it didn’t move again before it was all done.”

“Before what was all done?” asked the captain.

“Before everyone was home.”

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“Get ready,” said the captain over the radio. “We’re going home. Now. Don’t worry about bringing food, clothes, whatever. They’ve got all that where we’re going. Unless it’s personally valuable, leave it here.” He handed the mike to Dr. Daniels.

“However, we are bringing all the data,” Dr. Daniels added. “That’s the most important thing of all. We need to bring this information. It has to be analyzed in depth. We’ll be coming back for the gear and the ship – it’s all potentially dangerous, not only to whoever finds it, but to us if some technological and hostile race finds it and tracks us down. But first we get home with the data.”

So everyone packed light. Velásquez and her troops guarded the perimeter around the dome where the TESS had been relocated to as the crew and the scientists gathered there.

The older future Velásquez who had visited them earlier had already programmed the computers to send them home – they just had to use the same coordinates that the younger Velásquez had used. Only the creature had prevented them from running that program again – the foreknowledge that the creature would see that moment as the perfect opportunity to attack.

Barry activated the system, and the portal opened. Everyone looked at each other, then they started moving toward the portal. One by one they saw those in front of them vanish before their own senses were overwhelmed by the energy and turbulence of the vortex – and then it cleared. They stood on the sidewalk of the National Mall in Washington, DC, between the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument. Tourists and Federal employees on their lunch breaks were pointing their smart phones at them, taking photos and videos.

“Hey, guys,” said Velásquez, turning around to face them. “I guess whatever we’re about to do must work, huh? I figured you’d be right behind me if so – the older me left the machine set to the same coordinates, so it sent you to exactly the same time and place.”

“Of course! It stands to reason,” said Dr. Daniels. “Now we can all work on rescuing – ourselves.”

A man in a tweed suit and a neatly-trimmed gray beard came up to them. He had an ID badge labeled with the logo of the Smithsonian Institution. “Excuse me,” he said, “but aren’t you Dr. Dijana Daniels?”

“Why yes – Dr. Hunter?”

“Yes, we met at the symposium on – but that’s not important; what’s important is that you’ve been missing for months! Your ship disappeared, and there’s been no contact! How on Earth did you get here?” asked Dr. Hunter.

“We’ll tell you all about it,” said Dr. Daniels. “But do you know a place where we can regroup? We need to borrow some phones – I think my plan’s expired.”

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The machine automatically shut off the portal a minute after Barry had stood up from the console to walk through. Velásquez watched it happen through the open doorway, then went out to her troops. “It’s done,” she said. “Now we wait for – for that.” She looked up at the sky.

An enormous portal started to open in the air. Purple lightning crackled, and through the vortex came a huge starship, for want of a better word. The long, narrow vessel hovered in the air and slowly lowered to a height of about a hundred feet above the dome complex. Then a square piece of its bottom hull began to lower from it on a column of light, and as it settled to the ground Velásquez and the troops could see a number of people on it. She recognized Dr. Daniels, Captain Brennan, McAfee, McClinnoik, Barry, and several others.

She also saw herself on the lowering platform. Her troops looked at each other.

“We’ll take it from here,” said this new Velásquez to the earlier version of herself with a smile.

“Got it,” Velásquez said. “Move out! Back to base.” She and all her troops raised their arms and entered a series of commands on the keypads they wore on their armbands. Small portals appeared, and they all went home.

“Time to clean up,” said the new Velásquez, and everyone on the platform fanned out, placing tracking devices on each dome, and as they stepped clear of each one, a vortex formed, and that dome vanished, leaving only a depression in the ground where it had stood. The same happened to the futuristic aircraft near the domes, the ground vehicles, even McAfee’s Tesla coils. Later, they did the same to the entire ship, the Origin itself. A vortex surrounded it and took it home.

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There were conferences, questionings, debriefings, legal proceedings, Congressional hearings, and talk shows.

“Your story seems … incredible,” said Ellen. “Space vortices to another dimension? Alien life forms? Time travel?”

“But was all real,” said Velásquez.

“It sure was,” said the host. “I feel like I’m in some kind of science fiction story now.” The audience laughed. “I mean, wrap your mind around that. We live in a world where stuff like that is real. Wow.”

“It sure is,” said Captain Brennan. “I mean, if I’d heard the story from somebody, I wouldn’t believe it either. But we’ve got the data. The scientists have gone all through it. They’re still going through it. It’s all there.”

“So they’re making a new branch of the military for this now?” asked Ellen.

“So it seems,” Dr. Daniels replied. “I’m not sure it should be a military program, but since Dr. Velásquez is being put in charge of it, I’m sure it’ll be in good hands. There’s alien life and other dimensions out there. We have to be ready in case it comes to knock on our door.”

“So, all those UFO sightings,” said Ellen. “Were they real? Or … just weather balloons?”

“You have no idea how much UFO evidence I’ve been looking at over the past couple of years,” said Velásquez. “Some of it I can’t even talk about, because it’s classified. But what I can say is … some of it is consistent with things coming here from other dimensions in much the same way that we traveled. And some of it … is weather balloons.”

The audience laughed again.

“So how come, you know, Bermuda Triangle?” asked Ellen. “Why there? And not somewhere else on Earth? Some kind of … ley lines, pyramid power, woo woo?”

“Yeah, we found out why,” said Dr. Daniels. “Turns out it was us.”

“Wait, what?” Ellen asked.

Dr. Daniels explained, “Well, all the multiple disappearances over the years were due to the malfunctioning vortex devices that were left there by, well, us in the future.”

“You found them, but you put them there, but you haven’t put them there yet?” clarified Ellen. “Just so I understand.”

“That’s exactly right,” said Velásquez. “We’re going to have to put them there, or this sequence of events won’t happen. We’ll cause a paradox that could destroy the universe if we don’t do it – either that, or someone else will put them there. It will happen, because it did happen. But anyway, we’re going to bring ourselves through, and then we’re going to leave the thing on, and it’s going to randomly pull stuff from around time and space to that island.”

“And the Bermuda Triangle is going to be its favorite place because we’re going to set it that way,” said Captain Brennan. “We’re going to have to set a trap for our past selves.”

“Isn’t there a way you can do this without … you know … making people vanish?” asked Ellen.

“I promise,” said Velásquez, “that in the future, when we’re setting this up, we’re going to use the most powerful computers we’ve got to calculate the way to do this that will cause the least disruption to people’s lives, and we will do it that way. Maybe in the future we’ll be able to return the people who’ve disappeared. The pilots of Flight 19 may come back. The Muers and the Drummeys, perhaps. It may also be that some of them crashed or sank in ordinary storms. We just don’t know yet.”

“So if the aliens do invade the Earth,” said Ellen, “what are you going to, you know, do about it? Because … well, we’ve all seen Independence Day. Giant saucers blowing up cities?”

“Well, we haven’t explored all the ramifications of this technology,” said Velásquez, “but we’re working on it right now, believe me. This is one of the reasons why it has to be a new branch of the military. If there are aliens, and if they are hostile, and if they do come here, they’ll have figured out how to weaponize this and other technologies we don’t fully understand yet. We have to be ready.”

“But we have a reason not to panic,” said Dr. Daniels. “That reason is: they haven’t invaded yet. They could invade us in the past. But just look around – they didn’t. There are two possible reasons why. They didn’t want to, or we stopped them. Well, we will stop them. Time travel.”

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After the many committee meetings, news conferences, and interviews, General Velásquez called an Earth Xeno/Space Defense Corps command wide meeting.

Velásquez came to the raised podium and adjusted the mic. She looked out into the huge auditorium with pride, then said, “I’ve called all of you here to discuss and possibly solve a small issue we created for another sentient being.”

Dr. Daniels raised her hand and was recognised, “Ma’am, we did a very thorough clean-up operation. We are currently in process of seeing if we can recover those lost due to our mistake.”

Velásquez smiled, then replied, “I understand that, Doctor. What I’m referring to is the creature. We left her badly wounded to basically fend for itself. We killed her mate, and I’m sure she has strong feelings about that.” Velásquez turned and pointed to a man sitting in a seat on the front row, “Dr. Randy Mettcalff, you are this world’s foremost expert on xeno-biology. In your expert opinion, do you think we can help restore this creature and possibly her mate?”

Dr. Mettcalff stood and identified himself, “I can say, with assurance, we can save the female. I have yet to find a plausible way to return her mate without causing a time paradox. We do have options, however. Through our exploration of the new TESS tech, we discovered the dimensional coordinates where she must have originated from.”

A voice was heard above the speculative buzzing, “How can you be sure she came from there? And, didn’t I read those creatures are intelligent? Why can’t we speak to them, or develop some other form of communication?”

Dr. Mettcalff replied evenly, “From my studies, yes, this is the creature’s home world. I am also sure we can provide the creature with decent medical care, and quite possibly heal many of her wounds with some of the new tech. As far as her mate, we have no real options, except cloning for those genetics. The only other option is to heal her, send her to the place where it’s most probable that she’ll find another mate, and hope they only mate till death do they part. As far as opening a line of communication with them … from current observations of similar creatures with the same developments ... it will be many years before they start acting anything near what we would call civilized enough to talk to.”

Dr. Daniels said with one finger up, “A humanitarian gesture to aid that creature might even prove useful. If we can somehow create some spark within its mind, we might be able to rudimentarily communicate with it. Love always seems to work … OK, we gave her hate; now let’s try some mercy and love.”

Velásquez said loudly enough for all to hear, even above the noise of the many speculative conversations, “OK, people. Let’s set this up. We have a large Nightingale-class rescue ship sitting at the space dock now. The technicians should have it configured and provisioned to handle a 20-foot-tall, several-ton creature within a day or so. I expect us to be locked and cocked by noon, 72 hours from now, understood?”

A loud round of “Yes Ma’am!” was the reply.

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After three full days of research and planning, the rescue ship was ready to go. Captain Brennan was in the command chair, and General Velásquez was nearby, surrounded by consoles where she could monitor every aspect of the rescue operation. The time had come. “This is Velásquez,” she said on the shipwide comm. “We all know the plan. We can do this. Let’s go.”

“Lock coordinates, Mr. Kaluza,” said Brennan.

“Coordinates locked in, Captain,” said Kaluza at the helm.

“Then take us there,” said the captain.

“Aye, Sir.” Around the ship there arose an eerie glow and a crackling of purple lightning-like bolts of energy, and from the point of view of those on the space dock, the entire thousand-foot-long ship simply vanished. Those on board the ship felt a momentary vertigo, and those with a view of the outside through a window or viewscreen simply saw its surroundings change from Earth orbit to high in the sky above the mysterious and peculiar island where many of them had spent so many months.

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She had crawled to her cave, expecting to die of her wounds. The creatures that she had originally considered her prey did not seem to have found her yet when she regained some semblance of consciousness. She was still in great pain and could still acutely feel her injuries. The numbing effect of the salves she had made had worn off. She did not feel as if she had the energy to go out and gather the ingredients to make more. She lay still, hoping to sleep again.

Then she smelled something. It was those … creatures. The ones she had thought were prey, the ones who had wounded her, had come for her. This was the end, then. They had come to finish her as they had slain her mate, he whom she had avenged. She would not take their fire tubes lying down, though. She struggled to get up.

The creatures made noises, maybe at her, maybe at each other. They did not approach. They stood there at the mouth of her cave. They were many. But they were not attacking. She made a half-hearted roar of defiance, but she did not have the strength. She collapsed, off-balance.

She felt a tiny pin-prick in her shoulder. They would have to do more than that to kill her, she thought. But soon she felt less pain, though not less tired. What were they doing? They were spraying some kind of salve on her wounds. They were … binding her wounds with some sort of leaves? There was another pin-prick. She soon slept again.

She awoke in a strange new cave. Nothing had any scent. Everything was white, and there was no way out. The light was bright, but she could not tell where it came from. She felt rested, although still very tired, and very hungry and thirsty. There was a vessel full of water nearby and a platform holding some sort of morsels of what smelled like meat. Lifting the vessel, she drank from it, careful not to spill any, as she did not know when there would be more. Her people knew and taught their young that it was folly to waste food and water in times of drought or famine; she had learned this from her mother, as all did. She carefully speared one of the morsels of meat with a claw and held it before her face, smelling it in great detail. She could detect no taint of poison.

Someone had provided this for her. The prey, or whatever they were? But she could not smell them at all. This place was almost devoid of scents, other than her own and the scent of the food. She tasted the meat. It had a strange flavor, but it was still clearly meat.

She ate the food, one bite at a time, again taking care not to waste any, as there was no indication of a way to obtain more. She was confused, but she felt a great deal better than she had. Wherever this place was, whoever these creatures were, they had not killed her. They had eased her pain, brought her here, and given her food and water. They wanted her to regain her strength. Why?

There was a sound coming from one of the walls of the cave. The wall opened. There was a way out! But it was blocked. There were … more of those strange not-prey. They had barely any scent at all, but it was them. They were not coming in. One was approaching. Its scent was familiar. It was one of those who had bound her wounds earlier. It made sounds at her.

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“Easy, now,” Dr. Mettcalff said in a calm tone to the creature. “I’m not here to hurt you. Just here to check on your wounds.”

The creature was standing up, back to the opposite wall, clearly in a defensive posture, but just as clearly still weak. Dr. Mettcalff chose to focus on a bandage that was easily accessible, one on the creature’s right calf, or what might have been the right calf if the creature had been a human. It had an extra joint in each leg, which made such analogies difficult. He approached and opened the medical case he carried, containing more bandages just like the one that was stuck to the creature’s skin.

Fully aware that he could be gutted like a fish at any moment, Dr. Mettcalff held up the case and said, “See, these are more, just like that one,” gesturing at the bandage. “I’m going to take that one off, spray on some more of this medicine, and put a new one on.” He held up the spray bottle of antiseptic. The creature made a sound that was difficult to interpret but didn’t move.

Dr. Mettcalff reached out and gently touched the edge of the bandage on the creature’s leg. Again it didn’t move. He gulped and started pulling the bandage off. It came loose. It was covered with the creature’s yellowish-green blood. “So far, so good,” he said. “Now, this might sting just a little bit, but it’s just a spray, just like before.”

He held up the spray can and sprayed the wound with liquid antiseptic. The creature made a loud sound and kicked out at Dr. Mettcalff, who dodged, wove, and ran for the exit. But then she seemed to calm down again. She stood expectantly. She looked at him. Then she pointed toward the wound on her leg with a claw.

Dr. Mettcalff came back, putting the spray can back in the medical case and taking out another bandage. “You … want me to put one of these on that, right?” he said as calmly as possible, although he was near panic in reality. “That’s just what I’m here to do for you. Don’t worry.” He kept talking as he unwrapped a bandage and carefully applied it. “Just going to open this up, take it out, and put it right on there. Just like the old one, but clean. Just like that. There you go. That’s better, isn’t it? Now let’s see about some of these other ones.”

What seemed like a long time later, he left the creature’s hospital room and closed the door behind him. The guards and the support staff let out a sigh of relief. “Thought you were a goner for a moment there, Doc,” said one of them.

“Me too,” said Dr. Mettcalff. “I need a drink … of water. I’m still on duty. Well. It was a lot easier to change her wound dressings while she was unconscious, I’m telling you …”

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Later on, she again watched in total confused astonishment as one of those creatures tended her wounds – yes, the very same wounds they had caused. She thought about that too. Had they really caused the problem, or had they merely been defending themselves from attack?

A tiny spark deep within her mind ignited a small flame. Reality as she thought it was … changed as if a veil had lifted from her eyes. With epiphanic understanding, she realized these creatures were far more than just prey or predators.

The sounds they made to each other … were some form of communication far superior to what her people did. Yes, they were People, not prey or predator.

The … creature continued to dress her wounds. His attentions to them had taken away all pain, and the wounds were healing seemingly like magic. He kept making sounds, too. As she observed, she began to understand that some of the sounds he made referred to objects.

She pointed to the basin filled with water and tried her best to emulate the sound the creature had made when he refilled it. “Wah Terr.”

Dr. Mettcalff dropped the clipboard he was writing on in total astonishment. The creature could talk ... and understand. He picked up the clipboard as he stumbled to reply, “Y … yes!” He pointed to the liquid in the basin and repeated, “Water.”

She nodded her head in understanding. She then pointed to the platform that held the fresh meat, “Foo? Foo?”

Dr. Mettcalff replied as he pointed to the platform, “Yes ... Yes … Food.” He picked up a chunk of the beef and held it out, “Meat.” He held up two fingers of his other hand, “Meat is Food.” He brought his two fingers together.

She nodded in understanding as she replied. “Mee ish foo. Foo ish Mee.” She softly and unthreateningly growled, then pointed to her chest and said, “Gragg,” then pointed to Dr. Mettcalff.

Dr. Mettcalff’s eyes grew large with surprise as he pointed to himself and said with incredulity obvious in his tone, “Randy. Ran … dy.”

Gragg nodded as she pointed to him and attempted to emulate his name, “Rrhhun … de??”

Randy hit the comm button on his communicator, “Hey. I need several of you xeno-language experts here ASAP. There has been a major discovery. This creature can talk. Her name is Gragg. She understands relationships between sounds and objects. We can talk to her once we get a basic foundation of language established with her.”

The small voice replied, “We will have six of the team there in a few minutes. If the creature isn’t hostile towards us, we can teach her our language and quite possibly learn hers.”

Randy stood straight and held up two fingers, “Randy … “ he closed the two fingers together, “Doctor.”

Gragg wasn’t exactly positive the intent, but she had the grasp that Randy was the creature’s name … but he was a doctor … whatever that was. She though about it for a bit and realized that was why he tended to her injuries. He was a healer. So Doctor and Healer were one and the same. She held up a large clawed hand with two digits up, “Randy Doctor.” she closed her two digits in the same manner Randy had earlier.

This time, it was Randy’s turn to wonder if the true meaning was understood. It was more than obvious that Gragg had a fairly good understanding of what was meant, even if it was slightly skewed at the moment.

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The Xeno-Biology department had actually gotten its start somewhat in a mundane way. First, there had been a large organization known worldwide as Forest Hill Oceanographic Institute. They had started a program that had attempted to communicate with cetaceans. That program had had moderate success.

Next had come the attempt to communicate with dogs and cats. As weird as the concept had sounded, it had become extremely popular. The more people had used the device and network database, the more data the AI had had on hand for translations. It wasn’t long before mankind had at last been able to speak to their pets – and they could answer. The more usage, the better the translations, until they had assumed, by the animals’ actions in response, that a direct line of communication had been established.

Primates had been easy. Individuals had already been taught sign language, and in turn were able to teach their young. Then, what was being called an Ani-Chat system had been placed on a chimpanzee. It was discovered they had a language almost as complex as any human language. Communication with primates had become commonplace.

It was about that time that Nano/Gen had acquired all those programs. They had somehow made contact with an alien creature. All the storage and research had then been done at the highly advanced Nano/Gen Biological Research Facility.

An extremely bright rising star in the new realms of Biology and Physics named Dr. Alejandra Velásquez had somehow proven that most of what human science had declared as absolute dogmatic fact was just the tip of the iceberg of the true reality.

The devices she had begun to build, assisted by others of the Origin expedition who had been lost for so many months and mysteriously reappeared, were nearly magical in what they did. What they had shown the scientific world was that string theory was correct: every particle was merely a vibration in an 11-dimensional cosmic field. The only difference was the frequency, which could vary up or down, but just like photons was related to their energy, which she had proven beyond any doubt could be manipulated at will.

Shortly after the research team’s reappearance and debriefing, the President had signed into existence the Earth Xeno/Space Defense Corps. By Presidential declaration, with full House and Senate approval, and Dr. Alejandra Velásquez, being the foremost expert in this and several other scientific areas, had been inducted into this new military branch as its first leader.

She had been promoted to five-star general by not only an act of Congress, but ratified with a standing ovation as General Dr. Nazario Velásquez had her five stars pinned on by the President on one side, and General Eastlessland, the highest ranking man in the US military, who was the only other 5 star general, on the other.

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The xeno-linguists weren’t sure what the basis of Gragg’s language root could possibly be. They were getting hints due to Gragg’s intelligence. Her people didn’t seem to be too far away from developing a civilization, although that time was probably still many long years in the future.

Gragg made the sound / object inference quickly. Before her wounds healed, and they were healing at a remarkably fast rate, including regenerating lost armor, Gragg was able to carry on a rudimentary conversation. As primitive as it was, it was recognizable coherent speech that constantly improved by leaps and bounds.

Velásquez couldn’t believe she was actually sitting at a special table that allowed a 20 foot tall, several ton bipedal creature to sit across from her. She cleared her throat before she started, in a somewhat rambling manner, “I … need to talk with you about some rather sensitive things. Please, don’t get ... physical. We accept the fact, trust me, but there is no way we have found to undo it.”

Gragg listened to what this individual said and replied, “Is … ok, Val is keez. Gragg know we all ... people, no animals.”

Velásquez nodded, then replied softly and slowly, “I’m sorry about what happened to your mate. Neither you nor we understood at the time. We have tried very hard to bring him back. All the sims we ran show a major time paradox if we try.”

It was obvious that Gragg’s eyes teared up. Several tears even dripped down her armored face. “Is ... hard to loose Rowlerff. Miss im terribly.”

Velásquez looked down for a minute. She had terrible remorse run through her as she tried to put herself in Gragg’s place. The results were not pleasant.

Velásquez finally said, with emotion obvious in her tone, “What if ... we could send you home? I mean ... really home? We could even arrange it so you appear in the best spot to … find another mate … that is, if you are so inclined.”

Gragg’s expression was difficult to interpret at the best of times, but she hesitated. “Too … soon,” she said in her guttural voice. “New mate some day. Now … Rowlerff too close.”

“I understand,” Velásquez said. She was almost crying too.

“Home …” Gragg sounded almost wistful. “Go to … Gragg home? Big storm come, take Gragg way.”

“I think we can find your home and take you there, if that is what you want,” said Velásquez. “You and your mate came to the island by accident, but we have found out how to fix it.”

“Yes.” Gragg said this fairly definitely. “Gragg want … home. Go home. Go people. Go family.”

“Oh, you must miss your family,” Velásquez said.

Gragg replied, “Miss mother. Miss father. Old now. Miss fight with brother, sister.” Gragg made a rasping sound that might actually have been laughter.

“OK,” said Velásquez, standing up. “We will find your home. We will tell you when we know how to take you there. And then we will bring you home.”

“Home …” Gragg said, with what seemed like a sigh.

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“My first idea would be to look through the TESS control system’s logs,” said Barry, manipulating his computer’s three-dimensional command interface with gestures. “It remained online for what were decades of island time, randomly opening portals to everywhere across the multiverse. What we’ll need to do is find a way to look at each set of coordinates, and preferably eliminate all the ones that went to deep space to begin with. Then we’ll just see if we can find Gragg’s world among the ones that actually went somewhere.”

“We don’t really have a dimensional peephole,” said Velásquez. “Though it wouldn’t be too hard to do. You’d just need to be really careful to make it one-way. I’ll get the research started on that.”

“OK, good,” said Barry. “I’ll extract the data and filter out the null coordinates.”

They both started this project, although Velásquez passed hers along to others once she’d gotten the ball rolling – she had many other duties to perform, and that made her a bit sad, because she did love doing research, but she had to get back up to the ship. She entered a secured chamber, pressed a sequence of code numbers on a keypad, and vanished in a flash of purple lightning.

A few days later, a large portion of the research team was back together on the starship’s bridge. On the main view screen they saw the island on which they had spent so much time. The picture was live; the palm trees blew in the gentle tropical breeze. “You’re sure this isn’t some kind of gateway?” asked Captain Brennan. “I feel like I’m there again.”

“No, this is an image formed from virtual string vibrations that have passed through those dimensional coordinates,” said Velásquez. “Basically, we can see in, but they can’t see us. We’ve got coordinates for all the places where the portal opened randomly over ten years … minus the ones where it opened to empty space.” She made a gesture, and the view shifted to an arctic tundra, then to a vast desert under red and blue moons.

“So now we can show these to … Gragg? Am I pronouncing that right? And she can tell us when one of them is her world?”

“That’s the plan.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Gragg sat in a specially-constructed large comfortable chair and watched as many window-like views of strange and exotic places appeared on the view screen. She was agog at the abilities these people possessed. They showed her a snowy arctic scene. Gragg said, “No. Is no cold, no ice.” So they eliminated every set of coordinates that went to such a location. They similarly eliminated locations that were all water, those that were deserts, the ones that were obviously airless planets, and so on, each time narrowing the choices down.

Then, without warning, Gragg jumped up and pointed one of her clawed fingers at the screen, startling Velásquez and Randy. “Dere!” she exclaimed in her raspy voice. “Is dere. Das is mom n dad’s house. That ugly thing dere is brother.” She started jumping up and down like an excited child.

They instantly realized that they had found the proper exchange point, so Velásquez immediately saved a bookmark to those spatial and dimensional coordinates. There was no mistake; Gragg recognized her parents and her brother in the slip window.

Velásquez felt a terrible fear run up her spine when Gragg bent suddenly and took her in her arms – but the embrace was as soft as any fur and as gentle as any lamb. Velásquez found herself on her feet as Gragg danced around with sheer joy.

Velásquez felt a small blush come to her face as she realized that she had wet her panties in momentary terror. She held onto the chair back for an instant longer, then stood upright. She went to the console and pushed the comm button. “This is General Velásquez.”

“Yes Ma’am,” came the immediate response.”

“I am sending you space-time/dimension coordinates. Set the TESS exactly to them. I also want to insure the exact power dispersal prior to transference.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Velásquez turned and said, “Gragg, follow me. Please, be as calm as possible with no sudden moves.”

Gragg nodded her head in understanding, “Is sorry. It been many long time since been home. Is ... ummm ... exciting?”

Velásquez laughed, “I can relate to that. Now, Gragg, please listen carefully, because this might be a hard idea to understand. We are sending you to the exact time you left. It has been a long time for you, but to them, you only just went away. They may not know that you went away. Do you understand?”

Gragg thought about it as they walked. “So … many days for Gragg. But … same day for home? Gragg miss them … but they no miss Gragg?”

“Probably not, but that is because they don’t know about what happened to you,” Velásquez explained. “You will have to tell them the story.”

“Gragg show battle scars,” said Gragg proudly, pointing to the scars that remained from her otherwise healed wounds. Then she looked somehow serious. “Tell story, how Rowlerff killed. Gragg take revenge. Then … make peace.”

“I am sure you can do it,” said Velásquez. “Good. Sergeant, please escort Miss Gragg to the landing deck. I have a … small matter to take care of.”

Gragg growled softly, “Makes sure dey … cute n zorbants.”

Many soft laughs and giggles were heard as Velásquez left the room, to change her wet undies. She blushed and considered putting them on KP.

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“We will stay as long as you want,” said Velásquez. “But it is probably best if you go to them first and tell your story.”

“Gragg will,” said Gragg, standing on the landing platform. “Gragg call if need talk.” She pointed at the communicator device she held, a battle-hardened version of the devices they used for point-to-point communication on the ship.

“Very good. When you’re ready?”

“Gragg very very ready!”

Velásquez nodded at the operators, who started the landing platform lowering out of the bottom of the ship. They could see several of Gragg’s people looking up in amazement at the ship in the sky and the platform coming down out of it. When they saw that Gragg was on it, they started pointing and looking at each other, apparently talking. And when the platform came within jumping distance of the ground, Gragg hopped off and ran toward what was apparently her family, embracing one who was probably her mother first, talking to all the creatures who were gathering around her. The platform rose back up into the ship, which remained stationary in the sky.

Some time passed. The world’s sun set, night fell, and sunrise came. Velásquez got to her command station a few minutes before her duty shift started and began checking over the nightly logs. Nothing unusual had happened overnight; they had gotten many interesting biological and climate readings on this planet, as well as a view of the night sky. Then the communicator beeped – Gragg’s communicator. The morning crew on the bridge looked at her, and Velásquez put the message on the main viewscreen.

“Hello, Gragg,” Velásquez said. “Did you have a good night?”

“Yes. Is so good. Sister saw Gragg and Rowlerff go into strange storm, no come out. Then ship in air, Gragg come out. Is just like said. Gragg tell story, Gragg and Rowlerff fight battle, Rowlerff fall, family sing song of loss. Gragg take revenge. But then Gragg and enemy learn. No need to be enemy. Fight because no understand. Humans no prey. Humans other kind of people. Humans bring Gragg home.”

“I’m happy they understand,” said Velásquez.

“Everyone tell story,” said Gragg. “Next village telling story. Soon all tell story, across valley, across mountains, across plains, across forest and swamp. There other kind of people from other side of storm. But …”

“But … what?”

“But … family want to see,” said Gragg. “Want to … meet. Here, mother, Hiragg.” Another creature of Gragg’s species appeared on the viewscreen behind Gragg and made rasping sounds. “Father, Grerr.” Another one appeared, presumably Gragg’s father, who made a series of growling, grunting sounds.

“We … can come and meet them,” said Velásquez. “They won’t … attack, will they?”

“No. No, no. They happy Gragg home safe. They sad Rowlerff dead. But Gragg has revenge. Honor? It done. Over. Then all … mistake. Never should fight. And now? Is like … set fire. Fire light other fire. We know now. Humans like people, but not same.”

“I understand,” Velásquez said. “We will meet them. Soon. Before noon?”

“Before sun high,” said Gragg, translating to her family.

After the call ended, Velásquez thought. Then she started sending messages.

Velásquez, Dr. Mettcalff, Captain Brennan, Dr. Daniels, and several others stood on the lowering platform. Around them stood many of the creatures, led by Gragg, who had two … objects in her hands. They were yellow and had large brown spikes sticking out of them. “Gragg welcome!” said Gragg. “Make from fruit.” She handed one object to Velásquez, who found that it was a hollowed-out fruit husk that had been made into a drinking vessel, containing a bright orange beverage of some sort. Gragg handed the other to Dr. Mettcalff, and other of the alien creatures handed similar vessels to the other humans in the landing party.

“Drink! Welcome! Gragg say thank you for bring Gragg home.” Gragg drank from one of the vessels. Velásquez tried some of it. It was obviously intensely alcoholic but tasted like some sort of citrus fruit. This could prove popular back home, she thought. And it’s unlikely for any microorganisms to survive in it, though they’d have to test for them just to be sure, just as they’d all been tested upon their return to Earth and before making contact with this world – and just as they’d be tested afterward.

“Once we learned how to get back to our home – we realized that you were in exactly the same situation,” said Dr. Mettcalff. He tried to make some of the sounds of Gragg’s language, and Gragg and the others made sounds like roaring, guttural laughter.

“You say Randy feet smell like cheese,” Gragg explained.

“I need to learn more of the language, I guess,” said Randy, laughing too.

And so the second official contact a human government had with an alien world was peaceful and led to an ongoing diplomatic relationship – although Earth had yet to make contact with any other worlds in its same dimension. The mystery of the so-called “Bermuda Triangle” had been solved. And at least part of Earth was prepared for alien threats. But that is another story.

---------------------- THE END ----------------------
Sunshine & rainbows,
LilJennie
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LilJennie
 
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