Luna in the Sea of Time
by Tom Anderson
President José Rodriguez fought down the urge to mop his brow of
sweat. It wasn’t that the climate-controlled conference room was
particularly warm – indeed, the usual temperature preferred on Luna was
rather lower than that which he’d grown up with in Buenos Aires. No, the
perspiration that shone, treacherously, in the room’s harsh lighting was
down to quite another cause.
The imminent invasion of Earth.
"President, sir," said Pierre Chenier, placing a reassuring
hand on his shoulder. Rodriguez brushed it aside; quite apart from the
fact that it would be inappropriate for a Prime Minister to show such
familiarity with his supposedly impartial President, right now sympathy
was the last thing he needed.
"They laughed at me," he said, half to himself.
"There’s an invincible alien armada bearing down on us, and they
laughed at me."
"They laughed at us, sir," Chenier corrected quietly.
Rodriguez nodded as he cast his mind back just a few white-hot minutes.
He’d given the speech that his speechwriters had hastily cobbled
together less than an hour before, when the terrible news had come in from
New Arran. He’d told the assembled politicians of the Parliament of the
Union of Humanity that the unstoppable force had discovered that
Humanity’s homeworld was not the New Arran they had mistakenly attacked,
And that they had also discovered Earth’s location.
There had been a shocked silence, which Rodriguez had broken with his
advice that the assembled politicians remove to the alternative seat of
government at SPECTRUM, located on a dead planetoid at a classified site
deep within the Union. Earth, Luna, the entire Home Systems could be gone
within days – within hours, given the aliens’ magical new
stardrive. But the Union’s government could survive, rally forces, in
the hope that they might one day defeat the foe that would inevitably soon
tear out their heart.
"And they laughed at us," Rodriguez repeated.
They had. Felicity Renwick had made him out to be a coward who first
bungled a war (a war which had begun three days ago on a distant colony
which contact had immediately been lost with) and was now fleeing with his
tail between his legs. I, for one, she had said, shall stay until the end.
And then Stephanopoulous had joined her, and Wen, and even Takehashi
and Pardenne. Chenier’s party whips told him that there was even
discontent in the Moderate ranks, which normally showed fierce loyalty to
Chenier’s strong government.
Rodriguez cast a glance out of the conference room’s reinforced
polymer window. The window showed the Lunar landscape, bleak and
forbidding even after more than two centuries of Human meddling. Many old
craters formed the bases for old fashioned dome houses, while the plain
was covered with the linked structures that made up Tranquillity City.
Almost a third of the city, the Moon’s capital, was in some way devoted
to the Parliament that was the lawmaking body for all the seventy-four
billion souls of the Union of Humanity.
He looked upwards into the sky, always black as ink here regardless of
the time of day. One thing had changed since Man had come here, though;
the stars were now not the sharp pinpricks that Armstrong and Congreve had
looked upon, but blurrily hidden behind the lights and particulate smog of
the Stairways and the associated space stations.
Still, there was one object bright enough to pierce the veil. A
blue-white globe that looked four times bigger from here than Luna did
from it. There were few clouds over South America now, and he fancied he
could see his house from up here. Half illuminated with sunlight, the
other half pitched into darkness, it was home to four billion souls.
But for how much longer?
"How can they possibly think we can defeat them before they
destroy Earth?" Rodriguez bit out. "Admiral Tanamura gave
his life, his fleet and his superweapon just to destroy three of their
twelve ships! Do we have three more Admiral Tanamuras to die for
"I can only suggest that Renwick thinks something will turn
up," Chenier said unhappily.
"Right," Rodriguez replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm
as he turned to face Chenier. "Like divine intervention will just sweep
us out of the way of the maldito Dar-"
There was no sound, but suddenly the room was thrown into sharp relief.
Chenier’s eyes squeezed shut and Rodriguez, who was facing away from the
window, saw his shadow suddenly picked out on the wall in a black that
seemer deeper than any Armstrongian sky. Wildly, he turned to the window,
but even when he closed his eyes the blinding light shone through and
turned his world red.
They’ve made the Sun go nova, was his first, gabbled, thought.
Or nothing so dramatic; they’ve just nuked Luna, was his second,
slightly more coherent, one. Either way we’re as dead as a Bu-
But his third thought was unfinished, for the light suddenly snapped
off. He blinked, but it took over a minute before the purple explosions
had finally faded and allowed him to see again.
"What," Chenier said, his usual reserve cracking, "the merde
"I…don’t know," Rodriguez said unnecessarily. "But
we’re still here, and that’s something."
"What about Earth?" Chenier said grimly.
Rodriguez opened his mouth, then shut it again. He looked to the window
Everything was there, just as it had been before. The bleak landscape,
the city, the dark sky mellowed by the glow of the orbital stations, the
Rodriguez frowned. "Is…it…burning?" he said, hardly able
to believe he was speaking these words.
Chenier walked right up to the window and pressed his nose against it
as though he were a child outside a sweetshop, staring at the Earth.
"I…don’t think so," he said, sounding uncertain. "Or if
it is, they’ve chosen the bizarrest places to attack."
Rodriguez nodded. There was far more light on the dark side of the
Earth than there had been before, hence his original suspicion. It would
not be beyond them, he knew, to inflict such a devastating attack, not
after what had happened to New Arran. But that wasn’t all, was it…
His jaw dropped. "Pierre," he said in a faraway voice,
"am I right in thinking that, a few moments ago, South America was on
the light side of the Earth?"
"Why, yes, sir," Chenier replied, "I noticed as I
usually do, and-"
Chenier looked, and his jaw joined Rodriguez’s.
"Africa. And the Indian Ocean. And a bit of the Middle East."
The two men looked at each other, each willing the other to concoct
some sort of logical explanation for this. Say they’ve knocked the
Earth’s rotation out of alignment! It’s scarcely less mad than the
But nothing was forthcoming.
"Must…" Rodriguez began feebly, literally rocking on his
heels as his mind tried to encompass what might have happened.
Chenier was quicker. He cleared his throat in readiness for his calm
political voice, then deliberately tapped his comm.
Which rudely rewarded him with a burst of static.
The prime minister grumbled under his breath, but Rodriguez had caught
on and walked up to the landline intercom, which he tapped. "Lunar
Defence Central," he said, the computer automatically reading his
voiceprint as that of the president and shuttling him to the front of the
queue. "This is President Rodriguez," he added unnecessarily.
"What are your scanners reading – what’s happened on
A voice replied, harassed and staticky; the accompanying hologram
refused to form coherently. "Mr President, sir, we have no idea.
We’ve just lost all interplanetary communication; even our own internal
comms are shaky. There was a burst of…somekinda energy," and
Rodriguez could hear the frustration in the tech’s voice at being unable
to pin down what it was. "It seems to have fried half our comms and
sensor gear. We’ve got nothing but visuals on Earth right now but it
looks-" the tech hesitated, "-strange."
"We could send a ship to take a look," Rodriguez began, but
then paused. "No. Not if everyone’s sensors are fried, it would be
too dangerous just on visuals, this is the busiest traffic zone in the
Chenier stepped up beside Rodriguez. "What about one of the
interferometers?" he asked reasonably. "Can you reprogramme them
to take a look at the Earth rather than for the mapping missions?"
There was a hesitation. "Uh…yessir, but it could take a
"Do it," Rodriguez ordered, "and get working on repairs
for the conventional comms and scanners too. Assuming Mr. Garrows
approves, of course."
"Mr. Garrows has just arrived," said a new voice from the
intercom. One staticky hologram was replaced by a second, but even through
the distortions, Rodriguez recognised the chrome-dome of Aldrin Garrows,
Luna’s First Consul. "And I concur. I would advise both of you to
join me here aysap."
"Will do," Rodriguez said, and nodded to Chenier. "Come
on. We’ll get to the bottom of this one way or the other."
As it happened, thanks to malfunctioning magnolifts and a couple of
ill-advised short cuts, the two most powerful men in the Union of Humanity
were still only halfway to LDC when the sombre voice of Garrows joined
And informed them that they were now nothing for them to be the two
most powerful men in.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Andrew Stillsby hummed to himself as he cycled along, flicking the
occasional mental V-sign at the sulky traffic jams blocking up the streets
of Cambridge. They never seemed to learn that the traffic system here
actually meant it was faster to cycle your way to work. Or even
walk, for that matter…
Stillsby made a left turn, conscientiously indicating with his left
arm. An experienced cyclist, he had no qualms about taking one – or even
both – arms off his handlebars. A few moments later, he did just that,
fiddling with his iPod. The kid must have got hold of the damn thing
again, he thought affectionately. Or why else would his seventies prog
rock hits have got lost or overwritten with Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser
Chiefs? Maybe Marx was right, and history does move in cycles,
he thought, chuckling at the unintentional mental pun. We seem to be
back in 1914 again. Only seven years early for it to be a nice round
A helicopter clattered overhead, possibly conveying a VIP to the nearby
American airbase…or just the BBC chasing some godawfully boring story
again. If I was doing this for the Green part, I’d doubtless be
shaking my fist at it destroying my attempt at a carbon-neutral journey,
he thought with a grin. But fortunately I’m just using the most
He looked up at it anyway, and his gaze was dragged past it, past a
couple of aeroplane jetstreams, to the gibbous moon as it glowed dimly,
balefully, in the early morning glow. Pretty soon it would be banished
altogether, sink below the horizon. Stillsby shrugged; he was a historian,
not an astronomer. He mentally repeated it to himself in a Dr McCoy
accent, and smiled.
Then the moon shone out like the sun.
Stillsby blinked, tore his eyes away to stare down at the road,
narrowly avoided hitting the kerb at an angle that would have draped him
over an intercepting Land Rover – and the Ten O’Clock News. Muttering
to himself, he dismounted and dragged his bike onto the kerb, then resumed
staring at the moon. Squinting, rather…
As he watched, the gold-white glow faded to reveal the moon again
behind it. Stillsby blinked away the purple after-image and shrugged. Some
astronomical phenomenon. He’d ask his friend Olivia Neira when he got
into work – she focused on the history of the sciences and maybe she
knew what this was about. A total eclipse of something or other,
Before cycling on, he cast another glance up at the restored moon.
He frowned, then shrugged again. Less than a third of the gibbous moon
was in shadow, but now it looked like there was a vague, insubstantial
glow over even that part. Well, that’d be some after-effect of this
thing, whatever it was.
Stillsby abruptly realised that his iPod had cut out. Frowning down at
it, he saw that the screen had gone blank. Muttering again, he tried
opening and re-closing the battery compartment, then hitting the on
switch. It loaded up immediately.
Maybe my batteries are going down, he thought, or the kid’s
been tinkering with it more than I thought. Never mind.
He cycled on, resuming his hum.
Rachel Zobodin saw the light, like everyone else. In fact, it nearly
One moment she was descending the stairs in her old-fashioned dome
house with the careful deliberation that one-sixth Earth gravity required,
the next she was sprawled at the bottom of them, painful bruises on her
side and one thigh where she’d slammed into the banister rail. Yet that
had probably reduced the impact at the bottom, so it was a good thing in
the long run.
She rose, rubbing her bruises, giving the scattered datareaders a
rueful smile. One or two, the older ones, might have been damaged by the
impact. She’d been carrying them downstairs, putting them in storage
while Piotr was away. It was a ritual they’d both gotten used to now,
after two years of dating and one of marriage. Piotr was a highly
qualified consultant, but her home of Luna was awash with them thanks to
its politician-centred society. In order to bring in enough to keep them
afloat, never mind hope for more, he had to work for long period of time
on Earth, in Usa and Eu mostly.
Right now he’s in…Britain, she thought, remembering his
itinery. Yes, that was right; he’d be there to try and tactfully suggest
to LaFromagerie that they should really update their marketing image. She
grinned to herself: it wasn’t widely known that the firm of supposedly
continental cheese connoisseurs was, in fact, run by a big bluff
Lancastrian with an almost entirely English staff. Piotr had always gone
for daring ideas, and right now the idea of being unexpectedly honest
about oneself was coming back into fashion…
Yes, that was right. He’d spend two, three weeks down there at the
company’s administrative headquarters near Bury, then move on to the
Netherlands for a much briefer assignment involving a minor political
party whose reputation had been ruined by scandal. And then there was the
biggie, maybe two months in Usa, at one of the big industrial centres in
Rachel sighed. If that last one dragged on, he could end up missing the
window of opportunity. She was six months pregnant. Of course, there were
techniques capable of delaying the birth, but she wanted no truck with
that sort of thing. No; a totally natural childbirth (with, of course, an
epidural the size of a Churchill spacecraft carrier) and Piotr there to
hold her hand and do the usual other useless male things.
She knew he was doing it for her, and for the baby. Her own family had
moved off Luna entirely after her grandmother had died and left her this
dome house. She didn’t mind the place, and she’d always be a Selenite
at heart, but…they couldn’t make a life here. But if Piotr pulled this
one off, and maybe a couple more like it, then…
They could sell the house, pocket the cash, add it to his earnings –
and those from the news articles she’d been writing from home – and
make a new life on one of the colonies. Get out of the Home Systems
altogether. There were colonial companies out there that had never seen
anything like Piotr’s cutthroat business skills, the ones that made him
merely above average here around Sol. Equally, the local news corporations
were always understaffed by trained journalists.
It’ll have to be somewhere where she can grow up, she thought: in
this day and age it was virtually impossible for parents to not know the
sex of their baby before birth. Cancy, maybe, but it was near to the Vároto
border and they said the old trouble could be stirring up again. Terminus?
Ditto. Novorossiya? Piotr might like it, but she wasn’t so sure.
We could always go the other way, but- she winced. The stories coming
in from New Arran had been confused, but horrible. Those strange, new
aliens attacking them were still not really real to her, but she had heard
the panicked rumours that even now they might be heading this way. No
wonder her thoughts were turning to moving…
What was that light, anyway?
She blinked. In the confusion of falling down the stairs, she’d
completely forgotten why she’d done it.
Rachel looked up. The dome, once again, innocently showed the inky
night sky. Even if there was a blast of light, why didn’t it
polarise? she thought uneasily. Did I just imagine that?
What if I almost had a heart attack? The baby-
She shut off such thoughts, knowing only that she had to speak to Piotr.
Not pausing to gather up the scattered datareaders, she went over to
the house’s living space and flicked on the main holoviewer. Setting it
to comm rather than entertainment-receiver mode, she punched in Piotr’s
comm ID and waited for the connection.
SORRY CONNECTION COULD NOT BE MADE
ERROR: NO COVERAGE.
"No coverage?!" she said aloud. Sometimes there were errors
due to too much traffic overloading the system, or delays caused by one
station going down and it having to be rerouted. But no coverage…
She thought back to those aliens, and what they had done to New Arran,
and her blood ran cold.
I have to speak to Piotr NOW, she thought. No; I need to hold him in my
arms and know that he’s not now lying in a pool of his own blood on a
blasted wasteland where Britain should be…
The baby kicked, and Rachel Zobodin’s decision was made.
The powerful insystem shuttle had come with the house, inherited from
her grandmother. A vintage model from the classical-architecture period of
fifty years ago, it was still high-powered enough to compete with
contemporary craft. As it had been well-maintained and was of a fairly
rare make, Rachel and Piotr had decided to ebay it at the same time as the
house, let them make a real start on whatever colony.
But for now they had kept it, and she needed it.
It took a while for the fusion reactors to ‘warm’, the shuttle not
having been used for a couple of months. Rachel checked the tanks.
Two-thirds full of slush deuterium. It’d have to do; she wasn’t going
to stop to refuel.
As soon as the automatic checklists came up green, she engaged the VTOL
jets and brought the shuttle up out of the hangar complex attached to the
She stared down at it for a few seconds, noting how the old dome had
been built seamlessly into the crater that had stood there for thousands
of years before it. It’d be a shame to leave it, almost, but life
required tough decisions.
She punched the shuttle’s comm, applying for an exit slot.
Only static answered her.
Rachel blinked, and manually dialled through different channels. Nearly
all stations were out, a few coming back online now filled with confused
chatter. Listening to it, she gathered that that blast of light –
whatever it was – had knocked out a lot of receivers. At least I
didn’t imagine it, she thought. And that must be why I couldn’t get
through to Piotr, so-
No. I have to be sure.
She tried to get one of the few restored government channels, but they
were too busy fielding calls to manually give her a slot, and the
automated system was still down. She made her decision.
As she touched the throttle, the fusion engines burned brilliant blue
flames as the overpowered shuttle threw itself out of Luna’s gravity,
"You’re absolutely certain," Rodriguez said for the tenth
Garrows sighed. At least I’ve managed to get him to drop the
question mark. "As certain as we can be, Mr President," he
said. "Everything we’ve got back on line suggests it, and the
interferometers confirm it. That’s-" he waved theatrically at the
screen on the wall of the little conference room outside the LDC,
"-not our Earth."
Rodriguez licked his lips. "A different Earth was…transported
here? Replaced ours?" he suggested.
"We don’t think so," Garrows said. The door opened and an
LDC tech entered. He handed Garrows a datareader, then gave a quick salute
and left. The Selenite PM gave it a quick once-over, and sighed.
"Yes, that confirms it. It’s not just Earth that’s wrong. So are
all the other planets in the solar system. So are Planet Graham and
Conurbation, too: they’re empty, pristine."
Rodriguez blinked. "It’s not the Earth that’s changed…"
he said slowly.
"It’s us," Garrows said quietly. "All of Luna."
Chenier was staring at the screen in disbelief. "If Graham and
Conurbation aren’t colonised, it must be before, oh, 2100," he
murmured. "Have you got anything on the stars-"
Garrows handed him the datareader. "Look. Our best guess is
somewhere between 1950 and 2050."
Chenier’s eyes widened, and Rodriguez gripped the back of a chair for
support. "C’est trois siecles!" he burst out, slipping into
his native French. "Or four!"
Rodriguez’s face was ashen, but his mind was beginning to work again.
"Mr Garrows, if this is 2050, or even 1950…"
"Yes, Mr President?" Garrows asked distractedly, still
looking at the datareader.
"-then shouldn’t there be radio transmissions from the Humans
Garrows looked up and blinked. "Of course! Genius, sir! We can
just intercept a transmission to get the precise date!"
Rodriguez nodded. "Of course, that’s not the main thing, though,
is it?" he said quietly.
"If there are Humans down there now," Rodriguez said,
"then they can see us just as we can see them. We’ve already
A pregnant pause. Time travel was almost unknown, and most current
theories suggested that there were built-in contingencies to prevent
paradoxes. But this…
"We may have already ensured that our own ancestors were never
born," Chenier said morbidly. "We may have aborted the Union’s
formationl. We may-"
"There’s nothing we can do about it," Garrows said sharply.
"For now I’m interdicting all traffic on Luna. We’ll have to
cross that bridge when we come to it."
"You’d better be fast, then," Chenier said grimly.
"There’ll be hundreds of people out there wondering why their
relations on Earth aren’t replying to them."
Garrows winced. "You’re right. I’ll have to put it down to the
communications blackout for now – that’s even true. And interdict
based on the fact that it would be dangerous to take a shuttle out without
He turned and left the room, the two other men following. They stepped
into the Lunar Defence Command room, a great dome-shaped cavern – in
fact it was within a newer, cuboidal building, but a dome was a good shape
for a command room – bristling with workstations and techs. Given the
low Lunar gravity, some of them were cheerfully hanging upside down from
the sloping ceiling for long periods of time.
The LDC was usually in a state of organised chaos, but Garrows had
never seen it so bad as this. About half of all the multitudinous access
panels had been opened, swarming with techs equipped with repair doodads.
Replacement parts, a bewildering mix of cybercomp fluidics and paraquantum
circuitry, were ferried back and forth by other techs.
In a series of central chairs, located near several large and powerful
holoviewers, sat the officers in charge. The chief of these was Brigadier
General Melanie Xhosa, who was also the head of Luna’s chapter of the
Colonial Militia. She rose and saluted Garrows as he drew near.
"First Consul, sir. We’ve got around a third of all government
scanners and comm systems back on line."
"Good work. Can you give me a broadcast in the clear?"
Garrows hesitated. "Make that a very simple paraquantum algorithm,
something that citizens with tech a century old could decode."
"Yes…sir," Xhosa said puzzledly, her eyebrows arching as
she relayed the order. "Go ahead, sir."
"Thank you." Garrows turned to the holoviewer camera. He was
still dressed in the suit he’d put on for the meeting of the Council of
Twelve, which was now cancelled. The Twelve!...but that would have to
wait. He suspected the background of the LDC – techs beavering away at
their work, but not panicking – should be reassuring.
Xhosa nodded as a tech turned the camera on. "My fellow
Selenites," Garrows said, "our world has suffered some sort of
energy burst which has knocked out many communications and sensor arrays.
Many of these should be repairable, however. Suffice to say that this has
no connexion with the aliens currently ravaging New Arran." As far
as we know, he thought.
"Remain calm. Earth may also have been hit by the burst, perhaps
worse than us. Please do not panic and do not attempt to leave Luna. All
flights have been grounded and Stairways have been shut down for the
present: the lack of sensors in this high-traffic area would make
accidents inevitable. Be reassured that we will get to the bottom of this.
"God bless Luna."
The tech flicked the camera off. "Clean that up and send it,"
Garrows said. "Now, General Xhosa, I want you and some of your most
trusted commsmen to join me in the conference room-"
Xhosa’s eyes narrowed. "First Consul, all of my people are
"Yes – of course – I apologise. Your least excitable ones,
The overpowered insystem shuttle – Rachel’s grandmother had named
it Wildfire – took little time to drag itself out of Luna’s
weak gravity. Her sensors had rebooted but were still unreliable, and so
Rachel kept her eyes skinned. She avoided the crowded area around the
nearest Stairway; judging by the confusion there, two blinded craft had
already collided there. Instead, she went for a relatively clear orbital
zone, where the only traffic were satellites moving in predictable orbits.
Once out of the Selenite gravity well, she turned the craft and
oriented it along the axis of the now more distant Stairway’s carbon
nanotube cable. Rachel’s eyes followed the cable from its ground-based
anchor, up to its central control station, and then the other way to the
point where it interfaced with its accompanying Slingshot…
She frowned. The Slingshot wasn’t there. A bad loss if that’s
collided with something. She imagined a Slingshot, its huge central
fusion reactors and its lashing nanotube cables, crashing down upon the
Earth or Luna, and shuddered at the image.
Never mind. Earth was in sight now, anyway. Britain was over the
visible horizon, but the Wildfire could easily fix that.
She touched the controls, and the shuttle changed from its short power
burst mode for escaping gravity wells, to its long-term cruise setting.
It would only take a few minutes…
"Get me historians," had been Garrows’ abrupt comment.
"Get me historians and scientists. Oh, and lawyers."
"Lawyers?" Chenier had responded, after the aide had
left. "What the hell do we need lawyers for?!"
"In case the scientists can’t deliver," Garrows had said
grimly, and cryptically.
Now, it was an hour later, and they were here. Working scientists were
pretty hard to come by on Luna, in the heart of Human territory and
inhabited for generations: they tended to spend their youths out on
distant fringe planets investigating alien life, or unusual spatial
phenomena, before retiring back to their homeworlds to become crusty
professors. Still, Garrows’ people had managed to scrape together a
half-dozen – even now, visibly itching to get out of their chairs and go
back to studying whatever had snatched Luna away.
Lawyers and historians had been much easier to find: Luna’s
political-centred nature meant a proliferation of libraries, and it was a
natural place for people of those disciplines to find tenure here. Garrows’
people had been able to pick and choose, and they’d found one real
bombshell: Professor Randall Perks, the Usan-born Reader in Late
Pre-colonial History at Copernicus University. He became the natural
spokesman for the assembled historians. "Mr Garrows, I presume there
is a reason why you have called so many of us together?" he said
Garrows looked up from his notes. Perks had been born in Liberia,
Usa’s only African state, and had the oddly archaic affectation of
wearing glasses. Completely absurd even two hundred years ago, but some
things never totally died out – particularly if they were synonymous
with academic on dozens of worlds.
"Professor Perks, I will now explain to everyone. Ladies and
gentlemen, you are among the first Selenites to know the truth of what has
"I am not a Selenite citizen," Perks corrected him, with a
Garrows paused for dramatic effect. "You are now."
As the smile vanished from the Usan’s face, Garrows switched to full
flow. "Though the details are still unknown, and may never come to
light – we believe that Luna has been thrown back in time." He
spared a glance at their faces: the historians and lawyers looked
disbelieving, even quirking their eyes at Rodriguez and Chenier as though
to say ‘are you going to let this madman continue?’.
The scientists, on the other hand…
"I’ve seen the data," said Zofia Fandorina, one of Luna’s
few astrophysicists. "Of course, it’s a bit hard to draw any
conclusions when the phenomenon we’re looking at knocked out most of the
"Yes?" Garrows asked.
Fandorina shrugged. "It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen
before. Nothing in records, either, though we’re double-checking. The
energy type seems unrelated to Janvier-Graham flux, which was our first
thought, or that little understood phenomena near the straits of Enscarth…"
"Yes, yes," Garrows interrupted. "I think the question
on everyone’s lips is: can it be reversed?"
There was a pregnant pause. Fandorina glanced aside at her fellow
scientists, all of whom seemed to have suddenly developed
championship-level poker faces. Then she sighed. "My answer will have
to be no," she said. "We don’t even have much data recorded of
it, as I said, and that which we do have, we don’t understand…"
Perks cut her off. "What about it reversing itself?" Gone was
the suave, supercilious academic of before. His eyes were wide, his brow
glistened with a sudden nervous sweat. Garrows wondered if he had family
No; if he had had family on Earth…
"We don’t know, of course," Fandorina said nervously.
"But…I shouldn’t think so. Insofar as much as we have ever
encountered anything like this-"
"-which you haven’t-" Garrows added dryly.
"-we suspect this is a one-way transfer. It’s not like a big
rubber band that’ll snap back into place, or something."
Perks sank into his chair, staring at the table in front of him, and
Garrows cleared his throat. "You see the situation," he said
solemnly. "Earth – the Union – FedCom – everything we know and
care about has gone. All but Luna, and those who now dwell upon her."
"And we’re in another time," said Rodriguez, stepping
"Yes; now…" Garrows picked up a datareader, fiddled with
it, smiled thinly. "Ah. It seems we were successful in intercepting
contemporary Earth radio broadcasts-"
"There’s still an Earth out there?" Perks said, looking up.
His voice was husky and his eyes had teared; he was hardly alone in that
among the group of academics.
Rodriguez nodded. "We’re in the same place, just a different
time. But we don’t know exactly what time…"
"Until now," Garrows said, proffering the datareader.
"Our intercepts – and by the way, it seems that the contemporary
communications were also temporarily knocked out by the event – have
given us the year.
"It’s July 23rd. 2006."
Rachel Zobodin…didn’t know what to think.
Yes, the Slingshot was gone: a blow, but she didn’t put anything past
those Darbjj-aliens the BBC had been screaming about. But so was every
other Slingshot. And every Earth-based Stairway.
And every ship and station and satellite and-
She looked at the sensors. Just a handful of small pieces of metal in
A debris field. Her hands gripped the armrests, knuckles
whitened. Everything around Earth – gone. Wiped out. All obliterated
in an instant.
And, if that was the situation around the Earth, than what about on it?
There were no transmissions, no calm traffic control voices issuing
orbital slots. Why would there be? Those controllers were dead, or
cowering in the smoking ruins of the spaceports. Her comm system showed
just a lot of panicked-sounding chatter in some of the lower bands: old
emergency systems, doubtless.
She had already known there was no going back, and her decision was
made. When Europe came up under her, according to her input trajectory,
the Wildfire’s computer did the rest. The manoeuvring thrusters
fired a single, controlled burst, sending the craft in a relatively gentle
dive through Earth’s atmosphere.
Rachel flicked on the shields, which were not strong: the same Janvier-Graham
pods were used for shielding as flux capability, of which the Wildfire
had none. Still, they helped deflect some of the atmospheric friction,
which in turn let her plot a steeper – and faster – dive. She knew
that every moment could be precious. Even now, Piotr’s lifeblood could
be flowing freely from a mortal wound: if only she could get there in
The reddish-orange glow now surrounding the stem of the Wildfire
didn’t do much for the accuracy of her still-finicky sensors. Rachel
decided she didn’t need them. She could plot a course with her Mark
Three eyeballs, and if she ran into some piece of debris burning up in the
atmosphere on the way – well. Then she did, that was all.
The computer automatically fired a burst that tipped the Wildfire’s
nose up and triggered a deceleration. Rachel automatically felt annoyed at
the slowing, even though she knew that without it the shuttle would just
plough full-tilt into somewhere near Ostend. The weak shields groaned
under the strain as they took the larger burden of the ship’s belly
facing into the onrushing atmosphere. An oddly archaic-sounding bleeper
told her that most of the forward sensor suite was permanently wrecked.
She didn’t care.
Finally the Wildfire had slowed to only a couple of times the
speed of sound. Rachel stared at the European coast fell away to reveal
the island of Britain beyond: the Darbjj had burned down the Channel
Bridge, as though it had never been! She looked for the inevitable nuclear
plume over London, but there was nothing…maybe it had fallen too
quickly, she thought dangerously.
The Wildfire continued to slow and descend as Britain continued
to grow. London turned from a broad smudge on the horizon to a real city,
one that whipped by in an instant at this speed. Even so, there was
something odd about it: not enough skyscrapers – well, the damned Darbjj
again – but the city also seemed bigger? Rachel shrugged: she
didn’t know England well, and she knew that she was out of her mind with
worry. She doubted her memory could be trusted.
London was gone and she was closing on Cambridge. The Wildfire’s
speed was now less than 400kph, and even that was falling. She manually
triggered another series of braking thrusters to prevent overshooting,
It was wrong.
She didn’t know England, but she knew Cambridge, and this wasn’t
Where were Blair and Johnson Colleges? Where was the great Library
building? Where was the Decangle and the Exobiology Faculty and the Zhao
Memorial Laboratories? And where, for that matter, were the great
lightroads with their aircars that spaghetti’d in three dimensions
throughout every urban centre in the Union?
Rachel was so confused, so disturbed, that she completely failed to pay
attention to what few, battered sensors there were left.
In addition to this, she had left the safety settings on the defaults
that her grandmother, a rather shorter woman, had set half a lifetime ago.
She had had no time for such trifles when Piotr could be dying…
The missile hit the Wildfire at several hundred kilometres per
It wasn’t, really, but it seemed like her right temple hit the corner
of the control panel at roughly the same speed.
Then everything was black.
"Look – in a very real sense – I’m sure you did the right
"Yessir – I mean, it was heading towards us at more than Mach 3!
From the east, at least when we first caught sight of it – I mean, the
radar was only just back up –"
"Look, right, you know. I think you’re right. It was an obvious
opportunity for a terrorist group – perhaps even a rogue state – to
launch a missile attack on the United Kingdom. Perhaps it was even
orchestrated that way."
"Yessir. It seems likely. We’re very fortunate the Patriots came
back on line that fast – they really saved our bacon –"
"All right – I’ll say as much in just a moment, when the BBC
have got themselves sorted out. And you have your people searching the
area where it came down?"
"We’ve got them combing the area, sir, but the radar and the
satellites are still dodgy, and half of our planes are refusing to boot
"Well – do what you have to do, General. We need to take real
and specific action on this very important issue."
Might that have been a sigh? "Yes, Prime Minister."
Memories flooded through Rodriguez’s mind as he sat in the shadows of
the rarely-used presidential balcony and watched the show. The memories in
question dated from little more than two hours ago, when he had employed
the unusual presidential privilege of addressing Parliament about the
Darbjj threat, and why he thought they should withdraw the government to
And they had laughed at him.
"They won’t be laughing now," Rodriguez muttered, and
despite himself, despite the situation – despite Garrows – a smile
quirked at his lip.
"This is intolerable!" said Reactionary leader Felicity
Renwick, her voice rising over those of the other 120-odd MPs. "The
right honourable gentleman is asking us to believe that all of Luna has
been cast out of time and into the past!"
"Mm, with quite blatant disregard for the doctrine of
predestination," said Panayiotis Stephanopoulos, the leader of the
Theocrats. He looked rather like a department store Santa Claus wearing an
incongruous business suit: but his eyes were bright, his stuffy exterior
concealed a keen political mind, and his affable old man persona could
change in an instant to that of a cold-blooded backstabber.
"The right honourable gentleman is asking us to believe that it is
2006?" Renwick said loudly, ignoring Stephanopoulous. "That the
last three and a half centuries have vanished in an eyeblink? That-"
"That we have a chance to right the wrongs of the past, and build
a better future," said Wen Ch’ai-ling, her eyes shining.
Heads turned and eyebrows quirked as people considered her point. Wen
was the leader of the Christforce Party, a ‘group of evangelical
busybodies who like nothing more than poking their abnormally large noses
where they’re not wanted’ as Chenier was wont to call them. Their
foreign policy was centred along the idea that everyone would get along if
only all aliens converted to Human religion.
And if they didn’t convert of their own free will, thanks to the
indoctrinated deceptions of their own debased culture, of course, then
they would be…helped along…
Chenier cleared his throat. "As I was saying," he said
testily. "We have been transported. If you do not believe me, just
take a look at the Earth through an interferometer, and tell me if you see
the Yellowstone Crater or the McMurdo Capitol. We are alone. We have left
the Union behind. Right now there is only Luna-"
"And that," said a new voice, "has…consequences."
Heads turned and the murmurs started as Aldrin Garrows walked into the
room, casually taking Chenier’s speaker’s podium from him; the prime
minister stepped back with a nod, provoking gasps.
All eyes were focused on the man who, though he ran the world upon
which they lived, few of the politicians ever thought of. They were
concerned with the affairs of the worlds they represented, and of the
local streams of political wrangling, not with who built their lodgings
and served their meals and even provided them with Earth-standard gravity.
But now he was the centre of attention. Garrows was a hard man to
describe, much less understand. In many ways he was a Selenite’s
Selenite, his descent so diverse, so many different ethnicities blended,
that he could not be pinned down. But there was definitely something of
the Japanese in him: he claimed it was the origin of his trademark poker
face, not to mention his slightly slanted eyes. He shaved his head by
choice, a habit he’d reportedly picked up from a Ucasa friend whilst
serving as a diplomat on Svaalrog. The only hair upon his face was the
thin, drooping moustache he affected, which served – perhaps
intentionally – to hide what motions of his mouth seeped past his
Even his surname’s origin was a mystery. Just the English name
Garrows? Or an anglicisation of Gareaux? Or even Gallows said with a
Japanese accent? No-one truly knew, not even him.
But it was the mystery man who now gave them a new conundrum, one with
no happy answer.
"Right honourable members of the House of Members," he said,
"there is something I fear you may not have grasped from the simple
truth that Luna is, indeed, now orbiting the Earth of 2006 AD. And it is
"Your authority comes from the planets, the populations, that
elected you. And now they are, all of them, gone."
Uproar. Bedlam. Something about a filibuster from Renwick. Something
about an impeachment from Jiro Takehashi, the Secessionist-Libertarian
leader. Something, inevitably, about blasphemy from Stephanopoulos.
"Silence!" cried the Speaker. "Silence! Mr Garrows,
Garrows slowly, deliberately, ran a faintly reptilian tongue over his
thin lips. "Thank you, Mr Speaker." He let his gaze swing from
one side of the massive, multi-layered chamber to the other. "Right
honourable members, I fear that now there is indeed only Luna. And we are all
More murmurs of shock, especially from the more overt nationalists like
the Emnoneeans and some of the Earth supranations. "This means that
you are now citizens of Luna. Of course, my – I mean our – existing
congress is also inadequate in that it does not represent the interests of
our new citizens that came along for the ride. Such as yourselves."
The murmurs got louder. But they were thinking about what he had said,
really thinking. As much as 35% of Luna’s population of 170-odd million
consisted not of native-born Selenites, but politicians, aides, advisors,
bureaucrats…almost anything that was anything in the Union was – had
been – based on Luna.
"Therefore, I propose that we hold new elections assap,"
Garrows said. "Within three months, certainly. But for now there is
no time for such measures – and besides, half our comm systems are still
The murmurs now were distinctly suspicious, not least from the Sess Lib
backbenches. Takehashi called out: "We’ve heard this before, Mr
Garrows! Democracy shall just be put off for the moment, and then that
moment gets longer and longer! Before we know it, shall your picture be on
The House appeared about half shocked and half nodding along with
Takehashi’s allegations. "I understand this and I concur,"
Garrows said, shutting some of them up. "The three-month limit shall
be absolute, set in stone. Our emergency government shall abide by
"Emergency government? Takehashi scoffed. "And who shall
appoint this, by any chance?"
Rodriguez decided it was time for his dramatic moment. Stepping forward
out of the shadows, he stood at the podium beside Garrows. "By the
power vested in me by Clause 31B of the Great Charter of the Union of
Humanity under God – I shall."
There was a pregnant, shocked pause. So much so in fact that only one
Reactionary backbencher managed a half-hearted catcall "Oh, so he’s
nice and brave now there’s no SPECTRUM left for him to run to…"
but no-one really heard it.
Rodriguez fixed the Parliament with a hard gaze that he wished he’d
been able to summon two hours ago. But, water under the bridge… "As
Mr Garrows has said, the current Lunar Consulate government does not
represent its new, expanded constituency. However, the native-born
Selenites still outnumber we newcomers. To that end, Mr Garrows shall
remain as First Consul of Luna."
There were catcalls now, many from the Sess Libs, but Rodriguez batted
them down. "In order to represent the interests of the…newcomers,
and given that Luna’s present Second Consul was for better or worse
offworld when the event occurred…I am making Mr Chenier Second Consul of
Even more uproar – uproar from the other parties at him appointing a
Moderate, uproar from the Moderates for Chenier’s perceived demotion.
"Don’t do it, Pierre!" one minister pleaded.
Chenier grinned at him, then transferred that to the House. "I
will gladly trade Prime Ministership of nothing for Second Consul-ship of
something," he said pointedly.
That sank in.
Rodriguez appointed the leaders of all the major parties, and a few
others, to the Emergency Cabinet. "And, as Mr Garrows has said, there
will be a pla – uh, a moon-wide election in three months for a new
united Parliament. Then we shall face referenda on whether to keep our
present system of government.
"At present, you – and the Lunar Consulate – are disbanded.
You may be appointed as temporary ministers under the Emergency
Government, but otherwise remember this: until and unless the united
Selenite population decides you would make a good MP for them as well as
your vanished constituents on Planet Wherever…your opinion counts for
The MPs seemed too stunned to retaliate.
Finally Felicity Renwick cleared her throat and seemed to address
Rodriguez with what seemed to be a newfound respect. "Mr President.
There is one further matter…what of yourself, and the House of
Rodriguez hesitated. "Of course, my actions have invalidated my
own authority to make them," he said wryly. "A most ingenious
paradox! But, of course, if Mr Garrows wishes me to assume presidential
duties for Luna, then I shall do so – as a temporary measure, I
Garrows turned to him. "Luna has managed quite well for centuries
without a president," he began, his face implacable. There were gasps
at the perceived backstab. Then he smiled. "But Luna has never been
stranded in the past before. Very well, you shall be our first President.
"The Advisors by rights are disbanded along with the Members, of
course…until and unless they are re-appointed. Which may be a little
difficult, given that half their quota are appointed by they
"We’ll work it out – in three months," Rodriguez said
cheerfully. He turned to the Parliament. "Right honourable members,
you are now free citizens of Luna. So it is written," he quoted,
glancing at the Speaker, "so shall it be done."
When the uproar and the House had finally emptied – half the MPs
threatening to broadcast anti-Garrows and anti-Rodriguez rants –
Rodriguez glanced at Garrows. "Well. One of us is now the leader of
all Humanity in the universe not on Earth. I suspect that it’s
Garrows smiled. "Just as no-one could say whether the leader of
all Humanity was you or Mr Chenier, Mr President. Keep them
Chenier walked up to them, shuffling a pile of datareaders.
"Excellent speeches, both of you-"
"You weren’t so bad yourself, Second Consul," Garrows said
with a wink.
Chenier nodded. "There’s one thing, though. Mr President, do you
recall that just before the event happened you had called a meeting of the
"Oh, God," Garrows suddenly said, all his reserve gone.
Rodriguez was ashen-faced. "You mean they were here when the event
happened? That they’re stuck here with us?"
Chenier slowly, grimly, nodded. "Yessir. The Council of Twelve are
"And they’re demanding to speak to you. Now."
Janet Stillsby sighed and flicked the car radio off. Still just static,
static and emergency messages. She’d been cruising slowly through a
built-up area when the thing had happened – the moon, low and pale
against the morning sky, had flashed with brilliant light, and then her
car had stalled as every electronic gizmo seemed to cut out.
Still, it had started again easily enough when she’d tried. Now she
was focused on getting home so she could ring Andy: her mobile, though
working again, couldn’t find a signal. "At least he’s on a bike,
so this thingummywhatsit couldn’t have affected him," she muttered
to herself. Then, of course, an image of a big SUV stalling and Andy, bike
and all, being smashed between it and the following car…
She brushed it aside and focused on the road. Janet was now in her
mid-forties, having met her husband when they were both undergraduates
here: he in history, she in medicine. They’d never really left. Now they
were both tutors in their respective subjects, though she had switched to
mainstream biology a way back. They had a fourteen-year-old son, Luke, and
a rather nice piece of property out Histon way.
To which she was currently returning, having spent the morning doing a
bit of shopping in Bury. It was one of her few, welcome days in which
there were no morning lectures to teach, and-
The sound was not a bang or a boom; it was too soft. More of a WHOOMPH
with a clanging metallic crash layered over the top, she would think
At the moment, her senses were assaulted by the giant mass of flaming
metal plunging out of the sky.
Instinctively, she slammed on the brakes. It made no difference, of
course; the – meteorite? was already half a mile away or more-
Now this was a boom. Or perhaps a BOOOOOOOOOM.
The Earth shook, and it was not a figure of speech. Janet had been in
Manchester when they’d had that tremor a few years ago, and it was
almost as bad as that. One of the car’s superfluous American cupholders
jounced enough to propel the empty bottle it held onto the floor. A brief
burst of white light filled the windscreen, and then there was nothing but
a great twisted mass of – metal? lying in a field a mile away, spewing a
Biblical plume of smoke and flickering with an oddly actinic blue-white
Janet shivered, took off the handbrake, put in the clutch-
This was more of a CLUNK, but a surprisingly soft one.
Something had…landed in front of her car.
Later she wondered what she should have done, what another might have
done – Andy, say. Quickly shunt into reverse and get the hell out of
there? Immediately dive out of the car and rely on shank’s mare?
As it happened, she just stared.
The…thing was about the size of another car, and roughly the right
shape as well: one of the more imaginative Japanese designs, perhaps. It
looked metallic, but was brightly painted with horribly clashing
fluorescent orange and black stripes, except where the paint had seemingly
rubbed off. As she watched, the previously vertical cables attached to the
thing’s roof went slack, and some odd-looking parachutes flopped to
earth on either side.
Janet had always been impulsive; Andy claimed it was one of the things
that first attracted him to her. Even so, she surprised herself when she
opened the door, undid the seatbelt, got out – and…?
There it was, large as life. She took a step forward, just staring. It
was real. It didn’t remind her of anything in particular – maybe those
old pictures of Apollo capsules parachuting into the ocean? But to come
down right in front of her car…
Her hand trembling, she reached out and touched the surface. It
felt…like metal. Slightly warm, but not about to give her burns. The
awful paint was chipped, as she’d noted before. It was oddly…worldly
for such an alien object.
Then she noted that in one place the paint had been overlaid with a
plaque, with a few brusque sentences written on it. She glanced at it. The
language was…almost English, but not quite. It reminded her a bit of the
‘Engrish’ you saw in poorly translated foreign-language manuals –
the grammar was used incorrectly, some of the past tenses and plurals were
wrongly formed, there were odd foreign words used as unconsciously as
though they were part of the English vocabulary…and there were odd
combinations of unpronounceable consonants. Acronyms?
She stared at the plaque again. Though she only reliably understood
about two words in three, she quickly realised it was a set of safety
instructions. Something about a gel cushion, and hatchway, and…
She focused on the sentence in larger letters: WHEN PROSS TIS BUTTON
IS, OPEN COMMENCES.
‘When this button is pressed, opening will commence,’ she mentally
translated. Shrugging, she reached out and pressed the large circular
switch next to the sentence.
It lit up, albeit with a rather dim and flickering light. There was a
terrific hiss from the thing, like a giant clearing his nostril, and a
puff of heavy smoke spewed from a previously invisible opening in the
surface. Janet took a step back in surprise as the thing split open, two
doors appearing from nowhere and then sliding neatly back into some
impossibly small space.
She gasped at what she saw within, once the smoke had cleared. It
looked like a giant egg-shaped mass of translucent jelly, but…what was
that darker patch within?
Janet took another step forward, then let out a yelp of surprise as the
gel-stuff began to melt. That was the only word for it; turning rapidly to
liquid and more odd-looking vapours, it collapsed into nothing within
Leaving behind the shape of a woman strapped into a chair, her forehead
weeping blood, her eyes closed.
Concussion, Janet mentally diagnosed. She knew it was
inadvisable to move someone under such conditions, but…she rechecked her
phone. No signal. No 999 calls.
There was no alternative, then. Rapidly, she went to the boot of her
car, found the well-stocked first aid kit that she always kept there: a
relic of her former occupation. It was the form of moments to clean the
wound and staunch the bleeding; the concussion was another matter.
Sighing, she knew there was no choice.
Janet carefully undid the restraints holding the woman to the chair;
their design was strange, but they came apart easily enough once you knew
the trick. She couldn’t help looking at the woman: there was something
oddly incongruous about her. Young – mid-twenties? Dark-haired. Grey
eyes, as she found when she gingerly lifted the lids to check the pupils.
Nothing odd there; but her dress seemed peculiar. And dress it was:
skirt, blouse, tights. Not unremarkable, but to go flying your private jet
or whatever that thing had been? In this day and age? The cuts evoked the
1940s, slightly, though the materials were clearly modern: indeed, the
fabric of the blouse wasn’t quite like anything she’d seen before.
It’s not my place to judge, she thought. If I can help save her,
that’s all that matters.
Balancing caution with speed, she slowly levered the woman out of her
– ejectable cockpit? Must be some new safety measure – and into the
passenger seat of the car, conscientiously doing up the seatbelt. Her
dressing seemed to have staunched the forehead wound, and the woman had no
other injuries she could identify, but the concussion had definitely set
Addenbrooke’s, she thought as she gingerly put in the clutch. The
hospital was one of the finest in the country. If anyone could help this
The radio, interrupted by her stop, cut back on. The static had
cleared, and now her favoured local station was broadcasting again:
"-gency message: avoid central Cambridge – also advised to avoid
all town centres – car accidents have blocked major thoroughfares –
hospitals are currently overloaded with cases – PM to make statement at
three o’clock – I say again –"
Dammit! There was no point in trying to weave her way through
Cambridge’s streets, never well suited for automotive traffic even when
not choked with accidents, only to find that the hospital was already
overloaded. And it didn’t look like too bad a concussion…
Janet hesitated. She hated to play God; it had been one of the things
she’d been most relieved about when she’d switched to a theoretical
role. But it was always at the back of your mind, waiting to reach up and
choke you when you least expected it.
Snarling to herself, she put the car into first and steered around the
strange vehicle with exaggerated care. Then she pointed the car in the
direction of her Histon home and, with a glance at her unchanged
passenger, she accelerated.
Rodriguez always hated meetings of the Twelve. It was the sort of
thing, he thought, that the President shouldn’t have to concern himself
with: he was supposed to speak for all the seventy-three billion citizens
he represented, not tie himself to the Home Systems – much less Earth.
It was only the impending Darbjj attack that had led him to call this
meeting, to perform the ever-thankless task of trying to herd cats: the
presidents of the Twelve Supranations of Earth, to be precise. Well –
the Eleven Supranations’ presidents, and the First Consul of Luna.
Rodriguez glanced aside at Garrows, who had taken his usual position at
the far right of the table. He inwardly smiled; the rest of the Twelve
apparently hadn’t heard that the political situation had drastically
He’d once read a story written three or four centuries earlier –
hah, it might be being written right now, he thought – about a utopic
Earth united under a single government, where the concept of the nation
state had been long forgotten. At the time, he’d wondered how anyone
that dense could have possibly managed to get the pen the right way
around…an opinion that had only been reinforced since having to chair
"Mr President," Roberto Canizzarro began icily. As the leader
of Eu, the most powerful of the supranations, he tended to assume that he
took precedence over the others. "I wish to lodge a formal complaint
that we have not been kept informed of the events recently
"The rumours out of the Parliament! Wild," commented Ivan
Lopatin, the Cissian president. He was a man of few words, for a
Rodriguez cleared his throat. "I am sure you are aware of the
basic facts," he said with forced civility. "After all, now that
the broadcasting system is back up, we have sent out the usual
"We?" asked Zhang Mei-yi, narrowing her eyes. The Eastasian
leader had a disturbing faculty for immediately finding the weak points in
a brash statement. "Not the BBC, or the other broadcasters?"
Rodriguez opened his mouth, closed it again, sighed. "Very
well," he said, "it seems you have not been informed. You
He told them.
Uproar. Outrage. It made the Parliament look like a gentlemen’s
"Do you mean to tell me?" asked Usan President Alice Dooley,
"that my nation – that all of Earth – is gone?!"
"No, Ms President," Rodriguez said patiently, "I am
saying that WE are gone. As far as we can tell, Luna has simply shifted
through time and replaced the Luna that was orbiting Earth in 2006-"
"Poppycock!" snorted Isador Sarboulier, of Westafrica.
"I do not accuse anyone of deliberately misleading us," he added
hastily, "but it is obvious that the impending attack by these
villainous aliens has been a shock to all our systems. Power cuts on Earth
from nervy technicians…perhaps even a party of infiltrators. But I
refuse to believe that we have travelled through time." He folded his
Rodriguez mentally sighed. Every generation thought it was more
open-minded than the last to strange and unprecedented ideas, and every
generation was wrong. If anything, it was his own that was the most
guilty, for theoretical time-travel concepts had been around for centuries
He opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by Aldrin Garrows.
"Mr President," Garrows said, addressing Sarboulier, "we
don’t ask you to take our word for it. I invite you by all means to go
down and visit your native Ouagadougou. Perhaps when you see it is an
early twenty-first century poverty-stricken city, you will believe
Sarboulier opened his mouth, shut it again. In the event, Dooley cut
him off. "Do you mean to say that we are free to visit our
homelands?" she asked suspiciously. "In contravention of the
interdict issued roughly an hour ago?"
Rodriguez cut in: "What we are saying, Ms President, is that you
are not only invited to visit your home supranations.
"You are ORDERED to do so."
The Twelve – or Eleven of them – stared at him. Uproar briefly
broke out again, but Canizzarro managed to make his voice heard. "Mr
President, what are you saying?" he asked coldly.
Rodriguez turned to a large display screen and waved vaguely at it. A
series of data began scrolling across it, easier to read in 2D format than
on a holoviewer. "I give you the facts, ladies and gentlemen. One: We
are stranded in 2006. Two: As the phenomena is entirely unprecedented in
our science, we have little hope of ever returning home." A few
intakes of breath, but he suspected that most of the leaders had already
worked that out for themselves. "And three: we cannot simply sit here
apart from the contemporary Earth Humans."
"Why not?" asked Yusuf az-Zubayri, president of the League
and also currently representing the Holy Land Free State – though that
meant diddly squat here and now. "Indeed, to interfere now risks
corrupting the timeline."
Rodriguez remembered that Zubayri was politically the local equivalent
of a Sess Lib. Garrows beat him to the response: "Mr President, we
have ALREADY corrupted the timeline. The…whatever-it-was…that damaged
our own comms and sensors also inflicted havoc on the Earth. From what
radio we’ve intercepted, hundreds of people died worldwide in vehicle
crashes due to malfunctions. I wonder if any of them were our own
A sober silence as that sank in. "Well, then," said Ho Tran
meditatively: as the president of Oceania, he was used to balancing
disparate sets of interests. "I suspect that the contemporary Humans
want nothing to do with the people who caused such a disaster."
"Not on purpose," Dooley objected.
"I doubt they would distinguish," Tran said with a wan smile.
"For that matter, I know our own Earth Humans wouldn’t."
That sank in, too.
"Regardless, we have no option," Garrows said, his voice
hard. "If you look at this data, you see that Luna is only about
seventy percent self-sufficient. If we don’t want to starve in a few
weeks, we’re going to have to import food...and the only option for THAT
is to talk to our ancestors."
The presidents stared at him, and then one by one they nodded. "I
see," said Canizzarro. "I see indeed. We mean nothing here and
now, for our lands have gone. So you will kick out another set of annoying
politicians from under your feet by making us your ambassadors to
Garrows smiled, and his usually emotionless face showed relief.
"If you are willing," he said.
"You are the closest thing we have to emissaries of Earth, our
Earth," Rodriguez added, "and you are representative of all
parts of it."
The presidents-turned-emissaries nodded to one another. "We’ll
do it," Dooley said at last. "It’s not as though there’s
anything else we can do."
"Good," Garrows said pleasantly. "We’re preparing a
shuttle even as I speak, and we’re working on a broadcast in
contemporary languages. Right now my staff are debating where to land it:
Usa is currently the world’s foremost superpower-" Dooley visibly
perked up, "-but it might be more politic to land at a more neutral
"McMurdo?" Zubayri suggested.
"Too early," Mariam Vaiedi of Harwestan reminded him.
"Right now McMurdo’s just some research post, I think. It didn’t
become a neutral world capital until the 2050s."
"Problem is, the United Nations of this time is located in New
York, in Usa," said Rodriguez, who’d been hastily reading up.
"New York?" Dooley gasped. "The original one? But of
course…" she sat back in her chair and seemed to stare at nothing.
"I would give anything to see it for myself."
The other presidents stared out of the corners of their eyes at this
uncharacteristic candour. "Are you sure the Usans will accept a
female president?" Canizzarro asked, half-jokingly. "Iirc, they
didn’t get one until about 2040-odd…"
"The possibility was there," Dooley said, a touch stiffly.
"Very well. Let’s do this."
After the Twelve – or the Eleven – had left, Garrows turned to
Rodriguez and solemnly shook his hand. "Indeed," he said,
"let’s do this."
Rodriguez nodded. "And at least, for once in these crazy time
travel stories, our first contact will actually be by a trained team of
diplomats, and not some random accident-prone traveller…"
Rachel Zobodin opened her eyes. Slowly.
The world was a blur; well, so was her memory. No; wait; things were
coming back – vaguely –
Luna. The light. The shuttle. The Slingshot, gone. The Earth.
Cambridge, different. Wrong. And then-
She winced. There was still a throbbing pain in her temple, though she
could feel her body beginning to heal itself.
Then, as the thoughts percolated through her confused brain, one
finally rose to the surface with a pop: Where am I?
She blinked, then winced again as a brief wave of pain lanced through
her temple. Already, though, it seemed to be fading. She tried moving her
arm: it was like being fluxlagged, but it moved. Information from her
nerves slowly began to trickle back into her consciousness.
She was lying on something soft, and – her eyes confirmed the colour,
at least – white. A bed? Above, the distant ceiling was another white
blur: it might have been the surface of Luna for how clearly she could
make it out. Another stab of pain as she remembered Luna. And Piotr! Piotr
was why she had come here: she had to-
I have to stay put, she thought. I don’t have any other choice.
So she relaxed, and immediately felt better. Mumbling a prayer that
everything would be all right again when she awoke, she dozed off.
Rachel was…aware that time had passed. Not that much, she thought
woozily – an hour, maybe? She only knew what awakened her: the figure
who stepped into her vision, a vision that was already coming back into
The figure said something. Rachel opened her mouth and tried to say
‘Pardon?’ through a sore throat, swollen tongue and cracked lips.
"Dost not thou tryeth spakest to," said the figure. Rachel
ran that through her mind and haphazardly came up with ‘don’t try to
speak’. Her brain must still be a little scrambled if it was making that
of the figure’s speech.
The figure…as it came closer, she saw that it was a fellow Human
woman. Dark blonde hair, a rather long face, a concerned expression –
insomuch as she could make it out. She was carrying a tray of some kind,
on which were items…Rachel’s still-vague thoughts slowly classified
them as a glass of water and a couple of funny-looking dark bottles.
"Drinkest thou," said the woman, picking up the glass and
offering it to her. Rachel moved her right arm and hand, tried to grasp
the glass, missed. "Worrieth not," the woman said with a smile,
as she instead raised the glass to Rachel’s lips herself. A few droplets
trickled down, then became a flood as she gulped down the blessed water
through her swollen throat.
"Thanks," Rachel mumbled after the glass had been withdrawn.
The woman frowned. "Thoughtest I that thy grievance was minor, but
if thou’rt spake so…"
"Thy speech is slurrèd."
"So is yours," Rachel said with a faint smile.
The woman nodded. "Aye; if thy hearing is so in addition, then
thou must go to Addenbrooke’s hastily. Yet at the present time it is not
She turned and left, leaving the tray behind.
Rachel sank back and let her thoughts wander. Addenbrooke’s, she
thought with an automatic frown – that of course sent another stab of
pain through her temple. Yet it was already less than before…anyway.
Addenbrooke’s was the great hospital in Cambridge, she remembered. She
was still in Cambridge, then…
But her memories treacherously rose, assembling in lines like ancient
soldiers. The lack of some colleges, the strange roads…
She shook her head. It was too much.
She found herself staring at the tray, and the half-full glass upon it.
Or is it half empty, she thought wryly. But whichever it was, it was a
strange sort of a glass…it seemed made of aldglas, pure silicon oxide,
no stabilisers! She could see the flaws, feel the strange frictionless
texture that made it slip through her hands. There was even a hairline
crack! Who in the Union used breakable aldglas tumblers around the house?!
The tray was no less odd. It seemed made of some sort of compressed
woody material, overlaid with a…plastic? she hazarded. Printed onto the
surface was a map of Britain with regions delineated, and humorous cartoon
figures representing the different regional characters. She squinted, her
vision still slightly blurred, and managed to make out a few of the tiny
speech bubbles coming out of their mouths.
She frowned. Obviously they were using exaggerated regional dialects
for humour, but even so…no-one save the most distant colonies even used
that as a letter of the alphabet anymore! And then there was the great
Union Jack flag spread across the top of the cartoon map: it lacked the
Cross of St David. That one went out in the…twenty-second century? she
tried to remember the trivia.
So. I somehow bashed my head and lost the Wildfire, only to be
kidnapped by a madwoman who uses antique teatrays and aldglas tumblers
around the house. Right.
The house…she turned her head to one side (there was almost no pain
now). There was the bedside table, some light wood. And upon it was…a
silver box, obviously some gadget, with a series of glowing red lights on
the front. It took her almost a minute to realise that the curiously
arranged red bars were supposed to represent numbers: she had never seen
such awkward representations of numerals before.
No – not quite right. She remembered seeing something not unlike this
In a museum.
Rachel had had enough. If she was going to escape this antiquophile
nutbar, she would have to recover fast. And then there was Piotr…
Slowly but steadily she propped herself up on her elbows, then managed
to pull the covers back and put one foot on the floor: it was covered in
some carpet that scratched rather unpleasantly against her bare soles –
her boots, of course, were gone. Vaguely, she caught sight of them leaning
against the wall in the corner.
She tried to stand up. Her head spun, she put one foot back on the bed,
fell back into a sitting position. One step at a time. She managed to move
herself around to the foot of the bed, then took in the new view.
Another silver box, on a work-surface before her. Some sort of bulky
flatscreen display, she decided after studying it for a while. This was
worth investigating. This time, she managed to stand upright for long
enough to take a wobbly step forward, grab hold of the work surface, bring
her face close to the strange, glassy screen.
She looked all over the nearly featureless box before finding the
neatly delineated circle in the bottom right hand corner. She casually
waved her finger in front of it; nothing happened. Frowning, she tried a
verbal command. "On?" Nothing; of course, her voice might be too
slurred – it sounds fine to me, though, she thought uneasily.
She let her fingertip rest upon the circle; still nothing. Angrily, she
She felt the thing click inwards with a disturbingly direct feel of
mechanisms clicking together. Then a little red light came on – and the
screen exploded into life.
The actinic flicker of white, coupled with the sparky sound, said
‘imminent electrocution’ to her, and she automatically pushed off the
work surface, collapsing back onto the bed. But then the sound poured from
the screen, and washed over her…and she looked again.
The screen was alive. A rather dark, dingy, blurry picture, but that
could just be her eyes. It showed a simplistic, half-transparent Earth
globe in shades of red slowly rotating with odd geometric shapes whirling
around it. A thumping, bleeping regular beat played in the background. And
then there was a stream of white letters pouring from one side and
wrapping themselves around the planet…she managed to make them out, a
phrase constantly repeating:
EMP CHAOS…EMP CHAOS…EMP CHAOS…
Of course, she thought vaguely. This will explain it all.
The ‘camera’ zoomed out, leaving the Earth at the centre of the
screen, and the funny shapes finally formed themselves into the shape of
the number 24. A nagging thought began to play at the back of her
mind…this was somehow familiar to her…
Another powerful drum beat, and then a voice speaking in a form so
archaic she could barely catch one word in two. "The electromagnetic
pulse has caused chaos all over the world, with the death toll now running
into the thousands. This amateur footage shows the seriousness of the
situation just in London-"
Only half of Rachel’s attention was on the footage, rather blurry
video that showed archaic wheelcars lying in heaps, spewing strange yellow
flames, people staggering out of wreckage with terrible bloody wounds –
The other half was held by the cold white numbers in the top right hand
corner. The time, 11:43, and the date… 23/07/06.
/06. It hadn’t been /06 for forty-four years. Or 144. Or 244. Or
The horror crystallised in her mind as she cast her eyes wildly from
one side to the other before catching site of a pile of soiled bits of
paper in one corner: later, she would wonder just how her eyes had
conveniently landed on the newspapers at that time. She grabbed one,
ignored the headline, just stared at the date at the top. Unlike the
amateur footage, it gave the full year.
As Rachel staggered back and fell upon the bed with an anguished cry,
she only vaguely heard the screen voice continue: "The Prime Minister
issued this statement…
She crashed once again into a troubled sleep, her ears treacherously
broadcasting to her a voice that she had heard since school, a voice that
had not belonged to the Prime Minister of Britain for more than three
Somehow, in the schedule percolating through his brain like convection
currents deep in the sun, Garrows had found ten minutes to come up here
and reflect. "Here" was one of the tallest towers in
Tranquillity City, that gave a superb view of the downtown and the
surrounding ‘countryside’ if such a word could be used for that bleak,
forbidding, cratered landscape.
Nevertheless, he found it comforting to stare out at. As far as he was
concerned, Tranquillity lived up to its name. There was nothing more
calming than looking out at that landscape that had stood there long
before Man even thought to look up at his Moon.
More to the point, it meant he didn’t have to look upward – at the
Garrows sighed. They weren’t doing too badly. Almost a day had now
passed since the – event – and he seemed to be keeping on top of
everything except his sleep requirements. In retrospect, it had been a
good plan for he and Rodriguez to reveal both the event AND their changes
to the government in the same address: it meant the Members’ attacks on
the news had been spoken as though objections to the new government were
contingent on the event being a hoax excuse to seize power. And when it
became obvious that the event was no hoax…in the public consciousness,
at least, objections melted away.
For now, at least. Garrows had no illusions about his citizens.
"I thought I’d find you up here," said a voice that Garrows,
by now, knew as well as his own. He turned to find Rodriguez there,
leaning on the great windows that overlooked Tranquillity, his bodyguard a
subtle shadow in the background. "I think I finally see what you see
in this place. It doesn’t get up here, does it – all our
Garrows nodded. "We all need our little fortress to retreat to
when the world becomes too much," he said, then sighed. "But I
fear we can’t stay here very long. Lots to do.,"
Rodriguez inclined his head. "In fact, that’s what I wanted to
speak to you about. There are things we need to discuss with the
"Which of the four hundred and ninety six agenda items are you
referring to?" Garrows deadpanned.
The President laughed. "Well, one priority is to ensure employment
for your – uh, our – citizens. We’ve got a planet full of
administrators and aides and lawyers here, with nothing to administrate
and…uh…whatever the verbs are…anymore."
"I was aware of the fact," Garrows said dryly. "A
solution is already taking shape."
"Good – just so long as the Cabinet know that too. And then
there’s when to inform our counterparts down there on the Earth."
Garrows sighed. He’d given an address to the people of Luna not long
after the Parliament affair, and now all had been informed of what they
knew of the event. But talking to the twenty-first century Humans…
"I don’t know if they’ll even understand our version of
English," he pointed out.
"They tell me that if you use Interplanetary Standard English you
should get through; it’s barely changed since the 2090s, which is close
enough." Rodriguez looked at him sidelong. "You’re sure you
want to do this?"
"Give the address? Of course. Who in the world heard of a dramatic
first contact made via a bunch of robot probes and a linguistics
They exchanged grins, and made their way back to the magnolift.
Janet Stillsby was, not to put too fine on a point on it, concerned.
Concerned enough that the Good Samaritan in her was in the process of
being strangled by the Great British Mind Your Own Business instinct.
She’d heard the scream, of course, but when she’d dashed back to
the guest bedroom, all she found was the woman fallen back on the bed, the
makeshift dressing on her forehead hanging loose, and the television on.
Frowning, she turned it off. Such stimuli were all that someone in such a
delicate state needed…
"What’s happening, Mum?" piped up Luke from behind her. At
fourteen, his voice was still in the process of breaking. The seriousness
of recent events had managed to perform a positively alchemical feat,
momentarily transmuting the sulky teenager into a worried, rational young
adult. "Said on the news that there could be thousands of people dead
"Dad said he was coming home at lunchtime," Janet said,
feeling a deep-down irritation she’d never show to her son. It was quite
a concession from Andy even to cut his day in half for something as minor
as the total collapse of global electronic civilisation: it’d probably
take an imminent asteroid impact to make him go home immediately, and even
then he’d probably conscientiously sign out first…
She mentally sighed. It wasn’t just Andy’s fault, though he did
have a problem with assimilating strange new events, doubtless something
that had drawn him to the study of history. The Cambridge academic
bureaucracy was such that even the death of the person involved had a
negligible effect on the flow of paperwork. After a while working in that
madhouse, you began to believe yourself that academic business had its own
existence quite independent of the mere mortals it bent to its will…
She brushed the thought aside. "Luke, do me a favour and just
watch her, will you? I’m going to go and ring Addenbrooke’s
again." Not waiting for him to argue, she left the room in search of
the landline phone: all the mobile networks were still down.
Luke muttered to himself, but sat down reluctantly beside the unmoving
woman on the bed. He’d been off school for a week after spraining his
ankle: now he was becoming resigned to returning and facing the mounted up
work. He’d quite enjoyed having a week to himself, just to pore over the
Internet, game, chill and generally conform to the stereotypical
Californian teenager he thought he ought to be. Now even his last day was
being rudely interrupted.
At least there’s one thing I can do here, he thought, pulling a book
from one of the voluminous pockets of his canvas pants. Reading was not
considered socially acceptable by his peer group, so he kept it quiet, but
he’d got into a whole new range of sci-fi-related stuff in the last year
or two. And his parents then had the temerity to complain about his choice
of genre! Sod ’em, he thought, then remembered his dad stuck in the
chaos and felt a little guilty. Rather than try and work out his emotions,
he buried his nose in the book.
So it was that Rachel Zobodin awoke once more, a bare half-hour after
she had collapsed, and the first thing she saw was the picture of a Bronze
Age soldier on the front of Luke’s book.
That did not exactly help matters.
Rachel’s mind had given up trying to avoid matters. She knew, baldly,
that something was wrong, and that Piotr…
"What year is it?" she said aloud. Clearer than she had been
before, she thought.
The book lowered to reveal a worried-looking boy behind: early teens,
she guessed, though these days it was so hard to be certain…
Apparently unable to cope with the simple question, he rose, went to
the door and shouted: "Mother! She’rt awake once more!"
It took only a few seconds for the woman to dash from the living room
into the spare bedroom, incidentally blasting the door back and almost
knocking her son out. "Wha – I – how’rt thou?"
Rachel shook her head, slowly: the pain was barely perceptible now. Be
better to have pain than confusion, she thought grimly. "What year is
it?" she repeated tonelessly.
The woman and her – son? – stared at each other for a moment, then
looked back at her. "It is 2006, of course," said the son, his
voice attempting to attain the heights of teenage arrogance but being
swamped by fear of the bizarre.
"It’s 2350," Rachel said blankly. She didn’t know why she
was even bothering to argue anymore. Either it was 2006, or she was
trapped in some incredibly detailed fantasy…
2006! 344 years ago! She couldn’t get her head around it. It was a
meaningless number. It might as well have been 344 thousand years ago, or
344 million. All that mattered to her was that Piotr was gone: in fact, he
wouldn’t even be born for three centuries and more.
She began to cry, half ashamed at her behaviour in front of total
strangers, half past caring. "He’s dead! No – he’s not been
The mother and son were really eyeballing each other now. "Thinketh
she the future this is," the son said unnecessarily.
The mother gave her the most frightening expression in the universe,
which is not bloody murder or sadistic cruelty but Gently Patronising
Concern. "That bump on the head must have been worse than it
looked," she said.
And suddenly the words didn’t seem so archaic any more. For one
brief, terrifying moment, Rachel thought that they were right. Maybe she
was a twenty-first century woman who’d just got a bump on the head and
had a dream of the twenty-fourth century, of Luna, of Piotr…
No. There was no way in a thousand worlds that that was a dream.
It clicked. They were speaking something not unlike Interplanetary
Standard English, only even more archaically phrased. But now she had a
handle on it, she could understand it, even speak it…hesitantly.
"This isn’t the right Cambridge," she said coldly.
"This isn’t the right Earth! It’s all wrong! Everything except
The mother glanced at her son questioningly. "Luna, it’s another
word for the moon," he said. "Like, you know, Lunar…"
"The moon?" the mother said dubiously.
Rachel pushed herself upright, felt herself gaining strength. The
mother fussed and tried to make her lie back down again, but she
wouldn’t have it. "I’m all right now," she said.
"You shouldn’t move around with a concussion like that!"
the mother cried.
She laughed. "You can’t die from a concussion."
"Yes you damn well can!"
They stared at each other in mutual incomprehension. Finally Rachel
spoke: "My skull’s already healed. Look!" she ripped off the
strange, archaic bandage.
The mother let out a cry and took a step forward, then stopped. Rachel
stood before her, the bandage gone and the scab ripped away with it.
Beneath it was…unblemished skin. As they watched, she casually slapped
the heel of her hand against the wound: the repaired bone easily held,
though she felt a very faint blossom of pain, more like pins and
needles…the mother practically fainted.
Rachel shrugged and extended a hand. "I’m Rachel…Zobodin,"
she said, mentioning her married name making an entirely different sort of
pain shoot through her. "Thank you for rescuing me: my shuttle must
have come down somewhere after I blacked out."
Their expressions was a picture. The mother still overcome with horror,
the son…the son’s expression said ‘vode!’ Or…what was it they
had said in this time? ‘Cold!’? Something like that…
"I – I’m Luke Stillsby," said the son. "And this is
"Ja-Janet Stillsby," said the mother, still staring at her.
But there was something coming through the horror. "That…cockpit
thingy," she said. "I knew it didn’t look right!"
"The cockpit ejected? Must have been bad," said Rachel,
feeling a slight guilt at destroying her grandmother’s favourite
shuttle. But that was nothing beside the survivor’s guilt over Piotr, so
it was shoved to the back of the queue. "As I said, thank you for
rescuing me. Anything could have happened."
She glanced around. "And now – if you don’t mind telling me
– where, er, when the hell am I?!"
General Sir George Stawes was not having a good day.
It was bad enough having to live under a government that tried to
please its disparate political components by stripping down the military
with one hand, and demanding they take on more tasks with the other. This
disaster had made it worse, with the Army being called out to assist the
police in untangling the chaos that had swept the country – and often
finding that their own helicopters and planes refused to start.
But this absolutely took the proverbial biscuit.
The staff car came to a halt outside the field. Stawes noted that the
joint Army and police operation had moved forward rapidly – at who knew
what cost elsewhere… – and that the whole area had been sealed off.
What with one thing and another, no-one had had anything like enough
yellow hazard tape, so some of the perimeter was made up of the oddest
things – even a series of traffic cones. Stawes would have found it
amusing, had the situation been less serious.
They’d put up a couple of tents to hide the objects, a medium-sized
one and a much larger, circus-sized, item. Even that didn’t really work:
the larger object was completely covered, but the trails it had torn
through the earth behind were still prominently displayed. Get those
covered up, he thought, knowing the forensics people would scream to high
heaven if he just had them scuffed out. The satellites may still mostly be
down, but sooner or later the U.S. or someone will catch sight of this –
and they’ll want answers.
Of course, knowing this PM, they’d probably get them, Stawes thought
as he ground his teeth. But even then, he’d need to find some answers to
The on-duty officer, Colonel Brian Davidson, offered a hasty salute as
Stawes made his way to the smaller tent. The general returned it.
"How are things going, Colonel?" he asked grimly: so far, just
enough confused information had reached him to disturb him mightily.
Davidson hesitated. "The best word I can think of, sir,
is…strangely." He nodded to one side, where a lanky young man
wearing the dog collar of an Anglican vicar stood, his arms folded
defiantly, between two police constables. "Mr Barrowclough here
reported it to us; we’ve detained him under the Freedom of Information
Davidson seemed to miss the irony completely, Stawes thought sadly: the
younger generation. "Very well," he said, "but what about
these…objects, anyway? What little coherent data I got implied it was
more than the run of the mill stuff. A crashed spy plane from somebody?
The EMP got it?"
The colonel paused again. "Sir, I think it’s best if I just show
you." Turning, he flipped up a flap of the smaller tent. That was a
relative term: it was still large enough to comfortably house twenty
fighting men. Stawes followed.
Inside was a green and khaki cave. Little sunlight penetrated; after
all, these tents were designed with just this purpose in mind, and were
resistant to most optical-scan techniques. Instead, a hastily set up
series of electric lights shed a glow on the object at the centre of the
The…object. Stawes tried to describe it to himself. About the size of
a medium sized car, one of the more rounded Eurobox hatchbacks perhaps. No
wheels, though…he looked closer, looked into the open…canopy? He noted
what were obviously flight controls of some kind, something roughly like a
pilot’s chair, and (puzzledly), the layer of sticky grey goo on the
floor. "An ejectable cockpit?" he finally pronounced.
"Well done, sir. At least, that’s what we think. But,"
Davidson added nervously, "take a look at this."
They’d set a stepladder against the side, jerkily, allowing someone
to lean over and look at the controls without stepping in that mysterious
goo. Stawes let his still-powerful frame balance itself just so, then
frowned at the controls. There were a few actual buttons, off to one side,
surrounded by yellow and red hazard stripes. Most of the space, though,
was taken up by a massive near-transparent panel, seemingly featureless.
"What’s this?" he asked.
"Watch," Davidson said with an air of theatre. He waved his
hand vaguely over the panel. Abruptly, it burst into life – no – it
just came to life, there was no burst or flicker or humm to suggest the
change. Suddenly, intangible buttons and dials were hovering above the
‘dashboard’, outlined in brilliant light.
Stawes had been privileged to see the latest experiments in holographic
HUDs from QinetiQ. He knew this went far, far beyond that. Trembling
slightly, he reached out and passed his fingertip through the
three-dimensional space delineated by one ‘button’. The sphere of
reddish light became briefly brighter, as though it had been pushed in,
and then what was unmistakably a sort of dialogue box drew itself before
him. No – a dialogue cube. It contained words:
UN-AVAILABLE IS SERVISE.
Despite the strange grammar and spelling – Engrish? Japanese-built?
– Stawes easily understood it. "Not surprising, I suppose,
considering the cockpit’s detached," he muttered. "I wonder if
we could reattach it…"
"Try this control, sir," Davidson said urgently. He pointed
toward another 3D spherical ‘button’, this one emblazoned with an
alarm-clock icon. Stawes gingerly flicked his fingertip at it, and another
cube appeared, this one showing a numerical clock display overlaid with
UN-DETECT UPDATOR POST
PREDICTS FROM LATEREST UPDATE?
Stawes waved at the button labelled ‘okk’, and the box vanished, to
The general frowned. "It’s not ten to midnight. That’s
"Um, no sir," said the colonel, with clear undertones of
‘thank you God for this feeder line’, "that’s not the time.
That’s the year."
Stawes stared at his subordinate. "2350," he said patiently.
"This comes from 2350."
"Do you have any other explanation for this holographic
display?" Davidson challenged.
Stawes hesitated. "The Americans-"
"Are nowhere near this level, as you and I both know. Sir,"
Davidson added hastily. "There’s more, too. It’s just a bugger
that it’s in this strange English – future English?" His voice
Stawes’ mind was still grappling with the problem, but he dismissed
the clock cube and stared at the default screen again. After a minute or
two, he found the…button? Icon? that, when he stroked his finger near
it, gave him the message SETTING DEVICE ALTERS. He touched it and got a
cube with several options, then selected SPEECH/LANGUAGE.
He got a list of languages, and frowned. "You make head or tail of
Davidson glanced at it. "Let’s see…about twenty dialects of
English, two or three of Russian, four of Chinese…some weird stuff
I’ve never heard of…what about this?" he pointed at the option
labelled Interplanetary Standard English; unfortunately, he pointed too
hard, and the computer selected it.
"Be careful, newbie," Stawes said half-jokingly as the
computer updated. When it had come back up, he nodded in relief: now the
English, though still a bit odd, wasn’t the near-total gibberish from
before. "Good; now we can take a look at some of the files on here
and have the slightest idea what we’re talking about."
They stayed there for more than twenty minutes, leaning haphazardly
over the stepladder, as they read. Around them, hastily rounded up
government scientists began poring over the smallest elements of the
cockpit, letting out exclamations of surprise, disbelief and delight.
Finally, Davidson said: "Bloody…hell."
"Succinct summary, Colonel," Stawes gabbled, "but I
think I’ll dress it up a bit more for the PM."
"There’s no real doubt, is there, sir?" Now Davidson
sounded like he didn’t want to believe it, as though it hadn’t been
really real before. "This is a plane from the future. No – a
spaceship. That’s what the boys in the big tent say the rest of it’s
like. It’s got fusion engines – at least they think it’s fusion.
Never seen anything like it."
"Fusion engines," Stawes repeated blandly. "And all this
data. And this computer design itself, come to that.
"Not even this PM is going to hand THIS over to the Americans
without a by-your-leave. This is the biggest bargaining chip anyone has
ever held in human history – and it’s ours."
Davidson nodded. "But pretty soon the satellites will be back up,
"Can it be moved?" Stawes asked eagerly. This wasn’t
America or Russia or Australia, but it was still possible to hide secret
stuff even in crowded Britain.
Davidson slowly shook his head. "I don’t think so, sir. It’s
the size of a double decker bus and weighs a heck of a lot – contains a
lot of dense materials, the science boys tell me. The cockpit alone,
"Move it," Stawes decided. "And begin making
arrangements for the other. ASAP, while everyone’s still messing about
with this EMP bollocks. Say," he said suddenly, "you don’t
"The EMP had something to do with this plane, er ship?"
Davidson replied. "Sir – I’d bet on it."
They looked at the cockpit together, and shivered.
President Rodriguez was getting a little sick of politicians. No sooner
had he got rid of the Twelve, he was faced with the emergency cabinet
he’d just thrown together – and was learning the problems implicit in
forming a government from the heads of all the major parties. As grand
coalitions go, he thought wryly, this is the grandest – but only in the
most esoteric sense.
"No!" said Felicity Renwick, banging her fist on the table
with a touch of the overly melodramatic. "That’s not acceptable!
You can’t just-"
"We can – we will – and we must," Garrows said coolly.
"If Luna is to survive. Unless you would rather we go begging to the
Earth below as starving refugees."
Renwick frowned, but before she could make a sally, Jiro Takehashi
spoke up: "What of the potential job losses?" he said in his
typical quiet yet forceful voice. "Without the Union to employ them,
with the Parliament disbanded, what of all the lawyers and political aides
and the like? We have already heard of the disturbances."
Rodriguez screwed up his eyes, but gave a grim nod: it was disturbing
how easily even twenty-fourth century Humans could revert to barbarism.
There had been a riot in Umbria City, partly over the problem Takehashi
had mentioned, but more just out of utter disbelief at their situation.
The Selenite police had managed to disband the crowd peacefully, but there
had been injuries…and there was already talk of a handful of suicides
all over the Moon.
"Fortunately, I have already considered this," Garrows said
with his usual, disturbingly reptilian, smile. "In addition to not
being self-sufficient in food, we cannot supply ourselves with spare parts
and other technology. Unless we want our technology base – the only
thing that allows us to live here, and gives us a bargaining chip with the
contemporary Humans – to decay, we must rebuild our factories. And those
factories will need workers."
This statement was greeted with incoherent shouts of outrage from
Takehashi, Abikova of the Stewards, and Pardenne of the Radicals. And, as
Garrows had planned, they managed to blank each other out enough that none
of the three successfully completed their point.
Finally Takehashi managed to break through: "You are an elected
leader – though not elected by all your citizens," he added
pointedly, "not a dictator. You cannot micromanage people’s lives
"I will do whatever I have to to ensure our survival,"
Garrows replied. "Also, it’s not so bad as it first appears. A lot
of our factories are still intact, albeit converted into museums-"
Luna had been a major manufacturing centre until the
mid-twenty-second-century decline, which the Vároto sneak attack had only
been the final nail in the coffin, "-and the early work on them will
be eminently suitable for academic persons as we get everything working
"You can’t undo two hundred years of carefully managed
regeneration," Abikova protested. "To return Luna to the
industrial wasteland it was then-"
"This isn’t Earth," Pierre Chenier pointed out.
"It’s not as though there’s that much to regenerate or conserve.
And it’s a matter of life and death: you have never opposed such
measures when it comes down to that."
Abikova hesitated, then shook her head angrily. "I still don’t
like it. Our technology base isn’t as vulnerable as all that – this is
scarcely an urgent matter –"
"This move is only partly for that reason," Garrows said
smoothly. "The other is the third rule of leadership: when all else
fails, keep ’em busy. If we leave all the newly unemployed to sit in
their bedrooms and stare at the ceiling – well – we all heard those
reports about suicides."
That sunk in too.
"All right," Chenier said. "The specific details can
wait, but unless there are no further objections, the Industrial
Subcommittee will immediately begin implementing procedures." The
Frenchman had taken to his new job as Second Consul like a Miradi to sand.
"Next item on the agenda: the military."
Panayiotis Stephanopoulos laughed. "Who’s going to attack
us?" he asked. "The Humans down there don’t even have Janvier-Graham
technology yet. What are they going to do, throw their stone knives and
bearskins at us?"
Rodriguez glared at him. "Don’t underestimate them because of
their lower technology," he said. "That’s just what the Vároto
did, and look what happened there." Stephanopoulos stopped smiling.
Garrows stepped in. "Also, remember they have atomic weapons –
and we already know what atomics can do to Luna’s surface." He
winced as with a distant pain.
"But we still have VANCOMYCIN," Renwick pointed out.
"Surely no crude chemical missile carrying an atomic could get
"VANCOMYCIN isn’t perfect, as we know," Garrows said
harshly. "But this is beside the point. Quite apart from the
possibility of our ancestors deciding to rip our throats out, there’s
the issue of…others…"
They avoided one another’s gaze. None of the Union’s enemies back
in the future were advanced enough here and now to come after them – the
Vároto and the Rómidi were barely ahead of Earth. But there were
others…the Pheag were actually more powerful in this era than they had
been – would have been? Will have been? In 2350. And then there were the
rumours about the old Immeri still being around in this time, but not
bothering Earth while it failed to put out flux transmissions…
"We pulsed out an awful lot of flux radio when we first arrived,
trying to contact the other planets," Chenier quietly pointed out.
"All right," said Renwick. "What do you have in
Garrows nodded and put up a holographic display showing Luna, with
various glowing icons across its surface. "The strength of the Lunar
Defence Force is well known, and is not particularly impressive, I’m sad
to say. We do have VANCOMYCIN but of course that’s not portable.
However, there is another factor: several Astroforce ships were docked
here when the…event occurred.
"There are Astroforce ships here?" Takehashi repeated. The
Sess Libs had always been against the Astroforce, which was theoretically
a racially united defence force made up of all four races in the so-called
Federate Commonwealth – the Union and their three sets of alien allies
– but in practice tended to be over 80% Human and seen as a backdoor for
that old bogeyman, a single Human military.
But no-one denied that the Astroforce undoubtedly attracted some of the
best warriors, the cleverest scientists, and the most cunning Intelligence
people in all the Union. To have a few of them here, however accidentally,
was an undoubted asset.
"We’ve run the numbers," Rodriguez said, "and we’ve
come up with three frigates – that’s two old Vostok Class and a newer
Mazhenko – a Trafalgar Class destroyer, the Bohemia, the Ulysses Class
cruiser Ingram, and-" he paused dramatically, "the Blair Class
battleship Pieter Voordijk.
There was a hushed silence. Blair Class battleships were the backbone
of the Astroforce battle fleet, over a kilometre in length and with a crew
of two and a half thousand. They had enough firepower to turn aside a
small flotilla. In fact, this ship alone could probably destroy the past
Earth if it felt the need.
"There are no carriers," Garrows said regretfully, "but
overall I think we’re doing quite well."
"Except in one respect," Chenier said, perusing a datareader.
"Admiral Homachudhury, the Voordijk’s commanding officer, was on
Earth at a meeting when the event happened. He didn’t come with
There was a pause. "Can’t we just elevate the first
officer?" Renwick suggested.
"He’s not experienced enough to take command of the whole fleet,
which is what this entails," Rodriguez said. "However, we do
have one officer with the rank and experience for the job…"
He looked around the room. "Admiral Nuttall."
"THAT fool?!" Sienna Pardenne spat, a strand of her auburn
hair flopping over her face with the force of her statement. Impatiently
pushing it back, she continued: "You know how he bungled the Three
Years’ Struggle! Hundreds died! He should have been court-martialed, not
sent to a higher position in the first place!"
"Astroforce liaison to Parliament is not a promotion,"
Renwick said coldly. "A desk job is worse than death in the eyes of a
real Astroforce man: it says we have no trust left in you and we’re so
embarrassed we ever trusted you in the first place, we’re not even going
to let the public know."
That sank in. Garrows picked up Rodriguez’ point: "Even if
Nuttall really did screw up then, there’s little damage he could do now.
We have VANCOMYCIN, after all…but we need a fleet, not least for
transport through the Solar system."
"Why?" asked Abikova, sounding genuinely curious.
"Because we’re low on deuterium, for one," Garrows said.
"Maybe our, ahem, diplomatic team can arrange for the contemporary
Humans to supply it, but if not…we’re going to have to rebuild a
diveminer out in Jupiter orbit. Not to mention the antimatter we’ll need
if we want to go using our flux drive…"
Pardenne was still shaking her head. "This is a mistake. He almost
lost us that war."
"That is one opinion," Chenier said coldly. Pardenne had been
the defence minister in the Radical administration that had been in power
during the Struggle, the administration that had missed all the signs and
slashed the defence budget before the Rómidi struck. In Chenier’s
opinion, there was really little Nuttall could have done even if he’d
been a Tanamura – and the voters seemed to have agreed, for the Radicals
had gone from being the dominant party to virtual irrelevance after the
"Enough," Garrows said, glaring at Chenier: this was not a
time to be playing Punch and Judy politics. "Admiral Nuttall will be
offered the job, at least. Whether he accepts is up to him."
He searched their gazes. "And now," he added quietly,
"we come to the matter of my upcoming address…"
It was about half past four in the afternoon, and there was still no
sign of Andy. It was a measure of Janet’s shock that this fact was still
flitting at the very edge of her consciousness.
The woman – Rachel – sat on the sofa in the living room,
painstakingly reading the Times and occasionally glancing at the TV, which
was showing BBC News 24. Luke hovered at the edge of the room, clearly
dying to ask a fusillade of questions but prevented from doing so by
Rachel’s obvious concentration. Her brow was furrowed and she
occasionally let out a brief laugh or exclamation. And, every few minutes,
"What have you found?" Janet asked nervously, gingerly
sitting down in an easy chair next to the sofa.
Rachel glanced up. "Either this is 2006 or it’s the most
elaborate fantasy I’ve ever seen," she said. "Not exactly
PrecolonialWorld on Herbert…" she held up a hand, examining the
inky spots on her fingertips. "There’s no way they’d allow that
kind of thing these days…"
Janet was still edging towards ‘insane’, even if the woman had had
that astonishing episode with her head wound…unless the original had
been faked…her mind spun with wheels within wheels for a moment, then
dismissed the conspiracy theory. "This is 2006," she said.
"If you don’t believe me, you should go out and look." Perhaps
she put a little too much emphasis on ‘should go’.
Rachel cast her a quick glare, then nodded. "I will." Rising
to her feet, she stumped off to the house’s front door and flung it
open, the burglar alarm letting of a loud beep-BEEP as she did so.
Luke appeared at Janet’s elbow. "Don’t make her go, Mum –
what if she really is from the future?" he asked eagerly.
Janet shook her head. "This sort of thing brings out all sorts of
loonies," she said, gesturing to the BBC reports on the EMP chaos.
They heard an abrupt exclamation from the front door and hurried to
meet Rachel. They found her leaning back against the doorframe, grabbing
it for support, staring up at the sky.
A helicopter was passing over, doubtless as part of a police operation
looking for crash victims, its blades thuttering loudly. In the
background, a couple of jet trails, probably from Cambridge Airport,
formed an X marks the spot in the sky.
Rachel was blinking. "I haven’t…seen that…since King
George’s silver jubilee," she mumbled to herself. "They
brought out the old Typhoons to fly above the parade…"
Janet glanced at her son again, but before they could say anything, a
bike turned the corner and Andy cycled up to the front door.
"Afternoon," he said cheerfully, then paled under Janet’s
stare. "I’m sorry, love, but you saw the traffic out there – the
congestion’s even worse than usual – there were three crashes on
Trumpington Street alone –"
"…and?" Janet said coldly, holding out her hand with the
"…and, some kid collared me for a supervision," Andrew
admitted. "Poor lad was actually called Alan Partridge, would you
believe? Made me chuckle…"
Janet sighed. "Just so long as you weren’t killed," she
said with a slight smile.
"I haven’t looked closely yet," Andrew deadpanned.
"Let me go and have a full medical examination – or perhaps I
should update my will first."
"Oh, get on with you," she replied. "And-"
"Who’s your friend?" Andrew asked, looking at the
still-dazed Rachel curiously.
Janet swallowed. "A crash victim I rescued," she said.
"Rachel…Zobodin. She has – er had – a concussion…and she
thinks she’s from the future."
Andrew smiled. "Very good. I’m sure if I had a knock on the head
I couldn’t come up with anything so interesting-"
Rachel came upright, strode past Andrew as though he wasn’t there,
and touched the crossbar of his bike in fascination. Then she lifted it,
or tried to. "Phew! That’s…steel!" she exclaimed.
"Well, I didn’t want to spend the extra twenty quid for an
aluminium frame," Andrew admitted. "Rachel, wasn’t it-"
She continued to ignore him, stared at the sky again, then just fell to
her knees with a keening sob. "Take me home! Take me back to
him!" she wailed.
Andrew gave his wife a sidelong look, then glanced at Luke hanging
around at the back. "Luke, the dishes need doing," said Janet
without looking away.
Luke stumped off: he wouldn’t do the dishes, of course, but it’d
keep him out of the way while…
"I’m sorry," Andrew said matter-of-factly, "but I
think you need to go to hospital. According to local news, Addenbrooke’s
seem to be coping…and they were clearing the crashes away when I passed
"I think you’re right," Janet said firmly.
"Rachel…Ms Zobodin…why don’t you let me take you to
Addenbrooke’s in the car?"
"Addenbrooke’s…the hospital?" Rachel said vaguely.
"But I’m okk…"
"Och?" Andrew repeated puzzledly.
"I’m going to need time to deal with this," she mumbled,
"but…what about the Wildfire?" she said, clapping a hand to
her mouth in sudden horror. "My shuttle – you said it had
crashed?" she asked, turning to Janet. "If this really is 2006
– my God –"
"I think I’ve heard enough," Andrew said with forced good
cheer. "If you don’t mind–"
"MUM! DAD!" came the voice, going from adult depths to a
childish squeak halfway through from the excitement. "Look at this
They exchanged glances wearily, then plodded back into the house,
Rachel following. They found Luke in the front room, seated where Rachel
had been on the sofa, his eyes glued to the television.
It was still on BBC News 24, and the announcer looked…a bit rattled.
Which was as much as any BBC newcaster ever seemed to get. "The BBC
is receiving a transmission from…" he blinked at his autocue,
"er…from somewhere…which appears to be being transmitted to news
services throughout the world…"
Obviously, his superiors seemed to be debating whether they should view
it before broadcasting it – what if it was another tape of Zarqawi’s
mobs beheading a kidnapped Westerner in Iraq? – but the instinct for a
scoop won out. Showing blood and gore at primetime was bad; letting Sky do
it first was worse.
The screen flickered in and out, then appeared to stabilise. It was
black, except for a logo in the centre of the screen: an outlined cross in
a circle, with the words UNION OF HUMANITY running around the outside.
"Hah!" Rachel said, spinning and pointing accusingly at the
Stillsbies. "I knew this was some kind of trick! When I-"
The logo vanished and the screen burst into life, to reveal a man
sitting at a desk.
He was, Janet thought, rather odd-looking, but not unattractive: his
head was shaved, his eyes had a slight oriental slant, he sported a
slightly absurd looking moustache. The look in those exotic eyes was hard,
but not emotionless, and his skin was Caucasian – if anything, even
paler, almost albino.
The desk was metallic and almost empty, save for a rather strange
shower of light on one side – some Gadget Shop executive toy? – and a
simple name plate, which read: ALDRIN GARROWS, FIRST CONSUL OF THE
CONSULATE OF LUNA.
Luna…now where had she heard that recently…?
"People of Earth," the man – Garrows? – said. His voice
had an odd accent, certainly not the Japanese one might expect from his
eyes, but something unlike she’d ever heard before…
No, not quite. Rachel had it, too…
"I speak to you now to tell you of an event which you will almost
certainly not believe," Garrows said. "Indeed, I know this,
because many of my own people are still refusing to believe it. But, very
soon, they – and you – will realise it is impossible to deny.
"We do not know how. We do not know why. But we do know that our
world, Luna – what you call the Moon – has somehow been moved through
He paused. "Three hundred and forty-four years backward."
The Stillsbies stared at each other. Rachel stared at Garrows, who
continued: "Your own time’s version of the Moon has been replaced
by one which supports a hundred and seventy million Human souls –
twenty-fourth century Human souls. Unfortunately, we are used to relying
on our own Earth for regular supplies of certain commodities – foods,
"The…event which moved us back also damaged our, uh, electronic
equipment, and we understand the same has happened to you," he added,
glancing at what looked like a thin sheet of transparent plastic, but
moving words and pictures danced upon it. "All I can suggest is that
we try to repair the damage – together.
"As I said, we are in dire need of foodstuffs and a few other
commodities. But we also have things that you will want and need. We have
the technology of the twenty-fourth century, and we do not intend to guard
it too jealously: you are us, after all, or our ancestors. And if you
think that sounds weird, then that makes two of us." Garrows quirked
a smile. "I intend to send a party of diplomats to initiate first
contact procedures with you, to your United Nations in New York, Oosa…"
he blinked, stared at his plastic sheet, "er…U.S.A."
Garrows paused, as though wondering whether to add something more, but
gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head. "I can only say that
I look forward to working with you in the future. As a member of my
government pointed out recently, perhaps our appearance here can help
avoid some of the mistakes that happened in the er…the history that
would have happened." He blinked. "We’re all going to have to
get used to some new terminology.
"If you are still sceptical about what has happened, I invite you
to go out and look up at your Moon."
Finally, he smiled. "If I may end with the final passage of the
Constitution of the Union of Humanity, a body about which you have never
heard…Divided we fall, united we stand.
"God bless all Humanity."
The screen cut back to the logo.
The Stillsbies looked at Rachel. Rachel looked at the Stillsbies. They
all looked at the television, as the flustered BBC newscaster reappeared
and began gabbling something.
"Well – I – it’s all done with mirrors?" Andrew
mumbled, the ultimate sceptic.
"Go out and look at Luna?" Rachel said to herself, then
turned and ran to the door again. The others followed her, emerged into
the outside world, looked up, stared.
There was the Moon, faint of course in the evening light, waning
gibbous. Perhaps the city lights, shining out on the dark side, would have
been enough to clinch it alone. But Garrows, as billions of contemporary
Humans had already discovered, had more style than that.
Shining out from the centre of the Moon’s light side, unused since
the 250 Years of Union Celebration thirty years previously, was the giant
cross in circle logo of the Union of Humanity.
They stared up at it for what felt like an hour. Then Rachel finally
tore her gaze away, looking toward Janet. Her voice still held an element
of pain, but the defiance overruled it.
"NOW do you believe me?"
To MOONSTRUCK Part II (Chapters 6-10)