Your Head Goes Pop!
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Your Head Goes Pop!
"Jackie, what is wrong? It's time to get up." Bridget knew that her identical twin daughters were developing distinct personalities of their own, but Jackie seemed to be taking being different a bit too far. "Come and eat breakfast. It's time to get up. Out of bed now."
Her voice was very gentle and reassuring. She rarely lost her temper with children. It went against her nature. Her husband Bill often remarked on how unusual she was in that way. She picked little Jackie up and set the child in her lap still in her little pressure bag, but the head cover that could protect her from rapid decompression dangled not fastened shut. She was just barely two, in Earth years, and still tiny. "Now tell me. What is the matter?"
Jackie was so sweet with her squeaky little voice. "I want to stay in my p-bag. I don't want my head to go pop."
"Oh dear, our heads are not going to pop today. Everything is going to be just fine. See, I'm not wearing my p-suit. Today there will be no head popping. No popping at all unless we make popcorn tonight when it's movie time. Now let me help you off with your p-bag."
Jane was the more independent and less timid of the two. Bridget let Bill name one of their daughters. She named Jackie after her Earth born friend from Virginia Nova, Jackie Manigault, and Bill, with his archaic foreign sense of humor she could never understand, named the other Jane from a character in an ancient TV series that was old when he first watched it back on Twentieth Century Earth, Tarzan. He had once teased her with the names when they had first known each other on Virginia Nova.
"Me Tarzan. You Jane." He said it on their first night together. She had no clue what he was talking about then. She just liked the way he said it.
The whole gang waited in the dinning room for her and the child. And it really was the whole gang. Feline Frigg was there as well as Monotreme Scaly Betsy. Ernie, the young Galaxian sat patiently in a high chair intended for a Human child. He only ate mush extruded from the food synthesizer, but he enjoyed sitting with them all at mealtime while they ate their native foods. Frigg had developed a taste for cooked steak and eggs when visiting the Human Exiles on Virginia Nova and ate it every day for breakfast no matter what everyone else was eating. Betsy preferred an omelet seasoned with a mushroom from her native world, grown by the Monotreme Mole Rats. Eggs were definitely not a traditional part of her native cuisine but she took any opportunity to eat them as long as she was not in the company of her fellow Monotremes. The Humans all knew not to touch that mushroom spice unless they were seeking an out-of-body experience. They ate scrambled eggs and sausage with the same mush that Ernie ate but flavored with salt and butter. By Martian standards such locally raised Earth foods were very expensive, but not as fabulously expensive as imports from Earth. Most recent immigrants could afford neither. They could afford imports if they wanted to splurge, but Bill insisted that they drink Martian grown coffee. He had been born on Earth a couple of centuries earlier, but now he considered himself Martian. He was adaptable. He had lived on many planets, but most of his time was spent in space. During those years he did not know of the conversion factor that he might have used in the navigation system to calculate his relative age in terms of time dilation. At first he relied on an antique wind up watch he still owned and the notation of the passing days, but he lost track of that long ago.
A new addition to the gang, Franny, the daughter of a close neighbor, practically moved in with them. She was the baby sitter, but when Ernie arrived for his indefinite visit she decided that he need extra protecting and was now inseparable from the little alien. Frigg wore her hooded cloak at dinner with the hood pulled over her head. Franny eyed her closely. Yes, there it was, that damned brainslug. She hated those slimy creatures. She knew that Frigg used the slug for security reasons, and could not care less what the others were thinking, but that did not make her accept the slug. Especially, she could not stand to think of the fact that Frigg also ate the creatures because they contained their own antidote to the paralyzing poison they used on their victims. Frigg's species was unique in the Galaxy, to anyone's knowledge, as the only sentient beings that could metabolize the antidote. Franny choked back an involuntary gag reflex at the hint of a thought of eating a raw slug. Did Frigg slip that thought into her head? She wondered.
Ernie got in the habit of not wearing his anti-mind-reading cap while at home. He needed to practice blocking out the vagrant thoughts of others who were not mind readers. Bill once explained that to him when he first came to Mars. It might be necessary in an emergency. True, his elders had warned him of the dangers of exposure to disorganized and neurotic minds, but he needed to learn to cope, and no one at home objected. They learned to trust him not to "spy" on their minds. The babies were different. They loved mind reading with Ernie because they didn't know any better. It was natural to them, having experienced it at such an early age.
This day was a day for rest and relaxation. After they made their escape form Bills adoring Mole Rat fans and the apparently mandatory honor guard (How they could possibly expect to protect Bill from sneaky would be assassins while all decked out in their fanciest dress body armor was a mystery to Bill.) The rest of the family did not feel up to leaving the relative safety of their own home deep in the black Martian basalt bedrock.
When the meal was finished Franny took over the task of cleaning up. Bridget certainly did not object, but Bill was the most likely to have something to say about everything.
"Franny, you've been really helpful, the twins love you, and Ernie, well Ernie wouldn't exactly be lost without you, but then how can we tell?" Bill had not forgotten his original point but paused to let Franny answer.
"How would you know? You never let him in your mind." Franny answered as she put the disposable plastic dishes into the pelletizer, after wiping the food remains from them.
"He does talk out loud, you know." Bill answered. As the only Human known to be totally immune to mind reading and mind control he understood how everyone might think that he did not understand Ernie as well as the rest of the gang, but he knew better. "It's just that you're so helpful. You never go and hang out with your friends. There must be fifty guys down in the Concourse who are living for the day that you might notice they exist. I don't think I've seen you go on a date since I got back from Virginia Nova. We love having you help out, but I'm just saying that you don't have to be here all the time. I thought maybe you might want a brake."
Franny was used to Bill Fargo's unique way of expressing himself. She got the whole Twentieth Century Man thing. Her first response was to laugh, not derisively, well just a little, but she was so young and beautify she somehow made derision seem cute.
"Uncle Billy, you brought this Galaxian home with you." She was tactful enough to not add: And how could you possibly expect me not to want to learn everything I possible can from him. But Ernie got the message.
For Bill, Bridget, Betsy and Frigg the renowned Zyborg Bashers and famed heroes of the Wars of Mole Rat Liberation, one might think that the day was starting out boring and uneventful, anyone who might be naive enough to think that mortal danger combined with clamorous mobs of fans was exiting adventure, and then there was that crazy stunt Bill pulled at the pub. That is where the conversation drifted and Betsy indulged in her usual sarcasm.
"Bill Fargo." Whenever she said his full name the others knew she intended to unload on him. "The thing I don't get is why in the name of the Mother Of All Eggs you just ignored the plan. You walk up to that, what did you call her, that Skeksi woman and her associate and blab that you are on to them?"
"I bet he thinks that even known mass murderers deserve a chance to repent their evil ways." Franny suggested.
Bill had already thought about the incident, and had nightmares about it in fact. While sleeping he could not hide from Ernie. "You try playing killer bait and see how you feel. Someone once said that the best defense is a good offence. I did not intend to just take a seat and wait for one of those eugenics psychopaths to sneak a shot at me with a needle gun or something. I understand Martian society, you know. There was no way they could just kill me right in front of everybody while I'm accusing them of wanting to murder me and expect to get away with it. And they did expect to get away with it. At least there was no way I could think of at the moment."
"But Uncle Billy." Franny put in. "You know Uncle Harris wanted to take them for interrogation and maybe exchange them for some kidnap victim for his friends on Earth."
"That's politics." Bill answered. "I don't play politics with my life."
"But you knew the Australians would get them at the space station. That's politics, isn't it?"
Betsy answered for him. "Don't you see dear? Everything is personal to Bill. There is no politics, just Bill and the rest of the universe."
"Right." Bill answered. "And the same is true for everyone in a life and death situation. It's your life and your friend's lives versus your enemies. Otherwise, someone will get killed for no reason. Harris wanted to play politics with me. I like Harris, even though I know he thinks I'm a clown or whatever, but I couldn't let him do it. You remember how he acted when that miner died in the tunnels."
The last remark was directed at Betsy and Frigg. Frigg answered. "I'm sure you did it to save his feelings, saved your own skin I mean."
"Come on. He was really broken up about that guy. No decent person really wants to play politics with other people's lives. He went in that tunnel to face that monster to show Harris what a tough guy he was. It got him killed. Harris knew it. It was that simple."
The whole exchange triggered in Frigg a vivid memory of the incident, how the men and Mole Rats died facing the male of her species. The rogue Cat Man was deadly even as he had fallen dead, killing the man in his last dying spasm. Everyone except Bill got a good dose of her memory. It was quite shocking and frightened the children.
Bridget stood and shouted. "Stop that!"
She took the children to their room. Ernie offered to help them calm down and went with her.
Bridget left them and came back to the great room. She confronted Frigg. She almost reverted to her ancient hatred of the whole Feline species, but restrained herself. "That was not a fitting thing to do in the presence of children."
As long as they had known the Cat Woman, she had never been known to seriously apologize for anything, but this time she did. After that she went to a corner, pulled her cloak over herself and curled up like an oversized house cat. She remained there for the rest of the morning.
Bill led the conversation back to the original topic. "Franny, let's consider the greater political implications of what happened in Cussin Babes. If everything had worked according to plan the two would have been arrested. Since the grand jury had already issued a secrete indictment a public trial with a judge from the Safety Committee would have followed immediately. Everyone who had any association with the two mass murderers would have come under suspicion by the rest of the community. They already had a committee politico in their pay that defended the two before the grand jury. Few people would swallow his plea that he thought they were legit business tourists. That would have caused conflict. There is no telling how many people let those two assassins suck up to them. All those people would have been exposed to public suspicion and ridicule. Maybe some of them deserve it, but I don't think so. You might think that Mars has a big population just because there are so many people you don't know. Believe me, Mars is a small town. If everyone doesn't know everyone they all at least know someone who knows someone else. That kind of conflict could rip a small community apart. There are factions weather you realize it or not, the newbies versus the oldsters, the Earthophiles versus the Mars Firsters, Human racists versus Mole Rat primitivists. You might not know such people yourself, but they would come out of the woodwork like cockroaches. It was better for everybody to let the Ozzies deal with the killers in the station airlock above Earth."
"Yes." Betsy responded. "They came from Earth, and you sent them back where they belonged. That conforms to Consortium Noninterference Policy, and that is what is going in my official report. Bill mitigated interference from Earth in the most effective way, without even knowing or caring that that was what he was doing."
"Hey!" Bill protested. "But I do care."
"Uncle Billy, you know I've never seen wood work and I only know what a cockroach looks like from pictures. You're such a living fossil." Bill ignored Franny's comment.
Bridget knew that Franny had a girlish crush on her "uncle" who she was not related to, but could see that Bill seemed quite oblivious to the fact. Franny was also not related to Harris. She was part of the first generation of the children of Human Martian natives from Earth, besides the original Space Women who owned the Base Station. Uncle Harris and Uncle Bill were members of her ersatz extended family.
The conversation drifted to less intense subjects. Eventually the group began to get a little tired of being cooped up.
"I want to go shopping in the Concourse and then go out for lunch." Betsy announced.
"I'll go check on the twins." Bridget answered. "I'm sure they will be perfectly safe with Frigg curled up in the corner."
Frigg's show of remorse was touching to her. It reminded her of how they first found her on Virginia Nova, poaching a goat, starving and pathetic with her kits. Back then Bridget was the only Human present who understood that Frigg could have killed and eaten them all one at a time if she had so chosen, the people, not the goats, of course she could kill all the goats.
"I think I'll stay home and rest these old bones. Franny, go out and have fun. That's an order." Bill said jokingly in his usual deadpan manner.
"Aye-aye, Commandant." She answered playfully, knowing how the rank the Mole Rat militia bestowed upon him irritated him. "I want to drop in on my parents, and then I think I'll invite Ingridi. I know you don't like her Betsy, but she is my friend and she needs to get out too. I'll let Uncle Harris know that you are sorry for spoiling his plan. How do you say it? Queering his pitch? He might actually believe me then."
"But he's not sorry." Betsy commented.
"What the frack?!" Bridget shouted from the twin's bedroom. She had gone in there to check on them before going out.
They all came to the door to crowd in and see. Bridget, who learned to use such expletives from her husband, almost never uttered such words. They could see instantly what had upset her. Ernie was lying on his back on the twin's bed naked. In each hand he held one of the twins hands. The twins were in their p-bags. They were not just asleep but in a mind control dream state. No one had ever seen Ernie naked before. He had no visible sex organs, giving the appearance of complete a-sexuality. Bill was the only one who was already aware of that besides Betsy.
"Look at him. He's naked as a jaybird. Why are we upset?" Bill asked his wife.
Bridget could barely speak. "He's... he's..."
"Got no junk?" Bill offered.
"Uh." She answered. "And he has them... under his power..."
"It's OK, dear." Bill tried to re-assure her. "Remember, he is almost incapable of doing wrong. You should remember. You were there too."
There was the planetoid that housed the ancient city of the mind reading Galaxians.
"I suppose this means we're not going out now." Betsy observed.
Bridget got a grip on herself and sat on one side of the bed. With one hand she carefully reached to separate Jane from Ernie's grasp. Bill started to warn her.
"I don't think..." That was all he was able to get out before she did a face plant on the bed beside her daughter. She was out cold.
Bridget found herself floating in some strangely opaque dim space. Then she felt her feet touch the deck. She could not see the deck. She must have just decided that it was a ship's deck. "Yes! It's a deck." She thought. "I'm back in that horrible place!" Her mind was spinning into a nightmare of life in her first home as a slave of the evil Cat Man who called himself Loki and his vile Human henchmen, Fenrir and Fafnir. The horror stopped as suddenly as it started. Jane tugged at her hand.
"I'm here mommy. The monsters can't hurt you. Look, Jackie and Ernie are here too."
In her dream they were all naked. Ernie was larger and more impressive then real life, to her, but not to her daughters. To them he was smaller, like them, but he was still totally a-sexual.
"Yes, I am." He answered her implied question. "We are a race of genetic composites, clones, as you would say."
He continued. "I now know what you need to know. Look."
Ernie showed Bridget how he had "fixed" Patrick and Georgette's conflict. Bridget only knew that for some reason the couple was together at Cussin Babes when Bill confronted the assassins. Now she knew why. They had been embarrassed at first when he had joined them together. It was not anything Ernie had done to them. They had been embarrassed at being shown how their own behavior appeared to others and how doing wrong to others only fed a deep personal disgust with one's self. Evidently, they got over it. Frigg interrupted the dream. She was also naked in her birthday suit of fine fur, as Bill might say, except for the ugly brainslug on her forehead.
"I am very sorry, Jackie and Jane. I did not mean to frighten you. Ernie, you are frightening the others and they want you to awaken now." Frigg walked away and vanished into opaqueness. When Ernie let go his grip on their hands they all came instantly awake. Bridget heard a distinct pop! Ernie and Bridget sat up and the twin's eyes popped open. Bridget understood what Jackie had been trying to tell her. She wanted to keep dreaming. She didn't want to wake up.
"I was about to tell you that it might not be a good idea to touch them, but you were only out for a few seconds." Bill said.
Going back so far in Bills long experiences took time, even for an expert, and Ernie was a novice. During that time he let Bill and Bridget stand there naked in the ether and look lovingly into each other's eyes. Then, pop! Bill went into deep sleep. Bridget had a totally different experience. She could see from a point of focus just above Bill's head. The UFO descended slowly toward his campsite. He could feel some presence, a mind probe? It could not touch him. They wanted him to be still. He remained still, but not because of any attempted mind control. It was more because of shock. He was torn between overwhelming terror and overwhelming curiosity. When the ramp opened two short humanoid creatures dressed in shiny suits like firefighters at an airport approached him, and each took a hand. He followed them willingly into the spacecraft. They brought him to a room that looked like an operating room. He refused to go to the operating table. That surprised them. He could feel their efforts to probe his mind again, but he rejected them. There was a small bunk bed that to Bill seemed child size. One motioned him to have a seat. The other produced something that Bill assumed was an energy weapon. He took a seat on the little bunk. One covered him while the other removed his shiny spacesuit. They took terns, and then each took a turn put on a hooded cloak.
Each had a strange amulet device hanging around his neck. It spoke to him.
"You are resistant to mind control."
Bill took a moment to decide they were waiting for his answer.
"Uh, yea, sure." That was all he could force out of his mouth.
"You will accompany us." One of the devices spoke again.
"Oh, sure, why not? The whole world is going to hell anyway." Bill answered.
"That is well. We do not wish to splatter your brains all over this room. Please submit while one of us fastens you to the bunk."
"Oh shit." That was all Bill could think of to say. He submitted.
Bill did not realize that the craft was moving or when it stopped. When the two aliens brought in another person he decided that they must have moved because he had been alone at his campsite. He was certain of that, because his dog, Chiggers, would have barked in alarm if any living animal or human had been in sniffing distance. He loved Chiggers, but the poor pooch seemed to have been born with some skin condition, because he was always scratching, even when Fargo knew he had gotten rid of all the fleas.
The first victim was a beautiful young woman. She seemed to be in a trance. She undressed and took her place on the operating table. They seemed to examine her with some device that shined a light on her. Only later did Bill discover that the devise was a super high tech healing device. She was very beautiful. Bill could not take his eyes off her. The aliens seemed to notice that because he caught them looking at him with those big eyes. They did not seem to have any expression. They seemed to be examining him closely. Then he understood why. He was getting an erection. That was very embarrassing.
There was a tray with surgical tools beside the operating table. One picked up a large vicious looking scalpel and put it to her neck, the whole time watching his reaction. He screamed and shouted at the same time.
"No!" That was the first facial expressing he noticed on the aliens, a sneer. The aliens were virtual identical twins, larger duplicates of Ernie, but different, evil. One of the amulets spoke to him again.
"So? This female is attractive? We have no way of knowing. You all look alike, just hairless apes to us. Are the breasts decorative or functional?" The question was so inane that Bill remained silent in disbelief. "We will spare this one. We will save her for you."
They fastened her to an identical bunk on the opposite side of the room. She seemed to fall into a deep sleep. Bill forced himself not to look at her. He turned his head away and closed his eyes.
The next victims were not so lucky. Sometimes Bill would scream. "She is beautiful too!"
It did not matter by then if it was a man or a woman, pretty or ugly. He tried to save some of them but was unsuccessful. After a while he was able to make himself look to see what they were doing to their victims. They carefully shaved the head, removed it surgically, and placed it in a cylindrical container, possibly filled with liquid nitrogen. A man dressed in a tunic, yes a Human man, would come and take the body away. He had something sticking in his temple like he had a lobotomy and a remote control device in his brain.
The ether enveloped Bridget again. She felt like she was crying but there were no tears in this dream world. Bill Fargo never cried after that, almost never in any case. Ernie's voice spoke in her head. Do you wish to see more?
The flying saucer, Bill always thought of the High Galactic tech space ships as flying saucers, eventually rendezvoused with another somewhere in space. They transferred him to the other ship. It was much larger. He thought of it as the Mother Ship sometimes and sometimes, as a Starship, but it was still really just a gigantic flying saucer, but with a cylindrical cargo unit connected under it, a Base Station. This one was inhabited by fiendish, sneering Galaxians. Him and the woman were locked in the same quarters. Bridget was shocked when she recognized the woman. It was her best friend Alicia. Neither of them had ever mentioned any of this to her. She felt somehow cheated, then she discovered why. Bill was the first to begin the conversation.
"Have you figured out what the hell is going on here now?" He asked. She had been in a daze most of the time on the smaller ship.
"I think so." She answered. Bill decided she must be Scandinavian from her accent.
"I'm glad you made it out of that other ship alive, but I have no idea what they have in store for us." Bill said.
"You want to have sex with me." She said in a matter of fact way.
"Sure. Why not?" He answered. He quickly realized that the flippant response was the wrong answer. "But I have this problem. While you were in la la land, I was forced to watch while they amputated a couple hundred people's heads and put them in jars. That kind of puts a damper on the sex drive. They might as well have amputated my dick while they were at it"
That was the first time he saw her smile. Bill looked at the large bed he used for a handhold and realized was Alicia crouched in the corner. They were in zero gravity after they left Earth. She used her body to somehow hold herself in place. He examined the bed and saw that it was in two parts.
"Look at this." The bed rotated so that instead of sleeping together, side by side, they could sleep head to head. "Is that better? Just because we are prisoners does not mean that we have to act like animals."
She moved to her bed. They were both still naked.
"But I am cold." She said.
"Sorry, honey, I'm not that strong. It's either one way or the other."
As she thought, "That is enough. I understand now." Bridget was back in the ether.
"Do you wish to know more?" Ernie's voice asked.
"Not about that. Bring me to a place where they are not in that way. I do not want to see that."
When the ether disappeared. Bill was in a place with gravity. She recognized the place from the color of the dark rock. It was Mars, what was now the Grand Concourse, but then it was smaller and very Spartan. In the meantime Bill and Alicia and other captives who were unknown to her had obtained hooded cloaks. They were not the high tech cloaks, just ragged pieces of cloth with a hood attached. They were brought into the Base Station. She could see that everyone except Bill was filled with terror and dread. She knew why, Loki. Bill was immune to the psychic waves of hatred and menace emanating from the loathsome creature. She felt such compassion for Alicia she again wanted to cry, but forced herself to endure it. Bill had endured it so she could. Loki's loathsome powers could not touch her now.
When they entered the control room she recognized the two horribly ugly ancient men who stood by either side the throne Loki had made men to fasten to the captain's station, Fenrir and Fafnir. They were dressed for the occasion in their ancient garb, the cloak made from a wolf's hide adorned their heads and bodies. They wore bronze armor. There were bronze and steel blades and other weapons hanging from the walls of the control room. Submissive slave girls stood meekly in the corners. Strongmen dressed in medieval garb stood by with arms crossed, proud and overbearing in their manner. No one dared speak, except for Bill.
"Oh shit. I guess we're all fracked now."
"So, it's true." Loki's artificial voice boomed in their ears and in their minds, except for Bill's mind.
"What's true?" Bill asked. Bridget noticed how Loki's henchmen leered in delight at Bill's predicament, and she could tell, because she was familiar with the monster, that Loki was becoming angry. She wanted to shout out to warn him to shut up for once, but she could not shout because she was not there.
Loki pointed at Bill, the unprotracted claw extending below an artificial gilded claw attached to the finger, his tail lashing nervously, his ears laid back. "You are immune to my power."
Loki turned to Fenrir. "Pay those rubber skinned bubble heads but tell them to stand by in outer orbit. I will have further instructions for them. I need more cargo."
Fenrir went to the control panel and relayed the order to a sluggish looking man at the communication station.
Bridget again found herself standing in ether. "Please, enough of this. Show me how he did it."
She was again on Mars but not in the control room. This time Bill was alone with Loki in another room. She could not tell which one. She didn't care. Oh no, Bill was speaking again. There was going to be trouble.
"The way I see it, the only reason you are keeping me alive is because you are bored silly. Except for those two yes man geeks, the F brothers, I'm the only one you can talk to. They are definitely not good conversationalists."
"True, but then neither am I." Loki answered.
"Sometimes I don't know when to agree with you." Bill said.
Loki roared in laughter, and it was a roar.
"I have a proposition for you." Bill said.
Oh my, he is getting an idea. Bridget became very nervous.
"We've played chess a lot and we're pretty evenly matched." Bill had tricked him on that score by letting him win half the time. He always whipped Fenrir and Fafnir. He figured that was best because he suspected they let their master win as well. Losing to him really pissed them off but there was nothing they could do about it. "Let's play speed chess."
He explained the rules. Loki agreed. Oh my, just as they were about to begin the game Bill closed the deal, as he would later put it. "Let's sweeten the pot. Let's make a wager."
As Bill often explained, to anyone who would listen, Loki was a primitive. He was ruled by his emotions and instincts. He could not resist a wager.
"Which woman do you want?" Loki asked. Bill knew where that would lead. One or the other of them would get the woman. Only Loki was not interested in sex with aliens. He was interested in lunch and depriving Bill of something he wanted.
"I have a better idea. Let's go for broke. It's more fun that way. If I win you give me a flying saucer. I promise never to return to this solar system. You can wipe its location from the navigational computer. If you win you can punish me in whatever way you see fit and I promise to do whatever it is you command no matter how unpleasant."
"Do you take me for a fool? You already must do as I command!" Loki bellowed.
"Yes of course that is true, but if I lose I will do it willingly. I will pretend like I like it, and I promise, everyone will believe I really do like it, no matter what." Bill lied.
He knew there was no way he could deliver on such a promise, and he knew that Loki would know sooner or later, because Loki could read everyone else's mind, except his. However, Loki did not know at that moment whether Bill told the truth or a lie. Loki stroked this favorite brain slug with moisturizer. Bill thought it was really weird that Loki had a favorite slug. Maybe it was his lucky slug. Bill sometimes wondered about that.
Bridget realized that she must really be getting into the dream because she could tell what Bill was thinking. Or was it that he told her the story so many times?
"I have one condition. Even if you win a ship you must still work for me." Loki hedged his bet.
Astounded and awestruck, Bridget thought. "Every word about the fantastic story Bill had ever told was true. I should never doubt his word again, except Alicia. I can ask her about him. She won't lie to me."
She wanted to see the whole triumph play out before her.
A sluggish Manservant brought in the chess table with a timer and set up the game for them. He stood by in the corner.
Bill drew black for the first game. He struck the timer. Loki lost before he knew it, a fool's mate. Then another fools mate, Loki almost lost his temper. He raged. "I want to play again! We agreed to three games!"
Bill did not argue that he had already won two, best not to push the monster. Again Bill beat him. That time he even let the clock run out once so Loki could have an extra move. Loki was livid. He broke everything in the room except Bill, who bounced around in Martian 0.38% Earth gravity avoiding Loki's blows. The servant was not so lucky. Adding insult to defeat Bill taunted Loki.
"Have you no honor? Is it true what the bubbleheads say? Are you just a savage?"
That stopped Loki in his tracks.
"They say that?"
Bill lied again. The aliens never spoke to him again after taunting him during his initial capture. "Yes, they do."
"I do have honor! Those vomitous rubber skins! They are nothing without me! They have no honor! You will work for me! They will get what they deserve!"
Bridget wanted to skip ahead. She already knew that Loki had decided that his revenge would be to put Bill Fargo in command of the "bubble head" starship. Bill explained all of that before as well. These Galaxians were Loki's creatures. He had them cloned and reared in evil. They were the diametric opposite of Ernie. They were the builders, slavers, and pushers of the Zyborg trade. They followed Loki not because they feared him, but because they were evil and feared the Consortium more.
Loki did not simply have Bill delivered to them with orders expecting they would follow his command. He knew better then that. He had Bill hooked up to a learning machine, the same kind of machine some hapless do-gooder had once hooked the Cat Man to before Loki and his kind showed their true nature and ran amok in the Galaxy. The learning machine gave Bill the basic knowledge to pilot and navigate the ancient Galactic space ships. Bill feared the learning machine because he could not know if Loki intended to implant some kind of deep conditioning. He did not know at that time that the mind reading power left Loki and his ilk no smarter then before, but they did learn over confidence. They never dared to tamper with the programming of the learning machine. Bill sensed that and used it too his advantage. To his relief the fact that the learning machine contained only the same practical information as long ago proved his theory.
As a starship commander, Bill spent his free time learning how things worked. He knew the sneaking Butt Heads, as he thought of them, were spying on him. There was little they could do about it because Loki assigned a personal bodyguard to the ship. Bill found their medieval attire oppressive so he ordered red tights for them and red shirts. Bill was forced to follow the planned itinerary of the ship. He would bide his time.
They traveled to Primitivist Mole Rat colonies to pick up more brains. Male Mole Rat intelligence depended on incubation temperature. The Mole Rat Matrons bred morons as slaves. The husbands went along with it because they were spoiled and uneducated. The more intelligent ones, as captives of the system, suffered the worst of both worlds, slavery and a sensitive mind with eventual "retirement" to the Zyborg factory. Bill Fargo learned all this first hand as he was in charge of making deals with the haughty Matrons.
Bridget received another shocker. It was the Monotreme Mole Rat she knew as Pendragon. Bill actually met him back then. Did Pendragon remember? Did Bill? Ernie replayed that memory carefully. Pendragon was a military man even then, a part of his Matron's retinue of retainers. There was something about him that attracted Bill's attention. The being had a defiant look about him. As he made his rounds greeting the Mole Rats like some politician from Earth Bill spoke to him only once in a low voice.
"Why the frack do you let these psycho bitches tell you what to do?" That was his question to Pendragon. Bill shook the alien's large hand like a used car sales man or a ward healer. The Mole Rat pretended not to hear him, but Bridget knew the fellow well enough. She could see that Bill's words upset him. Bill had one more thing to say to the Mono.
"Watch out. I intend to rip the bozos a new bung hole." Pendragon looked away from Bill, but his gaze soon fell on Bill's bodyguard. He never even heard of Humans before. He was impressed.
The whole exchange brought too many questions to Bridget's mind. How could it be? Mole Rats didn't live that long without Galactic medical tech, just like Humans. Perhaps he somehow broke free soon after Bill's first great voyage?
The Monotreme Home World expelled the Primitivist Matrons long ago, during the era before the Consortium. After Galactic influence reformed their conflicted society the Scaleys and the Hedge Hogs modernized, but the recalcitrant Matrons who resisted escaped to other worlds. Where ever they settled the Zyborg trade found fertile ground.
The ship reached the end of its rounds, the main Zyborg factory planetoid. Bill planned carefully. In his research he discovered what he thought of as the ship's self-destruct button. It was not a button, but it would due. Reverse the polarity of the anti-gravity drive and the engine explodes catastrophically. The original designers of the technology planned that glitch long ago to prevent unauthorized use of the anti-gravity drive system. They did not want it to fall into the wrong hands.
Bill understood what motivated his guards, sex and violence. Loki used simple reward and punishment conditioning to control them. They were not very smart. Thugs are not bred for intelligence. Loki knew how to select for the characteristics he wanted in his slaves. Some had to be smart while others had to be stupid. When stupid was not passed on genetically, well, a simple operation could fix that. They could have no clue what he was up to. All they knew or cared was that Bill wanted them to keep the Butt Heads away while he did it.
He programmed the navigation computer to park the ship a sufficient distance from the Zyborg planetoid. He did not want to get caught in the blast when the sabotage activated. At the planetoid he set his guard to watch one of its shuttle class flying saucers while he booby-trapped it the same way. Then he had some fun, as he liked to put it.
Bill strutted back and forth as he berated the planet managers for their inefficiency.
"I am totally amazed at what I find here. Who do you think you are? You think you are so superior. Are your brains so big that you can do no wrong? You are a pack of worthless Butt Heads! While this place goes to hell you sit around and mentally stroke each other's enormous egos!"
He looked at his guards, who smirked at the hapless aliens just as they had smirked at him on Mars. He wheeled about and screamed at the aliens.
"I will have you all killed and replaced by Humans!" He shouted a command to his guards. "Kill them all!"
It was the kind of order they lived for.
In the confusion he got in his run about class flying saucer.
One of the aliens got to the booby-trapped shuttle, vaporizing the planetoid. Bill escaped ahead of the explosion at trans light velocity.
It was all true. Bridget awoke with a pop!
Bridget took several days to process what she had learned. She first wanted to confront Alicia about not revealing the fact that she knew Bill from the time when they were both captured. She convinced herself that it was a part of both of their pasts, and she should not make them live that unpleasant time again. The question of Pendragon was different. She casually asked Bill when he first met the Monotreme, and Bill indicated, as she suspected he might, that it was when the two were a part of the group who confronted the first rogue Cat Man in the mining tunnels. She contacted Pendragon by phone to ask him the same question.
The artificial voice at the other end of the communication device paused for several moments. When he finally spoke Bridget could tell that he chose his words carefully.
"That was very long ago." He paused and then said. "Why do you ask?"
Bridget explained her experience in the dream state.
"That is the way I remember it also." Pendragon answered. "I have never spoken of that day to anyone."
"Do you wish to tell me about it?" Bridget asked.
"No, thank you, but I am glad you know." Pendragon answered.
"I want to understand why he doesn't remember." Bridget said.
"Too many terrible things happened then. It is best to leave it be." Pendragon answered. "Bill Fargo is the greatest warrior I have ever known, and he does not even think of himself as a warrior. That is what makes him great, that he does amazingly heroic deeds that he never wanted to do, but faces his fear. There is no reason he should recognize me from that moment of time. I am a totally different person now. For one thing, I am free, and I have him to thank for that, because the idea that I could ever have been free never even occurred to me until that day. I once asked him how he felt about being captured by aliens. Do you know what he told me? No, how could you. That it could have been the most amazingly wonderful experience of his life but turned out to be the exact opposite. He told me that he resolved never to rely on luck ever again."
"But he has such amazing luck. I've seen it." Bridget answered.
"It was not luck. He is just that good. You must have experienced it yourself because you fought beside him and lived. Sometimes in moments of extreme danger time slows down for you and you see exactly what to do. For other people their brain is over loaded and they go blank with fear. I do not know why one person can do it and others cannot, but that is the way of it." Pendragon explained.
"Thank you Pendragon. You have been very helpful. I will not trouble you about the distant past again. I do not like to think about it myself." Bridget said.
"I am glad you called. It was no trouble. I want to contact Bill about something else. The militia is holding a fund raising event, a Yahtzee tournament the day after tomorrow. I want to ask our Commandant to serve as the master of ceremonies. Would you please ask him for me?"
"Surely." Bridget answered.
"May I say a few words before I roll these dice?" Bill asked the tournament participants. They roared their approval. The Honor Guards stood and pounded their war staffs in unison. It was the first time Bill noticed that the Guards were not just Mole Rat Men, like the ones who had been following him around everywhere he went since he first arrived with Ernie. There were Scaleys and Hedge Hogs and even some Female Mole Rats. He couldn't think of them as Matrons, that was a political status, not a gender. Come to think of it he could not tell the males and females of the other two species apart. As egg laying mammals they had no breasts, and very little sexual dimorphism, but the Female Mole Rats were taller and thicker then the males of the species. There were even some humans among the Guards. He waived to them all and tried to speak over the noise of the Hoo Ah and pounding. "Thank you all very much."
The crowd silenced as if he gave a command.
"I want you to all understand that this type of event, this fund raiser, is very unique in Human history, at least in my experience. I suppose that it might be unusual for Monotremes also. You are here to raise money to fund your own collective self-defense. Usually, people who claim the power to protect their neighbors simply take what they want from them, in civilized places under the pretext of laws and taxes. You are different. I want you to all think about this. What is the difference?" Bill paused to let the question sink in. Before he could answer they answered for him.
"We are free!"
"Yes." Bill continued. "We are free. We are also at peace. This, this willingness to step up and do what it takes without taking from others and forcing our will on others is what keeps us free and at peace. I realize that we are here to have some fun and maybe win a prize, but I want you all to keep that in mind after tonight's festivities are over, and when you leave this grand hall go home to your families and friends and live peacefully in the freedom you have earned."
Bill threw the dice completing his part of the ceremony. He stepped down.
Pendragon took the rostrum.
"I have a story I want to share with you." There was a little grumbling in the crowd. "I'll make it short."
He began his speech. "I've never told anyone this before, but someone reminded me of it just the other day. Long ago I was a lowly retainer in my Matron's court. I did what I was told and sucked up to get along. I thought I had honor."
He paused to let that statement sink in. "Then one day a small shipload of Humans visited my world. They were the first Humans I had ever seen. I can tell you that I was not very impressed, but then their commander made the rounds to greet each of us. He did not have to do that, but he did. He treated us with respect. And he spoke to me. I don't know why he singled me out of the group. He said something I will never forget. It was a question. Why do you submit to the command of the cruel and the unjust?"
He paused again. "That Human was Bill Fargo. I told you my story would be short. Now let's have fun!"
After the tournament Bill Fargo thought about the fact that he had no income. The fund raiser reminded him that he needed to raise some funds also, not for the near term, but for the long term security of his family. He knew that he did not want to return to his old life as a space merchant. It was too hazardous and time consuming, but his treasure stash in deep space was very time consuming to get to. He decided to propose to Mac, the Consortium agent in charge of training Humans on Virginia Nova, that it would be a good training exercise to retrieve his cargo section. Mac agreed to salvage it for a share of the cargo, saving Fargo from spending years from his family.
Mac surprised him. It only took a few months to find the cargo section, the advantage of using a super computer to calculate astronomical trajectories and the impact of gravitational anomalies.
After he calculated how many tons of fuel pellets he ended up with he realized that it would be enough to mount his time travel expedition. The remainder, precious metals and rare earths, was enough wealth to keep his family happy for quite a long time.
While they were "mind melded", as Bill thought of what happened when under deep mind control with Ernie, Ernie explained to him exactly how time travel should work, assuming it worked.
"What if it doesn't work?" Bill asked later, while they were conscious.
"In that case, theoretically, the influence of the galactic core would be the triggering gravitonic force, and the ship might explode with the force of a supper nova. However, according to the theory, the power exerted by the ship is too small to cause an imbalance at the proposed distance from the galaxy. Verification of that supposition has been found by way of comparison of lesser explosions in proximity to lesser objects."
"Then why can't I just time travel in interstellar space with a compact star drive, say a one man scooter?" Bill asked.
"Perhaps you could but you would effectively strand yourself in deep space in an alternate reality." Ernie answered.
"Alternate reality? That sounds like a self-contradiction. How could you possibly know that?" Bill asked.
"That was the best closest match to existing terms in your language. Call it an alternate time-space continuum if you like, or another dimension. All such terms are equally meaningless in terms of our shared universal frame of reference." Ernie answered. "As to what we know, I thought we were speaking in terms of the hypothetical. If you seek certainty regarding the question of reverse time travel, I cannot help you. The entire concept is hypothetical. I do not recommend the experiment you suggested because I can assure you of this from past similar experiments that from our perspective as observers you will simply disappear and never be seen again."
Bill waited to discuss his idea until everyone was together at one of Alicia's dinner parties, everyone meaning Alicia's immediate family, Fargo's whole gang (with the exception of Frigg who stayed home with the twins), Franny's family, Ingridi's latest flame, and a young man who Bill could see was obviously hopelessly taken with Franny, but she ignored him in that studied fashion so madding to men of all epochs.
For once Betsy displayed the kind of social skill one would expect of a professional diplomat. "If I might make a comment, I'd like to say that it is an honor to be invited to this gathering. You are all my best friends."
Ernie detected her after thought but remained impassive. "No matter what everyone else says about you Humans." His skill at fending off and absorbing irrelevant trivial and vagrant thoughts would have impressed his elders.
"There is something I want to talk about." Bill said.
"Let me guess, time travel." Franny answered.
"I would wonder if you could read my mind except that I'm sure that if you didn't think of that on your own you got it from Ernie because we have discussed the subject in great depth." Bill continued. "Since we have new guests here who might not be familiar with the whole idea I will explain it from the beginning."
As Bill explained the idea of reverse time travel to the two young men he could see that Ingridi's friend was completely uninterested but that Franny's would be boy friend seemed to be fascinated by the subject.
"Excuse me." Bill asked. "What did you say your name was young man?"
He was caught by surprise and failed to answer quickly enough for Franny, so she answered for him. "That's Elli Junior, Uncle Billy. He's visiting from Virginia Nova."
"Yes sir." The young man found his voice. "I'm sure you've met my parents. Actually, I saw you once when I was a child, before you went on your voyage to Ernie's home world. I wouldn't expect you to remember me from back then."
"You're right. You were much shorter then, but I do remember. As I was saying." Bill continued. As he spoke it occurred to him that Franny might have reason to pretend to ignore the fellow. Perhaps she had been mining Ernie for confidential information about him and was embarrassed to look him in the eye, because she knew exactly how he felt about her. Yes, that must be it. "Let me get to the crux of the matter."
Bill paused looked at Franny and then at young Elli and winked, which he could see to his satisfaction really irked Franny. "I propose to travel back in time. There are a few things I want to set straight. I realize that in so doing I will create what is known as a time paradox and thus an alternate reality, but that doesn't bother me, because if I did it, it's already done. Ernie warns me that the likelihood of making it back to this dimension is not good. Well, I think it can be done. Who knows, maybe I've done it already, and this is one of those parallels where we are simply not aware of that yet."
The discussion began with Harris, who answered. "Are you finally out of your freaking mind?"
"We could always hope." Betsy commented.
"Why?" Ingridi asked. "If that were the case couldn't we forcibly prevent him from indulging this insanity? Isn't that an ancient Earth custom?"
"Please, let's be civil." Alicia said. "I am interested in what he has to say. Besides, questioning other people's sanity so lightly is not our custom."
"Yes, in past ages many proponents of new discoveries were thought mad or possessed by some evil spirit, but we would still be living in thatched huts if all our ancestors had been so unwilling to try something new." Elli commented. Bill was glad to see that he possessed his father's attitude toward science and discovery.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful, at least it could give us some kind of poetic justice, if we could go back in time and save ourselves from all of the horrible things that were done to us, and maybe save the rest of the Galaxy from some of it, at least?" Bill asked.
Bridget and Alicia knew exactly what he was talking about, they thought. Then he continued speaking.
"I propose that we go back a million years or more, if that's what it takes, and pre-empt all that stuff with the brain slugs and the Cat Men running amok, and all the early mistakes made by pre-Consortium Galaxians interfering in other worlds. We could set it all right. It's possible."
Everyone except Ernie was taken aback by the scope of the proposal. "I suggest that if it could have been done it would have already been done."
"How can we know?" Bill asked. "It's a time paradox."
"Maybe you tried that and that is what ended up causing all this." Betsy suggested. "When you realized what you had done you were embarrassed to come back to us. In that case there is no paradox."
"We could at least go back in time and prevent the introduction of alien brain implant technology on Earth." Elli suggested. "That would not interfere with other planets."
"Wait a moment." Betsy interjected. "I have a few things I'd like to redo. It is not all about Earth, even though we are on the edge of your Exclusion Zone. Every known planet where sentient beings are known to have evolved has been interfered with at one time or another, most often resulting in extinction. Not that they might not have destroyed themselves eventually in any event, but how can we know? The very existence of the Galaxians as a composite hybrid species goes back to ancient antiquity, to galactic pre-history. No one knows how they originated."
"I do." Ernie said. Did he forget that he was not supposed to mention that? He became acutely aware that everyone was looking at him expecting him to explain.
"Ernie, what are you doing?" Betsy asked.
"How has it benefited anyone to withhold necessary information? Obviously, that monster known to you as Loki knew. Other criminals probably do as well."
"Knew what?" Bill asked.
"There is noting high tech about the origin of the Galaxian race. We are sterile hybrids, the result of the fertilization of a Monotreme Mole Rate egg with Human sperm. Our uniform appearance is simply an accident of nature. Some of us are clones but not necessarily all of us."
"But, policy..." That was all Betsy could muster.
"That is just disgusting." Ingridi commented.
"I'm with you on that one." Bill answered "But look at what it means. We could go back in time to before Ernie's Home World was first colonized and pre-empt everything."
"That would mean marooning Ernie there." Franny commented. "Because who else could take care of the babies?"
"How could you possibly have enough fuel for such a voyage?" Ingridi asked.
"We know where plenty of ore for fuel is, on Mars." Bill answered. "And I believe that others were there before Loki. If that barbarian ever had a productive thought in his entire meaningless life his head would have exploded. Someone else had been there before him. Everyone who has ever taken a good look at the extent of the cavern before the revolution has commented on that. Why not us? Why can't we be the first?"
"There is one thing you are all forgetting about the Galaxians. Their psychic abilities are not hereditary. It is the result of an implant." Betsy added.
"Yes, the implant of the nerve ganglia of the brain slug at the time of fertilization." Ernie answered.
"I can not be a part of this." Betsy said.
Before she could stand to leave. Pendragon, who had thoughtfully held back said. "But I can. Besides, you are already a part of this, Miss Betsy."
For some reason Pendragon took particular pleasure in the use of her Human nick name. Was it a sign of disrespect to her? Or a badge of honor? Everyone knew that he honored his nick name. Betsy took the remark impassively, leaving the Humans in the dark. Ernie knew that it was intended as a challenge.
Bill's first destination, about a million years before the point of departure, was to Mars where they found the rich ore deposits untouched, tunneling in they began to extract tons of fuel. That took time. The process was mostly automated. Ernie provided them with the specifications for the super high tech equipment Loki's slaves and the Mol Rats of Mars never possessed.
The Mother Ship, as they now called it, with attached base station had a full complement. All of Alicia's "sisters" and their families were on board. The ship was their home. The rest were Humans seeking adventure and closure, former exiles among them. Betsy, Pendragon, and Ernie were the only exceptions. They had exotic, forbidden cargo, well, forbidden in the distant future. Brain Slugs and their natural host octopi believed to have originated from another galaxy and a sufficient quantity of dormant Monotreme eggs to begin Ernie's planned colony.
On Earth the early modern Humans thrived, unmolested by aliens. They were not the mission and no one was permitted to interfere with them. The general attitude was that such interference would constitute a kind of perversion, like child molesting. Elli Jr. and Franny made a short recon of their Home World only to verify that there was no sign of interference from extra-terrestrials. The early Hominids were exactly as expected, stone age primitives.
Ernie took a small fleet of run about class flying saucers, his cargo and equipment to search for his Home World, the mineral rich deep space planetoid. On the way there he seeded a pre-Cambrian planet, later called Virginia Nova, with the alien mollusks, in order to ensure a plentiful supply for his future population. Some idealistic Humans accompanied him. Unknown to the others Ernie had also stocked a supply of Monotreme Mole Rat sperm, in addition to the eggs, to insure the continuation of that species for obvious reason. He needed both sentient species in order to insure the creation of sufficient genetic diversity in his future city.
Bill Fargo ordered the loading of the newly manufactured fuel supply. They proceeded into the future. There was nothing special about that maneuver because time dilation would insure that they proceeded along the path of the new future they had just created, assuming everything went according to plan with Ernie. Would he be able to prevent the mistakes of their time line? They took their time accelerating and decelerating in deep space just beyond the edge of the galaxy so as to avoid contact with Ernie's descendents.
That was good because things did not go exactly as planned for Ernie. The descendents of the Humans and the Monotremes were dependent and weakened by life in the planetoid. It was necessary to resettle them on other worlds. To prevent the further recreation of the Galactic race who without guidance would surely exploit the others, thus resulting in the same problem they were working to undo, he settled them on planets in different star systems. He deprived them of the benefits of anti-gravity drive to keep them bound to their new worlds. Then he abandoned them to their fate. The original adults from the beginning of the experiment were with them. They were true believers in the experiment, which kept their descendants planet-bound for many generations, but not forever.
The net effect was that everything was the same and nothing changed, up to a point. Everything was as it had been before, up to a point. That was the point Alicia's Mother Ship reappeared in real space-time in the vicinity of the point of beginning. A million years is a big vicinity.
Betsy and Pendragon demanded release from the mission. Something unheard of (to them in any case) happened during the long voyage. The two Monotremes had fallen in love. Such a union was not physiologically impossible, just biologically unproductive. It never happened on their Home world and the thought of such a thing was considered a bizarre perversion for cultural reasons dating back to the time of first contact with Galactic culture in their time line. First contact with the supposed new time line was made several thousand years before the point of departure. The two departed in a run about for their Home World. They had Zyborgs to bash and societal conventions to break. Everyone wished them luck.
Before proceeding again into the future the consensus of the crew was to head for Virginia Nova. That would be the best place to begin looking for evidence of alien abductions from Earth. Bill Fargo ordered them to stand off from the star system for recon. The ship might belong to Alicia but he was the default combat commander. No one else wanted the responsibility. He didn't want it either, but then he was Bill Fargo. They all expected him to command. He felt that he had no choice.
They observed. Then they were hailed. Bill cursed in ways no one else could comprehend. The string of profanity seemed endless. Franny held her hands over her ears. She knew her uncle well enough to understand enough to realize that she did not want to hear it.
Twentieth Century people must have been deeply disturbed. That was her only thought. After the cursing stopped Bill ordered Franny, who was the communications officer on deck to press the button that would translate the incoming message.
"Bill Fargo, in the name of the Consortium, you are ordered to stand down and heave to for boarding."
"Who is that? How do you know who I am?" Bill responded.
"Irrelevant, heave to or be destroyed!" The computer generated voice answered.
"We're out of here!" Bill shouted as he slammed his fist on the big red emergency escape button, the one he ordered installed at the beginning of the mission. This time the emergency escape vector was to the vicinity of The Solar System., where they had just come from. Bill spoke a voice command as they reappeared in real time-space. "Maneuver to station rabbit hole."
That was the pre-arranged commend to the automated guidance system to park in a crater in an asteroid. It had to be done gently so as not to disturb its orbit, which would send other asteroids in the belt careening thus giving away their position.
"The question is, do we risk more recon to Mars and Earth?" Bill asked the others in the control room.
"Didn't you plan the escape maneuver to allow for the passage of considerable time?" Harris asked. He was the weapons officer.
"Oh yah, I almost forgot. This time dilation shit is so confusing." He checked a readout to see that they had traveled forward in time by the pre-programmed amount. The subjective passage of time had not been great because the time factor entered the equation at barely sub-light velocity after deceleration. The amount of time spent in sub-light deceleration was enough to place them a week after the event.
"If they were waiting for us we would have detected them far enough out to activate automatic escape protocols." Franny reminded him.
"True, unless they are hiding like us." Bill answered.
"They haven't attacked. Therefore they haven't spotted us. I'd guess." Harris suggested.
"That should give us time to sit tight here and think about what just happened." Bridget suggested. She was Bill's First Officer. Her past combat experience was invaluable to him, but he missed Betsy, and Frigg. Frigg would not consider coming on this one way mission. The whole idea was insane to her. She had her daughters to consider.
"What year is it on Earth?" Bill asked. They knew he was old so they were patient with him.
"Don't worry. We are here in time." Alicia answered. She observed from her alternate control panel in the back up control room. Bill insisted that they construct the alternate room before he would proceed into danger.
"Back up systems!" That was his new slogan.
"Yes." Bill seemed to snap out of his funk. "First things first. Dispatch a probe to Mars. If Loki is there fry him!"
Shortly, Franny reported on the findings of the probe. "Mars base is empty. It seems no one has been there in a million years. It's just like we left it, except dust filled."
"Great! At least something worked out for us. Here is the way I think it played out. Ernie is holed up in his planetoid with his mind reading Butt Heads, if they are still there. The Consortium are the result of something that went wrong with his plan. It is impossible to tell at this point what happened and whether they are the good guys or the bad guys, or if that message was really from them. We have not spotted any sign of the Hegemony. Do they exist? If so, why aren't they here?"
"Perhaps if we sent a graviton wave to the Monotreme Home World?" Bridget asked.
"Yes. Dispatch a transponder probe, Franny. Remember to use the pre-arranged code. If they had any success then we should get a correctly coded response."
The waiting is always one of the hardest things in combat. Bill had confidence in his crew. They had trained and cross trained until they could do it all in the dark with one hand tied behind the back. Franny indicated a response, rousing Bill from his contemplation.
"Incoming message. It is coded correctly. It claims to be from Betsy herself." Franny said.
"Put it up on the big screen." Fargo ordered.
"Bill Fargo, you old carrion eater. Ha! Now I'm older then you, by a millennium at least."
"Betsy, I can hardly believe my eyes. Are you the one who ratted me out to the Consortium at Virginia Nova?" Bill asked and waited for the translation and verification.
"Oh, that. You know bureaucrats, idiots in all ages. That goes in double digits for wayward time travelers bent on changing history. You know the drill, the old Non-Interference Doctrine double talk. It doesn't matter that they are the very product of your interference!"
"Yes, it really is you. Well, I only have one concern. They do understand that I'm still Human don't they? Will they try to interfere with me interfering in my own Home World's History? Isn't that what indigenous species do? Interfere in their own history I mean? What the frack, Betsy? What can I expect from those bozos?"
"Only the Bill Fargo would ask such a question. It really is you. I wish I knew the answer. I got my old job back as Agent of the Consortium for Monotreme Affairs, after I convinced them that I had never quit. Ratting you out, as you so quaintly put it, was part of the price I paid for the privilege. I am transmitting the appropriate protest to any interference in Earth affairs as we speak, in triplicate. The Consortium Agent you once knew as Mac will get a copy. He is the reason I got my job back. I knew too much about him, which convinced him of my crazy story. I suggest you hold tight until he shows up. I have transmitted to him and him alone the location of the Mars base. Leave a probe there and you will know when he shows."
"We are not waiting forever. You know I have a schedule to keep. Roger wilco, over and out."
"Back at you Buck Rogers"
"The transmission is over." Franny reported.
"I'll be damned. She remembered Buck Rogers. I don't give a shit if this is really the same reality. It's good enough for me." Everyone knew not to answer Bill's rhetorical statements when he was in commander mode.
Bridget piloted the shuttle class flying saucer. Alicia and Bill waited for her to verify the subject's identity.
"It's her." She said from the command console.
The her in question was a young alternate version of Alicia. The only thing that had changed on Earth in this case was the identity of the occupants of the UFO's many people believed to be extra-terrestrials studying Earth. They had discussed the question, what, exactly were they rescuing her from, given that there were no evil aliens about? They both knew the answer. Nothing had changed for Earth in the early Twenty-First Century. The economy was still in a state of total world wide collapse. War was imminent. Plagues were rampant. There was not time to find out who was causing the plagues or even to discover if they were in fact man made, biological warfare.
The occupants of the flying saucer knew that the chances were high that the young woman would succumb if left to her own devices.
Alicia and Bill decided to forgo the traditional shinny protective suit. They did not expect anyone to fire lasers at them. Just in case, though, they each wore bullet proof vests and bullet resistant clothing. Needless to say the young woman was doubly shocked, first at the sudden appearance of the flying saucer, then she recognized one of the beings who walked down the ramp.
Alicia could only smile helplessly at her younger self, so Bill, remembering that Alicia had spoken English from the beginning, broke the ice.
"Alicia, we are here to help you. Would you please come with us?" Bill asked.
It was so long since the older Alicia had last spoken Icelandic she had no idea what to say to her younger self. The young version of Bill was easier to talk into the flying saucer.
"Holy bat shit, you look just like me. What in hell is going on here?" He asked. He asked the same question several times. Bill was beginning to irritate Bill.
"You're in a flying saucer with your doppelganger and three hot babes, two of which are identical twins. Try to act like you have some sense." Bill suggested.
The younger Alicia fainted on her bunk. Neither Bill had ever seen that happen before.
"Dude, she's out." The younger Bill said.
"Would you please shut up." The older Bill answered and then said to Alicia. "Alicia, would you please take care of Alicia."
Tears of joy were streaming down the older Alicia's face as she went to assist her younger self.
"If you don't mind, where are you taking us?" The younger Bill asked.
"To that mythical love starved alien race dying to reproduce with Earth men." The older Bill answered sarcastically, then changed his mind. "Please be patient. We will explain everything later."
"I'll be damned. You really are me. That's just the kind of thin I would say." The younger Bill sat on his bunk, dumbfounded for once. He could not take his eyes off the two Alicias.
Bill took a seat next to Bridget at the control panel.
"I understand why you two had to do it." Was all she said.
"We couldn't just leave them to die." Bill explained.
"You know there is more to it then that." Bridget answered.
"Please, dear, not now, I think my head is going to explode." Bill didn't say much after that for a while. Meeting a young version of one's self can have that effect on people.
The Mother Ship was again safe in the cavern on Mars. The one they had only just excavated yesterday, or a million years ago, depending on ones perspective. Bridget put the twins to bed. Things would be crowded until they finished building their old home again, but she was satisfied that everything had turned out for the best. The twins really missed their Ernie, but they both insisted that he still visited them in their dreams. Until dreamtime came to them again she would do her best to help them cope with his absence. She just finished telling them a story. Their eyelids became heavy as if by some involuntary reflex.
"And they all lived happily ever after."
She closed the door to their room and went to her husband. "Well, dear, how are things going?"
Bill answered. "You mean besides the usual doppelganger maladjustment problems? The two newbies are getting along just great. Misery loves company. Harris was a little miffed at first because younger me kept making google eyes at his wife, but luckily, the young Alicia caught on to that quick enough and found a way to get his attention."
"What do you intend to do about it?" Bridget asked.
"About what?" Bill was confused.
"About Earth, silly, what did you think I was talking about? I know you. According to everything you and Alicia, and Harris, and the rest of you Earthers have said the people of Earth are in a very bad way. I know you just cannot sit back and leave well enough alone. You have to interfere. It is your way." Bridget answered.
"Earthers, that's a good one. Did you get that from Franny?" Bill asked.
"No, you silly." Bridget answered.
"Interfere, yes we did interfere didn't we. I've had my fill of interfering for now. I think it's time to just live for a while."
"Oh, I forgot to mention." Bridget said. "Your daughter was asking about you again. She seems to have developed a sudden interest in your mental condition."
"My daughter?" Bill asked. Again he had missed something important.
"Yes, your daughter, Ingridi." Bridget answered. "She has developed this inexplicable interest in your well being."
That revelation caused Bill pause. "I didn't know."
"Yes." Bridget continued. "Who would have suspected that she could actually care about another person's well being?"
"Does she know?" Bill asked.
"Know what?" Bridget enjoyed toying with her husband on occasion.
"That I'm her father." Bill answered.
"Of course she does. It's common knowledge."
Bill recovered quickly.
"There is something I forgot to mention. It's Betsy. She found her alternate Betsy. She says they get along, which seemed to surprise her. The kicker, I think you'll love this, or hate it. I'm not sure which. I guess it depends on how ironic you are feeling. She found alternate Frigg."
"I did not realize Frigg was that old." Bridget answered.
"Yes." Bill continued. "She was never kidnapped from her Home World in this version of reality. She totally rejected the notion of leaving with Betsy."
"What did she expect?" Bridget answered with a question and then a statement. "You better not be thinking about interfering in that case."
"What? Me interfere in Frigg's life? No way no how. I want to keep breathing for a long time. I'm not going anywhere near those creatures." Bill answered.