Follow the adventures of Captain Erica Reordan and the crew of the Temporal Cruiser CSS H. G. Wells, TCH-1.
Stories of the Confederated Star Systems
SF short stories
SF short stories
The old shaman sat on the bluff, the hot breeze toying with his long grey hair as he looked up at the sky. His eyes never wavered from the North Star, that fixed point around which all of the other stars rotated, as he sought guidance from the spirits.
Suddenly a new star flared to life, only to disappear in the next instant. He closed his eyes and lowered his head. He had been searching for a sign from the spirits, but was this the sign that he was seeking? The people needed a new home, but was this the place?
Sighing, he wished silently that, just once before he died, the spirits would make their will clear.
* * *
The Confederated Star System Temporal Cruiser CSS H.G. Wells, TCH-1, flared into being, her drives shutting down in response to a malfunction. Her velocity was sufficient to send her speeding out into the dark reaches of the universe, but that was not to be her fate. Earth, a past Earth that had still not even dreamed of her existence, was waiting to receive her. The Wells coasted into an elliptical orbit around old Earth, her automatic systems compensating for the error in the arrival window.
Captain Erica Reordan moaned softly as she began to regain consciousness. The first thing she saw when she opened her eyes was the shapely backside of her executive officer, Commander Kellin Frazier. She was confused for a moment. Why is Kell's butt in my face? Even more important, what was she doing lying on the floor of the control room? Resisting the urge to ask stupid questions, she rolled over and propped herself up on one elbow.
The Wells' control room was a disaster area. Bodies lay thrown about in various states of disarray. Everyone seemed to be alive, but no one was where they were supposed to be. Kellin drew a deep breath and rolled over suddenly, his legs knocking her elbow out from under her, causing her to fall across his knees.
"Oof! Watch it, Kell. Move slowly for a few minutes."
"Captain? What happened, Ma'am?" Kellin sat up, looking down into her eyes for a moment before looking around. "Rough trip."
"Mr. Frazier, you have an absolutely astounding talent for understatement." Captain Reordan struggled to a sitting position, then hauled herself up into her chair. Thumbing her microphone to life, she punched up the shipwide announcing system.
"Attention all hands! Attention all hands! Damage control parties begin assessing the ship's condition. Chief Engineer, establish propulsion capabilities and the status of the temporal drive." Closing the circuit, she paused to rub her forehead, her fingers coming away with a smear of blood.
Commander Frazier handed her a wet gauze, and she unthinkingly slapped it to her forehead. "HAAH! Damn, what was that!" she snarled as she threw the gauze on the floor.
"Alcohol," Commander Frazier replied levelly before sitting heavily into his own chair and accessing his computer. "Nav says that we have reached old Earth, but the temporal circuits are down. I have no idea when we are."
The rest of the control room staff was beginning to function again, retaking their stations amid soft curses and groans. Captain Reordan shook her head and ordered, "Sensors, I want an evaluation of that planet. Verify that it is Earth, then see if you can establish the era. Use atmospheric sampling and mapping."
"Aye, Ma'am," the tech answered softly, not looking up from his panel. "Preliminary readings are pre-industrial. Very low levels of hydrocarbons. Limited sulfur dioxide, apparently from natural sources. Mapping shows a few large European cities, none in North, Central, or South America, with the exception of some population centers on the Yucatan Peninsula and in the high Andes Mountains. Waiting for our orbit to bring Asia into range."
"Pre-Columbian, or earlier." The captain sighed. A crackle of static drew her attention to the intercom. "Report."
"Control, Engineering. We have normal space drive only. Hyperspace and Temporal drives are off line. Temporal drive is completely dead." The engineer, Lieutenant Commander Williamson, paused for a moment. "We have indications that we took a micrometeoroid strike at the instant of our transit. We could be anywhen."
Captain Reordan caught her lower lip in her teeth for a moment, then nodded. "Very well. Continue with repairs. Control out." Turning her chair to face her command crew, she sighed. "You heard him. Until Mister Williamson establishes the true extent of the damage, we continue with the mission. There is a whole planet to survey for the historians. Until proven otherwise, we will assume that Mister Williamson and his people will be able to make repairs and return us home."
The crew gave her a few dubious looks, then began the survey. They had arrived north of the solar ecliptic so as to avoid as much of the Solar System's debris as possible. The ship's automatic systems had placed them in a high orbit around Earth to avoid any possibility of detection, but that was far too remote for her to consider. "Helm, move us into a polar orbit. Low and fast. I want a ball of twine survey of this time period."
The crew turned toward their primary tasks and began the survey, using instruments that varied from optical telescopes and cameras to x-ray spectrometers and gas chromatographs. Maps of a primitive planet began to form, showing a shockingly low level of development. There was some good news. The pyramids stood, and Rome seemed to have come and gone. China was flourishing, and Europe seemed to be clawing its way toward civilization.
Forty-eight hours elapsed before Lieutenant Commander Williamson surfaced again. "Captain, we have to land. I have made every repair that can be made in space, but there are some things that absolutely must be done on the ground, with all ship systems de-energized." He sighed and offered her a lopsided grin. "Sorry."
"Very well. What kind of ground conditions do you want?" Captain Reordan asked, straightening her back and looking him in the eye.
"Flat and dry, Ma'am. With a minimum of snakes."
The captain eyed her engineer slyly, then nodded. "All right, Jarred, I'll try." Turning back to the control room, she raised her voice. "Mapping, I want a deserted piece of real estate, flat and dry." Turning back to the engineer, she tilted her head. "I don't suppose that you want the Sahara Desert?" At his negative response, she grinned. "Pick somewhere in southwest North America. If I remember my history, there shouldn't be many people there to avoid."
A suitable site was soon chosen, and preparations for a landing on an unprepared surface were instituted. Captain Reordan called an officer's meeting to announce her decisions concerning the landing. "I want as many of our people as possible in the landing craft and shuttles. Minimum crew for re-entry. If the Wells breaks up, I want to lose as few lives as possible."
Turning to her XO, she nodded once sharply. "Commander Frazier, you will be in charge of the small craft. Follow us at a safe distance. If we break up...use your own judgment as to where you land. Find someplace isolated and friendly, maybe in Polynesia. Above all else, ensure that none of the ships can ever be found." She paused again and looked each officer in the eye. "Gentlemen, good luck to us all. Dismissed."
The meeting broke up with the seven officers heading for the ships they would be commanding to the surface. Captain Reordan took her seat, strapping herself in for what she expected to be a rough descent. "Begin deployment," she said softly, but her voice echoed through the Wells and her offspring. A slight jar and rumble announced each departing ship. When Shuttle Six left the ship a familiar voice said, "COB to Control. Don't scratch her, Captain. I have a date when we get home." Finally, when the seventh shuttle had separated, Erica took a deep breath and ordered "Begin descent."
The Wells fired her main thrusters to slow her orbit, her helmsmen using years of experience to guide the damaged ship into the gentlest reentry they could manage. Still, the Wells bucked and roared, her heat shields blazing brightly as the friction of the atmosphere slowed her on her way down. Finally, the air around the ship began to clear and the captain dared to breathe again. "Status?" she asked, knowing her people would tell her what she needed to know.
The senior helmsman wiped his brow and turned to grin at her. "Ma'am, we are in a normal reentry. Atmospheric drive on line, gyrostabilizers at full power. We should make landfall in two hours."
Captain Reordan returned the helmsman's grin. "Well done, gentlemen. Very well done." Thumbing her mic, she spoke to the air. "Mister Williamson, ship status."
The engineer's voice held just a touch of exultation as he answered. "The temporary repairs held, Ma'am. No further damage due to reentry."
"Well done to you and your people, Jarred. Communications, what do we hear from the rest of the ships?" she asked, her own high spirits showing as she grinned at her crew.
"We are still waiting for word from Shuttle 3, but all others report no problems."
"Very well." She paused to look around again, then opened the shipwide announcing system again, and tied in the ship-to-ship as well. "To all hands: Well done, people. We will be landing soon, and I want to remind you all that this is our planet, but not our home. We are deep in the past, and must be careful of everything that we do. All hands, prepare for landfall."
Their landing area wasn't perfect for what they wanted, but it would do. And it had the added benefit of being far out in the wilderness where no human was going to see them.
The Wells settled gently to the ground, her thrusters scorching a large circle of earth directly below the ship. The shuttles and landing craft landed in VTOL mode, each making a textbook landing in an arch off to the side of the main ship. As the ship settled, Captain Reordan again addressed her crew.
"This may be redundant, but I want to remind all of you that our presence here is an anomaly. We must avoid any interaction with this time period. Above all, we must avoid any contamination. There is not likely to be anything new here for us, but each and every one of us carries dozens of exotic bacteria and viruses that this era has never seen. Anyone who exits the ship will wear full anti-contamination suits, with helmet respirators. All ship's air will be filtered and decontaminated before being exhausted to the atmosphere. Mister Williamson, you may take your people out and begin your repairs."
"Captain," Commander Frazier's voice said from the ceiling speaker, "request permission to use the shuttles in atmospheric mode to make a low level survey of the area."
"Granted, but be careful. Keep it sub-sonic, and minimize your contrails," the captain answered, her attention on the camera view of the repair crew. They all looked rather bizarre, with the welding and cutting shield attachments on their helmets. Others were setting up a portable test station and powering up the instruments that would tell them what to fix. Nodding to herself, she stood and went to her day room.
She narrated a brief log entry, then slipped off her shoes for a quick nap. Lieutenant Commander Williamson could be counted on to wake her as soon as he was finished. The knock came far too soon.
"Captain?" a voice said from outside of the door. "Ma'am, Mister Williamson reports all repairs complete. The XO has been informed, and is on his way back."
"What about the COB?"
"Ma'am, she said something about something biting, and she'd be back soon."
The captain sighed and stood, stretching to relieve her back muscles. She muttered, "What a weird hoby," then returned to the control room. "Status?"
"All systems are operational. All hands are accounted for. Preflight checks are complete on all craft. We are ready to ascend at your command, Ma'am," the quartermaster of the watch replied as the senior watch-stander.
"Very well." The captain opened the ship-to-ship intercom. "All ships, prepare for immediate takeoff. Rendezvous in orbit for recovery, then we will see about visiting the fifteenth century."
The Wells burned her way into the sky, her small ships blazing up after her like ducklings following their mother.
* * *
The old shaman nodded in satisfaction. He had seen the lights in the sky and had returned to the bluff to seek conformation of the spirit's will. The strange things he saw on the plain heartened him, and the sight of the kachina spirits dancing around the great pillar had been the answer to his wish.
Here was where the people would settle. The place where the great kiva would be dug was marked plainly by a great circle of scorched ground. The place where the people would build their homes was also marked by the arch of smaller circles of charred earth.
The shaman offered the spirits a prayer of thanks. This was an omen that even a child could understand.
"Kachina" © 2002 Loren K. Jones
"First in Her Class" - Introduces Captain Erica Reordan and the Temporal Cruiser CSS H. G. Wells, TCH-1.
Author's note: The first four stories, like many others I've written, were written for submission to Jim Baen's Universe online magazine. I was trying for a serialized story line, but never made it. The third story, "Kachina," was actually the first one written.
Loren Jones lives near Tampa, Florida. He married Pamela A. Willis in 1983 and they have stayed together to this time, and have three adult children. A US Navy veteran, Loren served as a nuclear reactor operator on attack submarines for six years before his honorable discharge in 1986. Loren makes his living as an instrumentation and controls technician and writes because the stories won't leave him alone.
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Stories of the Confederated Star Systems Copyright © 2016. Loren K. Jones. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.
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Back to Twilight Times Books main page
A special note to TTB readers. All contents of this web site are copyright by the writers, artists or web site designer. If you discover any artwork or writing published here elsewhere on the internet, or in print magazines, please let us know immediately. The staff of Twilight Times Books feels very strongly about protecting the copyrighted work of our authors and artists.
Web site copyright © 1999, 2000 - 2016. Lida Quillen. All rights reserved.
Cover art © 2016 Luke Ahearn. All rights reserved.
This page last updated 04-14-16.
Twilight Times Books logo design by Joni.