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Trouble back where

Authors: Pinkskin
Categories: Alternate Universe
Show Year: Y2
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2013

Story 3 in the "Journey back where" series +
1 - Journey back where
2 - Remaining back where
3 - Trouble back where
4 - A twist in time
Present day; archaeologist John Spears took a slug of bourbon, and settled down to read the words Maya Verdeschi wrote well over six hundred years ago…..
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Bearsden, Glasgow, Scotland, Boxing Day 2012

John Spears sat back on their smart leather sofa, and sipped from a glass of bourbon. His wife Sophie had been asked at short notice to babysit their neighbour's three year old twins for the evening, so he had the place to himself. He thought it would be a good time to catch up on his work emails, Sophie didn't particularly approve of him working at home, particularly at Christmas, but he didn't have anything else to do, and this was his first drink as they had done the visiting family thing all day, so he thought he might as well.

He powered up his laptop, and ran the application that connected him to the University of Glasgow's internal network. He had almost sixty emails to deal with, around twenty of them from his boss Caroline Sterling, chasing him for one thing or another. He put his glass down and settled down to answer the various queries and requests, when he noticed one from Jane Spellman, with an attachment.

Jane again thanked him for allowing her to be 'his assistant' and apologised for the delay in sending the email, as she had been working away. The attachment was encrypted, and Jane had informed him that the encryption code was scribbled on the back of her business card in his wallet. He preferred not to think how it got there.

John knocked back the bourbon, and went to fetch his wallet from his jacket. On impulse he put the shot glass in the sink, and half-filled a wine glass with bourbon. He decided he would need it. Sure enough the encryption code was scribbled on the back of her card, and within a few moments a large Microsoft Word document was on the screen. He took a slug of bourbon, and settled down to read the words Maya Verdeschi wrote well over six hundred years ago.....

Chapter 1

Stirling Castle, Scotland, June 1338

Thomas Rokeby, Commander of Stirling Castle, sat on his heavily decorated chair at the head of the table in the great hall. The year before he narrowly maintained his position when the Castle was besieged by the Englishman Andrew Murray, where for the first time in Scotland the angry roar of muskets had been heard. He had lost many men, but the Castle had been held.

There had also been great loss of life from the Black Death, and his priests and advisors had been for some time been talking about rumours of the existence of a large clan of witches and wizards near the Bridge of Allen, some two miles to the north that they felt were responsible for the pestilence.

Thomas Grier, his personal spiritual adviser banged his tankard down hard on the table, ale spilling over, leaving a circular stain that joined the hundreds that covered the roughhewn wood, and announced "We must take prisoners and determine who they are, and if they are indeed witches and wizards, then we must seal their fate as the law decrees". The room was filled with the noise of tankards banging on wood, as the various noblemen and advisers around the table were caught up in the moment.

The noise ceased abruptly with the loud scraping of Thomas Rokeby's chair on the flagstones, as the man stood upright suddenly. "Very well, we will raise a small force of our best men, and bring back a couple of prisoners, and put them to trial. If they are guilty they will burn, and we will round up their ken, and they will be shown no mercy"

Shouting and banging of tankards carried on for several minutes, as the smouldering bloodlust took hold.

Chapter 2

Alpha Village, Scotland, June 1338

Heather McCoy had been married to Dave Reilly for just six weeks and the couple were seen as one of the village's great success stories. Heather was now effectively a district nurse, under the guidance of the medical staff, and her natural ability as a carer had won her the respect of the whole village, and she felt she finally belonged. It was a wonderful sunny June afternoon, and she and Maya were collecting herbs and minerals for the manufacture of various medications, that it was decided were too ephemeral to possibly affect the timeline, when Heather thought she saw something glinting briefly in the sunshine. She barely had time to shout a warning when four men in armour appeared from beneath a covered hideaway.

The men took no chances, with a mortal fear of witchcraft gave them an almost superhuman strength both women were rendered unconscious with deft blows to the back of the head within what appeared to be a split second with large wooden clubs.

Heather awoke to the worst headache she had ever had, and began retching almost immediately. It was dark, the only light coming from a window high above, secured with iron bars. She recognised where she was straight away, she was in a dungeon, a stone walled prison from which few ever saw the light of day. Maya lay a few feet away, very still. Heather crawled over to her on her hands and knees, and put her fingers gently to her neck to feel for a pulse, as Helena had taught her. She had a pulse, very fast and weak, but she was alive. Heather shook her gently, but she would not wake.

She realised she was still unconscious, Helena had explained to her fairly early on though Maya was very close to human in many ways, in still more she was not. There was no way to tell if she would live or die, if it was her system coping, or a brain injury that would shortly kill her. She awkwardly put Maya in the recovery position before sleep again claimed her, and she collapsed again.

Heather awoke to the creaking of hinges on the thick wooden door as a tray of stale bread and two tankards of water were slid along the flagstone floor towards the two women. The door was slammed quickly, and a heavy iron key turned in the lock.

Heather took a long drink of the water and began to feel slightly better, though the headache was still making it difficult to think clearly. She noticed the sunrise through the bars from the window, and realised they had been out for a day and a half. She had to wake Maya, at any moment the guard could arrive to take them to a barbaric death. She splashed a little of the freezing cold water over Maya's face, and her blue eyes slowly flickered open, and she said something in a tongue that Heather didn't recognise at all. "Maya, wake up, we have been captured" she said earnestly. "H...Heather, what happened?" Maya's voice was unsteady. "We have been knocked unconscious and taken to a dungeon, no doubt to shortly be condemned to a barbaric death, as I had been before you and your Clan took me in as one of your own" Heather replied. "Dungeon?" Maya replied "a place of confinement, usually built below ground" Heather explained.

Tony Verdeschi was sick with worry, when Heather and Maya did not return a search party was organised. It wasn't long before the remains of a camouflaged hide were discovered, along with evidence of bodies being dragged away. It wasn't possible to tell if they were dead or alive.

A meeting of the council was hastily convened, the command staff joined by Dave Reilly, the evident capture of Heather and Maya making strange bedfellows of Dave and Tony, their rivalry forgotten and replaced with a kind of sick worry and anger.

"We must be calm about this" announced John Koenig "We don't want to do anything that might put Heather and Maya in further danger. We have to believe they are alive, and are planning their escape. We all know what Maya is capable of, however their assailants must have been very quick, and most likely rendered both of them unconscious before Maya had a chance to mount any kind of defence." Tony Verdeschi's voice rose "John, we can't just do nothing!"

John Koenig's reply was measured and even "I think it's likely the assailants were professionals, and that would appear to suggest the military men from the castle. It's also likely, particularly given Maya's appearance, and the times we are living in, that they will be accused of witchcraft." Dave Reilly, who was known to have visited several local alehouses in the past, and heard local banter and storytelling, spoke up when Tony's face turned ashen at the thought "The man's name is Rokeby, Thomas Rokeby, commander of the castle, and he comes with some reputation for defeating the English forces led by a man named Murray, despite the English having muskets against his archers."

Koenig was beginning to form a plan "Do we have anyone in the village with a reasonable knowledge of the history of old Scottish law and practice?" he said "That might give us an edge, but in the short term I'm afraid they are on their own."

Maya felt awful, she was having trouble concentrating, and had been sick twice. Heather watched her with great concern, she had never seen Maya ill, apart from the occasional hangover, if she were human, it looked like concussion, but Heather didn't know anything about Maya's kind at all.

Maya noticed Heather's look of concern, and tried to reassure her "I will be ok shortly" she announced. Heather proffered the other tankard of water to her, and she managed to drink a little. A few minutes later they heard the sound of heavy footsteps and the rattling of keys that grew louder until the sound of the key being turned in the lock echoed off the stone walls. Heather started shaking uncontrollably, and Maya held her hand tightly and muttered "be strong".

Three men entered the room, the gaoler, keys hanging from his right hand, wearing a scruffy leather coat that reached to his knees, and two guards in armour, swords drawn followed behind him. They were taking no chances, and fear showed in the faces of all three men, such was the power of belief that was present at this point in earth's dark history.

"Get up" said the gaoler, in a harsh guttural tone to the two women. Heather and Maya struggled to their feet. "Today you are to stand before the Inquisitor, to present yourselves, and to hear the charges against you. A trial will then be prepared, and you will be tried, if you are guilty you are to burn". Heather started crying softly, and was shaking even more.

The women were led from the dungeon to the great hall, where the Board of Inquisition had set up a long wooden table. Nicholas Eymeric, the Dominican Inquisitor summoned by Rokeby six months before from the southern lands of Europe after a curse had been placed on his household that caused his first two sons to be stillborn, sat at the centre, Rokeby to his right, and Grier to his left. Three of his noblemen sat on each side of them. A Scribe sat at a table in the corner of the room, under a Smokey torch burning from an alcove above. This was a rarity, but Rokeby was determined to show his power and devotion to the Inquisitor by recording the events as they took place.

Presently there was a rap on the huge oak door to the great hall, and the castle gaoler stepped forward, behind him two bedraggled women were pushed forward at sword point by two armoured guards. They were half pushed and half dragged until they stood in the middle of the great hall in front of Eymeric, who gestured the guards and the gaoler away with a sharp movement of his right hand. There were gasps by several of the noblemen at Maya's appearance, and several of them crossed themselves in fear. "Who are thaw that stands before this inquisition?" announced Eymeric. "I am Heather Reilly, of Alpha Village" announced Heather, shaking violently. "And I am Maya Verdeschi, also of Alpha Village" added Maya, somewhat unsteadily.

"Maya Verdeski" Eymeric mispronounced awkwardly "A strange name indeed and you are of strange appearance, what mother could allow a child to live born so disfigured?" Maya was shocked despite the nausea she was fighting back, and before she could get her thoughts together enough to reply Heather said "She comes from a faraway land beyond the sea called Jamaica, she was rescued by a clan of wandering monks, who decreed that she should live among us" remembering a conversation with her black former housemate, a Jamaican woman named Marie Scott when she had first joined the Alphans. Maya said nothing; it was obvious that Heather's thinking was a lot clearer than hers at the moment.

That seemed to satisfy Eymeric, at least for the time being, and the demeanour of the Inquisitors appeared to lighten slightly. "You are accused of witchcraft, by the evil actions of you and your clan a great pestilence has been smote down upon us, and many hundreds have died. You face trial by ordeal before the whole of our community in three days". He struck the table hard with a wooden gavel, and motioned for the gaoler and guards to take the women away.

The gaoler roughly pushed the women back into the dungeon, informing them that the Blacksmith would be called the next day, and the women were to be restrained in leg-irons before their trial. Heather explained what would happen to them, from the iron restraints to the ordeal, often by dunking in water, sometimes being branded by red hot iron. "I must sleep now" said Maya "I appear to have suffered a brain injury. It would appear there is blood loss, and pressure build-up within the brain. I am having trouble remaining conscious" Waves of fear coursed over Heather, the exotic alien woman Maya appeared to be dying, she had seen it before, a blow to the head, then the victim appears to recover to some extent, followed shortly by death. She remembered Helena explaining about bleeds and strokes happening within the brain, and the marvellous tools they had to help such victims when they were living on the moon. But such an injury was certainly a death sentence here.

Maya noticed Heathers reaction, despite the state she was in "Heather, be strong, look after me" Heather heard fear in Maya's voice for the first time "I am not human; my subconscious mind will try to use my shapeshifting ability at a molecular level to fix the damage, if it has not gone too far. Do not try to wake me, I hope to live, but if not then you have been a good friend and farewell." With that her eyes closed, and she slipped into a coma.

Heather cried pitifully for hours, until she could cry no more. Eventually she lay down and looked up through the bars at what was now the night sky. Wispy clouds sped past on a stiff breeze, occasionally giving a view of the stars against a deep black sky. She wondered which one her friend would call the sun, hundreds of years in the future. The whole idea still made her head spin.

The next day the gaoler and the two guards arrived. "She sleeps deeply", said Heather when the gaoler had no reaction after kicking Maya in the side "the blow to the head when we were taken from our clan appears to be killing her". The gaoler grunted, he had seen this many times, and produced a shiny metal amulet from his coat and held it for a few moments in front of Maya's mouth. "She lives still" he declared, noticing the metal fog slightly from her shallow breathing. Heather was marched at sword point to the blacksmiths, and Maya was dragged roughly by the two guards.

Several hours later Heather shuffled awkwardly in heavy leg irons back to the dungeon, with Maya again being dragged by the guards, this time the heavy iron restraints clattering against the flagstones. For the second time in her life Heather was in absolute despair and misery, with the prospect of a barbaric end to her life looming.

By the day of the trial Heather had eaten nothing, and hardly slept at all, and Maya remained deeply unconscious. The gaoler and two guards arrived just after sunrise, and Heather again shuffled awkwardly, the iron restraints already biting into her lower legs, drawing blood. Maya was again dragged in an undignified manner. This time they were taken outside the great gates of the castle, for some distance to the bank of the river forth, where the long wooden table had been set up, where Eymeric, Rokeby and Grier sat with the Noblemen and the scribe, exactly as they had in the great hall of the castle, only this time there was an audience, local clansmen sat with their families, children were running around, and a wild pig was being cooked over a fire-pit. This was what passed as entertainment thought Heather, her thinking enlightened by her time with the Alphans. She was shaking, her palms sweaty, and feeling sick with the thought of what was ahead.

A chair sat on the end of a long pole that could be submerged in the fast flowing water of the river. This was to be the test then, she would be half-drowned, and then declared a witch because she didn't actually die. Maya would drown of course, and presumably be exonerated of witchcraft, but be dead anyway. Maya was manhandled by the gaoler and the guards, and tied to the chair in a sitting position, her head lolling to one side.

So she was to be the first, the warm up act, Heather thought darkly. The pole was swung around, so Maya sat on the chair a foot or so above the water, and then was lowered so she was completely submerged. After what must have been a minute or more the pole was raised, and Maya appeared, coughing and spluttering, her blue eyes clear. The crowd roared "again" and looked toward Eymeric for approval. With a pause for effect, Eymeric gestured with a downward movement of his right hand for the dunking to continue. Heather made brief eye contact with Maya, who appeared to have recovered as she had hoped. This time when Maya was cast down into the water there was a ball of light just barely visible in the strong sunshine and the shadow of a sea creature could be seen under the water, streaking rapidly away, if anyone had thought to look.

This time when the chair was raised it was empty, just a pair of leg-irons tied with rope to the legs of the chair. The crowd went silent, even the children gawped incredulously at the empty chair. Eymeric started crossing himself furiously, Rokeby just sat open mouthed. Four all their talk of witchcraft of course none of them had actually seen any such thing. Heather had the presence of mind to look as stunned as every other person, which was just as well, as Eymeric had managed to pull himself together a little, and was scrutinising Heather for the slightest sign she knew anything about what had happened. Eventually he looked away; evidently satisfied that she had been as surprised as everyone else.

As the silence stretched on, it became evident to Eymeric that he had to say something soon, or his authority would be damaged. "I decree" he said "That proceedings today are at an end. The remaining prisoner is to be returned to the dungeon, whilst our learned scholars and priests consider what we have seen today" he struck the table hard with the gavel. He was rattled, a sorceress of such power, would she seek revenge on him for condemning her? He frankly didn't know what to do, for the first time in his life, and it scared him.

Maya crawled out of the river, freezing cold, around half a mile downstream, and lay breathless on the riverbank for a few moments. At least her mind was clearer now, and the river had washed the worst of the filth from the dungeon from her clothes. She had managed to transform as an act of desperation, but had not been able to hold the form for long. She had to get back to the village and let the Commander know about a possible attack, so she set off at the fastest pace she could manage.

Her weakened state caused her to have to stop and rest frequently, and it was getting dusk when she arrived at the village, where a small crowd of smiling Alphans had gathered around her, and within a few moments she was reunited with Tony and her Daughter. After a short break to get cleaned up, and have fresh clothes and something to eat, Maya was at her place at the council, where she told her story.

"We need a plan to rescue Heather" Koenig said to nobody in particular "Causing as little disturbance and change as possible." Despite the risk of changing the timeline, the whole council was in silent agreement that Heather could not be left alone to her likely gruesome end; she was one of them now. Dave Reilly had an idea, "Maya, you said the inquisitor appeared to be an outsider?" "Dave, I was not thinking very clearly at the time, but yes, the man Eymeric was clearly an outsider, he was of a darker skin tone, with black hair, he looked more like Tony" Maya replied. "Right" said Dave "We need to influence him somehow, convince him that Heather is not a witch, and we are not to be trifled with either." He turned to Helena "Do you have anything that would knock a man unconscious for say an hour or so?" Helena had an inkling where this was going, and she didn't like the idea, and Tony would like it even less "Yes, we have developed some powerful herbal anaesthetics over the past years, to enable some minor surgery to be performed" she said.

"And could this be administered to the bloodstream by - say the man 'accidently' catching himself on a thorn?" Helena considered "Yes, but it would be fairly slow acting. You would be better with a hollow dart and a blowpipe."

"And what are you going to do with him when he's unconscious?" Tony replied, with raised voice. The penny had just dropped with him too, and he didn't want to hear the rest of it. "From what I have heard, the man is from southern Europe, the Dominican order, which were later to be known as Black Friars. This is why I think my plan will work; to Rokeby and the others Eymeric is an exotic messenger from God, and they hang on his every word. His ways are strange to them, kind of how we would view an extra-terrestrial" Maya shot him a look that he missed "so if he were to suddenly turn around and say that God had sent him a message that Heather was innocent, and that our clan caused them no ill, it would be believed implicitly." Tony, red faced exclaimed loudly "Do you know what you are asking?" Koenig barked out "Tony, hear him out - and that's an order!"

Dave continued "We take out Eymeric, but in such a way that he just thinks he has fallen asleep, and then the lovely Maya delivers an Oscar winning performance in his absence, when he pardons Heather, and exonerates us into the bargain. Then he conveniently retires to his chamber, where he wakes up none the wiser."

Koenig had to admit it was a clever plan, but not without huge risk. If they were caught they would probably all burn at the stake, even little Antonia. He shivered at the thought; it was also a lot to ask of Maya, after all she had just narrowly cheated death, and was far from being back to her normal self. They also needed to have everything planned; they needed to know Eymeric's routine, where his sleeping chamber was, and a lot of other things. At the moment they didn't even know if Heather had already been sent to a barbaric death, though he did think it unlikely, probably Maya's disappearance in front of their very eyes would have rattled them, perhaps enough to delay the trial, at the very least. Maya announced she was up for it, given a day or two to rest, and the look she gave Tony said to him there would be no talking her out of it either. Three days later they had a better idea of what was going on in the castle, and had put a plan together.

Heather lay in absolute despair. Eymeric had visited the dungeon personally, over several days accompanied by a number of guards, all with weapons drawn, to question her further on Maya's disappearance, but she had pleaded ignorance, even after being slapped hard in the face a number of times. Her re-trial was scheduled for tommorow morning, so she was surprised to hear the gaoler and guards approaching in late afternoon. More interrogation, she wished it was all over with. The gaoler entered followed by the two guards, this time there seemed to be urgency about them. "You are to appear before the Inquisitor again" said the gaoler, before adding "And he wants it done quickly", clearly he was uncomfortable with the change in routine.

A few minutes later Heather was again standing in front of Eymeric, with, Rokeby, Grier and the others in the same seats at the long table. After a moment Eymeric looked at Heather and spoke; "Today I received a sign from God, there has been an injustice done, and it must be corrected, for if it were not I would burn in hell for all eternity" Rokeby and several of the noblemen crossed themselves at the thought "I have spoken with the Priests, and there was only one witch, and she has fled. Therefore I order this inquisition to find you and your clan innocent of the heinous crime of witchcraft, and for the irons that bind you to be removed immediately."

Heather was stunned at this sudden turn of events, in her experience witches were always found guilty, or died proving themselves innocent. She wondered what was behind this sudden change of attitude, or if it was a further test to prove her guilt? She briefly locked eyes with Eymeric; there was the tiniest flicker of a smile on his face, for just an instant. Heather's stomach did a somersault, it couldn't be? Could it?

Eymeric waved her away with his signature gesture with his right hand. The gaoler led her away to the blacksmiths, this time the two guards did not follow.

Half an hour later Heather left the castle, a free woman. It was beginning to get dusk as she made her way down the track, when all of a sudden there was the sound of horse's hooves behind her. Dave Reilly sat astride a beautiful white horse, and greeted her in his soft Irish drawl "Would you be wanting a lift now Heather?" He pulled her up behind him, and the three of them set off for Alpha village at a gallop.

Nicholas Eymeric awoke with a headache, and for a moment he wondered where he was. He had trouble remembering what had happened today, but he put it down to too much ale last night. Still he could not afford to be seen to falter in any way, as that would show weakness, and that would be his undoing. He decided to consult Rokeby's scribe, under the pretence of checking his accuracy, to find out what he had done today. His blood ran cold when he read the transcript of the inquisition this afternoon, he had a sign from God and he couldn't remember it. That was as bad as it could get for a man of the cloth such as himself. However if that was God's will so be it. The secret clan weren't witches and wizards after all, and that was that. He did remember the disappearance of the strange looking witch Maya though, and he would for the rest of his life. He would ensure that it was recorded; such a profound example of witchcraft should not be forgotten.

The progressive world order, Seaview, East Coast, Continent Two, year 5790

Oska peered through his large home-made telescope, as he had done nearly every evening since his retirement from the Science Ministry. He longed to make a discovery, to make a name for himself; even have something named after him.

He stared at the large star chart pinned to the wall, an expensive retirement gift from his colleagues, and repeatedly compared what he was seeing through his telescope with the chart. He was almost convinced he saw something new, a comet or an asteroid maybe, but when he double checked it was gone. Perhaps it was him; his eyesight was not what it was after all.

He heard his wife of over thirty five years shout a "five minutes left" warning to him, they had to be up early tomorrow after all, as the grandchildren were coming to stay. Teska had been a good wife, she had let him dabble with his astronomy for years, sometimes she even left him to himself for several hours, but he knew that tone of voice. It was time to pack up and go downstairs.

It was a week later, after the grandchildren had left, that he got a chance to look through his telescope again. Yes, he saw the object again; it was slightly brighter this time. He rushed to get his camera, loaded with special extra sensitive film, and attached it to the eyepiece. He focused the camera and took several long exposure shots; he would be extra nice to Teska, in the hope that she would let him visit the chemist and get the film developed.

Two days later he was staring at the glossy black and white print, and compared it with the chart. He was right, he had discovered something. His paws were shaking with excitement when he called down to Teska to join him, she rarely visited 'his' self-styled attic observatory, but when he explained he had discovered something of some importance she was all ears. The next day the two of them took the long tramcar visit to the provincial observatory in Capital City, with the prints in a fresh crisp envelope, and the star chart carefully rolled up and packed away in its cardboard tube. They waited half a day for an audience with the provincial Astronomer General, and Oska threw his head back, exposing his neck in the old-style traditional greeting. Sprak greeted him in kind, she was smartly dressed, and very business-like, she returned the greeting to Oska and Teska, and asked what business they had.

Oska unpacked the chart, and showed the prints to Sprak, who showed an immediate interest, her whiskers pointing slightly forward in curiosity. She then led the way to the big telescope, to check for herself. Oska was beside himself with anticipation, the provincial observatory had a very large telescope indeed, and perhaps Sprak would let him use it. A few minutes later he got the confirmation, he had discovered a very large asteroid, and it was coming their way.

Bearsden, Glasgow, Scotland, Boxing Day 2012

John Spears had drunk too much bourbon, yet he felt stone cold sober. He read as far as the account of Heather Reilly and Maya Verdeschi's incarceration for witchcraft at Sterling Castle, and Maya's subsequent escape with incredulity, the first thing that came to mind was that the story had been embellished over the centuries, but just as quickly he dismissed it. The document had been original, and it had been carbon dated. It was the references that Maya made to being able to change form he was having trouble with, she described turning herself into a sea creature as an act of desperation to avoid drowning the way a normal person would describe a trip to the supermarket. He decided he would give his friend from university Ian Stott a ring, and call in a favour. Ian worked at the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh, and was part of the team that conserved ancient documents. He would see if the writings of the scribe described by Maya had survived.

He emailed Ian from his works email account, to make it seem like a legitimate request, and asked if the museum held any of the writings of the infamous Thomas Rokeby's scribe, then shut down the laptop. His noticed his hands were shaking.

Just over two weeks later he received a reply, stating that there were several such documents, and they had been transcribed into modern English as part of a local authority project over thirty years ago. Unfortunately plans to produce electronic copies had been shelved due to lack of funding, but Ian promised to have a look through the material, but he needed to know what John was looking for.

John replied, thanked Ian for his time and effort, and asked if there was anything about a witch vanishing during her trial, whilst being subject to ordeal by water. About a week later he had a reply; Ian had found one such report, finding it unusual to say the least. He had taken the liberty of conferring online, and with several of his colleagues, and there had been no such account ever, until now. He had scanned the relevant text, and attached it to the email.

"One accused witch named Maya, of strange ungodly appearance was bound hand and foot and in leg irons to the chair, her head hanging as if her wits had left her, and was submerged beneath the river. After good time she was lifted out, and she had awoken. Inquisitor Eymeric bade she be submerged again and when the water again claimed her odd light seemed to shine for a moment, and when again lifted she was gone but leg irons and rope remained. There was great shock and fear among Clansmen and Noblemen, and Inquisitor Eymeric declared the trial be postponed this day"

John was astounded, it was true then, no wonder the locals at the time were scared; he was fairly freaked out by the whole thing himself, clearly the meddling these people had done in the past had changed the timeline quite profoundly. He wondered if there would be consequences...

Chapter 3

The progressive world order, Starfire space centre, Continent Two, year 5791

Tarheel felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation as she shared the traditional pre-launch meal of land prawns and sour beans. Few people had made it to space, it was only ten years ago that the first of her kind had orbited the planet in a tiny cramped capsule, and survived to tell the tale. In less than two hours she and her co-pilot Seema would be sitting in the most advanced space vehicle ever built, to take part in the most exciting and momentous mission in the world, on par with the discovery of fire, or the invention of the wheel. She burned with inner pride.

The mission and the spacecraft had been conceived and built at a breakneck pace, thousands of people working together towards a common goal, the entire progressive world watching through constant televised coverage. Six months ago the asteroid had been discovered, by an amateur astronomer, as such things often were, but this was different. The large dishes of the progressive world listening sites, and the most powerful telescopes were watching asteroid Oska almost from the beginning, because it was different; it was transmitting something from a structure on the surface.

This had shaken the world to its core, and was the beginning of the end for the world religion. The signal had been analysed, and it was found to be a message of some kind, very complex in nature. Oska was on course to impact the sun in fiery oblivion, however it would pass close enough by the world to permit a visit, but it would push the people's new fledgling space technology to the absolute limit.

Tarheel and Seema finished up, and went to the staging area to suit up. Officials in brightly coloured jumpsuits formed a throng around them, and TV crew were in their face constantly. After just over an hour they emerged, carrying portable air conditioning units that circulated water through tubes around the inside of their space suits to keep them cool, the space centre's logo of the world held in the palm of an open paw emblazoned on everything. They walked slowly to bus that would take them to the four hundred foot high launch vehicle, filled with millions of tonnes of liquid hydrogen and oxygen. Tarheel tried not to think about what would happen if something went wrong, and waved to the cameras as she boarded the bus.

Forty minutes later they were strapped into their seats in the command module, and the countdown started. Tarheel struggled to keep her composure as the main engine ignited, and everything started shaking, and the rocket started to rise, slowly at first, but gaining speed rapidly, until gravitational forces began to push her had back into her seat, her tail, bound tightly to her back beneath the suit causing her to cry in pain from the compression.

After precisely fourteen minutes the force stopped, and the huge launch stage was jettisoned, to fall back into the great ocean to await recovery. Tarheel was suddenly weightless, the most unusual thing she had ever experienced. They had tried to prepare them for it of course, in large aircraft that dived from a high altitude, but it wasn't the same. She pushed such thoughts to one side, there was work to do, the ship had to be positioned for the engine burn that would break them from orbit, and send them toward Oska.

Two days later the surface of Oska filled the viewing ports; but there had been a surprise, apart from the structure on the surface, the opposing side appeared to have suffered a tremendous explosion, and still emitted intense radiation. Mission Control had surmised there had been a nuclear disaster of some kind, and were hopeful that the structure could be explored, and may provide answers. There was intense activity as Tarheel and Seema transferred themselves to the landing module, and began preparing it for undocking and descent to the surface.

The whole world watched the descent, Tarheel at the controls, and Seema barking out figures from various instruments, mainly for the benefit of the viewer's back home. As they came closer to the surface, the structure came into view; it was huge, with what were recognisably landing pads, and vast accommodation and research blocks. Lights shone in some of the windows, the power was still working, in some places anyway. As per the mission brief they were to attempt to land on one of the landing pads, and enter the structure. Tarheel was bathed in sweat, despite the suits environmental system, as the fuel level began to reach dangerously low levels; there had been a miscalculation, and she needed to burn far more fuel than they had planned for the landing. They were down to the last few seconds' fuel remaining when a fine dust sprayed up, and they set down on landing pad three.

Within an hour they had set foot on the hard metal surface of the landing pad, video cameras on their helmets sending pictures back to spellbound audiences back home. Experts had surmised there would be airlocks, to allow the inhabitants of the structure to work on the outside from time to time. Tarheel was the first to spot one, though the alien script and markings on the adjacent control panel were baffling. Mission Control was at a loss, so Tarheel went with a hunch and jabbed a large green button with her clumsy suited paw. A red light glowed balefully, and the door slid open.

Tarheel and Seema stepped in, and the door slid closed behind them. There was a hissing of air as the airlock was repressurised, a green light showed on an opposing control panel, and the inner door slid open. The suited figures stared agog at their surroundings, they were on an open lift platform, and beneath them were a number of what were obviously spacecraft of advanced and unfamiliar design, arranged neatly in a huge hanger. Seema checked the atmosphere, and although pressurised to around eighty per cent of what they would consider normal, it was not breathable, as carbon dioxide levels were far too high to sustain life.

After a few seconds the lift platform began to descend automatically, and moments later the signal quality routed via the orbiting command module began to deteriorate. Back home over two billion people watched the video feed gradually fade into electronic snow and static. Alarmed, Tarheel tried to contact Mission Control, but the radio link stuttered then faded into quiet noise. They were on their own. She checked her chronometer; they had six hours of air, make that five, with an hour reserve to get back to the landing module.

An hour later they had explored several of the alien spacecraft. All had doors open, and the same parts appeared to have been stripped from them in a hurry. In a flash of insight Tarheel wondered if it was a desperate attempt to use parts from the life support from the ships to buy time before the air went bad. Two hours later they had discovered a transport system, with a stylised map of the installation that reminded Tarheel of the underground railway in Pragat back home. They found only death wherever they went, decomposed bodies had rotted back to reveal dried skin wrapped around skeletal remains. She was glad they could not breathe the air, the smell of death would have been overpowering.

The map did show where the command station was located, and they entered Command Centre. A huge television screen was still operating, and showed a view of their landing module, overlaid with baffling alien script, generated by a computer the power of which Tarheel could only guess at.

One of the dead aliens stood out from the others, wearing the same uniform, but with a black left sleeve, the only such they had seen so far, and even in death he seemed to have an air of authority. Tarheel assumed he must be their leader, in his last oxygen starved moments of life he had tried to write something on a piece of paper, but the alien characters he had written had descended into random scribble. A blonde haired female alien lay curled up a few feet away, empty eye sockets watching him.

Tarheel and Seema quickly searched the command area, and found a number of thin silver disks, that they assumed were data records of some kind, and placed them in a samples bag. The two of them then split up to explore as much as possible of the installation in the time remaining. It transpired that many doors were locked, but Seema found a wondrous computer room, and took many more disks, and examples of intricate electronics. Tarheel stumbled upon what appeared to be a large recreation area, filled with more dead aliens, when her eye was caught by one dressed very differently, in a long eye catching dress, with long red hair, locked forever in an embrace with a black haired male. A bluish iridescent artefact vaguely resembling an insect hung at her neck. Glancing behind her to make sure she was alone Tarheel detached the artefact, and stowed it quickly in her personal items pouch.

They had only explored about a third of the installation when Tarheel's chronometer chimed; they had only one hour of air remaining, she used her suit radio to contact Seema, and the two of them met up and started the journey back to the landing module. When they ascended the lift in the spacecraft hanger back to the surface there was a spontaneous cheer from mission control as contact was resumed.

The ascent engine of the landing module worked faultlessly, leaving behind the landing gear section, in an eerily similar manner to the first manned spacecraft that visited the barren moon, and it would most certainly be the last.


The progressive world order, Starship Searcher planetary orbit year 5841

Tarheel was an old woman now, but still in the eye of the people, and still a legendary hero. She had been invited to be on board for the first interstellar mission, to their nearest neighbour, a star some four light years distant. The stardrive had made such a trip possible, and in a mere seven days. Such a mission using the technology Tarheel had at her disposal during her infamous visit to the asteroid Oska would have taken millennia. They owed all this to the data disks and electronics Tarheel and her companion had recovered from the alien base, and when added to their science the leap forward was phenomenal. There had been other data too; personnel records and mission logs, and Tarheel's people came to know the Alphans as they were called, DNA samples taken from several of them showed another curious fact, it would seem they had evolved from primates, rather than felines, something that stirred great debate, as only felines on Tarheel's world had opposable thumbs, and were tool users in ancient times.

During the formal meal the evening before the mission Tarheel had been introduced to the ship's crew, and had been struck by the appearance of the Science Officer, a purple eyed fair skinned woman that she thought was barely old enough to have left education, let alone take up such a post. She would pay the woman a private visit later; there was one more loose end, one thing that she should not have done in the past, that had haunted her ever since. If she was amenable she would make the presentation before the command staff before they left. She knew she might be in trouble for it, but she thought her reputation could stand it, and if not she didn't really care, she was old anyway.

The mission was due to begin officially the next morning, and Tarheel had spoken to the Captain (yes he was a male - equality rights was something else that had started as an indirect result of the influence of the Alphans) and mentioned the little presentation she intended to give. The Captain had agreed of course, nobody had disagreed with Tarheel for as long as she could remember.

Tarheel stood on the command deck and addressed the senior crew. "I have a small presentation to make to Pak, the science officer" she said, choosing her words carefully "You all know everything we have on the Alphans, and one Alphan in particular stood out to me because of the unusual clothing she was wearing. She had a strange amulet attached to her dress at the neck. I removed it, and hid it in my personal items allowance as a souvenir. I did not know it at the time, but it would appear that this belonged to the Alphans Science officer, an alien among the human aliens, Science Officer Maya. I think it is fitting for you to have it, Science Officer Pak". She withdrew an object from a drawstring bag, and hung it around Pak's neck. Pak accepted the offering gracefully, and not really knowing what to do the Captain started clapping. Everyone else on the command deck clapped too.

What nobody ever discovered however was that the message that was continuously being transmitted from the Alphan base was intended to be received by their home world, far in the future from a relativistic point of view, so they could be transported to their homeworld in the ancient past, by recreating a failed experiment, to live out their lives, and escape their predicament. What they couldn't have known, unfortunately, that came to Commander Koenig in a lucid moment at the very end of his life, was they had done that already, and corrupted the timeline, sealing their fate. He did not live quite long enough to write down the answer.

This is story 3 in the "Journey back where" series. Previous story - Next story
Copyright (c) 2013. Reprinted with permission.
Space:1999 is (c) 1976 by Carlton International Media.
All stories are the property of their respective authors.

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