Time in a Bottle
Three hundred years from now
Three hours ago
“C’mon, Lovelace,” Wolf shouted over the gunfire, “You’re cornered, make this easy.”
A hail of glowing projectiles struck Wolf in the chest and knocked him backwards.
“Shit.” He got back to his feet and pulled two laser pistols, returning fire. “Bringing you in alive was just a suggestion.”
Luna was crouched behind a counter in the middle of the bank lobby holding her helmet in her hands. “Holly, how are coming along with getting my suit back online?”
“I’m working on it!” Holly’s voice buzzed out from Luna’s mask, then out of the bank’s intercom system, then blared through Wolf’s helmet.
Wolf yelped and slapped the side of his helmet.
“Sorry,” Holly said. “Whatever Lovelace infected the systems with is adaptive and recursive. Everytime I corner it, Es stellt sich in zwei. And now it’s in the sistema di comunicazione. I’ve disconnected the security bots from the mainframe. They’re defaulting to local initiative routines.”
A stream of security robots filed past Wolf and Luna and converged on a tall woman with long black hair that obscured her face and dressed in a purple, quasi-Victorian style space suit. She lifted her dark glasses and her eyes strobed with a piercing white light. The robots turned on Wolf and Luna and began firing. She slipped through the door to the vaults.
“She’s headed for the vaults,” said Luna.
“Looking at the vault schematics,” Holly’s voice was thin and phasing over the speakers, “There’s nothing on the inside with which to interface with the locking system.”
“Got it.” Luna ran in a crouch toward the vaults as Wolf engaged the security bots.
Lovelace was flashing her eyes at the lock interface of vault seven. The door made a reverberating thunk, then hissed open. Lovelace entered. As she scanned the rows of numbered lock boxes, she heard the door hiss and thunk again.
“There’s no lock on the inside.” Luna’s voice was muffled through the thick slab.
Luna could hear Lovelace’s faint stream of expletives coming from the other side. She found the effect comical and smiled.
“Holly, could you let Director Raphael know we have Lovelace in custody?”
“Zettai ni. Still working on the comms.”
Wolf slipped some coins into a vending machine. The machine buzzed and flashed.
“Did she whammy the vending machine?” Wolf asked. “What purpose could that serve?”
He yanked open the machine and gathered an armful of small cans.
“You guys, listen.” Holly’s voice gave way to Raphael’s, “Draconians have gone rogue...snap...assault on Earth....crackle...under Admiral Vijeda...pop,” the transmission devolved into static.
Wolf and Luna looked at each other. “Yalda.”
“We have to go,” Wolf said, dropping the cans.
“What about her?” Luna motioned toward the vaults.
“What about her?”
“Wolf, she’ll suffocate in there.”
“Having a hard time with the mercy angle here, Lu. What’s happening right now is on me. Because I didn’t put Yalda down when I had the chance.”
“Because I asked you not to.”
“I didn’t have to listen.”
“The option wouldn’t have even occurred to you if I didn’t suggest it. It’s not on you, it’s on us and I’m still willing to do it again.”
“Fuck,” Wolf sighed.
The door to Lovelace’s erstwhile crypt thunked and hissed. Wolf was framed in the entrance.
“Your lucky day, Lovelace,” Wolf said. “My wife has a conscience. Don’t try any shit. Be grateful we’re not just going to let you suffocate. Which I would have. Nothing personal. In fact, completely impersonal as your well being would not have even occurred to me.”
Lovelace lifted her glasses and flashed her eyes.
“My daughter has your shit figured out. Don’t start with that, just run along. Alive. Celebrate the rest of your life.”
Lovelace skulked away, then turned back. “You know, you’re kind of a dick.”
“And you’re still alive. Is ‘thanks’ that difficult?”
“Blow me,” Lovelace said, walking away and flipping the bird over her shoulder.
“You’re just mad we beat you.”
“Took three of you.” As Lovelace walked past Luna she said, “Thank you. Your husband’s an asshole.”
Three hundred years from now
Three hours later
“The first and third fleets are crippled,” Ray said to Wolf. “The second and fifth are holding but not by much. The fourth through seventh are hours away at full speed and the rest are days away. If you have any crazy shit you’re thinking of doing, Jones, any time would be fine.”
“The only crazy shit I have is planned for the main event,” Wolf replied.
“What’s the main event?”
“We think Yalda is going to attempt time travel.”
“How certain are you?”
“Very. Holly put the pieces together. It sounds solid to me.”
“How did Yaldabaoth figure out time travel?”
“By threatening and murdering the people who could figure it out.”
“Where’s he plan on going?”
“His plan is to awaken sleeper cells on the key planets of the GA, but he needs Earth to do it. He was never able to get a grip on Earth so we figure it’s sometime when he can get a foothold on Earth. Armed with foreknowledge he might be able to alter the outcome of a key event in his favor.”
“Any ideas as to when that is?”
“We have candidates, but it’s a crap shoot. That crazy idea you asked for? We follow him.”
“Follow him in time? That could be catastrophic. Do you know the damage you could cause?”
“He’s already going to be doing the damage. We can at least try to mitigate it, or not let it happen at all.”
“Time travel. This really freaks me out. And I fought an elder god once.”
“It’s a real mind fuck, Ray.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“We have to. It’s on us.” Wolf pulled a pained smile across his face, and asked “Luna, your position?”
“The thirty seventh lancers were routed,” Luna said over the comms, “I’m attaching to the fourt...no. They just got routed too.”
“Swing by and pick me up,” Wolf said to Luna. He looked at Ray. “Call off the fleets. Call a retreat.”
“What?” Ray said, aghast.
“This is only going to go one way. Yalda goes backward in time. And the entirety of the Draconian forces will break even the combined fleets of the GA. No sense in completely crippling yourself.”
“The Draconians sure were great to have around when they were pretending to be our allies.”
Ray called for the retreat. As the area cleared the Draconian ships formed a floating wagon train in high orbit over Earth, all facing a central point. Crimson beams emitted from cannons mounted on the front of the ships. The beams met at the center and began to glow. An orb formed and grew, turning a deep violet. One by one the Draconian vessels disappeared into the sphere. Vijeda’s flagship was the last to enter. The Starcrossed raced to catch up.
“Joneses!” Yalda cheered over their comms.
“We’re following you,” Luna replied.
“I knew you’d see the light.”
The Starcross shook.
“We’re following you. You don’t need the tractor beam,” Wolf said.
“Just in case you have a change of heart.”
“Holly,” Luna leaned over her seat, “Buckle up. Aren’t you glad you came?”
“I wouldn't miss time travel, are you kidding? And what if you couldn’t get back? I might never see you again. Or you could erase my existence. Or you could erase your own existence. Oh, god. Is this a good idea? Are we going to not exist? How are you so calm?”
“Holly,” Luna said, “Dad and I don’t think about those things while we’re doing them.”
“We wait until we’re wasted,” Wolf added.
The Starcrossed entered the vortex tucked under the belly of Vijeda’s ship, but as the ships were pulled in, it began to drag along like a streamer. When Vijeda’s left the vortex, it broke the influence of the tractor beam, sending The Starcrossed tumbling. Several regiments of Draconian warships broke off to follow. The Starcrossed tumbled out of the wormhole and rammed into the atmosphere of Earth and skipped along. Wolf and Luna struggled against the violent shaking to try to right the vessel, but it tore against the atmosphere as a bright, tumbling stone. Skidding into vast tracts of pine trees and dirt or gravel paths, its nose augered into the earth, snapped trees, and came to an abrupt halt.
Wolf awoke to the sight of a celotex drop ceiling and a pair of fluorescent lights. He was lying on a cot in a cramped room. Despite the lack of room, there was dartboard mounted to the fake wood paneling. Next to that a girls and cars calendar. From 1958. There was a hub cap propped in one corner. The right side of his cot butted against a bulwark of cardboard boxes full of automobile magazines. To his left was Luna, in a cramped cot of her own. She was covered in bloody bandages. Wolf frowned and examined himself, finding he was also covered in sloppy, red stained bandages. He pulled them off, revealing unbroken skin. He tried to stand, but his leg had been splinted. He removed that and stood over Luna. He shook her.
“Lu,” he whispered.
Luna sat up, “Where are we?”
“I don’t know. But, whoever brought us here also bandaged us.” Wolf pulled the gauze away from her eye.
She chuckled as she pulled the dressings off.
“I don’t think we’re prisoners either,” He said. “This place is wide open.”
Wolf and Luna stepped outside and the sun pierced their eyes. They were at an old house in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by pine forests. It looked to be serviced by a dirt road that slowly morphed into a dirt parking area. The worn ground led alongside the house to a large garage or small airplane hangar. There, they found Holly tinkering on the underside of The Starcrossed. The Starcrossed was being propped up by, “...a Rigelian pit beast?” Luna wondered.
“Hey, Holly?” Luna forced a grin, “Who’s your friend?”
“Oh,” the pit beast, rumbled and tapped his hands together, “Hello, ma’am, sir, I’m Carl.”
“Yes, you are,” Luna gulped. “The Mechanic.”
“Told you they would know who you are,” Holly said behind a welding mask. She proceeded to shoot sparks off the hull of the ship.
“Yeah,” Carl said. “It’s weird.”
“We’re in the right place,” Luna said. “How about the time?”
“It’s August 2016,” Holly replied. “We left the wormhole later than Yalda, so we emerged four months earlier than him.”
“That’s good, right?” Wolf said. “More time to prepare.”
“Also more time to screw up the future.” Holly said as she picked up a tablet. “I loaded this up with a comprehensive cache of information from our time about this time. I had the computer back home draft a map of causality, linking events of today with our time. Anything we do that changes a future event, this will be able to tell us what is affected and how, and give us a causal chain that led to the alteration of future events. Please, consult this liberally.”
“Wait,” Carl said. “Who’s Yalda?”
“Yaldabaoth,” Wolf replied. “The Demiurge,” he made air quotes. “Simon Vyx’s puppet master.”
Carl opened his mouth, but the sound that was heard was hundreds of feet trampling dried branches in woods, growing closer at a rapid pace.
“Now for some bad news,” Holly groaned. “We were followed.”
Wolf and Luna ran into the field in front of the house and saw Draconian soldiers sprinting through the trees, converging on their location. They put their helmets on.
“Draconian shock troops,” Wolf called to Holly and Carl.
Wolf and Luna ignited their wrist blades as the troops descended on them. Carl looked at Holly and shook his head.
“This is not my favorite part,” he sighed and bulldozed a path to the Joneses.
Holly ran in the house and emerged from an upper window.
“A group from the back is peeling around to try and flank your left,” Holly said into her collar.
“Carl,” Luna shouted. “Left flank.”
Carl saw the group coming in from the left and scattered them into the forest.
“Half of them are breaking for the Starcrossed,” Holly said.
“Carl?” Wolf said. “Wanna help a spaceman fly?” He motioned toward the crowd headed for the ship.
Carl picked up Wolf with one hand and asked as he wound up, “Are you sure?”
“I do this shit all the time,” Wolf replied.
Carl launched Wolf into the mob and he cut his way out from the middle. The remaining Draconians began to flee.
“What the hell were they?” Carl panted.
“Draconians,” Luna replied. “Probably here to get rid of us.”
“What did you guys do to piss them off?”
“It’s not what we did,” Wolf said. “It’s what you’re going to do. And we’re here to make sure it happens.”
“This is confusing,” Carl groaned.
“Time travel, man.”
“There’s way more Draconians where they came from,” Luna said. “And I bet they’re headed for your friends.”
“Oh, shit,” Carl gasped. “I gotta call Cher.”
“The Starcrossed is ready to fly,” Holly called.
“Hop in,” Wolf said to Carl. “We’ll have you there before the signal even connects.”