Friday, 2 May 2014

The Blue Silence

<< < Chapter Seven > >>
With a mechanical grinding sound, the Duke's timeship vworped into existence, in the middle of a concrete room, with blue-tinged light peeking through the windows. The timeship looked like a silver, rectangular box, with a simple, steel frame braced around it, sitting on a two-inch thick, metal base with spindle wheels connected to the doors. After a few moments, there was a little ding, and the Lift doors opened. Anise stepped out, and squealed as she took a step onto a floor that was lower than she had expected. Her bare feet slapped against the cold concrete.
  "There's a step!" she called back. The Duke and Edison followed her, each taking care where they put their feet.
  "Are you alright?" asked the Duke.
  "Yeah, but the floor's a bit cold," she said, wiggling her toes. "Where are we?"
Edison wandered around the ship, admiring its new facade, then looked around the room.
  "We're at the construction site, on Bishopsgate," said Edison. He grabbed his radio. "Control? This is Edison. Come in, control."
  "Whatever do you think you're doing?" asked the Duke, raising an eyebrow.
  "Radioing in," said Edison, he clicked the radio on again, "This is Edison, please respond."
  "Then desist," said the Duke, "I don't want people coming here to discover my timeship."
  "Duke, technically I'm still on duty,” said Edison, adjusting his cap to make his point. “If you don't want to arouse suspicion, then you should worry less about your camouflaged spaceship and more about the policeman that vanished while on duty. Otherwise, we might start up a panic."
The Duke held up one open palm, conceding and Edison continued.
  “Control, this is Inspector Chester Franklin Edison, do you read?”
  “This is where it all started,” said Anise, looking around. nostalgic. “So much has happened.”
  “Indeed . . .” said the Duke, looking out the window. He noticed that windows had been installed, marked with crosses, to make them easier to see. “although we've arrived later than . . . Edison, Stop!”
  “What is it?” Edison asked, freezing still.
  “We're back on Earth, but not at the time from when we originally left,” said the Duke. He held up a shaking finger in a 'give me a moment' gesture, then headed outside. Anise and Edison headed out to follow him. The Duke turned to face them as he walked, and slowly looked up. “Oh dear . . . this is much later than I anticipated.”
Edison followed the Duke's gaze and found himself staring up at a skyscraper that was almost completed.
  “Oh . . .” said Edison, “Time really has changed.”
  “We're in the future, relative to your timeline,” said the Duke. Anise carefully hobbled her way with bare feet over the dirt and stone to join them.
  “What are we all lookin' at?” asked Anise.
  “We're in the future,” said Edison.
  “Oh . . .” said Anise. “Is that why everythin's blue?”
  “What do you mean?” asked Edison. But as he looked around, it dawned on him. The sky was blue and the plastic fencing was blue, he'd taken that for granted. But the dirt, once grey and gritty, was tinged blue. The concrete was a soft blue. The dark clouds in the sky were tinged dark blue and even Anise's olive skin was tinged blue. It was as though he were seeing the world through a thin sheet of pale, blue cellophane.
The Duke looked at his hands, then inhaled deeply. He licked a finger and held it to the sky, testing the wind. Finally, he reached into his pocket, and took out his laser spanner. He held up the little tuning-fork shaped device with two fingers, and for the first time the other two could see up close just how complicated the little metal handle was, with dials, buttons and adjustable gizmos.
The Duke dropped it. The laser spanner fell half a foot, then rapidly decelerated until it stopped moving half a metre from his hand.
  “Oh my God . . .” said Anise, kneeling down to see the spanner, floating in mid-air. “How's it doin' that?”
  “It's not doing anything,” said the Duke, grabbing the spanner out of the air. “the flow of time has been disrupted. Time has slowed to a near stop.”
  “How is that possible?” asked Edison. “I mean, we're moving.”
  “That's the timeship's doing,” said the Duke. “In the same way that it affected your psychic field, by travelling through the vortex, you're imbued with Temporal Grace.”
  “So . . . what's the 'blue'?” asked Anise, “An energy . . . cloud, light thingy?”
  “No, I figure that's merely blueshift,” said the Duke. “We're moving closer to the relative speed of light, and as a result, the wavelength of the light we see has decreased.”
  “So, what could make time stop like that?” asked Anise.
  “I have no idea,” said the Duke. “We'd best investigate . . .”
The Duke lead the way out of the construction site, through the gate, and they stepped out onto the road. As they did, Anise and Edison looked on in wonder. There were cars in the street, frozen still, people walking along the sidewalk were frozen in mid-step crossing the street and there was a cluster of pigeons, caught in the air as they took to the air from the sidewalk. It was like they were walking through a washed out photograph, tinted blue.
  “This is surreal,” said Anise, following the Duke as he walked down the middle of the road.
  “No, wait, hold on,” said Edison, “This can't be right. This kind of thing can't happen!”
  “What do you mean?” asked the Duke, turning to face him.
  “I mean . . . what about him?” asked Edison, walking up to a businessman, who was frozen mid-step. “Doesn't he realize something's up? Or them?” He said, pointing at the motorists. “Or any of these people?”
  “Their minds are moving as slow as their feet, at the moment,” said the Duke. “For them, this will be over before they can blink.”
  "But that's not the point," said Edison, he joined the other two in the middle of the road, and they walked together down the blue-tinged street. "This is Earth. You, I can understand; The metal rats, sure and even the Slyph. That makes sense, it's freaky and alien, but it's all in one place at one time, it makes sense that it could be ignored or forgotten. How can something like this be possible in London, I live here, I've never seen anything like this before."
  "Anything like wha'?" asked Anise, stepping forward to talk past the Duke, who was standing between them
  "You know. Sciencey, alien . . . 'Ooh'," said Edison, wiggling his fingers beside his face.
  “What about the Leadworth Crop Circle? ” asked Anise. “Or the attack on the Shard?”
  “The what?" asked Edison, frowning. "No, those aren't the same as this, that was all just a hoax.”
  “A hoax?! Then what about Canary Wharf? Or all the weird stuff that happened on Christmas?”
  “Which Christmas?”
  “Every Christmas!” said Anise, exasperated.
  “Could you not,” said the Duke, stopping and raising both of his hands. "Edison, you know better than I what is or is not common knowledge on this world, but believe me when I tell you that the there is more extraterrestrial activity on this planet than I alone can account for. It's all been analyzed in the Lift's scanner: Alien technology, space junk and life signals; space-time rifts, temporal cracks and paradox ripples; psychical anomalies, existential beacons, fixed moments in time and more . . . you can believe you're all alone on this world, if you want, but you'll only be fooling yourself!”
  “I believe it, Duke,” said the Inspector, walking over to stand beside him. “I believe what I can see with my own eyes. I just don't understand why I've never seen it before.”
  “You've never seen your own brain, yet you seem confident it's there," said the Duke, then he spun around. "And Anise? Don't yell across me . . ."
The Duke marched off and behind his back Anise stuck her tongue out before the pair moved to catch up with him.
As they head further down the road, the Duke turns to head into a small park, nestled between two buildings. A sign at the boundary named the park St. Butolph's, it was small, just a path cutting through a blue-green lawn, with a few trees and a garden by the fence. In the middle of the park, two schoolboys had been kicking a soccer ball between them, but were now frozen, One stood with the ball floating on the side of his foot, as he'd been frozen mid-kick. The Duke quickly scanned the boy with his spanner, shook his head, then reached down and grabbed the ball with one hand. For a split second, the ball slid sideways, so the Duke grabbed it with both hands and stood up.
  “What are you doin'?” asked Anise, walking over.
  “Testing. Matter seems to retain its kinetic energy within this anomaly. When we touch something, we imbue that object with our temporal grace, allowing it to move.” The Duke let go of the ball and it fell for about a foot, then slowed to a stop. “But as soon as it leaves our time-field, it reverts to the relative flow of time.”
The Duke tapped the top of the ball with his finger, it started to fall, then stopped around his knees. He tapped it again, and it fell to the ground. Stepping to the side, he pulled his leg back and swung a heavy kick at the ball. it shot through the air for a few metres, but quickly decelerated, hovering high off the ground.
  “Wow . . .” muttered Anise.
  “But what does that mean?” asked Edison.
  “It means that we shouldn't touch anyone,” said the Duke, walking back over to his companions, careful to step around around the ball he'd just kicked. “Beyond that, I have no idea. This doesn't make sense. These people are unharmed, they're unaware of this anomaly, they're not being affected in any way. They're just . . . paused.”
  “But why?” asked Anise. “What caused it?”
  “I don't know. The good news is, it doesn't seem hostile. If an alien presence wished to invade, or kill everyone or abduct them, they would have done so by now, with zero resistance their presence would be obvious to us by now. So I am certain that whatever did cause this is not dangerous to us.”
  “But what's the bad news?” asked Edison, cynically.
  “The bad news is, if this isn't hostile . . . then I have no idea why this is happening. We'd best head back to the ship,” said the Duke. He pushed past his companions, heading back towards the construction site.
  “What? No, Duke, wait!” Anise called out. “You're just gonna leave 'em?”
The Duke stopped and turned back.
  “Of course not, my dear. I won't turn my back on your Earth, not again. But this problem is global. Your planet isn't moving, neither is your natural satellite, or star,” said the Duke, pointing up at the blue sun in the sky. “We can't walk the surface of your world and hope to run into the solution. Our best hope is returning to the ship and scanning the entire planet for rogue signals, identifying temporal anomalies, searching for alien technology and experimenting with the timestream to get it moving again. Sometimes, Anise, the best solution to a problem is not to go running into them headlong with a big gun.”

The trio returned to the Duke's ship.
  “Duke, have you considered maybe that we're the problem?” asked Edison, as they entered the near-completed first floor of the skyscraper. “I mean, we're the only ones affected. Maybe the world is fine, and we need to speed up?”
  “I've considered that, but it seems unlikely. If we were sped up, it's more likely that we'd be experiencing redshift,” said the Duke. “Of course, there is a distinct possibility that the Lift itself is causing the problem, which is thankful, since the timeship would never put us in danger.”
The Duke used the scanner to open the door of the lift with a ding, and the first thing he sees is the barrel of a familiar gun, pointed directly at his face. It was a woman in a form-fitting bodysuit and a sleek kind of motorcycle helmet, and the gun in her hand was humming, covered in blue lights.
  “Hello, Duke,” said a woman's voice, which was modulated to sound metallic and echoey, as though she was speaking into a tin can. “So good to see you again.”
  “You?” said the Duke. “You're the traveller that came to my planet. You stole the Orb.”
  “Ancient history,” said the Traveller. She pointed her gun past him, at Anise. “Now, you two, back off. If you fight back, Duke, I'll shoot them.”
  “Woah, take it easy,” said Edison. He held out one open palm and stepped forward, moving his other hand to his gun holster.
  “I said stand back!” screamed the woman, her modulator straining with the volume. She moved to point the gun at Edison, and the Duke struck. He grabbed her wrist, but she kneed him in the stomach, but Edison rushed forward. In one unnaturally fast move, the woman smacked the Duke in the head with her gun, pistol-whipped Edison in the face, cracking his nose. While he was reeling, she swiped his speedcuffs then turned to the Duke. He swung a punch, but she caught it in the cuffs, headbutted him with her helmet, then latched his other hand so they were cuffed in front of him. Spinning the Duke around, she held him as a human shield and pointed the gun at Edison slowly backing towards the Lift.
  “Are we done playing, now?” asked the traveller, sounding annoyed. Edison wiped at his nose, he yelped in pain, then moved his hand towards his gun again. Immediately, the woman aimed the gun at Anise, and pulled the trigger. The Duke screamed, but the shot pierced the air, a line of blue fire which sped towards Anise, then quickly decelerated, stopping a few inches from her neck. Edison looked horrified.
  “You won't get away with this,” he said, blood running down his chin.
  “No, Inspector. Please, stay back,” said the Duke, sounding scared. “I don't want either of you to get hurt.”
  “There's a good boy,” said the traveller. She held the Duke tighter so she could reach her other wrist with her gun hand. She unclipped the latch of a black, leather strap around her wrist, “Now . . . stay.”
She pressed a few buttons on the wrist strap, then she and the Duke disappeared in a fizzle of white electricity, teleporting away.
  “W-W-What the hell just happened?” asked Anise, slowly backing away from the blue energy that was hovering close to her neck.
  “I dunno,” said Edison, sniffing, spitting blood and wincing, “but I fucking hate time travel . . .”

The Duke and his captor appeared in a huge, circular room. In the middle of the room was a large, spiralling staircase, held up with huge, stone pillars. The staircase was surrounded by a landing of red carpet which looked purple, upon which the Duke and the Traveller appeared.The walls around the landing were white - but appeared pale blue - with dark-brown wainscotting and four wooden doors spaced evenly apart, with a small square alcove down the far side.
  “Where are we?” asked the Duke.
  “We're exactly where you need to be,” said the Traveller. She began walking along the landing, pulling the Duke behind her by the cuffs.
  “Must you drag me?” growled the Duke, yanking his wrists back. The woman spun to face him with the visor of her helmet, a window of emotionless, black glass.
  “Do you want me to hit you again?” she asked, raising her gun above her head, threateningly.
  “I don't mean to resist, but you could allow me some dignity. I can't run away, I'm handcuffed and I don't know where I am,” said the Duke, matter-of-factly. “There's no need to drag me, walk and I'll follow.”
  “Whatever,” said the Traveller, holstering the gun in her belt. “but if you try to run, I'll bind your ankles and drag you by your feet. Do you understand?”
  “Perfectly,” said the Duke.
The Traveller walked around to a far door, checking behind her to make sure the Duke was following; he was true to his word and kept two steps behind. They entered a corridor, which lead a few metres then angled right, to another corridor, which lead to a large metal door. To the right, there was another corridor, and along the left side, there were three spaces cut into the wall where  where there was a wide window, but the curtains were all closed.
  “What is this place?” asked the Duke
  “I can't tell you that,”
  “Why not?”
  “Because you're not supposed to know yet,” said the Traveller, she turned down the right corridor, then lead the way to a huge doorway with a metal frame that was left wide open. She stood by it and gestured for the Duke to head inside. “Go on.”
The Duke raised an eyebrow, but nonetheless entered the doorway, and saw himself in a large room, with four other people in it, that looked up to see him as he entered the room, they all seemed to be wearing lab coats. The edges of the room were crammed with desks that were covered with computers, monitors, fibre-optic cables with two standing servers. On the far side of the room was a pair of security doors, made of thick glass, and there were some filing cabinets in the near corners. However, in the middle of the room, there was a large meeting table surrounded with study chairs, and in the centre of it was a glass box, which immediately drew the Duke's attention as it was the only device in the room which was moving. Within the box was a complicated series of brass gears, a torsion pendulum, springs, a wooden frame and it was all set around a large clock, with alien numbers around it.
  “So, you're the ones that stopped time,” said the Duke, looking at the glass clock.
  “Yes,” replied the Traveller, as she entered the room behind him.
  “Why don't you restore it again?” asked the Duke. “You need only remove the key.”
  “We can't. Not yet,” said one of the scientists, stepping forward protectively, making sure the Duke wasn't going to touch the device.
  “Yet . . .?” asked the Duke. “What are you waiting for? What could you be waiting for? Time is slowed considerably, you'll be waiting years for a day to pass.”
  “They're not waiting, they're working,” said the Traveller. “If you turn off that device, we'll all be dead in less than twenty seconds.”
The Duke frowned, then looked around the room at the others. They looked deadly serious.
  “How?” asked the Duke.
  “Our planet has been attacked,” said the Traveller. “An alien force has used one of our own technologies against us. If we can't fix it, it will explode.”
  “One of 'your' technologies?” said the Duke “Or something else you've stolen?”
  “It doesn't matter,” said the Traveller, “what matters is, we require your knowledge to stop it.”
  “And why would I help you?” asked the Duke, holding up his bound hands. “You've not been very welcoming, thus far.”
  “Because you have expertise in alien technology that can help us. And because if you don't; every living thing on this planet will die,” said the Traveller. “When the device explodes, it will do so with the force of thirty-gigatons. A blast radius bigger than Australia, that would devastate the ecosystem of this world.”
The Duke sneered; they weren't asking him to help, they were telling. And with the fate of the Earth at stake, he couldn't refuse.
  “Where do I start?” asked the Duke.
  “How much do you know about naquadria?”

Edison was screaming as he clenched his teeth, a pencil shoved up one nostril, to keep his airways open, and Anise pulling his nose straight.
  “Almost done, sweetie, almost,” she said, pulling it sideways before. “There. It's all over, Chess. I think it's done.”
  “Argh! Thank god for that,” he said, through clenched teeth. He pulled the pencil out and wiped some of the blood out from under his nose with his hand, sniffed, then turned to her. “How does it look?”
Anise frowned as she looked at Edison's nose, still bleeding and puffy from the swelling.
  “It looks straight,” she said, nodding but looking a little sick from the experience.
  “Well, at least something is . . .” muttered Edison, wiping his nose again, but the bleeding was less now than before, “Alright . . . now, how do we get the Duke back?”
  “I dunno,” said Anise, distressed. “I don't even know where he went.”
  “Can the Lift find him?” asked Edison, walking towards the lift doors, which were still hanging open.
  “The Lift . . . ?” said Anise, following behind. “Chess, Duke can barely fly that thing, do you really want to go messin' with it?”
  “We don't have to fly it, we'll just see if it can find him,” said Edison. He stepped inside the lift lobby and stood in front of the rear doors. Anise stood outside and stared at him as he stood there.
  “What are you doing?”
  “Open,” Edison said to the door. He felt around at the doorframe, then turned around, “How does he open this thing?”
  “There's a hidden panel just there,” Anise replied, pointing. Edison felt around it with his hands; there was no handle, so he tried to get his fingernails into the little gap. Finally, he poked it with a finger and it popped open. He looked inside, and was staring at an odd, glass screen. There were several buttons, some animated, circular symbols and a keyhole.”
  “Where's the key?” asked Edison.
  “Around Duke's neck,” said Anise, sadly.
  “No, no, this can't be right.” said Edison. He poked at some of the buttons, but they all made an odd buzzing sound. “It's not working.”
  “You need the key,” said Anise, stepping inside to join him in the Lift.
  “No, I don't need the key,” said Edison, turning around. “When I first saw this thing, I walked in here, and went right inside the ship.”
  “How?” asked Anise. Edison was silent for a moment.
  “ . . . I don't know. But I did it before.”
  “Maybe he just left the door unlocked,” said Anise.
  “Well then what are we supposed to do? The Duke's gone, we can't just wait for him to come back. We could be in danger here, what can we do?”
Anise looked around the lobby, and glancing at the panel, she saw the Lift's emergency button, on the panel, an icon of a little, red bell.
  “I have an idea,” said Anise. “The Duke said that I should push this button if something goes wrong.”
  “What does it do?” asked Edison.
  “I don't know. But this is an emergency, isn't it? He just said, push it, and the Lift would do the rest.”
  “Okay. Let's push it,” said Edison. Anise nodded, held out a finger, hesitated for a moment, then pressed the red button. Immediately, the front doors slid shut, and the ship began to rumble. From within, they could hear the wheezing, groaning and grinding of the engine as it began to move.
  “Hold on!” Edison yelled, grabbing ahold of Anise. The two of them bounced off the walls as the ship spun and swayed before the engine ceased and they landed with a muffled thud.
  “The Lift changed,” said Anise. She couldn't see much through the glass sides, but the glass door leading out looked out upon a grand foyer, which was tinted blue.
  “Time's still stopped here as well,” said Edison as he pressed the open door button it made a ding noise, and the doors slid out of the way and they walked into a grand hallway. The room was five storeys high, with huge, square, sandstone columns reaching down from the ceiling to the floor with a glass balcony on each of the four levels above, overlooking the hallway. At the floor, the columns stepped into a narrower square column decorated with geometric patterns which sat atop a square-stepped base. The columns bordered the sides of room, each spaced about five metres apart down a hall which looked to be a kilometre long, and every eight columns along, the hallways was divided with a huge wall of glass that reached up three storeys, each a few centimetres thick with a rectangular doorway cut into the base. The entire place was lit by the sunlight through the tall, thin window on the far wall, but all of it tinted blue.
  “I don't think we're in Kansas anymore,” said Anise.
  “No,” said Edison as he looked up at the wall behind them. Anise turned up to see. Hanging from the ceiling in front of it was an enormous blue tapestry, with a familiar, silver icon which looked like some kind of squid or jellyfish. “We're on Rathea . . .”

  “So they sent an explosive device through your system?” asked the Duke,
  “Yes,” said the Traveller, losing her patience, leaning her helmet in her hand as she sat at the meeting desk.
  “But that's not what's going to explode?”
  “No, that already has exploded. It was a tiny, naquadria-enhanced incendiary device, practically harmless.”
  “I don't understand,” said the Duke, struggling to gesticulate with his hands in the cuffs. “How could that affect the naquadah?”
  “Naquadria is radioactive. It emitted naquadric particles which slowly transformed our portal into naquadria.”
  “Because the Wormhole Generator is made of naquadah I understand that,” said the Duke. “I've seen these devices before, I just don't understand how it can be transformed at the molecular level into naquadria.”
  “Because naquadria is naquadah,” said the Traveller, exasperated. “Just radioactive. A related element.”
  “Ah . . . I see,” said the Duke. “So, your Wormhole Generator is now explosive. And when they establish a connection, the resulting influx of energy from the artificial wormhole will . . .”
  “Yes, explode in a thirty-gigaton blast, enough to wipe us off the map.”
  “Enough to wipe the map off the map,” said the Duke. “Can I see the device for myself?” asked the Duke.
  “Of course,” said the Traveller, gesturing towards the glass security doors. Through it, they could just make out the large ring, in the darkness. It was night in this part of the world.
  “I meant up close. I can't do anything from this distance.”
  “And you won't. You need a radiation suit to head out there, it's scattered with naquadric radiation. And those cuffs aren't coming off, even if I wanted them to, so you're not getting a suit.”
  “You seem to be forgetting that I'm an alien,” said the Duke. “I can't be harmed by most forms of radiation.”
The Traveller turned around to one of the scientists behind her.
  “I didn't know that,” she said.
  “It's not in the file,” said the scientist with a shrug. The woman, turned back to the Duke.
  “If you're sure,” she said. She stood and walked towards the metal door at the back of the room.
  “Where are you going?” asked the Duke, walking towards the glass doors.
  “That's an electronic door,” said the Traveller, “the circuits are frozen, you can't use it.”
  “It seems there's a lot of things that aren't in your file,” said the Duke. He reached into his trouser pocket, having to double over to reach inside with his hands and stood up holding his laser spanner, pointed at the top of the door. He pressed a button and a green spark of electricity shot out of the spanner and began to decelerate, but it hit the doorframe before it could stop entirely. Then the Duke pressed a finger to the glass door itself, it was affected by his time-field and the right half of the two sliding doors slid back, and he stepped out into the night.
He flinched slightly as he walked into the invisible particles, but he gritted his teeth and kept walking. Outside was just a wide deck, fenced in with some metal walls, just taller than the Duke, and a few feet away from the security doors, in the middle of the space, was a swimming pool, it had been emptied, and down the far end, framed by two metal ladders was a huge ring, 6.7 metres across and standing upright. It was set within some kind of purpose-built stand, comprised of a ramp with lights. The ring itself was a foot thick, and intricately detailed, but what stood out were several triangles, shining bright light - tinted blue - which were evenly spaced around the outside of the ring, set within a segment which was decorated with more lights in the shape of a chevron. As the Duke walked closer, he could see that between each chevron was four arched panels, within each panel was a symbol, each a comprised of dashes, dots, circles or squiggles in a linear series.
The pool it was sitting in had a series of steps, designed for slowly walking deeper into the pool water, the Duke walked down it, then up the ramp, and he stood atop it, marvelling at the stargate.
  “This design must be unique to your galaxy!” called out the Duke, as he read the different symbols. “I've never seen a wormhole generator like this before. It's primitive!”
After a few more moments, he turned his back on the stargate and headed back into the observation room with the other scientists.
  “Did you learn anything?”
  “Yes, yes, I did,” said the Duke, grunting and tensing his muscles awkwardly as he spoke. “They don't seem to use stellar bodies to map their co-ordinates . . . I believe it's a series of equations to calculate distance along a single, linear dimension.”
  “What are you doing?” asked the Traveller, stepping back as the Duke continued to groan and stretch.
  “Just . . . have to . . . there!” suddenly, every part of the Duke's skin began glowing with magnificent, blue-tinted light as he gasped with relief. Finally the light subsided, and the Duke stood there, breathing heavily. But he stopped breathing when he saw the Traveller, who had pulled her gun and was pointing it at his head. He raised his cuffed hands, defensively.
  “What the hell was that?!” demanded the Traveller, the Duke could just hear the unease in her voice through the modulator.
  “Take it easy,” said the Duke. “I was just converting the radiation from my body into light. It's perfectly harmless.”
The Traveller didn't lower her gun, however, she just shook her head.
  “You will not go doing anything unexpected like that again, unless you tell us exactly what you're doing. Do you understand me?” she asked.
  “I think I'm beginning to,” said the Duke. The Traveller lowered her gun, but not the tension in the room.
  “Get to work,” she ordered.

Anise was sitting on the base of a square pillar, as Edison fiddled with his radio, standing by the Lift.
  “This is Detective Inspector Chester Franklin Edison, of the London Metropolitan Police,” he said into the radio, “of the United Kingdom, Earth. Can anyone read me? I repeat, this is Detective Inspector Edison, of the London Metropolitan Police, of Earth, please respond.”
He stood still for a moment, but there was no response. He looked over at Anise, but she had been quiet for almost an hour.
  “Anise, what are you doing?”
  “Nothing,” she said, still staring into space. “Waiting.”
  “Waiting for what?”
  “For the Duke.”
  “The Duke's been captured, Anise, we can't wait for him.”
  “He told me to press that button if I was in danger. He knew it would take the Lift here. Why would he do that, if we'd be stuck on an alien planet?”
  “He didn't know that time would be frozen.”
  “Then what can we do?” asked Anise, sounding desperate. “We're stuck on an alien world, no one around to help us. The best chance we have is a time machine which we can't use because the door's locked!”
  “We'll find a way out of this,” said Edison.
  “How?!” screamed Anise, her eyes watery and fearful. The Inspector turned towards the timeship and marched inside. He banged his fist on the rear door.
  “Open, for goodness' sake!” he kicked the door and banged it with his fist again. “We need to get out of here!”
  “Chess, no,” said Anise, heading over. “Don't be like that, please.”
  “You opened before, do it again!” yelled Edison. “We have to save the Duke!”
He raised his fist again, but the door slid open with a quiet hiss. Edison stood there for a moment, utterly speechless.
  “Uh . . . Anise? It worked.”
  “What?” she asked. Edison walked into the console room of the Lift, and Anise followed right behind.
  “No way . . .” she said, heading in to join him. They both stood before the console, bewildered. “All we had to do was bang on the door?”
  “I think it was more than that. I told it to let me inside.”
  “And you said we want to help the Duke,” she said. “Alright, well, now that we're in here, . . . how do we fly this thing?”
At those words, the slightly transparent image of a person flickered into existence in front of them. The didn't recognize the man, he was wearing a flowing, red robe with long, hanging sleeves, as well as what looked like red, waxy plastic which was moulded over the shoulders to make them wider and spread out behind his head like wings in a strange, flared collar. The man was dark-skinned, with short, fuzzy grey hair atop his head,  a salt-and-pepper beard as well as unshaven whiskers speckled his mottled, acne-scarred cheeks.
  “Voice Interface, initiated,” it said. It had a strained, gravelly voice and spoke with a South London accent.
  “Who the hell are you?” asked Anise
  “I am the Holographic Assistant of the Visual Voice Interface,” replied the hologram.
  “Okay . . .” said Anise. She turned to Edison. “What does that mean?”
  “It's not a real person, it's just a projection from the computer,” said Edison, sounding impressed. “Can you tell us how to fly the Lift?”
  “Lifts cannot fly,” replied the hologram.
  “I mean the timeship,” said Edison, “we call it the Lift.”
  “Understood,” said the hologram. “Your alternate designation has been recorded for future reference.”
  “Can you help us to fly this bloody thing?” asked Anise.
  “I can instruct you in the spatial navigation and temporal manipulation of the Type Seventy-Two, Mark One T.T. Capsule. However, the piloting of this particular vessel is not recommended for a flight crew of less than five pilots or for individuals without a minimum of three months experience of simulated vortical travel.”
  “Whatever, can you tell us where the Duke is?”
  “The Duke is not currently aboard this vessel,” replied the hologram. Anise groans.
  “Ugh! I hate computers!” she whined, wandering off to the side of the room and then flopping onto the couch.
  “Look, we know the Duke isn't on board this ship. Can you help us to find him?” asked Edison.
  “This vessel's long-distance scanner is capable of accurately identifying the species, sex and blood group of individuals up to five light years away. Would you like to specify the parameters of your search?”
  “He should be on Earth,” said Edison. “The planet, Earth.”
  “Understood,” said the hologram, “Please wait, for the results of this search . . .”
The hologram stared into space, silently, as the computer fulfilled Edison's request.

The Duke was standing before several pieces of paper, which were hovering in the middle of the air, using the frozen time-stream to hold them in place. He rubbed his wrists, where the cuffs were digging into his skin, then wrote something on one of the pages. He held a yellow pencil by the eraser, so his time-field wouldn't affect the paper as he wrote on it, and scribbled some numbers onto one of the sheets.
  “I think I've got it . . .” said the Duke. The scientists scrambled and stood up at his words.
  “He's got it!” one of the scientists called out the door, to summon the Traveller, who ran into the room..
  “The simplest solution is the easiest one,” said the Duke, quietly. “The connection being sent through to your Wormhole Generator can only be sent through a single point in space, yes? A wormhole such as this cannot diverge into two, the energy would dissipate through subspace. So, all we need to do, is sever the device, here and here,” said the Duke, drawing two lines through a small icon of the stargate on one of the pieces of paper, which effectively cut it in half. “The difficulty would be cutting through the material without affecting it with our relative time-field, but if we kept our distance, and utilized my own laser spanner, we need only use one of your metal-shearing saws to cut through the material. Then merely separate the two pieces a distance greater than the diameter of the initial wormhole's event horizon, and set time flowing again.”
The Duke looked at the others, patiently.
  “No,” said the Traveller. “Keep working.”
  “What?” asked the Duke, walking towards her. “This will solve it, I've checked the physics.”
  “We're not cutting our Portal Ring in half.”
  “What?!” screamed the Duke. “Why not?!”
  “We cannot repair the device if it is cut in half. The device must remain intact.”
  “'Intact'! Are you really more concerned with saving that device than the billions of people on this planet?!”
  “We are not going to sacrifice our wormhole technology!” yelled the Traveller. “Find another way.”
  “Another way?!” shouted the Duke. “There is no way to stop the energy of an incoming wormhole from coming through an intact Wormhole Generator!”
  “If we block the entrance, it stops the wormhole,” she retorted.
  “The wormhole, yes, but not the energy! If we seal the entrance of that ring, the wormhole won't coalesce, but the energy will surge through the naquadria, and it will explode. We can't generate our own wormhole to stop it, because that would require sending just as much energy through the naquadria, and it would explode! And we can't even try to divert the power, because it's being sent through subspace directly into the device, if we try, we will fail and it will explode!”
  “You will find another way.”
  “What do you want me to do? I could take the device far away, to another planet, another place or time where the incoming wormhole won't find it, except that I don't have my ship.”
  “Even if we did, we wouldn't allow you to take the device off of this planet. We're not destroying the device, and we won't allow you to take it off this planet. We can't trust you to bring it back.”
  “I wouldn't bring it back,” said the Duke. “This crisis alone is evidence enough that you don't know how to handle alien technology!”
In response, the Traveller punched the Duke in the jaw, sending him flying through his papers and onto the floor.
  “We don't want your opinion; only your knowledge,” she said, standing over him. “If you don't understand the way this works, this is going to be a very, very long night. You find me a way to stop the Portal Ring from exploding without destroying it, or I will kill you.”
  “You can't kill me,” snarled the Duke through gritted teeth. “You need me.”
  “Then it's a good thing that you regenerate,” said the Traveller, leaning over the Duke; the Duke's face fell. “Oh yes, we know all about that; but, don't worry, I'll make it a death that will haunt your memories for the rest of your long, long life . . .”

Anise and Edison were sitting on the couch, waiting for the computer to find the Duke.
  “You know, we've been through some crazy, terrible, amazing things,” said Edison. “But this whole time, I don't know what you actually do for a living. But I'm curious now. What do you do?”
  “I worked in jewellery store.” said Anise.
  “Okay . . . what's that like?”
  “It's alright. I thought it would be a scary responsibility, 'cause I thought people would try to nick stuff all the time, but it’s pretty rare. I just hate it with couples sometimes, they're buyin' engagement rings, wedding rings an' that, but you can tell they won’t last.”
  “What? The couple?”
  “Yeah, all the time. Like, one time, I had this pair looking for an engagement ring and she was pregnant, they were arguin' the whole time. And he was tellin' her she had to get a diamond ring, he was bossin' her around and she was havin' at him as well. When I was tryin' to show them, she was all 'Nah that looks gay'. Y'know, just a divorce waitin' to happen.”
  “Doesn't sound fun,” said Edison, flatly.
  “Well, nah, it's alright. Like, you get the little girls that just want to see the sparkles, and the sweet couples. And there's this old man that collects glass figurines, and you know the type, he's always got a story. It's just the bad eggs is all, they make it all seem so pointless . . . what about you? What do you do?”
Edison frowned and looked over at her.
  “I'm a police officer,” he said, tugging his high-visibility vest.
  “No . . . I mean, y'know. There's more to you than your job. Like, I go clubbin' with my mates, and dancing, hang out with guys. What about you?”
  “I wish,” said Edison. “I really am married to the job. All work and no play.”
  “What, there's nothin' more to see with Chester Edison? Just a policeman?”
  “Well, my father was a policeman. I guess I'm picking up where Dad left off.”
  “Was? So is he . . .?”
  “Oh, no, he's not dead. He was shot in the leg, and it messed up his kneecap. So he left the force and now he's a private investigator.”
  “Ah, okay,” said Anise. “Well, that's your dad's story, But what about you, then?”
  “What do you want me to say?” said Edison with a shrug.
  “There's more to you than your job, I know it. Do you collect stamps? Do you own a dog? Do you want to start a family some day?”
  “No, of course not,” said Edison, chuckling.
  “What is it then? What aren't you telling me?”
Edison hesitated for a moment, thought about it then said. “I'm gay.”
  “Oh . . .” said Anise, nodding slowly. “So, what does that mean? Do you have a boyfriend?”
  “No, nothing like that,” said Edison. “I meant what I said, all work and no play. I'm a policeman, I can't go to those bars and I don't have time to go on dates.”
  “Why not?” asked Anise.
  “I just can't.” said Edison shaking his head, he stood up and walked away, over to the console. “Hey, Hologram, what's taking so long?”
  “The long-distance scanner is still processing your request,” replied the hologram.
  “Y'know, it's pretty obvious that you're deliberately changing the subject,” said Anise.
  “Why is it taking so long?” asked Edison, ignoring Anise.
  “Earth is currently more than two million light-years away from our location, and our immediate sensors indicate that this universe is currently undergoing a time-dilation anomaly. It will take approximately five minutes to receive information from Earth.”
  “It's been over twenty minutes. How long will this take?”
  “Scanning the entire planet of Earth will take approximately four thousand, eight hundred and forty-nine years.”
  “What?!” screamed Anise. “We don't have that long! Stop the stupid scanner.”
  “Understood. Cancelling the long-distance scan.”
  “This is ridiculous!” yelled Anise. “He's your pilot! Duke owns this ship! Shouldn't you know where your own pilot is?”
  “For security purposes, the keys which grant access to this vessel all contain a quantum beacon, which is constantly monitored by the computer to locate the position of any and all of its access keys. It is recommended that the captain of every T.T. Capsule keeps his access key on their person at all times.”
  “You know where the Lift key is?”
“The key to this vessel is currently located in Sector Eight-Zero-Two-Three of the Third Quadrant, on the Planet Earth; Fourteen degrees, thirty-six minutes and thirty-nine seconds towards the positive pole; One hundred and twenty-seven degrees, fifty minutes and sixteen seconds against terrestrial revolution.”
  “Wait . . . are you telling me that you've known where the Duke is this whole time?!”
  “The Duke is currently outside of immediate sensor range, it cannot be ascertained whether or not the Duke's position is concurrent with the position of this vessel's access key.”
  “I hate computers,” groaned Anise.
  “Can you take us to him?” asked Edison.
  “This vessel is not designed for automated flight. However, I can instruct you in its spatial navigation.” said the hologram
  “Alright then,” said Edison. “What do I have to do?”
  “First, you must approach the controls, and locate the helm and navigation control quadrant of the console,” said the hologram.
  “Alright,” said Edison. “Give me a hand, Anise. This is probably going to take a while . . .”

  “You said it was impossible,” said the Traveller, glancing at the Duke's notes.
  “We're not stopping the incoming wormhole energy, that is impossible,” said the Duke, sounding tired. “But this will disarm the stargate. If the naquadria really does have a half-life of fifteen thousand years, and it really is just a related element to naquadah, then this will solve the problem without destroying the wormhole generator.”
  “Will it destroy the StopWatch?” asked the Traveller, sternly.
  “Not if we're careful,” said the Duke. “But the mathematics is sound and I understand this device, it's Vistorian, I know how to manipulate it.”
  “Alright then,” she said. “Are you ready?” She asked, as she turned to a scientist wearing a yellow hazmat suit, which looked green.
  “Yeah,” he said, coiling some cords and fibre-optic cable around his shoulder, “just make sure we close the door, to protect our equipment.”
  “Of course,” said the Traveller, as she unholstered her gun and pressed a recess on the back which made it humm and glow as it charged with volatile energy. She pointed it at the Duke. “Now, let's get started.”
  The Duke wandered outside as the scientist in the hazmat suit carefully picked up the glass clock from the meeting table and followed the other them out the door. The Duke used his laser spanner and placed a hand to the glass to close the door behind them, and then all three of them headed into the small, emptied pool, in front of the time-frozen stargate.
The Duke began by heading around to the right of the ramp as the scientist stood at the base of the ramp and placed the glass clock in front of it, and the Traveller stood at the edge of the pool, with her pistol in hand. There were two lights on the base of the ramp which the Duke knelt down beside, then removed the cover from one of them using his laser spanner.
  “I need the copper wire,” said the Duke. The scientist unravelled some cord and handed one end to the duke, which had a small and unusual crystalline port on the end. The Duke plugged it into the exposed board.
  “How do you know this is interfacing with the Control Crystal?” asked the scientist, “those are just lights.”
  “It's not a computer interface,” said the Duke, sounding unenthusiastic. “I'm merely connecting the Vistorian time dilation device to the electrical circuit of the wormhole generator. By connecting the two devices, they will share the same time-field.”
The Duke walked to the front of the ramp and knelt down before the glass clock while the scientist picked up the other end of the cable and brought it over to the Duke. The Duke pulled off one side of the case and, using his teeth, he ripped the end off of the cable, and using his spanner, fired a bright red laser at the the exposed wires to weld them onto the power circuit with a small wisp of smoke. As soon as he did, there was a great rumbling sound as the stargate began to spin. The traveller pointed her gun at the Duke.
  “Don't worry, the wormhole generator is now in temporal harmony with us,” said the Duke, ignoring the gun. “The wormhole won't be established for thousands of years, at this rate.”
  “No funny business,” said the Traveller, sternly.
  “Wouldn't dream of it,” said the Duke. Staring at the gun, he said, “Now, I'm going to reverse the polarity of the time dilation device. Instead of affecting all of us, it will only affect itself, and its own relative time-field.”
  “Do it,” she said. The Duke shuffled back a few centimetres and pointed his laser at the device. Suddenly, the blue silence which had surrounded them disappeared with an explosion of sound, as everything began moving. The Duke was glad to see the clear, white tile beneath him, the brown wood, even the bright yellow of the scientists hazmat suit. But in front of them, the stargate was a blur. Now spinning at an incomprehensible speed, it was nothing but a black ring with chevrons spinning so fast, they blended together into a single band of bright, white, neon light, and the machine itself roared like a jet engine as it span. And the Duke felt the force of the radiation as it spilled from the device, two thousand years worth of radiation all expelled in a matter of seconds. After several seconds, the Duke sensed that the stargate was no longer emitting radiation, then, as quick as a blink, the stargate wasn't spinning anymore. The Duke only had one chance. There was a high-pitched whine as the energy of the wormhole began to coalesce and bright, white energy was rapidly collecting inside of the circle. The Duke seized the opportunity and grabbed the glass clock with both hands.
Before either the scientist or the Traveller could react, everything became blue once again. The Duke was now in harmony with the stargate's time-field, and he watched, in wonder, the energy seemed to be sitting still within the wormhole, a plane of pure, white energy contrasting with the scintillating night sky; it was beautiful. Struggling because of his cuffs, he got to his feet, still holding onto the case, and looked at the other two. The Traveller was still pointing the gun at the ground, where he'd been a moment ago, so the Duke yanked at the cable, disconnecting the clock from the stargate. Then he climbed up the steps out of the pool and stood beside the Traveller, staring at her with malice.
  “You should never hit a duke,” he said. Then, swinging the glass clock in his hands as a club, he smacked the Traveller in the stomach. She went flying back and up into the air with the force of the hit and for a second, as the time-field affected her, he heard her grunt from pain in a tinny, modulated whine. But she rapidly slowed, pausing in the middle of an arch that was flipping her head over heels, as the force of the time-sped beating sent her sailing over the iron-plated fence that surrounded the pool area. Then, turning towards the stargate again, the Duke sighed heavily, then casually threw the glass clock towards the energy in the middle of the stargate ring. He rapidly accelerated to normal time, and watched as an unstable vortex burst from out of the stargate with a whoosh. The clock was enveloped by the vortex and disintegrated before the unstable energy was absorbed back into the stargate, and the wormhole stabilized, settling into what looked like a rippling, vertical pool of shimmering blue-silver water, which made a low burbling sound.
The Duke suddenly convulsed as he felt a burning pain through his body, he cried out and fell to his knees; he'd consumed too much radiation. Clenching his teeth, fists and eyes, his skin suddenly shone bright orange. He cried out in pain as his skin felt like pins and needles, his fingernails shot with piercing hot pain, and his ears were burning. He began coughing then taking a deep breath he spat on the ground. The saliva bubbled on the tiles by the pool, and as the light subsided, his skin was steaming and he was breathing heavily.
  “That . . . was a little too much,” sighed the Duke, then he struggled to his feet. After a few seconds, the event horizon shone bright white and the wormhole dissipated. The chevrons went dark, and in place of the burbling sound disappeared with a whoosh to be replaced by the sound of the ocean and, in the distance, a familiar grinding sound. The Duke turned and looked up at the sky, and he cracked a smile. Up high in the night sky the Lift, in its basic, silver elevator form, was spinning wildly as flew towards them. Top over tail, it rolled through the air turning left, then right then twisting rapidly.
  “What kept you?!” yelled the Duke, then he laughed out loud. As the scientist in the hazmat suit finally saw what was happening, he started freaking out and ran to hide around the side of the wall behind them. The Lift was flying closer, wheezing and groaning louder and louder as it swooped down, and the Duke stood out of the way as the bottom of the Lift hit the top of the fence, sending it flipping over. Then it landed heavily on its base and scraped loudly along the ground, before coming to a stop with a thump! against the wall next to the glass security doors, which made it rattle. The Duke ran over, with a grin on his face, and used his spanner to open the door and step into the lobby. He pressed the button on the panel to close the door behind him, when the console room door opened automatically in front of him, to reveal Anise and Edison standing there.
  “That was a bit of a rough landing,” said the Duke. “I hope you didn't scratch it.”
  “Duke!” said Anise, excitedly running over to grab him in a hug. “We came here to rescue you!”
  “Well, your methods were crude, but effective,” said the Duke. Anise felt the Duke's hand pressed up to his chest, and let go to see his hands were still cuffed.
  “Oh, right!” said Edison, reaching into his belt. He retrieved the key and unlatched the cuffs. As soon as he did, the Duke sighed, happily.
  “Inspector, I could kiss you,” said the Duke, and Anise giggled. Then he walked over to the console, he flinched when he saw the hologram standing there. “Oh, right. That explains that. Deactivate Virtual Voice Interface Assistant.”
The hologram nodded and flickered out of existence, then the Duke went to the console and began adjusting the controls. A holographic screen appeared, which showed an image of the area outside, with the stargate front and centre.
  “What's that thing?” asked Anise.
  “It's a wormhole generator,” said the Duke. A number of symbols appeared on one of the panels of the console, and after a moment's consideration, he pressed seven keys in quick succession and the stargate began to spin, then a symbol at the apex lit up and it span the other way..
  “What are you doing?” asked Edison.
  “Something I've always wanted to do . . .” said the Duke, turning back to his friends as another symbol on the stargate lit up. “I'm surprised you can to rescue me. Thank you.”
  “You've done the same for me,” said Edison.
  “For both of us,” said Anise. Then she saw the bruise blossoming on his jaw “Are you alright?”
  “I'll be better once we get out of here,” said the Duke as a fourth symbol was illuminated.
  “What happened here?” asked Edison. “The blue's gone away.”
  “Time is once again flowing in accordance with the natural laws,” said the Duke. “These people stopped time because they meddled with a technology they couldn't understand, but I fixed their mistake, and they won't be able to stop time ever again.”
  “Who are they?” asked Edison
  “I don't know,” said the Duke. “But I will.”
  “What do you mean?” asked Anise.
  “They know me, but I don't know them. And we're in the future . . . I think we'll meet them again, in our time.”
  “So, what are we going to do about it?” asked Edison. As the seventh symbol lit up on the stargate, the unstable vortex burst out with a whoosh, then settled into a stable wormhole.
  “We're leaving,” said the Duke. “There must be hundreds of people within that facility, and none of them like me very much . . .”
The Duke took charge of the console, and the ship took off, groaning and rumbling. Anise and Edison held on and watched the screen as the Duke flew them into the event horizon.
The ship flew through the wormhole and appeared on the other side several seconds later. As it did, the ship landed with a heavy thud that shook the console room.
  “Here we are,” said the Duke.
  “Where is 'here'?” asked Edison.
  “I'm not entirely sure what it’s called, I've never visited this address before.”
  “Duke, wait. Just stop.”
  “Stop? Stop what?”
  “This,” she said, pointing at him. “You were kidnapped, and handcuffed, and by the looks of it, beaten. Can't you stop and slow down for a second?”
  “What do you mean?” asked the Duke. Anise grabbed his wrists, and he flinched as she touched his skin; he looked down at the red sores where the metal had cut into his wrists.
  “Duke, you need to rest for a moment,” said Anise softly massaging the marks with her fingers.
  “Right . . .” said the Duke. “Sorry, you're right. I was a little over-excited when I saw you flying the ship to come for me.”
  “You're always going eighty miles an hour, do you ever stop?” asked Anise.
The Duke didn't answer for a while.
  “You're right. We should stop. Relax and take some weight off, for a while,” the Duke walked over to the couch, Anise holding his hand with Edison close behind, and they all sat down. The Duke sighed heavily.
  “Now, Duke . . . tell me what happened in that place,” said Anise.
The Duke nodded and after taking a deep breath and exhaling heavily, he told them the story . . .

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