A mere ten days after departing Jolatra’s central space port, the Dohlfaleer, a large and well-equipped research vessel, was within close sensor range of its destination. Bathed in the light of its system star, Ghilos 4 glowed out from every view screen onboard.
From her wide, wrap-around workstation of dark neo-wood, Verthani Seltra gazed into her compact view screen at the planet’s deep blue orb and sighed. Within hours, the ship’s AI would begin sending back images of the planet’s surface, at the precise location where the lost city of Yeltrex-Drobai lay buried. Despite her disciplined mind, and instincts honed through nearly thirty years of field work, Verthani still needed to remind herself of a sober truth. Legends were legends. The fabled city might turn out to be nothing special.
No matter how hard she wished her hypothesis to be true, she had to maintain a sense of objectivity. Instead of soaring steel towers, she might find a sprawling low-rise village. Instead of surprising technological achievements, there might be nothing more than a windmill and a humdrum collection of wood working tools, glass-blowing apparatus, smelting pits, pottery kilns and so on.
Even in the absence of a spectacular find, she reminded herself, there would still be the thrill of encountering a vanished culture. All the same, that would not be enough to justify her mission in the eyes of her sponsors. Lucky for Verthani, a voice blaring out from the ship-wide comlink interrupted her anxiety spiral:
This is the Captain speaking. All personnel, mandatory briefing from Science Officer Kelatrin in twenty nodes. That includes you Professor Seltra. Captain out.
Verthani gazed down at her hands. Why, she wondered, were so many moments of sublime concentration broken by the ceaseless tide of trivia? It hardly mattered, she realized, because there was no wriggling out of the meeting. She quickly dressed and headed down her ship’s capacious corridors for the conference room. The first person she saw was her trusted Linguist, Athcarone, his head buried in his hands.
Also at the table was Science Officer Kelatrin. Painfully thin, lanky and dark, he was, in his early twenties, already a walking encyclopedia of nervous tics. From rapid blinking to proboscis rubbing, to a curious habit of tangling and untangling his fingers, he was always in motion. Seated next to him was Giselle Amethyst, the ship’s exobiologist. Plump. middle-aged and somber, she rarely looked up from the cherry-red quantum tablet on the table in front of her, especially when called on to speak.
The remaining two seats were taken by Chief Engineer Aldurex Dravulen and Genion Baltor, the mission’s consulting physicist. Both looked preoccupied. Dravulen, unusually muscular for a scientist, looked lost without a sonic caliper in his hands. Baltor, unusually pale and disheveled, was lost in a thought experiment. He stared off into space as if he were utterly unaware of his surroundings. As always, it was an open question whether this brilliant male had bathed in the previous thirty-six hours. And as always, the odds favored “no.”
Verthani slid into the chair next to Athcarone.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Was making progress, finally, with those inscriptions we found on Talisnoor, when this happened.”
“Thought you nailed that over a year ago,” said Verthani.
“Come on,” said Athcarone. “You can’t think ‘Big Picture’ all the time. In my line, nothing is ever nailed. And Talisnoor is in a neighboring system to Ghilos. The Ghilostri were an interstellar culture hundreds of cycles before anyone else. Reasonable to think they visited dozens of worlds. That’s how we found the clues we did.”
Verthani rested a hand on his forearm.
“How you found them,” she said. “I’m just a day dreamer.”
“Lucky for me, you’re a good one,” said Athcarone. “Look out, here comes Captain Shiny Boots.”
The celebrated archaeologist looked up in time to see broad-shouldered Captain Steretak jog into the conference room. From his perfectly pressed, beige pilot’s uniform to the shine on his black vatleather boots, he was a comical contrast to the relaxed styles of the research team.
“Folks, hi.” he said. “Let’s get right to it, ‘cause we’re all busy. The thing is, we’re about to enter an area of space that our Science Officer tells me is riddled with temporal anomalies. Don’t ask me to explain that. I’ll let him do the talking and maybe learn a little physics, finally. Lieutenant Kelatrin? Lay it out for us, will ya?”
Kelatrin stood up and addressed a sea of sullen faces. His voice trembled as he worked to suppress his stutter.
“We have a … have taken, taken exhaustive … tive readings and deter…determined….”
Eventually, he settled down enough to make the main points clear. Apparently, the Ghilos system was smack in the middle of a major temporal anomaly — that stretched from its core outward to a radius of nearly three lightyears. Though temporal anomalies had been sighted for centuries, this one was unique.
“Due to its scope and in … intensity, we believe it was produced artificially,” said Kelatrin.
One hypothesis, he explained, was that someone in the past had attempted to harness gravity waves to sculpt local space-time.
“Whatever their aims” said the Science Officer, “what they cre … created was confusion. Ghilos 4 is at the center of sever … several overlapping timelines.”
“Hold up, Lieutenant,” said Captain Steretak. “Before we get too deep into the details, what’s the bottom line?”
Kelatrin smacked his lips.
“What I … I think it means,” said Kelatrin, “is that we will soon enter an area a space-time in which past, present and fu … future have little meaning. We may … may find beings and arti … tifacts from several different historical eras at the same ph … physical coordinates.”
Giselle Amethyst shook her head.
“Or find no life at all,” she said. “Folks, biological organisms depend on linear time for every bodily function, from thoughts to farts. Highly unlikely any living organism could survive, if Time is tied up in knots.”
“Unless,” said Kelatrin, “they exist in diff … er … different zones, like pa … passengers in parallel trains. They may see and hear each other, without being able to inter … act.”
“Whoa,” said Captain Steretak. “That’s a lot to absorb, and we have a mission to run. So let’s figure out how any of this affects operations. What should we do, Lieutenant, wear encounter suits?”
Keratin ran a hand across his broad forehead.
“This is an entire … entirely new phe … phenom … nomenon,” he said. “I’d like to suggest we send a pair of servicebots or … or smart drones to the planet’s surface before we come any closer. We need more da … data.”
“Sure, take reasonable safety measures,” said Verthani, “as long as you remember that the point of this mission is to explore the ruins of Yeltrex-Drobai — on a tight deadline. I’m not interested in coming home empty-handed because a few of us are overly cautious.”
Captain Steretak clapped his Science Officer on the back.
“Thanks, Lieutenant,” he said, “for cluing us in. Dr. Seltra makes a good point. Still, I have to say we can’t afford not to test the waters before we dive. We’ll send a probe of some kind and see where we are. If it’s a go, I’m sure you can find efficiencies and get us out of here on schedule. That’s all for now. We’ll keep you posted.”
Verthani watched the Captain stalk off, then leaned back in her chair.
“What do you think?’ asked Athcarone.
“Either we’re in for a mother lode of archaeological data,” said Verthani. “Or we’re writing our own death certificates.”
To be continued…. Read more here
A new Episode of Anomaly appears every other Monday.
Mark Laporta is the author of Probability Shadow and Entropy Refraction, the first two novels in the science fiction series, Against the Glare of Darkness, which are available at a bookstore near you, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. He is also the author of Orbitals: Journeys to Future Worlds, a collection of short science fiction, which is available as an ebook.