by A.P. McDermott © 2003


General Shepherd looked out of the window towards the harbour where, Eardley knew, several fishing boats crewed by men in twentieth century clothing were being herded towards jetties by a flotilla of small patrol boats.

"We nearly ended up with Columbus, lieutenant," Shepherd said. "Christopher fucking Columbus. Where the fuck would we have been then?"

"I'm told we can't change history, sir," Lieutenant Eardley replied, looking at the floor, the window, anything but the general. "And no-one was too surprised about the Columbus thing. In 1492, he reported lots of weird stuff, or so Doctor Gilbert says. Compass haywire. Lights in the sky. So, that was us. Doctor Gilbert says we're on safe ground. If it didn't happen, it can't happen."

"Safe ground?" Shepherd stubbed out his cigar in a mini-explosion of sparks. "We've lost a full crew from the Mary Celeste who jumped overboard when they saw your harmless fucking lights, leaving their ship to drift back through the warp and all the way to Portugal. We've five World War Two Avenger bombers, a rescue plane and 27 very confused guys we can't say a thing to. We've got the USS fucking Cyclops, 1918 vintage, being towed into harbour, an 1872 British frigate in dock, and a 1609 sailing ship at sea with a 1924 Japanese freighter. We've got a 1948 commercial airliner in a hangar. When is all this safe fucking ground going to stop?"

"They say they can't stop it, sir." Eardley fidgeted. "They're trying of course, but they're not getting anywhere. Thing is, when they started this they expected just the one little hole to open up and.."

"A hole in common sense?"

"A hole in time, sir. I told you."

Shepherd drummed his fingers on the desktop. "I saw something like this on Star Trek The Final Generation. Thought it was a stupid notion even for a holoshow. So what's the bottom line, lieutenant? The project's out of anybody's control?"

"For the moment, sir. Apparently there are holes opening up sequentially through the past. But the sequence is nearing the present day, and everybody is sort of hoping it'll stop."


"Yes, sir."

"And if it doesn't?"

"Nobody really knows, sir."

Shepherd turned from the window. "This is a fucking mess, lieutenant," he said. "What is it?"

"A fucking mess, sir."

"Damned right. And I want it cleaned up, lieutenant. Take that message for me. To Doctor Mad Fucking Scientist, or whatever the fuck he's called."

"Yes, sir." Eardley waited to be formally dismissed.

"Nobody even wants to hazard a guess?" Shepherd asked, exhaustion sneaking into his voice. "Not even a guess?"

"As to what, sir?"

"As to what's going to happen if this thing rolls on into the future."

Eardley swallowed nervously. "I... well...."

"Out with it, son."

"I think they're rather hoping someone will come back and stop us, sir. That someone's waiting for a point where they can intervene without affecting the time line."

Shepherd nodded. "Yep," he said. "That's what I'm banking on too."

x x x

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