27 August 2010


By Curtis C. Chen

"Tell me again how we're not going to get shot, killed, and/or court-martialed?" Rhee said.

"You worry too much," Murtry said.

"Tell that to Harmsa."

"Harmsa had a big mouth." Murtry glanced around the corner of the building. "Okay, it's time." Murtry pulled out a metallic starfish. "Grab one of these arms."

Rhee frowned. "Is this another teleporter?"

"Just touch it!"

Rhee put his hand on the device, and Murtry pressed down on its center. Everything around them rippled.

"Let's go," Murtry said, moving into the light.


"Chill." Murtry pointed at the other end of the building. The guard there was frozen, the smoke from his cigarette hanging in the air like a translucent gray ribbon.

"So the starfish stops time?" Rhee asked, following Murtry to the door.

"Basically." Murtry pulled out his lockpicks. "Watch the smoke, warn me when it starts moving again."

He got the door open in less than a minute. They went through and closed it behind them.

The inside of the warehouse was empty except for a large, glowing oval of light floating a foot off the ground. It showed unfamiliar barracks behind a barbed-wire fence. They watched an old man walk into view.

"You think he can see us?" Murtry said.

The man turned to look at them. He threw himself against the fence, shouting.

"Yes," Rhee said. "Also, your starfish time-stopper has worn off."

"What language is that?" Murtry asked.

Rhee looked at the yellow, six-pointed star on the man's shirt. "Polish."

"Excellent observation, Airman Rhee," came a booming voice behind them.

Murtry and Rhee whirled and stood at attention. Colonel Cranston, the base commander, walked up to them, followed by two MPs wielding pistols.

"Airman Murtry," Cranston said, holding out his hand, "I believe you're holding some inventory from Hangar 18."

Murtry sheepishly handed over the metal starfish.

"You didn't think we'd have detectors for these things?" Cranston shook his head. "Now that your pal Harmsa's talking, we have enough to lock up all three of you troublemakers. But it would be a shame if the Air Force didn't get some use out of you first." He nodded at the oval. "What do you think that is?"

Rhee said, "Time machine."

"Close," Cranston said. "We've been calling it a 'side-portal.' It's an opening to a different time, and a different reality."

"Like a parallel universe?" Murtry asked.

"Exactly," Cranston said. "We should be able to bury something in the past and dig it up in the present, but we can't. The theory is that the portal branches to a completely separate future."

"I have a question, Colonel," Rhee said.

"Go ahead, Airman."

"What's the point of time travel if you can't change the future?"

"Research," Cranston said. "What if the South had won the Civil War? Or the Germans had assassinated Hitler in 1944?" He smiled. "We've got all kinds of thought experiments to try out. And who better to send back in time to tinker with history than two of our best liars?"


Photo: cobwebs on barbed-wire fence at Cape Lookout State Beach, Oregon, August, 2010

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