The End of Days
by Ric Walter
an original Inspector Spacetime/Peacemist: Nicer Post adventure
based on “Inspector Spacetime”
as seen on “Community,”
created by Dan Harmon
west of Guatemala City, Guatemala
17 December 2012
13:52 American Central Standard Time
Despite being so late in the year, Vesna Kovač wiped the sweat from beneath the brim of her off-white baseball cap and swatted in annoyance at the mosquitoes and other flying insects that buzzed around her. It was another humid and rather hot day in the tropical jungle that filled the valley below the western fringe of Guatemala City.
Kovač was looking down over her half-lowered sunglasses at her notebook, where she’d been keeping track of the progress of her team at the archaeological site at Kaminaljuyu, a Mayan city from the Classical Period. As a student at the University of Ljubljana in her native Slovenia, she had had the opportunity to visit the site a couple of decades earlier, at a time that the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports hosted a number of archaeological teams disinterring and examining Mayan heritage sites during the late 1980s and early 1990s, before repeated thefts of historical items resulted in the government shutting down access to most Mayan ruins.
Now a professor at Georgetown University in the United States, Kovač had negotiated the opportunity to bring her archaeology students to a Classical Mayan site and resume the work under the watchful eyes of an observer from the Foundation for Latin American Anthropological Research (FLAAR), which was helping fund the program.
The man’s presence was an annoyance for her, but Kovač’s attention was on a minor temple that her team was surveying and cleaning up. The so-called Lunar Temple stood at the west end of the clearing that had served as the city’s centre, where vendors used to set up tables and booths to trade wares and foodstuffs, and priests had paraded around in advance of religious ceremonies that held utmost importance to the ancient people who had mysteriously vanished shortly before the first Europeans arrived in the Americas.
Kovač resumed sketching the stela that student Aaron Brundige had carefully removed from one of the lower steps of the Lunar Temple. He had taken several photographs of the stela, which leaned at a high angle against the side of the temple, possibly having been pried out by someone attempting to steal it but gave up.
The stela, which lay on a cloth inside a box, depicted Kukulcan, a Mayan deity similar to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl, whose reincarnation had predicted a new golden age for the great Aztec culture. It was therefore unfortunate for Montezuma, then high priest and political leader of the Aztecs, that he mistook a light-skinned man-beast as Quetzalcoatl returned incarnate, only to learn that the man-beast was actually a Spaniard by the name of Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro on a horse and that he had come to claim the Aztecs’ land for his king.
There were certain differences between Quetzalcoatl and Kukulcan, but those were minor in appearance and meant little to the professor as she drew the scene depicted on the stela, for the two deities were related, if not the same one in a slightly different form. And, the fact that the Maya had disappeared, probably absorbed into the Aztec culture, long before the arrival of Europeans, pretty much made the point moot.
The FLAAR representative, Richard Milanese, had returned to where Kovač sat sketching.
“It’s going to be a busy day today,” he said in a General American accent.
Kovač stopped, twisted the pencil over in her hand and rubbed away some lines she had just drawn, displeased with what she saw.
“Should be,” she replied in a clipped Slovenian accent that covered her irritation with the man’s presence.
The man swatted idly at the flying insects that buzzed around his head.
“Look, Professor Kovač,” Milanese began, “I know you don’t like having someone from FLAAR looking over your shoulder all the time, but that’s part of our agreement to fund this dig. I’m doing my best to stay out of your way.”
Kovač snorted derisively. “Sure. If staying out of my way means stepping in the way of me and my students every time something of interest is found. That’s good.”
“You know what I mean. I’m only doing my job …”
Milanese’s voice was drowned out by a sudden deep, low roar that seemed to emanate from all around them and grew to an incredible crescendo that was quickly followed by an intense shaking of the ground underneath them. The students in and around the Lunar Temple cried out in surprise, despite the previous experiences with earthquakes. They abandoned their tools as the shaking intensified and rushed into the clearing between the various temples. Small rocks and then larger blocks began to tumble from their perches high up on the temple. They swiftly created a tumbling jumble of heavy, solid objects that poured down the Lunar Temple’s side and collected at its base.
span style=”font-size: small;”> Kovač was on her feet instantly and huddled with her students as the tremor rolled on. The shaking lasted a long minute.
Stone blocks continued to bound haphazardly off the steps of the temple and crash down to the small ring of debris that had formed around the great building. But, the end of the earthquake had otherwise left the entire area silent. No birds in the sky screaming; no insects buzzing around; no voices shouting out. Everything was eerily quiet.
Until the top third of the Lunar Temple collapsed inwards.
The team from Georgetown University stared up as a cloud of dust billowed into the air, slowly settling around them and finally affording them the view of the temple, which was now 20 metres shorter than it had been before.
“What the hell?” someone blurted out, breaking the tension that had built up during the earthquake.
No one had paid any attention to the other buildings, which had likewise suffered collapses of their higher levels. All the buildings now were metres shorter and lower than they had been before.
the Epsilon Eridani system
10,342,918,483 years before the present
A pair of brown-skinned hands appeared from behind the large leaf fronds and pulled them aside to reveal two men, one in a handsome, black suit and spectacles and the other outfitted like a Metropolitan Police constable. The man in the black suit pushed through the opening he had created, holding the leaves apart until his companion placed his hands to hold back the foliage.
The policeman followed the other man’s lead as they exited the lush forest, which gave way to a thickly grassed meadow. The purplish blades of the tall plants swayed gently in a light wind under a red sun. Although both men had clearly been exerting themselves, the man in the black suit showed little sign of it; his counterpart had a sheen of sweat across his brow, which he paused to wipe with the back of his white-gloved hand.
“How much further, Inspector?” queried the younger man.
The dark-suited man twisted his neck to look upon the policeman, then smiled wryly. “Getting a bit tired, are we, Reggie? I suppose we could pause for a breather,” the man called the Inspector replied in a sharp Cockney-tinged accent.
While Constable Reginald Wiggleworth found a comfortable place to sit down on the grass, the Inspector gazed upon the open area into which they had came. The horizon ahead of them was backed by a chain of mountains, which appeared dark green against the pinkish sky. Reddish lines and arcs picked out against the green mountains indicated the presence of artificial constructs.
“Judging by the buildings in that direction,” the Inspector offered, “I would say another hour’s journey.” He paused, turning back to Wigglesworth. “To answer your previous question.”
The Constable glowered up at the Inspector. “Another hour’s walk, Inspector? I don’t have that kind of stamina, you know.”
The beginning of a smirk tugged at one corner of the Space Master’s mouth, but he sobered quickly and faced his Associate. “I know I didn’t exactly spell out all the details of your job description when I offered you this position. But, I figured you were quite fit for all the walking it would involved. After all, you were a beat officer, walking the streets of fair Londontown, chasing down wrongdoers, assisting the aggrieved, standing for hours to divert traffic around the scenes of auto collisions. You were the perfect choice.”
Wigglesworth sighed in response. “I know, Inspector. We’ve been over this before.”
“And, you enjoy complaining about your situation even though I know you’re enjoying every moment of it,” the Kayaclaschian said gently.
The Constable nodded in agreement, but didn’t look at his friend. “You’re right, Inspector. As always.”
This time, the Inspector smiled broadly without having to check himself. Although he heard it quite frequently, it never seemed to diminish his pleasure at being confirmed in his rightness.
“So, tell me again, why are we … whenever we are?” Wigglesworth asked.
“Investigating a people who disappeared from this world some 10 billion years before you were born,” the Inspector replied.
“Yes, yes, I remember that part of it,” muttered Wigglesworth. “I just don’t understand why.”
The Inspector looked away for a brief moment, then turned back to his Associate. “Fulfilling a promise I made to an acquaintance. A professor at the Universal Antiquities Museum on Malachor Five. He’s researching the reasons for the end of the Comporellonian civilisation.”
“We’re here mucking around some 10 billion years in the past, trying to fulfil a promise you made to some professor from some planet I’ve never heard of, while there are millions of temporal crimes taking place across the Universe? That’s a good use of our time.”
The Inspector tutted. “Promises are the ultimate currency in this existence, Constable. If someone does something for you and only asks a promise of you in return, you are obligated to them. I wouldn’t be a good man if I didn’t fulfil my obligations to others,” he said seriously. “Besides, if you fulfil an obligation like this, the person to whom you made that promise might feel a certain obligation to you. And, that, you never know when it might come in handy.”
Wigglesworth rolled his eyes. “And saving a man’s life from an attacking alien doesn’t?”
The Space Master smiled slightly, but it only barely reached his eyes. “I haven’t forgotten, Reggie. I don’t forget anything, even if I wish I could.”
“Would it be enough to persuade you to carry me the rest of the way?” the Constable teased.
The Kayaclaschian felt the compulsion to deny his Associate’s request, but was interrupted by a sudden, urgent bleating that emanated from his suit. “Guess I may not get to fulfil my promise to the professor right now. Something important must be happening for there to be a distress code being sent this far through time.”
He reached into his inside jacket pocket to remove a cylindrical item that looked like a biro, but with a blinking red light where its button would be. “We should return to the BOOTH, Reggie. I think we’re needed elsewhen.”
“What exactly is that, Inspector? A biro?”
“It’s a deep-time transponder designed to look like a biro from Earth, so that when I use it, it doesn’t seem out of place.”
“Really?” the Constable asked plaintively. “I feel I should be taking notes on all this. Could I …?”
The Inspector pocketed his emergency beacon. “Moving along, Constable,” he said as he turned back toward the forest.
Wigglesworth wearily pushed himself up from the ground, a clump of purple grass tearing away from the ground and sticking to his gloves and uniform as he got to his feet. He shook his hands to release the leaves, but only a few drifted delicately downward. Others stuck stubbornly to his glove, which was now streaked purple. He pulled at the grass blades with his left hand, but they continued to hold firmly to his right glove. Some became stuck to his left glove. The Space Master had almost reached the edge of the forest, while the Constable struggled to remove the native plant from his gloves and uniform.
“Inspector!” he called desperately.
The Space Master stopped and looked back at his Associate. “Reggie?”
“How do I get these things off of me?”
The Kayaclaschian strode back to him, then tentatively touched one of the grass blades, which immediately latched onto his finger. “Hmm.” He dug into his pockets and retrieved a sonic spanner, which he activated and swung slowly over the planet material.
“It seems to have become quite attached to you, Reg,” the Space Master remarked.
“This isn’t the time for a joke, Inspector!” Wigglesworth muttered with some irritation in his voice.
“Perhaps this isn’t the space, either,” the Inspector quipped, adjusting his spectacles meaningfully while looking at his Associate.
He adjusted the settings on his tool and resumed passing it over the plant material. After a few seconds the grass shrivelled and crumbled, leaving a paper-like residue that fluttered away.
The sonic spanner had the same effect on the rest of the grass that had attached itself to Wigglesworth’s uniform. The purple dye that came from the grass was a different story, much to the Constable’s chagrin. The Inspector promised that the BOOTH could undo the damage while they were in transit to whenever they were going next.
Once the Inspector and Wigglesworth had pushed into the dense growth of the forest, the tree fronds flapped back into place, as if they hadn’t been moved.
The Inspector took the bejewelled disc out of his trousers pocket and inserted it into the slot above the door handle of the BOOTH. It only took a few seconds for the timeship to scan and confirm the crystals set into the disc as belonging to it, releasing the door’s locking mechanism.
As the door swung open, the Space Master pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. After he stepped inside the tight confines of the BOOTH, Constable Wigglesworth followed suit, standing in his usual place next to the Kayaclaschian.
The time-travelling alien that he had befriended several months ago while investigating a horrid slaying in the former Whitechapel district of London was facing what appeared to be a simple telephone. But, once its receiver was lifted, the Inspector pressed his left hand against the top of the device, while he waited for his ship to read his ribonucleic-acid coding to verify his identity. The Space Master had explained that the RNA reader had been an innovation after a number of his kind — including the Inspector himself — had had their timeships hijacked. The Space Master High Chancery had ordered every ship to be outfitted with RNA scanners to prevent anyone from using them to create havoc elsewhen in time.
The Inspector had included the details of the Sergeant’s overpowering him and piloting of the BOOTH to an ocean planet where he’d disappeared into the population, consuming some quarter of the lifeforms there to resolve a metastatic crisis caused by an improperly completed reincarnation process. That hadn’t quite been the last straw for the High Chancery, but it was close. The final event that led to the decree also involved the Sergeant, but the Inspector pleaded ignorance on the incident, saying only that it had happened some three hundred years before and he’d had to use the RNA sequencer since then.
The Space Master replaced the handset onto the top of the telephone device as it slid downward several centimetres. A black line perpendicular to the telephone suddenly appeared in the transparent window in front of him, splitting it open. A display screen emerged from the opening panels and immediately lit up.
The images of the Milky Way galaxy turning on its axis and of Earth that normally filled the screen appeared as small boxes to the left side. A jumble of glyphs similar to that used for Klingon script on Star Trek crawled right to left along the bottom of the screen, while the majority of the screen was blank.
The Inspector retrieved the biro-shaped temporal beacon and pressed the device against the screen. A white-lined square to expand into the blank space on the screen, then the Kayaclaschian pulled the temporal beacon away and pocketed it. A fraction of a second later, a “P”-shaped logo made of circles interconnected by narrow lines appeared for about three seconds, then it was replaced by the image of a very fit European man wearing a grey uniform jacket similar to military garb from the 50th century, not that Constable Wigglesworth would have known.
“Inspector,” the man began in a bland American accent, “a serious situation has developed on Earth in 2012. During the course of the past couple of weeks, a series of strong earthquakes has struck points on the planet.”
The man’s image disappeared and a virtual view of Earth popped up. A series of points of red light spread out across the globe: Central America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, Antarctica, South America and places in the various oceans that covered the world. A series of yellow lines spread out from the red lights, across the surface and through the Earth itself.
“As you can see, the epicentres are nearly equidistant from each other, many occurring where no earthquake activity has ever been recorded,” the American resumed.
The man’s face reappeared on the monitor.
“Governments all over the world are worried about the timing of the incidents. Many people across the planet have started to believe that this is the beginning of the end of the world.”
Wigglesworth’s ears perked up at the statement. “End of the world? What’s going on?”
The Inspector shushed him as the recording continued.
“There’s only so much we at Peacemist can do about this, Inspector, which is why I contacted you. We need your help. I’m including the temporal coordinates for you. Godspeed. Captain James Haggard, out.”
A series of digits appeared on the screen in front of the Space Master once Haggard’s image had disappeared. He swiped two fingers across the numbers, highlighting them, then inputting a series of commands into the BOOTH’s navigation system.
“Who was that, Inspector?” Wigglesworth asked cautiously.
The Kayaclaschian spared him a glance before returning to his task. “Captain James Haggard works for Peacemist, a worldwide agency based in London, that monitors Earth for temporal anomalies and for aliens. It works to mitigate their effects in order to protect the world when I can’t be there.”
“Why is it that I’ve never heard of this Peacemist? Do they work for the government? How do they do what we — I mean, you — do when they’re not you? How did he get such a job? I mean …”
The Inspector held up a hand to slow the torrent of questions coming from the Constable’s mouth. “Reg,” he said patiently. “Nobody’s supposed to know about Peacemist. In fact, I distinctly recall Peacemist being involved in the Jack the Ripper case when we met. It’s a secret organization working beyond the governments of the world. The reason no one knows about them is that they remove people’s memories of their interactions and of the events that brought Peacemist in contact with them.” He paused. “As far as how they perform their duties, even I’m not certain. I have my suspicions, but Captain James is very careful about what he lets on to me. He knows that my brain has a different biochemistry and that Peacemist’s neuraliser has little impact upon me.”
Wigglesworth was agog. “Neuraliser? What’s that?”
The Space Master sighed softly to himself. He knew that Constable Wigglesworth was a little thick sometimes and often didn’t understand what he was talking about. It rarely tested his patience, but the situation was not very conducive to a drawn-out question-and-answer session.
“The device Peacemist uses to remove people’s memories so they can go about their lives without knowing the danger they were in,” he finally said.
“Oh!” Constable Reggie exclaimed, as if he fully comprehended the explanation, but then he frowned. “I … I don’t really understand, Inspector.”
“I’ll have to explain it later, Reg,” the Space Master replied. “In the meantime, we’ll be off to London in 2012 to get a full briefing on the situation that the good Captain has contacted us about.”
He pressed a symbol on the screen and the BOOTH’s door latch locked shut. A deep keening rose from all around them and the timeship shuddered as it slipped into the spacetime continuum. The Inspector made a couple of course corrections as the BOOTH passed through unexpected ripples in time. Wigglesworth watched the changing images on the screen as the Space Master guided the ship to its destination, not uttering a single word during the journey.
A long moment later, the keening quieted and Wigglesworth felt a thud as the timeship re-entered normal spacetime. Once the ship had solidified into its new time frame, the sound of the BOOTH’s engines died away completely and the door lock clicked open. The Space Master lifted the telephone receiver and pressed the “Operator” key, setting off a chain reaction that shut off the screen, retracted it into the BOOTH’s wall and closed the panels that concealed the operations centre.
“Welcome to the 19th of December of the Earth year 2012, Reg,” the Inspector said with a grin.
He pushed open the BOOTH’s single door, as Wigglesworth glanced out through the transparent windows to see soaring steel beams interspersed with tinted windows and railings on one side of the timeship. On the other, he stared in awe at the ocean, where quite a few sailing ships and ocean liners sat in the harbour. The Space Master looked a little puzzled by where they had landed, but just for a moment.
“Blimey, Inspector! It’s Syndey Bay!” the Constable exclaimed in surprise, then turned around. “The Syndey Opera House! My word! I’ve always wanted to see this!”
The Kayaclaschian smoothed his black cravat down as a warm breeze had risen and tried snatching it away from his body. He took a moment to soak in the atmosphere, the slight humidity from the ocean, the sounds of people in conversation mingled with the squeals of bicycle wheels and horns from a couple of large ships in the harbour.
“It’s quite a sight, indeed, Reg.”
Wigglesworth stopped suddenly and faced the Space Master. “But, I thought you said we were going to London? Why are we in Sydney?”
The Inspector looked bemused. “I’m not exactly sure. I simply input the temporal coordinates that James gave me. I’m sure he’ll explain why he sent us here.”
Before either of them could speak another word, they simultaneously became aware of a tall, grey-garbed man standing behind them. Both the Inspector and Wigglesworth spun on their heels to face the newcomer. The Space Master immediately broke into a wide smile.
“James!” he said delightfully, reaching out to shake the man’s hand. “Good to see you again.”
“Inspector,” the Captain replied with a frown, accepting the man’s proffered hand. “What you doing here?”
“I received your message via the transtemporal receiver and came as quickly as I could.”
“But,” James began, then stopped to consider how the Inspector could have received a message from him. “I didn’t send you a message … yet.”
The Space Master raised an eyebrow and looked knowingly at his former Associate. “Right. That means you’ll be sending one soon. Wouldn’t do either of us any good to cause a time paradox,” he responded.
“No matter how minor it may be,” Captain James retorted.
After a momentary pause, he looked past the Inspector and looked questioningly at Reggie, prompting the Kayaclaschian to introduce his Associate.
“Captain James Haggard, allow me to introduce Constable Reginald Wigglesworth, Metropolitan Police, London.” He turned to Wigglesworth. “Reg, this is Captain James Haggard with Peacemist.”
The Inspector turned away from Haggard and lowered his voice a bit, but not so much that his words would be lost of the sounds of the surrounding environment. “Whatever you do, don’t ask about his sexuality,” he said knowingly.
The Constable looked sidelong at the Captain. “Why not?” he asked his friend.
Haggard rolled his eyes and raised his voice a bit to let them know that he had heard their dialogue. “There’ll be plenty of time for that later, Inspector. Perhaps we should head into the Core and sort out why you’ve come.”
The Inspector waited as the Captain walked towards the Opera House, then leaned close to Wigglesworth’s ear to whisper conspiratorially: “He’s what you might call ‘sexually repressed,’ though in truth, he just doesn’t understand his sex role … yet. That’s all I can say.”
He pressed his index finger and thumb together and drew them across his lips, as if zipping them shut. He’d done that a few times before, and Reggie had learned enough not to say anything related to that subject again, though questions exploded in his mind about a man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties who did not know his role in sexual relations with other people. He reluctantly put the thoughts out of his mind and hurried to catch up with the Inspector, who was only a couple paces behind Captain Haggard.
The Peacemist leader came to a halt in front of a blank stone wall, looked at his two visitors who stood in front of him. From his trouser pocket, he withdrew an item that resembled a old pocket watch and clicked it open. He thrust his index finger against the glowing-green face and the world around them suddenly fluttered, as if the three of them were surrounded by vortex of heat, but they felt nothing but a slight tingling on their exposed skin.
“Oh, I probably should’ve warned you about that,” Captain James said, awkwardly apologetic. “Nobody’s supposed to know about the entrance to the Core, so we’ve developed this device to blur people’s senses, effectively making us invisible to them. That way, our secrecy remains intact.”
The stone wall split open into two panels. Haggard hesitated a fraction of a second before walking between the gap in the wall; the Inspector followed him without waiting. Wigglesworth stared in amazement as the stone wall slid together without a sign that the door had even been there.
“Constable?” prompted Haggard. “Coming with us?”
Reggie seemed to wake up from a trance, looking surprised to see the Captain and the Inspector standing in a standard lift. “Right, Captain,” he blurted out, ambling quickly into the car.
The silvery stainless-steel doors closed with the barest of whispers and started descending, though Captain James hadn’t done anything to activate it. Wigglesworth glanced around the car, noticing that there were no buttons or markings of any sort anywhere in the lift.
“How does this …?”
Haggard gave the Inspector a knowing look before looking at the Constable. “Only one place this goes. Down.”
The corners of Reggie’s mouth turned down and his eyebrows lifted slightly. It made sense that if there was only one destination, there would be no need for a button to signal where to go. Probably some sensors in the ceiling that sensed their occupation of the car and a computer that activated the gears that made the lift rise or descend, he decided.
“Captain, the last I knew, you were with Peacemist London,” the Inspector said casually. “How is it that you found yourself in Sydney?”
Haggard hugged himself briefly before stretching out his arms, then swinging them lazily by his side. “Not a very long, involved story, Inspector. The team that staffed the Core here in Sydney went into a time bubble that appeared in the middle of the shopping district in Cherrybrook, trying to find out its origin and pull the plug. Only thing was, the bubble collapsed before they were able to get out. Poof! Gone. Seven people lost in time, probably forever.”
The Inspector removed his spectacles and gently cleaned them with his cravat. “The time bubble collapsed while they were in it?” he reiterated, while replacing the spectacles on his nose. “Not a pleasant way to perish.”
Captain James grinned self-consciously. “Not that I would know, but I’ve read the reports that Peacemist Beijing compiled in the aftermath. A few hundred residents disappeared with the time bubble, along with the buildings they were in. Some dust was about all they found, rock and organic materials. I rather wouldn’t want to go out that way myself.”
“Not that you’re likely to ‘go out’ anyhow, Captain,” the Kayaclaschian agreed.
Haggard blushed at the mention of his immortality. Not that it was a secret among those who knew him, but not exactly something that he enjoyed discussing. After all, his body had essentially been frozen at thirty-eight years old for more than a century, after the Good Lamb Entity resurrected him from beyond death at the hands of the Blorgons about half a billion years in the future and he traveled back to the early 20th century. Although he and Lily Weaver had met a few times since his resurrection, he had found it too difficult to ask her what had happened while the Entity had possessed her body and whether she had influenced it to bring him back. Haggard was uncertain as to whether the Inspector knew how it had happened, but believed he didn’t, so he’d never put the question to the Space Master.
“James has been granted eternal life, Reggie,” the Inspector informed his newer Associate. “Rather an unusual situation for a human, at any point in your development. But, it’s good to have one person you can count on to be there, no matter when I visit Earth.”
Captain James looked away, not wanting to be a part of the conversation. Fortunately, further discussion of his unusual lifespan ended as the lift came to a gentle stop and the silver doors parted to reveal a dark, cavernous room lighted at intervals by energy-efficient light-emitting diodes. The space immediately in front of the lift was barren except for a pool of light from above. Haggard strode in confidently, turning off to his right, where a elbow-high counter stood and a young red-headed woman smiled in greeting as she lifted a large mug of steaming coffee and held it out for him. He took it by the handle and looked at her.
“Enya Hancock, our office manager,” Haggard introduced her to his companions. “Keeps track of everything going on around here, files, furniture, food, whatever we need to keep this place running. Makes an awesome cup of joe.”
Enya laughed in response. “You Americans and your ‘cup of joe.’ It’s coffee, James! And, not a substitute for a good meal, either,” she admonished him with a slight Irish brogue.
“I know. I know,” the Captain replied. “As I said, always keeping track of everything!”
“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Hancock,” the Inspector said brightly, his Cockney accent stronger than before.
“And, you are?” she asked pleasantly.
“The Inspector and his Associate, Constable Wigglesworth,” Haggard supplied.
“A pleasure to meet you, Inspector,” said Enya. “I’ve looked forward to making your acquaintance. Constable, pleased to meet you.”
Wigglesworth grinned and offer his hand, which Enya shook with a crushing grip, then massaged his hand. “My word, Miss Hancock! That’s quite a grip you have there!”
“The better to be remembered by,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
“And, Enya, could you remind me to send a transtemporal message to the Inspector shortly,” Haggard said, then quietly offered this explanation that Hancock didn’t bother to question: “Trying to stop a time paradox from happening.”
“Make sure he includes the temporal coordinates for this location,” the Inspector added blandly. “Otherwise, I might land in London and completely mess things up.”
“Indeed,” Enya replied sarcastically. “No sense in that happening.”
“Moving along.” The Captain turned to his left, where a bank of monitors and computer displays stood. A young Asian man clicked away with both hands at one keyboard before reaching to his right and utilising a second keyboard to bring up schematics on the primary monitor. Haggard came to a stop on the man’s left, prompting him to look up.
“James! I just got a new report of an earthquake in Cambodia. I’m compiling the data right now,” the young man said fluidly.
“Good,” the Captain replied, then reassessed his statement. “No, another earthquake wouldn’t be good; it’d be bad. But more data is great.” He paused, twisting his body to one side, then the other, trying to segue to his next topic.
“Probably what prompted you to contact me in the first place,” the Space Master offered to Haggard.
The Captain nodded in agreement and turned back to the Asian man.
“Wei, we have visitors. The Inspector and his Associate, Constable Wigglesworth.”
Wei spun his work chair around to face the newcomers, smiling upon seeing them. “Pleased to meet you both! Inspector, James has told me many stories about you. It’s an honour to work with you.”
“Inspector, Constable, this is Wei Kwok, master technologist here,” Haggard introduced him almost belatedly.
“Mister Kwok, the honour is mine,” the Space Master said gravely, tilting his head ever so slightly toward the man.
Wigglesworth quickly followed the Inspector’s lead. “An honour to work with you, sir.”
“Wei came from Peacemist Beijing as part of the team that cleaned up after the time-bubble incident. When I got posted here, I saw how good he was with the technology the former team had here, I asked him to stay on,” the Captain explained. “I needed a technologist, considering the events that Peacemist deals with on a regular basis. I had to leave Toru Nagasaki back in London, but I was able to bring Brennan Foster and Enya Hancock in. Our medical officer, Isolde Singer, transferred from Peacemist Berlin. Rumour is, there were changes coming that the Berlin team didn’t like; Isolde was fortunate to get the opportunity to transfer,” he said. After an awkward pause, he stepped away from the computer bank and led the Inspector and the Constable further into the Core, then leaned toward them and whispered, “Someone high up must’ve owed her a favour. Though for what, I’m a little clueless.” He tapped the side of his nose and looked at both of his visitors to make sure the message of “keep it quiet time” was clear.
Wigglesworth frowned, not being accustomed to the gesture. The Inspector expected as much, immediately whispering to him, “On the Q.T., I believe is the phrase. Say nothing about this, Reg.”
The Constable grinned stupidly. “Oh, of course, Inspector. I wouldn’t dream of it!”
That caused Haggard to frown oddly at the young black man for just a few seconds, then he schooled his face to make it seem as if he hadn’t worried that the Constable would slip up and tell Isolde the secret.
“Medical bay is through there,” the Captain said, pointing through an archway to his right as he continued walking. “You’ll meet Isolde shortly, when we start the briefing.”
The two time travellers glanced through the archway to see the middle-aged German doctor organising her equipment in a state-of-the-art medical centre, complete with bio-scanners and surgical-laser tools. The Inspector took in the entirety of the facility in the few seconds he looked; the Constable barely saw the medical worker herself before he was being hurried on to the next stop on their tour: Captain James’ office.
“And, in back, we have living quarters,” he explained. “Part of Peacemist’s secrecy lies in our team members not being seen in the communities we serve, so we all live down here in the Core.”
“Must be a little difficult on family life,” Wigglesworth said absent-absent-mindedly.
Captain James stopped and stood awkwardly, trying to put the words together to explain their situation. “Actually, none of us has a family life,” he admitted. “Well, not outside of Peacemist, that is.”
“Oh,” Reggie said softly, registering his surprise, but not completely understanding the situation.
“We’re just one big happy family here,” the Captain said with finality, then turned to enter his office.
The glass doors slid apart upon his approach and he stood there as the Inspector and Wigglesworth walked inside. The room as moderately well-lit with diffuse lighting from the walls. Haggard’s desk was nearly empty but for a few computer tablets stacked neatly on one side, a Rubik’s dodecahedron on the near corner and a Bushwacker’s hat on the other. To one side of his desk, a large safe door with a magnetic lock was set into the wall, hardly noticeable unless you were looking directly at it. There were two modern-style chairs set before the desk and an older executive-style black-leather chair behind it. Captain James rounded the desk and settled into his favourite chair, lifting his open palm toward the two chairs opposite his.
“Please, have a seat,” he offered. “It’ll be about fifteen minutes before the Brennan returns. Brennan Foster, my second in command,” he added sheepishly.
“I appreciate the introductions and the brief tour of your ‘Core,’ Captain James,” the Inspector preambled. “But, you indicated that this matter is urgent and, judging by the diagram you included with your message, the entire planet appears to be in jeopardy. Perhaps you could begin explaining the situation now?”
Haggard’s face fell. “Inspector, I would love to begin briefing you, but I only know so much about this myself. I’ve tasked Brennan to head up the case, using all our resources. I’ve been in touch with the heads of Peacemist from around the world, but most of their reports have gone straight to him. Wei’s compiling real-time data on the quakes: epicentres, magnitudes, damage, deaths, et cetera. And, I’ve been reading up on seismology myself, since that usually isn’t something that I deal with.”
The Inspector cleared his throat. “I understand what you’re saying, Captain James. Waiting a few minutes shouldn’t be an issue. I apologise for having asked.”
Haggard came up short, not having expected that reaction. “Um, perhaps I can show you to the conference room? Let you get settled in there?”
The Kayaclaschian smiled mildly and nodded. “That would be good. Thank you.”
“Then I’ve got a transtemporal message to send to you,” Captain James added.
“Indeed,” the Inspector agreed. “Please make sure you include a diagram of all the earthquake epicentres in your message. And, a brief explanation of what’s going on.”
“If that’s what I did in the message you received, I’ll make sure to include that.”
“Thank you, Captain James.”
The leader of Peacemist practically vaulted out of his chair, came round the desk and headed toward the parting plate-glass doors, not looking over his shoulder. “If you gentlemen will follow me.”
The three men exited the spacious office and disappeared into the main room of the Core.
Fort Severn, Ontario, Canada
19 December 2012
4:27 American Eastern Standard Time
There were still some broken cumulus clouds drifting across the dark sky as Garry Molson pulled his rusting pick-up truck to a stop next to the dock and cut the headlights. He reached across the dashboard to pick up his cup of coffee and popped off the plastic cover. The steaming beverage formed small patch of fog on the top of the windscreen which quickly crystallised because of the cold outside.
It was off-season for fishermen like him, but he was still an early riser on chilly winter days such as this. It had seemed like a good time to pay a visit to his warehouse and check to see how the repairs to his trawler were coming before the workmen arrived for the day.
He noisily sipped his creamy, sweetened drink for a moment. The morning newspaper lay folded in the passenger’s seat, awaiting dawn’s light to allow him to read up on local events and see who was selling what and who had passed away during the week.
Molson replaced the plastic lid on top of the coffee cup, glanced in the rear-view mirror, out at the black water behind his vehicle, then cracked open the truck door and stepped out, bringing both the cup of coffee and the newspaper along. His breath misted heavily in the air, lit from a lonely street light near his building. He dug deep into his trousers pocket to find a tangle of keys on a tarnished brass ring, and strode purposefully toward the warehouse.
He slotted the key into the door’s lock and began to twist it open when everything around him started shaking furiously, followed quickly by a rumble that grew as the rattling continued. Molson dropped his beverage, newspaper and keys and threw himself to the ground. The street light flickered and died, while the buildings and the docks creaked and groaned as they rocked with the ground. A number of simultaneous snaps and pops echoed in his ears and there were crashes as gutters, shutters, doors, roofs and walls gave way, collapsing in a cacophony around him.
A fierce snap made him swing his head round to his warehouse. It sounded as if a tree had broken in half, but little light from the cloud-obscured moon to help, he barely realised that the light pole had given way until it landed with a resounding boom and the crash of metal and glass breaking. He could didn’t need any light to know that the pole had landed on top of his beloved pick-up, but couldn’t spare it any more thought as the ground continued to buck wildly beneath him. One wall of the warehouse buckled and collapsed, followed by cracks and splintering sounds as the rest of the building shifted. Then, the central beam fell inward, the roof following it.
Other buildings nearby collapsed in similar fashion, many in much worse condition. The wharf to which boats often docked had fallen into the Bay, leaving countless piers sticking up out of the water like limbless trees.
The shaking subsided, but the structures still standing shifted and groaned under the weight of the materials of which they were made.
Molson rose to his hands and knees, then got up to his shaky legs. It took a long minute before he could put his thoughts in order and remembered that he had a small electric torch in his coat pocket.
The torch flickered dully in the blackness of the pre-dawn hour, giving off just enough light for the fisherman to see the ruins of his warehouse and where his pick-up lay beneath the light pole. He swore mightily at the elements, never once considering that he was still alive despite the aftermath. All that concerned him was the broken masts that poked through the collapsed roof, knowing that his ship would probably be beyond repair. He swore again, his voice echoing oddly against the ruined landscape.
Another thought entered his mind. If this is what the waterfront looked like, his home might be in similar shape, which meant that his wife might be trapped inside or worse. He fished his mobile phone from his trousers and started to ring his home number, but when he pushed the “send” key, there was nothing. No dial tone, no busy signal, just silence. The mobile network had probably been knocked out as a result of the tremors, too.
He sighed and turned off his mobile. He pulled the torch from his pocket and looked over the remains of his warehouse, pondering whether the insurance agency would pay off his policy and how long he’d have to wait before he could clear the site and rebuild.
As those thoughts rolled around in his head, he became aware of the sound of rushing wind, though the air was practically still. He turned round toward the noise, noticing that the quarter moon had appeared from behind the clouds. Half-moonlight glinted off a large, glassy, black mountain a short distance ahead of him, in the Bay. The rushing grew louder and louder as the wave front expanded higher into the sky.
It would only take another minute or two, but the tsunami generated by the earthquake beneath Hudson Bay would crash nearly a mile inland, crushing everything in its path and sweeping the debris, along with Garry Molson, out into the black depths of the Bay.
That, at least, Molson had enough time to comprehend before the towering wave of water crossed above his head and crashed with an unearthly explosion, trapping him beneath the water that he had fished for four decades.
* * *
19 December 2012
near Zermatt, Switzerland
11:27 Central European Time
Despite a warm, drier-than-normal summer and autumn, winter had turned wet and cold. Snow in the higher elevations of the Alps was a hundred and thirty centimetres deep already and the weather showed little signs of turning away from the current pattern. The amount of snow and its relative dryness made for good skiing conditions and the Alpine ski lodges were booked to capacity, as holiday-makers from across the world flocked to the slopes to use their new winter gear.
Despite the lack of humidity in the snow, the ski patrol was required to check conditions from time to time throughout the day. Teams had detonated charges in the higher elevations very early in the morning to assure that the snow that could set off avalanches had tumbled down the mountainsides in advance of skiers taking to the slopes.
Today, the skies were clear with few wispy cirrus clouds visible on the horizons. The sun glared harshly off the white landscape that surrounded the Matterhorn. There was no sign that anything would disrupt anyone’s enjoyment of winter activities.
That was, until the tall granite monument that rose 4,478 metres above sea level started to shake along with the surrounding mountains. At first, there was a flurry of snow that cascaded down to lower elevations, then the quaking got much, much stronger. Skiers fled frantically, taken by surprise by the tremor.
The snow muffled much of the noise as energy from the underground event expanded outward toward the surface. Stones then boulders broke away from the metamorphic rock that made up the Matterhorn’s peak, setting off avalanches on the scale that no one had ever seen. Rocks collapsed on surrounding peaks as well, but larger and larger chunks of material broke off from the Matterhorn, its peak seeming to peal open like a flower in the early morning hours of the day.
The Earth continued to tremble and boulders poured off the side of the Matterhorn and nearby peaks; the once-pristine snow now buried beneath tonnes of rocky debris. Numerous people had disappeared beneath the avalanches of snow, ice and rock; survivors would be left wondering how such a catastrophe could take place in an area not known for such activity.
Finally, the earthquake subsided. Stone dust and snow fluttered carelessly in the air. The damage had been done. The Matterhorn’s once proud, majestic peak had crumbled, leaving a chimney-like structure that began spewing clouds of steam and dust that blanketed the skies. All the land to the east of the Matterhorn now lay in a deep, dark shadow that contrasted starkly to the sunshine to the west.
* * *
19 December 2012
13:27 Eastern African Time
The tour group leader waited for the bus to stop before calling his flock to attention.
“Ladies an’ Gentleman,” he said into the bus’s public-address system microphone. “We have arrived at the Church of Our Laydy Maree of Zi-yon. Please collect your affects and depart the bus in an orderly fashun.”
He hung the microphone back on its cradle before opening the bus doors and stepping out into a small car park outside a wide, round building topped by a sizeable dome. Nearly two dozen people exited the tour bus, one by one, staring up at the grey concrete dome on top of the cream-coloured stone walls, taking photographs with digital cameras and mobile phones.
The tour leader stood at a point some five metres from bus, most of the tourists gathering near him in a quarter moon shape, while a few of the more daring strayed from the group, pointing and talking in slightly hushed tones at the sight of one of the country’s most important religious sites. The tour leader called out to draw the stragglers back to the group and started to explain the historic significance of the church — and its two previous incarnations — to Christianity in Africa.
Round back of the church stood another, much smaller, squat, square building topped with a burnished copper globe and a big cross. The Chapel of the Tablet, said to be home to the original stones on which the Ten Commandments were carved, was surrounded by a tall, wrought-iron fence to keep uninvited guests from entering the holy site and potentially stealing important relics.
The chapel’s tall windows were crossed with finely sculpted stone grille-work featuring Christian motifs and let in sufficient light that a visitor would be able to see the cases in which the stone tablets lay under bulletproof glass, another protection against would-be thieves.
Dust motes floated aimlessly about in beams of sunlight that slashed through the grille-work. Suddenly, the motes were joined by masses of their mates as the entire structure shuddered jarringly. The movement struck again and again, causing the ceiling and roof to crack and sending bucketfuls of dust and debris cascading down from above, slowly burying the tablets in their resting place.
Another tremor, much stronger than the previous ones, arrived with a roar. A loud crack sounded from the ceiling and everything seemed to go absolutely silent in a second’s time.
The ceiling groaned once, twice, thrice, then stopped. Silence reigned again for a long moment, then another earth-shattering crack sounded and the bronze globe fell through the ceiling and crashed smack-dab in the middle of the table holding the Ten Commandments.
Outside of Axum, a twenty-four-metre-tall obelisk had descended two times, coinciding with the quakes. It finally settled into a near thirty-degree angle and an earth-covered door suddenly dropped open. A fine mist wafted up from the newly open hole in the ground, mingling with the dust stirred up by the quakes.