“And we’re here.” Paulin sighed and opened the door, revealing the island cave. If he had timed it right, they were appearing only a few seconds after they had departed the last time after leaving the cave.
He slowly stepped down onto the rocky floor, a sense of finality in his stride. Hesione followed him, and they soon stood in front of the pod. The strange, cursed pod. Paulin kept his eyes focused on it, willing it to simply vanish from existence. It was a powerful tool, and it wasn’t anything he wanted to destroy so casually. That said… It had to go. It just had to. They had condemned young Sam Bricklayer to a life of vampirism, and there hadn’t been a thing they could do to stop it.
Both elves changed out of their fine tailored suits and back into the robes that they were used to. After a few minutes of deliberation, they took the suits, along with the leather ranch clothes, and folded them up a bit deeper in the cave. He wasn’t sure why, but he wasn’t quite ready to part with the strange relics.
That done, both of them stood in front of the pod. Paulin slowly stepped up into, grabbed hold of several loose wires, and pulled as hard as he could.
The wires sprang free surprisingly easily. Sparks began to flash through the air as he tore out more and more of the guts of the pod. Hesione grabbed a sharpened stone and began to smash it against the outside of the pod, tearing holes in the relatively thin metal. Paulin did the same, crushing the keyboard and display under the might of the stone.
Over an hour passed while he systematically smashed every single system that he could see. As they stepped away, sweat pouring off their bodies, Paulin took a deep breath and surveyed the results of their rage.
The pod looked like a shell of what it had once been. The stairs lay askew, partly unfolded, on the ground nearby. Wires, crystals, and other pieces covered the floor of the cave. Blood dripped from Paulin’s hand where he sliced himself open. He took a deep breath and threw the stone into the depths of the machine for good measure, grimacing at the crash it made.
“And that’s that.” Paulin took a deep breath and spread his arms. “We’re trapped in the past. On a tropical island. Just like you wanted.”
Hesione tossed her own rock aside and wrapped her arms around him. When she spoke, her voice was almost inaudible.
“I’m so sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry.” Paulin shrugged and gestured at the time pod. “I’m sorry I tried to control all this. I’m sorry I thought I could actually stand a chance to harness the forces of time itself.” He sighed and shrugged. “Now the deed is done. Kisidera will just have to make it on her own.” He slowly turned to face the rising tropical spread. “Want to go relax on the beach?”
Hesione leaned into him. “I really am-”
“I don’t really want to talk about it right now.” All Paulin could think about was Kisidera, face twisted in pain, begging him to stay. All he could think about was Sam, swarmed by vampires. The good that they could have accomplished! But oh, what pain that they brought instead! “It’s done. I just want to go take a nap or something. Forget about it.”
Next to him, Hesione nodded. Together, the two of them wandered from the cave and began to descend down the mountainside. There they were, brother and sister. They had a virtual paradise to live in, and they had the rest of their lives to enjoy it. Of course, there was still the whole issue of his death to contend with, but at that moment he didn’t particularly care.
He was done with time travel. He was done wrecking other people’s lives. If the timeline wanted him back in Donisil, it would just have to find another way to get him there.
“Paulin.” Hesione’s voice roused Paulin from his sleep. “Paulin!”
“If we’re not being attacked by giant sea monsters, I really don’t care.” Paulin groaned and rolled over. He was asleep on the warm sands of the beach, basking in the noonday sun.
“Oh, you’ll care.” Hesione’s voice continued to break into his concentration. “I took a walk back up to the cave.”
“Well, why’d you do that?” Paulin snapped. He yawned and sat up. “Already bored with this paradise you picked out yourself?”
“No, I…” Hesione stammered. She sat down on the ground next to him, a confused look masking her face. “I was going to go rebuild the time pod for you. I don’t know how, but I was going to try. So you could go save Kisidera.”
Paulin shook his head. “That’s a terrible idea. I can’t destroy anyone else.”
“Paulin.” Hesione put a hand on his arm. “Bad things happen to people. We can’t always prevent that, no matter how hard we try.” She sighed and shrugged. “That’s not the point, though. The pod is all fixed.”
“Oh please.” Paulin laid back down. “You couldn’t possibly have put it back together by yourself. We wrecked that thing, and you’re no dwarf.”
“I’m aware of that.” Hesione sighed. “I didn’t touch it. It just… Healed.”
“Oh, no it didn’t.” Paulin climbed to his feet and began stumbling down the beach. Sand stuck to his back, but he ignored the feeling. “Come on. I’ll figure this out.”
It can’t be fixed. He swore inwardly. It can’t be. If it is, it means that I can ruin so many more people.
He trusted Hesione fully and completely. There was no reason to doubt her statement that it had been fixed, but… Why would it do that? Why would it be fixed? He didn’t want it fixed. He wanted it torn to pieces.
As he stumbled up and into the cave, he loosed a series of curse words that would have made a sailor blush. Sure enough, it sat there, good as new. He stomped up to it and slammed his hand against the side, causing the familiar pulse of lights to flow out from the metal. The stairs dropped down, revealing a perfectly intact time pod. The rock that Paulin had been using sat on the grate just above the time sphere, as if it had simply been set there carefully and precisely.
“No!” Paulin stomped up into the pod, grabbed the stone, and brought it crashing down on the keyboard once more. Sparks exploded through the tiny area, biting at his skin, but he didn’t care.
Once more, he set forth to destroy the machine. He didn’t care how many times he had to do it, he just wanted it gone. He tore away the wires, he smashed the buttons, he destroyed the display. As he stood there, panting, he glanced down below his feet.
There it was. The time sphere. The whole reason that the pod could jump through time to begin with. He snarled and brought the stone crashing down on the grate, pounding at the metal. It took him nearly half an hour to do it, but he soon enough succeeded in breaking through the protective barrier. As he exposed the guts of the pod, he glanced backwards to find Hesione still standing there, her finger placed nervously in her mouth.
“This time, it’s all going down.” Paulin hefted the stone above his head. “Say goodbye, pod.”
He threw the stone down at the guts of the machine with everything he had in him. The stone came down onto the time sphere, which subsequently loosed an explosive blast of green energy. Waves of light flowed over Paulin’s body, out over Hesione, and through the cave. It almost seemed like a living creature in and of itself, a green ghost that swirled and twisted around the epicenter of the pod.
With one final flash of light, this one blindingly white, the pod healed. As he had been inside the pod to start with, Paulin found himself holding the stone above his head while the pod around him seemed completely unphased. He slapped the button to lower the stairs, glaring at the display as the door popped open. Hesione stepped up to join him, and he swore.
“Simon himself told us to destroy this thing! Why-”
His voice was cut off as a burst of static rolled across the display. A few seconds later, Simon himself appeared. He looked just as smug as ever, though with the faintest hint of concern on his face.
“Hi Hesione! Hi Paulin! If you’re hearing this, it means that you tried to destroy the time pod and failed miserably.”
“No, really.” Paulin spat. “Have you ever done anything in your life that hasn’t had some sort of caveat attached to it?”
“If you’re yelling at me, please note that this is just a recording. I can’t hear a word you’re saying. Unless of course you traveled through time and found me again.” Simon shrugged. “Now, chances are good that you followed my instructions and tried to destroy the pod. Yay you! The problem is that the dwarves put in a rather annoying anti-destruction system in place. Anytime the pod sustains critical damage, the time sphere just reverses its personal timeline and heals itself. No one else is affected, not even anything the pod happens to be carrying, but… Yeah.” Simon scratched behind his head. “It doesn’t really matter what damage you actually manage to cause to it. It can even repair scratches and minor dents. It’s honestly kinda impressive.”
“So how do I get around it?” Paulin growled.
“There’s not really any way around it.” Simon finally shrugged. “Honestly, I was hoping that that particular system would just fail miserably when you tried to tear it apart. Actually, there’s a good probability that it did fail, and you’ll just never see this message. Of course, if you’re actually listening to it, that means that it worked, and…”
“Tell me how to fix it!” Paulin roared. Hesione put a hand on his shoulder to calm him down, but he shrugged it off.
“Honestly, there’s not going to be many workarounds if it’s actually working.” Simon finally shrugged. “The simplest thing to do is just keep trying to destroy it. It might take a few hundred times, but the enchantments should break eventually. If you go that route, I suggest traveling into the future and grabbing a plasma cannon or something so you don’t have to physically use rocks or whatever you did to do it this time. Option number two is just to hop back to my time and hand over to me. Preferably after this whole situation is resolved, to prevent these dwarves from getting a hold of it again.”
“I would never give something this powerful to that slime.” Paulin muttered.
“…but, given my rather dubious track record, I fully understand if you’re not keen on going that route either.” Simon shrugged. “That leaves options three and four. Option three is to try and place the pod inside an anti-magic field. Not one of these pathetic anti-magic fields that we can generate in Calsin, but like a true and proper anti-magic field. You probably won’t find those invented until the future either. This pod is equipped with anti-anti-magic field generators that will combat anything we have. Yeah, I know that’s a double-negative, but it’s the best way of describing it.”
Simon paused for a breath, then held up four fingers. “Final option: Switch over to manual travel and just crash it somewhere. This will probably result in your death as well, but it’s probably the best way to ensure that it stays out of the hands of anyone trying to use it for evil. Crash it into a star, or the bottom of the ocean, or just onto a random moon out somewhere, and no one will be able to touch it again.” He paused once more and waved at the two elves. “Best of luck! Hope your day is going better than mine!”
With that, the display flickered and went dark. Paulin took a deep, shuddering breath as he tried to process it all.
“What do we do?” Hesione finally breathed.
“We have to destroy this machine before we kill anyone else.” Paulin reached past Hesione and closed the door, dematerializing the pod the moment that it sealed. As the pod began to rock back and forth, he switched the navigation of the pod over to manual. Immediately, a series of lines appeared across the screen, none of which made a lick of sense. Some were red, some were blue, and still others were yellow.
Two lights rose from the keyboard, hovering just in front of Paulin. He slowly reached out and took hold of the light, noticing that he could actually feel something in the palms of his hands. Curiously, he pushed his hands forward, towards the display. In response, the lines began to scroll across the screen in increasingly brilliant colors while Hesione screamed beside him.
“What are you doing?” She shouted into his ears.
“I’m making sure this is taken out of commission.” He snarled. “One way or another, this ends here.”
“Report.” Commander Zekerin Jilisan Lorital kept his posture rigid as he strode onto the bridge. The door hissed shut behind him, a welcome reminder of how things should run on proper starship. His red skin contrasted excellently with his black uniform, the standard garb of the Lorital Royal Navy.
“Nothing new.” The sensors officer called back to him. “Still just empty space.”
“You know as well as I do that there’s no such thing as just empty space.” Zekerin walked to the middle of the bridge, where a large captain’s chair allowed him to speak to most of the ship at any given time that he wanted. As he sat down, he leaned to his left, resting his weight against the reinforced armrest there. His right arm he kept loose, hovering over the command pad that would open intercoms anywhere else he needed.
“Yes, sir.” The officer called back.
Zekerin just flashed a small smile and took a deep breath. He gazed out across his bridge crew, the fifteen most capable officers on the ship. The best fifteen of the nearly two thousand souls that manned the vessel.
In the front, through the magically and scientifically reinforced windows, he could see only stars and a small bit of the hull before it curved out of sight. He sighed up at the enormous expanse, the never-ending void that stretched to the ends of the known universe.
“Sensors?” He drummed his fingers of his left hand against the armrest. “Will there be any significant decrease in sensor functionality given a rotation of eighty-eight degrees?”
A series of beeps echoed through the air before an answer came back.
“Nothing major, no. Maybe a slight loss behind the engines, but we’ve already got a blind spot there anyway.”
“Heading? Adjust our bearing by eight-eight degrees laterally to starboard. No engines, I don’t want to actually fly that way, but I could use a new view.”
A small twitter of laughter rose from the headings officer. A few seconds later, the starfield began to change. Stars swirled across his vision, slowly vanishing as the bulk of the planet they were orbiting came into view.
As always, his breath was truly taken away by the grandeur of it. They were close to the atmosphere, only a few hundred miles above the surface, which meant that the planet filled the entire viewscreen. He saw the oceans, he saw the larger rivers, he saw the green of the forests and the sand of the deserts. Off to his distant right, he could just make out the line of darkness that marked the transition from day to night.
“Commander?” A female voice echoed from his left. “You’re receiving a communication from Observational Platform Seven-B-Three.”
“Of course I am.” Zekerin nodded. “Transfer him to my chair.”
Almost instantly, a light began flashing on the right arm of his seat. He placed his finger over the light, causing a holographic display to spring into existence just in front of his face. Despite being a hologram, it was only two-dimensional, and was quite transparent. They could afford fancy three-d projectors for the combat starships, but not him.
“Commander Zekerin.” It was a man that Zekerin didn’t recognize. That wasn’t particularly surprising, as he only knew a handful of the platform commanders by name, but it would have been nice to see a familiar face. “We’re showing that your ship is facing eighty-eight degrees off course. Are you experiencing any trouble?”
“No, I’m good.” Zekerin shrugged. “Just wanted to give the crew a view. Staring out at stars for hours gets old, you know.”
“If you grow bored by stars, perhaps you should not have applied to join the Family Navy.” The commander’s words were harsh, despite the fact that his tone was soft. “Please readjust your bearing. Emergency protocols state that the bearing of all ships must match the direction of travel as much as possible to ensure faster response times.”
“Yeah yeah yeah.” Zekerin sighed, then gestured to the headings officer. “Return our course to normal.”
The view outside the ship began to change, and the officer on the screen nodded.
“Thank you. This will not go on your record.”
The holographic screen vanished a moment later, and Zekerin fought the urge to mock the man. Of course it wouldn’t go on his record. In normal times, it wouldn’t have even been an offense.
“I’m reading an inversion. Coordinates: three hundred, twenty-seven, five clicks.”
“Give me a view.” Zekerin tapped the display light as soon as it started blinking, causing the holographic screen to once more appear in front of him. This time it showed an empty starfield. A few seconds later, a flash lit the screen as a ship popped into existence. Zekerin let his eyes wander over the design even as information began to appear next to it.
It was definitely designed by the Lorital Family, its hull was the right color and the corners seemed shaped properly. At a glance it looked to be a personal craft, with a single room for both the cockpit and the sleeping quarters mounted above two duel engines. The display labeled it as a “J-37 Starcruiser model,” registered to a Samuel Franklin Lorital.
“Any detected issues?” Zekerin nodded towards his sensors officer.
“I’m reading a slight leak in his port engine, but that was in his report that he transmitted. Says he plans on getting it fixed on the ground.” There was a slight pause before the man continued. “His destination is listed as Port Conley. I’m only reading a single inhabitant, one male blood elf. His offworld passport checks out. Seems good on my end.”
“Clear him for atmospheric reentry.” Zekerin nodded. “Keep a bearing lock on him to ensure that he doesn’t deviate from his course, but otherwise I see nothing concerning.”
Zekerin sighed. Other commanders were out fighting on the fronts of the war, and he was stuck here. Oh, well. At least he had an important job. His ship, along with several thousand other Tactical Scanning Vessels, was in orbit around the homeworld of the Lorital Family. As the threat of invasion loomed high, security around the planet had been tightened down substantially. Every ship in and out got scanned, to ensure that no Flame Elves were being allowed access to the sacred ground.
“So, does anyone want to place bets on how long it takes the Scarred Empire to invade?” Zekerin drummed the fingers of his left hand against his armrest.
There was a slight pause before his headings officer answered.
“Sir, aren’t we supposed to refrain from calling them the-”
“Yeah yeah, fine.” Zekerin scowled at the man. Protocol. Bleh. “The Empire of the Flame, then. Any bets on whether it comes or not?”
“I don’t think they’ll risk it.” His communications officer answered him, her voice strong and proud. Like a true Lorital should have been. “They only control five star systems. It’s impressive, I’ll grant that, but they’re flanked by the Apician and the Septimer Families. There’s no way they could withstand a three-front war.”
“A good enough point.” Zekerin sighed. Privately, he was hoping that the savages would go ahead and invade. It would be nice to crush the buggers once and for all. He had heard the stories of the Orcstar War, the honor and glory that had been gained from that conflict. There were still minor houses that retained the wealth and honor earned by their ancestors. Oh, what it would be like to gain such honor for his own house.
Though he hadn’t actually been to the frontlines of the war yet, he had heard the stories. At present, the line was drawn on the asteroid belt that surrounded the Lorital Solar System. The stories were positively barbaric, the kind of stories that came from ancient Calsin. The twisted and scarred faces of the Flame Elves fighting alongside their Cursed brethren, armed with weapons and ships that they had managed to salvage from other species. They didn’t even have their own shipyards, everything they relied on they either stole or were given by their allies.
“I think they’ll go ahead and risk it.” His sensors officer finally spoke up. “There are rumors that the Mechthor are allied with them. If that’s truly the case, they don’t have a lot to be afraid of.”
Zekerin shook his head. “That’s just false advertising. The Mechthor are a lot of things, but they’re too refined to associate with the Empire of the Flame.”
“Maybe.” The sensors officer frowned, then began tapping at his screen. “We’ve got another inversion in progress. Coordinates: One-fifty, minus ninety-two, three clicks.”
“Send it to me.” Zekerin pulled up the holographic display as another ship flickered into existence. This time, it was immediately obvious that something was off. It was a much larger vessel, a Nubierd-class freighter. Overall it was shaped like a giant cube, though many smaller rivets ran across its hull where different ports and connectors could be attached for loading cargo. The view was obscured, though, by the plasma that was pouring from several of its many engines.
“Hail them.” The words came from Zekerin’s mouth immediately. “Get me a scan on how critical that engine failure is.”
Almost instantly, the display changed to reveal a bruised and battered captain. One eye was swollen shut, his red skin universally looked paler than it should have.
“Captain Jolian Hurches Lorital.” The elf wheezed. “We require immediate assistance. I repeat, we require immediate assistance.”
“How badly are you damaged?” Zekerin leaned forward. “What caused it?”
“Flame Elves.” Jolian spat. “We had just picked up our shipment from Lorital-Seven when they hit. We jumped away before they could do any more damage than that.”
“Sir, I’m reading damage to the plasma containment fields.” The sensor officer’s voice came back. “They’re venting most of it, but it’s still cascading. I estimate a fifty percent chance of catastrophic failure in the next half an hour. Higher if they attempt re-entry.”
“Are you aware of that?” Zekerin nodded at Jolian. “We can transport you aboard if you desire.”
“That would be greatly appreciated, thank you.” Jolian sighed and nodded. “Can you remotely access our systems?”
Zekerin motioned to the helm officer, who gave a short nod in return.
“Good. Initiate transport of my crew. If you could provide me with a secondary command deck with which to guide this ship, I would be greatly appreciative.”
“Done.” Zekerin nodded. Off to his left, his transportation officer began to make the necessary arrangements. “If there’s anything else we can do, just let us know. I’ll meet you in the transportation room personally.”
“Once again, I thank you, Captain.”
The feed went dark, and the holographic screen died. Zekerin turned to his communications officer and gave a short nod. “Hail the nearest Observation Platform and report the situation. If the Empire of the Flame is making an attack against Lorital-Seven, I’m sure it’s already been reported, but it can’t hurt to be safe.”
He climbed to his feet, ready to head down to meet the new captain. “Second Prior, you have the bridge until-”
“Commander?” The sensor officer’s voice came back. “I’m reading another inversion. It’s… The sensors are saying that it’s a temporal inversion.” He turned to look at Zekerin, a confused look on his face. “Did you know of any temporal incursions in this area?”
“I wasn’t informed of one, but the Temporal Commission isn’t the best about talking to the Loritals. Is it coming from the future or the past?”
“Uhh… Past, as near as I can tell. It’s an odd signal, it doesn’t seem to match any known temporal signatures.”
Zekerin sat back down, a small smile on his face. “I guess we get to have some fun today after all. Put it on screen.”
The holographic image once more sprang up, though… This time it portrayed the outer hull of the vessel. The silver plating, the soft curves. It Zekerin was right, it was just in front of the engine block, shortly behind the bridge itself.
With a flicker of electricity, what looked like a small golden egg appeared on the hull. Four supports kept it from toppling over, but… That was really it. It didn’t look like any known vessel he had ever seen before, nor any of the time vessels he had studied in the academy.
“Give me everything we have on it.” Zekerin frowned.
“It looks like there are two life signs on board. One high elf, one a mixture of high and dark. The system is reading them as half-siblings, no Family DNA present. The ship’s computers aren’t able to recognize the class of the vessel, though…” There was a pause. “The composition of the metal is from Calsin. Not the system, the planet itself. Not only that, but the method of refining used seems to be extremely primitive, likely dwarven. Same with the enchantments, this thing was cobbled together extremely crudely.”
Zekerin’s breath caught in his throat. “So we’re looking at something ancient. Pre-Seventh Era.”
“I’d guess as early as the fourth or fifth era. It’s possible that our artificial gravity magic tricked it into…” The man’s voice trailed off. “We need to transport them out of there now. They don’t have any radiation shielding, and…”
“Do it!” Zekerin shouted at his transport officer.
“And… Done.” The report came back almost instantly. “I put them in confinement, at least for the time being.”
“Probably wise, at least until we know if it’s a sanctioned mission or not.” Zekerin climbed to his feet. “Have the conjurers prepare a translator golem. I’ll meet them at the cell.”
“What about Captain Jolian?” His Second, a man named Prior, walked over to him. “Would you like me to go and meet him while you meet with the time travelers?”
“No, I don’t want to give him the impression that he’s only second-rate.” Zekerin stroked his chin. “Stay here and man the bridge. Send a message to the arrival room that I’ll be there as soon as possible. Have the chefs send them a meal, I’m sure they could use the rest. Until they can take over, keep the freighter at a distance where we would be safe if it ruptured. Also, alert the Observation Platforms of the plasma leak, they’ll probably want to send a scow after us to clean up.”
Prior nodded in response and sat down, formally taking over the command. Zekerin nodded and strode from the room, the doors hissing aside as he approached. As he stepped past his executive office and into the elevator down into the depths of the ship, dozens of thoughts swirled through his mind.
Who were the time travelers that they had just encountered? Would they come to warn of danger? Were they simply out exploring the universe? Would meeting these people bring glory to his house?
Quite thankfully… There was only one way to find out.
“What in Sarkil was that?” Hesione snarled at Paulin from the inside of the cell. “Look what you’ve done now!”
Paulin groaned and sank to the floor, leaning against the pristine white walls. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t get us out of here!” Hesione screamed. “You were trying to kill us! Both of us!”
“I’m sorry.” Paulin muttered. “I overreacted. I know that. Sorry.”
He groaned, putting his head in his hands. After he exited the time stream, he and Hesione had been greeted by another friendly message from Simon informing them that they had failed before they had been sucked away to the cell that they now occupied. The walls were white, there was no discernable exit, and the light seemed to simply come from the ceiling. It wasn’t the strange electric lighting that they had seen during their time in New Donenrot, there were simply sections of the ceiling that glowed. In addition, the walls were made from a material that Paulin fundamentally didn’t recognize. It wasn’t metal, it wasn’t stone, it was something so refined and smooth that it felt cool simply to touch.
“So what was that?” Hesione balled her fists. “What were you trying to do?”
“You know what? I don’t know.” Paulin climbed back to his feet, arms shaking. “I was desperate, and I was mad, and-”
Hesione snorted. “What was there to be mad about?”
“Because I gave up saving Kisidera!” Paulin screamed at her. Hesione took a step back, and Paulin took a deep, shaking breath. “I gave her up. I made that choice. It wasn’t easy, but I made that choice, and now the universe seems determined to give it back to me.”
Hesione bit her lip. “So why is that a bad thing?”
“I don’t know!” Paulin fell to his knees. “I just… I don’t know.” He sighed. “I want to help her, but I can’t hurt anyone else.”
Hesione nodded and knelt next to him, a look of understanding finally dawning on her face. “And it was easier to give it up than try to mitigate our disasters?”
“I guess.” Paulin groaned and shook his head. “I don’t know. I really don’t. I just…”
A loud hiss echoed through the air. Paulin climbed back to his feet, curious what would happen next. With a whir, the wall to their left suddenly split in two down the middle and slid away, each part moving to its respective side.
Standing on the other side was a man in a black uniform. The cloth was pressed and form-fitting, sewn with far more precision than Paulin had seen in any other time period. Several emblems stood out on his chest and shoulders, likely indicating a military rank of some sort. He was clearly an elf, as his height matched Paulin’s and his ears were clearly pointed above his close-cropped hair.
That said, he wasn’t any kind of elf that Paulin recognized. His skin was blood-red, his eyes were a yellow-ish orange, and his hair was an odd blackish-blue. Next to him stood what looked like a golem, made from metal into a shape roughly like that of a human. It only stood about three feet tall, and bounced up and down as it saw Hesione and Paulin.
“Welcome, travelers.” The man bowed at the waist. “I apologize for the harsh welcome. We weren’t expecting you, I’m afraid. My name is Commander Zekerin Lorital, and I place myself at your disposal.”
Paulin frowned as he tried to process it. “Can you tell me where and when we are? That may sound like an odd question, but-”
“You’re time travelers, so you must be confused of course.” Zekerin flashed a small smile. “You’re in the Seventh Era, third Epoc. I believe that the year is fourteen thousand, three hundred-sixty-nine by common reckoning. Of course, I don’t know if you use that reckoning during your own time, so that may not be helpful.”
Paulin shrugged. “Kind of? We’re from the Fourth Era, so… Awhile ago.” He rubbed his head. “How did you know we were time travelers?”
“We detected your temporal signature.” Zekerin flashed yet another smile. “You really are new at this, aren’t you? In our time, we can sense when someone uses time travel. It’s actually quite easy to detect.”
“Interesting.” Paulin sighed and rubbed his forehead. “So it’s pretty common, then?”
“I wouldn’t say it's common. It’s illegal in most star systems, but the governments use it enough that most people will witness at least one temporal incursion in their lifetime.” Zekerin grinned. “Would you like a tour of our fleshnegdt?”
Paulin frowned. What had been that last word? “Huh?”
Zekerin paused, obviously confused. “Oh! I apologize. This golem here is exuding a translation field. It’s been programmed for ancient Sintison, but some words obviously don’t translate. Uhh… Star ship. A ship that sails between worlds through the night sky.”
“Oh! Like the dark brother realmship.” Paulin glanced at Hesione. “I’ve heard the stories from Mal and Ondernifam.”
“Ahh, the angels.” Zekerin pursed his lips. “That would put you from the end of the Fourth Era, then. You were a witness to the Angel Incursion?” He shook his head. “What that must have been like, I can’t imagine.”
“It wasn’t fun.” Paulin puffed out his cheeks. Thoughts swirled through his head, all of them conflicting. On one hand, he still wanted to destroy the time pod. On the other hand… If time travel was so common in the future, then it obviously couldn’t be too destructive. They really did just need to figure out how to make it work for them. Was… Was there still hope for Kisidera? “Would you be willing to send us back into our pod? I’m afraid we may have come here by mistake.”
“Of course, of course.” Zekerin nodded. “I’ll have your pod transported into one of our cargo holds, you can pick it up from there. In the meantime, would you like a tour of our ship? I’d be more than happy to show you around. I’d also be willing to outfit you with proper clothing for this time period. I’ve heard that having a vast wardrobe is one of the most critical aspects of time traveling.”
Paulin glanced down at his clothes, when he rather embarrassingly realized that he was still wearing his beach robes.
“That would be nice.” Paulin inclined his head. “We appreciate the hospitality.”
“Think nothing of it.” Zekerin waved his hand, motioning for them to follow him. “Come with me.”
He motioned for the two to follow him, at which point he turned and set off into the corridor beyond. Paulin and Hesione followed him, walking out into a hallway that was made from pure metal. The floors and walls seemed made entirely from grates, allowing them to see the wires, tubes, and glowing conduits that seemed to make the ship run. Brilliant lights hanging from the ceiling kept the place lit, which was appreciated.
Paulin still wasn’t sure what exactly was going on, but… They weren’t in any hurry. A bit of rest and relaxation wouldn’t hurt anything, and having another set of clothes certainly wouldn’t hurt if they needed to do a bit more time traveling.
After that, he hoped that he would be able to pick Zekerin’s mind a bit about successful time travel. Tips, tricks, anything he might know. If they were going to do more traveling, he wanted to do it right.
Zekerin flashed a smile as the three of them walked into the cafeteria of the ship. He gestured at a table just next to the enormous windows, through which the enormous expanse of space could be seen. Quite frustratingly, it was pointed away from the planet. Idly, he wondered if he could get away with spinning the ship once again.
“Oh wow.” The male elf, Paulin, walked past the rows of tables and chairs and pressed his hands up against the window. “It’s so… It’s so clear.”
Zekerin flashed a small smile. That was the first reaction of almost everyone after coming into space. The stars were unimpeded, allowing them to shine forth in all their glory.
“It’s something else, I’ll give you that.” Zekerin chuckled. He sat down at a nearby four-person table, taking the seat farthest from the windows. The two elves quickly sat down next to the glass, not taking their eyes off the expanse of space. Both were now clothed in pressed grey uniforms, the official way to designate a visitor or honored guest present on a Lorital ship. “If you’d like to order your food, just press that yellow button. You don’t have to worry about payment, eat anything and everything you like.”
Hesione was the first to curiously press the yellow order button. Instantly, a holographic screen sprang into existence above the table, complete with all the menu options. She jumped slightly before slowly reaching up to poke the display. The hologram reacted to her touch, allowing her to scroll through the data presented. Paulin eventually did the same, and they had soon made their selections. Zekerin was impressed, they had picked up on the use of technology fairly quickly despite having seemingly never experienced it before.
“So what will you do now?” Zekerin folded his hands. “Do you have superiors that you’re reporting to? What does the Temporal Commission look like back in the Fourth Era?”
“We’re not really with a commission.” Paulin sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I wish we were, but it’s just the two of us for the moment.”
A brief flutter ran through Zekerin’s heart. Was he looking at the founders of the Temporal Commission? Was that possible? What were the odds that he would be selected for such an honor?
“I see.” Zekerin frowned. “Do you mind my asking what the purpose of your quest is? You said that you’re here by accident, but… Why? What are you looking for?”
“A cure for vampirism.” Paulin looked over at Zekerin expectantly. “I don’t suppose someone’s invented a cure yet?”
Zekerin sighed and shook his head. Great. So that was what they were after. “I can probably grant you permission to access Lorital archives and look through history for sure, but the vampirism problem is just as big now as it’s ever been. The Loritals have been fighting an outbreak of the plague in our southern hemisphere for a decade or more now.”
Paulin looked back out at the stars, obvious disappointment on his face. While he did that, Hesione turned and stared at him.
“So what are you, anyway? What species?”
Zekerin laughed. “Oh, sorry! I didn’t even realize you didn’t recognize it. I’m a blood elf. I don’t remember my history perfectly, but I think the blood elves developed on a separate continent back on Calsin.” He shrugged. “Can’t really tell you much more than that, though. The Loritals are one of the Elven High Families. We’re actually one of the smaller ones, we only have a single star system under our control.”
Paulin frowned. “What was that?”
Zekerin briefly cursed the ancient languages that just didn’t have the same words as more modern languages. He rubbed his jaw while he tried to think of a proper way to explain it.
“So, when you look out at the stars, almost all of them will have planets that circle them.” He pointed out at the window. At Paulin’s confused glance, he held up a hand. “Hang on, I’ll explain in a second. Each one is basically a sun. So back on Calsin, you had a sun. Well, each and every one of those stars is a sun to another world.”
The two elves’ faces changed visibly as the implication started to sink in, and Zekerin nodded with a small smile.
“Yeah. It’s wild. So, a planet… Well, let me just show you.” Zekerin reached up and keyed his in-ship communicator. “Second Prior, have the ship turn three hundred sixty degrees. I want to show our guests something.”
He smiled, waiting for the return. It didn’t come for several seconds, prompting a flash of worry. He forced it down with a small cough. Prior was probably just busy with the freighter. If the Nubierd-class vessel started to deteriorate any more, he had probably gotten in contact with the authorities to help mitigate the disaster.
His worry began to increase as the response still failed to come. He reached up and keyed the communicator once more, clearing his throat loudly. “Second Prior? Come in please.”
“Second Prior? Please report on your current situation.”
“Everything okay?” Paulin leaned closer.
“Commander Zekerin!” It was the voice of his sensors officer. “Where are you?”
“Currently, the cafeteria.” Zekerin leaned against the table, keeping his hand on the communicator. “What’s going on?”
“Get to an escape pod! The plasma was masking the signatures of the freighter. We transported almost fifty Cursed on board. Communications are down, we’re dead to the outside world.”
“Is the bridge crew okay?” Zekerin climbed to his feet. “What about-”
“Ahh!” The officer’s voice died with a gurgle, and Zekerin pursed his lips. His hand dropped to the plasma pistol that he carried with him at all times. Plans began to circle through his mind, possible escape routes or methods of attack.
“What’s wrong?” Paulin’s voice cut into his thoughts. “Are you okay?”
Zekerin belatedly remembered that the two time travelers likely weren’t familiar with the concept of communicators that only projected voices into the minds of the people who were wearing them. He turned to the two high elves and put his hands behind his back.
“I’m afraid that our tour will have to take somewhat of a hiatus.” He squared his shoulders. “This ship is under attack. If you want to survive, do exactly as I say.” He flashed a small smile. “How do you two feel about going to war?”
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