One Hour AD
Two spaceships were locked in combat. The smugglers did not intend to surrender despite being at a disadvantage. When the police vessel moved in to enclose the smugglers’ ship in a force field, the criminals activated their own shields, setting them to overload. The result was a fusion of energy fields. The police could not lower their shields as the smugglers’ would attack. To leave the shields up would lead to the destruction of both ships.
The police sent signals to the smugglers ordering them to reverse the overload.
The police accused them of being insane.
One and a Half Hours AD
The shepherds, sleepily watching their flocks, were roused by the bright flash in the east. They quite sensibly interpreted the overload of two fusion power plants as a sign.
A couple of weeks later, a chunk of wreckage crashed into a heavily wooded, mountainous area. It would be close to two millennia before the region was called British Columbia.
The inhabitants of the area developed a mythology about the fiery crash, and resulting forest fire, rarely venturing into the region. Centuries later, Lord Revelstoke thought the district was potentially useful and established a settlement. He didn’t worry much about native legends.
December 23, 1990 — 4 PM Mountain Time
Dennis had been in the Calgary airport fifteen minutes when there was a power failure. It was a serious one; the airport management announced all flights were cancelled.
He had watched the weather reports closely before leaving for the airport. There was a storm brewing in the west. Dennis made a decision. He dashed to the Budget counter and rented the second last Calgary-Vancouver vehicle. If he drove through the night, he might make it. He had to get into the mountains before the predicted storm let loose and closed the Trans-Canada highway.
“Should I phone Susan now?” he wondered and decided against it. He wasn’t expected until late, anyway. He’d phone her when he had a better idea of his arrival time.
The driving became progressively tougher as he headed west but he refused to be daunted.
At Roger’s Pass, the highest point of the road, he was pulled over by the RCMP.
“Hi,” said Dennis.
“Sir, you’re the last one through the Pass. How far are you planning on going?”
“Vancouver,” Dennis said quietly.
The cop laughed. “Not tonight, sir.”
“How far do you figure I can get?”
“I suggest going to Revelstoke and finding a place to stay. And be very careful on those bends in the road, OK?”
“Caution is my middle name,” said Dennis.
The curves in the highway were nerve-wracking. Dennis was exceedingly happy he could not see just how far down he would fall if he went off the road. Revelstoke wasn’t a bad place to stop; he could stay the night and be within shooting distance of the main highway into Vancouver. If he could get an early start he’d be home before the start of Christmas Eve festivities. And before Susan killed him for being late.
By the time he reached Revelstoke the snow was falling so hard he could barely see the road and nearly missed the turn-off for the town.
The Regent was the first hotel he saw and he booked a room.
On the west side of Mount Revelstoke, the ground broke as something emerged from under twenty feet of rock. The creature extended metal arms, arched them and jammed sharp points into the ground for the best grip. The rest of the metal frame came forth. Its head swivelled 360 degrees and scanned the area.
There were heat sources emanating from down slope and the alien headed in that direction. It walked like a garbage can on stilts. At twenty miles per hour.
Dennis was on the phone.
“Where are you?”
“I’m in Revelstoke.”
“What?” Susan asked, hoping this was some sort of joke.
“The airport in Calgary had a massive power failure. With bad weather coming in I took a chance and rented a car. It’s too dangerous to drive now, so I stopped here.”
“You don’t love me.”
“I love you intensely.”
“I want you here in bed with me NOW.”
“I think you’re wonderful.”
“Pitiful excuse for letting the airport blow up and allowing a winter storm to slow you down.”
“Please be reasonable,” said Dennis optimistically.
“I’m being perfectly reasonable. I want you here, in bed, before I wake up or I’ll kill you.”
“These are not fun options: dying on the road or dying by your hand.”
“Don’t be silly, I love you. I’m JOKING.”
“Really? No kidding. Wow.”
“Don’t be a dweeb. When can you get here?”
“I’m going to get something to eat, have a couple of drinks and go to sleep. I’ll get up early and hit the road. If it’s passable.”
“Dig it out yourself if you have to. Because I love you.”
“Seems logical. Take care. Love you.”
Dennis placed the receiver slowly in its cradle and headed quickly to the restaurant.
The train was squealed to a halt in a siding near Revelstoke station. The trainman finished his tasks and crossed the track. He turned and came face-to-face with the metal creature.
“What the f..”
It grabbed him, held him and looked into his face.
A few minutes later, the supervisor found him lying in the snow, asleep. There was no one else about.
9 PM Eastern Standard Time
In Connecticut, at a house by the ocean, Burton rang the bell.
Christian answered the door. “Burton!” he shouted. “Come in; come in.”
As he had done for the last three years, Burton wore a tuxedo.
The shouting caused Carmela to come to the door. She smiled.
“You look lovely as ever,” said Burton.
“Thank you,” she said, giving him a kiss. “Come in and sit down. We’re just doing some baking.”
“I’m glad you found us since we moved out of New York.”
“It wasn’t difficult,” said Burton. “I have stored your brain patterns and can locate you anywhere on the planet.”
They all sat in the living room.
“Would you like something to drink?” asked Carmela.
“What was that festive beverage you gave me last year?”
“Yes! Do you have that?”
“Of course,” said Carmela, who then left for the kitchen.
“So,” said Christian, “how’s the police business going?”
“Busy lately. Had a dull time a while back, but now you never know when you are going to be surprised. I do like your house. What made you move out of New York?”
“Well, after that incident in ’87, we decided to get away from all the crazies, so we started saving like mad. And here we are.”
Carmela returned with the drink and Joshua. He was now three.
“Amazing,” said Burton, “you look so healthy, considering I delivered you in a tenement.”
“Say hello to Burton,” said Carmela.
“Hi,” said Josh, who was blushing.
Burton rose and picked the boy up. “He is so much bigger than last year.” Burton tickled the boy and produced giggles.
“I just get overwhelmed at the luck of you being on Earth when we were attacked.” Carmela felt some tears coming on and Christian gave her a hug.
“You know,” said Burton as he handed Josh over to his mother, “they never unravelled the teleporter accident that first brought me here. A complete mystery. It is those sorts of occurrences that make you wonder if whimsy is a component of the universe.”
They sat and talked more. Soon Joshua was put to bed. The baking was complete. Burton asked about changes in their jobs and lifestyles since moving to Connecticut. Then a strange expression came over his face.
“Excuse me,” he said, “I must alter the shape of my hand.” Abruptly his hand was a screen displaying myriad data. “That is amazing.”
“What?” asked Christian.
“It seems I have a job to do.”
“Here?” asked Carmela.
“On Earth. If my internal atlas of your planet is up-to-date, the problem exists in Revelstoke.”
“Where’s that?” asked Christian.
“British Columbia, Canada,” replied Burton.
9:30 PM Pacific Standard Time
Dennis had finished dinner and moved into the bar.
There were two other people in the bar: The bartender and the waitress.
“Busy night,” said Brian.
The hotel employees snickered.
“What’ll it be?” said the waitress. “And hurry up. I got customers waiting.”
“Well … I don’t know. I suppose you’ve got Kokanee, Kokanee and Kokanee.”
“And don’t forget Granville Island Lager and Labatt’s.”
“How could I?”
“I just don’t know,” she replied.
“Well, I guess I’d better have a Kokanee.”
“An excellent choice. I should be able to get it to you in fifteen minutes or so.” She turned and headed back to the bar. “Hey, Ron, a Kokanee!”
From behind the bar, Dennis could hear: “My bartending skills have been taxed to the limit. I may even put myself at risk by twisting the cap off.”
Two beers later, Dennis had coaxed them into having a drink with him. They talked about Christmas plans, the cost of gasoline and ways to avoid bothersome relatives during the festive season.
Surprisingly, a man entered the bar from the outside. He wore work boots and a grimy sweater pulled over a thick wool shirt.
“Is that Ken?” asked the bartender.
“It sure looks like him,” said the waitress, “but he’s walkin’ funny.”
Dennis just looked at the man and had the sensation that his clothes had been painted on.
The man who was not Ken walked straight up to them: “Where is the nearest spaceport?”
“You don’t sound so good, Ken,” said the bartender.
“Where is your spaceport?”
Dennis decided this was either a prank or the guy was deranged. The best approach seemed to humour him.
“Define spaceport, please.”
The alien looked straight at Dennis with a sharp fixed gaze. “Designated area for launching and landing interplanetary craft.”
The waitress giggled and the alien ignored her.
Dennis was stumped for a response. His straight line had been returned with another straight line. “Were you expecting to find a spaceport near here?”
“At least on this planet,” it replied.
“Well, I’m sorry, but the best I can do is suggest Cape Kennedy in Florida, but they only launch orbital manned craft.”
Both hotel employees were stifling deep laughs.
“This will suffice. The technology can be upgraded. You will take me.”
“I am short of energy. You will take me. Your vehicle waits outside, correct?”
“Yes, but the roads are impassable,” said Dennis quickly.
“I can clear them as we go. Water is a useful, temporary fuel.”
“But I don’t want to go to Florida.”
“Irrelevant.” And with that, the alien grabbed Dennis by the arm and carried him from the bar. Its grip was vice-like. Dennis was frightened now, and punched the man who was not Ken in the face. It was like hitting a bag of wet concrete.
“Call the cops,” yelled Dennis as he was led out into the snow.
The alien loaded Dennis into his car, at the wheel. Once inside, the doors were sealed so he could not escape.
“Drive.” The snow whirled around the car.
“Are you nuts? I can see a …”
Suddenly a bright path appeared in front of Dennis. The snow had melted and a width of two lanes was visible.
“I don’t want to go to Florida!”
“I will kill you if you do not comply.”
Dennis started the car and headed onto the road. He decided to get to Florida via Vancouver. If he was driving, he might as well go in the direction he wanted until the police could rescue him. He hoped.
They drove in silence. For every kilometre they covered, the snow was melted and the road made visible. As best as Dennis could figure, the alien was causing the headlights to be powerful enough to melt the snow faster than they travelled. That was a lot of energy, thought Dennis. They continued to drive.
Eventually Dennis’ curiosity got the better of him. “Where are you from, really?”
“By your star charting, a planet orbiting Barnard’s star. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Mr. Barnard tried to claim it.”
Was this alien humour? “How did you get here?”
“I crashed here almost 2000 years ago. It has taken some time to become ambulatory.”
Dennis wanted to know what his rush to get home was, but decided not to ask.
10:15 PM Pacific Standard Time
After another fifty kilometres, the lights of the car returned to normal; the snow on the road was no longer being melted.
“Cops,” hissed the alien. It then reverted to its metallic form.
Dennis stared wide-eyed at the alien and toyed with the idea of panicking.
The metal creature left the car, not bothering to open the door. Dennis was greeted by blowing snow. He hit the brake, skidded, and attempted to aim for the shoulder of the road.
After a few moments of sliding, the car landed in a snow bank.
He sat in the battered car and tried to catch his breath.
The alien was further south. He had travelled about 500 metres when Burton materialised in front of him.
“You are under arrest for smuggling and destruction of a police space vessel.”
The alien criminal jeered. “That was centuries ago.”
“The length of time between the commission of a crime and arrest is no longer a defence. Please prepare for a Transmat beam.”
“I won’t go back.” The creature lunged toward Burton.
Still in human form, Burton looked vulnerable. But his hand changed into a weapon. There was a tremendous flash of energy that transformed the attacker into molten metal that soon became a harmless vapour.
10:30 PM Pacific Standard Time
Dennis was in the car, hoping for rescue. He had seen the flash and contemplated leaving the vehicle, but reasoned he’d die faster of hypothermia that way. His coat was back in Revelstoke. He curled himself up into a ball, trying to avoid the wind and snow coming in from the hole where the passenger door had been. Dennis started to lose feeling in his extremities.
Burton popped his head in the opening. “Hello.”
Dennis jumped. “Who the hell are you?”
“Call me Burton. Sorry about the trouble. Are you OK?”
“Where is it? Did you see it?”
“I had to destroy him. Too violent for capture.”
“Then you’re …”
“Another extra-terrestrial, yes. But this isn’t relevant. My scanners indicate you are in discomfort with the climate. What can I do to assist?”
“I want to go home.”
“This is a rather vague request. I’ll have to scan your mind for details.”
“You’ll have to wha …”
12:05 AM Pacific Standard Time — Christmas Eve
Dennis was standing in his front hall. His head jerked as if he had suddenly been woken. His luggage sat on the floor beside him. In his hand was the car rental return form. He opened it up and found no indication that there had been trouble regarding damage to the vehicle. He didn’t remember turning it in. Or arranging it to be towed. Also in his hand was a receipt for payment at the Regent Hotel. He didn’t remember going back to Revelstoke, either. Underneath the receipt was an envelope with his name on it. He tore it open and found a Christmas card with Santa in his sleigh being pulled by the reindeer, but Rudolf wasn’t there. He’d been replaced by a small flying saucer with a red nose. Inside the card it read: “Have a happy holiday season.” It was signed “Burton.”
Dennis just shook his head. He put the card on a side table and went upstairs.
Susan was asleep. He quietly undressed and climbed carefully into bed, curling up against her warm body and hugging her gently.
Sleepily, she muttered: “I knew you’d make it.”