December 24, 2456: Tol watched the distant star explode. It was beautiful. He gazed listlessly out the starship’s observation deck. Tol was exhausted from a double shift — even the synthetic parts of his body hurt.
The star, now a super-nova, was a deadly vista but only because the ship’s radiation screens had failed. Normally there was little danger during the repair period, as the ship’s hull provided modest protection. An exploding star released more than modest amounts of radiation.
Tol was alone on the observation deck. He had come down for a tranquil view before sleeping. Everyone else aboard was working frantically to repair the screens or had passed out from exhaustion.
Sirens sounded. An announcement said they had fifteen minutes.
Tol wondered why he felt so calm. He asked his in-body computer to advise on a course of action. The machine had no suggestions.
In his peripheral vision, there was a blurry figure. He turned, focused more and a young man appeared.
“Who are you?”
Tol’s in-body computer needed to link to the main computer library to download a translation table Desmond’s archaic speech.
“Where did you come from?”
“Touch my hand — quickly.”
Tol’s computer advised against it, but he reached out to Desmond. The two of them blurred — and faded away.
In twelve minutes everyone else on board would die.
December 24, 1987 in New York: Eli walked past the Waldorf Astoria. A few minutes later, three large men emerged from the park. “Shit,” thought Eli.
Tol: Where are we?
Desmond: In between.
Tol: In between what?
Tol: Are you in control of this travel?
Desmond: Not really.
The sensation of travel had been nauseous. Desmond had slipped through time before and his body hated it. Nevertheless he had dragged Tol away from death in AD 2456 to NYC in 1987.
They demanded Eli’s wallet. He had been called a dirty Jew by a group of blacks earlier that day and was feeling particularly uncooperative. The lead Hispanic brandished a switchblade with clichéd timing.
“OK, you win.” Eli reached into his pocket.
“Too late; I’m going to cut you …”
Tol stepped in and pushed the attacker over. Another brought out his switchblade. Tol slapped him, leaving a bright red mark on his face. It took a moment for it to sink in. Tol was six feet seven and moving very fast. The attackers fled.
Desmond had watched the events from a safe distance. Tol had rescued Eli without prompting. Desmond knew intuitively that was important.
“Thank you,” said Eli.
“I am Tol.”
“You certainly are.”
“My name is Tol. You speak virtually the same language as Desmond.”
“Him,” said Tol, pointing.
“Hi Eli, I’m Desmond.”
“How do you know my name?”
“I’m not sure.”
“He generally answers questions in that manner,” offered Tol.
“You guys from LA or something?”
“Not exactly,” said Desmond. “Let’s go for a coffee. Is there any place near here? I’m getting cold.”
Eli thought he should just bow out, but he felt obliged and curious. He led them to a place he knew.
Once they had ordered, Eli said: “Funky clothes, where’d you get them?”
Tol became self-conscious. “They are standard space-farer issue.”
“Eli, we’re from the future.”
“Sure, Desmond. I’m from the Bronx.”
Desmond smiled. “Tol here is from what year … Tol?”
“2456, your calendar. And this is?”
“1987,” said Eli. “You guys are not much in the way of time travellers if you don’t know the date.”
“I am not the traveller, he is.”
“Tol is right,” said Desmond, “I have travelled before but normally I can only go into the past. And only to those places in my personal memory.”
“Then how did you get to 2456?”
“I don’t know. I was helping my family set up the tree. When I walked from the living room into the kitchen I found myself moving toward your ship.”
“What tree?” asked Tol.
“The Christmas tree.”
“It was Christmas when you left?” asked Eli.
“Today’s Christmas Eve.”
“It was December 24 when you rescued me,” said Tol.
The coffees arrived. Eli put in a lot of sugar. Tol extended a sensor into the liquid. The small wire protruded from the tip of his right index finger. After a second, Tol announced: “This is bad for you.”
Desmond and Eli laughed.
The sensor altered the nature of the drink to make it safe.
“Where are you from originally?” asked Eli.
“I’m from Toronto. 1991.”
“So what’s new in the 90’s?”
Desmond thought for a moment. “Well, last year East and West Germany unified.”
“No kidding. They knocked the Berlin Wall down. Around Christmas 1989.”
“In 2289 they discovered how to utilise spacefolds,” offered Tol.
“What are they?”
“Since the shape of space is not linear or flat, we travel huge distances in a short amount of time by effectively boring through the surface of space.”
“Sexy,” said Eli. “So, Desmond, you yanked this guy off a spaceship.”
“Yes,” said Tol. “One that was minutes away from destruction.”
“Really? And you landed here to rescue me from Senõr Shithead and his friends.”
“We did, but I don’t know if it was by design.”
“So we all meet on our respective Christmas Eves and two out of three of us are rescued from death.”
“Statement or question?” asked Tol.
“Statement. I’m thinking out loud. Which reminds me. Why am I believing you guys at all?”
“Perhaps there is another force at work,” said Tol. “I believe that this adventure is not yet done.”
Desmond suddenly grabbed their hands.
“Hey. We just met,” said Eli.
The muscles in Desmond’s face twitched. He was slipping through time again. And he was not in control.
Tol: Are we travelling again?
Eli: I think I’m gonna heave.
Tol: Where are we going?
Desmond: Not sure. Back.
They were sitting on stools around a wooden table. Tol’s stool broke under his weight. Eli stood. Grinning at the toppled giant he said: “Where the hell are we?” There were several other tables in the room. On them were unfinished drinks in wooden goblets. Desmond sniffed carefully at one. It was a stern kind of wine.
Tol had righted himself. A sensor protruded from his hand. It was a thicker cable than what had been used for the coffee. “According to this, we are some time before combustion engines.” He walked out the door, bumping his head on the lintel.
Eli and Desmond followed. The sun beat down on the brown vegetation. With a bit of rain, it would have been green in an instant. There was a road near the building. Eli knelt and examined the surface.
“It’s a Roman road,” he announced. “And that is an inn.”
“How do you know?” asked Desmond.
“Studied it in school. I took engineering for a while. Then history of technology and industrialization. I’d also bet my left ball we’re in Israel.”
They heard the cries.
“Follow me!” cried Tol.
Desmond and Eli could not keep up with him. Once they rounded another building, they found Tol held at bay by two short older men with sticks. They were screaming at him.
Eli recognized the Middle East Jewish clothes right away. The two men were guarding three obviously beaten women and one man who looked severely burned.
“I’ve got to help them. They are hurt,” said Tol.
Eli stomped toward the men and started yelling at them in the style his mother used when his father was being particularly dense.
While Eli argued unintelligibly with the locals, Desmond asked: “Tol, should we interfere here? Surely this is their problem?”
“Those people have been hurt by an energy weapon. Not current technology.”
Together Desmond and Tol pushed past the arguing trio and set to helping the wounded. From more mysterious areas of his body, Tol produced bandages for the burns. The man also had a broken leg. Tol drugged the victim and set his leg. He gave all of them sleep inducements and scanned them for further injuries.
While Tol worked, Desmond considered the ramifications of the energy weapon. Someone else was time travelling. He had wondered, ever since he had discovered his ability to slide in time, if there were others out there doing the same thing. It looked like he had found one. And a nasty one.
Eli and the two older men stopped bickering and watched Tol.
“The women were raped,” concluded Tol.
“We’ve got to figure out the language,” said Desmond. “We have another time traveller on the loose here.”
“You’re kidding,” said Eli.
“High tech wounds.”
“My in-body computer can’t make out their language. What are the possibilities?”
“Hebrew or Aramaic. Or a dialect. Depends on where and when we are.”
“That’s not in my library,” said Tol. “We will have to build a translation table.”
Desmond and Tol convinced the Jewish men to point at objects and say their names. Tol’s computer stored the sounds and started to build the language. Soon the computer had successfully guessed the basic aspects of their language.
“Find out what happened,” said Desmond.
After a few minutes, Tol reported: “It seems a giant — like me — arrived, raped selected women, and wounded anyone who got in the way.”
“Selected women?” asked Eli.
“Yes. They were all named Mary.”
“Jesus,” muttered Desmond.
“Exactly,” said Eli.
In the year 3122, mentally disturbed people were still not easily cured. On Christmas Eve of that year, in an institute for the criminally insane, a defrocked monk had a vision. The Virgin Mary appeared in Rocco’s room and explained why the Roman Catholic religion was failing after more than 3000 years. She said Jesus had suffered from genetic diseases because he was a product of her genetics only. The rest of his make-up was God’s energy. It would have been better if he had had male and female DNA as well as God’s power. A kind of Trinity.
It was Rocco’s duty to provide it. He was chosen to travel through time and mate with Mary. It would be a difficult mission. The Virgin said that her earlier self would be uncooperative and his own society would harass him. She vanished, leaving a blue glow that slowly faded away.
Rocco burst from his room and headed to the library. Escaping and stealing time-fold equipment would take research.
Rocco’s institution was in the Livorno region of Italy. It required six months to engineer his escape. In the end, he had tricked a nearby University into giving a seminar on time-fold technology. He had said it was part of an initiative to bring the inmates closer to reality through seminars on modern technological developments.
For their presentation, they had brought a non-functioning version of the time-fold system.
Rocco had secretly mail-ordered the other necessary components. During the seminar, he stole a weapon from a guard, activated the time-fold system and escaped.
“We go after him,” said Desmond.
“Is this why we’re here, Desmond? Is this why you collected us?” Eli stood nose to nose with Desmond.
“I don’t know. I’m not in control.”
“Great. Just great.”
“It does not matter,” said Tol. “We cannot let some errant and violent time traveller go around raping and killing.”
“Are you aware,” said Eli, “of the religious and historical significance of when and where we are?”
“We are on the road to Nazareth at the crossroads of what you would call the development of Western Civilization.”
“OK, so you know. I’m Jewish, but Christ isn’t exactly unimportant in my personal history. If this guy, whoever he is, keeps this up, we might not recognise home when — and if — Desmond takes us back.”
“It does not matter to me,” said Tol. “I have a radioactive death ahead of me.”
“Let’s just go,” said Desmond.
Their quarry had travelled on foot down the road toward Nazareth. Desmond, Eli and Tol started jogging.
“What time would this psycho be from?” gasped Eli.
“Quite ahead of my own time,” said Tol. “Space fold science implied the existence of time-folds, but the practical problems were insurmountable. It’s conceivable that, in the distant future, they will solve the problems.”
“It doesn’t matter,” grunted Desmond.
“It may,” said Tol. “Our opponent has an energy weapon while we do not. And his technology may surpass our own.”
“Still doesn’t matter.”
Tol and Eli did not respond. They kept jogging.
Rocco reached Nazareth. He knocked on the first door he found and asked for Mary. An old man answered. He did not like the look of Rocco. His eyes looked possessed, strangely blue. The man denied knowing anyone named Mary and quietly closed the door.
At the next house, the door was slammed in his face the moment he asked for Mary. Rocco drew his weapon and vaporised the door.
The family was heading out the window. A young woman’s thin leg was exposed. Rocco grabbed the ankle and pulled her back into the room. She screamed. Outside the window, an older man started to climb back. Rocco dragged Mary by the ankle away from the window. As he turned, he came face to face with Tol.
For Rocco, Tol posed a double impossibility. Judging from his space-farer outfit he was from the future, but not far enough ahead to have access to time-fold systems. As a result of this hesitation, Tol picked Rocco up and hurled him bodily into the street. Rocco rolled in the dust.
“Is this the guy?” yelled Eli.
“Yes,” boomed Tol.
With some force, Eli kicked Rocco in the ribs. He remained still with one arm under him.
“Watch out!” yelled Desmond.
The former monk drew his weapon. The energy blast seared Eli’s arm.
Tol came outside and kicked the weapon out of Rocco’s hand. He grabbed Tol’s arm and pulled him down to the ground.
“You can’t stop me!” screamed Rocco as he punched hysterically. They struggled on the ground.
Desmond tended to Eli; the burn was painful, but not threatening. Desmond walked over and picked up the weapon. He looked at it for a moment and guessed at which button was the trigger.
“Stop!” he yelled.
Tol and Rocco stopped wrestling.
A small crowd, composed mainly of the family Rocco had attacked, gathered to watch.
Rocco stood with one arm in Tol’s grip. “You can’t stop me! Who are you?”
“It’s too difficult to explain.”
Rocco broke free and lunged toward Desmond, hprepared to fire. His hand abruptly went numb and the weapon fell. Rocco passed out.
“This has turned into a goddamn time travellers convention,” said Eli.
Desmond whirled to see two women in uniforms, carrying small weapons. The outfits were unfamiliar but they had a police-like air about them. “Who are you?”
“We are that damaged one’s keepers. Sorry for the trouble.” The crisp-looking officer glanced around. The eras represented by Tol, Eli and Desmond disturbed her. All were pre time-fold technology. “Do you people need a lift? How did you get here anyway?”
“No,” said Desmond. It was suddenly very clear. “Eli. Tol. Come touch my hand. Quickly.”
They darted toward Desmond. As soon as they made contact, they blurred and disappeared.
The police officer from 3122 looked at where the three had stood. She nodded to her associate. Within seconds she, Rocco and the other officer were gone.
Mary and her family looked on the scene with disbelief. God’s conflicts were most confusing.
Desmond: Think of where you’d like to be, Eli.
When they materialized in Eli’s living room, his mother screamed.
“Ma, Ma! It’s me.”
“Where the hell have you been? Who are these people?” “Bye Eli,” said Desmond. “Try a pub called The Duke in Toronto on New Year’s Eve. 1991.”
Tol: I don’t want to go back to my ship.
Desmond: I don’t blame you. If another ship knew about your ship’s danger, could you be rescued?
Tol: It’s possible …
Desmond: Then think of that ship.
They materialized on the bridge of The Bouquet.
“Security to the bridge!” yelled her captain.
“Captain,” said Tol. “My ship is in danger; I need your help.”
“How did you get here?”
“It doesn’t matter. Star system U564 is about to go nova and my ship has lost her radiation shields.”
The captain frowned. Desmond stood silently to one side. He hadn’t understood a word they had said.
“Give me the exact location,” said the captain.
Desmond started to lose control of his position. He wanted to stay and make sure everything went well for Tol. But the environment blurred out of his control.
He stood in his kitchen. What had he come out here to do? Oh, yes. Egg Nog for his wife. He went to the refrigerator and took the carton from the shelf. He took the rum from the high shelf.
As he went back into the living room, Rebecca was finishing putting the star on the top of the tree. When she turned, she stared at his dishevelled clothes.
“I went on a little trip. Egg Nog, dear?”