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Time To Pay the Piper

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January 31, 2014 

Sam Soma's office 


Sam's lunch break was just coming to an end when reality itself tore apart in one corner of her office as between her bookshelves and desk a shape simply appeared out of the air. First it was a sphere larger than a man, one that seemed cut out of the air, as if the air had been replaced with perfectly clear glass, then the nearly-transparent shape bowed outward into an elongated cylinder that gradually began to glow and hum - until at last in a flash of light, a weird figure appeared riding a fantastic machine. Tall, blonde, and muscled like an Olympian god beneath his red shirt and skin-tight black pants, his face was briefly hidden by red goggles over his eyes as he bounded from his seat. The craft he'd rode in looked like an open flight cockpit to Sam's experienced eyes, albeit one adorned with fantastic displays and glowing machinery far beyond the reach of the technology of the 21st century, complete with a seat in front and another in the rear. 


"Sam Soma," the man said in a firm tenor voice that might have led an aria as well as commanded an army, "My name is Dr. Tomorrow, and history needs you!" He extended a hand. "Will you help me?" 

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Sam widened her eyes in shock at the appearance, and if she was honest, at the attractive form of Dr Tomorrow. She had a thing for blondes. 


She rolled back in her chair, without thinking. Perhaps worried that she would be caught in an explosion, or worse. She prided herself on being pretty composed and professional at work. But this was pretty jaw dropping even by the measure of her own rather extreme experiences. 


"History needs me? Save history?" she blubbered, scraping back composure like an uphill struggle. "I mean, yeah, sure...heaven knows I have done that before" she answered, remembering how she saved the Radical. 




"Who are you? some kind of time traveller? where are we going? what's happening?" she asked, click click click with questions. She had a reflex urge to read his mind. But then, she couldn't read minds. 


He could. 


She picked up her handbag, and brought out the folded paper thin psycho-reactive suit that housed him. The Radical. Her lover. Just touching it sparked him to waking, and that touch was a mental conversation.


Far out, man! said the Radical, full of excitement once she had filled him in. Thats so awesome! just like you saved me, honeychild...now we get to save the future! I bet it's all about rampant industrialisation of the planet...we have to get back to nature, man...save the planet!


Yeah...umm...might be something else though...she answered back, appreciating his love, bamboozled by his single minded jumping to conclusions, despite his professed "open mind".  


"The answer is yes" she said to Dr Tommorow. 


"But I do have to change..."

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"I will await your return!" declaimed Tomorrow. "But be quick, if you please - while time is usually a luxury we chrononauts have in ample quantity, today the very fate of a forgotten future lies within our hands! Thank you for your assistance, Sam Soma! And to you as well!" he added, evidently addressing an invisible form who just might have been The Radical. "History has judged Sunset fairly!" He waited patiently for Sunset to don her costume, leaving his time machine behind to stand and study her bookshelf with fascination. Free of his machine, he really did look as though someone had sculpted the perfect Nordic superman and put him in a skintight costume and inside a time machine. 


Upon her return, he said "Magnificent! I-...am I coming on too strongly?" he suddenly asked, his pale cheeks coloring a bright shade of pink. "It has been many subjective years since I was in the 2010s and I may have grown rusty with your means of communication." 

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Sam had to acknowledge the Man was handsome, and her type. He looked a bit like the Radical...and despite her love for him, she really wished the Radical was flesh and bone. 


Hey, with this suit, I can be flesh and bone, again, honeychild! You don't need this dude, I mean, free love and all, baby, but...


...Don't worry, mister. I'm just looking...


His voice inside her head calmed her down a bit. He was a jerk, but she loved him for it. 


The Sunset suit was, at this time, a spandex number, covering her entire body with a grey-black skin hugging number, leaving only her head and hands exposed. 


"Take me tommorow, Tommorow!" she quipped, hands crossed and smiling. 


What the hell are we getting into...


...this is going to be far out, man, out of this world! its like that time I was with Morrison and we dropped some heavy..


Another time, lover. Time to go! she interrupted him, not wishing him to go down that road. 

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Tomorrow looked surprised, but not  at all displeased, at her readiness to join him in the machine - the look on his face was like a collector finding the one other person in the world who shared his hobby. Once they were inside the machine, he in the front and her in the jumpseat in the back, he handed her a pair of red goggles to match his own, one that stretched to fit right over her suit. "We are traveling forward in time nearly one and a half million years!" he told her dramatically, punctuating the date like an old-fashioned melodramatic radio announcer. He reached down and slid a series of three lightbars on the console sideways, and a thrilling low rumble of energy shot through the temporal craft. "Past the age of the Legion! Past the Terran Unity!" The canopy overhead had turned opaque as soon as Sunset sat down, but the consoles near Sam showed her what was happening outside - a vision of images of Freedom City, flashing by far too fast to make narrative sense of; a city rising to the sky in crystal spires, that same city burning and wrecked, a mighty forest,and then another city built on top of that.


"Past the great hypernova! Past the Age of Ascension!" The thrumming whine of energy seemed to be slowing. "A million years since your departure...we are entering the era of the Great Bombardment," he told Sam seriously. "Do you know the star Gliese 710? In this age it has entered the Kuiper Belt of your Solar System and deflected comets into the inner Solar System. The civilizations of previous eras might have deflected them, but this is...not a priority for the current population of the Solar System," he said carefully. The screens outside showed Sam a dark-skied landscape that looked very little like her own Freedom City; a rocky, snow-covered and tree-covered landscape studded with the ruins of great buildings that towered dozens of stories high. It looked more like Alaska than New Jersey. "But things are getting better! The great bombardment has ended and the winters have begun to die down. This is a new age for Earth, an age of growth and life. If we are successful, that is." 

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The sunset suit glowed. Orange light flickered, blurred, and coalesced into an unblinking eye.

The sights were extraordinary, and the Radical wanted to see them too.

Breathless, Sunset drank in the scenery.

"Thats a lot of history! I can barely take it in...so this is the future? Humanity struggling into spring after the bleakest of winters? Tell me, what happened? How did they not ivercome this? What threat lurks to blight the world?:

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When Sunset was fully armored, Tomorrow nodded and pressed a button on his console, rolling up the canopy over their heads and letting in the cool, crisp air of a million and a half years in the future. 1,459,000 CE (April 19) was a lovely, albeit bracing spring afternoon, the air cool and crisp with the promise of a new future for humanity. Tomorrow slipped out of the cockpit and opened a compartment in the side of his craft, withdrawing a pack that he strapped over his back, jet-nozzles down. "All these ruins, here, these belonged to a civilization called the Ooxmal. Magnificent people, brilliant architects, engineers, who arose from those who stayed behind after the Ascension. They had no written language," he went on, admiringly as he studied the great cylindrical ruins all around them, the overgrown buildings all some variant on that same cylindrical formation, some tall, some small as a house, "only their thoughts. They were the greatest telepaths of the age!" he went on, "all of them, from birth! They lived in peace together, in harmony with the world and the Solar System, and built a great Ark to cast their consciousnesses across the multiverse!" He smiled, then gave Sunset a serious look. 

"Then left it behind them, when they were gone. A crystal artifact the size of my timepod," he said with a nod in its direction, "capable of allowing a telepath to open a mental connection to any place within the nearest thousand or so meta-universal strands. You see the problem." 

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"A magnet?" speculate Sunset, hand to chin, tapping away. "Something with that power would attract all sorts of flies and moths. A divining pool of the future"


She couldn't help but be fascinated by the future, and the grand sweeps of history that Dr Tomorrow had painted for her. How could one cram in over a million years of history? What where humans of this age? Not the humans of the twentieth century, that was for sure. Why, evolution alone would have changed them beyond recognition, without even considering the effects of genetic engineering. 


"The ooxmal were clearly fine architects as well as telepaths. Why did they go and leave such a wonder?" she pondered. "A treasure trove for all to grab. And not just from this universe, but all those with which it connects"


This I gotta see!


Sam kept silent. The Radical was a good soul, but rather eccentric. She did not doubt he would be drawn to the crystal, and to peek inside it, irrespective of the risk or consequence. Anything that could "expand his mind" would draw him like the proverbial moth to the proverbial flame. 


"Where is the crystal now? and what has it attracted?"

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"They had become the master race," said Tomorrow, bitterness creeping into his voice. "Ready to move where they wished, explore where they wish, but with no care for what they left behind them. It is," he added wryly, trying to stay light, "the problem with too much life of the mind." When they were both outside the pod and beneath the cool air of a far-future world, Tomorrow pointed to a distant star Sunset didn't recognize in the blueness overhead. "Gliese. Close as she is, she will never be brighter than Old Venus to the eyes on Earth. Such is the fate of stars." He walked around for a moment, testing his weight on the crunchy light snow beneath their feet.


"The crystal itself is in one of these buildings," he said, and admitted, "I cannot find it. It is constructed so that the mental emanations of someone without psychic abilities, even one trained by beings from other ties, render it completely invisible and out of phase with reality. The Ooxmal did the universe that service...but there are beings left in the Milky Way that have the power to read minds, and much else besides. _Tomorrow_, the Ark will be found by the dragon, an ancient being of unspeakable psychic power, and her flames will scorch the fabric of the multiverse." Tomorrow smiled as a distant bird, if that was a bird, shrieked with delight. "That is, unless we find it first." 

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"A Dragon?"


I guess those archetypes never grow old!


The Radical was about to embark on a rambling discussion on Jungian Archetypes, based on his cluttered and random readings of the sixties counter culture, before Sam gave him a mental slap. 


"That doesn't sound good...at all. I'm dead against damage to the fabric of the universe..."


Its all just a garment of illusion, babe, open your mind to the wonders of the multi...


"...so we...er...I....er...we...better try and find it first I guess? I hope a day is long enough...its a long walk down, isn't it?" she asked. She felt the Radicals power bubbling high, enough to propel her down there in an instant. But she wouldn't be able to fly around scounting for this crystal. At least, not for long. 


"We...er...I...er...he...er....can sense it then, I guess. I hope. Psychic, you see!" she added, tapping her head. 


"Would, you, err...mind if I picked your brains?" she asked politely and a little awkwardly. "I mean in a literal sense. It won't hurt, it's just if you know about temporal physics and the history of the future, that might come in handy...its just borrowing your knowledge..."

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"Feel free," said Tomorrow. "My knowledge of your future has been placed behind blocks to prevent any tampering, even what I might do by accident, so you may search as you wish!" Sunset's scan gave her the picture of an interesting mind - there were glimpses of heroes she'd heard of and heroes she'd hadn't, stretching back into the distant past of Freedom City and far into its future. The Second World War seemed to burn especially bright in Tomorrow's, er, Thomas Morgen's memories, both with vivid recollections of the Liberty League and with a feeling of great, wrenching sadness at odds with the vigorous man before her - and then the link was gone as she found what she needed, and they were off! 


The terrain was quite rough, much rougher than a mere million years of geological subsidence could have done to the soft soil near Freedom City, and they made slow progress as they headed up towards the forest of buildings that was their destination. Tomorrow explained that "In the future, humanity will learn to shape the planet as they desire, but choose to leave their efforts...unfinished. If we have time, perhaps I will show you the House of Leaves in what was Asia. Magnificent structure, built entirely out of...ah, here we are." He looked up at the vast bulk of the great brown and black cylinders all around, the ground where they stood cast into shadow by the skyscraper-sized stumps. Overgrown with plants and (from the sound) playing host to a great many birds, they were a sign that the planet itself was going along just fine. 

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Its not just your knowledge...Sam thought as the Radical drew out Tomorrows mind, landing it in the Sunset Suit. Its your mind...


She never felt entirely comfortable with the Radicals power. He could pick his way through somebodies head, reading it like a book. But he could also steal their head. In most people, it was little more than a dim awareness, barely registering. But for Dr Tommorow...well, his mind was a pillar of strength, extraordinary in virtue. With him, the psyche of Dr Tomorrow was far more than a mere dim shadow. She could feel the echo of his brain in the Suit. 


"Well this doesn't look to bad" she noted, as they walked through the plants and birds. "Unless we are talking mutant giant venus flytraps". Which was, she thought, possible. The Tomorrow echo in her head could fill in plenty of gaps...when she looked at the comets in the sky, she understood the astrophysics. The clear sky was largely free of the comet storm that had wrecked the Earth. 


"So, from a geological perspective, the winter will end, the snow will thaw, and that means the Ark might be lost...no time like the present, eh?" she japed. What was the "present" for a Time Traveller. 


She picked her way through the strange terrain, keen to get to the fabled artifact. 

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Sunset found a 'ping' inside a nearly featureless, flat-brown building that, with its jagged tip looked like a snapped-off marble column scaled up to twenty stories tall. With Tomorrow at her back, she found the building's featureless appearance was something of a misnomer. As she walked inside, the 'lobby' lit up with a pleasant, albeit spotty blue glow, from hexagonal panels that appeared as if by magic from the walls and floor. Tomorrow's murmured "Fascinating!" didn't obscure the automated voice that began speaking to Sunset in a slow, warm tone in a language she didn't understand, sounding vaguely like the automated speaker system in some sort of public transit station. As they followed the patchy trail of lights (some of which had gone missing) deeper into the building, a distinctly organic scent reached Sunset's nostrils - and then she came upon the corpse! 

The animal was nothing that had existed on Earth in her own era; its features something between reptilian and amphibian, at least those features that were left. Only the skin remained, stretched across a doorway like a macabre greeting, the glossy brown 'fur' on the surface bus with ants and other familiar creatures - whatever this was had been skinned and hung up only recently. 

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Sunset made a face, squirming her nose and brow at the sight, and indeed the smell. 


"What the hell is that?" she asked reflexively. "A million years of evolution?" it was the logical answer. But...


"Or some kind of alien?" she completed. Of course, that didn't really matter...


"More importantly, what kind of maddened creature skinned it?" she asked, the thought slipping through her with a cold fear pinned to it. 


She flexed her fingers, feeling the Radical muster up his prostigious strength inside the suit.


Whoaaa! Thats some bad ass dude! I'll keep a watch out!


The black suit of Sunset glowed, a deep orange eye of light forming on it...then another...the another...until a half dozen unblinking lights moved around her suit, each an eye, looking out for trouble...


"Onward to the breach, I guess..." she murmured to Dr Tommorow, and pressed forward...quietly.  

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"That is a gecko-spider, a colormorphic creature that...hmm, fills the niche locally that wild cattle filled on Earth in the Bronze Age." Tomorrow had been surprised to see the hanging skin, but didn't look too bothered by the grisly trophy. "The skin is nearly dried, it must be nearly ready for processing." Wrinkling his nose, he added, "I don't smell the meat itself being cooked, so perhaps it was eaten elsewhere." Pressing forward, eventually they found themselves in a spherical room, big as a small stadium - the panels along the way had all lit up at their approach and inside, the round room was downright cozy with lights glowing a welcoming shade of orange shining from every corner. 


The group of hominids they found in the big 'stadium' room was, however, not nearly so happy to see them. Covering their eyes against what had to be a surprising new glare, the group of a dozen humanoids were hissing and chattering to each other. Heavily furred and muscular, like bipedal or tool-using bears with weirdly human faces, they wore skins like the gecko-spiders over their furry bodies and carried stout-looking spears that might have been forged from some spear. They looked like a family or clan grouping - several big ones, several more that certainly _looked_ biologically female, at least as much as bears did, and some younglings. From the tools, bedding, and food scattered all around, this was their home. 


Behind the hominids, hung with skins like a drying rack, was the Ark! It glowed warmly, albeit with strange fractures, around places where it looked to have been chipped away, but was otherwise mostly intact. 

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Bingo! And it looks pretty beautiful too!


"Hey everybody..." said Sam, slowly, holding up her hands in a universal gesture of peace. 


Hey...are these guys safe? They are primitive hunters...this could get messy...


You gotta be kidding me...these guys are us, in the future! look at how they have evolved! a utopian society of hunter gatherers, in tune with nature and the universe! Ok, so they may look a little....hisrute...but that's cool, man...no way am I getting all kung fu on these guys!


"I...er....don't suppose you speak English?" she asked, curling her lips to whisper at Dr. Tommorrow "...or do you speak far future man-apes?" she added. "I mean, they look kinda peaceful, but then they do hunt those...gecko-spider things...and skin them...I hope not alive..." she added. It suddenly struck her that despite all the preparation she had the Radical had made, she had not yet been in a real, guys and blood fight...

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"Is this it? I still can't see anything of the Ark!" Tomorrow was looking around, clearly seeing the bear-men and their little clan, but nothing of the artifact they had come to find. "Unless those spears are bare, some of them must have chipped off fractions of the Ark as weapons. Oh dear, I hope that doesn't cause a cosmic overload..." He removed a device from his belt and began scanning the room with a low hum. "Those lights in the panels must be activated by your presence! They never did anything like this with the League!" 


The bear-men didn't seem to speak English, but after a moment a clear, resonant voice reached Sunset's 'ears' - right into her brain! It seemed to come from the eldest of the tribe.

-You have stirred the great rock to life, and the very walls of our home! Why are you so different from the others?-

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Because I am tuned into the Universe Man!


Sheesh, even if you are right, don't feel so confident about it, love! Maybe you should be out here instead?


Right on, they would dig me, f'shure!


"I don't know..." she said, in her head and out of her lips at the same time. Perhaps the Radical would "dig" these hirsute men better than she. But right now, she didn't fancy changing in front of them. 


"Honestly, I don't!" she explained, giving Dr Tomorrow a sideways glance. 


"Do I?" she asked him. 


"I can...see things others cant. In the past, what has gone before. Yesterday, yesteryear, yester...century" she explained, wondering just how far she could go. She had traversed a century, but never pushed it further. She felt a little fainter in herself when she went backwards. Several thousand millennia...that would be a trip to the unknown. 


"What does it mean...the...great rock...coming to life?" she asked, feeling her way to polite inquiry. 

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-The great rock was left here by the giants, long before we came down from the icy cliffs. It sang to us of places far away, and worlds to build, and so we came to live alongside it. But it has been quiet since we arrived - you have awakened the rock and the place where the giants placed it lo those many years ago.- The elder walked up to the Ark and placed a furry paw against its surface, seeming to take a deep breath and inhale whatever energies his inhuman physiology could sense. -We have seen these walls speak before, but never have we heard _these_ walls speak. And we never seen a giant,_ he admitted with a twitch of his brown and black nose, -only lived in the places they built and seen the great works they have left behind. Are you a giant?-. 


-No, we have spent too long in this place!- came the stern psychic 'voice' of another of the beings, this one a squat-bodied male who seemed younger than the other. -We have hunted here and made our home, and listened to the voices of the lesser rocks and the walls that talk, since I was born! We cannot let a stranger from beyond take what we have lived and worked for all these years!- The squat one faced the two humans down fearlessly. -I say we drive them off if they do not leave!- 

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"This isn't good is it?" said Sunset to Dr. Tomorrow. 


"We are taking away - what - a religious icon? a god? - from these people! that's not good at all" she said, to herself as well as the man from the future. She hoped the bearmen could not hear, or understand, but she kept her voice as a whisper anyway. 


"The Giants - they must be us? or some version of humanity that came before these furry folk. And the walls that talk, and lesser rocks? computers? artificial intelligences? television screens?" she speculated. It all kind of made sense, but on the other hand it could be aliens or monsters or anything else. 


She redirected her mind back to the bear men, trying to plead with them, although with a sinking feeling in her gut...


-Please, the rock, it is called the ark. Tomorrow, an evil spirit, the Dragon, will come to find it, and fiery death will fall on this world and all worlds. We have come to save the ark from the Dragon! - she explained. 


"What actually do we need to do with it?" she asked Dr Tomorrow. "Destroy it, steal it, or defend it? or all three?"

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"Stealing it may be immoral, but it would help protect these people," said Tomorrow with a tactician's frankness. "If the Dragon arrives and finds the Ark stolen, her wrath will be directed against the thieves, not against the primitives who were unable to prevent the theft. And this is not the day the Ark is destroyed, nor will that day come in this century." He hmmed, and added, "A destroyed Ark would mean that the efforts the Dragon expended were completely in vain, and would only grow her fury. So we are left with the choice of taking the Ark from these people, or defending them from the Dragon." He hmmed, looking around the clan that was in the middle of a heated psychic argument over the fate of the Ark and the outsiders who had come for it. "If we let the Ark remain here, we would need to first defeat the Dragon, and then construct a defense against future attacks. Otherwise we would leave them vulnerable to future attack. What do you think we should do?" he asked her seriously.


It didn't look like there was much time to decide; the news of impending fiery doom from the skies had caused quite a frenzy among the bear-men! There were prayers from some and spear-clashing from others, as if a mini-riot was about to break out among the large family group.

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"How can I measure the fate of the universe against the fate of these men?" asked Sunset to herself. 


You can't mess with their Karma! It's there God, man! You can't steal a God...its their connection to the universe!


And what of their universe? What if that is stolen?


Logically, the fate of a few dozen men could not be weighed against infinity. And yet...and yet...


The Radical was right, in a way. These men were innocent, primitive, and connected. She couldn't, at the end of the day, do it. Even if it was the right thing to do. Today, or whatever day this was in the distant future, she would have to do the wrong thing. 


"Then we have to fight the dragon" she answered somberly to herself. "I can't take this, even if it is the safer thing to do. Damn me and damn this choice. Its the Dragon then, and I hope it does not roar too loudly" she explained. 


<I do not bring just bad tidings! I will fight the dragon with you!> she said, resolute and confident, to the men in her head. 

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"Hmm. I had a feeling something like this might happen." Tomorrow smiled, and it was a dazzling look that lit up the science hero's face. "Come, let us plan." He still couldn't communicate with the ursus sapiens tribe, a group whose name for themselves - Chimariko (as was usual with tribal societies) simply meant 'people.' It was easy enough for the Chimariko to make plans to defend their realm with Sunset - though they had faced no enemies in the City of the Giants, they had fought enough enemies in the forests where they had begun that they had plenty of experience with tribal warfare. Between warriors with atlatls and the chieftan's psychic powers, they certainly had several lines of defense. Those weapons tipped with fragments of the Ark would even be able to hurt the Dragon herself! 


As he unloaded weapons of his own from the storage compartment of his timecraft, Tomorrow explained the physics of the situation. "By coming here and finding the Ark, we have solidified all that came before us. The Dragon cannot appear anywhere in the Ark's past without altering its existence. The trick will be to prevent her from coming again and again in the future - but leave that to me." Now outside, with the warriors of the tribe setting up sightlines behind him, he looked at Sunset against the glare of a reddish-orange sunset. "You must keep her in the fight long enough that I can attune the isotemporal frequencies of her abilities to the surrounding area, rendering her unable to use them in the local timestream. We may not be able to bar her from this place...but if she cannot use her powers here, she will hunt easier game elsewhere. There is a whole galaxy beyond." 

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"Isotemporal wha..." started Sunset before she felt the echo of Dr Tomorrow inside her. 


The complex understanding of temporal physics, whilst nowhere near the 'original' was laid out in front of her. 


yeah man, that's awesome...its like, everything is one, and one is everything!


Nicely put, if a little sixties...she answered to the Radical. 


...well, its a little more complicated than that...blurted out the echo of Dr Tomorrow. Normally the ingested psyche's were faint, whispers and shadows, but Dr Tomorrow had a powerful mind, and the rather vague whimsy of the Radical briefly sparked that echo into phrase, if faint. Sunset was just glad that he was a benign presence. 


"So, keep her occupied for the attuning of the isotemporal frequencies. You got it!" she smiled, giving him two thumbs up. 


"How long have we got? And what exactly do we know about this dragon? can we make preparation? maybe lay some traps, trip wire, giant spikes, that sort of thing? Maybe conjure up some flame repellent?"

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"The Dragon was a woman, once, long before these people's ancestors walked the Earth," replied Tomorrow seriously. "She has traveled the cosmos and learned terrible powers - to burn out the energies of psychics and add them to her own power, to tear molecules to pieces without being destroyed by the subsequent ionic reactions, to survive in the depths of space and the heart of a star...but she is still human at her core. She is prone to rages, and greed, and jealousy, and has survived a million and a half years only because her short temper and petty nature have kept her from attracting the attention of the more powerful beings that dwell in this time and space. She is a terror to inhabited planets; a myth to those places that have the energies to repel her." 

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