"Danger at the Robot Factory", by Anselmo Alliegro

(Click picture above to view a larger image.)
 

Inward
by Tom Olbert

 

Fallen cities of dust and bone formed the interior of the planet Mars. Labyrinths of stone and calcifying fossils layered one upon the other, toward the heart of a dead world. Toward the abyss that hungered below...

"Help me!!!... Oh, Gaaaauuuuuuu..." Murphy screamed in the shimmer of the time fold, his body distorting obscenely in the temporal crease. His face twisted, like a trick mirror at a carnival. Wrinkled, leathery, and straggly-haired one second. Soft and mewling and cherubic the next. An arm aged to withered skin and bone. A leg contracted into an infantile flipper. Colby swore at the top of his lungs, disgusted by the scene.

Kicking off from the ancient structure above, he fired his thruster jets, skimming across the yawning chasm in the neutral gravity of Omega Level. With the skill of a time-sensitive, he navigated the temporal flow of "Devil's Crossing," as this treacherous sector was named. Twists and ripples in time flickered past him. Temporal ghosts of people, things, and events long past or yet to be flashed by him like shadows. There was Kowalski, three weeks ago, screaming in agony as he was dismembered in the claws of a time demon. Around the next turn, there Kowalski was again, two days earlier, smiling and laughing and taking a whiff of Stranium-32.

Colby reached Murphy and grabbed hold of his propulsion harness. He shifted the cones of his thrusters, launching himself straight up and pulling the screaming, horribly distorted thing that had been Ron Murphy along with him. Sensing a stray eddy in the time flow, he glanced to his right. He cursed. Time demon. It made straight for him, through the shimmering veils of undulating time. The Martian organism passed through 100 million years of its own evolution, its form fluidly changing from second to second, like a monster in a child's dream. From a twisting gray worm to a scaly, tentacled thing, its eyes on stalks. It grew quickly into a multi-limbed horror, its circular, fanged maw a meter wide. Meter-length, stinger-tipped tongues lashed wildly, claws snapping.

Blind survival instinct drove Colby on. But, in a dark recess of his soul, he fervently hoped this time, he wouldn't make it. He put forward his temporal perception, straining it to its still unmeasured limits, until the time streams around him actually became visible. Seeing one rapid current snaking across the cavern, a faint, silver-gelatinous stream weaving through time, he gunned his jets, accelerating and changing course, steering in a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn straight toward it. He felt the time demon rapidly closing from behind, the temporal front it generated lapping at his heels. At the last possible second, he shifted the cones vertically, sharply pulling straight up, narrowly averting the time current and leaving the time demon to fly straight into it. Looking down, he saw the monster age into calcified bone and dust in a split second. A roaring cheer escaped his lungs, the animal part of him reveling in triumph.

A moment later, a wave of bitter disappointment flowed through his heart.

 

* * *

 

"Nothing we can do for him now," Dr. Elizabeth Welby said wearily in her Oxford-refined English accent. She nodded to Hendricksen. The large African sealed Murphy into the cryo-stasis pod and loaded it into cold storage to await the next space transport to Earth. Colby had never particularly liked Murphy, that self-assured, pudgy little know-it-all. But, even he felt sorry for the poor devil as he glanced at the computer monitor displaying the medical scan. Orange and red lines spiked wildly across the screen.

"Can he feel anything?" he asked Elizabeth softly.

"Who knows? Normally, the brain experiences no pain relays while the body is in cryo-stasis," she said grimly. "But, I just don't know. Every molecule in his body seems shifted out of time-sync. Even now, the electro-chem readings are through the roof. With that kind of energy surging through his neural pathways, God only knows what hell he's in." She rubbed her reddened eyes and yawned. "I hate this bloody rock of a planet. Have I mentioned?"

"Oh, I don't know... Mars starts to grow on you, if you let it." Colby smiled, coldly. At times like this, he felt God was having fun with humanity, like a bratty little boy tapping at the glass wall of an ant farm to see how many hapless insects he could bury alive in a cave-in. Flippancy was Colby's way of spitting in his enemy's face.

"Oh, man... you need heavy time Earth-side," Hendricksen said in his deep, booming voice and thick Zulu accent, snickering. "You are losing it."

"Don't waste your breath on this one, Pete," Elizabeth groaned, rubbing the back of her neck. "I can finish up here. You can knock off now, if you like."

"You sure, Liz? You look wasted."

"Yeah, I'm sure. And, thanks loads for the compliment. Go, get some rest."

As Hendricksen smiled and headed out of the lab, Colby accessed the holoviewer and brought up the 3-D sim of the planet's interior. The holo-globe of the red planet's innards shimmered on the air before him like a ripple of summer heat. Like the layered skins of an onion, one ruined shell of an underground civilization lay abandoned, the next built on the level below that. The Martians had just dug deeper and deeper into their world, to escape whatever disaster had rendered the surface uninhabitable. As the radiation mounted above, they'd gone further and further inward to escape it. All the way to the molten, iron-rich core.

"You know I should bloody well have your ass kicked back to Earth for a suicidal stunt like that, don't you?" Elizabeth snapped behind his back, raising her gravelly voice in anger.

"What was I supposed to do," he muttered, not looking at her, but studying the hologram. "Leave Murphy to die? It's not my fault he got too cocky for his own good. Besides... now, you've got a unique specimen to study."

"You filthy..." Her voice constricted in anger. He could hear her teeth grinding, just as she began to sob. For a split second, he started to turn toward her, but stopped himself. Don't make the mistake of getting close to anyone again, he reminded himself. He kept his eyes and mind fixed on the hologram.

Omega Level. Colby nodded, studying the seismic and temporal readings scrolling up on the rippling air. The degree of temporal distortion at that level left no doubt. They'd finally reached the immense, spherical shell the Martians had constructed around their planet's core. And, the searing white-hot rivers of molten metal he could see represented on the other side of the core left no doubt about something else: the shell was cracked. And, the cracks were spreading. Elizabeth reached in front of him and changed the holo view. "I was studying that," he protested, a bit irritated.

"Here's what you're being paid to study," she snapped, bringing up the temporal analysis. The craggy lines representing the isolated time currents jutted across a 2-D graph, representing the overlapping time-space distortion effects. "The blue line at the bottom, that's 'Murphy's River,' as I'm told it's been named." She smacked her lips in obvious distaste. "Right there is where you pulled him out..." She manipulated a control and indicated a point on the chart with a holo cursor. "And, the red line above that is where the demon attacked you. Right there."

"Devil's Crossing," he sighed, growing impatient. "So?"

A sneer crossed her attractive features. "It marks the intersection between where the time flow only affects the isolated time line of the individual, at that level, and where it forms a transcendent connection with an organism's ancestral line there, where the time-demon effect occurs. And... judging by the way poor Murphy was torn apart... bits of him aging, others rejuvenating... Murphy's River is the wildest current we've ever tracked."

"The Whitewater, eh?"

"What?"

"Skip it. What's your point?"

"The closer we get to the outer surface of the sphere, the more intense the distortion. And, the expeditions closer to the cracks on the other side of the core report the effect there is even worse."

"So, big deal, the sphere is what's generating the time folds. That, we've known for years."

"That's just it, Colby... these aren't just folds in our local time/space continuum. They're the direct result of another continuum... another universe perhaps... leaking into our space through the cracks. The different currents are like jets of scalding hot water being pumped into a cold ocean current."

He began to see, as cracks of fear began to sneak into Elizabeth's voice, through the anger. "So... the dam's about to give, is what you're saying?"

"It has to, eventually. The bloody thing's over a hundred-million-years old. If, as M.I.T. and their Russian colleagues suspect, the sphere's really some kind of spacial manipulator that converts the core's energy into a space/time singularity, then the interior of Mars is something close to a black hole. A bottled black hole at present, but if we're looking at something equivalent to a meltdown, then the temporal shield that keeps the demon in its bottle is about to break."

A dark wave flowed into his mind. What a fascinating idea. "So, Mars gets sucked down the funnel, and..."

"And, we suddenly have a black sun for a next-door neighbor! The entire Solar System could be destabilized. The astronomers are still calculating what the long-term effects on Earth will be." His head began to swim, his thoughts riding a dark, raging river through his past. His homecoming from the moon station. The cops around his house. That one fat detective laughing and telling dirty jokes with the coroner. The words "Death to the murderers of Gaia" painted across the walls of his bedroom in blood. A parting gift from his dear wife. And, a kind of lead-in to what she had planned next. Joannie always did have a flair for the dramatic, even when they were dating in high school.

He saw her at 17, standing at the crowded mall in Phoenix, laughing with her friends. Those faded, tattered blue jeans and red tank-top hugging her slender body. Her smiling, pretty face, impudently sticking her newly-pierced tongue out at him. Those sparkling, impish blue eyes. The last he'd seen of them was the live-hack telebroadcast she'd transmitted from the hoverpod she'd commandeered, just one day after killing their kids. "You were always stupid, but a great lover, Chris," she'd said with buoyant laughter as she'd steered the pod on a suicidal plunge into the heart of the Central International Exchange in New Berlin. He dimly felt a hand on his arm, shaking him. "Chris, are you okay? Chris?" Elizabeth's voice was lost in the roar of the dark river, carrying him laughing with demented joy into the black gravitational whirlpool at the river's end.

Joannie awaited him there, in the pit, calling to him, mockingly. He was looking forward to making love to her, again.

 

* * *

 

Colby navigated the temporal currents of the Whitewater. Ghosts of the past swam around him like sharks.

"Live your life right, son, and the Good Lord will provide," Colby's dad said. A big, smiling hulk of a guy with thinning brown hair. Colby watched the smile fade to the grieving, horror-stricken expression of a befuddled old man attending the funeral of his grandkids. His face froze in that one moment of death, fossilized for all time. Petrified into a landscape of ashes, bones, and twisted metal. Brush away the dust and dig deeper, deeper. Something solid must lie below.

God was solid. His love was unshakeable. "This was God's punishment upon us for our sin and corruption," the vicar intoned from his pulpit. Sunlight streamed through the saints and halos on the stained-glass window behind him, casting multi-colored shades on his white-and-black robes. "For allowing such unnatural abominations as clones and cyborgs to walk among us, God has punished us with fire and death from the skies!" The man's voice reached fever pitch, his face flushing red as he gestured dramatically. Colby walked down the church aisle towards the exit. He pulled the double doors open and found himself staring into the fossilized face of a Martian. He stepped out into the ruins of a civilization that had been ancient long before the earliest stirrings of human life. The ancient, skeletal giants towered over the church, old gods mocking the new. "Those are demons," the vicar screamed in obvious fright. "Pay no attention to them!" His voice faded into the distance as Colby found himself standing on the surface of Mars, Earth reduced to a pale blue star in the black Martian night sky; one more infinitesimal speck in the cosmic void. The church where he and Joannie had been married fell to dust in his mind. Brush away the dust and dig deeper, deeper. Something solid must lie below.

Hate was bedrock. Hate was solid and forever. Men in shiny glass masks and black armor stormed buildings with guns blazing. Bombs were falling everywhere. Fire coursed through Colby's blood as he killed, joyfully. He pulled off his helmet, the hot, fire-driven wind caressing his sweaty forehead. He looked around, panting. His gun was warm in his hands. A mother huddled in a corner with her two little children. She was terrified. He couldn't understand her language, but she begged with her dark eyes, for him not to harm her kids. She stepped in front of the two whimpering little brats and offered herself to him. A dark part of him wanted to kill her two little bastards and write his own childrens' names across the walls in their blood. But, he couldn't. Something he couldn't name stopped him. He turned from her. As he did, his squad leader walked in and blew the woman's brains out. The bastard had just killed both kids when Colby put three bullets through his skull. He'd then put the gun to his own head. The others in the squad had to stop him. Deeper, deeper. Something solid must lie below. The deeper he dug, the more he felt it; a warmth calling to him from deep inside his cold, dead being. Somewhere, a core of fire beckoned to him. She was there. He could sense it.

"Level Four stim ineffective," a cold, indifferent voice with a Harvard accent commented. "Since being placed in suicide restraint, the patient has steadily regressed inward toward complete catatonia. Normal perception of reality seems to be breaking down, layer by layer, toward complete dementia. As conventional cerebral stimulation technology has proven ineffective, I must reluctantly advocate the experimental quantum acceleration of the subatomic conveyors of the neural pathways. At this stage of mental deterioration, a one-in-a-thousand chance is better than none at all." Colby saw that insufferable, smiling jackenapes accepting his Nobel prize. A lined, distinguished face resembling Clark Gable's, wearing an expression of utter conceit.

As his mind shifted out of the time stream, Colby flexed his muscles, the immense robotic arms of his exo-skeleton spreading outward to aim his propulsion jets. He felt like a diver breaking water as he lifted out of the time fold. He looked up, through his glass oxygen helmet, into the ruined alien city above. The 40-foot-tall fossilized Martian cadavers frozen into the ancient walls stared down at him. Nestled between the gargantuan claws and petrified tentacles of the ancient monsters were the metal and plastic domes and modules of the command station, where Elizabeth was monitoring his ascent. He thought of her, for a few moments, but then felt something pulling at him from below. He looked down, into the roiling currents of the time stream.

Joannie smiled up at him, out of the swirling currents, her cruel eyes sparkling like blue gems. Her alluring smile beckoned to him, like a siren out of the sea. The blood of their two small children darkened the waters, and she laughed.

 

* * *

 

"Who the hell is that," Elizabeth demanded, staring at the rather handsome, smiling Clark Gable visage shimmering in holo on the air before her. "I know he's not part of any current expedition, but I'd swear I've seen him before."

"I'm searching the archives," Hendricksen said, scanning the image into the computer. "Nope. Zilch. No record of this guy ever having lived on Mars."

"Try the Earth archives, then."

He wrinkled his face. "Why? How could that..."

"Do it."

He shrugged and complied. "Got it," he said with surprise in his voice. "Dr. Graham Jacoby. The neuro-surgeon whose quantum experiment turned our friend Colby into a time-sensitive." The now world-famous holo of Jacoby accepting the Nobel prize appeared, text scrolling up on the air beside it. "How in hell does a time image of a guy whose never been to this planet..."

"Inclusive time lines," Elizabeth explained, quickly switching the holoviewer back to the external monitors. "Jacoby's part of Colby's past, so while Colby's in the heart of the 'Whitewater,' Jacoby is too, in a sense. That close to the singularity, a time traveler creates his own reality, so the theory goes. And, the more pivotal a given person might be in that traveler's time line, the larger and more powerful that entity would be in the traveler's 'private universe.'"

"The chrono-techs said that kind of thing couldn't happen."

"Well, they were wrong, weren't they? Nobody's ever been this deep into the flow and lived to tell the tale... hello. What the hell..." She squinted into the blurred image. Her heart clenched in a cold vise as the image of cruel blue eyes sharpened, blood clouding the view. "Have you got him back, yet?!"

"Yeah. Relax, Liz. They're reeling him in, now. He's fine," the big man said reassuringly, checking the tracking monitor.

"Is he," she muttered in fear, as she turned from the monitor station and stood looking out the glass observation port. One of the fossilized Martian giants seemed to stare at her. The four crystallized orbs it had in place of eyes hung frozen like black gems below the curving lobes of its brain case, just above the curving, tusk-like mandibles. As many times as she'd stared at it, the alien face still carried a strange image of peace. Something deep inside her said that it hadn't regretted not following its brethren down into the abyss.

 

* * *

 

"That finishes it," Colby declared, the final red dot on the hologram marking the theoretical site where the network of nuclear explosives would be completed. "Simultaneous detonation, and the sphere collapses in on itself." He brought his hands together, and clasped his fingers. For an instant, he was a little boy praying in church, again. "Localized space/time returns to normal. No more singularity."

Elizabeth stared dubiously at the holo, her forehead creased with tension. "But, if the calculations are off even a hair, the temporal forces could rip Mars apart. Spatial ripples could be felt even as far away as Earth."

"No chance, as long as the demolition teams lay the nukes right. The tech heads may not be able to figure out how the sphere generates the singularity, but the time flow tells me where the effect is centered. The physicists Earthside all concur. The shell will implode, the forces will balance, and nature will resume its shape, as it always does." He fought to sound cool and confident. He forced himself to meet her pretty green eyes, hoping she wouldn't see the dark plan behind his own. "Hey, anyway you slice it, it's better than doing nothing."

She nodded, looking over the hologram with apparent suspicion. Taking a final swallow of black coffee, she looked up and stared at him, as if probing for some hidden lie. "Are you sure you're ready for this?" she asked softly, sympathetically.

He'd been asking himself that. "Of course. Don't worry. I can pull it off." He sweated at those words, his armpits stinging sharply. It was getting harder to look her in the eye. He was asking her to put her life in his hands. And, why did she have to be so damned pretty? Joannie whispered in his ear, an invisible spirit growing in power. She doesn't understand, Chris. Only I do.

"You okay? Chris?"

"Yeah. Fine." He started to turn away. She moved forward, suddenly, and kissed him on the lips. He started, like a virgin. It had been so damned long. Joannie had been his first, and only. Elizabeth's hands touched his face, and she kissed him, again. His heart raced. He'd wanted Elizabeth from the moment he'd seen her. His respect and affection for her had grown every day they'd worked together. But, he'd been too afraid to admit his feelings, even to himself. She was an anchor, holding him in place. He tried to put his arms around her, to let her anchor him, but he couldn't. The dark river was too strong, pulling him into the raging whirlpool. He gently but firmly pushed her hands aside and walked away. He forced himself not to look back.

 

* * *

 

"Implacement confirmed," Colby called through his helmet radio, watching the demolition team and their multi-limbed robot servitors sink the final nuclear charge into the outer mantle of the Martian sphere. Here on the surface of the core, his temporal awareness was at its peak, as though proximity to the singularity had magnified his ability tenfold. Time currents that were barely visible in the upper levels were like roiling wisps of black smog down here. He could see the temporal geyser gushing from the cracks like a fountain of inky blackness. Down here, the streams were both lethal and treacherous, but there were still safe passages of normal time granting access to just about every point on the sphere. The safe routes shifted quickly, but he managed to guide the team through, his senses sharpening by the minute. Transmitting the coordinates that allowed the engineers to avoid the aberrant time currents, he watched them ascend to the command station.

He hesitated a few seconds, staring up at the station, where he knew Elizabeth waited. Come, Lover, an old, familiar voice called to him from the dark abyss below. I'm waiting. Unable to resist, he turned his propulsion jets about and steered himself straight into the heart of the time flow.

"Chris," Elizabeth's voice blared through his radio speakers with a fevered urgency. "What are you doing?! Reverse course at once! Chris, are you there?" Her voice faded into static, splintered into a billion disjointed nanoseconds as he plunged into the raging currents of time.

So, here you are, Lover, Joannie called seductively to him, her long, slender arms reaching out and coiling about his neck. I've missed you so. Her warm, full lips met his, and he was swallowed into the hell she ruled. A place of firestorms raging across the surface of a dying world. A war between giants. An immense white moon shattered into two pitted fragments hanging in a blackened sky. A final orgy of hate and destruction, and a civilization fell to ruin, the survivors fleeing inward toward the fiery core of their planet. There they remained to this day, trapped in a hell they'd made for themselves. Trapped for eternity in that final moment of hatred and death, playing out over and over and over again, ad infinitum. Welcome home, she teased, nibbling playfully at his ear.

She took his hand and led him into hell. "Chris," he heard Elizabeth's voice calling out to him from behind. He turned, seeing her image reaching out like a ghost through the flames.

Ignore her, Joannie commanded angrily. Chris, she said, caressing his face, her voice softening. She'll exist for eternity. Nothing dies here. Only out there. Come. He hesitated. Then obeyed, and followed. She led him to his house, where the children waited. They were alive, and playing in the yard, as they always had. He smiled, as though getting over a bad dream. She took him inside, where she laughed, playfully at the sight of the kids' bodies, lying unmoving on the floor. He froze. Then, his numbness passing, he glared hatefully at her, pulling his hand roughly free of hers as his blood turned to acid. She laughed again, and fluttered her eye-lashes. Suddenly, the kids were cute, mewling babies in their old playpen. The room changed around him, the blood on the walls suddenly replaced with that godawful pink-flowered wall paper they'd gotten rid of years ago. Just a reminder, she whispered to him. To keep you well-behaved. She winked at him, and the kids were gone. Not yet born. The whole house changed. It was her parents' house now, and she was seventeen again. She disrobed and led him toward her bed. He longed for her, his heart pounding as he stroked her face, coming down on her as she lay back on the mattress. She smiled. Take me.

He wanted to. But, he couldn't. That same nameless something that had stopped him from killing that other woman's kids stopped him now. He felt it, calling to him from outside. He tore himself from her and ran towards it. Chris! Come back! There's only death out there! He ran toward the fire. The dying cities. The shattered moon. And, there they were. Soft, blue-white lights rising from the planet surface into the black sky. The Martians. He saw them change as they moved through time. Some fled below. Others changed, metamorphosing. Evolving. Flesh gave way to metal, then crystal. Then, just energy. Blue/white fire, rising on wings of light. They lifted toward the stars, and he followed them.

Come back, damn you! She screamed. He looked back and gasped in horror. Her form filled the sky behind him, her hair aflame, her burned, mutilated face swallowing the horizon. Her scorched flesh boiled and peeled away, her face becoming a grotesque skeletal mask. Her eyes were red flame shooting out of dead, empty sockets. Her hand reached across the sky toward him. Blackened, bony fingers, miles long, it seemed, closed in around him. The beings of light surrounding him shielded him with their wings and guided him toward the edge of hell. She screamed and sent time demons shrieking out of the pit to pursue him. He saw Elizabeth's face shimmering before him, and knew he was nearing the edge, where he had first entered.

He reached out, towards Elizabeth, his heart soaring. His heart shattered as her face dissolved into a wild cascade of searing white explosions. Too late, Joannie taunted. The nukes have gone off, Chris. Now, you're trapped with me, forever!

He screamed in impotent rage. A soft white/blue light washed over him, a tide of warmth, comforting him. The Martians guided him along safe paths to a point in time before the first explosion. Like a hole in swirling currents of time. He shifted his jets, and flew through. He found himself back outside the time flow, seconds before he'd entered. There were the engineers sinking the last nuke. He raised the command station on his helmet radio. "Elizabeth," he panted, his voice cracking. "Listen to me...you have to lay a new detonation program into the computer. Simultaneous detonation won't work. That deep into the Whitewater, time will splinter. What calculates as 100 simultaneous detonations to you in normal time isn't what happens down here, on the surface of the core. Each nuke will go off in a separate time fragment. It'll rip the singularity wide open and destroy Mars. You have to stagger the detonations in order to compensate. I'm feeding the time factor into the computer uplink now. Lay in the new figures as they come up. Do you hear me?!"

"Chris..." her voice answered, trembling. "Before, you said..."

"I was wrong. I mean... I lied, all right? I'm not lying now. Do as I say. It'll work."

Silence. "How can I trust you now, Chris?"

He clenched his fists, in exasperation. Then, he gave up. "You can't. Do what you want, Elizabeth. It's in your hands. Liz..." He stared up at the distant base, wishing he could see her face before he died. "I love you."

Seconds slipped by. "Prove it, then. Come back. Save yourself." He obeyed, firing his jets and following the engineers toward the base. He checked his portable computer link. He exhaled in relief. She had laid in the new detonation program. His heart pounded, a warmth flowing through him as he neared the base.

A single tear slipped down his face as one nuke went off, then another, many separate moments coming together as one. He shut his eyes and clenched his teeth as Joannie screamed out his name, one last time.

 

* * *

 

Six months later...

Colby sat on the ridge overlooking the teraforming base on the surface of Mars. The white lights surrounding the ice rigs and agro domes lit up the dark Martian plane like a sea of stars. The two broken moons hung overhead in the black sky, among the real stars, their soft white light washing over the frozen cliffs.

Elizabeth sat silently beside him. "You okay?" she asked quietly, her voice scratching through the helmet radio link.

"Yeah," he answered dreamily. "Just thinking about the future."

She smiled, stroking a gloved hand over the bulky gray air-suit concealing her five-month pregnancy. The smile slipped off her face as she looked up at him. "That's not the future you meant, is it?"

"No," he admitted, looking at her. Seeing the concern in her face, he lifted his hand, invitingly. "Don't be scared. It's not an addiction, like the past. It's freedom. Like, waking up from a dream."

"Maybe, I want to dream a while longer." She started to get up.

He gently ran a gloved finger across the light layer of night frost creeping up her faceplate. "You've always anchored me," he reassured her. "I just want to share the freedom with you. Don't worry; we can always come back."

"Promise?" she asked, with the hint of a smile.

"On my life." She sat down, and he placed his hand against the glass of her helmet. His fingers melted through solid matter, touching her face. Time became fluid as he phased his sub-atomic particles out of time-sync with the rest of the universe, taking her along for the ride. Touching the singularity had awakened his full potential. He didn't need the singularity to time travel anymore. He could ride the temporal river at will now. Mars came alive around them, the terraforming stations growing into towering cities, the ice-caps melting into oceans and islands green with life. The sky turned from black to salmon pink to blue, clouds racing across the horizon. The cities turned into gigantic spaceships, rising towards the waiting stars. Mars disappeared beneath them, left far behind, a speck in infinity.

The river raced on and on. Minds transcended flesh and interjoined. Limbs were replaced first by mechanical extensions, then living crystal that formed from energy and grew like interweaving tentacles of diamond and starlight. Then, only thought and energy remained. Beings of light walked between the stars, their power touching planets in whose primal seas life was artfully sculpted.

And, still, the river raced on, outward. Ever outward...

 

 

Story © 2003 by Thomas Olbert tomolbert@worldnet.att.net


Illustration © 2003 by Anselmo Alliegro ajall@earthlink.net




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