Don't Write What You Know;
Write What You Care About -- Passionately!
Time Warp: Book 2
- William Paul Lazarus
Trapped on Earth as his archenemy Wyron hovers dangerously in the sky above, Crown Prince Anton can only rely for assistance on his fantastic automatonic rocking horse Thurgose and a friendly bureaucrat named Bonnie. They try to hide with Outsiders, people who have rejected society’s push for ratings to achieve immortality, finding Bonnie’s brother among them.
Wyron won’t wait and attacks, forcing the Americans to turn to the only ones who can save them, Anton and Thurgose.
With his ship repaired and joined by a human crew, Anton sets off for an epic battle.
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Finally, Bonnie Cataline could run no more. Her feet were raw and bleeding; her ribs hurt. Panting, she lay against the rough stone wall of the corridor and tried to catch her breath. Although she and the alien Anton and his robotic horse Thurgose were far below the earth’s surface, fleeing down a tunnel cut through solid ground, but unfinished with tile or proper ceilings, there was plenty of light. Thurgose saw to that.
Cataline was becoming most impressed with the little automatonic horse. It had enhanced the flow of electricity to its head to create a yellow beam of light. The darkness swallowed the glow almost immediately, but they could still see enough to pick their way past boulders left strewn by workmen withdrawn in the middle of construction.
Exhausted, she finally sat down and felt the hard wall against her back. At one point, she had stopped to rip her tight nylon skirt along the side seam to free her legs. Now, unabashed, she let the air reach her sweaty thighs. She could see Anton was watching her. The Frighem of Dalia had kept his stick and was still waving it about in mock heroics. The thongs on his sandals had cut into his feet, but he seemed oblivious to the blood. Now, he bent over and looked at her feet.
“There would be warriors proud of those marks,” he said. “I should run barefoot, too.”
Cataline laughed. The differences in culture always surprised her. Her laugh rolled down the corridor. Then she realized their predicament and stopped. Somewhere, not that far behind, hundreds of soldiers were probably looking for them. Every once in a while, when her own gasps for air hadn’t blocked her hearing, she was sure she could detect the sounds of heavy boots on the hard stone. The soldiers weren’t concerned about bleeding feet or gathering scars to impress each other.
Catalane and her two companions were now prime targets. Thurgose had managed to kill some of the soldiers in a small squad that had attacked during the initial escape, but it was ill-equipped for a long flight. When Thurgose lost energy, they would be left with Anton’s stick and her bleeding feet. That was not a pleasant thought.
“I detect airwaves,” Thurgose said. Its light was paler now, evidence of the lack of power. Anton had asked about it once during a particularly arduous stretch where a portion of the tunnel had collapsed. At one spot, Anton had tried to carry Thurgose. The horse was small, but heavy. Anton had barely managed a few yards before letting the horse down. Fortunately, the path had cleared at that point, and they were able to speed on.
Anton leaned over and whispered. “How far?”
“A tylon. Not additional,” Thurgose reported. Cataline did not understand, but from the look on Anton’s face, that had to be close. She stood up. Her calf muscles had tightened and hurt. Anton nodded to her. That was enough. They began walking again.
Thurgose rolled in the front, Cataline next, then Anton. He was at a disadvantage in the semi-darkness. His planet was mostly desert, and his eyes were suited more to bright lights. He could barely see. At the same time, he was getting chilly. The dampness and cold were beginning to seep through his thin shirt. Perspiration clung to the cloth, cooling the skin even more. More than once, Cataline heard his teeth chattering. She stumbled across a deep groove cut into the floor and almost fell.
Thurgose tilted and could not make the slight incline. Its coasters whirled helplessly as it tried. Bits of dirt cascaded away. “Stop,” Cataline cried. “You’re wasting power.”
It obeyed. She and Anton bent shoulder against each side and rolled the horse forward. It managed a few feet and stopped as its light flickered. “I must avail myself of electrical supplies,” it said in that calm voice.
Panting, Cataline tried to think. Would workmen have power lines this far away from the main controls? Her tired brain offered no answers. She had tried to read the blueprints. They had been in General Alsop’s office, and she had casually examined them during one of their conversations. He didn’t mind. The general was proud of his work under the Wyoming Mountains. He had eagerly thrust a bony finger along the various routes and explained how the building was proceeding. But did he mention power? She couldn’t remember. She groaned as she tried to concentrate.
Anton began to look back towards the way they had come. There was total darkness. “Do you have any power left?” he asked. Thurgose slowly faced the other way and turned bright yellow. The light surged for 15 seconds, no more, burning out with a sudden puff of yellow. They were in blackness, the overwhelming night broken only by the very faint glow of electricity coursing through the few wires in Thurgose’s brain.
“Find a rock,” Anton ordered. Cataline groped in the dark. She had the feeling her eyes were adjusting to the darkness, but, somehow, still couldn’t see. The blackness seemed like a blanket. She started to sob softly, trying to let her feelings out as quickly as possible. Everything was ending here, in the quiet, dank, chill of this endless tunnel.
Finally, she felt a piece of something sharp against her hand. It was perhaps a chunk of granite with a hard edge where a tunneling machine had cut it from the rock. “Here,” she whispered. She could hear Anton, but couldn’t see him.
“Bring it,” he replied. There was a hard undertone to his voice as if he realized he must take command. She obeyed, although the movement made her knees hurt. She didn’t want to stand up. Somehow, she thought the ceiling was lower and she would bump her head. She made contact with his leg.
“I saw a line along the wall,” he continued. “Count up five kpons.”
She started to and then stopped. “Anton,” she moaned.
He understood immediately. “I do not know how to transfer the distance.” There was a moment while he thought. “Give me your hand.” She held it out and finally found his. He put her hand against the wall with his on top. Several things struck her, as if her senses were heightened by the danger and the darkness. His hand was very small. It barely covered the back of her own, fingers and all. And the wall was cold. It seemed to be crawling with things, and she tried to jerk away, but he wouldn’t remove his hand.
Together, they measured. She bit her lip. His hand was so hot, she thought her skin would crack. Finally, he pressed her hand hard. “Dig here,” he said. It seemed so pointless. She used her right hand as a guide and dug into the wall as best she could. There was quiet for a moment; then he was working feverishly beside her. They bumped, but no one said anything. Cataline almost laughed. He had forgotten she was left-handed. He had been amazed when he saw her write her name once. There were no lefties on his planet. Everyone could use both hands equally well.
Her arm was tired, and she seemed to be making no progress. She could hear him grunting with each blow. Bits of earth and stone kept striking her arm and showering across her face. Behind her, she could hear Thurgose try to say something, but the words came out too slowly to be understood. Anton did not pause anyway, but kept working the stone.
Finally, Cataline had to stop. She slumped down and leaned her head against the wall. Water dripped down her forehead and mingled with the sweat and dirt. “I can’t, Anton,” she almost wept. Part of her wanted to struggle on; part wanted to surrender. She felt the bits of stone on her lip and spit them out. This was not the way she wanted it to end. Wouldn’t her mother be surprised? Groveling in the dirt. Her daughter was the one who would succeed. Her daughter was going to be the star. Everything tasted so bittersweet now. She just wanted to sleep.
“Ah,” Anton said cheerfully. He reached down and touched her. “Two have the power of an army. One is just alone. Frigadan. 561.” Thurgose grumbled again. “All right, I suppose it was 651,” Anton corrected. “The numbers get a little hazy after a while.”
Cataline struggled to her knees and found the spot again. He was too cheerful to desert. And that logic. The Dalians must have thrived on that. If they were so logical, why did they destroy themselves and their sister planet? She would have to ask him that. Too bad she didn’t know any quotes. It would be fun to swap them with the Frighem. That thought added new vigor. A little strength returned, and she began to pound away. When her left hand grew tired, she shifted to her right. Still, she seemed to make no progress. Nor could she see what he had in mind. Finally, adrenaline could carry her no further. She let the hand drop. “Why?” she asked.
“To do what men did here, they must have power,” Anton replied between blows. “I thought I saw a line running along the wall. I want to break into it.” He struck again.
“The power’s probably off,” Cataline told him. She didn’t stop working either. She could feel him pushing his small body to its limit, rocking back and driving the rock into the wall, back again and forward. She shouldn’t have said anything. She should have let him find out for himself. Why end hope? Maybe the troops would arrive before he had learned the truth. He would have been captured always thinking he almost succeeded. She hated herself.
Again, the emotion surged through her, and she turned to dig. After a few more minutes, he stopped. She continued until he touched her arm. Almost hysterically she refused, but then let the stone be taken away. He was so gentle, and she was so ashamed of herself.
He crawled toward Thurgose. The little horse’s wiring was faint, but it was enough. Breathing hard and grunting, Anton rolled the horse toward the wall. Cataline forced herself to move and help him. Everything hurt now. Again, Thurgose said something, but it came out like a groan. Anton seemed to understand. He bent by the side of the horse.
“Bonnie,” he said. “I need your hands.”
She slid beside him. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Follow my directions. You can see a little. I am blind in this darkness. My eyes do not adjust.” He guided her hand to a small compartment on the left launch. “There are three round crystals. Find them.” She ran her hand along the plastic surface until she came to the opening. All she could feel were wires and strange, round objects.
Panic rose in her. “I can’t…” she said. Then she stopped. There were definitely sounds now. The soldiers were getting closer. There was no light yet, but it wouldn’t be long. She bit her lip to cut off any further noise and concentrated. Anton was pulling her hand across. She could feel his pulse beating rapidly in his fingers. He had to feel how her own heart had sped up. There, she found the crystals. “Yes,” she whispered.
“Push the middle one forward,” he said.
The crystal slid into an opening as she pressed down. “Okay.”
“Now, move across to the right. You will find two wires running up and down.” She moved her hand. There were three wires. She moved further and felt the metal. Hastily, she tried to back track. There was just a maze of wiring.
“No. I can’t.”
“Find the crystals again.” There was a hint of worry in his voice. She retraced her movements. There were still three wires. “Pull the first one out.”
She hesitated. What if she short-circuited Thurgose? Finally, in desperation, she yanked at it. The lights in the horse’s brain disappeared. She gasped. “Oh,” she whimpered.
Anton brushed against her and guided his own hands along her arm. He found the loose wire. “Now, help me.” Together they rolled Thurgose toward the wall. There was a hint of light now around the curve in the tunnel. They could hear voices. They turned Thurgose toward the wall, facing away from the advancing soldiers. Anton groped up the wall with the wire until he found where they had been working. Slowly, he worked the tip of the wire into the small niche.
For a moment, there was nothing. The search lights had created a small halo that jutted toward them in a wide arc. Cataline backed against the wall as if she could merge with the solid stone. The light was no more than 10 yards away. The men were walking slowly, talking. There was a scent of cigarette smoke in the air. She almost coughed. She could almost see them. The light hurt her eyes, and she covered them with her hands.
“Hey,” someone cried in a gruff voice. The light grew more intense. Except it didn’t come from the men. Thurgose had turned a bright red and then green. Anton jerked the wire from the wall as Thurgose spun around.
In a rapid move, Anton reactivated the middle crystal while Thurgose fired a sharp beam of light. It cut into the ceiling in front of the squad, raining debris over them. There were loud cries. A few men tried to break through the sudden wall. They managed only a few steps before Thurgose fired again. The front man was blown apart. The man behind him lost two limbs in the same way. The tunnel suddenly exploded in yells of pain and agony. Somebody shot at the trio. A bullet smashed into the wall near Cataline. Thurgose re-aimed and fired back. Two more bullets were returned just before Thurgose detonated its last blast. The bullets ricocheted into the tunnel beyond. They were the only noise. Silence returned.
Slowly, Thurgose began to dim. Anton again reattached the wire. The horse drank greedily. Cataline could almost see the wiring filling up with power. She stared at the horse. She couldn’t bear to look down the tunnel. The cold had returned, and she began to shiver. Anton walked over. The light had raised the ceiling to its rightful place, yet he seemed strange upright and looking down at her. Behind them, like a weird beacon out of nowhere, one lamp brought by the soldiers continued to illuminate them.
Anton bent beside her. “Are you all right?” he asked.
She smiled as best she could and then nodded. “I guess so.” She took a deep breath. “I’m not used to this.” In the world of ratings, men killed themselves quietly, far away from the public eye. They were mere names on a screen that could be turned off whenever one wanted to. People were evaluated by computer, failed and were moved far away. Everyone knew what had happened, but the distance brought grateful ignorance. This was too real.
His hand looked funny, and it distracted her. There was blood on the back. A swath had been cut near the wrist, leaving a red streak through the dirt.
“What happened?” she asked. There was concern, but it was almost overwhelmed by the weariness.
“I have earned another scar,” Anton said proudly. He went back to Thurgose and reattached the wire.
“I contain no more light cartridges,” the horse reported as soon as it could speak again.
“No more power either,” Anton said cheerfully. He glanced at Cataline. “People do not realize how much Thurgose can drink. He probably drained most of the generating stations in this place. They’re probably sitting in total darkness back there.”
“It seems only fair,” Cataline replied, getting uneasily to her feet. “So are we.”