1: Fugitives from the Future

They were running from death.

The heavy warehouse doors crashed open, abruptly shattering the early morning peace, and disturbing a slumbering tramp in a nearby alcove. Two men ran out into the street.

Galloway, the taller of the pair, slowed to a halt. He winced at the fine drizzle of rain and bright sunlight as he looked up at the tall, imposing brick warehouses and the rusty iron catwalks criss-crossing high overhead. It was clear that he hadn't the faintest idea where he was.

Stien, his companion, appeared just as disorientated. ‘Which way?’ he demanded.

Galloway had already started to run. ‘Does it matter?’ he called back

Stien scurried after him.

The tramp had not been noticed. Blinking in the early morning light, he peered distastefully out at the persistent cold drizzle. He huddled deeper into his old and grubby layers of clothing, and watched the two men run off down the street. The tramp was used to seeing the occasional group of workmen around the docklands, turning some of the deserted old brick buildings into apartments, but their attire and behaviour were not consistent with workmen. He peered out of the alcove, but the strangers had disappeared from view. Further noises drew his attention sharply back to the warehouse.

Moments later, six more people in strange attire burst through the warehouse doors. As with their two predecessors, the new arrivals lingered in the street, confused by their surroundings.

‘Where are we?’ one of them asked, but the question received no answer. It was evident that not one of them had the faintest idea.

Rather than running off, as the other two had done, the new arrivals turned their attention to the open doors of the warehouse and hurriedly set about closing them.

They almost succeeded.

As the tramp looked on in mounting bewilderment, he saw the doors almost meet, then suddenly start to open again, pushed from the inside. All six individuals leant their weight to the task, but at best they could only just hold them in position.

One of them yelled ‘Let's get out of here!’

Arriving at the shared realisation that they could not win this battle, the group released the doors and moved out into the street at a run. The doors slammed open immediately and three policemen marched out of the building.

One of the trio was clearly a senior officer, wearing a blue great-coat and a peaked cap. He hung back while his two companions, dressed in the smart blue uniforms of British policemen, complete with helmet and radio, hurried forward in pursuit of the six runners.

The tramp, all too familiar with the police and their presence here, confirmed his suspicion that the runners were criminals; possibly prison escapers. He leaned further out of his alcove for a better look - and stared in astonishment as the two constables brought out stubby automatic machine pistols.

One of the officers brought his weapon to bear on the nearest of the runners and fired. His victim screamed once, then fell and lay still.

The remaining five split up, looking desperately for non-existent cover in the open brick canyon. One of the runners brushed right past the tramp without appearing to notice him. The policeman took aim and fired. Another body fell.

Within moments, the six runners lay dead in the street. Each shot had found its target, with murderous precision. The policemen walked towards the bodies, and as they approached the tramp's alcove, the nearest of the two officers turned in his direction. Before the tramp could react, a single high velocity bullet pierced his heart. His body crumpled and pitched forward into the street.

It was beginning to rain again, and a gentle patter of raindrops slowly soaked the bodies. Commander Gustave Lytton reached into one of the pockets of his heavy blue greatcoat and withdrew a yellow coloured device which fitted snugly into the palm of his hand. A single slide control was recessed on its face. Lytton raised the device in his hand, and the two policemen raised their weapons. Lytton took one last look around, then prodded the control with his thumb. The light activated on the device, and a bright ruby-red aura surrounded all seven bodies. As the aura faded, so did the bodies. Lytton activated the device again, and the same aura surrounded him and the two machine pistols held by his companions.

As the policemen looked on, Lytton and their weapons dematerialised. The pair turned away and, without exchanging a word, walked away with the carefully measured tread of policemen on the beat.

Moments minute later, Galloway peered out from an open doorway and noted that the policemen had disappeared from sight. He signalled the all-clear to his companion.

‘Where have they gone?’ asked Stien with a nervous stammer, as the pair edged cautiously back up the street towards the warehouse.

‘Where do you think?’ replied his companion disparagingly. ‘Come on!’

Thousands of million kilometres from Earth and several hundred years in the future, a large fearsome-looking battle cruiser held position in deep space.

Within the depths of the craft, Lytton re-materialised within the same ruby-red aura, in a white, featureless chamber. He stood over a pile of crumpled bodies like a victorious warrior.

His mood was far from triumphant however as he stepped over the corpses, ducked under a slowly ascending shutter, and walked out into a reception area where six troopers in full battledress were waiting to receive him. They hastened to remove the bodies from the time corridor terminal chamber.

Lytton flung his police sergeant's cap aside and glowered at Trooper Leader Grogan, who had just entered the chamber.

‘That was a shambles!’ growled Lytton, shoving the machine pistols he was holding into Grogan's hands. He pulled angrily at the buttons of his coat.

‘The escape was prevented,’ Grogan replied in a level tone.

‘They got out of the warehouse. It should never have happened,’ said Lytton, going over to an equipment locker recessed into a wall. He placed the yellow control device into it, then took the machine pistols from Grogan and tossed them in after it. ‘And who ordered the use of machine pistols?’ Lytton inquired, shrugging off his greatcoat.

‘Standing orders,’ Grogan informed his commander, as Lytton stowed the coat in the locker. ‘Nothing anachronistic is to be taken to Earth.’

Lytton clearly found this stricture unacceptable. ‘So instead we slaughter valuable specimens,’ he replied, glancing pointedly at the last of the bodies as it was carried out of the chamber. ‘Next time stun lasers are to be used!’

‘It was an unfortunate mistake!’ Grogan protested.

‘Make it your last,’ Lytton advised, as he left the reception area, unbuttoning his uniform jacket. ‘Otherwise the next execution squad will be coming for you.’ Lytton stalked off down a corridor.

Grogan started after him, but was halted by the trooper he had placed in charge of corpse disposal. ‘Sir, not all of the targets have been accounted for,’ he reported urgently. ‘Commander Lytton should be informed at once.’

‘That won't be necessary,’ Grogan replied. ‘We'll handle this one ourselves.’

Grogan rejoined Lytton on the dimly illuminated bridge of the battle cruiser. The main source of light was a brightly glowing view-sphere mounted on a pedestal in the center of the small chamber. Lytton, now clothed in the jet black uniform of a trooper, studying the starscape projection within the sphere. He appeared oblivious to the crew operating the flight consoles.

‘Checklist completed,’ Grogan reported. ‘All systems functioning.’

Lytton nodded. ‘Raise the forceshield,’ he ordered. ‘All troopers to battle stations.’ He allowed himself a slight smile before delivering his next order.

‘Battle speed!’

Galloway peered cautiously into the warehouse interior.

‘What if they're still in there?’ hissed Stien. ‘Waiting?’

Galloway glared at him. ‘We must warn our own people,’ he replied, and darted off into the building's dark interior.

Reluctantly, Stien followed Galloway inside.

Galloway was already climbing the stairs to the upper level.

‘You're going to use the time corridor?!’ Stien gasped incredulously.

Galloway turned and looked down at Stien with an expression of disgust. ‘You said you were a soldier; have you no sense of loyalty?’

‘I'm a quartermaster sergeant,’ Stien protested defensively. ‘I'm not combat trained. I can't support your sort of principles.’ His companion ignored him and continued up the stairs. ‘Look at me,’ Stien complained, as he started to climb. ‘I'm not exactly in condition. I can't even run properly.’

Stien caught up with Galloway at the top of the stairs. ‘You're pathetic,’ Galloway told him as he opened the door to the upper level.

‘That too,’ admitted Stien.

The upper level was deserted. Empty packing crates and rubbish were scattered around the floor. Brick partitions and thick concrete columns made a survey of the large room from any one perspective impossible, but it was clear from the deathly silence that they were alone.

‘They're gone,’ said Galloway in a hollow, deflated voice.

‘They were probably all killed,’ Stien suggested. ‘They could have closed the time corridor down. Let's get out of here,’ he added hopefully. ‘I'm scared.’

Galloway shot him a dismissive glance. ‘The entrance to the corridor is around here somewhere.’ He walked to the centre of the room and surveyed the floor.

‘Well there's nothing there now,’ replied Stien.

A sudden, muffled sound startled both men.

‘What was that?’ demanded Stien.

Galloway began moving slowly over to his companion. ‘A rodent,’ he replied without conviction.

Stien looked at him disbelievingly. ‘Wearing combat boots?’

Galloway spied a crowbar lying on a nearby crate. He picked it up and tested its weight, evidently planning to use it as an improvised weapon. ‘Back to the stairs,’ he instructed Stien. ‘Quickly!’

Stien needed no further encouragement. He darted back to the door, followed with more caution by Galloway, who backed away across the room, the crowbar held ready to attack.

Stien paused on the stairs, and called, ‘can you see anything?’

‘Get out of here!’ shouted Galloway.

Stien retreated further down the stairs.

Galloway was half-way to the door when he heard another noise behind him. He turned and saw a trooper step from behind one of the columns. The trooper held a machine pistol, levelled at Galloway's chest.

Stien heard a sudden burst of gunfire, then silence.

‘Galloway?’ he called hopefully. ‘Galloway!’ He moved down a few steps, unwilling to go back to the upper level. ‘Oh, Galloway,’ he muttered miserably.

On the floor of the upper level, Galloway lay dead. The trooper activated a yellow, hand-held device, and both he and the body of Galloway faded away in a red haze.

Stien sat huddled against the railing of a rusty iron catwalk, high above the street, in the shadow of the building opposite the warehouse so that he could not be seen from the road.

He clutched at his stomach, feeling the first pangs of hunger, now that the immediate threat of death had passed. Stien's head throbbed badly as he tried to recall anything from before the time when he and Galloway had escaped from the warehouse. He could not even recall why they were there in the first place.

Fatigue overcame his troubled thoughts and he drifted into a haunted sleep, only to be woken minutes - or was it hours? - later by the sound of a vehicle stopping outside the warehouse, almost directly below the catwalk.

A man, in a uniform that Stien didn't recognise, got out of the front of the van and walked around to the back doors of the vehicle. The man banged on them with the palm of his hand and in response, the doors opened and three men and a woman piled out, carrying an assortment of boxes, bags and weapons. The three men were also in uniform, but the woman was unmistakably in civilian clothes, even to Stien, unfamiliar as he was with their attire. They were obviously soldiers.

One of the men checked off items on a clipboard, then slammed the van doors and signalled to the driver. The van started up and drove away. By the time it had left the street, the group had entered the warehouse and were closing the doors behind them.

Stien pondered on what he had just witnessed. There was something about soldiers that made him feel distinctly unsafe. He decided against announcing his presence to them, and settled back to rest further before venturing out from his place of hiding.

Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Epilogue