I have to admit: the first couple of hours after I realised that Beth had properly disappeared, and her name in the grimoire bore her date of death, I did nothing but sit in my bed and rail against the unfairness of it all. Childish I know, but I felt rather gypped, and nowhere near ready enough to be abandoned to this life on my own. Hell, I wasn’t even sure I even believed all the things she’d been filling my head with the past few days. I wandered about the ship for a little while, but only the places I had already been. Getting lost this soon on a boat this size was the last thing I needed. I moped around, opening doors and cupboards but not really paying much attention. I found Nutella in a kitchen cupboard and consoled myself by eating several spoonfuls right from the jar.
At eleven AM, that first day, I figured I’d probably had enough of a pity party and got my shit together. I needed to understand the ship a bit better and, hoping for a map or a manual of some kind, I made my way back to the bridge. I found Beths tablet, and her stack of old topographical maps, but nothing depicting the ship.
“Wouldn’t there be a map on the main computer?” I asked aloud.
Turning to the machine, I ignored the fact that I was talking to myself already. Beth hadn’t been able to do much more than make sure I could monitor and repair the life support systems, if I wanted to do more than that I would have to learn myself and hope I didn’t royally screw up. With any luck I would land in a technologically advanced world and immediately find someone to teach me how to do it without the hours of dredging through unfamiliar code doing it myself would require. That was wishful thinking. Clearly I wasn’t that lucky. I dug around on the mainframe for a few minutes before Beths’ tablet beeped and distracted me. The LED at the top was flashing and it vibrated on the charting table. Picking it up, I swiped my finger over the screen and watched as the blackness melted into a brilliant white. I blinked rapidly, the screen blinding, and it took a few moments to chase the floaties from my vision. I stared at it, wondering what Beth had been doing when she had last used the device. It appeared to have been reset, however there were three icons on the background.
One, it turned out, was the syncing program for the fancy metal bracelet I’d worn in the infirmary. It showed pulse, respiration, brain activity, as well as other functions I couldn’t identify and there was a tabbed screen that showed injuries. Another was a connection to the mainframe computer. The last icon was a map. It showed the bracelets’ location and tracked its progress through the ship. The bracelet was in the infirmary. A little experimenting revealled that tapping a picture of a birdhouse lit up a glowing trail for me to follow, like those pencil mazes on the back of cereal boxes, leading from the tablet to the bracelet. A homing beacon. I made my way to the infirmary and slipped the cuff on my wrist. The tablet beeped and an icon popped up showing my vital signs. I would have to learn how to read it properly, otherwise that function would be pretty useless. Beth seemed to have decided that this was a more useful map than the You Are Here signs I’d asked her for, and I vaguely remembered her mentioning she had been working on a map of the ship a while back.
It was two more days before I Shifted for the first time on my own. I was in the library, combing through the journals and trying to wrap my head around the situation I was in. The warning felt like someone had reached into my chest and squeezed my heart against my ribs. I couldn’t breathe for several minutes and I swear I could hear perverse laughter, although that might have been my imagination running wild. The shift was worse. Like a kick to the head, and the guts, it pulled my legs from under me and made me nauseous. The kitchen sink was too far away so my vomit ended up all over the floor, I dreaded having to clean that up. My eyes watered, my lungs wouldn’t work and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. It only lasted a few minutes but it felt like an eternity. It took me close to an hour to recover, kneeling on the floor in all my messy glory. It hammered home the truth of my situation. Beth wasn’t crazy, and I was never going home. At that moment I was glad I was so very isolated, so no one could witness what I hoped would not become a regular reaction to Shifting.
When I was cleaned up, I docked the ship in the nearest clearing as Beth had instructed me to, and stumbled to the receiving room. I should have waited a while but I was curious and, my head still reeling from that first Shift, more than a little foolish. I should have sat down, made myself a cup of chamomile tea and let my body adjust to what had just happened to it. I should have remembered the Grimoire. I didn’t, and I will bear the scars of such idiocy for the rest of my life. The hatch groaned as it opened, and I made a mental note to see if there was anything on board resembling WD40. I couldn’t see much, my eyes still bleary from the Shift. I sucked in a breath, screwed up my courage and stepped through the doorway.
I wish I’d remembered to check the book.
My first adventure through the door lasted all of five minutes. Admittedly, I was impatient and still simmering with annoyance at the entire stupid curse situation but I failed to consider the one thing that truly mattered in this whole debacle; my continued existence. The other side of the hatch was a cacophony of sound compared to the almost perpetual silence of my new home. Animals screeched at each other in a diverse set of languages which was a surprisingly good mimic of Dub-step once my ears stopped ringing.
The forest I had stepped into was tropical, a bizarre rain forest of some kind. A ferny undergrowth covered the ground and masked any potential pitfalls that might lay beneath it’s verdant coverage. I’m ashamed to say I very nearly twisted my ankle with my first step. The tree trunks were all thicker than two of me standing side by side, with leaves that resembled both palms and ferns. There was a mossy drapery which dangled between the boughs of the trees, interspersed with thick, flowering vines. I had completely forgotten that the only shoes I owned were now a pair of ballet flats so new they were giving my heels blisters the moment I slipped them on, until something slimy slithered across the bare top of my right foot. I tried to shake the creature off and lost my footing in my fright, tumbling backwards down a short embankment.
When I was little, I used to love playing with my brothers dinosaurs. He had hundreds of them, all brightly colored and all different sizes. I used to wonder what the world would be like if they hadn’t died out. My playtime had me envisioning T-rex war horses, Apatasaurus fire trucks and all sorts of other Flintstonian things. Of course, back then I hadn’t realized just how much of a pipe dream that kind of future was, despite knowing dinosaurs were extinct. The base of the embankment I had just tumbled ass over tit into contained ovular objects maybe as long as my forearm. Eggs, I realized with a start. I stood up, crackling and snapping as crushed eggshells fell from my gooey body. My stomach heaved as I then noticed the half-formed babies those eggs had once protected.
A low snarl from behind me vibrated the foliage around my ankles, which froze me in place. I could have been in a horror film. My slow head turn to face the growling monster was pretty well perfect. Probably helps that I was living a horror film plot. The dinosaur behind me was terrifying in the moment I had to glimpse it. In the short time my brain spent deciding whether to fight or bolt, it stalked close enough I could smell its rancid breath. It was birdlike, with a squat body and two spindly legs tipped with sharp talons. Instead of wings it had short, sharp clawed arms and a large pointed beak filled with deadly looking teeth. It screeched, eyes blazing as it glared hatefully at me. I bolted, fast as my feet could take me, back the way I’d come. I prayed that the horrific beast was fat enough that it wouldn’t be able to catch me but lady luck was laughing at me. The creature was breathing down my neck and I swear I could feel it’s teeth nipping at my clothes. The massive thing bore down on me like a freight train. My brain clicked in just as the fossil got within striking distance, and I clenched my fist around the Charm embedded in my palm. The Ewokese key phrase tripping off my tongue in garbled syllables. I stumbled over hidden pitfalls in the forest floor, nearly twisting my ankle several times and coming dangerously close to being dinosaur chow. The creature got its teeth into my shoulder as I scrambled out of a divet, the taste of blood making it chase me even harder.
To say that things didn’t go smoothly on my first venture through the door was perhaps a colossal understatement. Once I finally pronounced the spell right, on the third try, I was deposited in the receiving room. A pair of deep gashes decorated my hip and a bite mark festered on my left shoulder. I was likely in shock, given how cold I was, and my mind was once again a complete blank. On auto pilot I marched myself to the bathtub, shedding now ruined clothing as I went. The bathtub, miraculously always at the perfect temperature, quickly turned the same shade of pink as my moms favorite rose, my wounds stung like a bitch as the gently bubbling water washed away any potential infections.
The universe was laughing at me, I could practically hear it chortling in glee. My first time! I couldn’t believe I had blundered so bad. I’d spent so much time wallowing in a cess pit of self-doubt and anger that I put my life at risk. The hatch had made it all seem so very real, much more so than Beth had made it seem, even after Shifting had forced me to accept the truth. My aching shoulder was a continual reminder of that. Right then I made myself a promise. I’d pretend that I had been through survival training, I would be prepared to face anything. Constant vigilance! Never again would I let myself come close to mortal peril because I was too selfish and emotional to think properly.
With a towel wrapped around my waist, and a de-tangling comb for the matted mane upon my head, I went up on the bridge. The book was on the table and open to the chapter about the different planes, one page held a full color picture of a leafy valley similar to the one I had popped out in, the other side was a description. It read;
“Cretaceous Earth, 98 Ma (AE 31764)
Oxygen levels – 30% vol (safe/rich)
Median temperature – 18°C / 64°F
Universal language – Not applicable
Human development – Not applicable
Chronian presence – None
Warnings – Dinosaurs still prevalent on landmass.
Vegetation unknown/not safe to consume.
No known poisonous animals.
Roughly 30% of the known landmasses are above sea level, with a full two-thirds under water. Pangea has begun to split as the continental plates drift apart, connected by shallow seabeds and surrounded by deep oceans. Warm temperatures and calcium-rich waters have allowed a wide variety of ocean-going life to develop, particularly nautilids and chephalopods. The surface conditions allow for angiosperms to grow and the further diversification of gymnosperm. Humanoid life yet to develop post-Permian. Sample collection and further study needed.”
Beth hadn’t mentioned the job required study, and I hoped it was because she hadn’t had time to tell me much of anything before her forced absence. To be honest, it should have occurred to me anyway, I was, after all, travelling through multiple unknown dimensions. Still, I was curious now. I had yet to explore any of the massive ship that Beth hadn’t shown me herself, and it was likely that there were many surprises just waiting to yank the rug from beneath my feet. I figured I should at least find better shoes before I went through the door again. It might help the next time I went through the hatch into the current time stream. I felt exhausted, but in light of the situation I found myself in I was willing to suck it up and get my hands dirty. Problem was, I didn’t know just how dirty they were going to get.