For the sake of my sanity, and my skin, I decided not to venture back through the door for a while, at least not until I was more prepared. Instead, I went in search of the storage rooms Beth had mentioned. The tablet showed the storage rooms were on B deck, in what was once guest suites. The Pleiades had a dozen state rooms and thirty smaller guest rooms, and all of those not used for storage lay untouched for the better part of a hundred and fifty years. Was a single occupant in all this space enough to produce this much dust? The map wasn’t complete; it showed corridors but not doors, engineering stations, or essential systems. The bracelets tracking system allowed the program to build a map around it; by amplifying the sensor used to detect heartbeats it identified walls and doors with reasonable precision. I could manually label rooms on the tablet, insert notes and even lock down the rooms. The programming was simple, but effective and easily manipulated, I was curious to see what the coding was like. The skill set Beth had acquired during her stint as a Chronian was impressive, and there may have been a daydream or two about what I could do with similar attributes.
I tried to think what other skills she had used in front of me. She knew how to navigate using charts; did that mean she could navigate with the stars too? I wandered around for several hours, marking new rooms and hallways before making my way back to the first room. The first storage room marked was a suite strewn with messy piles of stuff that set my brain on fire just thinking about sorting them out. There was a letter on a hall table just inside the door with my name on it and I recognized Beths handwriting from the notes on the tablet. Carefully, my trembling fingers unfolded it and the subtle scent of chamomile rose from the paper.
Flynn, it began.
I hope that by the time I leave you, I have been able to give you enough information to keep you treading water. This life is tough, and you will need to seek the guidance of others to help you learn and grow. Choose your mentors wisely. Undoubtedly you will face situations only your nightmares once conceived, but the highlights shine brilliantly through the darkness. You will see as many impossible and awe-inspiring things as you will otherwise. Remember those moments fondly, and remind yourself that every dusk precedes a dawn. I wish you all the luck in the world.
Closing my eyes and wishing that this whole strange experience was just a dream was one solution. I clicked my heels and thought of home but was still in Beths store-room when I opened my eyes again. With a sigh, I started sorting through Beths belongings. Several boxes of my own things seemed to have made that first journey through time with me and were sitting in a corner of Beths suite. She must have forgotten about them in all her preparations.
‘Of course my Uni books made it through to the other side.’ I grumbled, hauling the four thick books from the bottom of a box.
Before the first Shift, I had studied a Graduate Diploma of Information Technology. I might not have been a prodigy but my grades had been above average (if only just) and the programs my lecturers had me designing were decently executed, and not at all buggy. I did set them aside for keeping though, I still had the mainframe code to figure out and it didn’t look like a simple task. My favorite backpack, decorated with the Marvel Babies in full flight, made it through and my three external hard-drives were still tucked in the front pocket. With luck the Shift hadn’t fried them and I would at least have something to watch, provided one of the devices around the airship had a USB port. Two suites had faced my OCD before everything I thought I might need was in a pile in the hall between the two rooms. I broke my organising rampage only for food and eventually fell asleep on a small mountain of stuffed animals in a post food haze. Bandages, better shoes and longer shorts, water bottles, and even a tarpaulin still in its wrapping. By the time the two suites were organized and cataloged, my Marvel Babies backpack was bulging and my suite had even acquired new items.
I felt a little better the next time I ventured through the hatch, I felt as though I could protect myself now that I’d geared up, or so to speak. The Converse on my feet, in place of my ballet flats, I’d scrounged from Beth’s closet (which had filled the walk in robe and half the bedroom of her suite). I would not be so easy to trip now. I kept the verdant undergrowth at bay, and the occasional larger than expected bug, with the o-wakizashi Beth had shown me during our first sparring session. Skirting around the nest of the raptor (thank-you Google!), I headed up and over the valley wall. It was a good twenty-five minute hike, though there were a few slips before I figured out how to get myself up the steep incline without further incident, and the only animals disturbed were a small sloth-like creature and a mammoth centipede.
I broke out of the tree line and climbed the ridge at the top. The view was spectacular. Honestly, it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Nothing but green in every conceivable shade spread out before me like a thick carpet, the English countryside would be completely envious for sure. The sky was a brilliant blue and there was just a smattering of cloud over head. The waning moon, already low in the sky, was big enough that I could make out every little pock mark and crevasse. It was breathtaking, but there was also a sting of longing, I wanted to share it with someone. The air was so fresh and clear that for a few moments I had trouble breathing, my lungs unused to such high oxygen saturation. It hadn’t been so bad in the valley, the thick undergrowth and the canopy of trees had made the air hazy and muggy, closer to what my lungs had once been accustomed to.
Up on the ridge, it was like standing halfway up Everest, above the smog and the pollution, breathing nothing but the purest air marred only with the slight taste of condensation. It was incredible, and humbling. I took a few photos with the fancy DSLR that hung around my neck, one of the few things that had managed to make it to the Pleiades with me, to record the moment. (Sorry Poppy, you’re not getting that back any time soon.)
It also made me doubly aware of the impact I might have on this world as I moved through it. It was pure, untainted by humans who would one day trash and destroy the wondrous landscape spread out before me. It made my breath hitch in my throat, my stomach tightened with a surge of protectiveness I didn’t expect I would feel towards the environment my generation had taken part in killing. It was profoundly disturbing. Hiking up my backpack, I picked my way down with care. The bottom of the incline opened up into a wide track, fifty meters across at least, that was well trodden and barren of the lush greenery that surrounded it. The canopy of trees hid it from aerial view, and I wondered if that had something to do with the winged dinosaurs that had been lazily circling in the sky above the ridge. If so, those were some sneaky prehistoric land animals.
I stopped for a break after an hour or so, it had been a while (okay, a couple of months) since I’d walked more than the distance between my car and the nearest structure. There was a fallen, rotten log which provided me with ample seating once I had done a cursory bug check, and after a few sips from my water bottle I closed my eyes to listen to the world around me for a moment. It had been far too long since I had taken the time just to enjoy the world without distractions. The trail led on for a while till it broke out before a savanna of a sort. Unidentifiable mountains spread across the horizon, and there was an enormous expanse of brownish grass dotted with what looked like giant monkey bread trees. Not too far off was a herd of dinosaurs that looked like armadillos, only a thousand times bigger, with massive bulbous ends to their tails. Ankosaurs or something. High school science had long since deserted me and I had found no use for the names of long extinct animals in my few years of adult life. Up until now anyway, it seemed.
I would have to do some brushing up on a lot of things. Study was by far my least favorite part of this new existence, my head ached just thinking about it. It was something though, and better boredom than insanity. Who knows, maybe one day I might even come to enjoy it. Documenting everything I could about the world I was visiting would keep me occupied for a few days. I photographed everything and collected a few samples using slides and jars pilfered from the labs numerous shelves, trying to get as much as possible. Considering just how much new and interesting stuff there was, it was a remarkably dull process that I didn’t much care for. I wondered briefly if there was someone I could petition for a minion or two. So long as they weren’t yellow and spoke anything other than Banana.
The afternoon blazed on, though the sun wasn’t as hot as I remembered from my home-time, and before I knew what was happening, the sun was setting in a blaze of glory. The sky went from glittering blue to bronze, oranges and reds in a microsecond. The sky burned brightly with the crepuscule, adding purples, pinks and deep blues as the fiery orb at the heart of it sank deeper into the horizon. It was magnificent. Then, as I tried to capture the natural beauty of the landscape as it reflected the burning glory of the sun, I discovered that the armadillo creatures didn’t much appreciate the flash attached to the end of my camera. The largest one reared up on its
hind legs with a roar, tail whipping the air behind him, and its cry stirred the others into a shrieking frenzy.
I was extremely glad that I had practiced the returning chant over and over until I could recite it in my sleep, because I had unwittingly started a stampede and put my life at risk. Again. I scrambled for the tree line, pushing through the knee high grass as fast as I could go. The high oxygen content in the air made it hard for me to breathe, my chest ached and my head swam. I stumbled over a small mound, tearing open a gash in my knee with a grunt. The Ankylosaurs trampled a swathe through the tundra, kicking up a thick dust cloud that choked off my air. I frantically scrabbled backwards, away from the crush of animals.
I had to wonder how long it would be before I required down time to regrow a limb or something. I was hoping for never but realistically betting on a month or two. There was a moment where I wondered if anyone got hurt in the stampede of Ankylosaurs (again, Google to the rescue) and a few seconds later I managed to remember that humans didn’t exist yet. It kind of took me by surprise. I was so used to other humans being around that I automatically assumed they were in the vicinity even when they weren’t, it was something I took for granted. I would never have a guaranteed point of contact with my brethren ever again. It was a harsh realization, one I kept trying to dodge.
I visited CE (Cretaceous Earth), a few more times. I discovered a few plants that were extinct in my original time-line according to Wikipedia, and even mustered up enough care to transplant some samples so they wouldn’t disappear completely but I was seriously flagging. Going days without talking to anyone was doing a number on my head. I even contemplated snatching a cute little duck-billed thing from its wary mother to keep as a pet. I needed a companion.