Episode 007 – Skyfall

​The cup of tea in my hands had gone cold, though my body still vibrated with warmth from the ritual and my mind was wandering in too many directions to care.
‘You must have known that there was a good chance you would be given a Guide.’ Valerian propped his feet up on the table like he owned the place.
‘Beth said the Higher Echelon don’t give a shit about us, about the cursed.’ I frowned and knocked his booted feet off the table.
‘We normally don’t interfere, that’s true, but there are always exceptions.’ He crossed his knees and leant back against the chair, his bright amber eyes glinting.
‘Like me?’ His hair seemed to be dancing around his head in the breeze from the ducted air; shoulder length, dark chocolate strands flitting about and exposing the high undercut beneath.
‘Like you. That offering you performed was powerful, especially given that you’re a newly awakened and untrained witch. My bosses have deemed it too unsafe to let you blunder about without proper training.’ He combed the hair out of his face.
My breath hitched and I focused on my tea.
‘Your bosses?’ I asked.
‘You’d know them as the old gods, although they may have faded from common knowledge altogether these days.’ He twirled his empty tea-cup on the table top.
‘Disgruntled underling then.’ I plucked the cup out of his grasp and set it back on the saucer.
‘I am no ones underling.’ He hissed.
‘Okay, Jesus — take a chill pill.’ His forehead wrinkled and he narrowed his eyes at me.
‘Another tea?’ He got up, collecting the cups and saucers.
‘No, thanks. I think I just need some fresh air.’ He took the dishes to the sink and I used the opportunity to study him.
He’d walked out of the shadows in the chapel the night before and scared the crap out of me. I’m annoyed to admit that I shrieked a bit. Okay, more than a little. Valerian hadn’t helped the situation; after he stopped laughing and caught his breath, he’d asked if I was retarded. It hadn’t gotten any better from there. His only redeeming quality was that he wasn’t painful to look at. It was just a pity that his personality didn’t match. I got up to head to the upper deck, and doubled over in pain as the Shift warning slammed into my chest. My breath fled and my ribs squeezed my insides to putty. My knees caved underneath me and I slumped boneless to the floor. I heaved, but managed to keep my tea in my stomach.
‘Shit.’ I groaned, using the table to haul myself back to my feet.
My whole body hurt.
‘What?’ Valerian turned around and his sneer melted into concern as he took in my rather haggard face.
‘Shift warning. Gotta get to the bridge.’ I stumbled, tripping over thin air, as I shuffled to the door.
He was by my side in a flash, wrapping his well muscled arm around my waist. I let him drag me along, daydreaming about how well toned the rest of him was. He set me down at the chair in the center of the bridge. From this chair I could control the entire ship, without the crew it once needed.
‘Hey. You still with me?’ He crouched in front of me, warm hands gently shaking my shoulders.
‘Yeah. I’m okay, just need a minute.’ I nodded slow, not wanting to jar my aching muscles further.
‘Wouldn’t it be better for you in the infirmary?’ He asked as I pulled the tablet out of my pocket and expanded it.
‘If I Shift while the Pleiades is on the ground there’s a high risk that it’ll re-materialise on or in something.’ I checked my vitals, and set the tablet aside.
My heart rate was still high but it didn’t seem like anything was wrong. I turned to the control panel on the arm of the chair.
‘Strap yourself in. I don’t know if we’ll get high enough before it happens.’ I flicked the starter switch and as the engines warmed up I ran through the pre flight checks.
‘Have you ever flown this thing before?’ Valerian looked a little green around the gills.
‘I landed her without killing myself didn’t I?’ I snapped, pushing forward on the throttle for the repulsors strapped to the undercarriage.
The Pleiades took a moment to unglue herself from the muddy surface; it had rained heavily a few days ago and the ship had sunk an inch or two into the soft top soil. The repulsors gained momentum once the seal broke, the airship climbing rapidly at nearly a hundred feet per second. I set the auto pilot to level off when we reached the lower atmosphere just as Beth had showed me, well out of reach of any aircraft flight paths, and hoped to hell we made it that high before the Shift happened. I’d gotten extremely lucky with my first Shift, having materialised in an open field on a prehistoric planet. I doubted my luck would hold out a second time.
The Shift hit me like a swift kick from the Hulk right to the gut, and I wrapped my arms around my waist to keep myself from accidentally knocking the controls. Sparks of light burst behind my eyes as pain ripped through me, leaving  my body feeling raw and over sensitized. I grit my teeth and bit my tongue so I wouldn’t scream. I wouldn’t be doing that again, I yanked my tongue too hard and nearly ripped my tongue bar right out.

I felt broken.
The clock said only ten minutes had passed, but the pain had made it seem like lifetimes. Valerian was peering at me, wide-eyed and curious, like I was a sideshow act.
‘What? Want to stop staring and get me some water?’ I coughed, my lung appearing to come halfway up my throat.
He unbuckled his harness and the second he left the room I bolted for a trash chute to empty my stomach in. God, but I felt like shit in a blender. I made it back to my seat just in time for Valerian to make it back with a bottle of cold water. I sculled half of it before taking a breath, and promptly choked.
‘And now I know your gag reflex is intact.’ He smirked.
I flicked the open bottle at him, and relished in the barely muffled squeak he let out as the cold water hit him.
‘And now you’re soaked and in aircon.’ I turned to the big, curved window that wrapped around the room, giving a hundred and eighty degrees of vision.
There was an endless vista of dark blue over an expanse of greys and white. Carefully, I began to descend. I didn’t want to come down too fast if there were aircraft or buildings under all that cloud. The sun rose over the horizon just as we began to descend, bathing the clouds in vibrant colours; bright purples, bold oranges, hot pinks and a dazzling gold. It was stunning. After that the interior of the cloud quickly grew dark, flashes of lightning near blinding as they shot across the sky. Thunder rumbled and little bolts of static flickered across the window. There were lightning rods spread out across the airships exterior, which helped charge the fuel cells. The ship had close to forty percent left in the cells, and I figured it would be better to charge the ship now and not try to do it later when I was desperate. Opening the connection between the mainframe and the tablet, I extended the lightning rods from their slots over the ships body, the computer beeped at me every time a bolt hit one of the rods. Valerian had his eyes closed, whether because of the storm or the altitude I didn’t know, but I kept one eye on him and the other on the radar, fingers crossed it stayed clear all the way down.
Several large bolts skittered across the nose of the airship, arcing from one of the harvesting spikes and flaring out into the open air. An alarm buzzed on the console, and I slid my tablet out to check it.
‘What is that?’ Valerian frowned at me as though I were a child touching something I’d be told not to a hundred times.
‘An alarm, the lightning must have hit something it shouldn’t have.’ I fumbled with the tablet, opening it out into a laptop sized screen.
‘What did it hit?’ He worried a hand over his eyes.
I clicked on the annoying alarm icon and a diagnostic screen popped up. The airship had turned into a magnet, attracting all the electrical energy the storm was generating, and one stray strike had fried part of the guidance system. At least it wasn’t a critical system, I couldn’t use the guidance system anyway, considering the maps it held weren’t for any worlds I had ever visited.
‘The lightnings taken out part of the GPS system. Not much I can do about that, I don’t even know where to begin with fixing it, not like I need it anyway.’ I sighed in frustration.
I hadn’t even had the Pleiades for a whole month and I had already broken it. It was my first car all over again.
‘I know a spell you can use for that.’ Valerian winced as a particularly bright bolt of lightning coruscated across the nose of the ship.
‘A few more minutes and the ship will be fully charged, then I’ll take her down.’ I checked the fuel cell charge gauge, noting it was now over eighty percent and steadily climbing.
‘Are you sure that’s wise?’ He peered out the window, jerking backwards when a spike of static burst near his face.
‘Not entirely, but I’d rather get as close to full as I can now than be stranded till I Shift into another storm.’ I watched the gauge tick over into the nineties.
Another clutch of blinding lightning bolts slammed into the airship, and the fuel cells tipped over to a hundred percent. I hurried to retract the lightning rods. I wasn’t quick enough and an electrical surge ripped through the ship, killing all the electrical systems as it tripped an automatic shut down to purge the excess electricity. The bottom dropped out of my world as ship began to free fall, and I gripped the arms of my chair in sheer terror.
‘Well, this is where I make my exit. I’ll meet you on the ground.’ Valerians face was pinched and tight, his grip on the console turning his knuckles white.
‘What?’ I struggled against the G force of the dropping ship to look at him.
Valerian made several gestures with his hands and his body flickered several times before disappearing into thin air.
‘God damn jerk!’ I yelled at the empty seat.
The tablet powered back on moments later, followed by the mainframe and the engines. The clouds screamed past the window, and I was beginning to see green at the bottom of the glass.
‘Come on, come on!’ I willed the engines to start and the repulsors to kick in as I frantically keyed in the vertical lift command a dozen times over; the last thing I wanted was to crash to the ground in a fiery ball of pain.
I could clearly see the outskirts of a large town out the window now, tall buildings gleaming as the sun shone off their polished glass surfaces, the tallest of which bore the Catholic cross. The suburban sprawl became visible around it, and finally the lift engines fired into life, arresting my fall. My stomach threatened to escape from my mouth as the ships forward momentum was restored and I slammed back in my seat. I grabbed for the manual control yoke as the Pleiades tipped on a seventy degree angle, banking sharply to left. I tried not to over steer, pulling the yoke to the right to correct the angle till the ship levelled out before reversing the engines to slow down, though it took a few attempts. I was close enough to the ground that I could make out vehicles and the large animals on the farmland around the ship. It took a few minutes to find a large enough clear space where I could land; a fallow field behind a run down old manor house and it was a good ten minutes more before I could move my hands off the yoke and unbuckle my harness. I took several deep breaths before I pushed out of my seat and wobbled unsteadily to the charting table and the Book.
“Civilised Earth, 2104AD (AE 10662)
Oxygen levels – 20% vol (safe/average)

Median temperature – 18.4ºC / 65.12ºF

Universal Language – English

Human Development – Technological Revolution (phase 3)

Chronian presence – None

Warnings – Ecclesiastical polity (Roman Catholic) governs continental U.S.A and majority of South America.

Mounting civil unrest.

Society reliant on fossil fuels.

Paradoxical culture (1950/60’s reminiscent)”
‘Well, that sounds cheery.’ I muttered, sliding the De Vrai aside.
Tapping a couple of commands into the tablet, I checked the electrical systems were functioning properly after the auto-shutdown nearly killed me, and made a mental note to find a workaround code to prevent that from happening again. 
“Are you dcead?” Valerians voice called from the hall outside the bridge.
“No thanks to you, you prize asshole.” I muttered, setting the tablet aside.
“I simply had to go and check something with my superior.” He replied, snootily.
“Sure, whatever helps you sleep at night princess.”
I limped to the bar near the what must have once been a lounge area and poured myself a finger of whiskey to calm my nerves and soothe the aches that were registering now the adrenaline was wering off.
“I can’t start teaching you magic without permission, there’s a lot of things I’m prevented from teaching you, sacred knowledge and all that.” He justified, more to himself than to me.
“Okay, whatever. Now that we’re onthe ground and no longer seconds from death, what can you tell me about this world?” I poured a second shot into the glass, silently lamenting that the whiskey bottle was nearly empty.
“Not much. The Catholic church rules a good third of the western world, particularly the Americas. They don’t take kindly to magic users, and are still burning so called witches so you need to be mindful of that when you venture out. No obvious magic, and you’ll need to mask your aura before you even think about setting foot outside this ship, your curse will register as active magic to their witch hunters, regardless if you cast anything or not.” Valerian leaned heavily on the bar, watching as I sipped at the sweet liquor. 
“Great. So basically it doesn’t matter if I don’t actually know any magic to even use, but this stupid curse can get me killed anyway.”I sighed, scrubbing a hand over my face in frustration.
“I’ll teach you a cloacking spell. Maybe two. I don’t know how well trained their witch hunters are, so you’ll need to learn one of the higher calibre spells to keep the curse locked out of sight. If they have mage sight, a simpler spell would easily penetrate it.” Valerian explained, tugging the glass from my hands.
“Hey, give that back!” I lunged after the retreating glass.
“You need to be sober to learn magic, drunk spellcasting is extremely dangerous for even low level witches, with the amount of power you have you could level this town casting a spell wrong without your full faculties available to you.” He explained softly, setting the glass out of my reach.
I pouted, but didn’t object. He made sense after all.
“Fine.” I sighed. 
“Okay, let’s find a space to practice then.” Valerian nodded.
I pulled up the map on the tablet that I had taken to carrying around with me, and tried to find a space. One of the dining halls was labelled as a range, I wasn’t sure if it was for weapons or magic but I pointed it out and we decided to check it out. It was a short walk, made in silence that wasn’t entirely awkward. The range was a long, rectangular room, with tables and chairs stacked three rows deep against the back wall and a massive floor to ceiling window opposite it that looked out over the rear deck. The deck was covered in lush greenery, and I realised it was the pools Beth said had been converted to planters. 
“Give me a moment to ward the place and we’ll start.” Valerian said, fingers moving quickly and creating more of the odd shapes I had seen him using when he disappeared on me during the freefall. 
I snooped around the space as he worked, half paying attention to the words he muttered in concert with his finger puppetry, half looking for anything out of place. The room looked, for all intents and purposes, like a disused dining room, but I had come to expect that with this ship nothing was as it seemed. There was a thick layer of something covering the wall at the far end, pock marked with tiny dents as though something had exploded against it. The chandeliers that must have once hung from the ceiling were resting near the door we had entered through, and the hallway that led to the kitchen was stacked with yet more chairs, buffet carts and other items that were once used by the staff for service. Several minutes later Valerian called that he was done. I squared my shoulders, shaking off the buzz from the whiskey, and stepped back into the middle of the room. Time to start getting my shit together.

Episode 006 – Enjoy The Silence

There was little real edible vegetation on CE, mostly ferns and nutty things. If I felt like an adventurous hunter, dinosaur meat was an option. I didn’t much like my chances with that one though, and even half the water-dwelling creatures made me second guess my love of cooked animal flesh. Eggs were plentiful as well, but after that first encounter with the raptor I wasn’t keen on repeating my efforts. The Cretaceous period would not have been a good place to be vegetarian, and God help you if you were vegan. The pantry held very few coffee beans, there was no milk, and vodka was low. Beth had already been disparaged in-absentia for not stocking up better. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I found a dairy cow wandering around the airship at some point as roughly a third of the Pleiades was yet to be mapped. Between exploring both the ground and the ship, I had been working my way through the journals left behind by previous Chronians, seeing what kind of misadventure I was in for. One, an ancestor named Catalina, had been forced to face the Minotaurs maze, and been tossed out of the airlock of a prison transport in the middle of space. That was something I was not keen on experiencing for myself. It reminded me of a conversation topic Beth and I had touched on in the infirmary the second time she had put me in there….

‘What happens if we die before the next Chronian is ready?’ I had just finished the soup Beth had given me.

She looked up from her tablet, where she had been tapping away for the past ten or so minutes, and blinked several times.

‘We don’t.’ She said, putting her head back down.

‘But what if we get shot in the head, or have a limb chopped off, or get burnt at the stake?’ My voice pitched higher with the confusion I was feeling.

‘We can’t die, only once the next Chronian is chosen, of age and transitioning.’ She had sounded a little aggravated.

‘But how does that work? Are we bullet proof?’ I’d persisted, getting annoyed with her.

‘Don’t be silly.’ Beth scoffed.

She ignored my question.

‘Then how?’ The growl that slipped into my voice surprised me.

‘I don’t know, exactly.’ Beth admitted with a frustrated shout.

We both stared at each other blankly for a moment, neither having noticed just how much tension had built between us.

‘Look,’ Beth started, she combed her hair back from her face with her fingers. ‘none of us have figured out how it works– several other Chronians have been scientifically minded as well and even with all of their research to go off there is no clue as to how it works. The best any of us has come up with is ‘magic’ and I can’t accept that. It’s not quantifiable.’

Beth glared at her tablet, and I finally understood her reluctance to talk about it. She was angry with herself for not being able to conclusively prove WHY we didn’t die. My spirits sank with the awareness that if multiple Chronians had yet to figure out anything about the curse then how the hell was I going to break it? Because I WAS going to figure it out, and I WAS going to get back to my own time. I opened my mouth to ask, again, what happened if we were mortally wounded but Beth beat me to it.

‘If you get shot, or lose a limb, or – provided you can’t get yourself back to the Pleiades before then – are burned at the stake your destroyed flesh will atomize, and reform. Bullets aren’t too painful, limbs will be hard to handle but reforming your entire body is an extremely painful experience that I do not recommend trying at all. you will be fully conscious throughout the whole process which, depending on what kind of damage was done, can take up to three weeks to repair. At that length of time, you can expect to Shift while you’re healing, and that is more painful than anything you can ever experience. Anna told me that it was worse than a paper cut to the clitoris. I haven’t had the displeasure of that experience but I came awful close once, down to the warning tremors, and that was bad enough.’

Beth cringed in memory and I was reminded that I am a clumsy oaf ninety-nine percent of the time, and therefore the likelihood that some terrible fates were waiting for me was reasonably high.

‘However, after the next Chronian appears things are a bit different.’ Beth continued. ‘If you’re mortally wounded during the transition between Chronians you die. For good. If you manage to survive the transition period you simply cease to exist. I’m not sure if the soul remains, there’s a lot of debate on whether the stain of a curse, warranted or unwarranted, makes it impossible to enter heaven or the catalog of souls for rebirth. Anna was caught by a falling beam as we finished emptying the ruins of the Estate. It wasn’t a pretty death, she lasted a few minutes after the splintered beam severed her in half and impaled her against the floor. I don’t want to go like that.’

Beth looked haunted, as though that was barely the tip of the iceberg where Anna was concerned. I didn’t want to push any further, I wasn’t in any state to deal with a sniffle let alone a full on breakdown.

She’d been missing for several hours — nothing but static on the intercom — before I realised what had happened. She’d been on borrowed time since I stepped foot on the ship. My stomach churned as though stuck on the fifty eighth circuit of a neverending rollercoaster, knowing I was completely on my own now.

‘When I go,’ Beth had told me after explaining what happened after the transition. ‘You should go to the Chapel. There’s an offering in the DeVrai, a traditional send off for ancestors, that you need to prepare.’

The Shift had happened so soon after Beth departed that all memory of the offering had slipped from my mind. She would have been furious, it was a sacred tradition for us. My tours of the Pleiades had always led me around the Chapel, I hadn’t been ready for that yet. The Chapel would show me yet another truth about this wretched curse, it would show me just how alone I truly was. It had been a fortnight though, and the offering weighed heavily on my mind. Book in hand, I went to the lab to prepare.

“To usher the souls of Chronians into Heaven, an offering must be made to remove the stain of the Curse.”

There was a list of ingredients, most of which I had never heard of before and I sincerely hoped that there were labels on everything because I was kind of screwed otherwise. The book called for Rue, Benzoin, Yucca and Meadowsweet and Lavender.

“Rue for healing the soul, Benzoin and Yucca to purify the soul, and Lavender to forgive the soul.”

The DeVrai then called for four drops of my blood, taken with a crystal blade and encased in white wax. There weren’t any knives I could find in the lab, but I remembered seeing a diamond edged dagger in the armory. I didn’t know how to do the wax thing though. I fetched the knife and rummaged around the shelves in the lab, eventually coming up with a short, fat white candle with three wicks. I lit the wicks and let them burn for a while.

“Grind the herbs to a paste. Fold the waxed blood into the mixture so it makes a ball with the wax in the center. This is the offering.”

Some of the jars and containers didn’t have labels, so I had to Google a lot. The only thing I could identify without it was lavender, because my Nan used to load her potpourri with it. The Rue was a wide leaf that tapered in to the stem and bloomed with a bright yellow flower. Benzoin reminded me of Holly, and Yucca was a spiky plant with a center stalk topped in a mess of flowers. There were jars of leaves, flowers and roots but the recipe didn’t specify so I just took a stab at what I needed.

When the offering ball was ready I carefully carried it to the Chapel. I hadn’t been into the Chapel before, merely noted on the tablet that it was there and moved on. It was a cozy place, with warm wooden floors and alcoves bearing portraits of people I couldn’t even begin to name. There was a bank of candle tiers off to the right, and a long, low alter that had been covered in a white lace cloth. The ceiling was the main focus of the room however; a great dome made of intricate stained glass images. Twenty one in all, ringing the outer edge. The center of the dome was crystal clear glass, it showed a bright evening sky filled with brilliant stars and a moon so full and bright I barely needed the internal lights. It was truly magnificent.
The only thing on the altar was an ornate silver bowl with a smaller, red glass bowl sitting inside it. The DeVrai said to put the offering in the bowl, and once I managed to take my eyes off the sky I set it inside the red glass dish.

“Draw a circle around your workspace, with yourself and your tools inside it.”

The Book didn’t specify what to draw the circle with so I bent down and dragged my finger through the dust around the altar. I noticed, after a moment, that the dust trailing after my finger was sparking. Surprised, I stopped drawing but the dust kept going, like a sparkler. When I finished the circle and closed the lines, a finger of flame shot around the outline.

“Call the quarter guardians to witness the offering.”

I hadn’t the first clue how to do that. Or any of this really. Unsure of the directions on this planet, and whether or not I was allowed out of the circle once it was complete, I flipped through the book for anything on compasses. There was a direction spell for finding north in the front, along with one for dispelling glamour and creating rune seals. The spell called for water, which I didn’t have, so I spat in my palm instead. The book said to blow on the water (or spit, in my case) till it became too cold to handle, then throw it in the air. The resulting mist would blow northwards. I cupped my hand and blew, watching in amazement as my breath turned the liquid to snowflakes. When it grew too cold, and started sticking to my hand, I tossed it up in the air. It swirled and eddied, curling towards the door.

I had to do a bit of digging through the grimoire to find what quarters were and how to call them. My brain helpfully supplied a short animation of me calling little rooms like errant puppies, and I struggled to concentrate on the pages for laughing so hard. Quarters was, according to the Book, enveloping the caster in a circle of protection by invoking the elements at each of the four main compass points. Starting in the east with Air, as the sun rose to the east and so East is symbolic of the beginning of all things, and ending at the north point with Earth. Getting up on the altar, I faced what I now knew to be east, and said the first thing that came to mind.

“I call you Air, giver of life, to witness this offering.”

I didn’t feel right just turning and calling the next element, so I bowed my head over the Book. A gentle gust of wind ruffled my hair, filling my lungs with crystal clear air. Only when it died down did I turn to the south.

“I call you Fire, bringer of warmth, to witness this offering.”

I bowed again, and a warmth sprang from under my feet, suffusing me with a strength that had been fading since Beth had left.

“I call you Water, keeper of dreams, to witness this offering.”

When I bowed this time there was a slight dampness to the room that was wonderfully refreshing, and I turned to the north for the final element.

“I call you Earth, healer of hearts, to witness this offering.”

The whole space began to smell like a spring meadow, with gorgeous fresh flowers and the chirping of small birds lilted from the doorway.

‘I beseech you, Lord, to hear my prayer. With this offering I, Flynn Abigail Cole, take upon myself the burden of this curse. With this offering I free my ancestor, Bethany Johanna Lewellyn, from the taint of this curse. With this offering I seek to give my friend and relative the rest she deserves under your ever watchful eye. This I do in your name.’ I whisper shouted, wincing at how ridiculous I sounded.

The offering ball sparkled like the circle had, little shots of spark shooting from all over until flame engulfed the whole thing in a white-hot blaze. It burned for just a moment before extinguishing, ash falling from where the fire had propelled it.

The DeVrai said that this was the desired effect, and that I should collapse the circle by thanking the elements and erasing part of the circle.

“For witnessing this offering, guardians of the elements, you have my thanks.”

I bowed one final time and stepped down onto the circle, breaking the line around the altar. I picked up the bowl, to dispose of the ash, but tripped. Of course. The ash went flying, and instead of falling it sailed up towards the ceiling dome. Once in contact with the glass it melted into it and formed a portrait of Beth alongside what must have been the other Chronians. I gazed up in awe. Tomorrow I would have to come back and take a good look at the portraits.

As I turned to the doorway the lights dimmed, flickering as though a candle guttering in a breeze. There was a rush of pressure in my head, like I’d dived underwater.

‘Well, aren’t you a clever little witch.’ A deep voice muttered from behind me, and I swear my heart leapt from my mouth in fright.

Episode 005 – House of Gold & Bones

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.

Beth

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.

Episode 004 – Dunderhead

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.

Episode 003 – Blade Runner

By the time Beth came and got me for dinner, I had been absorbed in the journal for several hours. It had belonged to Diana, the daughter of Danaë, the original Chronian. She spent several chapters just describing her mother and those twelve years Danae wandered through time as the Prime. The sparks, as it turns out, were a reaction only Danaë had felt- when Hyperion had attuned the heart-stone to her as he built the Estate. The connection afforded her a degree of control over the Estate, which had me curious if the same would be true for me and the Pleiades.
Diana’s recount of Danaë’s adventures consumed me, and as I left for dinner I slid the diary into the desk incase it put itself away while I was gone.

“There are a few more things I need to teach you. Anna left soon after I transitioned and there was so much I wish she had taught me straight off the bat. I don’t want to leave you in the lurch like that, this life is not for the faint of heart or the ill prepared.” Beth sat me down on an old stool at the island bench in the galley.

“I don’t understand, how is there an overlap? I thought you said new Chronians were only picked when the old one was at death’s door?” I watched as she pulled several containers out of the fridge.

“I don’t know the mechanics of it, some of the more scholarly Chronians have speculated it has something to do with Danaës husband and his attempt to break the curse. Suffice to say there is usually enough time to impart the necessary survival skills to the next Chronian before disappearing.” She served up two plates of noodles, a mystery white meat and a pile of salad greens.

“Oh. Right. What is this?” I poked curiously at the white, meaty substance with my fork when she slid a plate in front of me.

“Crocodile. The last place I Shifted was in a group of South Pacific islands, crocodile is a staple there. They showed me how to hunt with spears and this meat was from the first croc I hunted successfully on my own.” Beth grinned victoriously.

I placed a small chunk in my mouth and chewed gingerly, half expecting her to drug me again. It didn’t taste at all like I was expecting, more like pork than fish, and no detectable poisons. It was a little tough, but not unpalatable.

“You’ll have to get adventurous with your food if you want to survive. You can go months before getting to a place with the food you’re used to, and even then there is no guarantee you’ll have the right currency.” Beth said, dipping her meat in a bowl of sauce.

We ate the rest of the meal in contemplative silence as I drifted off into my own little world. The last few days had been mostly a blur and, all things considered, I thought I’d been taking it all rather well. I had yet to process most of the things Beth had said, there was just so much I had to learn and so quickly after arriving it hurt my head to think about it all. Beth had admitted that she was keeping me slightly sedated, she didn’t know how violently I might react to the situation, and in a way I was grateful that the meds were dulling my emotions to a manageable level. The anger and frustration I still felt was churning furiously away under the surface, I had wondered why it wasn’t spilling forth in a frothy fury. Intellectually, I understood. It would be months, maybe even years, before the situation made sense in my head and I wondered if I would be able to cope with it all.

So far, Beth’s story about the unique mythology surrounding the universe was the biggest, most intriguing part of the whole situation up to that point.

••”It’s a little convoluted.” She said when we had chatted earlier.

“Isn’t all religion?” I asked jokingly.

Her pause said it all.

“The thing is, religion is a human construct. Man will always need a higher power to blame when things go wrong or to excuse their behaviour, and it’s not like there isn’t a bunch of them to choose from either. The most important part is that they are all true; every single god and goddess exists, just not the way we imagine it. Christians have it partly right. God and his trinity ARE the center of it all, but that’s not the whole story. Every single religion stems from reality.” She watched my face as I tried to wrap my head around that bombshell.

“What?” I didn’t mean for my voice to go that high and scratchy.

“It’s complex, and trying to understand it all fully might just give you a complex.” Beth chuckled.

“No kidding.” I choked out.

“Let me try to make it simple. The Norse people had the Universe thing right. Our reality breaks down into five branches, or layers, one above the other. The middle layer is humanity – Midgard, for lack of a better term – and has the hundreds of millions of alternate universes that we cycle through as Chronians. Above it is the Elysian Fields, where the undeserving cursed live. It was where Hyperion built the Estate. Above that is Heaven, for the deserving dead. Below us is Tartarus, for the deserving cursed, and then Hell for the undeserving dead. It is presided over, for the most part, by the Hosts — both Holy and Unholy. Neither are truly what we mortals have come to view as Angels and Demons, they’re each just as bad as each other.

There are three tiers for the Holy Host; The Arelim make up the top-tier, they are soldiers, protectors of the Planes. The second tier is the Seraphim, guardians of Mortals, which is where all the religions in our many universes stem. Greek, Roman, Norse, even Japanese and Korean deities are all based on the Seraphs. The third tier, the lowest of them all, are the Cherubim. They are essentially gofers and errand boys. The Unholy Host run the same way; with the Acheri soldiers at the top, the Inferi in the middle class and Faeri, who make up the lowest tier.” She explained calmly.

“Fairies are demons?” My forehead scrunched in confusion.

“Fairies, as in the little winged people? No. Those are Fae not Faeri. Faeri are the lower class demons, such as Daevas.” Beth shook her head.

“That’s not confusing at all.” I snorted.

“I did tell you.” Her tablet beeped and she looked away to deal with it.••

It wasn’t until Beth pulled my empty plate from under my nose that I came back to the present.

“Time to see how well you do with weapons.” She said, scraping off the plates and stacking them beside the large sink.

“What kind of weapons?” I hadn’t picked up any weaponry outside of video games since primary school camp archery lessons.

“We have dozens of kinds of weapons in the armoury. Everything from the medieval era to the four-hundred-and-sixth century.” We headed towards the armoury and I tried to memorize my way.

Halfway there I gave up.

“Are there maps anywhere on the ship?” I asked, trying not to get too turned around.

“In the receiving room, and the ballroom I think, but not anywhere else.” Beth replied after a moments thought.

“Do you think we could pop some up soon? I have the worst sense of direction.” I grimaced.

Beth said nothing and opened a door marked with a pair of crossed swords using a keypad beside the handle.

“This is the armory.” She said, sweeping her arm wide.

The room was wide and deep, a display of various weapons taking up the front half of the room, with four massive shelves in the back stacked to capacity.
“The door code is 5842, you can change that on the central computer on the bridge. It’s also the code for the ammunition locker.” She led me towards the back wall.

“Can you show me how to do that later?” I asked, running my hands over the shelves.

Beth nodded.

“This is the training simulator.” She pointed to a box mounted on the ceiling.

“Don’t we need a firing range or something?” Curiously, my fingers were dust free as I lifted them off the shelves.

“Not with this. This is a live fire key.” Beth held up a cylinder that had a sensor attached by a wire. “It’s inserted into the barrel of the gun, and the sensor goes behind the trigger. It measures accuracy and simulates recoil without expending any bullets. You will need to conserve those.”

She opened one of the wall cases and pulled out a small hand gun.

“This is an ACP 1911.” She handed it to me.

“It’s pretty light, I thought it would be heavier.” I commented.

“It’s not loaded.” Beth smirked.

I spun it around my finger by the trigger guard and pretended to holster it, I’d always wanted to do that.

“It was a standard U.S military service weapon for a while.” Beth proceeded to show me how to screw in the sensor and turn on the simulator.

The controls for the simulator were in a wall mounted touch screen, and I could set it to pretty much any scenario I wanted. We drilled firing and safety for a few hours before calling it quits for the night. The only thing I knew before we started was what the safety looked like and how to turn it off/on, and the credit for that could pretty much go to all the action movies I had ever watched. Beth taught me the different classes of weapons, the basics of dis-assembly and cleaning, and how to shoot. I was pretty impressed with my accuracy, normally I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a beach ball. Before we left, Beth opened the ammunition case and talked me through identifying caliber.

“For the 1911, you can use the 9mm Parabellums, the .460 Brownings and the 9×23 Winchester rounds. Don’t waste them if you can help it. Tomorrow, I’ll go over some basic self defence and blades with you.” Beth closed the munitions case while I unhooked the simulator key and set the ACP back in its slot on the wall.

Beth led me to a bedroom and I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow. I hadn’t realised how tired I really was, though I guessed some of that could be attributed to the drugs Beth had pumped me with initially.

I dreamed of rifles with talking barrels.

In the morning, after a breakfast of cereal and buttery toast, we returned to the armoury for more training. This time, Beth selected a pair of swords from a ladder mount on the wall.

‘These are O-wakizashi, or ‘side-inserted sword’. They are Japanese folded steel. The O means that they are the longer version of the blade- sixty centimetres. These came from a sword smith I worked with briefly in feudal Japan, in 1492.’ Beth explained as she handed me one of the blades.

The sword hilt was a gorgeous glossy black wood, with soft silver filigree working its way up to the hand guard and the sheath itself. A tiny jade dragon embedded in the hilt of the sword made the filigree look like it was fire breathed by the tiny creature . The sword Beth held was the complete opposite, a bone white wood with jagged gold filigree erupting from its own tiny jade dragon.

Beth refused to let me unsheathe the blade, and instead we sparred with bokken. I was a little disappointed, but when Beth demonstrated how sharp the blades really were I figured it was better I not lose any fingers this early on.

After lunch she showed me some simple, easy to remember self-defense techniques. She left me to practice with the simulator which produced a holograph of a randomized assailant while she did whatever she normally did when she left me to my own devices. The wall cases were bullet proof and the shelving sat behind a magnetic field that stopped any movement travelling faster than two kilometres an hour, so it didn’t matter if I practiced with unsheathed blades or live rounds. The holograph randomized itself into a new opponent every ten minutes, and it was fascinating. When using a blade the resistance to each strike felt real, the ring of metal on metal sounded crystal clear even though my opponent was nothing but pinpoints of light. It was incredible technology.

When I emerged close to dinner time, Beth was nowhere around. I assumed she was somewhere I hadn’t been yet. After freshening up I checked the bridge and the archives, she wasn’t to be found though. I prepared dinner for the both of us, a vegetarian stir-fry using most of the leftovers from the previous night. At nine she still hadn’t turned up, and I went back to all the places we’d been in the past few days. It was well past midnight by the time I made my way back to my bedroom, and I hadn’t yet found her.

Episode 002 – A Place To Call Home

The medical bay was a small room; two beds and a long steel bench piled with things my tired brain couldn’t process. The cuff was back on my arm and blinking in time with my heart. The only interesting thing about it was the bright blue neon that zipped across the top every time it registered a beat. It was mesmerizing. I started counting the beats in my head as I watched it.

“How are you feeling?” Beth asked, leaning on the door jamb.

“Fine, actually. My hand seems a little stiff, but it’s better than I expected.” My voice was a little off, words a bit slurred.

I scowled, trying to figure out if the little ritual from, when was it, last night?- had been the cause. Beth must have sensed what I was thinking.

“I’ve given you a sedative, to keep you from stressing your hand too much. It’s still healing, though faster than would be normal, and there is still the risk of infection.”

I nodded, somewhat annoyed even though I understood what she was doing. I reached out for the cup on the side table, missing the first grab but finding it on the second.

“What’s with the bracelet?” I set the cup aside after having only a quarter of the contents, not sure she hadn’t drugged that too.

“It’s a monitoring cuff. It comes from a very advanced civilization called the Phages, people who spent their entire lives combining science and magic. If you ever get to meet them, they are a fascinating race. The bracelet’s made of an ultralight alloy infused with nanotechnology. The nanobots check every single part of your system and feed the results to this tablet.” She held up the device I had seen her using the last time I was in here.

“It’s how I knew you were awake.” She admitted.

“Oh. Is there more stuff like that?” I sipped my water slowly, not wanting to make myself sick again.

I wasn’t sure whether the thought of having a bunch of nanobots inside me was terrifying or interesting.

“There’s more here than I have ever known what to do with.” Beth ran a hand through her hair, something I noticed she did often.

“Really?”

“Anna managed to save a lot of stuff from the Estate, and the twenty or so Chronians before her had lifetimes to collect things they found interesting. There are a dozen or more rooms filled with what she saved and collected. I haven’t had the heart to go through it all.” Beth frowned distractedly.

“Why not?” I pretended I didn’t see the flash of annoyance pass over her face at the probing question.

“Anna died quite violently, about three days after I arrived. All she could talk about was her mission to save the Estate and it’s contents.” Beth shut her eyes tight and took a moment.

“What else is there on the ship, besides what you showed me?” My stomach rumbled and Beth swapped my water for the steaming mug of soup she had brought in with her.

“There’s a solarium, which I converted into a small garden. Anna managed to save a lot of plants from the ruins of the Estate, many of which are either rare or extinct in most of the modern earth-like places we’ve visited. There’s a theater, I don’t recall setting foot in there for more than a decade though. There are forty or so guest suites, some of which are storage rooms now. The upper deck has three pools, two of which house planter boxes for several trees. It’s quite lush up there now. There are so many places for you to see. It took me several months to work my way around the ship after Anna left.” Beth relaxed as she spoke, letting go of the hurt she had obviously felt when talking about Anna.

“At least I wont get bored.” I fiddled with the cuff, irritated by its unfamiliar weight.

“There is also a chapel, by the theater. Although, it’s more of a memorial hall than a chapel. I’ve been working on a map for the past few months, my coding isn’t all that great but I can do some basic things, I doubt I’ll be able to finish it now.” I finished my soup as Beth continued to talk about her home, and it was obvious she carried a lot of fond memories of the airship.

We talked for a while longer before my eyes started slipping closed, and silence stretched out between us, awkward and tense, I still wasn’t sure I believed her.

When I woke next Beth wasn’t around but my head was clear and my hand had healed to a barely visible mark. Beth said the last time she’d inspected it that the scarring would fade within a week and the only visible part would be the slight bump where the charm was.

It connected to the heart-stone, which had once been the cornerstone of the Estate. Anna had brought it here, fusing it with the ship so that future Chronians might still have a haven, at least until Chronus had another fit of temper. I took my time getting up, keeping my weight off my healing hand, and made my way towards the helm. Beth said she spent most of her time there, and if I needed her that would be where I could find her. She was at the chart table, a stack of maps displayed on the table top and a stylus twirling around her fingers.

“Good to see you up and around. We’ve still got a lot to cover.” She gestured to the stool opposite her, absently tapping the stylus with her other hand.

“Firstly,” She slid the De Vrai book towards me from beside the stack of maps, “you need to reset the return phrase for the Charm. Make sure it’s something you won’t say accidentally.”

I took a look at the open page, staring in wonder as the sketch seemed to glint, spears of light playing over its dark surface. The book was truly incredible, every page seemed alive. The Charm was a silver disc about three centimeters wide with an inky black pearl in the center, stunningly rendered in the book. The disk itself looked complex, ringed with line after line of runes and combinations of symbols I was completely unfamiliar with. The only line on the thing I could read was the line closest to the pearl. ‘De tempore et de loco fac citius focis.’ Roughly translated, it says ‘Out of time and out-of-place – to my hearth, make all haste.’ Clutching the Charm whilst saying a key phrase would send me back to the Pleiades from wherever I was no matter what time or place I was in if I was in mortal peril. That made it the single most valuable thing in my new life. Pity it wouldn’t send me home properly. The page was titled with the same phrase that ringed the pearl on the Charms surface, and held a short incantation and a simple set of instructions.

          “In the presence of the heart-stone, clench your fist around the Charm and light the candle. Incant the spell and where there is a blank space, speak the phrase or word you have chosen. This will link the Charm to your words so that you may use them as your key to the Estate.”

The word Estate had been scribbled out and Pleiades had replaced it. I looked over to Beth, but her maps had her full attention again. The heart-stone was in a receiving area, as using the Charm would transport you directly to the heart-stone. It was under a copper platform that had been inscribed with the same rings of symbols as the Charm, a green patina making them stand out against the soft copper. I took a few wrong turns before finding the receiving room, and the Pleiades former life seemed most obvious there.
Marble, gold leaf detailing and plush cream rugs thrown over the dark polished stone floors decorated the room surrounding the platform. I stood in the center of the copper ring and held the book in front of me. The language was semi-familiar, Greek I guessed. Ever since he saw the TV show Hercules, my older brother Ben had begun to obsess over ancient Greece. He’d spent three weeks laid up with a broken leg and watched every single episode. I knew I was going to botch the pronunciation, but I crossed my fingers and hoped it wouldn’t matter.

“Οποτε, μην αφήσεις αυτους να μας χωρίσουν

μέχρι να μας χωρίσει ο θανατος

όπως λέω αυτές τις λέξειςWeewa Chee ασ γίνει.”

The translation read ‘So let them not divide us, till death parts us, as I say these words, so mote it be.’

I went with Ewokese because I very much doubted I would use it, ever, and certainly not the phrase ‘home free’ in general conversation. It didn’t hurt that no one who mattered would be able to make fun of me for knowing Weewa Chee meant home free in Ewokese. There was a tingling sensation in my palm as I spoke, though that may have simply been pins and needles, as I had taken a bit of time to go over the translations under the words. On the way back to Beth, I stumbled as a dizzy spell passed over me and had to catch myself on a railing as what felt like a shower of sparks fizzled through my brain. It lasted only moments, but it was a good ten minutes before I could push myself back upright.

“What were the fireworks?” I asked, setting the book on the chart table and sat heavily in the empty chair.

“Fireworks?” Beth didn’t look up from her map.

“Yeah, fireworks. After the spell there was nothing but tingles until I was halfway back, and then there was this rush of -I don’t know- sparks inside my head.” I put my arms on the table and laid my head down.

“I didn’t feel anything when I reset the Charm. I’m sorry, but I don’t know what that might have been. You can check the Archives, another Chronian might have recorded a similar experience.” She tapped her stylus on the edge of the glass table top and a layer of maps disappeared.

“That could take hours.” If it sounded like I was sulking, I was.

It felt like I was being given homework.

Beth pulled a physical map off the table and I recognized a particularly rich blanket of green from the map that had disappeared a moment before.

“Not if you use the Index.” Beth spread out another map and I watched, fascinated, as the table top seemed to grow a 3D version of the map.

“The Index?” I scrunched my nose up.

“There is an enchanted copper panel on the desk. Place your hand on it and say what you’re looking for. Make sure you are clear and precise otherwise you could wind up in a hailstorm of books, and that hurts.” Beth chuckled, replacing the map again.

“Well then, if I scream I’m probably buried in books.” I was a bit concerned about using the Index if it would cause an avalanche.

“Just place your hand on the panel and say ‘return’, if you’re not holding a book it will go back to the shelves.” Beth glanced up, amusement written all over her face.

She went back to her dwindling stack of maps and I took that as a dismissal. The Archives seemed cavernous as I entered on my own. Before, when Beth was showing me around, it had seemed grand. Now, it was just daunting. The desk was under a window, an antique looking cherry wood monster on intricately carved legs, with copper and white mother of pearl inlays. I sat down gingerly at the winged back chair behind it, fingers traveling over the smoothly polished surface in wonder. I had never seen such beautiful or decadent furniture up close before. The panel Beth mentioned was on the right, a palm sized section of the tawny leather desk top outlined in a thin copper border, elegant scroll work tooled into the corners of the box. I wiped my hand on my shorts before placing my hand on top of it. Clearing my mind, I thought only of the sparkles in my brain.

“Reactions to Charm reset.” I said, pressing lightly against the rectangle.

Twenty or so books came flying off the shelves to arrange themselves in a messy pile on the table. I exhaled the breath I had been unconsciously holding, glad there hadn’t been a squall of books. There was still a heap on the table to go through however, and my elation at not dying was dampened by the thought of so much reading for one measly question. Taking a moment, I sent the books winging back to their places and decided on a new wording.

“Abnormal reaction to Charm resetting.” I closed my eyes and pressed firmly on the rectangle, focused on only finding useful books and having them open to the correct pages.

I cracked an eye open and peeked at the desk once the sound of rustling pages subsided. One book was on the desk, open just a few pages in. I flipped the cover over so I could see the book’s title. It was a Chronian journal, marked with the number two. Intrigued, I sat back and began to read.


Episode 001 – In The Beginning

Have you ever wondered what your last earthly breath would be like? Will you take it surrounded by loved ones, in the heat of battle, or somewhere cold and lonely? Does your life flash before your eyes? Do you really see a bright white light? I was driving down the Newell Highway in a rental packed with everything my ex-boyfriend hadn’t thrown in the rubbish, and for a few moments I thought I’d found the answer to these questions. There was a rumble, it vibrated straight through my body like a freight train passing by so close you can almost touch it. I thought I’d hit another vehicle and, with my last conscious breath, I prayed there weren’t any kids involved. No lights, no memory highlight reel, just endless black.

It didn’t end there.

I came to in a white room that smelled like bleach. There was a cool cloth on my forehead and my shoes were missing. Absently I wondered why Heaven needed a sick bay, and what kind of weirdo would steal a dead persons shoes. My vision blurred, and my stomach heaved as I tried to sit up.

“Easy now, you’ll make yourself sick.”

The voice made me jump a foot in the air. A woman came into my line of sight, her violet-blue eyes startlingly like my own, though older and much more experienced. She smiled tightly down at me, pressing a hidden button on a cuff that was clamped around my wrist. I tried to ask where I was but my voice wouldn’t obey me, and all that came out was a strangled squeak, which was all kinds of pathetic. The woman glanced up with a sigh.

“You seem no worse for the wear.” She mused, tapping on a small handheld screen.

I opened my mouth to ask what she meant but she hushed me.

“Give it a minute, your body is still adjusting. The first Shift is always the worst.” She pressed a glass into my hands, and bade me to drink.

“My name is Beth. I know what you’re thinking, and I’m sorry but you’re not dead.” She put down the tablet.

She was silent as I snorted derisively.

“Just listen for a minute. Can you do that? It’s rather important.” Beth ran a hand through her already messy hair, gray strands spilling out of the loose bun it was wound in.

I didn’t have much of a choice, confined to bed, so I nodded and listened.

“You need to understand something very important. I don’t have a lot of time left, not now that you are here, and you aren’t anywhere near ready for what’s to come.”

A few hours later I still didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me, not really. My head was reeling from her announcement that I would likely never see my friends and family again and everything after that was a blur. Our family had a history of the women born into it disappearing. Beth was one, and now I was another. As she explained the history behind our family, anger bubbled inside me. First I’d been kidnapped, now she was feeding me bizarre fantasies about Greek Gods and curses and interdimensional travel.

“And so now, one of us is always doomed to walk between worlds, between times. Never settling down, never having a family, never having friendship or comfort beyond what scarce interference the Gods see fit to award. We’re given the name Chronians, as the only line Chronus has ever cursed so harshly has been ours. Because of the strength of the curse, over the years, some of the curses power has leaked into our family’s genes, mutating it.
Now, I guess the simplest term for what Chronians are, is witches.” She sighed in resigned annoyance as she finished telling me the history of the Chronians.

I was skeptical. Very skeptical, but it was hard considering everything that had happened in the last few hours. I could barely sit up without making myself dizzy, let alone comprehend an elaborate story that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. When I could get out of bed Beth helped me back into my shoes (which were hidden down beside the bed) and took me for a walk.

“You are on board the airship Pleiades. It was once a pleasure cruiser that Anna, the Chronian before me, liberated from a rather nasty corporation when the Estate was destroyed.” Beth kept a hand on my elbow, both preventing me from falling over and bolting madly for an exit.

The Estate, as Beth described it, had been a gorgeous Grecian villa; verdant and calming, the perfect escape from the problems that exist for us. Beth said that it was Hyperion who had created it, he took pity on the original Chronian for her predicament as Chronus’ disagreeable temperament was well-known among the Gods. It was a sanctuary of sorts between worlds. I would have loved to see it. The Pleiades, however, was just as magnificent in her own right. At four hundred and fifty feet, including her tail fin, she cut an impressive figure. A swathe of repulsor panels lined her underbelly, which provided vertical lift, and her flat top provided a surface for light aircraft to land. A pair of massive engines were mounted at the rear for thrust. Her body curved down like the belly of an old ocean-going ship, with a pointed prow like that of a Victorian clipper, which opened into a large cargo bay by splitting into three separate hinged sections. Half her sides were glass, allowing natural light to flood the interior of the ship, the rear enrertainment decks fully enclosed in glass also, and her exterior was painted a bright white and decorated in ornate bronze flourishes and curlicues. We stopped for a while on the bridge, where she showed me the basic controls; speed, elevation, how to hover and land both vertically and horizontally like a normal plane, ignoring the fierce scowl I kept throwing at her. By far the coolest part was the denfense system, and my excitement over it made me forget about my anger for a few moments. The Pleiades could become practically invisible, and if there was the slightest chance of a collision could maneuver itself out of harms way. Beth didn’t know if it was technological or magical, but it had apparently been damned useful more than a few times.

“The only instrument that doesn’t work is the navigation. The nav-system’s programmed for a world you will never see and so Anna disabled it. If you need to travel your options are to find a suitable navigation system on-world or sync and add the co-ordinates manually. If you’ve never used a map before you’ll need to bone up quickly.”

After that there was a small armory full of things I could never have begun to imagine, then a galley, and a room that seemed like a lounge and library combined. We stopped longest in that room, as Beth explained what was kept there.

“This room is our Archives. The journals of all twenty-five Chronians, myself included, are here, as well as all the literature we have gathered over the years. The epicenter of our collection, however, is a grimoire. The De Vrai Grimoire (which roughly translates to Book of Truth, named by a fanciful French Chronian called Genevieve) is essentially a manual. It has all the things you will need; our family tree, a comprehensive collection of spells and rituals, and, perhaps most i8mportantly, a guide-book to the worlds and timelines you will travel through.” She let me browse the massive book, which sat on a stone plinth in the middle of the room, the stone seemed to hum and vibrate under my fingertips.

The first page was gilt, depicting a towering Yew tree that danced in an unseen breeze, actually moving on the page. The trunk marked with the Roman numeral for one, which looked like it had been burned into the wood of the tree. Each branch contained a name, blossoming from the branch in delicate script, followed by two dates; date of induction and date of death. My name swung gently from the top most branch, Beth’s name swaying just one limb below it.
Page two was a list of rules, the dos and donts of traveling through time and space. Most of it was common sense stuff like; Don’t get involved in local politics, limbs don’t regenerate quickly or easily, never lose the Charm, always refer to the Grimoire if unsure, don’t try to bring other humans back to the Estate/Pleiades and don’t fall in love. The latter because of the one before it, and there was supposed to be very little warning before a Chronian shifted through dimensions, or so I imagined.

“Two of the shelves by the desk contain the journals of almost all the Chronians before you, even mine. You don’t need to read them, but I found it helped connect me to what I was experiencing. The rest run the gamut, it’s essentially a well-rounded personal library.” Beth ran her fingers over the spines on a shelf close by tenderly.

I nodded absently and turned back to the grimoire. Next was a blank section thirteen pages long with a single heading ‘Guide Book’. A finger placed on the heading followed by the question, ‘Where am I?’ filled the blank pages with useful information about the universe I inhabited at the time. Accompanying each entry was a count of which Chronians had visited which time lines. It was rare for two Chronians to find themselves in the same stream.

The rest of the book contained spells and recipes, information and rituals, things that were both perplexing and alarming.

Beth gathered the book up and took me down a few doors to another room.

“This is, for lack of a better phrase, the lab.” She said, putting the book on a large table in the middle of the room.

The book creaked open on its own, pages flipping to settle on an entry near the back of the book.

“Before anything else happens, I need to transfer you the Charm. It’s your lifeline to this ship no matter where you are on this plane.” She searched around the massive shelves lining the room on all four walls, tossing jars and bottles over her shoulder which floated gracefully to the table beside the book.

I watched in stunned silence as she returned with an iron bowl and a silver knife with a prettily carved pearl handle. Into the bowl went things I recognized, like Bay and Frangipani, and things I had never heard of such as Elder and Orris. Beth took the knife and sliced a fairly deep cut over a small lump in her palm, a glint of deep black showing under the welling blood. She grabbed my hand and before I had even processed what was happening she had made a matching incision on my own palm.

“Hey!” I cried, cradling my hand against my chest once she let go.

“Sorry, but this is important. The Charm is a key to the Pleiades, a way to return to the ship from anywhere when you’re in danger. I’d have done it before but your hand will take some time to heal, and it’s hard to learn how to steer this boat with a bloodied fist. Trust me.” She mixed the herbs to a paste with our blood and smeared half on her palm. “This will call the Charm to you and embed it in your palm. That way you only need clench your fist and say the keyword to return, and ensure no one can take it from you.”

She held out her hand expectantly, and I gave her mine after a moment’s hesitation. I had little choice but to trust her. She slathered my cut in the paste. It stung like a bitch, and if I thought that pain was irritable then it was no more than a tickle compared to the agony that ripped through my arm when she slapped our palms together. She whispered in a language I didn’t understand, the air filling with the smell of sizzling flesh as the Charm burrowed its way from her hand to mine like a parasite. I choked back a scream and fought to stay conscious.

I lost.