Metini L'azlod swore under his breath and wished, very, very badly that he'd managed to cram more space navigation knowledge into the brief days before this disastrous trip.
Every once in a while he caught a brief glimpse of a blue and white swirling ball, and now it was so large he was seeing it very frequently. Unfortunately he had a sneaking suspicion that that meant the tiny emergency pod he was in was not in the recommended orientation for atmospheric reentry.
If reentry was the right term. That was definitely not Mars down below.
Of course he knew that the air was breathable, even though thick and humid. And the gravity, while very high could be adapted to with lots of training and foot and joint support, not that he'd had any. He had lost weight, as recommended, but two tenths of zero G nausea wasn't the right way to do it.
The pod jerked, and he heard a faint whisper from outside. He strapped down hastily, and for the first time in his adult life started praying to the Old Gods, the Sky Gods, sincerely.
He jumped at a popping noise, and the pod swung around and stabilized. Is that you Dziuraweic, goddess of meteors? Please let me come to ground safely. Even this Alien ground.
Another pop and he was pressed into the couch pad, the pod was slowing. Something was slowing it! But when he turned his head painfully to look, all he saw were flames. The pod was burning. He scrambled frantically for another God to pray to, who was the God of the Blue Star? Notre? Notre save me! Let me walk on your surface, let me live!
It seemed to be working, The flames were gone. Thank you, Notre, thank you! We walk in Darkness below the Ground, yet we are not alone!
Another pop, and the pod slowed further. Then it dropped, slowed, dropped . . . hit. Rolled, fell, bounced, rolled. A screech of torn metal, a wave of heat and steam and stench hit him. I'm going to die.
After a long moment, he opened his eyes. Then slowly turned his head. The hatch was missing altogether. He shakily unfastened his harness and crawled out, away from the hot metal.
"Thank you, Notre. Thank you." Then he threw up everything he'd eaten for the last ten days, or at least it felt like he tried. He crawled away and laid down in a curled ball. That last bounce and spin had been worse than the two tenths of zero G nausea, hands down. If one of those Giant Lizards wanted to eat him, it could just go right ahead.
But slowly the spinning stopped, his stomach settled, and the scents, the thick humid spicy scents got through to him. And the sounds, why it sounded just like a city. He could even hear sirens, coming closer. Wrong pitch, he thought whimsically, uncurling and clambering to his feet. Barely. Sand, he was so weak . . . or like he was carrying an oversized friend on his back.
He looked up the hill the pod had rolled and bounced down. The trail was clear, as was the . . . construct the pod had crashed through.
He turned around, apprehensively. The valley floor not so far below him was full of city. The city went on as far as he could see, roads, small buildings, towering buildings, moving vehicles, swiftly moving vehicles. Sirens. Coming closer. In a panic he turned back to the hill, he could climb it, he could run . . . the gravity dragged at him, dragged him back.
With a roar, the first cart arrived. It was closed, a soft blue with chromed bumpers. A couple of hideously ugly creatures leaped out, gabbling at each other and then him. They raised empty hands. On Mars it would have been a threat, but these creatures had no claws. They kept shooting nervous glances in the direction of the sirens.
They are outlaws. Contacting me, he thought, and raised his empty hands. Hopefully it was a peaceful gesture.
When the ugly things tried to gesture him into their cart, he hesitated, and then gulped and entered their vehicle.
It pulled away from the crash site with a roar and a cloud of dust, skidding past a huge bright red cart with flashing lights on top of it.
"Rex, I believe you. Absolutely and totally." The thin man held up a finger to stop interruption. "But. If you don't want to be written off as a complete whacko nut case, you can only tell part of the story."
"Regis, I tell you…"
"I know, I know. Intelligent Barbarian dinosaurs and Space Alien dinosaurs. I believe you. Now we have to figure out a palatable way to explain them." He pointed out the window where three raptors were making short work of a side of beef, on the far side of a high electrical fence. Beyond them, workers were erecting a five meter high steel barred fence around a ten acre field. The workers seemed to be working with their heads cranked around to stare at the dinosaurs.
"We need to find out more about the Space Dinos." Rex insisted.
Regis Kingsland rubbed his temples. May be it would be better to let his twin talk about it, get it out of his system, here in private. "Okay, now what did they look like?"
Rex's eyes lit up. "They were pretty, slender and elegant compared to the dinosaurs, and even with the tails they stood completely erect." His eyes narrowed in thought. "Picture a greyhound, standing on her back legs, OK? Long slender legs and arms, big deep chest." His eyes flashed in irritation. "Not that sort of chest, they weren't mammals. They had a lot of lung capacity. Now cross your greyhound with a seahorse. They had a sort of angularity to their exteriors, like that, and heavy tails that were still pretty flexible, not quite prehensile, though. Cheek flares or frills around the sides and back of their skulls. Now, give it a lion's mane of porcupine quills, and a ridge of gradually shorter quills down their spines to the tip of their tails."
Definitely a headache. "Greyhound, seahorse and lion-porcupine. Right. Maybe you could photoshop them?"
"Yeah," Rex perked up then hesitated, "I doubt I can get the colors right though, they were like, metallic. Sandy pale gold through black-and-bronze. The little one I told you about, that was luring the dinos into the alley and knocking them out was all coppery. I'd like to see her in broad daylight!"
"Well, she was smallish. So I figured female." Rex shrugged, "And get your mind out of the sewers, I'm not kidding about the porcupine quills, you should have seen them trying to ride three to a raptor without sticking each other. If it hadn't been for those stinky leather ponchos they wouldn't have been able to."
Regis snickered, and then pointed to the crisp, clean and very large new barn, white with green trim, landscaped, the large sliding doors on the front closed. "We need to act as if your time machine is in there."
"With your Quarter horse broodmares?" Rex asked.
"We won't mention the horses--that's my new show barn, by the way—and we won't give the reporters access. We really don't want any of them to know your apparatus is portable. At least not until it's replaced."
Regis sighed. Two time trips, two close encounters with trees. What were the odds? Why hadn’t he insisted on someone else driving as a condition of financing his little brother’s insane idea? At least they'd all gotten out before the electronics in back had seriously shorted and started the fire.
And a damn good thing those raptors had run all night long and were exhausted when they'd arrived. The two tame ones weren't much of a problem, but the wild one—the only male, wouldn't you know?—was a bit difficult to handle. Hopefully he wouldn't eat any of the reporters that had besieged the ranch, and whom Regis would eventually have to let in for pictures and interviews.
On arrival, Vera had led the domesticated dinos into Regis's stallion exercise area, and the wild one had followed. They'd realized they had to electrify it almost immediately, and Regis had started the steel fence for a large, attractive display pasture. Except they weren't showing off horses. These guys were predators, and he once again wondered if he shouldn't have let his rent-a-cops shoot them when Rex and company had arrived so spectacularly and unexpectedly.
He snorted a little in memory of his indignant reaction: "Didn't we agree you'd only come and go at scheduled times when no one was around to see? How could you miscalculate so badly you missed a three thousand acre ranch?" No doubt at all which brother was the financial genius millionaire and which was the Mad Scientist. Rex’s explanation of a torch wielding mob of dinosaurs, rescue by the space dinos and the actual presence of the three raptors had made for such an interesting afternoon. Regis figured Rex owed him big time for that chaotic arrival.
"Okay, Regis, we’ll say we used some cutting edge materials to build a one-time-only time gate in a barn-turned-research-lab, and nearly got eaten by dinosaurs, these three of which followed us back through the gate, which had a slight focus problem, which was why we arrived a mile away from where we should have. At an incredible risk of life and limb we captured the raptors, and got them back here. Ta da!
"Now, that'll do for the reporters, but what about the government? What about the scientists?"
Rex jabbed a finger at the raptors. "However they might want to write this off as a publicity stunt and a fake, there they are. Raptors."
Regis looked out the window, and sighed. "Dancing around like a prairie chicken. They've got feathers fer christsake, even your much feared scientists may think they're faked somehow. Genetically altered emus or something."
Rex grinned. "No, that I'm not worried about. The experts can't be fooled. I'm worried about the Space Dinos. Where are they from, what were they doing there? It's unbelievable that we coincidentally arrived right when they were there. I think they must have detected the Hawkings field and landed nearby to check us out. Under the circumstances they might not have traced us, and we might not have any visitors. But we really do have to talk to the authorities about them. Really."
Regis shuddered. "If we don't convince them, we get to entertain psychologists with our strange psychoses. If we convince them, what will they do to us? Something worse?"
Rex scratched his chin. "What I'm really afraid of is them just taking the field generators and walking off. What will the government do with a time machine? Sooner or later they'll get one."
Regis frowned. "Unless those Space dinos you met are the Time Cops." He walked out of the office and across the house to the elegant dining room overlooking the pond, the weeping willows and in the distance, the sparkle of the never ending line of cars zipping up the interstate. From here the burned area where Rex'd rammed the tree on the far side of the right-of-way was out of sight to the left. "I wonder if they will follow you here."
He started slightly, and grabbed for his cell phone. "Damn vibrator, I hate . . . Hello, yes, speaking." He went pale and started sweating. "Mike, it wasn't us, and that means we're all in big trouble." He turned to Rex. "Someone took the truck last night. It's gone."
Rex sat down suddenly. "The Time Cops or the government? Which one's worse?"
"Can they get it working?"
"No, it's fried. But they can reverse engineer it and build another. Might take them a whole year."
Regis paced a bit. "The question I have is, will the Time Cops stop the Government from doing something dangerous? Changing the past and screwing the present? And if they won't, can we?"
Rex choked, "What do you mean, we?"
"You have to go into hiding. Right now. Start building another time machine."
"Wait, wait, wait. What?"
"I expect a bonus for this!" Austin Jericho was firm. "This is a real, honest to Ghod Space Alien." He cranked his head over his shoulder to watch his girlfriend offering the Alien Lizard a bottle of water. It didn't appear to have the faintest idea how to open the bottle. Traci twisted off the top and gave it back to him.
The phone grabbed his attention again. "What? No, it doesn't appear to speak English. It's got this weird hissing sort of speech."
"Traci, is that a good idea?" She was offering it her Big Mac. "What if it's a vegetarian?" He was a Vegan, himself, had been for nearly a week. He couldn't seem to persuade Traci that being Vegan would help her career in film.
The Alien carefully peeled the burger apart and examined it. Scraped off the sauce and cheese and ate the patties. "Okay, so it's carnivorous. What if it has allergies? We need to go slow, here."
The phone again. "What? Sure, seven AM, we'll be there."
"Traci, he's, it's going to be on the show!" Austin had been working backstage at the morning talk show, between acting job. He had known all along that those contacts would be worth the slavery eventually. This was faster than he'd thought possible.
"Do you think we can get him cleaned up?" Traci fussed. "And like, he'll need a good night's sleep. Clean clothes, y'know?"
Austin eyed the oversized lizard. "Yeah. The tail's going to be a problem. Do you think one of your miniskirts would fit him? Or her?"
"Ooo, I duuno, Aussie, it hasn't got any, like, hips to mention."
He just hated it when she called him that. "Well," he growled, "Try getting him into a bath. Hope he's not as bad as that dog you tried to clean up last week." Fortunately the stray hadn't stayed around, once it escaped from the tub.
The lizard, however, proved to be a different problem. It wanted to soak forever, it seemed, and soaped itself.
"I think it's a female," Traci whispered, looking embarrassed. "Nothing, y'know, hanging out."
"Earth lizards keep everything inside until they're using them." Austin said, a bit uncertainly. It had been a long time since his iguana had escaped.
Traci finally lured the lizard from the bath with more meat, and when offered its choice of sleeping arrangements, it chose the bean bag chair, and curled up under a blanket.
"We are on the path to success," Austin breathed, hardly able to believe his luck.
"REX! GET IN HERE!"
Rex entered the breakfast room at a run. Regis never yelled like that for less than an excellent reason. Today he was turning up the sound on the small TV in the corner.
Rex looked. "Ohmygod. They're here. The Space Dinos are here."
". . . Op-rah." the woman enunciated clearly, pointing at herself.
The erect, bipedal lizard hissed something that might have been Oprah, and then pointed at itself and hissed, hummed and clicked slowly.
Oprah tried it. "Met ini lazzzz low." The lizard nodded. Oprah beamed. "And there you have it. Our interstellar visitor is named Met Ini Lazz Low."
"Now, we need to try and find out where our new friend is from." The whole backstage lit up with a patchwork of astronomical photographs, brilliant nebulae and a shot of the Andromeda Galaxy. "I have a team standing by to acquire new pictures as Met indicates an interest."
"I can't believe this. She's actually doing a good job." Rex muttered.
"She usually goes for the sensational and smutty, but every once in awhile she just nails it." Regis muttered.
The backdrop changed, a schematic of the solar system taking over, and then shrinking down to a size the lizard could reach.
Oprah pointed to the ground. "Earth." She tapped the third planet out from the Sun.
The lizard hopped up, and repeated her gestures. Earth, number three. Then he pointed at himself, and the fourth planet.
"Mars!" Rex exploded. "There's no life on Mars, not even bacteria, anymore."
"Time travel, remember Rex? You met them sixty-five million years ago."
"Oh, Christ. They're tracking us down."
"Relax, Rex. This could be a whole different batch."
"No, I think that one was in Antarctica when we were there. He's the little copper one's boyfriend, or at any rate he was glad to see her when we got out of that village."
Now a large picture of Mars shown on the screen, and some of the surface pictures from the Rovers surrounded it.
Met walked up to the screen. Touched the picture of Olympus Mons, then dragged his fingers south, and tapped a point.
"There?" Oprah asked, "You want us to look there? Marcus, do you have any detailed pictures of, umm, the southern highlands?"
Met was looking a bit agitated, pacing around and looking at the pictures.
Regis watched him carefully. "He doesn't like what he's seeing. Doesn’t he realized that he has time traveled?"
"I want to know how he got here, and how Oprah got her hands on him." Rex clung to the TV as more pictures came up.
The lizard leaned in toward one and touched an area of several overlapping craters.
"You know, those are a bit squareish for craters. Is either of the Rovers anywhere near?"
The picture enlarged to fill the whole backdrop.
"They're nowhere near." Micky said. "Those are definitely squarish, except for the one down here that is longer than it is wide. Don't the Europeans have some sort of rover en route?"
Rex suddenly backed away from the TV, patting his pockets frantically.
Regis recognized the problem and stepped across the hallway to snag a pad of paper and a pen.
Rex grabbed them and started scribbling. "The time travel device, it traveled in space as well as time, like I told you it would. But traveling in space – outer space - like a spaceship, and I think some time effects would help . . . This is it, Regis, this is the Big One. Forget Time Travel. We have faster than light space travel."
Behind them, on the screen, the FBI burst onto the stage. Closely followed by the NSA, the CIA and the DHS. It took President Jefferson over thirty minutes to get through on the call-in line to invite Metini L'azlod to be his guest at the White House.