Corridors of Time
Buck skillfully landed his starfighter on the flat desert floor. There was very little to see, but it was as he had expected. From his days in the twentieth century, he knew this was a very barren area, and it had been made more barren by the horrible devastation of the nuclear war.
"Where is this complex thatís supposed to be out here?" Wilma asked, popping the canopy and cringing a bit as a hot blast of air seemed to smack her in the face.
"Underground," Buck said, scanning the horizon for the welcoming committee. He had landed at the exact coordinates.
"I know, but you would expect something to let you know there was some type of . . . something here," she said.
"No, it was top secret. Totally underground," he said, realizing that he had given her very little to go on and less time to assimilate that they were heading to Earth for a mission. "Back in the twentieth century, I didnít know about it even though I had heard rumors about something big out here," Buck said.
"And itís supposed to be some kind of time experiment?" she asked.
"No, some kind of time travel device," he corrected. "They actually sent people through time."
"Buck, youíve been strangely quiet about all of this," she said in a worried tone and laying her hand on his arm. "Can you tell me more now?"
He nodded. "Somewhere below our feet is the beginning point of the Great Holocaust," he said soberly.
Wilma blanched. "This complex was the means that . . . for theÖ."
"Yes." Buck sighed. "At least that is what Dr. Huer found out when they finally unsealed this thing."
As if on cue, the ground shook slightly and the pair stood up in their fighter. Not twenty feet from their ship a large patch of ground opened up revealing a dark hole. A few pebbles, loosened by the sliding Ďdoorí rattled into the hole. Within a minute an old-fashioned vehicle, a jeep, Buck noted, drove up the ramp from the hole and stopped beside them. A middle-aged man in a Directorate uniform got out and approached. "Colonel Deering and Captain Rogers?"
Both nodded, still taking in the old conveyance.
"Yes, Captain," Wilma said for both of them.
"I have been asked to escort you down to the complex," he replied. "After doing a check on your identities, of course." He climbed up on the wing of the fighter and did a retinal and voice scan, along with the standard visual. "All right, you check out."
"Okay, and you?" Buck asked.
The other man looked surprised. "Me? What?"
"I am sure this is all legit, but I want to know I am not going into the caves of Cerberus without a bit of security check of my own," Buck said deferentially.
"Oh," the Directorate guard said. He handed his credentials over to Wilma.
She gazed at them, showed them to Buck and then nodded. "Looks all right to me," she said.
"Okay. What do you want us to do with our fighter?" Buck asked, thinking it would stick out in the desert like a sore thumb. "Just leave it here?"
"Oh, no, Captain. Itís a bit tight, but if you think you or the Colonel can do it, itís to be flown down to the waiting area below."
Buck raised his eyebrows, while eyeballing the dimensions of the entrance. The Directorate official was right; it would be tight, but possible.
"I can do it if you arenít sure, Buck," Wilma said gently.
He grinned, ready to take up her challenge. "You remember, youíre talking to the person who navigated an African jungle in one of these thingsÖ."
"And crashed it, if I recall," she reminded him with a knowing smile.
"Well, okay, bad example," Buck said with a laugh. "But I think I can do it."
Wilma nodded, thinking that he would say that. She sat back down and closed the canopy when he had done the same.
Gently raising the ship a foot off the ground, Buck carefully eased the craft after the jeep, which had driven back down into the entrance. The ramp curved down a gentle slope and he concentrated mostly on the width, which allowed him less than foot on either side. Heaven help them if they had to make a quick getaway. When he saw that the entrance was closing behind him, he turned on the landing lights, which showed a long corridor that seemed to go on forever. The jeep ahead was only two blood-red pinpoints of light going down and down some more. With agonizing slowness, Buck guided the interstellar craft into the bowels of the pre-holocaust installation. His hands held steady on the stick, but he felt the sweat bead on his forehead and he sincerely hoped this descent would not take too much longer. A mistake a few inches one way or the other and heíd be paying to have the side guns repaired.
"I think our escort is leveling out, Buck," Wilma said softly, as though reading his mind.
"Yeah, I see that," he murmured. Slowly, he continued to maneuver downward, past what seemed to be an old checkpoint station where the corridor widened a bit. Finally the access opened into a large receiving area. There were several older vehicles shoved to one side. Some, like the jeep that had greeted them, appeared to be in working order, others were just dusty heaps that needed to be tossed in a recycling bin somewhere. As he followed their guideís directions and set the starfighter to one side, he sighed and then let out his breath slowly in relief. "It would seem back in the sixties, they didnít have anything quite like this coming and going down here. Or else they used one entrance for the construction of this place and this one for regular activities after completion."
Wilma laid her hand on his. "Nice flying, Buck." The crillite stone in her engagement ring winked with its own light.
"If we do this too often, Iíll just put wheels on it and let it roll down the ramp," he muttered, shutting down the systems and undogging the hatch. He climbed out onto the wing and offered his hand to his companion. With a soft chuckle, Wilma joined him and soon they were standing on the floor of the five hundred year old installation. They both looked up and gazed intently at the beams and supports that kept the desert above from crushing them.
"Itís all been checked out for structural integrity," a different voice behind them said. "Even after more than five hundred years, and the devastation, it only needed slight repairs." Starting, the pair turned and saw someone else appearing out of the dim shadows. The newcomer had on the garb of a member of the Science Directorate. "I am Dr. Frit Malcome. Dr. Huer is expecting you both."
"Thank you, Doctor," Wilma answered for both of them. They followed Malcome down another corridor that eventually opened up to a wide cavernous area that was lit with soft, glowing panels of light. When they walked out to the open walkway and to a railing, Wilma gasped in surprise. A vast, gaping orifice seemed to go down, down, down as though trying to make it to the center of the earth. She couldnít see the bottom. Somehow, Wilma didnít think she would even if it was brightly lit.
"Holy mackerel!" Buck breathed in awe. He heard Wilma sucking in her breath beside him.
"What gave off the signals that led us here, Captain, is down below," Malcome explained. "That was where the most work had to be done. We have replaced the power source, but the actual power drive unit was still intact and we are using it to supply everything needed to run this complex. Follow me. If you think this is a view, wait until you see the power core!"
For several more minutes, Buck and Wilma stood at the railing gazing in wonder at the construct that was over five hundred years old. Then they turned and followed Malcome, who had been waiting patiently, as though everyone stopped and gaped before continuing the tour. Wilma figured they probably did.
"Itís quite amazing, isnít it?" the young directorate captain asked.
"It is indeed. And to think I flew over this thing often during my early Air Force days," Buck said. "And didnít even know about it."
"Apparently, not many did."
"Enough that it was used to blow up the earth," Wilma said solemnly. "Why isnít it just dismantled completely?"
"Colonel, not to sound disrespectful, but can you think of the ramifications of a device that can give us the history that was lost to us half a millennium ago?" Malcome asked.
"Yeah," Buck concurred. "And other implications, too," he added enigmatically.
Malcome led them to a small chamber that lay at the opposite end from where they entered. The only things in the small room were two large gray disks that were slightly raised above the floor. "Colonel, Captain, if you would step on one of these, we can go down to the actual complex."
"Down?" Wilma asked. "These will take us down."
"Eight-hundred stories. Quite an experience, maíam," the younger man said with a grin. "But absolutely safe."
"The latest in open air elevators," Buck quipped, getting on one and pulling Wilma on with him. "Stick close."
"Gladly," she returned, putting her arm around his waist. As soon as Malcome stepped on his, they began their descent. There was very little side-to-side motion, but the feeling of freefall dropping was almost frightening. Only the soft air that seemed to pen them onto the platform, along with the solidness beneath their feet kept her from clutching even tighter to Buck.
"Better than Six Flags," he quipped, laughing.
"Six Flags?" Wilma asked, as she felt the platform slowing.
"Amusement park in my day. Something like this would have been a real winner," Buck explained.
When the glowing platform was still, Malcome stepped off his disk and beckoned to them. "Come this way, please. The complex proper is not far ahead." Stepping to another railing, they looked in awe at the glowing device below them. The radiant orb before them waxed and waned with a perfect cadence of a heartbeat and the huge round sphere was only the top of a monstrous power source that had to stretch at least twenty stories below them.
They walked down a large corridor. The ceiling as they strode along was dark, giving the feel of a limitless cavern. They walked among rows of primitive computer banks that were interspersed with their twenty-fifth century counterparts. They blinked with friendly blue, green and yellow lights and whirred with seemingly nonchalant devotion. Buck and Wilma continued to walk along behind Malcome until they reached a wider part of the corridor where stood a monstrous device of gigantic rings. The spherical shapes seemed to decrease in size until they disappeared at the end of the cone-shaped construct. Like the power source behind them, this, too, glowed with a pulsating blue-green light.
"Welcome to the Time Tunnel," Malcome said in quiet awe, leading them to the front of the ringed device. It was even more awesome from the front view.
A familiar face turned toward them. "Ah, Buck, Wilma. Glad you could come."
"I wouldnít have missed this for the world, Dr. Huer," Buck said. Wilma just nodded.
"How do you like it so far?" the older man asked.
"I am impressed," Buck breathed, still staring at the tunnel. "Is it safe to examine it?"
"Yes, the systems are only on at a level to give basic power. There is no danger of any kind of power surge that would send anyone anywhere," Huer assured him. "We havenít figured out enough to do that, but weíre close. As I told you before, most of our information was gleaned from the journal the last scientist kept. Our computers are also analyzing the data from the computers here. They have pulled a great deal out already. It absolutely amazes me that your people could come up with something this complex so many years ago."
"We may have been savage at times, Doc, but not totally primitive," Buck reminded the Directorate leader even as he gingerly walked onto the narrow gangway that ran the length of the tunnel. Around him the lights throbbed eerily, making it all seem so surreal. He walked until his head brushed the top of one of the rings. Still beyond him it had the appearance of being endless. Touching the glowing ring above his head, Buck felt the thrumming energy and wondered what in the world this would be like with full power.
"Itís incredible," Wilma breathed next to him, her voice almost dreamy.
Buck concurred. He turned and looked beyond Wilma at what he assumed was the complex control stations, a couple of banks of switches, dials, and monitors. Dr. Huer watched them, even as he also glanced at the monitors. Wilma turned and walked back out, Buck right behind her. Soon they were beside Dr. Huer looking back at the machine.
"I would like for you to read the notes that the scientist, Jerry Ricker, wrote," Dr. Huer said softly.
Buck didnít wonder at his tone of voice. One almost got the feeling of being in a cathedral. It was spooky and magnificent at the same time. And yet, when he thought about it, it was also deadly. He took the book from Huerís hand and opened it up to the beginning.
It began at the point when Jerry Ricker began his tenure at the complex. Somehow Buck didnít doubt that the man had kept notes before, but probably nothing of this depth. It was as though this journal was a testament to what he knew was to come. It appeared to be about three hundred pages, so obviously there was another journal or Jerry had worked in fits and starts, perhaps reverting to old non-writing habits after the gleam of excitement and discovery had worn off. ĎYou canít imagine my joy when I was finally pulled from what I considered my mundane job at Oak Ridge to work on something that I had only known about in hushed whispers, innuendos and veiled notes.í Buck felt someone by his side and he knew it was Wilma. Huer had already read this, he presumed. But then maybe he had only read enough to be confused by mid-twentieth century idioms and references.
"Would you like me to read it aloud, Doctor Huer?" he asked.
"If you donít mind, Buck. There were parts that I found rather . . . confusing. I thought you might be able to shed some light on some of the terms. And besides, although I have read and understood most of it, I think it would have more meaning and impact from someone who lived in that time."
Buck nodded and pointed to several chairs in front of a console. "You mind if we sit?"
At Huerís shake of the head, they all sat down, looking at the written words in a five hundred year old book, but feeling the brooding influence of the ringed marvel that glowed softly in front of them.