booksandstories.com

May 2002 Review

Web Page Progress

Its now two years since I launched this website. It took all of the first year to pick up one thousand visitors. Now over three thousand seven hundred visitors have been to the site, which suggests that things are picking up. Currently I get between fifty and seventy visitors a week. I also get loads of junk emails from companies promising "over a million hits a day for just $999.00!" I'm not tempted. I am a little dot-com with little resources and even less overheads. I can wait and play at what is basically my weekend hobby. So far this year I have paid half of my bill to WorldPay for my credit/debit card system. With a bit of a squeeze on my finances I should be able to pay the rest. On the down side I lost my first PC to some sort of crash last year, but managed to find the funds to replace it. Now I am more or less used to my new one.

So, what of the future? Well, so long as I continue to write, I will probably continue with this website. In the past I used to write reams on my typewriter that nobody ever saw. Now at least my stories can be viewed on the internet by the casual visitor just passing through or by the dedicated reader of one of the short stories coming back for more. I like that, and I like having the website.

Roll on the next year. Maybe it will be better than my last?

Writing Progress

I've had a rethink and a slight change of direction. Some of the characters who I felt were in the wrong place are now where I think they should be. I've also progressed the other storylines that were bogged down. As usual, the changes resulted in other characters being born, so now "The Friendly Ambassador" is even more complicated than it was before. But although things have moved forward, and I now have a line of progression for some of the characters that were stuck, others remain becalmed. I still have to tie some of the storylines together, and get certain characters together. The difficulty is trying to do it in a logical way that remains true to the plot itself.

So far everything in "The Friendly Ambassador" has progressed along purely logical lines. There has been no deliberate attempts on my behalf to force characters in one direction or another, or to force events to take place that really shouldn't. From the moment the ball starts rolling in chapter four, everything goes along nicely at its own pace and along a logical progression. Each event leads nicely to the next and nothing -as far as I can see- is contrived. The problem is that I want to keep it that way. To bring certain characters together would be too fortuitous, too contrived a result. But the story has placed these characters in close proximity, and so I find myself wanting to keep them apart to prevent any feeling of contrivance, while also needing to bring them together. What I need is a purely logical progression that brings these characters together quite naturally. I ain't got it. Yet.

The only answer is to keep writing and see where the words take me. The way the story has progressed so far would suggest that this is the best way forward. As I describe events other avenues often open up and the way forward is revealed naturally. I think I am too conscious of the problem and instead of just writing and seeing what happens, I stop and dwell on it, prefering to move other storylines forward instead. These other storylines progress as I describe them, with other avenues I had not envisiged suddenly opening up. So I know this method works.

So get on with it, then!

Well, I am.

Seventeen chapters down and three to go before I put them up on the List Page. It could be soon.

As what seems to have become the norm, my current and ongoing Short Story Serial continues this month with the fourth instalment. Oh, dear, this should have been another book, shouldn't it? Anyway, it's a fun distraction from my real writing. Who am I kidding? The third part of the story entitled "The Dreamer: Part III" has been added to the List Page. Tune in again next month for Part V.

May's Short Story: The Dreamer: Part IV

Angela couldn't understand what had happened or why. One moment she was trying to calm Nac Tikmak, and the next moment he had unclipped her helmet and pulled it off. She had wanted to call out a warning, she wasn't sure to who. Maybe she had wanted to warn Nac Tikmak that taking off her helmet aboard the derelict wasn't a good idea, or maybe she had wanted to get help from Lucy and Carl who were only an arm's length away. It didn't matter in the end. What did matter was that she had taken a deep breath. It was instinct: Breathe in, shout out. But the shock of the cold and damp air of the derelict ship rushing into her lungs was dreadful. It stopped all thought of anything else other than panic. The air was really strange. It was cold, but stinging, and it had an earthy smell, like smoke from a damp wood fire but not the same at all. It choked her and made her gasp for breath, her eyes watering as she tried to gulp in air that wasn't there. She felt like she was being suffocated, like she was drowning but not in water. Her lungs spasmed, she choked and gagged, and the cold damp air rasped through her mouth and throat, stinging and burning.

Carl's words when they had first entered the ship came fleetingly to her mind. "We can breathe this, but not for long..."

How long?

How did Carl hope to run in this?

How did Nac Tikmak breathe in this?

They were the only thoughts to enter her mind apart from oh, my God, I can't breathe!

She didn't notice the sudden rush along the corridors. She didn't notice being carried. She didn't notice anything. Her head was beginning to spin, and all she concentrated on was breathing and trying not to panic.

Take it easy! Keep calm!

Oh, my God, I can't breathe!

Oh yes you can! Just do it slowly! Keep calm!

Gradually, with slow and deep rasping breaths, Angela managed to develop a rhythm that got enough of the air into her lungs with actual oxygen in it, and her head began to clear. But by then it was too late.

As her head cleared and her panic subsided, Angela slowly became aware of her new surroundings. She was lying on the floor with her back against the wall. She was in another dark and shadowy room very much like the one they had entered. It was filled with furniture and fittings, all of it covered with mould and debris. The ceiling looked like it had fallen in. Bits of it hung down and the whole room was a mess. She was in between what looked like some sort of long sofa and a table, or bench. In front of her Nac Tikmak was bending over pulling off her space suit.

Angela kicked her feet and reached forward in a vain effort to hang on to her suit. "No!" she rasped out. She missed the suit and Nac Tikmak threw it behind him like a discarded overall.

"Ub lik nac- " snap, " -tikmak toop labsoklit- " snap, " -nap ut lop kit- " snap, " -macka saptuk!" he shouted in a slightly muffled voice and began drawing a circle in the dirt on top of the table with his claw.

Angela clambered to her feet, feeling suddenly naked in only her tee-shirt and shorts. It was cold, and the floor felt icy beneath her feet. She only had short socks on and she already felt the dampness seeping through from the floor. The cold air caused her exposed skin to break out in goosepimples. And all the time her lungs were panting although she wasn't doing anything tiring. How could Carl run in this? She looked up at Nac Tikmak and saw that he had replaced his face mask. Somewhere hidden in his tattered clothing he must have had a small air supply. She shook her head, rubbing her face with her hand, and looked down at the drawing he was scratching in the dirt. She tried to focus her mind, realising that if she was to make Nac Tikmak understand what a mess he was making of everything, she was going to have to do it his way.

Nac Tikmak finished by drawing a box inside the circle with a hexagon inside the box. He pointed at it vigorously. "Nap ut lop kit- " snap, " -macka saptuk!"

Angela shook her head very positively. "No! We have to get back to the Intrepid," she gasped, gulping in more of the air. She drew a little sausage next to the circle. She prodded the sausage. "We have to get back to the Intrepid! If we don't they will leave without us!" She made a sweeping gesture with her hand, simulating the Intrepid flying away.

Nac Tikmak made a sort of growling noise and scratched out the sausage. He pointed at the hexagon and then at her in turn. "Nap ut lop kit- " snap, " -macka saptuk!"

His intentions were suddenly very obvious. It was what he had been saying from the very beginning.

Angela's eyes opened wide and she shook her head again. "No way! No way!" she gasped, backing away from him. "You are not going to get me in there!"

Nac Tikmak suddenly reached out and grabbed the front of her tee-shirt. She yelped in a mixture of surprise and fear as he yanked her forward and threw her over his shoulder.

Angela kicked her legs and beat on his back with her fists, but it was no use. She was tiny while he was enormous. He just ran from the room, one hand on her back clamping her to him.

-o-

On the flightdeck of the Intrepid Scott was frantic. "How are you doing, Carl?" he said into the radio. The reply was instant.

"Give me a chance, Scott! Everything's ready. I've got the turn off routine practised, and I've worked it out at about twenty-three seconds to get to the gizmo and complete all the moves. Now I'm just taking my suit off."

"Lay it out the best way to get it back on fast!" Scott told him.

"I know!" Carl replied irritatedly.

Lucy leaned forward in the seat next to Scott, her eyes still tearful. "Have you seen any sign of Angela?"

There was a pause and then, "No. Nothing."

Buckled into the row of seats behind Scott and Lucy were Luigi and Jonathan. Luigi was gently rubbing his sore eye.

"That alien must have taken her somewhere," he remarked.

Jonathan nodded. "Did you look in the room with the cryogenic chamber?" he suggested in a raised voice.

"Yeah, first place I looked. There was no sign of them."

Lucy was about to ask another question when Carl spoke again. "Look, you guys, I know you're worried about Angela, and I'll do my best. But I'm going to take my helmet off now, so from the moment my signal goes dead, you've got twenty-three seconds and then you hit the thrusters, okay?"

Scott raised the microphone. "We're ready. Lucy has the stopwatch."

"Good. Oh, by the way, the next time you hear my voice, the Intrepid better be undocked from this crate and floating free, because I don't want to have to do this again!"

Lucy dropped her head in her hands, but Scott managed a weak smile.

"Okay, Carl. And good luck."

"Thanks," came the metalic reply.

Lucy raised her head and she and Luigi also hastily called out, "Good luck!"

A moment later and there was a click and a buzz as the link was cut. The atmosphere on the flight deck could have become very subdued after that, but Scott didn't allow it.

"Lucy! Give me the countdown!" he demanded as he clipped the microphone down on the console. "The rest of you, keep tight! You all heard Carl, I don't think now is the time to let him down, do you? Now, helmets on, and prepare to disengage from the derelict. Lucy, what's that count?"

"Eleven seconds!" she replied, and then raised her helmet. Scott reached across to help her clip it in place while she kept her eyes on the stopwatch in her other hand.

Scott glanced behind him to see that Luigi and Jonathan had also clipped on their helmets, then he put on his own. As soon as his own helmet was in place, his voice came over their radio links.

"What's the count, Lucy?"

"Twenty-two seconds!" Her voice now held equal urgency.

"Keep counting! I'm going to give her thirty percent on the starboard thrusters for five seconds on your mark!"

Lucy had kept counting as he requested. "Twenty-six seconds!" she now said. "Twenty-seven! Mark!"

Scott hit the switch and the engines of the Intrepid came to life. Luigi gripped the side of his seat, feeling the vibrations grow. It seemed to take an age, but then there was a jolt, and the vibrations suddenly stopped. Almost immediately the view of Jupiter through the flightdeck window shifted, and the irregular shaped hull of the derelict fell away.

Scott exclaimed, "We're free!"

Luigi punched the air, and Jonathan slapped Scott on the back of his suit. "He's done it!"

Only Lucy sounded less enthusiastic as she whispered, "Come on, Carl, come back to us..."

-o-

It had all seemed so straight forward. His suit was laid out, the turn off routine was in his head, and he could even see the controls he needed to reach. But Carl hadn't figured on how bad the air was going to taste. As soon as he took off his helmet and disengaged the radio link, he knew he was in trouble. It was that first breath, it was almost poisonous. But he didn't have the time to stop and wait to recover. He had to keep going, he had to. There was nothing else he could do. So, instead of darting through the door of the engine room as he had planned, Carl staggered and stumbled forward, coughing and gasping.

Much slower than planned, Carl made his way towards the controls that now seemed so much further away. He still had the diagram that Nac Tikmak had drawn for him clutched in his hand. It was a good job, too. Because his mind was completely fogged by the foul air. His breath rasped and he staggered forwards almost doubled up. He was well inside the engine room and had almost reached his goal when he heard the noise above him. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he looked up.

The metal ceiling of the engine room was pock marked with holes. They were all grouped together in one place and part of the metal hung down from the holes in twisted shapes. Almost right in the centre of the holes a square trap-door had opened, and now an oblong shaped box with a long barrel descended slowly from it.

Carl knew what it was as soon as he saw it. It was right above him, the business end pointing at the door behind him. For a moment Carl thought it was going to stay pointed that way, just waiting for him. But then it began to move. It began to rotate, the barrel moving in a circular path as it turned towards the control console.

Carl broke into a run, all thought of the bad air gone from his instantly cleared mind. He crossed the remaining distance to the control console in a quarter of the time he had taken to cross the first part. He dived at the controls, his hands shaking as he followed the routine detailed on the drawing he now held up. He turned the first dial clockwise, pressed the second button, and then looked up.

The barrel of the gun had come up against the twisted metal that hung down. It bumped against it twice, gave up, and then began to revolve the other way. There was nothing blocking it's path that way.

Carl turned back to the control console. He turned the second dial anticlockwise, then pulled down the lever next to it. He looked at the drawing in his hand. That was it.

Carl turned and faced the door. He looked up and saw the gun still revolving. It had gone passed the door and was now halfway around. In a few seconds it would be pointing at him. Carl waited, his lungs gulping in the stinging air. When the gun was almost pointed at him, he suddenly ran forward in a curve, his head down. He ran to the side where the metal blocked the path of the gun, hoping it would follow him and get stuck.

The gun stopped. It twitched one way and then the other as its computer brain remembered the blockage, then it began to retrace its path, taking the shorter, clear route.

Carl ran as fast as he could, the cold air biting at his skin, his breath coming in gasping, rasping gulps, his head and muscles starved of the oxygen they needed. The doorway was so far away, and he seemed to be moving so slowly, staggering and stumbling forward. It should have been an easy run, over in a few seconds, but instead it took forever. The harder he ran, the more fogged his mind became. By the time he came close to the door, he could hardly see, and he was so confused he almost thought he could hear a baby crying. He already knew by then that he was going to lose the race, that the gun was probably already pointing at the door, just waiting for him to run into its sites. Instinct and fear forced him to glance up and behind him.

The gun was rotating slowly and calmly, as if it had all the time in the world. It wasn't there yet.

With renewed vigour, with a final effort born of desperation, Carl staggered and weaved his way forward even faster, until he hurled himself through the door.

The gun came to rest, its barrel pointing at the door as Carl dived through. It fired. The pencil thin beam shot through the doorway, passing harmlessly over Carl as he fell to the floor with a splat. He had landed on one of the corpses, crushing and splashing it into a mess. He didn't care. He just lay there in the mush, gasping for breath, the broken bones poking up around him. He was so weak, so tired, so happy.

The gun silently ascended back into its hole in the ceiling, and the trapdoors closed behind it.

Carl laughed. He didn't have the breath, but he couldn't help it.

He'd made it. He'd won the race.

As he lay in the mush, laughing and coughing, fighting to breathe, a noise in front of him made him look up. What he saw caused the triumphant smile to fade from his lips.

"Oh, no...."

-o-

"Put me down!" Angela wailed as she smacked Nac Tikmak on the back. It made no difference. He felt so hard, it was like hitting a piece of wood. She twisted her head around, looking over her shoulder as Nac Tikmak ran down the corridor with her over his shoulder. Her view kept bobbing up and down as he ran, but she couldn't tell where they were anyway. She tried to reach out and grab one of the bulkheads as they ran through. Her fingers caught it but slipped off. She kicked her legs in frustration.

"Will you stop this!" she screamed out. "Nack Tickmack! Put me down! I don't want to go in any cryogenic chamber! I don't want to lie comatose for a thousand years! I want to go home! Put me down!"

She kicked her legs, beat at his back, reached around and pulled off his face mask. He just moved her hand out of the way, his clawed fingers gripping her wrist like a vice. He ran on with his face mask hanging down on its tube. It didn't slow his pace.

Angela propped herself up on his back with her free hand and screamed her head off. "Help! Carl! Anyone! Help! I'm being abducted by an alien! Heeeeelp!"

Nac Tikmak ran along the darkened corridor with his screaminng burden wriggling on his shoulder. He ran with purpose and with determination.

They reached the room with the cryogenic chamber. Angela knew as soon as they went through the door. Again she reached out, trying to grab onto the frame of the doorway at the last second. This time she got a good purchase, and Nac Tikmak came to a sudden halt as Angela almost slithered over his shoulder. He just managed to keep hold of her legs, having to let go of her other hand in the process.

Angela felt her arm being pulled out of its socket, but she was delirious with joy at her sudden halting of his progress. Her other hand was free and she used it to grab the doorframe. She hung on with both hands as Nac Tikmak turned and pulled on her legs. She felt her bones being stretched as he tugged on her, but she wouldn't let go. Finally, Nac Tikmak let go of her and she fell to the floor with a thump. The impact winded her, and before she knew it, Nac Tikmak had picked her up again.

"No!" she wailed, twisting and wriggling in his grasp, her arms flailing and her legs kicking. He began to carry her towards one of the large egg shaped containers. The uppermost section was raised to the ceiling and inside the black leathery seat with the appertures on either side and the dished cup at the front waited for her.

Angela wailed and cried in utter distress as Nac Tikmak raised her up and brought her to the chamber.

"No! Please! No! I don't want to! Please, Nack Tickmack! Please!"

She kicked and kicked at the chamber, trying to stop herself being pushed in. Her tears came freely and she cried like a baby.

Nac Tikmak stopped. He turned her around and stared closely into her terrified and tearfilled face as she dangled from his hands above the open chamber.

"Please," she begged and sobbed. "I don't want to go in there....don't put me in there....please..."

Nac Tikmak put her down and let go of her. "Na ka ub lik nac- " snap, " -tikmak? Na ka ut lop kit- " snap, " -macka saptuk?"

Angela stared up at him, a child in front of a giant. For the first time he had sounded unsure. Angela didn't stop to question why. She just ran. She ran as fast as she could in this foul air. She didn't think about where she was going, she just wanted to get away.

At first Nac Tikmak just watched her run. But then he reached out a large hand, and his clawed fingers just missed her as she darted out the door. He ran after her.

Angela ran from the room with the cryogenic chamber and immediately fell over a space suit on the floor. She jumped up in panic, staring down at the empty suit, almost imagining someone to be in it. Carl suddenly jumped through the doorway to the engine room right in front of her. He landed on one of the bodies and bits of it splashed her as he totally destroyed it. She hurriedly backed away against the wall, wiping the stuff from her face. Then a pencil thin beam of yellow light shot out of the doorway and transfixed her.

At first, Angela didn't feel it. She was so surprised by everything she didn't even realise what it was. But then she felt the heat in her body. It was just below her chest, like drinking a hot cup of coffee. She could feel it inside, like a warming glow that spread and grew. She felt it from front to back, and the glow increased from pleasently warm to uncomfortably hot very quickly. Then it hurt. Then it really hurt.

Angela gasped and pressed her hands over the hole burned through her tee-shirt in her midriff. "Oooww!" she wailed, and then slid down into a sitting position, her back to the wall.

Carl looked up and saw her at last. He saw her sitting there with a surprised and pained look on her face, with her hands pressed over midriff, the blood already seeping through her fingers. Above her head was another crater in the wall, a red smear leading down behind her.

"Oh, no..." Carl gasped.

Angela smiled wryly. "Hi, Carl...I think.....I think....I don't think..." Her head lolled forward and her hands dropped to her sides.

A silent wind blew through the ship, and there was a distant grinding noise.

Carl scrambled towards Angela. He grabbed her and raised her head.

"Angela! Angela!"

He shook her, but there was no response.

"Oh, no! No!"

A hand grabbed him. Carl almost jumped out of his skin. He turned ready to fight, but found Nac Tikmak holding his space suit.

Nac Tikmak pointed at the suit. "Ub lik nac- " snap, " -in treb id."

Carl pointed at Angela. "Angela?"

Nac Tikmak pointed at Angela and then smacked his chest. "An gell ah ub lik nac- " snap, " -tikmak."

He held out the space suit. Carl glanced at Angela. She had fallen onto her side. She was so still and silent, the blood now a patch on her chest and on her back. He had no choice. He couldn't carry her, he didn't even know where her suit was. He didn't even know if he was going to make it. He took the suit from Nac Tikmak and began to climb into it.

Nac Tikmak turned and gently picked up Angela. He carried her in his arms like a baby. He walked back into the room with the cryogenic chamber. He put Angela down beside one of the open chambers. He tore away part of his tattered clothing and carefully began to clean the inside of the chamber. He cleaned the face cup, the inside of the appertues, the seat, everything. And when he had finished he gently picked Angela up and sat her down on the seat. Carefully he put each arm and leg into the appertures. Finally, he lowered her forward and placed her face into the cup. With her in position at last, Nac Tikmak paused to stroke Angela's brown hair, his clawed fingers combing through it. Then he straightened up and backed away.

There was a hiss and the raised cover of the chamber slowly descended. Down and down it came, until it finally clicked in place.

Nac Tikmak turned and found Carl standing in the doorway with his space suit on. He was staring at the cryogenic chamber, his helmet in his hand.

Carl suddenly didn't feel like leaving. He didn't even want to put his helmet on. If he did, he would have to talk to Scott and the others. He would have to tell them about Angela. He didn't want to do that. He suddenly felt that everything was pointless, that he probably never had a chance of getting back in the first place. It was too far to run in his space suit, anyway, the whole idea was crazy. But at least the others had got away. At least that was something.

Carl just stood there staring at the cryogenic chamber. Then Nac Tikmak suddenly strode forward and grabbed him, lifting him off his feet.

"What the Hell...!" Carl exclaimed, and then stopped. He stopped because he was both surprised and amazed.

Nac Tikmak ran down the corridor with Carl in his space suit under his arm. He ran amazingly fast and amazingly effortlessly. It was as if Carl weighed nothing at all. He ran faster than Carl could have run on Earth in tracksuit and trainers. He ran faster and for longer. In almost no time at all he had reached the now closed bulkhead door where the torch and gas bottle were welded to the wall. He put Carl down and stepped back. Carl just stared at him in wonder.

"Thanks."

Nac Tikmak picked up the torch and stuck it into Carl's gloved hand. Then turned and ran away.

For a moment Carl just watched him. But then he stepped forward and called after him.

"Nack! Nack Tickmack!"

Nac Tikmak stopped and turned.

Carl stuck his helmet under his arm and raised his hand.

Nac Tikmak raised his hand in return. Then he turned away and ran into the shadows, back towards the cryogenic chamber.

-o-

The tether had payed out slowly until the EPD tumbled silently from the hole in the side of the derelict. Still there was no word from Carl. Scott kept calling over the radio in his helmet, but there was no answer. They were all still on the flightdeck. Scott was still buckled into his seat with Lucy next to him, but Luigi and Jonathan had unfastened themselves and drifted free. They were both near the window at the front of the flightdeck, staring at the hole in the side of the derelict. Scott tried calling to Carl again.

"Come in, Carl. Scott calling from the Intrepid. We've disengaged and are floating free. Come in, Carl. Answer, damn it!"

Jonathan was shaking his head in his helmet. "The distance is growing. The EPD must be five, ten metres out already."

Luigi beat the wall with his fist. "Can't you slow the ship?"

"We're eight minutes from burn," Scott replied. "We can't do anything more than we are doing."

Lucy was doing more. She was praying quietly in her helmet, her gloved fingers wringing together. "Please God, make Carl answer. Make him come back with Angela. Please God, make them both safe..."

Jonathan shook his head again. "Its too far."

There was a click and a buzz, then Carl's voice came through.

"I'm back at the bulkhead. I'm lighting the torch."

Instantly everyone spoke at once.

Scott said, "Hurry it up, Carl! We've only got eight minutes!"

Jonathan said, "Carl! Carl! Move faster! The distance between us is getting too wide!"

Lucy said, "Thank God! Carl! Where's Angela? Are you both okay?"

And Luigi said, "Don't worry, Carl! We'll make Scott wait for you both! We stay or leave together!"

Scott tried to shut them all up as all the voices just mixed together. "Quiet! Quiet! Let Carl speak!"

They all shut up, and Scott had the radio to himself, at least for a moment.

"Go on, Carl. Tell us what's happened."

"It's not good, actually."

Luigi leaned forward. "Have you found Angela?"

"Yes."

Both Luigi and Lucy immediately spoke up at once.

"Is she alright?"

"Is she with you?"

Carl tried to reply when they were speaking and it didn't get through. Scott had to shout them down again. "Will you stop drowning him out?" They both shut up and Scott again had control. "Say again, Carl."

"I said no, she's not with me."

There was silence on the flightdeck and on the radio as this time no one spoke. It was left to Scott to ask the questions.

"What happened, Carl? Talk to me."

"I found her after I switched off the gizmo. She was outside the door when I dived through. I didn't know she was there. The booby trap was a laser that came out of the ceiling in the middle of the engine room. It missed me but hit her."

"Is she alright?"

"No. It hit her dead centre. Right in the midriff. It must have gone clear through her spine. She's dead, Scott."

Lucy wailed. She just cried and cried. Luigi pushed himself over to her. He put his arms around her, trying to squeeze her through her suit, his helmet resting on top of hers. In response Lucy reached up her hand and held on to him. They just cried together.

Scott had his eyes closed and his lips pressed together. He had never lost a crewman. Never. It hurt, not just because of that, but because he had liked Angela. He liked them all, God damn it. He couldn't lose anymore.

"Take your time, Carl. When you get through that door, we'll still be here. Like Luigi said, we go or stay together."

Lucy just cried more. They could all hear her over the radio.

Jonathan suddenly asked, "Where's the alien, Carl?"

"He's staying behind with Angela."

Scott asked, "Was any of this his fault?"

"No. It wasn't, not really. He seemed more upset than me. You know, he carried me up here, Scott. Suit and all. I don't think I would have made it if not."

Jonathan quickly pointed out the obvious. "You haven't made it yet, Carl. And the EPD is already about twenty metres out."

Scott glanced out of the window. "He's right, Carl. You better get a move on."

"Don't worry, I'm through- " there was a pause and his voice strained, " -now!"

There was a bumping noise over the radio, it mixed with static and general noise. Scott called anxiously to Carl.

"Carl! Are you okay? Carl? What's happening?"

Carl's voice came back on air. It sounded strained as before, as if he was having to work hard.

"Decompression...is...quite...heavy...I...think...the...next....bulkhead....must have....failed....wow...that's better, it's stopped now. Yes, it's stopped. I'm in the room. The door was open, it must have failed, too. Everything in here is a mess. I can see the hole. Yes, I can see you now. I can see the EPD."

Everyone on the flightdeck gathered by the window. Even Scott and Lucy left their seats now. Luigi helped Lucy move forward and they all stared at the distant derelict and the tiny hole in its side. Was that a figure in the opening? Did it wave?

Scott said, "Come on, Carl! It's a long way, but you can do this!"

It was a long way. The EPD must have been nearly thirty metres from the derelict. Trying to space walk that far was suicide, and they all knew it, even Scott. Only Carl was certain.

"Don't you worry," he said over the radio. "I've got this sussed. Just you watch me fly!"

They watched, and to their surprise, Carl flew out of the hole. It was as if he were jet proppelled. He shot towards the EPD at a constant and even accelleration, travelling far faster than they had imagined possible.

Scott stared open mouthed. "How is he doing that?"

And Jonathan said, "That's not possible."

Then they all saw the tell-tale flame, and Lucy exclaimed, "He's using the torch!"

They all heard Carl laugh over the radio. "Spot on, Lucy! Just point and fly!"

He reached the EPD and they saw him grab it. The torch spun away, the gas tank trailing behind it, leaving Carl clinging to the EPD. Scott immediately pushed himself away from the window.

"Jonathan! Get to the airlock! We have to start reeling him in! Move it!"

Scott, Lucy and Jonathan all rushed off the flightdeck, leaving Luigi behind at the window. Jonathan got to the airlock first. He hit the buttons that began the cycle. Scott lectured him while they waited.

"Keep a grip of the hand rail and pull him in slow and even! If you yank on it you'll just throw yourself out!"

"I know!" Jonathan replied.

"The tether is anchored to the left of the hatch, just reach around the door and pull it gently towards you!"

"I know!" Jonathan repeated.

"And don't keep pulling or the EPD will hit you like a railway train!"

"I know! I know!" Jonathan almost exploded. "Will you shut up and let me do this?"

Scott took a deep breath. "Alright. Okay."

The cycle completed and the door slid open. Scott patted Jonathan on the back as he stepped inside the airlock. The door slid closed again and Scott started the cycle once more. Next to him, Lucy stared through the viewing port.

"He'll be alright, Scott," she said. "Jonathan will get him."

Carl's voice came over the radio. "I hope so, it's damned lonely out here!"

Jonathan said, "Okay, Carl. The hatch is open. I'm holding onto the hand rail and reaching for the tether. I've got it. I'm pulling now, slow and even," his voice strained, "just once. There, its moving! The tether has gone slack. I'm reeling it in, its coming quite fast."

Carl agreed with him. "Yeah, I can feel that I'm moving! Don't pull anymore."

Scott said, "Keep hold of that hand rail, Jonathan!"

"Don't worry," Jonathan told him. "It's going to be okay. I can see him on the EPD. It won't be long now."

Luigi came off the flightdeck. "I can't see him anymore! He must be getting close!" He squeezed himself behind Scott and Lucy.

Scott said, "Watch yourself, Jonathan!"

"It's okay! He's nearly here! Now all I have to do is stop him!"

"Use your foot as a brake when the EPD gets close," Scott suggested.

"Yes, that's it!"

Lucy almost jumped in her suit. "I can see him! I can see Carl!"

Carl said, "Here I come!"

Jonathan raised his booted foot as the EPD floated towards him. He placed it against the sledge and put his weight behind it. It kept coming, floating into the airlock and pushing him back. He pushed harder. "Stop, you bastard!" he exclaimed as the EPD kept coming. Carl now grabbed a hand rail while keeping hold of the EPD, and together they finally brought it to a halt. They were right inside the airlock, with Jonathan squeezed up against the inner door. Carl reeled in the rest of the tether, unhooking it from its anchor. Then he hit the button that closed the outer door. As it slid shut behind him, he reached out and he and Jonathan grasped one another's hands.

There were whoops of joy over the radio, and someone shouted, "Welcome home!"

Scott didn't wait for the airlock to open. He headed back to the flightdeck. "Luigi! Get Jonathan and Carl back in their seats pronto! Lucy! Come with me! We've got the main burn in two minutes or we'll miss our insertion point by about three million years!"

-o-

The twin suns were high in the sky. It was hot in the valley, but not too hot. Across the peaceful lake a city lay. It had tall and elegant spires alongside decoratively shaped smaller buildings. In between the buildings high bridges stretched like tiny ribbons on stilts. And below in the open spaces were trees and greenery. Everything was multicolured and the sun glinted and sparkled against the polished surfaces. The city was reflected in the lake before it, the spires rippling in the water.

On this side of the lake, the valley was covered in velvet green grass. Trees and shrubs gathered together like small decorative groups, some together, some isolated. And rock mounds with colourful moss added to the beauty and peace of the scene. A group of small and elegant four-footed creatures grazed on the grass by the lake, their hides a delicate brown. Above them, circling the trees and flying high, brightly coloured birds flew, their calls echoing across the sky.

By the edge of the lake was a larger mound of rocks. The moss grew just as strongly and colourfully, but could not hide the contraption that sat on top of it. It comprised of a tall hexagonal central piller around which were seven, egg shaped containers. They seemed to be leaning against the central piller, the fatter, rounder ends resting on the floor. Most of the containers were open, split in half along their longest edge, the uppermost sections raised high above them. Two were closed. One of these now hissed and slowly opened.

Angela raised her head from the cup and blinked. She looked around, completely dazed. She felt the breeze on her face and suddenly sat up, pulling her hands from the appertures. She was instantly awake, instantly alert. Her head spun round, one way then the other, looking, seeing. Then her mouth fell open.

"What? How? Eh....?!"

She saw the lake and the city, saw the creatures run at the sound of her voice.

"How can...."

Then it dawned on her. The cryogenic chamber wasn't a cryogenic chamber after all. It was some sort of transport system, a transport system that had taken her -where?

She climbed out of the chamber. The air here felt fresh and crisp, and the sun warmed her skin. A sudden thought came into her head and she reached for her midriff and looked down. There was no pain, but that wasn't what surprised her. There was something in the way that blocked her view. Two things in fact.

Breasts. Two of them, with a cleavage in between.

Angela stepped back in surprise but they both came with her. She continued to look down at them. Then she felt them gingerly. Then she pinched one.

"Ow!" she yelped, rubbing her skin. They were hers, it wasn't an illusion.

She investigated the wound in her midriff again, leaning further forward and squeezing her brand new breasts out of the way. There was a burned hole in her tee-shirt but her tanned skin was unmarked underneath. She twisted around and found the scar on her side she had got in Brazil. It was still there. So it was her body, then. Or was it? The more she looked, the more differences she found. Her waist seemed to be narrower, and her hips were wider, and were her shorts shorter, or was it her legs that were longer? And why was her hair getting in the way all the time? It was never that long before.

In sudden panic, Angela slithered down off the rock mound and ran to the side of the lake. There she stood on the edge of the water, staring down at her reflection. What she saw startled her.

"Oh, my word, I've turned into Lucy...."

End of Part IV. Part V next month.

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