A FACTOR OF TWELVE THOUSAND
Jones carefully and quietly typed the figures into the keyboard
so as not to awaken Dr. Krasowki. His boss was sleeping in the
pilots couch, having dropped off where he finished preparing
the chronoprobe for its first test. This test, however, would
not be to a millennium in the future, but some 25 centuries into
the past. He would be able to use Dr. Krasowsi to help him
find the people of Lehi and to prove the True Faith. He did not
know why only months were on the console, and not days, hours,
minutes and seconds, but he was just an assistant.
He activated the start sequence and when it hit zero he felt as
if he had a whole body carpet shock, or as though he had fallen
a fraction of an inch. He also heard a yowling...his cat Fluffy
had obviously gotten into a place she should not have, as she so
often did. Dr. Krasowski grumbled, turned over and looked out the
viewing portal, and stared a moment. Then he yelled "WHAT THE
BLANKETY-BLANK IS GOING ON HERE!?". Jones liked the way the
Doctor used "blank" as an all purpose expletive. He opend the
hatch and said "Behold the -" and then Fluffy shot out between
his legs. He would forget that cat!
"Fluffy, come back -" and then Jones himself gulped and stared.
There was a herd of large animals, the likes of which he had
never seen before. They looked like giant rhinos, except the
horn on their snout was shaped like a letter Y. Several other
smaller, different but equally strange animals could be seen
closer up. The vegetation did not make sense either. Dr. Krasowski
jumped up and closed the hatch, then leaped over to the control
panel, studied it a moment and began working frantically.
"What are those things?"
"They're titanotheres. Let me alone, we have to get out of here."
"But Fluffy is out -"
"LEAVE ME ALONE!!"
Again the whole body "snap" and the titanotheres vanished.
The rocks resumed their eroded appearance as Dr. Krasowski
came over and reopened the hatch.
"But we left Fluffy back there -"
"YOU LET THAT BLANKETY BLANK-BLANK BLANKING CAT INTO THE
BLANKED BLANKY BLANKISH CHRONOPROBE!!!?" Seven "blanks" in
one sentence...that was a record. "Come on, we need a Cranston
cell, ours was drained in those two jumps."
Dr. Krasowki climbed out the hatch. "Why did you try to send
the chronoprobe back to the limit of its go-and-return range?"
"But you said it could go millions of years! I only set the
range for 30,000 months to meet the people of Lehi and prove -"
"YOU MORMON MORON! The M was not months as it was on the models!
The jump is either a square of a cube of the field radius,
or a cube of a square...either way you derive it it is the sixth
power of the field size. The models were only 5% full size.
Twenty to the sixth power is 64 million! You sent us back to
the Oligocene...30,000 millennia!"
"Ahhh...why are we outside? Did the calibration go wrong?"
"If the calibration to the cosmic neutrino background were
off by a millionth of a percent, we would be in the Earth's
core or in orbit, if we were near enough to see it at all.
We are outside because the lab is gone. Either the Uncertainty
Principle made us a PPM instead of a PPT off and we are
thirty years in the past or the future, or that blasted bloody
cat of yours changed history." Blasted? Bloody?
The road was gone, too. It was only a faint path, and seemed
to be misplaced. And when they rounded the hill the town seemed
to be..."off"...as well. Dr. Krasowki kept muttering things like
"One Cranston cell or a thousand car batteries." The town was
completely unrecognizable when they arrived.
"BLANK! In the name of nanotech, what's THAT!!?" As they turned
a building, they saw...something. It looked like a furry human
with a tail and a triangular head with ears high up. It wore
only what could be described as a combined loincloth and
utility belt. It was an...anthropomorphic cat. The creature
squealed something like a caterwaul turned into speech and ran off.
"In 'A Sound of Thunder', this is where I am supposed to
shoot you." said Dr. Krasowski. "Old Bradbury had a pretty
"What's going on, Doc?"
"That puss of yours was obviously pregnant. I told you not to
let it wander out at night. 30 million years ago we were a monkey
called Aegyptopitecus. Your cat's kittens have turned into people."
"But -" Just then three of the cat people showed up, with
larger utility belts and what looked like a child's toy ray gun
in their hands. Two fired theirs, and Jones felt a sting on his
arm. They turned to run as an egg shaped vehicle, with one wheel
on the pointy front and two on the blunt back rounded a building.
They only got about a block when Jones felt strangely winded.
They stopped, and Jones blacked out.
Jones woke up in a prison cell. The bars were horizontal
instead of vertical, and the writing consisted of strange
squiggles from what little he could see of it. A cat man came
over several times to feed him and talk briefly in what sounded
like a high pitched version of the Klingon his college roommate
was always trying to learn. After a couple days, a human arrived
by some mega-miracle. By another mega-miracle he spoke English.
True, it had a gutteral accent and a peculiar vocabulary which
sometimes almost turned it into jabberwocky or something from
Edward Lear, but it was English. He was interrogated repeatedly
by the human, who obviously did not believe his story. After what
was a week, if Jones had kept his count accurate, a burly human
was brought into the cell and Jones was promptly wrestled to
the floor and cursed at as the man held him down and interrogated
him without mercy. He was them picked up and slammed against
the wall, and interrogated some more. For another week a variety
of people and cat people showed up and interrogated him on every
topic immaginable. Then he fell sick with a raging fever and
the worst sore throat he ever imagined. After an indeterminantly
long delirium he recovered and was allowed to see Dr. Krasowki.
"Well, you did it. Somehow cat evolution kept pace with
human evolution, yet did not change human history until the
late 15th Century. Even the Norse called the cats 'Skraelings".
Then a feline fishing boat lost in a storm washed ashore in the
Azores and England decided to fund Columbus instead of Spain.
The technology here is decades behind ours...about the mid-20th
Century or late 20th at best. We'll be dead of old age before
we can get the chronoprobe rebuilt, even if we can convince
the human nations or the cat city-states to fund us instead of
that screwy nano-trillionaire."
"But if we stuff the probe with batteries and squeeze in..."
"No good. They destructively tested a number of components.
And a chronoprobe using microtechnology instead of nanotechnology
would be the size of an office building at least and have a
range whose uncertainty would be centuries instead of seconds
with a calibration of eons eons at best."
"Were the catmen put on Reservations like the Indians?"
"Not really. They were immune to human diseases, and firethroat
jumped the species barrier in the early 17th Century and killed
off the human colonies, as well as half the human race when the
survivors got back to Europe. By the time England returned the
cats, who seemed to have learned metalworking from the Norse,
had glommed onto gunpowder as well. And some weird animal evolved
here which they could domesticate. There are human settlements
in the Western Hemisphere as well as cat settlements in the East,
but in general each keeps to their own territory. Until recently
there were wars by both sides, but they were too evenly matched
to do much across the oceans and now they have nukes, so even the
bigots aren't stupid enough to try genocide."
"How are we going to get back? What are we going to do?"
Dr. Krasowski looked at the floor and shook his head.
"I don't know. I just really don't know."
DRIZZLE DRAZZLE DRUZZLE DROME
TIME FOR THIS ONE TO COME HOME