Martin Fields knew time travel was dangerous, but not necessarily annoying. Their take off from the Negombo RAF Station, Colombo had been delayed two hours because of some problem with the Avro 691 Lancastrian One’s radio equipment. Finally, they’d gotten the problem worked out and the five crew, five passenger converted bomber was in the air again.
They were all going to die.
Monday, March 23, 1946. Qantas flight G-AGLX was supposed to go missing sometime between 6 and 6:30 p.m. local time flying between Colombo, British Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands on their way to Perth, Australia.
Each time travel mission was unique but this one was stranger than most. Martin wasn’t supposed to save the aircraft or change history in any way. Flight G-AGLX was supposed to disappear and never be found along with her crew and passengers, and from history’s point of view, that’s exactly what was going to happen.
“Hey Martin, this is quite an adventure, eh?” Brian Phelps was just past middle age, an amiable fellow from Bristol with a taste for gin, or vodka, or scotch, or anything alcoholic. He told Martin his life story ad nauseam, but the fellow was lonely after the death of his wife. Childless, he decided to sell his home and seek his fortune in other lands.
“Adventure? I’ve never been on a plane so slow in my life. This is taking days.”
Martin thought this would be more like an Indiana Jones movie where the flight from point A to point B would be represented on a map and take no time at all, well no more time than he was used for flights to take in the early 21st century.
But the first flight he’d ever taken was at age eight with his parents and little sister to visit relatives in Idaho, and from a child’s point of view, that trip had taken far too long.
This wasn’t the life of Indiana Jones, this was torture.
“Oh c’mon, lad. She may be an old converted bomber, but she’ll get us where we’re going right as rain.”
Martin knew that wasn’t the truth, but he couldn’t tell anyone yet. Just as well. He was convinced Brian hadn’t the faintest idea what he was going to do once he arrived at Perth. Probably just drink himself into poverty and eventual death.
He hadn’t tried to get to know the rest of the passengers or crew too well, though he picked up some details in passing. But what’s the use? Isis had something special in mind for them, although she didn’t tell him what.
His luggage was stored in the back which contained the Temporal Jump Suit, the way he managed to get himself to England of 1946 so he could board this aircraft, but Isis told him he wouldn’t need it. He could use the device.
Martin looked at his wrist watch. It was near time, just after six.
“Excuse me, Brian. Have to visit the head.”
“That’s alright, me boy. Take your time. Enjoy yourself.” Brian took another swig from the bottle he kept in his jacket pocket and whatever problems he thought he had continued to fade.
Martin got to the case, loosened its bindings and opened it. It would have taken him minutes to put on all the components of the suit so he could travel in time, but instead of pulling it out, he retrieved the device. He didn’t know exactly what it was going to do, but Isis said to hold it and activate it when their sudden descent toward the Indian Ocean began, which would be about sixty seconds from now.
The four engine, propeller driven Avro Lancastrian carried few passengers but a great deal of mail and other cargo. She wasn’t that old, only about three years, and she wasn’t that slow, given this was the mid-1940s, but through a young man from the 21st century’s eyes, it was a dinosaur.
He couldn’t save the plane, but Isis said the device would save them, all of them.
Martin returned to his seat next to his intoxicated co-passenger. He could feel the plane jolt and hear a voice through the cockpit door. “Oil pressure loss in engines one and two, Skipper.”
Another voice, probably the Captain’s. “Trying to keep her level. Brady, send a Mayday with our position.”
The aircraft began its rapid descent in spite of the valiant efforts of the crew. The rest of the passengers were screaming, terror wiping intoxication from Brian’s brain.
Martin looked at the device on his lap and pressed the button.
Normally, when he traveled through time, the experience was instantaneous and there was no sensation at all. This time, a bright light momentarily shown throughout the interior of the aircraft, and when Martin could see again, he was sitting on a flat surface of some kind.
He looked around and saw the other passengers and crew, all unconscious. Then he realized he was no longer in the plane and in fact, he was nowhere at all.
It wasn’t exactly a room, but they were in a container of some kind, a vast one. Martin couldn’t see where it ended. Everything seemed white or off-white, with no specifically discernible walls or ceiling. There was just enough of a horizon to avert the dissonance between what he saw, which was only a horizontal plane, and what his inner ear was telling him.
Martin wasn’t aware Isis was standing behind him until she spoke.
“Well done, Martin.”
Startled, he jumped to his feet. “What the hell happened? Where are we?”
“I can only give you generalities at this time, Martin. The device projects a temporal field, like the suit’s, but it covers an area rather than just one person. It can bring objects to only one location in space-time. Here.”
“And where is here?”
“I cannot tell you at this time. I’m not sure there are words in any human language to describe it.
“What does that mean?”
Martin wasn’t used to confronting Isis, but this was beyond bizarre. He saved the lives of nine people from 1946 who otherwise would have gone missing and be presumed dead, but for what purpose?
“Well, aren’t you a fair lass.”
It figured. The first of the passengers to regain consciousness was a boozed up Brian. Just waking up, he hadn’t yet remembered what had happened before he passed out.
“I appreciate the observation, but that was hardly why I brought you here.”
“And just exactly who are you and why did you bring us here, where ever here is?”
“Oh good Lord, are we dead?” Brian had finally looked at something besides Isis and realized this couldn’t be real. Captain MacKenzie, on the other hand, was both sober and serious.
“No one is dead. That’s one of the things I intended you for.”
“What else did you intend us for?” Brian was only annoying, but Martin figured when pressed, MacKenzie could be dangerous. The others were beginning to awaken. This was going to get ugly quick.
Martin heard Isis in his head but not with his ears. “The case is two meters behind you. Put on the suit. The controls are pre-set. It will take you home.”
Having no idea what was going on or what to do, Martin put on the suit. There was what appeared to be a tense conversation going on between Isis and MacKenzie with the rest of the now conscious crew standing next to him. The four passengers were more frightened than anything else, except one perhaps, trying to understand the impossible.
“Go home, Martin. These people are no danger to me.” Again, the voice in his head. The suit spontaneously powered up, and then Martin was in his living room. It was mid-morning. He figured his job was over and started to take off the suit.
Then he looked at the coordinates of where and when he had just been. There weren’t any, or at least any he understood, just some faint, indecipherable symbols. Clearly, the suit recorded that he had been some place and time before returning home, but he couldn’t read the data.
It did record his original trip back to 1946, but he hadn’t used the suit again until he left that…place, whatever it was.
He’d left a drunken and terrified Brian Phelps behind. He’d left a capable but clearly outmatched Captain MacKenzie behind. Mr. and Mrs. Charles and Toby Walker were the other passengers. Besides MacKenzie, he hadn’t gotten the names of the crew.
Up until now, Martin considered Isis mysterious and enigmatic, but this was the first time it occurred to him that she could be dangerous and even sinister.
He took off the suit, put it in the case, and shoved it into his closet, disgusted with himself.
He ate yet another dinner alone. He was rapidly becoming a recluse. The person he saw and spoke with the most was Isis, and she wasn’t even human. His training as a time traveler was consuming him. Was there any shot at a normal life anymore, or would it always come down to the next mission?
He didn’t sleep or didn’t sleep much. Fitful dreams. Those nine faces, the passengers and crew of Qantas flight G-AGLX who all supposedly died on Monday, March 23, 1946 sometime between 6 and 6:30 p.m.
But they didn’t die. Maybe they fell into the hands of something that would serve up worse than death, whatever that was.
Brian Phelps, poor old bastard, a widower, alone, depressed, looking for an adventure he could never be prepared for. Richard and Nancy Charles, a newly married couple flying to her native Australia on a combination honeymoon and family reunion. Toby Walker, who Martin thought of as an “International Man of Mystery.” He spoke little, shared no personal details. If anyone on that flight was carrying a secret besides Martin, it was Walker.
MacKenzie and his crew. He didn’t know them nearly as well as the passengers, but they were rough and courageous men that were only produced in a past era, when flying aircraft across oceans still wasn’t quite routine. No GPS system. No autopilot. Primitive radio. Radar still less than a decade old. Today’s pilots let the plane do all the work, sometimes even handling the landings. In those days, the men, and those few female aviators who commanded the skies, were in charge, not the machinery.
“I can’t leave them there without knowing why Isis wants them. I have to go back.”
He grabbed his mobile sitting on the night stand and pressed the Home button. Tuesday, 2:39 a.m.
Martin got dressed, went to the closet and took the suit out of the case. He put it on and powered up the unit.
“The coordinates for my last trip are still there. Why? Isis has total control of the suit. Why didn’t she clear the record of its last trip?”
Martin picked up the case again. He might need it. Then verifying that his suit was set to return to the coordinates he had just left, he activated the unit and once again vanished into the endless, swirling maze of time.
To be concluded tomorrow in On Tuesday the Time Traveler Saw Red.
Since this is about “taking off,” I first thought about sending Martin into the future and onto a spaceship. Then I got the idea for something more “reasonable” and started searching Wikipedia for lost aircraft, planes that had mysteriously disappeared and never been found.
I had to fill in a lot of blanks with my imagination. The names of the lost crew and passengers was missing as was the purpose of the flight. I was going to conclude this mission in this story, but since on Tuesday the Time Traveler saw red, and “seeing red” is a synonym for anger, I thought Martin’s defiance of Isis would be a fitting topic. I also needed time to figure out why Isis needed to “kidnap” nine people off of a doomed flight.
An interesting side note, for Martin to be the fifth passenger, he had to replace the person originally destined to go on that flight. Who was that person and instead of being dead or in the hands of Isis, who are they and what happened to them?