Hallowe'en Party IV: Bad Moon Rising
#1
For those of you who came in late:

Hallowe'en Party

Hallowe'en Party II: Welcome to My Nightmare

Hallowe'en Party III: Season of the Witch

Everyone is invited.
Reality is a crutch for people who can't face up to science fiction.
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#2
May you live in interesting times -- Chinese curse

To say that life in the year 2078 was interesting would be to state the obvious. Victoria and her friends, like Rip Van Winkle, had slept through many decades, and survived very bad cases of future shock. Fortunately, the people of the late 21st century were very sympathetic to their predictament, and did everything to help them. Hypnolearning kept them up to date on the incredible changes in the world. Combined with sophisticated hormonal therapy and biological nanobots, they had even been able to transform Victoria back into an adult.

They were all treated like celebrities as well. Sometimes it got tedious, being interviewed for three-vee broadcasts all the time, but there were many perks as well. In particular, they had all been invited to spend another Hallowe'en Party in a very special place -- the Moon.

A trip to the Moon (without gossamer wings) was still only a luxury for the very rich; something like a visit to Antarctica in the early 21st century. The international Lunar base, located in the Sea of Serenity, was populated mostly by scientists and technicians, although the rich and famous also made it a very exclusive playground. With the help of the planet's greatest physicians, Victoria and her friends were in fine health, and the trip to the Moon would present no particular dangers.

In fact, it was rather routine, after the initial excitement of takeoff. Of course, the first views of the Earth from space were thrilling; but after a day or so they got used to it. It took a while to adjust to the lack of gravity, and there were more than a few upset stomachs and bumped heads. At last they landed at the base, and were greeted by its representatives. As introductions were made, Victoria couldn't help wondering if the rumors she had heard over the Group Mind -- the Internet of the late 21st century, which connected every human being to every other human being, through a small piece of jewelry -- could possibly be true. Was someone at the base really working on time travel? Was there some chance that they might be able to return to their own time? And what had the rumors meant when they mentioned that it involved "black magic"?

Victoria could only wonder as she looked forward to a most unusual Hallowe'en Party.
Reality is a crutch for people who can't face up to science fiction.
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#3
From outer space, the Earth had looked like a bluish pearl, or even a glistening marble in a sea of black. It took some getting used to. As did everything, for that matter, for Tancred and his fellow companions from the early 21st century. Everything was a new experience. And here they were on the Moon of all places! The shock of it all was hard to bear sometimes.

The shock and uneasyness of it all had passed once their shuttle neared the lunar base. Tancred looked in awe at the settlements on the surface below. The main lunar base sat in an immense crater. There seemed to be some sort of steel foundation around its brim, and on top of that was a near see-through dome made of some unknown material. There were other such domed craters dotting the Moon's surface, and each was connected via manmade canals. One of the shuttle crew members informed Tancred that these canals had five lanes; two for the late 21st century's version of bullet trains, two for smaller individual vehicles, and one very narrow and little-used lane for pedestrians. As the shuttle began its final approach on to the base's landing strip, Tancred could see little rovers traversing the lunar plain and suited figures hopping up and down beside them. Times had changed since the Apollo Missions!

Their welcome was a warm one. It was like this everywhere the companions from the past went; people were always curious to see dinosaurs from another era. Something that really shouldn't be there, yet is, thanks only to the advancements of the present age. The residents of the Moon (mostly scientists, as Vicki had noted), gazed in wonderment at the companions from the past. They stared wide-eyed, and nearly stumbled over themselves to make their guests feel welcome. The manners and way of speaking of these strangers was both strange and interesting. It was something to be studied. Or at least that's how Tancred felt. It was a warm and yet uncomfortable welcome at the same time.

Tancred looked to his companions to see if they might be feeling the same way. Vicki was usually one of the shyest in the group. Yet all of the scientific developments, especially those involving space and space flight, were of special interest to her. She seemed to smile and take note of everything, but she was pretty quiet all the same. As shy as she was, it seemed that Vicki was the leader of the group. Or at least Tancred thought so. Vicki was up to date on most things in their future world. Things like the Group Mind. Being both suspicious of things he didn't understand and a private person, Tancred was wary of being mentally connected to anyone and everyone on the planet. Vicki had tried to explain to him that it was all voluntary, and one could open or close the connection with the other participants at any time one wished. But this was no comfort to Tancred. How did one know the connection was actually closed? What if it were actually still open, and other people were filling your mind up with subliminal thoughts, messages, or even programs? Perhaps Tancred was a bit paranoid. The result was the same, though; he stubbornly refused to wear the jewel that enabled one to connect with the Group Mind. He refused to adopt many of the other ways of the future, as well. Tancred longed for his own time. An out of place dinosaur indeed. Tancred didn't mind the analogy. He merely thought an analogy with Don Quixote was more apt.

Many suspicious thoughts raced through Tancred's mind now. The whispers of time travel and black magic were interesting and disconcerting at the same time. How long would they be here? Who exactly was it who had invited them to the Moon for a Halloween party? For what purpose and motive? What future could a stubborn, unadaptive person from the past hope to make out here on the cold and barren Moon?
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#4
After a few days spent exploring the confusing labyrinth of corridors and domes that made up the Lunar base, the group was given basic training in spacesuit operation. This involved taking a short walk out on the Moon's surface. Fortunately, the spacesuits of 2078 were much lighter and more comfortable than those worn by Neil Armstrong and those who followed in his footsteps. (This was easy to tell, because a gigantic holographic sculpture of Armstrong stepping off his landing module was the most famous landmark inside the main dome of the Lunar base.)

It was the middle of the Lunar night on this side of the Moon, and it would last for another week or so. The full Earth hung high in the black sky, surrounded by dazzlingly bright, untwinkling stars. The group were just getting use to their "Moon legs," walking carefully over a dusty plain that had not changed for millions of years, when they saw a vehicle approaching them from ahead. It was a typical mooncrawler, about the size of a small schoolbus, with thick treaded wheels.

"That's odd," their guide said. She was Doctor Lita Naguri, a tall, athletic woman who specialized in exomedicine. Her voice was thin and tinny over the radio broadcasters that kept the spacesuited visitors in communication with her. "This area is strictly for vacuum training. Maybe there's been some kind of emergency." She walked forward and raised her arms, swinging them back and forth slowly.

As the crawler approached they could see that the windows had been darkened to full opacity. This would have made sense if it had been the Lunar daytime, with the unfiltered fury of the Sun blazing down on them. At night, however, it seemed ominous.

The crawler stopped, and a spacesuited figure stepped out. Like the vehicle, the spacesuit's visor was completely black. Whoever it was inside the suit raised a hand that held a small device of some sort.

Then there was only blackness.

When they awoke, the visitors found themselves sitting inside the crawler, strapped down to the vehicle's wide seats. They were still wearing their spacesuits, but their helmets were nowhere to be found. The windows of the vehicle gave them a darkened view of the Moon's surface. There were no familiar landmarks, and no part of the Lunar base was visible. Everyone seemed to be there except for Doctor Naguri.

There was much excited babbling among the visitors as they loosened their straps. Tancred stood and examined the controls of the hatch.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said a deep voice over the crawler's intercom. "Besides the fact that I've made it impossible to open from the inside, you'd find it rather difficult to breathe without your helmets."

Tancred turned his attention from the hatch to the door that separated the cabin of the crawler from the driver's compartment. No luck. Obviously whoever was in control of this thing was leaving nothing to chance.

"Allow me to assure you that you are in no danger," the unseen driver said. "All will be explained when we reach our destination. For the time being, it is enough that you know that you were temporarily rendered unconscious through a harmless neural disruptor. I activated the emergency beacon in Doctor Naguri's spacesuit before I placed you into this vehicle, with the help of my cybernetic servants. By now she has been rescued, safe and sound."

Vicki had already noticed the two robots standing motionlessly at the back of the cabin. They were squat, nearly featureless cylinders set on a base of multiple wheels that could send them scurrying off in any direction. They each had four telescoping arms with six fingers that could perform very delicate operations -- or crush the head of a human being. Perhaps fortunately, they were not truly intelligent, but merely very sophisticated machines who would do whatever their controller asked of them.

"We will be at my home in a matter of minutes," the deep voice continued. "I suggest that you make plans for your costumes. I'll have everything you need. You are all my special guests at a Hallowe'en Party you will never forget."

Vicki signalled for Tancred to sit next to her. She leaned over and whispered to him. "We better play along with this kook until we can figure something out. I've got one idea for now. I'm the only one of us wearing a Group Mind jewel."

"Won't he notice it when we get to wherever we're going?" Tancred asked.

"Nope. I wear it behind my ear, see?" Vicki turned her head and flipped up her long black hair. "I haven't mentioned it to anybody while we've been on the Moon. For right now, it'll be our little secret. If anybody can help us, it'll be somebody connected to the Group Mind. Let's tell the others."

One by one, Tancred and Vicki whispered the plan to their friends. By the time they were done, they felt the crawler come to a stop. They could see through the windows that they were at the foot of a smooth ridge of hills. It was typical Lunar terrain, with no clues to their location. To their amazement, a hidden door in the side of the hill opened, and the crawler moved slowly inside. Soon the door shut behind the vehicle, and they could see that they were within a vast artificial chamber. The hatch opened, letting in cool, sweet-smelling air.

"Welcome to my humble home," the driver said. "After I allow you to refresh yourselves, I will introduce you to my other guests. By the way, my name is Nemo."
Reality is a crutch for people who can't face up to science fiction.
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#5
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#6
Lavender-scented soap bubbles drifted lazily across the surface of Vicki's whirlpool bath. She sighed and allowed the jets of warm water to massage all parts of her body. Captain Nemo obviously had a fine sense of luxury. The tub was large enough for two. Vicki turned her thoughts away from pleasant daydreams of sharing the bath with a gentlemen and tried to figure out what was going on.

So many questions, and so few answers, even from the seemingly limitless resources of the Group Mind. As far as anyone knew, Captain Nemo was only a fictional character. Was their host an imposter? There was no doubt that he had the vast wealth and engineering genius of his literary predecessor. Or if he were really Nemo, what was he doing in 2078?

Then there were the Martians and Venusians and other aliens aboard the aptly named Naughtily. The Group Mind knew nothing about them. And yet Rhadamanthus had recognized a Martian when he saw one. Victoria had to admit that she was surprised, but not shocked, at the fact that there were extraterrestrials aboard the gigantic ship. Had something changed within her own mind?

Take the word "krill," for example. She knew it was a rare element of vast power. (Apparently not so rare, here in Nemo's secret lunar lair; but that was yet another mystery.) Yet part of her mind kept thinking that "krill" was just the name of a tiny shrimp. The Group Mind seemed to know nothing about the element, only the animal.

Was the Naughtily capable of journeying across other dimensions, and of altering the reality of its passengers? Was even time no barrier to it?

A soft chime from the stateroom's clock (an intricate work in the style of the court of Louis XIV, she thought) reminded her that it was time to emerge from the soothing bath and dress for dinner. Vicki stepped out of the pink marble tub, wondering if the bathwater would be recycled for other purposes.

The stateroom's large closet held a variety of clothing, apprently from all eras of Earth's past (and possibly that of a few other worlds.) Vicki could have easily dressed up as a cavewoman or a Antarctic explorer if she so desired. Rejecting the transparent jumpsuit which had briefly been a fad in the 2030's, she selected a long black gown slit on the sides to reveal just enough leg to be interesting. A pair of black fishnet stockings, comfortable black shoes, and a rope of pearls completed the ensemble. The small cosmetic robot quickly lengthened and sharpened her nails and painted them a shade of red so dark it was nearly black, and lightened the color of her skin just enough to give her a hint of the undead. The last touch was some eye makeup and black lipstick.

There! She was ready to make her appearance at the costume party as Vampira (even if she lacked the ample bosom and tiny waist of her role model.)

As she hastened to the lounge to join the others, she noticed a woman, dressed in the uniform of Nemo's crew, walking briskly down a corridor which led to the navigation area of the Naughtily. She seemed strangely familiar. As she passed by, she turned her head and lifted her hair to give the Group Mind jewel a good view of the woman. She then whispered an inquiry, soft enough so that only the jewel could hear. Since reality seemed to be somewhat different for those on the ship and the "normal" universe they had left outside, she didn't expect much of an answer. She was surprised, therefore, when the jewel answered her after a few seconds.

"98% positive identification," it said, in the quiet, neutral voice of the Group Mind. "Subject is Earhart, Amelia Mary (1897-1937?)."

Curioser and curioser. There was no more time for ponderings, as a rather handsome male Venusian took her arm and escorted her to Nemo's sumptuous dining room.
Reality is a crutch for people who can't face up to science fiction.
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#7
Check out this wardrode! thought Liriodendron excitedly. She was glad to get away from all the curious gawking people of the future earth. Being an oddity/celebrity rather cramped her fun loving style. The moon was the perfect place for a rejuvenated "dinosaur", even if she was the captive guest of the mysterious Dr. Nemo. She had heard the name before...but of course, she had never bothered to read the book. Rolleyes

Thank goodness I was able to ditch that weird group jewel, she thought.....that thing was bound to get me into trouble....especially at a Halloween party! So....I think I'll have the handrobot give me some superlong hair and eyelash extensions, silver will do nicely. Ah....I really like this lavender velvet mini dress and the big, black moonboots look fun. I wonder what the music will sound like? I hope I can dance to it......
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#8
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#9
It took forever for Tancred to get out of the Refresho-Bath. It was far superior to any of the facilities aboard the shuttle they had taken to the moon. Only after several time alarms went off from the cosmetic and wardrobe robot, did the room's occupant emerge from the bath.

The little robot directed Tancred to the closet, pushed a button, and the doors slid aside to reveal over twenty contemporary-looking outfits. Tancred looked at them disappointedly. "Umm...do you have anything more...ancient," he asked. The robot pushed a button with its slender, metallic finger, and the wardrobe quickly revolved to the right. There were now several caveman hides and even Tarzan loincloths on display. Tancred laughed, "Ok, not that ancient!"

Time was running out now. There were only ten minutes remaining until Nemo's dinner party was to start. Tancred distrusted the captain enough to be prompt. The fact they had all been brought there against their wills suggested there was danger, for that matter. Distrust was well on its way to becoming dislike in Tancred's mind.

The attire of both knights and samurai passed Tancred by. As much as he liked them, they were not warm enough; the young man had always been cold aboard the shuttle, the moon base, and again now aboard the Naughtily. Finally, the wardrobe stopped at the time and section he was looking for. There before him was exactly what he wanted--the winter pants, shirt, hat, and coat of a soldier in the Czech Army, circa 1991. That time was so close on the heels of the fall of Communism in eastern Europe, that the gear was very similar to that of the former Soviet occupants.

The boots were almost knee-length, thick-soled, and made of black leather. Olive drab BDU pants came next. A white, long sleeved shirt was worn tucked in. And over all of that was the thick and long military coat. Olive drab, knee-length, epaulets, Czech flags on the shoulders, many pockets inside and out, and with a woolen inner shell. Nice, comfortable and warm. Over the coat, Tancred clasped on a black weapons belt. It was double-wrapped about his waist so that the holster hung down on his right side rather low; almost like a gunslinger's from the Old West. The buckle was silver, and had the rampant lion of Bohemia etched on it. Finally came the hat. The classic fur lined military hat with brim and ear flaps that could be snapped up or down. In the middle of the brim was an enammelled pin bearing the quartered coat of arms of the Czech Republic--two lions rampant and two imperial eagles.

Tancred smiled at himself in the mirror. He loved the costume! His only regret was that the holster and ammo pack were empty....

With less than a minute to spare, Tancred made his way to the vast dining room of the Naughtily. Some of his companions were already there.
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#10
Word. :alien:
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#11
Nemo's private dining room was built in the shape of an enormous dodecahedron. The pentagonal walls and ceilings were decorated with abstract patterns in gold and silver. Paintings in a wide variety of styles (was that an El Greco?) hung on the walls, surrounding the gigantic dining table with saints, heroes, maidens, and less identifiable creatures. An automated organ, set against one of the walls, provided soft music from the Baroque period.

The Venusian officer -- his name seemed to be something like Sissthik -- led Victoria to her place at the table. Her friends sat at various places around the vast ebony oval, with a wide variety of humans and aliens mixed among them, seemingly at random. It was difficult to tell who was in costume and who was not.

Each guest had a glass of liquid waiting in a crystal goblet. The colors varied from perfect clarity to deep black. Victoria's own drink was a deep amber. She tasted it carefully, and was pleased to find that it was one of her favorite liqueurs. It seemed all the diners had been provided with whatever beverages they enjoyed, from plain water to unEarthly concoctions.

Like the drinks, the foods provided varied from person to person. Victoria's meal consisted of a spicy lentil soup, followed by a salad of exotic greens and a plate of roasted vegetables. Dessert was a lovely vanilla custard with fresh berries. Victoria noticed that Sissthik dined on a variety of brightly colored raw fungus, and tried not to look at the wriggling things on the plates of the Martians. Nemo seemed to dine mostly on exotic seafood.

Conversation was light and pleasant during the meal, with Victoria learning a great deal about the Venusian's watery world. (Watery? That didn't seem right for some reason.) She didn't have a chance to talk to her friends directly, but she exchanged meaningful glances with most of them. When were they going to find out what this was all about?

After dinner, the guests had a choice of sharing a fine cigar with the Captain, playing a variety of games, looking through the extensive library of the Naughtily, or dancing with the others. After glancing at some of the more unusual items on the bookshelves (Return to the Mysterious Island? The Further Adventures of A. Gordon Pym?) she decided to join her friends on the dance floor.

A multispecies quartet was playing a gentle minuet as she entered the room. Tancred, striking in his military uniform, bowed slightly and offered his hand. Victoria accepted it and they joined the stately dance.

"I don't know about you," Tancred said, "but I don't like this at all."

"I know what you mean." Victoria glanced over his shoulder. "There's our host, chatting with Rhadamanthus. Now they're going off somewhere."

As the dancers turned, Tancred saw the pair leave through a small door. In a moment, Nemo returned alone.

"I don't like the look of that," Tancred said.

Captain Nemo spoke briefly to Liriodendron and Athena, who had been dancing with a number of gentlemen from many worlds. They made excuses to their current partners, and followed him through the same door. Again, Nemo returned alone.

It wasn't long before their host made his way to Victoria and Tancred. "If you will come with me," he said, "all will be made clear. I need your help. In return, I can send you back to your own time."

With a quick glance at each other, the two dancers broke apart and followed Nemo through the small door.
Reality is a crutch for people who can't face up to science fiction.
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#12
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#13
The assembled guests sat in comfortable chairs of intricately carved teak in a semicircle around Nemo's desk. They had engaged in confused chatter as each one was brought into the room, but remained silent whenever Nemo was present. At last all the guests were seated, and the Captain took his place behind the desk. He fiddled with a kris, its hilt decorated with large emeralds. The dagger's snake-like blade was hypnotic in its sinister beauty.

"Let me get right to the point," Nemo said. "Your unusual experiences, which I have studied in some detail, make you invaluable to me. I apologize for the rather brusque manner in which I brought you here, and I hope that you will believe me when I say that I mean you no harm."

Tancred felt his hand slip to his empty holster. "That remains to be seen, sir. For now, I see no reason why we should be so useful to you. Obviously you have vast resources, and a loyal crew from all over the Solar System!"

"And from places rather more difficult to reach," Nemo replied. "Allow me to explain. You are familiar with the concept of multiple universes?" The guests nodded. "Good. Therefore it may not come as a surprise to learn that anything which the human mind can imagine really exists somewhere, in one of an infinite number of realities. Why, I discovered long ago that there was a world in which I was merely a fictional character in a French novel! Perhaps all of you are figments of some unknown imagination." Nemo chuckled softly.

Victoria found the idea somewhat frightening. "Let's just say that you're real and we're real."

"An excellent idea, my dear. In fact, let's just say that everything is real." Nemo closed his eyes briefly. When they were open again, they seemed to burn with inner fire. "All of my life my greatest quest has been for knowledge. There are so many places to explore! You can act as my agents to realities where my crew and I can never go."

"Why not?" Rhadamanthus asked bluntly.

"I will hide nothing from you. There are universes that are so strange, so peculiar, that most 'normal' minds cannot adjust to them. They would drive ordinary explorers mad."

"This doesn't sound like a good idea," Athena said. "I just want to go home."

"And so you shall, eventually. Believe me, there is no danger. You have all experienced so many odd situations that your minds are quite safe. I have studied detailed psychological profiles of you and there is no doubt about that." Nemo paused. "Am I correct in assuming that none of you wish to remain as permanent members of my crew? You will be most welcome, and life in my service can be a very pleasant one."

"No thanks," Liriodendron said. "It's tempting, but I would always feel out of place." There was agreement from the others.

"I thought not. In that case, I will be happy to send you back to your own time, once you have surveyed a number of realities for me, and brought me back full reports."

"And if we refuse?" Tancred said boldly.

"I'm afraid you have no choice."

With a gesture from Nemo the African totem seemed to come to life. It creaked as it stood up, its mirror-eyes glittering. Before any of them could react it seized Victoria in one of its bony arms and dragged her to her feet. Tancred leapt up to try to pull her away from the thing, but it knocked him down with a sweep of its other arm.

"One of my toys," Nemo said with a smile. "Just a robot, but its appearance has an important psychological effect." He pointed the tip of the kris to each of the others in turn. "Do. Not. Move."

It seemed prudent to obey. With a whisper a hidden panel in the wall behind Nemo slid to the left, revealing a metallic ovoid. A few seconds later the totem-robot had dragged Victoria toward it. A circular door in the thing dilated open, and Victoria was pushed into it.

"One of my lifeboats," Nemo explained. "Quite comfortable for half a dozen passengers. Capable of going anywhere that the Naughtily herself can go. Now, will you join your companion within it of your own free will, or do I have to force you inside one by one?"

After some grumbling, they agreed to enter the vessel. As the door closed behind them, they heard Nemo's voice over the small ship's intercom.

"I will be in complete, automatic control of the lifeboat throughout your voyage. Prepare yourself for your first encounter."

A low whine filled the ship, and it slowly began to move in a direction that none of them could name. It was almost like shrinking and growing at the same time. They wondered what strange universe awaited them.
Reality is a crutch for people who can't face up to science fiction.
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#14
The lifeboat came to a thudding stop. Everyone sat as they were, not knowing quite what to do next. "You may exit now," came the cold voice of Captain Nemo over the intercom. The door to the lifeboat opened, sliding down to form a sort of gangplank from the boat to the ground of whatever world or reality they were in now.

Those nearest the door peeked cautiously down the ramp. As far as they could tell, nothing was there waiting for them. Rhad finally led the way down, and everyone looked about. The lifeboat had landed in the midst of a large plain. There was a bright sun glaring above them, and it was warm but not overbearingly hot as far as temperature went. Several miles ahead of them, there seemed to be a nice sized lake. To their right loomed many low hills. Even further beyond those, there seemed to be a smoke-puffing volcano or two. And to their left lay a thick forest.

Tancred removed his fur hat, and wiped the sweat from his brow. "So," he wondered aloud, "we're supposed to explore this land, and report everything we see?"

"Its too bad we don't have anything to write a report down on," said Liriodendron.

"Not to worry, my esteemed explorers," echoed Captain Nemo's voice from the lifeboat intercom. "My lifeboat has built in cameras and microphones. It will see and record everything within its view and range. It also has various scientific tools that it can use to gather samples of the ground and plantlife near it. You will not need anything to write with. You will give oral reports to me upon your return."

"You mentioned plantlife," said Rhad. "What about animal or humanoid life? I certainly hope encounters with any of these things would not take a dangerous turn."

"Yeah," agreed Tancred. "It might help if we had some sort of way to defend ourselves. I saw that some of your crew had guns and other weapons. Did you provide us with any?"

Nemo let out a sinister laugh. Even though it was only over the intercom and Nemo was not there, it still sent chills down everyone's spines. "No, there will be no weapons for you. At least none provided by me. You will have to use your own ingenuity to either make or come across weapons of your own. Farewell for now. Do not bother using the intercom unless you actually have something to report." The intercom crackled and went silent.

Vicki seemed inattentive to most of this. She was busy looking to her arms; when the African totem had grabbed her, there were claw marks that had drawn a little bit of blood.

Athena sighed, and fanned herself as best she could. Tancred thought she made the perfect medieval maiden. He could not help but smile at the sight and thought of her. At the last Halloween party they had together (or at least the last one he could remember), there had been some sort of connection between the two of them. Being frozen and then thawed out generations later had seemed to melt away any of the feelings. Or so Tancred thought. Athena had shown no sign, at least. In either case, seeing Athena again on the trip to the moon had warmed Tancred's heart all over again. If only the trip had not turned out to be as dangerous as it was now.

Athena caught Tancred staring at her with a big grin on his face. They both blushed, and looked away. Tancred quickly tried to save face by talking about their mission. "What do you think of the world we're on," he asked

"It certainly looks like Earth," noted Athena. "Except maybe on Hawaii, or some other tropical island."

The lady had barely finished her sentence, when a rumbling sound came from the direction of the forest. The companions jumped in startled fright. "Thunder," asked Liri hopefully.

"I don't think so," answered Rhad. "Listen.... Those thundering sounds are coming rhythmically. As if someone or something is making them." That didn't sound good to anyone. The sounds were becoming louder as whatever it was approached, and the ground beneath them even began to shudder. Everyone huddled closer together, and waited.

Vicki now pointed in the opposite direction of the forest, towards the hills and distant volcanoes. "Look there," she whispered. There seemed to be small shapes darting to and fro amongst the hills. They quickly reached the plain, and ducked into a shallow ravine. The ravine seemed only a mile away from where the lifeboat had landed, and the shapes had not appeared to notice either the boat or its occupants. Every now and again, one of the shapes would peep its head over the brim of the ravine. One actually jumped back onto the plain, and walked forward as close to the ground as possible.

The companions strained their eyes in order to make out what this thing was. Though it was not approaching the boat directly, it had gotten closer. "I think its a caveman," said Liri finally. Sure enough, the figure was humanoid in appearance, and seemed to be clothed in hides and holding a spear.

"If all of those things are cavemen," ventured Vicki, "then I'm guessing they're hunting whatever is making that rumbling sound. Perhaps the cavemen live in those hills, and the approaching animal is in search of food to eat from the forest and water to drink from the lake. So...if this is Earth and those are cavemen, then what would they most likely be hunting?"

Tancred twisted his goatee in thought. "Most likely they would be hunting some large mammal. I don't think we have to worry about any sabre-toothed tigers, as they're not large enough to shake the ground like that. Perhaps its a brontotherium or mastodon."

The thundering sounds were even louder now, and the trees at the edge of the forest began to sway and shake as if they were being pushed aside by something. "Too small," continued Tancred, his heart beginning to race even faster. "Make that a woolly mammoth!"

"Try again," yelled Athena as she pointed to the forest and screamed.

A very large animal rushed out of the forest, roaring as it came. "Brachiosaurus," muttered Tancred breathlessly. Now it was everyone's turn to join Athena in screaming.
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#15
"Aiiiiii!!" screamed Lirio! "Into the cave" she shouted, pushing at her friends.....They ran into a small cave conveniently nearby....Panting and sweating, Lirio hoped none of the cavemen noticed the odd group.......
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#16
Huddled together near the opening of the cave, the reluctant explorers heard the brachiosaurus stomping around outside. A tree crashed with a muffled boom, no doubt knocked down by the lumbering beast. Suddenly one massive leg appeared, nearly blocking the cave entrance. At the base of it was a thick, fleshy foot, with a sharp claw on one of its five toes. A sound like a giant chomping on a huge bowl of salad came from above.

"That brachio-whatsis must be having a snack on that big palm tree just outside the cave," Victoria said. "Now it won't move out of the way for a while."

"Better that tree than me," Athena said. "I don't want to end up as Dino Chow!"

"Don't worry," Tancred explained. "A brachiosaurus is a vegetarian. The only danger is getting stepped on."

"That's assuming that this is the same creature as the brachiosaur known to our world's science," Rhadamanthus said. "The rules are different here. Tancred, my good fellow, you're something of an expert on prehistoric life, aren't you?"

Tancred shrugged. "It's a hobby of mine, but I'm not a professional."

"Surely you've noticed something strange about the life around here?"

Tancred nodded slowly. "Human beings didn't exist for millions of years after all the dinosaurs died out. This place shouldn't even exist!"

"Obviously we're in some sort of parallel reality similar to popular, if inaccurate, fiction about the ancient world," Rhadamanthus continued. "We shouldn't take anything for granted."

All heads turned as a massive crash shook the cave, raising a cloud of dust. At the same time the light in the cave faded to nearly total darkness. A sound like a hundred buzzsaws filled the room.

When their eyes had grown used to the dimness, the explorers saw that the entrance to the cave was now blocked by part of the dinosaur's body. Only thin rays of light shone through, where the rough surface of the cave did not exactly match the surface of the beast's body.

"What's that horrible noise?" Liriodendron shouted above the din.

"I think it's snoring," Tancred said. "A nap after a meal."

"How long is that going to last?" Victoria asked.

"I'm not sure. Maybe a day or so?"

"A day or so?" Athena said. "I can't wait that long!" She looked around the cave anxiously. "There has to be another way out." Without waiting for the others, she rushed toward the back of the cave, and was soon lost to sight.

The others followed quickly, calling her name. After squeezing through a long, narrow tunnel, that turned and twisted like a stone serpent, they found her in a vast underground chamber. A bright beam of light shone from above, revealing a pool of water. Curious fish approached the shore as they watched. Stalactites covered the ceiling, dripping into the pool with a sound like a light rain. The walls of the chamber glittered in a dazzling rainbow of colors, as if they had been hewn from diamonds.

"It's beautiful," Victoria said softly.

Athena seemed calmer now. The snoring of the dinosaur was quieter here, and the beam of light hinted at a possible escape route. Unfortunately, it was far above the surface of the water, and there was no obvious way to reach it. For that matter, there was no way to tell how deep the pool might be.

There was enough dry land around the pool for the explorers to walk single file. For lack of a better plan, they decided to circle the pool and see what they could learn. They soon found a corridor leading off in a direction nearly opposite to the one from which they had come. To their amazement, this one was brightly lit by a wooden torch. It was a primitive thing, just a stick wrapped with fat-soaked animal skins and shoved into a hole in the rock; but it was proof that someone had been here very recently.

The corridor opened into a room about half the size of the pool chamber, with more torches on the wall. The flickering light revealed shadows of people inside. Liriodendron, who was in the lead, peeked around the corner to get a better look.

Without warning, two shaggy cavemen grabbed her arms and pulled her forward into the room. They snarled at the rest of the party and gestured for them to follow. Deciding that it was best to avoid making their hosts angry, the others entered the room as quietly as possible.

In the center of the room, on a sort of throne roughly carved from rock, sat a very tall, muscular woman with flaming red hair that reached nearly to her feet. She wore animal skins which resembled nothing so much as a furry bikini. Around her wrists and ankles were bracelets of small bones, and a necklace made from the fangs of some sort of big cat dangled across her chest. The woman stood, with great dignity.

"I am Akka, Queen of the Tiger Clan." It was only slightly surprising to discover that she spoke perfect English. "Who are you, who dare to enter my realm?"

Liriodendron thought quickly. She noticed that the women in the room all wore some sort of primitive jewelry, and that the men seemed to stand behind them in humble postures. This was apparently a strict matriarchy.

"I am Lirio, Queen of the Palm Clan," she said. The two cavemen let go of her arms quickly and lowered themselves to the ground. Obviously they were used to treating royal women with great respect. "I have come to greet the great Queen of the noble Tiger Clan, and to offer our friendship." She pointed to Victoria. "This is my witch doctor, the Wolf Woman. She comes bearing a great gift."

Victoria caught on quickly. She walked toward Akka, kneeled, and pulled the pearl necklace off her neck. The Queen pulled it out of her hands with obvious greed.

"I am most pleased," Akka said. "Who are the others with you?"

"This is my sister," Liriodendron said, pointing to Athena. "Behind me are two slaves who serve as my bodyguards."

With sighs and rolling of eyes, Tancred and Rhadamanthus were smart enough to bow low to the Queen. She eyed them with interest.

"The men of the Palm Clan are comely," she said. "Perhaps our peoples will trade slaves." She turned to a group of men behind the throne and clapped her hands. "Prepare a feast for our guests."

As the men quickly brought together flat stones piled high with half-roasted meats and raw roots, Liriodendron and Akka discussed matters of state. The women of the Tiger Clan oohed and aahed over Athena's clothing, and said that it must have been a gift from the sun goddess herself. Meanwhile, Victoria, with her long, sharp, dark red fingernails and pale skin, was treated with superstitious awe. Rhadamanthus and Tancred were sent to eat with the males. As a sort of consulation, they discovered that the men had invented a sort of beer from various plants. After the meal, Liriodendron joined the others to let them know how things had been going with the Queen.

"I've worked out a deal," she said. "Akka will give us an escort back to our ship; I think it will be about four or five of her warrior-slaves with spears and clubs. There's just one catch."

"I don't think I want to hear this," Rhadamanthus said.

Liriodendron ignored him. "The Queen wants some more of Vicki's pearls. I found out from her scouts that there are some freshwater oysters in the river that runs through the ravine outside. All we have to do is gather a few of them and let the slaves carry them back here."

Athena shrugged. "Sounds easy enough. Maybe even fun."

"What about the dinosaurs?" Tancred asked.

"That's one problem. The Tiger Clan is afraid to go outside, because of the 'big lizards.' I've convinced Akka that Vicki has spells against them."

"Gee, thanks a lot," Vicki said. "That's one problem? What else?"

"The people who live in the ravine -- the River Clan, Akka calls them -- have been at war with the Tiger Clan for longer than anybody can remember. They won't be too happy to see us messing around with their oysters."

"Why don't we just get the heck out of here when that brachiosaurus wakes up?" Tancred asked.

Liriodendron shook her head. "The party of warriors wasn't my idea. Akka said she wanted to honor me with them, but I'm sure she just wanted to keep an eye on us. She's no fool. If we try to sneak out of the deal we're likely to wind up with spears in our backs."

"What I wouldn't give for a good shortsword," Tancred said. "When are we supposed to leave?"

"In the morning. I suggest that we all try to get a good night's sleep."

"That's easy for you to say," Athena said. "I'm not fond of sleeping on rocks."

It seemed to Victoria that this was going to be the least of their problems.
Reality is a crutch for people who can't face up to science fiction.
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#17
In the ensuing flight from the gargantuan brachiosaur, Niphredil had become separated from the rest of the group. Now she huddled beneath a patch of thick undergrowth not far from the mouth of the cave where her friends had taken shelter, and where the slumbering brachiosaur now stood. Dr. Alan Grant was right, they really were like big cows. She shook her head, and chastised herself for thinking of something as unimportant as a line from a movie at a time like this. She wished that she could afford think of such unimportant things.

Unlike her companions, Niphredil had thusfar been unable to cope with life in the late twenty-first century, and as the days went by she withdrew more and more into herself. She missed her family and her friends, and longed for the normal life that she had once thought boring, that she had taken for granted. Her only comfort was that she had been able to learn what had become of the people she had known, after her... disappearance. She had even made up her mind to track down her descendants after returning from their vacation to the moon. But then, if Nemo kept his word and sent back to their own time after they gathered these reports for him, maybe she wouldn't have to. If they survived long enough to give him those reports, that is.

She shook the thought that they may not survive from her mind, and decided to concentrate on what was happening now. And what's happening now is very, very bad, she decided. If only there was some way to communicate with her companions inside the cave, like a walkie-talkie, or a jewel such as what is used for the Group Mind; but Nemo had given them no such device. She had to do something, be it to help them or to help herself; and she would have to do it quickly as the sun on this earth, this world, was quickly disappearing under the horizon and soon all would be dark.

Niphredil shifted uncomfortably, grumbling at herself for picking a most counterproductive costume. When she was a child she idolized Ariel, and had dreamed of growing up to be a Little Mermaid like her so she could swim and sing all day (not to mention end up with a stud like Prince Eric), but for this "party"? It was a ridiculously bad choice. With her luck some caveman would come along and see dinner flopping around on the ground, just waiting to be cooked up or eaten raw. Either way, the costume just would not do. She needed to alter it somehow. She scooted over to the nearest tree trunk, cursing the long red hair the cosmeticbot had given her for getting caught on all manner of branches, and leaned her back against it. She stretched forward toward her iridescent tail fin and started pulling at the seams. Finally after several minutes (and several utterings of "You better come off, or so help me..." and several other choice words), the floppy fins lay on the ground beside her. She also tore a slit in the fabric that tightly covered her legs, so she could walk more easily (and luckily she had worn a pair of modern shoes under her costume, though they were only little ballet slippers). Lastly she tied her now very long hair up in a knot to keep it out of her way.

Having outfitted herself as comfortably as she could, she wondered what to do next. The brachiosaur still stood at the mouth of the cave, the gentle rumblings of its breathing steady and low as it slept. The light from the sun was almost completely gone now. She began to relax somewhat. Suddenly the brachiosaur awoke and let out a deafening roar, but this was different from what she had heard before; she thought there was fear behind it. As the beast thundered off, she decided that now would be the time to make a break for the cave, but she was hesitant, not knowing what had scared the brachiosaur off, or what was waiting for her inside the cave.

After a few seconds that seemed more like hours had passed, she was startled to hear a chirping noise coming from the bushes to the left. Something behind her and to the right answered the call. Her thoughts wandered back to Jurassic Park. Chirping is always bad... she thought, as a shiver shot down her spine.
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#18
The dying sun painted the lush undergrowth the color of blood. Niphredil backed toward the cave slowly and quietly, waiting to see what sort of creatures might appear. Did dinosaurs hunt at night?

With a rustle of the dense tangle of ferns and bushes outside the cave, a pack of dinosaurs broke through the greenery. There were about a dozen of them, in various sizes. The biggest was nearly as tall as a human being. They had small, pointed heads, and long necks connected to slender bodies with long tails that swayed back and forth. Each tiny arm ended in a paw with two claws, and each long leg stood on a foot with three toes with sharp nails. The creatures chirped and twittered at Niphredil, their clumsy hands wriggling and their powerful legs kicking and scratching at the ground.

Niphredil wasted no time admiring the way the dim twilight shone on their mottled, pebbly green and brown skins. She ran back into the cave. The dinosaurs were just black silhouettes, seen from inside. They seemed to hesitate at the entrance of the cave, as if unsure of themselves.

Niphredil tried to think quickly, before they got up enough courage to chase her. She didn't have much in the way of equipment, but one thing might help. She pulled an iPod (a rare antique in this future world) out of a hidden pocket in her torn costume. She had intended to play it at an appropriate time during Nemo's party, but the opportunity never came up. Now it might just come in handy.

At full blast, the sound of "Under the Sea" echoed throughout the cave. Even to Nilphredil, who was expected it, the sheer volume of the old song came as something of a shock. The dinosaurs ran quickly away from the cave, obviously frightened and confused.

"Thank goodness for the Disney company," Nilphredil said to herself. The display screen of the iPod gave off just enough light to let her examine the walls of the cave. At the back she found a tunnel that seemed to lead for quite a distance. Hoping for a way out, she started walking into it.

"TWEEP!"

"Yipe!" Niphredil nearly dropped the iPod as she spun around. Right behind her was one of the dinosaurs. This one was smaller than the others, no bigger than a chicken. It bobbed its head up and down at her.

"Tweep?"

"Shoo!" Niphredil shouted at it. The creature just kept staring at her. "Oh, forget it!" She turned back to the tunnel.

As she made her way through the torturous stone corridor, she heard the shuffling feet of the tiny dinosaur behind her. Every once in a while it chirped with apparent excitement.

"Tweep! Tweep!"

As Niphredil made her way to the underground pool, she started getting used to the high-pitched squeal. The dinosaur ran eagerly to the edge of the water, lowered its head, and drank with loud slurps. Niphredil had to admit that it was awfully cute, for a dinosaur.

"Come on, Tweep," she said. "The others have to be around here somewhere."

"Tweep?"

"I don't know where. Let's keep looking."

It wasn't long before Niphredil and her new pet made their way to the throne room of the Queen. She saw that Tancred and Rhadamanthus were farther away from the center of the room than the others. Her friends greeted her warmly, and told her all about their strange adventures and why they had been separated from the women. The Queen and her people had already retired for the night, and the cavernous room was full of the sound of loud snores. In return, Niphredil told them the story of how she happened to be journeying with Tweep.

"That's a compsognathus," Tancred explained. "This place would be a dinosaur-lover's dream, if we didn't have so much to worry about."

"Compsognathus, Schmompsognathus," Rhadamanthus said. " The important thing is that we need to get out of here." He pointed at a pair of bored guard-slaves, who were paying no attention to them "If it was just the three of us, I'd try to make a run for it. But we can't leave Vicki and Athena and Her Majesty, Queen Lirio, behind. For right now, we better just get a good night's sleep. And try to keep that little bird-brained lizard quiet!"

"Tweep?"

It was going to be a long night.
Reality is a crutch for people who can't face up to science fiction.
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#19
Morning finally did come, and even the little compsognathus had shut up long enough to get a decent amount of sleep. Although Tancred found Tweep cute, he knew it was because it was so small and relatively harmless; anything bigger would be far too dangerous to be considered cute or friendly. He wondered if there were many other dinosaurs roaming the lands outside the cave, and if they had damaged the lifeboat at all.

The cave was soon astir, as all the cavepeople woke up for their normal daily routines. The rest of Nemo's explorers awoke one by one a little later. The smell of cooked food was in the air, and their stomachs growled. Vicki was busy trying to figure out how she was supposed to be able to cast "spells" to ward off any dinosaurs they might encounter. She hoped they met nothing at all. Nilphy and Tancred watched Tweep dart to and fro in its attempt to catch a breakfast of bugs, and discussed the dinosaurs they had seen.

"Jurassic Park had it all wrong," said Tancred. "At least as far as the size of the 'velociraptors.' Real velociraptors would have been smaller. Only about waist-level. Still dangerous to humans, I guess. But with the size of the dinosaurs in the movie, they should have been called deinonychus. How big were the ones you saw in the forest?"

"I didn't stop long enough to get the best look at them," replied Nilphy. "But they did seem about as tall as I am. Like in Jurassic Park, pretty much."

Tancred sighed, "Hopefully we won't meet any of them."

"Or any other dinosaurs," added Nilphy. "We could meet a tyrannosaurus for all we know!"

Neither one of them liked the thought of that. They changed the subject by turning their attention to the still slumbering Athena. "Should we wake her," asked Tancred.

"She looks so peaceful," noted Nilphy.

"The sooner we get out of here, the better," interrupted Lirio. "I don't want to run this ruse of being a queen any longer than usual. We wake up Athena now, we can eat, and be on our way to complete our mission with the pearls."

Almost as if on cue, Athena plopped right up. She yawned heavily, and said, "I'm hungry."

"Food's on the way," said Rhad.

Athena looked at both Rhad and Tancred for awhile. "You two seemed to be in quite a deep conversation with the rest of the man-slaves last night," she said. "You were all quiet but intense. Almost like discussing a big secret. What was that all about?"

Rhad and Tancred looked at each other as if they had been caught in something. "Oh," replied Rhad slowly. "That was nothing."

"Yeah, nothing really," agreed Tancred.

"Must have been the beer, huh," asked Athena.

"Yep, the beer."

Luckily for the two men, breakfast was served at that exact moment, and they had to return to the segregated side of the cave to eat with the cavemen. The meal was not great, but at least it was warm. Everyone ate quickly; the explorers were eager to be on their way, and Queen Akka was eager to get her hands on more pearls. The queen detailed five of her best scouts and warriors to accompany Queen Liriodendron and her entourage. After courteous farewells, the caveman scouts led the way. Tweep followed close behind Nilphy's heels, just like a little dog. Nilphy was able to keep it quiet by giving it a large bone from breakfast to chew on.

Upon reaching the mouth of the cave, the cavemen hugged the ground, and stayed perfectly still. They sniffed the air, and listened intently for signs of anything just outside. Apparently, all was safe, as they soon stood upright again, and led the way out. The group had to cross the open plain for some distance before they reached the ravine. This was potentially dangerous, as they might be seen rather easily. However, the real danger would be when they came to the actual ravine itself. That was River Clan territory, and they would all be attacked on sight if spotted.

The group reached the ravine safely and without being seen, thanks to the skills of the scouts Queen Akka had lent them. The head scout, Org by name (but all his fellow cavemen scouts and warriors called him Captain), led them all down to the banks of the river. "Here is the part of the river where we come for oysters," he said. "Here, the river bends to the south, further away from the cave complex of the River Clan. Thus, its a little safer."

"Great," said Vicki. "So, all we have to do is wade along the banks, and gather oysters for her majesty?"

Org smiled uncomfortably. "I wish that were the case. If the oysters were for me, that would be good enough. However, Queen Akka will be upset if we return with oysters that contain no pearls. She wants the oysters pryed open here on the banks, and as many pearls brought back as possible. On top of that, the oysters can really only be found in great numbers in deeper water. The river is not overly deep, but it is swift. Only strong swimmers should attempt this. And, as we cavemen are the ones with the weapons, we will not be doing any of the swimming. We shall stay on the banks, hiding in the rushes, and keeping an eye out for our enemies from the River Clan."

The explorers groaned. This was going to be more difficult than imagined.
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#20
Things were quiet for several minutes. Captain Org and his men seemed perfectly happy to lie around in the rushes, doing nothing. Like goldbricking soldiers throughout history, a couple of them were passing the time with some sort of gambling game, using bits of animal bones as dice. Another was rewrapping the animal sinews that tied a sharp flint spearhead to his weapon.

The new arrivals mostly stood watching the river without much enthusiasm. Rhadamanthus and Tancred walked a short distance away from the others and had a quick conversation. Victoria couldn't help wondering what those two were up to. Last night in the cave, and now here. What was so important that they couldn't talk to the women about it?

"I grew up in southern California," she said to nobody in particular. "I first jumped into the ocean when I was a little girl. This shouldn't be too challenging." She slipped off her shoes.

"You can't swim very well in that outfit," Athena pointed out. "None of us are exactly dressed for the water."

Victoria blushed slightly. "I know that." She rolled down her fishnet stockings and pulled them off her feet. Then, while trying to seem nonchalent, she pulled her gown over her head.

"Oh, nice lingerie," Liriodendron said. "I guess black is your favorite color. Where did you get it?"

"Victoria's Secret."

Niphredil giggled.

Before there could be any more remarks about her underwear, Victoria dove into the river and started swimming. The water was cool and pleasant in this warm climate. She wondered how Tancred was feeling in his winter uniform!

Victoria allowed the swift current to carry her not far away to a place where the water ran over a jumble of smooth rocks. This would be a perfect place to hunt for oysters. She found a spot where she could sit on the bottom of the river with her head just above water and her back against a large boulder. By diving down into the water, then coming back up to rest, she was able to gather several oysters, which she tossed up on the shore. After an hour or so of this, she pulled herself back onto dry land and studied her treasure. The water kept up a steady roar behind her and she opened the shells, with the help of her artificially long and sharp fingernails.

After all this work, Victoria wound up with seven small, irregularly shaped pearls, in pale shades of pink. She hoped this would be enough to please the Queen. Just as she gathered them up, she heard a loud scream over the sound of the river.

Back where she had left the others, there seemed to be a battle in progress -- and not all the ones who were fighting were humans.
Reality is a crutch for people who can't face up to science fiction.
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