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First pages

Prologue

I’ve been abducted by aliens. Hmm. Is abducted the proper word for it? Sure, the aliens began our relationship in the traditional way by placing me on a brightly lit laboratory table where they checked all my fluids and examined me quite extensively. On the other hand, they never even hinted at firing up the dreaded alien abduction drill or bringing out the intimidating tray of assorted scalpels. Instead, these masters of the stress-free abduction kept me higher than a kite and respected my privacy. In fact, only two, dressed in festive pink lab coats, actually saw me naked, and they were always careful not to embarrass me or inflict any pain.

Honestly, who could blame them for wanting to check a few of us humans out? They didn’t even know we existed until 2020 when America’s sanity-challenged President Handley dropped some huge ones, claiming he was smart enough to launch nuclear missiles here and there without negative consequences. Less benevolent otherworldly beings would have just invaded and enslaved us, eaten out our brains, or done something similarly undesirable.

These aliens? They simply distracted the president by giving him a debilitating case of Koro syndrome—or at least worsening the one he already had—then gassed the rest of us with the alien equivalent of vaporized cannabis. Soon peace broke out, at least until the gas dissipated, allowing them to easily gather a few human specimens to study before plotting their course of action.

As for me, I had blissfully walked over to what appeared to be a giant rainbow-striped hose, and they sucked me into their ship. Once on board, they greeted me by name, Marty Mann, led me to a touch-screen, and invited me to “build my own euphoria.” I selected several choices at random, placed a mask over my mouth, and inhaled. Before I knew it, every pore on my body oozed with a pleasure I’d never known before.

After my examination, I spilled my guts and told them everything I knew about the human race. In the end, the aliens didn’t even suggest destroying Earth or letting us foolish earthlings destroy it ourselves. Instead, they concluded that a simple correction to our past was all we needed to right the wrongs of our world. With any luck, I’ll be sent home soon. Right after a slight detour to Galilee in AD 31. . . .

Chapter 1

Meet the Keithrichardslys

“Wait! Wait!” I shouted. “This is all happening too fast. Only five or six hours ago, you sucked me into your ship. Now you’re telling me to prepare for a trip back to the time of Christ?”

I was sitting in a delightfully comfortable chair on the bridge of the coolest spaceship I’d ever been on. Okay, technically, it was the first time I’d ever been on a spaceship, so it was the coolest by default, but I was sure it could give all other vessels a run for their money.

Everywhere around me, aliens busied themselves with various tasks. They all had tall, graceful bodies with a bit of a hump across the tops of their buttocks to accommodate their hind brains. Truly, they were a beautiful humanoid species, or perhaps exotic would be a better word to describe them. Although their skin generally resembled human skin, including variations according to races, colorful blotches—mostly oranges, pinks, and purples—on their necks, cheeks, and arms enhanced their looks. Most striking were their expressive eyes with fiber optic-like eyelashes that terminated in dots of light. Sure, those attributes would have prevented anyone from mistaking them for humans, but certainly we weren’t the only standard on which to base attractiveness.

As for the bridge, it was even more colorful than the aliens that inhabited it. All surfaces were rounded and smooth, and most were some shade of purple, blue, or pink. Adding to the effect were lights that illuminated all the controls and gadgets and even chairs with a slight pinkish glow.

Even more striking than the colors was the bridge’s vertical layout. On Earth, ships typically have horizontal layouts, but human limitations didn’t apply to these aliens. The gravity here felt far lighter than that on Earth and even lighter than it was in other areas of their ship. The pull was just strong enough to keep beings grounded if they so desired, yet weak enough to allow anyone working in one of the lower sections to reach one of the upper ones in only a few graceful bounds. The layout made sense because the ship featured a giant rectangular window that allowed a natural view from the front, beside an equally large screen that simultaneously showed a checkerboard of views from external cameras aimed front, back, left, right, up, and down. Consequently, everyone had an unobstructed view, and those in back never had to shout, “Hey! Down in front!”

The aliens could obviously apply gravity with precision since various small items at workstations stayed put, while chairs could either float, attached to simple tethers, or lock into place on narrow platforms that protruded from the rear wall.

One of them, quite apparently the captain, sat in the centermost chair and swiveled around to face me. “You’ve been here for nearly a week.”

“A week! How is that possible? I only remember arriving on your ship, the nice doctors who examined me, and bits and pieces of an interview with two of your associates. It seems like I was on Earth just this morning . . . and I don’t recall ever meeting you before.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way. You’ve actually seen me many times.” He looked me in the eyes and half smiled. “Let’s just say that we miscalculated how sensitive your species is to our chemistry. Our self-serve euphoria dispensers work well for most, and since you appeared to act normal, it took us a while to discover that there was a problem. As of today, all the dispensers have been reprogrammed to automatically recognize humans and offer customized human euphoria options at the proper dosage. Your memories of the past week should return soon.”

“Thank you.”

“What you remember of your stay has been pleasurable though. Hasn’t it?”

I stood on the platform, still a bit woozy, and looked out toward my tortured home planet. “Certainly. Of course, anything is better than melting in the midst of President Handley’s game of Dodge the Mushroom Cloud.”

“Your president will not be dropping any bombs for a while.” He covered his mouth to repress a chuckle. “We slipped him some medication that . . . altered his mindset a bit. Right now, the so-called commander-in-chief is staring into a full-length mirror, convinced that his genitals are receding into his body.”

“Ah! I remember the Koro syndrome thing! No drugs could make me forget that. Still, I seem to be at a disadvantage here.”

“How so?”

“For starters, you know much more about me than I know—or at least remember—about you.”

“Feel free to ask me anything you want.”

“Okay. What should I call your species?”

“We’re the Pzzants.”

I bit my lip to repress a laugh. “Um, I don’t think it’s wise to refer to yourselves that way, at least not in this solar system. Especially if you ever want to change tactics later and make people think you’re badass. Just out of curiosity, did you mention to anyone on Earth what you’re called?”

“No. We communicate directly with other planets only as a last resort. What do you suggest as an alternative?”

“Well, you’ve obviously been studying Earth and downloading our history into whatever you call the equivalent of a computer.”

“A computer.”

“Then why don’t you just take the name of who you think is the most amazing person ever to walk on our planet and create some variant of that?”

The captain cast a glance toward one of his crewmembers.

She tapped a handheld device, paused for a second, then nodded toward the captain’s chairside monitor.

“Keith Richards? Very well. From now on, we’ll be known as the ‘Keithrichardslys.’”

I repressed a snort. “How about just the Krichards?”

“If you think that’s best,” he said with a nonchalant shrug.

“And what should I call you?” I asked.

“As I’m sure you’ve figured out, I run this ship. Our titles are somewhat different from what you use on Earth, but you may call me Captain Weezeearffputput.”

“Pffft! How about we stick with the theme and call you Captain Jagger?”

“If you think that’s best.”

***

Two days after Captain Jagger—Ha! I was going to be laughing about that one for a while—caught me up on everything I’d been too high to remember, I began to feel like myself again. It helped to make frequent visits to the euphoria dispenser, which was just a short trip down the hall from my cabin.

Most recently, I chose “Margaritas in Maui” because I was feeling a bit nostalgic for a vacation I enjoyed there once. The great thing about Krichard euphoria meds is that they’re realistic enough to give you the feeling you want, but without negative side effects, such as addiction and hangovers. And now that my memory loss problem had been rectified, nothing held me back from experimenting with the various options.

I can’t say whether it was physical or psychological, but just like a real pitcher of margaritas would eventually make me have to pee, so did the virtual pitcher from the euphoria dispenser. Back on Earth, no space-oriented sci-fi book or movie I’d seen ever mentioned public facilities for ship occupants to take a leak. As I stepped into one of the restrooms on my way to the observation lounge, it occurred to me what a missed opportunity that was. I could just imagine such a scene in Star Trek: The Next Generation, with Captain Picard standing at a high-tech urinal, only to have an inquisitive Data pull up next to him.

Here on the Krichard ship, I could use the private restroom in my cabin or any of the public restrooms along the hallways. The public ones were unisex, with privacy screens around each urinal. I guess freezing-up is a problem for males of their species as well. The urinals were similar to what we have on Earth, but without the stink or the puddle. To accomplish such an amazing feat of male cleanliness, an auto-sensor instantly adjusted the height to optimum for each user. If someone still managed to drip or splash, another sensor waited for the messy humanoid to step back before engaging a mechanical arm that reached out from the wall to squeegee and blow-dry the floor. At least that was what I was told since it never had to do that for me.

As for the toilets, they were just as automated. No more cling-ons or inconveniently ripped toilet tissue. If the Krichards ever shared their restroom technology with humans, germaphobes would be in heaven.

I gazed into the restroom mirror, and a stranger stared back at me. The Krichards were preparing to whisk me away to the ancient Middle East to “correct an error in history,” as they put it, so they temporarily altered my Scandinavian blond hair and features. “That’s gonna take some getting used to,” I muttered, as I took in my darkened skin, hair, and beard.

Fortunately, most of the other preparations were simple, at least on my end, albeit a bit invasive. My new Krichard friends had installed a communications device in my head that would allow me to instantly understand and speak any language they programmed into it. Additionally, it would allow them to communicate with me over time and space. I was a little concerned about the potential lack of privacy, but I understood the necessity and was relieved I wouldn’t have to learn Aramaic.

A familiar face greeted me as I left the restroom. “Follow me to the conference room,” she said.

Chrissie, the science and hospitality director, was my main contact on the ship, though that wasn’t her real name. Like her colleagues, her given name was far too difficult for me to pronounce, or even to spell out. Luckily, she and the others saw the wisdom of taking temporary, pronounceable Earth names, and they were happy to adopt whatever I suggested.

Since rock and roll was an important part of my life, I decided to dub all nineteen crewmembers with the names of rock stars they most closely resembled. Because some Krichard features didn’t translate well to human features, I had to be imaginative. Chrissie was easy, however, since she had straight, luxuriously thick, dark brown hair with bangs and a sassy look reminiscent of the Pretenders lead singer during her early thirties.

Chrissie had what seemed to be the toughest job of our history-making mission. In addition to readying me, she had to learn biblical history and program my implant. Fortunately, her hind brain was ideal for the task. Early in the Krichards’ evolution, the extra brain provided primitive memory functions. Later, as the Krichards advanced into a time-traveling species, they artificially enhanced the organ and even added a wireless computer interface. Now their hind brain functions as a virtual solid-state memory chip, allowing them to quickly assimilate the massive amount of information needed to intelligently interact with new species via all forms of communication.

Once we reached the colorful, brightly lit conference room, I sat in a puffy chair while Chrissie perched precariously on the edge of a tall stool. We waited a moment for the first officer to join us. He was a muscular man with wavy black hair. I named him Bruce.

“Here’s the problem,” Chrissie said. “We’d like to send you to the Sermon on the Mount, but the Bible is just about the least accurate historical book we’ve encountered on any planet. There are countless translations, and it’s full of contradictions and errors. Even your own religious scholars disagree with each other about a wide range of details. In fact, we can’t even verify with certainty that Jesus, the main character of the New Testament, actually existed. What if the Bible is just an early, poorly written novel that got a lucky publicity break?”

Bruce looked at me without a hint of emotion on his face. “We could accidentally send you into the midst of some violent conflict, and the locals of the time might very well confuse you with an enemy or proclaim your sudden appearance demonic.’’

“Yeah,” I said with a snort, “I suppose they wouldn’t have any ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’”

His eyelashes flashed deep purple. “You must take this seriously, Marty. All of our top personnel will be able to communicate with you through your implant, but the burst of energy necessary for time travel will deplete the ship of most of its power. Wherever you land, you’ll be stuck there for at least twenty-three Earth hours, while our systems recharge. And if some piece of equipment malfunctions, well—”

“I know,” I interrupted with another snort. “‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want.’”

He moved closer and stared directly into my eyes. “Chrissie, is Mr. Mann on any medication?”

“Nothing medically necessary. He’s been so agreeable and low maintenance. We let him go self-serve at the dispenser right after installing his internal communicator.”

“Effective immediately, we’re restricting Marty’s access to the euphoria dispenser.”

“You mean ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’?” I asked with a grin, before swiveling in my chair to face Chrissie. “Help me out here.”

“It’s a ‘Bitch,’ Marty, but until Bruce or the captain says otherwise, I’ll have to keep you ‘Under My Thumb,’” she said, joining in the fun.

“Ooh! You catch on fast.”

Her eyelashes flashed bright green. “Our species was traveling faster than light-speed before yours even resembled a ‘Monkey Man.’ I memorized the entire Rolling Stones catalog faster than you can Get Yer Ya‑Ya’s Out.”

Bruce scowled. “Can we stop this nonsense and concentrate on our mission?” Then his left eyelash twinkled medium green. “Marty, if we can pull this off, we will save your planet, but we must do it before your president’s Koro syndrome goes into remission and he figures out how to get . . . A Bigger Bang.”

Considering what was happening to my planet, thinking seriously should have been easy. But for me, silliness and laughter have always been defense mechanisms. Without them, I might very well have curled up into a little ball in a corner of the ship, unwilling to move. Perhaps that was also why I had been overdoing it at the euphoria dispenser. My country, which had always prided itself in being the good guys, had really screwed up. A weakness for charismatic TV stars, coupled with a resurgence of our long-repressed dark side, allowed a man more qualified to be a cult leader than a president to win a surprising election. Now the entire world was paying the price.

My selection as the human to save humanity certainly wasn’t because of any superpower. Sure, I’m reasonably fit, but I’m no gym rat or martial arts fighter. If I was successful, it wouldn’t be because of any heroic physical feat. Instead, both the Krichards and I hoped my experience as a travel writer would help me as a time traveler, and my belief in science would assist me in places and times where others fell prey to superstition. If all else fails, at least I’ll go down laughing, I told myself more than once.

Chrissie entered something in her handheld computer, and a few moments later, two additional Krichards joined our meeting: Tina, the rough-edged, dancer-legged time-travel specialist, and Clarence, the big man in charge of security.

After a bit of small talk, Tina said in a smoky voice, “We’re accomplished time travelers, but that doesn’t mean this mission will be easy. This ship is an older model, only capable of sending one person on each time jump. Also, I’ve heard how sensitive you humans are to our euphoria dispenser. I will have to compensate for your inferior physiology.”

“Hey!”

Even though he was seated in a chair similar to mine, Clarence towered over me. “Now is not the time to be offended, Marty. We’re here to help, and she is stating facts. That’s all.”

“I understand. Sorry.”

“When you arrive in the first century,” Clarence continued, “you’ll be on your own. I can give you a few pointers to help you in a fight. Other than that, I can’t do much.” He stood and motioned for me to do the same. Then he took a fighting stance and said, “Let’s see what I have to work with. Suppose someone comes at you like this. . . .” He made a fist and cocked his arm. “What would you do?”

“Uh . . . run?” I said with a smirk.

“That isn’t what I had in mind, but . . . Well, how fast are you?” he asked, looking me up and down as if he thought retreat might be my best option.

“I’m reasonably quick on my feet. Then again, if I’m going back to AD 31, I should be downright speedy. Think about it. I’m six feet tall. Making me anywhere from five to ten inches taller than the majority of men I will encounter in Galilee. Plus, I have the benefit of a lifetime of superior health care and nutrition.”

Clarence placed a giant hand on my shoulder and looked toward Chrissie. “What do you think?”

“Marty has a point. Also, he’d likely be outnumbered in any encounter. I say he should run.”

I broke into song. “Tramps like us, baby—”

“Marty!” Bruce shrieked.

“Sorry.”

Chrissie added, “We will dress you as authentically as possible, in a long tunic, cloak, and sandals. I suggest you practice running in them before you leave the ship.”

I smiled at the mental image of hightailing it away from an angry mob in ancient footwear and said, “I most definitely will. ‘Man’s Valiant Attempt to Save Planet Earth Foiled by Face-Plant,’ would make an unfortunate headline for some intergalactic news service.”

“Does anyone have anything else to add?” Chrissie asked.

We looked at each other in silence.

“Very well,” Bruce said. “Let’s make our initial attempt in two days.”

Initial? Attempt? My nervousness ratcheted up several levels.

Tina stood and waved me toward her. “Come with me, Marty. We must take measurements so we can fabricate a wardrobe for you.”

“Huh? You’re in charge of time travel and clothing fabrication?”

“Yes. Do you doubt my ability to perform multiple jobs?”

“No. It’s just—”

“Marty, this ship is staffed with only nineteen crewmembers. Nobody does just one thing. For me, it’s mostly data input anyway. The main computer runs both the auto-weaver and the time-travel attachments.”

Attachments? Oh, boy.

Chapter 2

Panic in the Hose!

By the time the big day arrived, I was such a nervous wreck that Chrissie permitted me a half-dose from the euphoria dispenser. Because I needed to believe anything was possible, I chose “Cubs World Series 2016,” and the meds did ease my stress a bit. The only downside was that “Go, Cubs, Go!” kept looping through my brain, and I was unable to resist bouncing around the bridge in my first-century getup.

“Look at him,” Bruce said, shaking his head. “The fate of his planet is in his hands, and he’s dancing.”

Captain Jagger shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Chrissie let him visit the euphoria dispenser. The effects will dissipate the moment he time travels.”

I expected that we’d have to slingshot around the sun or something similar, but the Krichard time-travel process was all about energy displacement inside a rainbow-striped cylindrical force field they affectionately called “the hose.” In the simplest terms, they explained that the ship would move into orbit over the North Pole, and they’d shoot me out through the same hose they had used to suck me up in the first place. This time, however, the hose would pass through their special time-travel attachment.

All along, the Krichards were friendly and forthcoming with me about just about everything, except their technology. Their reasoning, I suppose, was the same as advanced militaries on Earth have for not readily sharing information with others about the manufacturing and launching of long-range nuclear missiles. Earth was far behind the Krichards in most areas, but with access to their technology, an egomaniacal leader like President Handley could make us dangerous to other worlds in a hurry.

Still, I had to know more about what I was getting myself into. Before leaving for the hose room, I launched across the bridge and landed neatly in an open seat next to Captain Jagger. “Won’t the primitive people of Galilee freak out if they see a big hose falling out of the sky?”

“What is primitive depends on your perspective.” He paused to thoughtfully consider his next words. “To my people, your species is rather primitive. You haven’t even advanced beyond nuclear weapons or traveled faster than the speed of light. Essentially, the difference between twenty-first-century humans and first-century humans is the same as the difference between our two species today.”

“So are you going to disperse some happy gas first?”

“That won’t be necessary. To put complicated science into understandable words, all the energy going through the time-travel attachment will move the hose into another dimension. No one will see it. You’ll seem to appear out of nowhere. But even that the local people won’t witness since we’ll drop you off at night.”

“If they can’t see the hose, I won’t be able to see it either. How will I get back?”

“We’ll have to power down the hose while we recharge, but our time and location sensors will make sure it drops in exactly the same spot twenty-three hours later.”

“What if I can’t make it to the same spot?”

“You must. Our version of time travel requires precision. As you already know, we’ll be able to communicate with you through your implant. But you can’t expect us to just drop the hose a mile away. If you force us to do so, we’ll lose the time trail and have to reconfigure all time and location settings. That could cause a substantial delay.”

Even with the euphoria drugs coursing through my body, the muscles in my neck knotted up with tension. So much could go wrong, and I was just a normal guy. Surely, Earth had someone with a nerd brain and a football player’s body who was more suited for this task. Besides, even if all the time-travel logistics went exactly as planned, how was I supposed to correct the past? Was I to discredit or kidnap Jesus Christ? Hijack his disciples? The captain told me not to worry. He and his crew had several ideas, but they thought it best to decide what to do once I was in position and had a chance to assess the situation.

Chrissie entered the bridge from a side door, pushed off the wall, and landed on the captain’s platform with a barely audible thump. “It’s time to go, Marty.”

Amazing technology and countless hours of preparation had all led up to this moment. I’d be winging it until further notice.

***

Tina was standing next to the control panel when Chrissie and I entered the hose room. As soon as I was within arm’s reach, she handed me a small, orange plastic box. “If you feel along the right side of your tunic, you’ll find several hidden pockets. Place this in one of them. It contains a butane lighter you can use to wow the locals if necessary. In addition, here’s a pocket watch, so you won’t be late for your pickup time, and a food and water pack to strap around your waist under your clothing.”

I followed her instructions and asked, “What’s next?”

“From your point of view, it will seem like an airlock on a submarine, only you’ll be able to breathe naturally the entire time. We’ll seal you in, pressurize the hose, open the outer hatch, and send you on your way.”

My eyes widened.

Chrissie added, “From our point of view, it will be much more complicated than that. We have to prevent you from freezing and then from burning up, get you to the proper time and place, and, as if those things weren’t enough, keep you from splattering on the Earth’s surface.”

“You two sure know how to make a guy feel safe.”

Chrissie flashed an eyelash. “Don’t worry, Marty. We’re good at what we do.”

Tina motioned for me to climb into the airlock. After she sealed me in, I was fine for a few seconds. Then claustrophobia seized me. I had forgotten to tell her I was terrified of tight spaces. I banged on the wall and yelled, “Let me out! Let me out!”

Tina’s voice filled my head. “The process has already begun. We can’t abort.”

“Slow your breathing, or you’ll throw off our calculations!” Chrissie added.

Two women in my head at once? It was like trying to concentrate on a final exam in high school while having crushes on the girls in the desks on either side. Wait! Could I have a thing for Tina and Chrissie? I barely know them. They’re not even human. My breathing grew faster. I need to slow down and—

Whoosh!

Everything went white.

Everything went black.

I landed with a thud—“Ow!”—stood up, and looked around. “Oh, shit. Something went terribly wrong. I’m blind!”

“Marty, this is Chrissie. You’re not blind. It’s nighttime in the first century. It should be very dark. Just give your eyes a moment to adjust.”

“Okay. . . . Damn, it’s hot and humid here, and it smells like wet forest. And I don’t know if it’s just the aftereffects of my ride, but the ground seems to be vibrating, ever so slightly.”

“Actually, that’s quite odd,” Tina said. “Hold on while I scan to verify your time and location.”

My head went silent, leaving me sweating alone in the dark. As the silence continued, the panicky feeling of being trapped in the airlock crept back into my brain. What was taking her so long? “Tina, are you there?”

“Just a moment.”

Oh, this can’t be good.

“Um . . . Marty. All the hyperventilating you did in the hose. Well . . . it kind of threw everything off. You’re actually in the late Cretaceous period—some sixty-seven million years in the past.”

“What!”

“Didn’t we originally suck you into our ship from a state called Montana?”

“Yes, I’ve lived there many years.”

“Welcome home!”

Chrissie reentered my head. “This is very important, Marty. If possible, don’t move from where you are. The hose will return to fetch you as soon as our systems recharge. If you’re not in the correct location, you could be stuck there for a long time.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem. I can barely see two feet in front of me and seem to be surrounded by trees. I’ll just stand here and—”

Scrunch!

“Whoa! Did you two hear that?”

“Yes,” Tina said. “Hold on again. I’m doing a search of scientific documents on Montana during the Cretaceous period. . . . Here it is. Big dinosaurs, from Triceratops to Tyrannosaurus rex, could all be nearby.”

I’d never been more thrilled and more terrified at the same time. When I was a kid, all I ever talked about was dinosaurs. Later, as a travel writer, I commonly sought locations that were home to large, exotic reptiles. Even so, I knew a T. rex could use a young boa constrictor as dental floss. I had no weapons and no hope of rescue for nearly twenty-three hours. So all I could utter in response to Tina’s announcement was an anemic, “Cool.”

She continued. “In addition to the dinosaurs, some of the plants may be poisonous. Don’t touch anything you don’t have to.”

I jerked my hand away from a tree trunk. “The next time you send me anywhere, please pack a flashlight.”

“Remember the butane lighter I gave you? Take it out. See if you can find something flammable to burn.”

“Wait!” Chrissie warned. “Before you move an inch, you must mark your location.”

I pulled off my cloak and ripped it in two. Then I flicked on the lighter, spotted a slender tree within my reach, and tied one of the halves around it. Once my location was flagged, I took a chance and reached up and broke a branch off the tree I had touched earlier. Next, I wrapped the other half of my cloak around the skinny end of the branch and lit it. Now, at least for a few minutes, I had a torch.

Working fast, I gathered leaf litter, pinecones—anything that looked flammable—and tried to ignite it with my torch. When my torch began to burn out, I ripped the sleeves off my tunic and added them to the tip. If necessary, I’d burn everything I was wearing. No other humans existed to be modest around, and, fortunately, Tina hadn’t made my clothing flame retardant.

Eventually, I gathered enough burnable materials to keep a small fire going. As I stared into the flames, it occurred to me that I was already changing history. Not only was I the first human on Earth, but I had also built the world’s first campfire. The elements would certainly erase all traces of my presence, but if something were to happen to preserve this site, archeologists would be forever perplexed.

Scrunch! Scrunch!

Whatever was out there was getting closer. I resolved not to run. After all, where would I go? Besides, I was pretty sure all top-of-the-food-chain predators throughout Earth’s history had the same instinct to chase the running meal.

Scrunch! Scrunch! Scrunch!

I frantically searched for anything to enlarge my fire, but everything in close proximity was too wet or too green. As I waved my dying torch around, something shiny caught my eye at the base of a nearby tree. I crept closer for a better look. “Wowww!”

“What is it?” Chrissie asked.

“I’ll tell you in a second.” I reached down, and as I grabbed the object, it crinkled in my hand. “I think I’ve just confirmed that scientists are correct. Dinosaurs are reptiles.”

“How do you know that?”

“Skin! They shed it just like modern reptiles, and—oh, my God!—it’s huge.”

“Any theories on what kind of dinosaur it is?”

“Are you asking if it’ll make a snack out of me or not?”

“Yes, basically.”

“I can’t tell. The skin isn’t complete. I’d love to examine it more carefully, but—”

“Burn it!”

“That’s exactly what I had in mind, Chrissie.”

Scrunch! Scrunch! Scrunch! Scrunch!

“This better work! The Scrunchasaurus is almost on top of me.” I ripped off a piece of the shed skin and tossed it into my campfire. It burned but not nearly as well as I hoped it would.

Scrunch! Scrunch! Scrunch! Scrunch! Scrunch!

“God, does that stink!” I covered my nose. “It smells like burning hair. . . . No, make that burning sasquatch.” I paused to listen.

Scrunch . . . Scrunch . . . Scrunch.

“Chrissie, I think we’ve just invented dinosaur repellant.”

“So it’s moving away?”

“Yes.”

“Good job, Marty!”

Now, feeling less stressed, I replenished my torch with another swatch of clothing and took advantage of the extra light to make two piles: one of anything dry enough to burn and one of torn strips of dinosaur shed. “How soon until sunrise?” I asked anyone who was willing to answer.

“About six hours,” Tina offered.

“I’m going to try to get some sleep.”

“Good idea,” Chrissie said. “One of us will be here the entire time if you need anything.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Marty Essen began writing professionally in the 1990s, as a features writer for Gig Magazine. His first book, Cool Creatures, Hot Planet: Exploring the Seven Continents, won six national awards, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune named it a “Top Ten Green Book.” His second book, Endangered Edens, won four national awards. Marty is also a popular college speaker. He has performed the stage-show version of Cool Creatures, Hot Planet on hundreds of campuses, in forty-five states.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
My readers. Although I frequently write about political subjects, my style is to do it with humor. Consequently, my readers often comment that I keep them sane during depressing political times. Time Is Irreverent is for them: a sanity-inducing science fiction satire that is pure escapism.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
Since my previous books were nonfiction, the switch to fiction initially made me feel uneasy. Then the outrageous Nellie Dixon swayed into the story, and she and the protagonist, Marty Mann, took over and did all the typing for me—I swear! My lesson? Sit back and let the characters tell the story.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Science fiction is a great tool for moral lessons. I love all the Star Trek series for that reason. Who could forget its anti-war messages or TV’s first interracial kiss? Science fiction allows me to speculate what human rights and our environment might look like in the future, if we don’t change.

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