Pirates of the Time Trail: The Alternate History Classic
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by Ross Rocklynne
Category: Science Fiction/Alternate History
Description: Nebula Nominee's Never Reprinted Alternate Universes Pulp Masterpiece. Straight from the pages of the Fall 1943 issue of Startling Stories comes this book-length novel of piracy, romance and alternate history. Pilot Steve Killiard is shot down by the Japanese during a WWII dog fight. Then a strange ship materializes in the heavens above and soon Killiard is taken captive by pirates from an alternate Earth whose discovery of a way to cross dimensions frees them to descend upon and loot Earths with different histories that possess inferior technologies. But when Killiard finds himself the slave of a female time pirate, and starts to fall for her, he thinks things might not be so bad. That's when he learns that our Earth is fated to lose WWII, and determines to let nothing stand in the way of stealing the time pirates' technology and returning home to help win the war for America.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: February 2007
9 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [237 KB]
Reading time: 136-190 min.
FROM this height the sea was a great gray carpet laid across the face of the world, and the wakes churned up by the vessels of two fleets locked in death battle were but streaks of white lint on the carpet.
Somewhere to the north was Japan. Somewhere to the south, Australia. Above were the depthless reaches of a blue, unmarred sky. And up in that sky, flying with apathetic precision, Captain Steve Killiard occupied a thundering, twin-motored world of his own.
To Killiard the thunder of those giant motors was felt rather than heard. It washed through a man's body like an anesthetic dulling emotions, dulling personality, fantastically seeming to mold the body to the plane until hands and arms and legs and mind were but extensions of the instrument panel. One forgot, after a time, whether hands and arms and legs and mind controlled the bomber as it rolled on its dead level course, or whether they reacted merely to the desires of the bomber. It did not matter. The bomber, with its crew of five, was one entity, with one fixed purpose--to sink and destroy.
That bomber was one entity among many. It was one of six Mitchell's flying in formation, approaching the naval operation in which two enemy fleets were fighting to a grim conclusion, in which Japanese Zeros and Mitsubishis fluttered like moths over the carpet-like sea, attacked by and attacking Allied Corsairs and Airacobras.
"Objective sighted," came the cool, tinny drawl of the flight commander. "Act as individual units. Attack at will."
The voice in Killiard's headphones cut off. He raised his eyes from the instrument panel, eased the left rudder. And the Mitchell, breaking smoothly from the formation, gave no evidence within itself that it had changed course, save that the ocean seemed to move to the right in a slow, sweeping arc. The toy ships on the horizon, rocking with each salvo of red, bursting fire, hardly changed position with reference to the banking ship, for they were still some miles ahead.
The enemy fleet was thinned out in a long, straggling line.
Seven enemy destroyers and heavy battlewagons were either sunk or limping and out of the battle. One battleship was going down by the stern.
Dipping and diving, sinuously wriggling out of tight spots like the snakes after which they were named, a flight of Airacobras were in chattering combat with a swarm of Zeros and Mitsubishis. Captain Steve Killiard watched this secondary battle out of the corner of his eyes.
His own fighter planes, three in number, huddled close to their parent, wary and ready to defend.
He spoke through the intercommunication phone, addressing himself to his bombardier, who sat in his plexiglass enclosed cubby in the nose of the ship, in front of and below Killiard, sat there on his "bicycle seat," coolly waiting for Killiard to give him command of the ship.
"We'll tackle that baby off to the left," Killiard said briefly. "Carrier." His firm lips, set over a cleanly-shaven, cleft chin, lifted in a fighting smile. "All yours, Jim."
"Okay, Steve," the bombardier cracked out. "Level out at two thousand."
"Coming down the mountain," Steve Killiard muttered. He caught his copilot's tensed glance. That individual raised the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, formed an "o" of approval. He grinned broadly. He pointed toward the triumphant flight of Airacobras. Three enemy planes were rolling down out of the sky; one, a Zero, with its wings broken off cleanly; the other two, Mitsubishis, trailing ominous clouds of tar-black smoke.
Steve Killiard nodded, his eyes, glinting, and turned his attention back to the nearing aircraft carrier, still but a toy on the unruffled ocean. Its decks were empty of all but perhaps two dozen pursuit ships. As Killiard watched, half the ships, one after another, left the broad dock of the carrier, dipped into space. They disappeared from sight under the Mitchell.
Three destroyers near the carrier trailed s-shaped wakes. One other was making furious headway around the Jap carrier's stern, striving to lay down a smoke-screen.
Steve Killiard leveled out. He held his forward course inflexibly, until the bombardier commanded:
"Right-three degrees right-set!"
Killiard notched the wheel over. The muscles of his long body tensed until it seemed likely they would break out the seams of his regulation blouse. The carrier was growing to an immense size, a long low raft of a ship, aswarm with frantically running Japs. Another flight of fighters left its decks.
Killiard's three escorting planes were gone below, to combat the enemy fighters.
The three protecting destroyers now blossomed with their fanning flak. Tiny white clouds of smoke appeared to right and left of the bomber. The bomber jerked and wobbled as if a giant had touched her briefly. "Hold her," snapped the bombardier, his voice deadly cool.
Killiard held her, quieting the seesawing wings.
"Hold her there!"
Killiard sat still, experiencing one long drawn-out moment when the bomber seemed to hang motionless two thousand feet above the smoke that wisped from the carrier's funnels. He sat with nerves that were tight and tingling with the variety of impressions that flowed in from the outside world. Sunlight and blue sky and tortured battlegrounds and unruffled oceans and the depths beneath the oceans: they crawled with man-made monsters. Firecrackers, giant firecrackers, roared and rumbled.
"Up! Take 'er away! Scram!"
The bombardier's joyful yell sounded in Killiard's ears. Time now jumped into gear again, and he found himself once more in a real ship, moving at two hundred miles an hour above the Jap carrier. His hands reacted automatically, touched at his elevator controls. The bomber roared up into the blue sky at a laboring angle, and suddenly was followed by a voluminous, rolling explosion that caught it and lifted it still higher. Smoke, white and billowing, fluffed up past the windows, then magically cleared away as the plane ascended beyond the effects of whatever frightful event had occurred below.
Killiard climbed up at a steep angle, the ocean dropping away, the sun in his eyes. A new sound came through the growingly powerful thunder of his motors. An excited, angry buzzing sound, a droning such as wasps might make, their nest violated. His copilot pointed excitedly. Killiard saw them, zooming from the right, perhaps a dozen fighting planes.
He wondered briefly what had happened to his three escorts.
His bombardier blasted joyfully.
"Down the funnel!" he reported.
The ship was Killiard's now, his responsibility. There was no need for a return to the carrier. It was certainly sinking.
He pulled back on the wheel. The plane made a valiant attempt to raise its nose, but failed. Something was wrong.
As if anticipating the humming question that rose in his mind, the turret gunner took time out from his mad swiveling to report.
"Half the tail section slashed away," he reported.
Steve Killiard's lips thinned. He brought the Mitchell around in a long semi-circle. He saw the stricken carrier briefly, before he passed over it and left it behind. It was enclosed in smoke from stem to stern, its midsection belching clouds of steam mixed with greasy, thick, black vapors. In addition, the smoke-screen from the destroyer was drifting over it. In spite of these obtruding influences, it was evident that the five-hundred pound bomb, dropping squarely down the funnel, had exploded in the boilers. No ship could withstand such treatment and remain a ship. The carrier had cracked completely in two, its remaining load sliding overboard, its crew caught in an inferno from which there was no escape.
"Good job, Jim," Killiard said coolly. "The anti-aircrafts hit us though. We'll have to run for it."
His heart was beating in strong, steady strokes, his muscles were like iron his nerves were keyed to that high pitch which bespoke his sure knowledge of danger. The plane was damaged, it had a dozen fighters harrying it, and its own escort had obviously been shot down.
Mitchells are tough. Enemy pilots are deathly afraid of them, even though there is but one gun turret. But the turret-gunner rides a swiveling merry-go-round which he kicks into action at will. While an enemy fighter jockeys into position, or tries to jockey into position, the turret-gunner merely follows him with the sheer murder that erupts from his weapon, blasts him out of the sky, and sweeps without stop onto another target.
Nonetheless, the plane was in bad shape, the fighters which pursued it were madly intent on knocking it into the ocean, and there were too many of those fighters. Whether the ship or its crew could live through the dangers which surrounded it was doubtful.
At that moment, scarcely missing the right wing, a Mitsubishi shot over the bomber, plainly revealing the emblem of the rising sun on its belly. It had come plunging directly at the bomber's flank, its sights lined on the fuselage, its guns chattering. The voice of the communications officer now spoke to Killiard somewhat faintly.
"Sorry, sir, the radio is out," he said. "We can't communicate with the rest of the flight. Machine gun fire tore through the fuselage."
Steve Killiard spoke sharply. "Did he wing you?'
"Not badly, sir."
"Carry on," said Steve Killiard, biting his lip. He ran the sleeve of his left arm across the slight film of perspiration that had formed on his forehead, uncaringly smudging the yellow hash-marks--service stripes--above his cuffs. Two possible decisions lay open to him. He could notch back to the main site of the battle and hope for protection from the fleet's fighters. Or he could try to make base. Any way he looked at it, the bomber was in a serious predicament, and likely to be in a more serious one.
A Zero fighter showed up ahead of the bomber, crazily driving straight toward the nose. Steve Killiard momentarily saw the hunched-over figure of a Jap in the pilot cubby; then his attention was caught by the blood-red machine-gun fire coming from the Zero's wings.
The big bomber suddenly yawed over on one wing. Killiard heard a tremendous pounding, shattering racket, a vibration which shook the whole ship. With clarity, he understood what had happened. His hand darted forward, switched off the ignition to the motor on the right wing. Machine-gun fire had shot the propeller away; the motor had proceeded to race, knocking itself and the wing apart--if Steve had let it.
Ahead of him, the damaging Zero fighter suddenly was ablaze with flame. It fell to one side, leafed away.
"Turret gunner reporting, sir," a voice said. "Two of the enemy shot down."
"Very good," Steve Killiard said automatically. "Keep at it." He spoke next to the bombardier. "Better jettison your load, Jim. We're no more good in this battle. We're going in."
In the belly of the plane, two doors swung outward and down. Three thousand pounds of bombs fell quietly, and blossomed into ornate, fiery flowers as they struck the sea.
Steve Killiard felt the effects of that loss of weight almost immediately. He had been losing altitude steadily. Now the altimeter crept up. But the air-speed indicator told him that time in the air was short. The nearest Australian mainland was four hundred miles distant. His base was fifty miles farther. But the mainland it would have to be. That is to say, if they could make it. Which, from all appearances, certainly did not seem probable right now! * * * * CHAPTER II
IN THAT momentous, incredible race toward the mainland, with enemy planes harassing the Mitchell, each moment Steve Killiard never expected to live through the next. But moments came and went, and he was still alive, though the arching plexiglass enclosure above him was riddled with bullets, though the fuselage had gaping cavities along its length, though part of the tail section had been torn away.
The furious wasping sound of enemy planes, running circles around the bomber, was a nightmare which after awhile dulled his senses. Even when the communications officer, who had previously been wounded, reported that the turret-gunner was dead, Killiard listened without emotion.
The communications officer took over the duties of the turret-gunner, who had left him with an escort of five hostile planes.
Two of those planes now exploded in the path of the ship. The three remaining planes went into crazy maneuvers, frantically trying to complete the bomber's demolition.
Low, tense with hope, the bombardier's voice rang out.
"Land, right ahead, sir," reported the bombardier.
Steve Killiard strained his eyes. Far away, perhaps ten minutes Right, he saw the low-lying Australian mainland, gray, featureless, hardly distinguishable from the ocean. His heart began a slow, sickening pounding. The remaining motor was overloaded, heroically fighting to hold the craft above the sea. And if the other motor were shot away it would be all up with the Mitchell.
Steve Killiard flicked his eyes at his co-pilot.
"Bail out when we hit the coast," he snapped. "That includes you, too, Jim."
The gunner reported another plane down.
"What about you, Steve?" The bombardier's voice was strained.
"It's been a miracle we've come this far," Killiard said. "I'll rely on another miracle to get us back to base."
After the co-pilot had disappeared into the hatch, he felt a closed-in sense of aloneness. That was dissipated somewhat when one of the two remaining enemy fighters slipped crazily to one side, out of control! Killiard had seen the pilot clap a hand to his breast, his face contorted in a cruel agony.
"So long, little yellow devil," Killiard muttered. He spoke to the substitute gunner, twice, but received no answer. He paled. He knew the answer to that. The average life of a gunner was thirty-four seconds, said the statisticians. That little hump on the fuselage, the revolving turret, was the most vulnerable spot on the whole ship.
"So long, old man." said the bombardier. "See you."
"Sure," said Steve Killiard.
He did not see them go, but he knew they had gone, one after another, plummeting down for a thousand feet before they pulled the rip. The ship was now two thousand feet up, but slanting down at an increasing angle. His lips began to move in slow, passionless curses.
Meanwhile, one Jap ship relentlessly dogged him. Desperately, Steve Killiard heeled the big plane over, putting one wing between himself and a vicious stream of lead. A row of jagged holes appeared in the wing as if by magic.
He was defenseless now. The plane had no protection.
When his second motor was almost torn away from its mooring, he gave up. The plane's nose turned downward. He immediately locked his controls, twisted off his 'bicycle seat,' and descended into the open hatch. He crept down the hanging metal stairs, feeling the slip stream plowing against him. He could see below him, scarcely two thousand feet, the dreary wastes of a treeless Australian desert.
He never knew what happened to the Mitchell, which had almost pulled through an incredible shellacking against incredible odds. He dropped like a stone, wind ballooning up through his pinks, while-the earth below swelled up as if someone were pumping it full of air.
He knew a moment of fright which made him want to pull the rip cord before necessity demanded. He did not want to be machine-gunned in the air, though. At the last second, scarcely with eight hundred feet margin, he yanked viciously. The reply from the 'chute was immediate. There was a cruel jerk at his shoulders, a cessation of motion, a disappearance of air pressure. He seemed to float idly, but as a matter of fact, he was still falling with considerable speed which lessened gradually. Two hundred feet above the ground, he was descending at normal parachute speed.
He struck with body relaxed, and tumbled head over heels on the ground, pulling madly at the lower ropes to spill air from the 'chute. The 'chute emptied, folding up gracefully, and he lay still, panting.
Then, sounding louder every passing second, he heard a sound that chilled his blood; the drone of a diving plane. He looked up once, wildly, saw the Mitsubishi boring down, motors wide open. The deadly coughing sound of a machine-gun came.
Steve Killiard threw himself flat on his face, locking his hands over his head, frantically trying to make himself as small as possible. The thunder of the plane mounted, crescendoed into one deafening peak of sound.
Near him, Steve heard the peculiar spat-spat of lead fluffing the ground, literally weaving a circle around him. Then the plane swooped up.
Steve jumped wildly to his feet, looking for cover. But on that whole barren plain there was no tree, no shrub, no rock. Quickly he freed himself from the parachute harness and stepped clear of the gear. Next he flung back his head and looked upward. The Jap was on the way down again.
Something erupted in Steve Killiard. He knew with a cold, reasoning clarity, that the pilot would not miss this time, and he had no desire to die with his face to the ground.
He took a stance, feet braced, the hot sun bathing him with a heat that was welcome in this last moment of life.
He shook his fist at the approaching plane.
"Come on, you yellow pirate!" he roared. "You'll kill me, but one of us will kill you, you hunk of yellow meat. I'd do it over again if I had the chance. I'd do it over a thousand times, if I could blow you and your sneaking race off the map. Come on, kill me."
Bravado, an inner something was telling him. But he ranted on, panting out his hate, filled with an obscene loathing for this pilot and his kind. His own death seemed nothing, now. He was remembering his own sister, imprisoned by the Japs in Hong Kong. She was dead, now; and how she died he could guess.
The Mitsubishi slanted down, and its guns began to chatter. Steve Killiard waited for those bullets to find their mark.
And then two events occurred simultaneously.
Steve Killiard's vituperative flow was chopped off as if by an axe. Fifty feet away, materialized from out of the air, a strange cylindrical object--a ship of some sort--had appeared. Around it hung a faint nimbus of light, pale, tenuous in quality.
Secondly, the Jap plane had stopped in mid-flight. Then, magically, it turned into shattered debris and burst into flame. The blazing fragments slid futilely down to the ground as if it were falling down the outside of a dome!
In a second the Jap pilot was dead, his guns silenced, his plane a heap of burning ruins. Although surprised, Steve Killiard stood there and contemplated the result with a cold, cynical eye. Two years of war had taught him to rely only on his two hands, his own brains, and his highly alert senses. Outside influences rarely stepped in to swing events in Steve Killiard's favor. There were few miracles.
He reached blunt fingers into an inner pocket, extracted a cigarette, and lighted it with a gold cigarette lighter a girl had given him in Brooklyn, centuries ago, it seemed. Centuries ago, when one was young, and love and laughter were the most important things; when one's heart was light, and when one had great faith in humanity. Yes, that was centuries ago; for surely it would take centuries for one's outlook and whole philosophy to change, for all the young love and laughter to turn to hate and scowling bloodlust...
The smoke soothed his taut nerves.
He proceeded to study the ship which had materialized from thin air. English, American, Chinese, Japanese, Russian? Neither. This was no aircraft. It had no visible means of propulsion, and its stem was indistinguishable from its stern. Along its cylindrical length-one hundred and fifty feet of length, perhaps was a row of portholes; and beneath those, slots which could easily have been gun embrasures of some sort.
Studying the port-holes, Killiard thought he saw three or four faces staring out at him. He stared back, without friendliness. He would show small gratitude for an incomprehensible rescue until he found out why he had been saved. He frowned a little when he thought he saw a feminine face looking out at him with interest. The strange ship descended to the desert, not far away, where it landed without a bump.
Killiard's attention was attracted by a smooth sliding sound. In the circular end of the ship nearest him, an oblong of metal slid to one side. A man edged his vast bulk through the opening with some difficulty, and stood looking at Steve, his great booted feet forked, his be-ringed hands on his staunch hips.
"Entrez, donc, stranger," he called. "Ne restezx. A comme un arbre."
French, Steve Killiard thought, with a slight start. The Free French forces of de Gaulle. What in the name of heaven were they doing in Australia? Then he reconsidered, and felt a strange, eeriness at the reconsideration. This was no modern French.
There was a peculiar slurring, a peculiar guttural tone, a peculiar misplacement of accents.
And this was no modern man, to judge by his appearance. The first trickle of doubt, the first startled belief that he had run against something abnormal, came to Captain Steve Killiard. Too, curiosity jumped to the fore. A ship, that appeared out of nothing. A strange barrier, invisible, yet necessarily as solid as steel to be able to halt a Jap plane at the full downward sweep of its fight. And a man, dressed in a clown's suit, red on one side, green on the other, a naked dagger hanging from his right hip, a bolstered weapon of some sort strapped against his left thigh.
Killiard addressed him sharply. "Qu'est-ce que c'est que cex?" he demanded. "What goes on? Qu'appelezvous, monsieur."
"Friends," the big man answered, with a show of impatience. "And your French is as bad as your manners. Though that can be explained by the French-yellow Fork, eh? Allons, donc-allons, donc!" He turned back inside the ship as if not doubting that Steve Killiard would follow.
Killiard hesitated for only a second. Then, with a feeling that he was entering upon an adventure he had not bargained for when he signed up with the armed forces, he flipped his cigarette away, and strode in the doorway in the hull of the vessel.
He walked down a low tunnel, bending his head slightly. A garishly garbed man stepped to one side to allow him to pass. As Killiard emerged from the tunnel into a colorfully furnished room, he heard the tell-tale sliding of the door, as it went back into place. His senses jumped to the alert. He remained with his back partly to the wall, and turned his narrowed eyes on the occupants of the room.
There were three of them. One was the huge, blond-haired, clownishly dressed man who had first addressed Killiard. The second was a younger man, dressed in black leather boots which flared out at the sides. His trousers were tight and black, his jacket was open and loose, revealing a loose white silk shirt with the collar open. A broad-brimmed black hat, attached by a strap around his deeply bronzed neck, hung back over his shoulders.
He was watching Steve Killiard with interest.
The third person was a girl, legs and arms quite bare. A kilt strapped around her waist fell halfway to her knees. Her blouse was covered with a myriad little bells, of innumerable colors. Her wrists, ankles and throat sparkled with what must have been thousands of stones. She was leaning on a three-legged table which came up almost to her shoulders, one ankle crossed over the other.
"Oui," she spoke, carelessly running her eyes up and down Killiard. "A fine specimen, father. He'll do. But I doubt much that I'll ever find a slave to replace my stalwart Roman." She shook her head sadly. "You should never have shot him, Phillipe."
He, with the broad-brimmed hat kept his impassive eyes on the American pilot. "The fool was falling in love with you already," he sneered.
She turned her dark head after a moment, regarding Philippe through lidded eyes.
"Your jealousy becomes tiresome," she said coolly. "Mind you don't lose your temper on this new creature."
"Come, come!" The big man, obviously the girl's father, clapped his great hands resoundingly. "By Saint Joan, God preserve her ashes, can't you see our captive is itching with curiosity? Best to explain his situation, and then discuss his merits as a slave."
He rubbed his hands together with a sandpapery sound, looking slyly from the girl to Philippe, and then to Killiard. "But I wager this one will fall in love with you, too." He threw back his yellow mane of hair and revealed his polished white teeth as he emptied his lungs in one burst of laughter.
The girl looked at him disapprovingly.
Then she turned deep greenish eyes back to the pilot.
"Do not think us ill-mannered," she said. "After you've been with us awhile, a great many puzzling factors will clear themselves up. Since you'll be taking orders from me hereafter, you may as well get used to the sound of my voice. I'll take a moment or so for an explanation. However," she added, in a tone of warning, kindly do not fall in love with me. As an idea of what you may expect if you do, Philippe has already killed three of my slaves."
Steve Killiard still stood with his back to the wall. A cold stiffness had taken hold of his muscles while he listened. Whatever situation he had stumbled into, it hinged somewhat on madness. The girl's last words brought him back to practical affairs.
He crossed glances with her, allowed a trace of scorn to appear in his eyes.
"Not a chance, sister," he said slowly, deliberately.
She came to an upright position.
"What is that?" Then a slow flush started up her face. Killiard continued to stare insolently.
"Silence!" she snapped.
She took two quick, impulsive steps toward him, her hand falling to the weapon strapped around her bare waist. Then as suddenly she relaxed, a smile playing around her full red lips. She studied him through long-lashed eyes, seeming to see him for the first time. She cast a hasty glance at Philippe.
"We shall see about that, eh, Philippe?" A mischievous tantalizing dimple appeared in her tanned cheeks. "This creature says there is not a chance to fall in love with me. We shall see, eh?"
Philippe shrugged indifferently. His hand touched suggestively at his weapon. "As you like, Elizabeth. You find your pleasure in strange ways." Then he added one grim comment.
"I know how to handle impudent slaves," he said, touching his weapon with sinister significance.