The Future

Somewhere or Other

"Over here!" yelled the male humanoid.

The three Earth human women struggled to reach him over the mounds of rubble and with energy discharges crackling around them. He moved towards them on what may have been a large motor cycle.

The women were a motley group. A tough New York City detective, Rachel and a mother and daughter Janelle and Megan whom Rachel had been protecting. Still was protecting, in fact.

Perhaps we are making a mistake going to him? thought Rachel. Yet the entity appeared to offer the only possibility of escape from their current predicament. The brutal urban conflict they had arrived smack dab in the middle of.

"Get down behind this quasi-concrete slab," he instructed "it will offer some protection."

"Where are we? and what the hell is going on," asked Rachel. .

The entity didn't answer straightaway. "This electromagnetic motorcycle contains a deflector shield," was his response. "I've positioned it so that the deflector shield and slab together will give us good temporary protection."

"What in the hell is going on here? tell us hat you know!" insisted Rachel.

"It's a three way war between cyborgs, androids, and robots," came the reply "a war that will end when only one group of AI's is left standing. We are not targets here; if anyone of us is killed it will only be as collateral damage."

"That's a great comfort," persisted Rachel "and you know all this how exactly?"

"I "arrived" here about 12 hours ago, as you measure time," came the response "and have had a chance to look around."

"And just exactly where is here? – where in the hell are we?"

"It's an alternate reality," came the reply "for you and for me too," he added.

"Ohh!" was the only response this solicited from any of the three women.

They had all heard of such things of course, at least as a theoretical concept. Rachel had also heard stories, stories only but not so theoretical. This place was just sufficiently different, and weird, for it to actually be an alternate reality.

"I do have an apology to make though," the alien continued, "I briefly entered each of your minds, to know your language and origins and circumstances. It does make things a lot easier. I am Treldron by the way, and of course I already know your names."

All three women started to look shocked but indignation gave way to a feeling of some awe. No one doubted he was telling the truth about the mind entry. He knew our language, didn't he thought Janelle.

"Don't make a habit of it!" bristled Rachel.

Then, despite the alien's precautions, Megan took a hit from one of the AI's energy weapons unexpectedly reflected from some silvery material buried amid the rubble.

It was bad.

Cradling her daughter Janelle screamed "I don't know who or even what you are but if you can help, please help. She has had to experience a childhood that no child should and now this."

The big alien stooped down. If he was concerned it wasn't obvious.

"It's a fatal hit, her life force is fading even now," he said more in a matter of fact way, "I can only save her by giving her a part of my own life force."

"Please, whatever you can do to save my daughters life," pleaded Janelle.

"I feel great," responded Megan after the life force transfer "like I've never felt before," to her mothers and Rachel's anxious looks. "Mum, I can feel a part of his life force inside me; I can feel his strength and inner calm."

All three women looked to Treldron – their faces asking the obvious question.

"It has already renewed," the alien responded "my life force is again at full strength."

"If the young woman, _if Megan," he corrected himself "suffered from any previous physical illnesses or infirmities they will now be gone." Again he said this in a matter of fact way.

Afterwards Rachel looked up and up at the alien. He was imposing but not beyond human parameters, maybe 6' 10". He was dressed in a neutral grey perhaps military outfit that hugged his body contours, indeed seemed to be a part of his body as if painted on. There was the slightest hint of very fine attachments integrated into the neutral grey uniform. To Rachel they suggested a highly advanced exo-skeleton arrangement.

As protector of Janelle and Megan, Rachel's reaction to the alien had been hostile but not anymore. What had happened here today was something very, very special. Beyond prior human experience. She knew also that, for the time being at least, in this strange place, they had a new protector.

Treldron saw that the unending battle of the AI's was veering closer to the group.

"I'll have to get them away from here," he said moving out from the concrete block to engage them.

The big alien moved with frightening, almost machine speed, producing an energy weapon from somewhere that none of the women thought he had and firing with stunning deadly accuracy.

"Jeeesuus," Rachel heard herself say "he's belting the living shit out of them!"

As he returned to the group Treldron sought to explain the apparent ease with which he moved the focus of the AI's battle further away. "I'm not a recognized target for them; they didn't deliberately shoot back at me."

With the aid of the electromagnetic cycle's deflector shield full on, the small group made it's way across the 200 meters or so of a park like open area to undulating woodland that lay to the side of the destroyed conurbation. The hills offering protection against stray energy discharges from the battle raging in the city. Treldron continued to be watchful for any "collateral" droid/bot/borg artificial intelligence fire.

"Where are you taking us?" enquired Rachel.

"To that building," Treldron pointed to a structure partially embedded in the hillside nearby. "I examined it earlier and it can provide some temporary shelter for you."

The inside of the building was basic, spartan, even. On the lowest level nestling into the hillside a type of garage/storage area contained two more of the electromagnetic cycles, some unfathomable tools and several energy rifles. The next level – still into the hillside had very basic accommodations and the top level standing above the hillside was an observation area. It looked out from the hilltop over to the City. Yet Treldron had determined that it was heavily shielded by vastly thick quasi ferro-concrete walls and an equally thick observation window of an unusually strong transparent metal.

Jenny looked across at what may have been a bed and chairs on the middle level. "Whoever lived here was a very different shape to us," she heard herself saying "and bigger!" Then the 3 women collapsed adjusting to the odd shaped chairs – grateful of the rest and respite.

"So you arrived here by accident just as we did?" enquired Janelle.

Treldron nodded.

"From where?" asked Janelle.

"It wouldn't mean anything to you," Treldron responded, "another reality, quite different from yours."

Rachel turned more practical. "Do you have any idea, any idea at all how we can get home from here?"

"Each reality has both permanent fixed reality gateways and also moving temporary reality gateways. It would be better if we could find a permanent gateway."

All three women gave him a certain look.

"I've had occasion before, to travel among the realities. We need to acquire information as to where the gateways might be. Though our most immediate need is to get all of you somewhere relatively safe and get you rested. Then we'll start to look for gateways."

Treldron changed the subject. "We cannot stay here in this building too long," he offered apologetically "in the dark time, what you call night, another type of contest takes place in the city, something entirely more frightening."

Rachel, at least was curious, but Treldron seemed not to want to discuss it. Just asking the women to trust him on this. That he would explain later.

Then Treldron pressed an unusual shaped wall button and a crude local 3D map appeared above a low type of table. He pointed to something on it.

"There's another, larger version of this building, whatever its purpose," said Treldron "about 60 miles down through this wooded area. I think it will take us far enough away from the night denizens of the City and if not – at least offer us greater protection."

After what had happened earlier no one in the group, not even Rachel, queried Treldron's recommendation. They didn't even ask any more questions about the night threat in the City.

The women shook their heads to Treldron's query about food and water. In response he produced, seemingly from nowhere, a small pouch and unfolded it. "Neutral nourishment," he said "able to be consumed by most humanoid types in any of the realities. Megan should try it first as part of my life force is with her."

The group traveled down on three electro-magnetic cycles, Janelle and Megan doubling up. Shielded by the hills and ever increasing distance from the fighting going on in the City. They encountered no other life forms – natural or artificial. It was easy traveling for them using a flat clearway between the wooded areas.

On arrival this second, larger, but similar building contained a few surprises.

Again it was at three levels.

The lower level garage/storage area contained an electro-magnetic air bus about the size and of similar shape to a modest hovercraft. There were the ubiquitous but unfathomable tools, some more energy rifles and something else.

"Are they what I think they are?" asked Rachel with a smile.

"Exo-skeleton supported light armor," replied Treldron "at a reasonable technology level - just what the Doctor ordered," he sounded almost human.

"Although I see that you won't need it," responded Rachel.

Treldron just nodded.

The second and top levels of the building were larger replicas of the first building but with superior facilities – including some computing facilities.

Treldron stood watch all of that night without any apparent fatigue. Though he took a small rest moment at sunrise. Thankfully, as Treldron had predicted, there was no sign of the slivers.

Encouraged by Treldron the women took time the next light/day period to fly the electro-magnetic shuttle and to use the exo-skeleton armor and energy weapons. Actually having some fun in the process. Rachel felt good seeing Janelle and Megan laugh and joined in.

One thing was for sure. When they decided it was time to move again – they would be well prepared.

Eventually Treldron told them about the night denizens of the City – a time when the AI's conveniently disappeared.

"Vast numbers of intelligent large black rat type creatures. Prolific breeders and highly adaptive. They are outmatched though," did he almost shiver slightly mused Jenny "by the slivers. Literally millions of tiny metal slivers all of uniform size. They have limited individual but vast collective intelligence. The battle is not as one sided as you might think though the _ creatures have adapted to be able to eat the slivers. Though the ultimate result of the conflict cannot be in doubt."

"It is the "slivers" that should be of the most concern to us. They seem the dominant intelligence in this reality now."

Even Rachel shivered. Treldron had not deliberately wanted to scare them but they needed to know.

Treldron knew that unless they could leave this reality soon it was inevitable their paths would cross with the slivers. It would be a case of "them or us."

The group stayed for several "days" in the comfortable building. Neither the black rat like creatures nor the slivers came down after them from the city. Still there was one unusual interruption. Trouble that Treldron had been able to sense in advance. An ability that was well developed within him.

A mixture of half a dozen huge robotic machineries that Treldron thought might originally have had mining applications. From the distant horizon the menacing machineries made their way purposefully and at considerable speed toward Treldron and the women. As they came closer it was clear each machine was being piloted by small individuals; children, elves, or dwarves or perhaps something entirely more sinister.

"Can we just pretend we are not here," asked Janelle innocently "we are fairly high up here and well protected."

"We could try," responded Treldron "but they are making a bee-line for us and with those machineries they will be able to reach us easily – even if they have to remove the hillside and eventually they will smash their way in here. I'm not of a mind to allow that!"

Treldron started taking highly accurate shots at the machineries from the observation level of the building. Targeting the "cabins" that each individual was located in. One after another Treldron killed all drivers of the machineries and smashed up the controls in their cabins with his energy weapon. This stopped four of the leviathans in their tracks. Yet two more appeared to be on some form of automatic pilot and came on with murderous intent.

With two of the huge machines on automatic and still heading for them Treldron, dropped down from the building's observation level. Down the high almost cliff face front of the building and on to the ground with a worried Janelle looking on. The others seemed not so worried. Megan with a part of Treldron's life force forever with her had more of a sense of what he could do. Rachel had already pretty much convinced herself that Treldron was tougher than anything else that might come along hereabouts. Except, maybe, for the slivers.

Treldron hit the ground running and avoiding huge swaying robotic arms climbed up the robot machines huge legs to enter a control cabin crudely located in the groin area of the human shape machine. He literally tore the controls of the cabin apart until finally the colossal machine halted in its tracks.

By then the final machine still moving, a monstrous crab like shape was starting to edge around behind their building from where it would be easier to launch an attack. Still apparently on automatic. The control cabin still containing its dead occupant was partly submerged into the top of the machine and difficult to get at. Avoiding deceptively fast pincers Treldron started to climb the mechanical legs when the machine completely shut down. Treldron continued on to the control cabin anyway, threw out the dead body and ripped the cabin and its controls totally apart. Then in a display of strength, that the others had hitherto not seen, he upended the motionless but massive machinery.

Janelle gasped but Rachel and Megan were not so surprised by the might of Treldron.

On what was to be their penultimate night in the building Treldron surprised them all. He had been quietly gathering information from the unusual computing system.

"I may have located a partially constructed alternate reality gateway," he said bringing up a more sophisticated 3D map than the one he used earlier in the previous building. Treldron pointed to a spot on the map located not far from what was another of the strange cities. "The records suggest a research facility," he added. "Trouble is there are probably slivers in the nearby city."

"There's some kind of fortified residence here," Treldron went on pointing to a spot on the 3D map. "A substantial building atop what may be a plateau. Not so close to that city and its slivers. It may be a good base of operations from which to make short day time visits to the facility housing the reality gateway."

"We are much better equipped now for any travel," offered Janelle thinking of the electromagnetic airbus and exo-skeleton armor among other things.

Treldron nodded.

Yet Treldron had discovered other things from his examination of the sophisticated computer records. "It is passing strange," he offered later and somberly "that the entities who were the dominant inhabitants of this world are gone. Down I believe to the last individual. It's as if something just picked them up and dumped them somewhere else."

All three women could see that this bothered Treldron deeply. A mystery that he might not be prepared to let go.

"I've seen enough to see they were a civilized race," finished Treldron. He sounded sad but it was hard to tell.

That morning they left on the next scheduled part of their trip. To the plateau residence shown on the 3D map back at the larger building. It would be their base from which they would investigate the alternate reality gateway at the research facility.

They started their journey cruising at several thousand feet before descending to lower altitude then gradually moving down to near ground level. Eventually just skimming at speed along an impossibly wide and seemingly infinite dead straight beach. Even stopping at times to take in the spectacular oceanic views. It gave them all a feeling of pure exhilaration.

Yet as the group continued to skim along what they had decided to call the Infinity Beach Treldron's ability to sense danger in advance ran into overdrive again. Well up ahead there was a compound of what may have been huge ground transporters. They seemed like rail care sized trucks of enormous length. Possibly electro-magnetic as that seemed to be the fashion hereabouts. The site looked menacing enough for all of the four to agree to fly out above the ocean and gain considerable altitude. They stayed out at sea and at considerable altitude for quite a while.

Then slowly they reduced altitude and eventually started skimming along the Infinity Beach again. Yet as they began to slow for a rest break, Treldron's sense of impending trouble kicked in again. "I think we'd best move out across the ocean and gain some altitude once more," he said

Megan didn't need to hear this twice. She was becoming quite good at driving this form of transport and had decided to regard Treldron's ability to sense danger as infallible. Which in fact it nearly was.

Even as they had only just left the ground all but Megan looked back to see the cause of Treldron's concern. Coming up just fractionally above ground level and at blinding speed were three of the apparently electro magnetic rail car sized transporters they had by passed at the beach compound much earlier. All three had been bearing straight down on them.

"I hope to god those things can't actually fly," offered Rachel as Treldron took aim at them. As always he was deadly accurate with his powerful never requiring recharging energy rifle. Even if he sometimes preferred to use his fists. l

No fewer than four of the monster transports careened off into the ocean and eventually drowned. Their driver cabins incinerated and drivers dead. The remaining leviathan transports headed back the way they came at the same blinding speed. There was something very disquieting about the whole episode.

When the group finally came to what they thought would be the plateau it was unmistakable. Except that it wasn't a plateau but an island floating well above the surrounding plain. The imposing building atop the floating island was visible from far off.

Once they landed on the floating island the building seemed, if anything, even more imposing.

"There's a shimmer around the exterior of the residence," said Megan.

"It's force field protected," said Treldron.

"A problem?" asked Rachel

Treldron moved across the gap between their electro magnetic airbus and the building to a depressed area with a small collection of vegetation.

"Something I've come across amidst the realities" answered Treldron "an odd phenomenon from the good but slightly lesser technologies, leaving a hidden encased key pad from which to turn off the force field."

"Sort of like leaving the front door key under the mat?" enquired Janelle.

"I guess so," nodded Treldron.

The four took a thorough look around the large building. Rightly or wrongly they concluded that it was, or rather had been, fundamentally a large residence. Well fortified and probably a retreat for someone who had been of importance on this world, but a residence nonetheless.

It was easily their most comfortable stay in this strange reality. Somewhere they could stay for potentially a long time if needs be. Perhaps

Since a little before the groups arrival at the floating island residence Treldron had been referring to Janelle as "my lady." For her part Janelle had seemed, if slightly embarrassed, okay with this form of address. Rachelle and Megan noticed this of course but said nothing. After a while everyone got used to it.

Both Rachel and Megan in particular had noticed a definite softening in Treldron's approach to all of them. Coinciding with the change in the way he addressed Janelle. The hardness had gone.

The floating island residence was so comfortable that the group by consensus just relaxed there for a few days. Deciding to have a good rest up before making their first exploratory daytime trip to the research facility and checking the status of the alternate reality gateway.

Just as they were at their most relaxed it happened. At dusk on the second evening of their stay on the floating island.

The slivers came.

Treldron and Megan were atop a vast balcony area enjoying the view. He had only the slightest advance warning that something was amiss.

Then there they were. Some distance away and at about the same altitude as the floating island. Literally stationary. The sentient metallic slivers. A uniform silver grey in color in their normal state. Each tiny unit containing a germ of intelligence and with any large aggregation of millions – that aggregation approximating high intelligence. Treldron sensed the malevolence

They seemed to be in no hurry, waiting for even more of their vast numbers to arrive.

After getting Megan inside and the residence protective shields on full power Treldron moved into his near machine speed mode.

The next moment the titan was some distance away from the floating island levitating at about the same height. With his own personal protective shields from his advanced ultra light armor on full. Also Treldron placed his energy weapon and another he had grabbed from the residence on full wide beam. Then he started to rotate getting progressively faster.

The three women watched from within one of the numerous observation areas within the sprawling floating island residence. Rachel had thought for all of them to fire on the slivers but Treldron had time to warn against this. It would only draw attention to them.

If he died, the women would be the slivers next target. The residences various defenses unlikely to hold against such an awesomely formidable opponent. An escape plan, of sorts, had been agreed during their first night here.

Then the slivers came, first circling from above and diving down on Treldron's rotating form. Many were incinerated by the wide beam energy discharges but many etched into Treldron's force shields.

The "slivers" swarmed him. Again and again. He reckoned they must have numbered in the tens of millions, or more.

Rachel, Janelle, and Megan simply could not see Treldron at all completely enveloped as he was by the great thickness of burning silver grey. Huge phalanxes of fresh slivers continued to descend on Treldron attempting to completely smother him.

The whole fiery scene seemed almost surreal to the three female onlookers and generated fantastic heat output.

Somehow thought Rachel, no stranger herself to danger, the expression "courage under fire" just didn't cut it to describe Treldron's actions now.

Vast dumps of charcoal blackened slivers lay on the ground below – the mounds starting to rise to some reasonable height yet still the "slivers" kept coming.

Finally, finally this fearsome enemy stopped coming and not a moment too soon. Treldron's weapons were destroyed and he knew his highly advanced light armor would be of no further use to him. He fell to the ground and took off that which was almost a part of him. The ultra light armor disintegrated on hitting the ground.

No one was more relieved than Janelle to see Treldron triumph over this awesomely formidable enemy. She had been crying and Megan had tried to comfort her.

Afterwards the mighty Treldron stumbled over to Janelle. She embraced the alien being about the same height as him after he had sunk to his knees.

After a while Janelle and Treldron took themselves off to another part of the residence. Megan smiled and Rachel found herself wondering, oddly, or not so oddly, about how Treldron "did it." Eventually they returned, holding hands.

They made an odd couple. This powerful, enigmatic alien from an unknowable alternate reality and the diminutive woman of Earth who had suffered so very, very much in her life on Earth.

She looked different afterwards, happier, stronger, more relaxed than Megan had ever seen her mother. It was at that moment that Megan realized that while ever there was breath in the mighty Treldron's body he would never let harm come to either her or her mother.

The partially completed alternate reality gateway was located in a small group of buildings perhaps only 10 miles from the edge of the nearby city conurbation. It was about an hours flying from the floating island residence.

There was no 3 way Artificial Intelligence war going on here but Treldron knew there were "slivers" in the nearby city and also the big black rat like creatures.

On their first visit they were a bit late in getting away and it was almost dusk. The slivers appeared in numbers and Treldron readied himself for a rematch. But it didn't happen. The slivers flew back into the nearby city. The black rats didn't investigate at all.

It was then that everyone realized that neither the slivers nor anything else hereabouts was going to be bothering them again. That they had well and truly established themselves at the top of the local food chain. Although with alternate realities you never did quite know who might drop by unexpectedly.

It left them feeling much freer the next day as they came back to the partially completed gateway. They stayed all day with Treldron tinkering around in mostly unknowable ways to all three of the women. Though occasionally he would try to explain some facet or other of the gateway. Mostly to a total lack of understanding on behalf of his audience.

Of course, no one in the group, not even Treldron, attempted to enter the city conurbation itself. There was no need and, top of the food chain or not, there was no point in asking for trouble.

Treldron claimed he was making good progress but there was no way Rachel, Janelle, or Megan could judge this. He was, unusually, getting tired and at Janelle's suggestion the group took a couple of rest days where they just stayed at the floating island

It may have been the rest that did the trick because on their next visit to the gateway Treldron finally broke through declaring it operational. It worked on a dial up system under which you could take a peek at an alternate reality before shifting into it. The group dialed up a number of realities and even transported some innocuous items through. They didn't come across anything even vaguely resembling the Earth reality but Treldron explained there was a trial and error process. You had to get to a reality that shared some of the same characteristics then narrow it down.

Eventually they decided to call it a day and return to the floating island residence. It seemed more than strange to be leaving behind them an intact operational reality gateway.

They returned the next day. Very early and with everything they wanted to take with them if they should get lucky. Which was only items they could carry on their body.

It was well into the day before they actually started to get somewhere. The first realities they had come across that had even vaguely seemed like Earth. Treldron started dialing up smaller and smaller increments and was getting much more familiar looking scenery for the women.

Finally a view came into focus that Treldron stopped at. Rachel, Janelle, and Megan took a long, long look at it. It was a tantalizingly limited view. If only they could have seen more. Yet it looked right, felt right and each of the three of them had a gut feel about it.

"Do you think that's it?" asked Treldron "there is a way you can come back here if it's not your reality, but better to be as sure as you can."

Megan noticed that Treldron didn't elaborate on how they could return.

At that moment they took a short break. Everyone sat down for a while with the women continuing to take in the tantalizing view.

"What will you do after you see us home mighty Treldron?" enquired Rachel knowing she should have asked this days ago. She had of late started to preface his name with the adjective because, well, she just thought he deserved it

"I'm coming right back here," offered Treldron to Rachel's surprise, "you forget that I've looked briefly into all of your minds when we first met. Your reality is not for me. More than this I wanted to know what happened to what used to be the dominant civilisation around here."

"What about your home?" enquired Janelle softly knowing full well that Treldron had never spoken of this.

"I don't have one," came the response – the first little piece of information in the puzzle that was Treldron.

Rachel looked over at both Janelle and Megan, their expressions unreadable.

Then the group just decided to go. To make the shift through the reality gateway.

It was instantaneous.

Now on the other side they were able to take in the broader view. The very English looking meadow they had seen from the other reality led to a very English looking farmhouse and stables and a more distant small village.

"The return opportunity window is short," said Treldron realizing he should have told them before "you have about two hours of your time to decide whether or not this is your reality."

Treldron decided to stay at the very temporary reality nexus. What the ladies did now they would have to do themselves. An action they had decided on some time ago. Three little pieces of information each somewhat peculiar to them but verifiable by computer or even by phone. If all three pieces of information were verified it had to be a 100% certainty this was the Earth reality.

An obliging women in the nearby farmhouse accommodated them providing access to a computer and phone. They also plied her and her husband with a variety of questions and even watched some very familiar television and listened to some very familiar radio.

On their return to Treldron the women queried the incredible obligingness of the couple in the farmhouse. As if the couple was used to such inquiries. The mighty Treldron just smiled.

The women came back to Treldron well within the time limitation. There was still a good half hour to go. They all waited quietly with him, if a little sadly, as the half hour passed by.

"Goodbye mighty Treldron," offered the tough Rachel as the fateful moment inevitably arrived. Yet at that moment Janelle and Megan stepped over towards Treldron and held on to him. Neither of their lives had been much on Earth and in Treldron Janelle had found a partner and Megan a father.

Megan in whom a part of the life force of Treldron would exist until she died and Janelle her body and soul revitalized by the energies that flowed within her even after just her first lovemaking with Treldron.

In truth Rachel was not totally surprised by events.

On their return to the alternate reality the trio re-acquired their airbus transportation and made for the floating island residence they had been so fond of.

"We've got a lot to do," said Treldron "if we are to find what happened to the cultured civilization that once existed here."

"Just one question," asked Janelle "we have definitely left Rachel in our, that is, her reality haven't we?"

"Do you doubt it, after the exhaustive checking process that you went through?" enquired Treldron.

"Not really," replied Janelle.

"Allow me to put your mind at rest," said the mighty one "yes – she is home!"

"You know this how?" chipped in Megan not meaning to sound cheeky.

"The very friendly man and woman at the English farmhouse," responded Treldron "they are very good at what they do. But it works both ways – you are checking with them but they are checking on you – that you belong to that reality."

Janelle smiled "every alternate reality should have its English meadow and little farmhouse."

"Ah, but most of them do," responded Treldron smiling "or at least that realities equivalent setting."