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The Electronic Fan-Supported Traveller® Resource

... From the Machine - Prologue

This article originally appeared in issue #004 of the downloadable PDF magazine.

September 15, 1985

Somewhere in the United Kingdom

It was a rare sunny day in Southern England when Allen Keller, a former First Lieutenant of the United States Army, stepped out of the taxi cab at the front gate of the Harlington-Straker Studios. He gave the taxi driver a one-hundred pound note and told him to keep the change.

As far as the rest of the world was concerned this would be the first day of new career as a screenwriter. Of course if the rest of the world really knew what he was really doing here they would, in theory anyway, go into total a panic or freak-out mode. At least that was Mister Freeman, the Australian gentleman who “hired” Keller to “work” at H-S Studios told him.

Keller could just imagine what the peace-activist trash who parked themselves in front of the main gate at Fort Benning would say: How dare the selfish fascist pigs shoot at and oppress those poor desperate aliens!

Maybe if we hand the peace activists over to the aliens for spare parts they’ll leave the rest of us alone, Keller thought for a moment. It wasn't any sillier than any other peace-freak thought. And quite frankly, Keller thought, they deserve it.

Keller walked up to guard shack at the front gate and presented his newly issued U.S. Passport to the uniformed studio security officer.

“Thank you, sir,” the security officer said. “This is for you, sir.”

The security officer handed Keller a temporary visitor badge.

“They’ll issue you a proper photo I.D. when you get inside, sir.”

“Thank you,” Keller said. “Which way is the main office?”

For a moment he wondered if the security officer at the gate was in on the big secret.

“Someone is already on their way to give you a lift, sir.”

Keller thanked the security officer again and stood waiting for his ride. It was a very short wait.

A small vehicle came out to the main gate from the cluster of buildings that formed the main part of the studio. To Keller, the vehicle looked like a golf cart designed by someone whose previous job was building Chieftain Main Battle Tanks. At the wheel was a brown-haired lady that Keller would politely describe as being very well constructed.

She stepped out of the vehicle and spoke to Keller.

“Mister Keller?”

“Yes.” He nodded to her.

“I’m Miss Ellis,” she said. “Would you come with me please?”

Of course I would, Keller thought. But let’s work on that later.

“Yes,” Keller said. “Of course.”

Miss Ellis drove the cart to the studio headquarters tower and parked the cart in a clearly marked parking spot. Ellis and Keller both showed their badges to the security officer at the building entrance.

Keller followed Miss Ellis into an elevator. She inserted her badge into a slot under the control panel with the magstripe facing down.

“You need to insert yours as well,” she said.

Keller inserted his visitor badge into the slot. Miss Ellis then pressed the floor button for the basement and held it down. She then let it up and gave the button two more short taps.

“That’s the code for this month,” said Miss Ellis, “one long tap and two short ones.”

Keller nodded. He felt the elevator descend to the secret lower level.

The elevator car stopped and the doors opened. Keller followed Miss Ellis out of the lift.

In front of the bank of elevators on the secret level was another security station. This one was manned by three veteran soldiers in SAS-type body armor and armed with Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine guns. Emblazoned on the wall in big bureaucratic letters was the true name of Allen Keller's new employer.


“Leftenant Keller,” said Miss Ellis with the proper British pronunciation, “welcome to SHADO.”

Somewhere above the Ecliptic Plane.

Ditzie Spofulam sat very quietly in the navigator’s seat on the bridge of the Imperial Mercenary Ship Chauchat. To all appearances she was an eight-year old girl with dark brown hair and a taste for odd slogans on her tee-shirts. In actuality, Ditzie was a genetically engineered hyper-genius who aged very, very slowly.

And if she had not decided to attempt to tweak the ship’s jump drive so it would burn its fuel more efficiently they certainly would not be in their present situation.

Her Uncle Dennis was already upset about the misjump that Chauchat had only just emerged from. But there was now a further complication to an already bad situation. He was once again crunching some numbers on the ship’s main computer.

Ditzie decided to say something.

“We are in the Solar System.”

Dennis suppressed the urge to snap at her.

“The problem is not where we are,” he said with a level voice, “the problem is when.”

“When?” Ditzie asked in reply.

Dennis Aella Sterling, retired naval officer, and until a week ago in subjective time, a Lord of the Third Imperium, sat back in the pilot’s seat of the Chauchat and sighed. He waited for the better part of a minute to calm down before answering Ditzie.

“As close as I can figure,” he said, “we are in the middle of the month of September of the year nineteen-hundred and eighty-five... Anno Domini.”

Ditzie was stunned to hear that.

A week ago for her in subjective time it had been the Imperial Year 1104.

“I think,” said Dennis, “I may have an ancestor who’s leaving the United States Army at about this time.”

This of course assumed that Dennis was in fact a descendant, via a mistress, of the emperor known as Cleon the Mad.

But that was not a subject that Uncle Dennis usually spoke of.

Dennis sat back and closed his eyes as if he were meditating. He remained in that state for about five minutes before he moved again.

He looked at the sensor readouts and then hit several switches on the control panels. He then picked up a microphone.

“All hands,” said Dennis, “This is the Captain. We are going to do a frontier refueling at Jupiter before we attempt to approach Terra. That is all for now.”

Dennis turned to Ditzie.

“Now,” he said, “we get to see if you could really build a fusion reactor with a tin can and some old telephone parts.”

“Sure,” Ditzie said. “No sweat.”

Somewhere in the Kuiper Belt.

On a frozen dwarf planet, which the system charts of the Third Imperium would someday call 136199 Eris, the eyes of the people who now called themselves the Highfolk watched as one of their worst nightmares became real.

A small ship, using the faster-than-light drive of their Ancient Enemy, appeared in the system.

The sensors watched as the ship accelerated on a vector toward the gas giant planet the Highfolk called Red-Eye.

The leader of the Highfolk then issued a command.

“Send four landing craft. Kill it.”