The galactic cargo ship Excelsior floated gently through space. The old girl sailed on toward her destination, the planet Borgos, hauling supplies for the colonists that had made the world their home. Aboard the ship was her normal crew:
Jackie Razer, captain of the Excelsior and an experienced flyer. She’d navigated known space more times than she could count by now. Born on Earth, she had worked her way from ship to ship, traveling the cosmos and saving up enough credits until she could afford her own vessel. It wasn’t a large ship, and it wasn’t a new ship, but it was hers. Now she made her living delivering supplies and providing transport. It wasn’t anything particularly glamorous but it was a job. As a child she wanted to see the stars, and she had spent her life doing so.
Horace Kane, second in command. Kane had come from Earth’s moon colony and grew up wanting nothing more than to escape the satellite. He fancied himself a weapons expert and had thusly placed himself in charge of any defence and/or offense that the ship might need. Kane loved anything that went bang. He had met Jackie on an interplanetary cruiser headed for the Neptune colony. Though Kane could be a gruff man, the two found common ground in their desire to travel. And, together, travel they did.
Vordak, the pilot. A Lizzoid hailing from the distant planet Lizzus. To any human, Vordak might look like a stout blue triceratops that walked on two legs. With his size and great horns, Vordak could be an imposing sight, were it not for the loud tropical Hawaiian shirt that he had purchased when the crew visited Earth. It was his lucky flying shirt, he said, and he wore it often. He had cut his teeth flying ships between Lizzus and its many moons, but when a permanent position opened up aboard the Excelsior, he was more than happy to take it, glad to have a ship to call his own.
Ramblin’ Perl, Engineer/mechanic. A tall and thin purple figure, Perl hailed from the planet Gorgol. Her angular face and insect like features were sure to strike anyone as Gorgoties weren’t often known to travel from their home planet. She had been a tinkerer back home, with the latent ability to fix anything. When delivery ships broke down near her village, it was the young Gorgite named Perl who would fix them. She had been ironically named Ramblin’ Perl by the crew of the Excelsior, as she was known for her calm silence.
BR-NE, basic medicine and maintenance. BR-NE, or as he had come to be known, Bernie, was the ship’s resident robot. He had been picked up from the robot colony of Dorondo 4, where his skills had been much needed after Kane accidentally shot himself in the foot. He had been programmed for medicine and maintenance, and seemingly abandoned on the colony by some former owner. However, he was the perfect addition for the cargo ship. Though sometimes he showed moments of emotion that many wouldn’t believe possible in a robot.
The crew sat idly dispersed throughout the ship. Well, all except Kane, who paced in the cargo deck at the back of the ship. He had examined the contents of the large wooden crates and found them lacking. He pressed on the communicator in his ear, hailing the Captain.
“Beans?” he cried. “We’re carrying beans, that’s it?” he kicked the crate nearest him. Up at the front of the ship, beside Vordak in the cockpit, Jackie let out a grin and activated her own communicator.
“Sorry we’re not smuggling guns, old boy.” she replied.
“Oh how I’d just once love something that goes boom!” Kane said, rubbing his hands together with a menacing smile.
“You know how it goes,” Jackie began, “we work for those who need us. And right now, Borgos needs beans.” She shrugged, knowing Kane couldn’t see her.
“Hey,” Vordak chimed in, “Borgos needs beans, that would make a great t-shirt.”
“Oh, a novelty t-shirt, how amusing.” Bernie said, though anyone listening would swear he was being improbably sarcastic. In response to all of this, Ramblin’ Perl, sitting in the crew’s quarters on her small bed, simply tipped her cowboy hat over her eyes and leaned back to get some rest.
“Alright, how long until we get to Borgos?” Jackie asked. She leaned against the back of Vordak’s flight chair, looking at the screens before her.
“Shouldn’t be too long now, just a couple of, oh what do you people use? Hours, that’s right,” said Vordak. The Captain plopped into the co-pilot seat next to the Lizzoid.
“Looks like we’ve got smooth sailing ahead.” Jackie said, putting her hands up behind her shaved head and leaning back.
“Aye ay, Cap–” Vordak leaned forward, staring hard into a monitor to his left. “Hold on, what’s this?” He squinted his big brown eyes.
Kane chimed in over the ear piece. “Something I can blow up?” He asked gleefully.
“I don’t think a puny laspistol will do anything against that,” Vordak said, pointing out the cockpit glass to a small blue cloud. By now Bernie had joined Kane in the cargo hold.
“Ooh, describe it to me, what are we looking at? What is it? Shall we play a guessing game?” Bernie clapped his hands together in delight.
“Steer us away from it, Vordak, away!” Jackie commanded, leaning forward in her seat. Vordak wrapped his three large fingers around the control console.
“What is it?” he asked, jerking the control to one side.
“That shade of blue, that cloud formation…out here… it looks like a Timestorm!” Jackie said with a hard swallow. The blue body before them began to grow larger and larger.
“A Timestorm?” asked Kane. “But those aren’t real, are they? They’re just a sky sailor’s tall tale.” As Kane expressed his doubt, the cloud continued to grow, nearing the cargo ship.
“I’m trying to pull us away, but there’s some kind of gravitational pull to this thing,” Vordak struggled to say.
“NOBODY PANIC.” Bernie yelled, panic in his robotic voice. In the crew’s quarters, Rabmlin’ Perl finally lifted her hat.
“Uh oh.” she said.
The ship continued its trajectory toward the cloud, slowly being pulled in. The closer to the blue body they approached, the more violently the ship began to shake.
“Listen up,” Jackie said, “if we get stuck in this cloud, it’s gonna get weird. But all we have to do is ride it out, you hear me? Ride it–”
Finally the ship penetrated the Timestorm. An unknown phenomenon. No one could explain exactly how it happened, only that, from time to time, freak blue clouds would appear in space, trapping ships in them.
While the cloud looked calm on the outside, the inside was anything but. It was violent, causing the ship to thrash around. It was akin to being on the ocean in a large storm. Everyone in the Excelsior grabbed tightly onto whatever was nearest them to stabilize themselves.
Kane grabbed onto a wooden crate, which had been secured tightly.
“The beans are saving my life right now.” he cried. “Sweet, sweet beans.” He kissed the crate.
“Kane has fallen in love with the cargo, Captain!” Bernie siad, flailing his arms as he slid to the back of the cargo bay.
“This is some serious turbulence.” Vordak said, still attempting to steer the ship forward.
“Everyone get to the cockpit and strap in!” Demanded Jackie. The three members of the crew not already there made a scramble for their destination. Everyone had just locked in their belts when there was a sudden flash outside the ship, like lightning. Everyone looked around. Jackie gaped at Kane, eyes wide.
“Kane, you’re an old man.” She said in a high voice. Kane sat hunched over, his thick black beard now long and grey, hair gone, his flesh wrinkled. He held out a finger toward the Captain.
“Yeah, well you’re a child.” Jackie looked down at herself. Her long blue duster coat was much too large now, swallowing her hands completely. She couldn’t have been more than ten years old now.
“What’s happening?” asked Vordak. Jackie looked at him. He too was older now, his blue flesh sagging.
“We’re trapped in a Timestorm. We’re randomly going to be thrown throughout different periods of our lives.” Jackie cried.
“What? What do you mean?” asked Vordak.
Then there was another flash. Captain Razer looked down at her hands, the coat was back to fitting normal, she looked further down, her yellow pants were no longer covering her feet. She reasoned she must have been somewhere near her proper age again. “Do you understand?” she asked Vordak. There was no response.
She looked next to her to see a large, unhatched egg sitting in the pilot’s seat.
“Vordak isn’t even born yet!” cried Kane, now a beardless teenager, his clothes and gun too big for him.
“Someone needs to fly the ship,” said Bernie. The robot was now worn far beyond his current years, his white body covered in dirt, cracks, and holes. He seemed unable to move. Another flash, everyone aboard the Excelsior shut their eyes tight. That is, those who had eyes to shut, at least. Though each change happened in a split second, time seemed to stand still, as if the five of them were all suspended in time
“Goo. Goo.” Came the gentle cooing form Ramblin’ Perl. She was wiggling her arms and legs, reverted fully into a baby.
“Kane, grab Perl, she’s too small for the safety belts and she’s going to get hurt.” commanded Jackie. Kane, now a middle aged balding man, unhooked himself from his seat and scooped up the purple baby. He let out a snort.
“Babysitting was not in the job description, Captain.”
“Neither were stretchy pants.” Jackie replied, jabbing a thumb toward Kane’s gut, which had grown considerably since he was a teenager. He huffed and turned away.
Jackie looked at her hands once more, she was wrinkled now, and her hair was gray. She could tell because it had grown out. There was a smell coming from somewhere within the ship, a rancid smell.
“What is that?” asked Kane. Jackie took in a whiff of air.
“I think the beans have aged so much they’ve gone bad!” She replied.
Jackie desperately looked to her pilot, who was back to his normal age. Vordak grabbed the controls.
“I’ll get us out of here, hold on,” the Lizzoid said. But just as he vowed to do so, there was another flash. They were coming quicker and quicker. And who knew what all this change would do to their bodies. They had to get out. Jackie looked over at Vordak again, he was nothing but a skeleton encased in dirt. A fossil. She had seen images of them on the vidscreens at school. She looked back to see Perl, now an old woman, in the arms of Kane, a mere child. She was bigger than him and he struggled to hold her.
“Unhand me, young man,” said Perl. Kane, swaying back and forth, dropped her and fell backwards.
“We have to get out of this storm, now,” Jackie said, grabbing the controls. She pulled up hard, hoping she could swoop up out of the cloud. But before she could, there was another flash. The Captain looked around. Vordak was a small baby now, wiggling around in his huge chair. Kane was nothing but a pile of bones, still holding on to his gun. Perl was part of an egg sack, waiting to hatch, and Bernie was nothing but a little computer chip. From far off she could see trees. Trees growing in her ship? The wooden crates had de-aged so far they’d gone back to their original state.
“Damn it, I’ve got no crew!” Jackie said. She threw her coat off, as it was once again too big. She was now a teenager, with her half shaved head and plethora of piercings.
The ship was helplessly engulfed, the monitors had gone out and through the glass before her, Jackie could see nothing but blue. She didn’t know what direction she was flying, or even how the ship was oriented. For all she knew, they could be upside down. Beneath her calm exterior, she was worried. What if she and the crew became stuck this way? What if there was no flash to get them back to normal.
Suddenly, the engines cut out, stopping any movement from the ship.
“My sincere apologies,” came a voice from outside, penetrating the ship. A voice, strangely, with an English accent. Jackie looked around, tapping on all the screens around her, though they were still offline.
“Who said that?” she asked.
“Why, it’s only me.” There was a blinding light from in front of the ship. Jackie covered her eyes. As quickly as it had appeared, the blue haze of the cloud began to disappear. “You see, that cloud was all my doing, I got a little excited looking for something.”
Jackie stood from her seat.
“Are you… God?” she asked, furrowing her brow. She had seen strange things in her tenure among the stars, but she had never run into any celestial beings.
“God?” asked the bright light. “No, I’m Dog.” Then the light took the shape of a giant Golden Retriever. “Chrono Dog, that is. See, I buried a bone around here somewhere, and my digging for it caused that bloody Timestorm.”
Jackie stared ahead, confused. She rubbed her eyes but the giant cosmic dog remained before her.
“Am I suffering from time sickness?” she asked after a moment. She couldn’t ask any of her crewmates, too young, old, or dead to verify just what was happening.
“I’m sure you’re not,” said the Chrono Dog.
“What… how… why…” Jackie began but could not finish any of her questions.
“I know you have a lot of queries, but I must be off. I’m over digging and must chase a cosmic ball. But first.” The giant celestial dog picked up the Excelsior in its jaws like it was a small dog toy and began to shake it excitedly. Jackie let out a cry of surprise and fell to the ground. The ship continued to shake violently. Time began to move all around the Captain. Vordak began to age rapidly, and Kane’s flesh reappeared on his bones. Perl hatched from her egg sack and complex circuitry formed around the chip that was Bernie. Everything happened quickly, too quickly for Jackie, who was once again her proper age. Then the shaking stopped. She looked around and found her crew in one piece. They looked back at her in silence.
“Uh, good boy?” Jackie said, looking up, out past the ship’s glass toward the giant dog.
“The concept of gender is meaningless to me,” replied the Chrono Dog as it turned and ran away.
“OK, what just happened?” asked Kane. A question met only with silence. Finally Perl spoke up.
“I believe some things are beyond our mortal understanding. They’re too big, even for the vast cosmos. It seems we are but play things in the grand scheme of it all, does it not? And though time is but a concept to us, we have experienced a practical, albeit frightening, application of chronology. Yet, we cannot comprehend exactly what has happened to us. We can only be grateful that we got out on the other side. We cannot question the will of a cosmic dog any more than we can the intricacy of time and space, my friends.”
There was an astonished silence for a moment then Jackie cleared her throat.
“Yeah, what she said.”
“On to Borgos?” asked Vordak, gripping the steering control.
“Borgos needs beans!” yelled Bernie.
“As long as that never happens again,” began Kane, “I’ll never complain about what we transport again. I’m more than happy to haul beans. I’ve learned my lesson.”
Jackie pointed forward with flair.
“On to Borgos!” the spaceship flew on, back to its regular course. And though it seemed improbable, the beans were completely intact.