Previously in Future Prefect... dissatisfied with the story told by Commander Lauren Oakham, who came down from one of the two spaceships approaching the Earth, Bill and The Geraldine rather recklessly travelled to the second ship, where they are now about to be told the other side of the story by the Captain, Elizabeth Randall, who also happens to possess one of the most beautiful bodies either of them have ever seen. Bill is finding it hard to concentrate.
'Where shall I begin?' asked Captain Randall. 'Ah yes. Two hundred and fifty years ago, in the greatest of secrecy, six hundred people constructed and launched a spaceship, deep in the rainforests of Brazil. They were noticed when they launched, we assume, but nobody was ever able to stop them - or perhaps nobody wanted to. The Americas weren't a particularly well-organised place in those times, and priorities were unclear.
'The ship was a sleeper ship, and the crew all frozen at launch, save a handful who made sure the ship got into space safely before activating the autopilot and going into stasis themselves. Fifty years it took them to reach their destination - a fairly Earthlike planet about ten light years away. The acceleration required to make the trip in that time nearly tore the ship apart - when the crew were revived by the computer, they found that almost half of them were dead.
'A colony was established by the remaining three hundred, glad to be away from the situation on Earth, which, from the looks of things, only recently resolved itself. Perhaps thirty years or so later, they discovered the secrets of travel through hyperspace, and soon afterwards began to spread.
'There were never enough people to expand as they wished, so they used cloning technology to make more - some were genuine new people, eggs from all the women fertilised by sperm from all the men and grown in artificial wombs. Others were genetic clones of the existing colonists. It wasn't a big step to take from that to start genetic engineering of the new children. Making them better suited to the worlds they would settle on.
'Eventually, some of the original colonists, now very old, and their natural children tried to shut off the whole genetic engineering programme. There was a rather nasty fight, and eventually they fled, because we were winning. Ever since then we've been fighting. They consider us unnatural abberations, and over the years they've distorted their vision of us until they don't see us as human anymore, and they genuinely believe we want to wipe them all out.' Randall sighed. 'Nothing could be further for the truth. We've fought because it was necessary for survival. Never for anything more than that.'
There was silence for a while, then The Geraldine spoke.
'That explains a great deal,' she said. 'Bill?'
'She's telling the truth,' Bill said. 'At least, as she sees it. Just like Oakham, which is why Pord accepts her viewpoint. They both think they're right.'
'How do we find out what the real truth is?' The Geraldine asked.
'There is a way. It is difficult, and dangerous, but there is a way. We have to get Captain Randall to Earth though, as quickly as possible.'
'Can you not return the same way you arrived?' Randall asked.
'I could, we're a lot closer,' Bill said. 'But carrying an extra person reduces the distance I can travel. If I take both of you back, we'll probably reappear in empty space halfway there.'
'Then I will stay here,' The Geraldine declared. 'If that is acceptable to the Captain. Take her to Earth and sort this out, Bill. It's only a matter of a few hours before this ship enters orbit anyway, and after that it will be easy for me to get back home.'
'It's a plan,' Randall said. 'A good plan.'
'It's the only one we have,' Bill said, rising from his seat. Randall followed suit. 'Take my hand, Captain. You may be slightly disoriented - the journey is still long.'
Randall took Bill's hand. 'Some of my crew have been observing our discussion from outside the room,' she said to The Geraldine. 'They will see to your comfort while you are waiting. A tour of the ship, if you are interested.'
'Thankyou,' The Geraldine said. Bill closed his eyes, and a moment later they vanished. 'Good luck,' The Geraldine said to the space where they'd stood.
On Earth, in the meeting room in the Towers, things had degenerated into little more than an argument. Agnes sat to one side, watching and listening to the increasingly strident voices with a growing scowl on her face. This was getting ridiculous. She took a deep breath and lifted her head.
'That is quite enough!' she declared in a voice that brought instant silence to the room. 'All of you, you're behaving like children! The fate of humanity could be at stake here, and you're arguing over trivial matters. It doesn't matter how we stop that ship - what we really need to determine is whether that ship should be stopped at all.'
There was dead silence for a few moments, then Pord spoke.
'But-' he said.
'No buts! We know you said that Commander Oakham is telling the truth, but if you thought for a moment you'd realise that all you can verify is that she believes what she's telling us. What if she's wrong? Can't we hear the other side of the story?'
There was a pop, and Bill and a strange yet beautiful woman were suddenly there, standing on the table. The woman swayed a little and blinked. Everyone stared.
'This is Captain Elizabeth Randall of the Free Ship Sharon,' Bill said. 'The Geraldine and I have spoken with her. She tells a very different story to Commander Oakham, yet believes it just as firmly. I am now here to determine the truth.'
'How can you believe anything someone like her tells you?' Oakham exclaimed then. Her hand strayed towards her jacket. 'Can't you see her? How can you trust such a corrupt being!'
'I am human, just as you are,' Randall told her calmly, recovering from her brief moment of dizziness. 'Physically, yes, we are different. Inside, we are the same.'
'Lies! I will not listen to them!' Her hand darted into her jacket, and emerged with a slim silver rod which she pointed at Randall. 'Die!'
Bill made a lazy gesture with his hand, and the rod turned into a snake, which hissed at Oakham. She dropped it and stepped back, stifling a shriek, and the snake, which Agnes recognised as a perfectly harmless one from Asia, slithered underneath the table to curl itself contentedly around Bite's ankle. The Guru reached down and stroked its head gently.
'There will be no killing in here today,' Bill said. 'I have come to determine the truth, and that is what I shall do. Bath.' He hopped down from the table and took Bath over to a corner, where they conferred for a few moments.
'Bill has tired himself teleporting to Captain Randall's ship and back again,' Bath said. 'I shall source for him. Agnes, I know you've sourced for wizards before, will you also provide power for this spell?'
'Of course,' Agnes said. 'Especially if it will stop you all arguing with each other.' There were sheepish looks all around as Agnes moved close to the two wizards. Bill placed a hand on each of her and Bath's shoulders.
'The spell is a simple one, but very powerful,' Bill explained. 'When we have two differing versions of the truth, the spell will bring them together and follow them back through the threads of time to their origins, that we might see where each comes from, and if one or both are false. All illusions are stripped away, all intents revealed.' He looked seriously at Randall and Oakham. 'For you, as representatives of the viewpoints, it will not be easy to go back and see the real truth. Both of you believe with passion what you have told today, and it is possible that neither of you are correct. I apologise for any distress this will cause, but the truth must be known.'
Randall hesitated, then nodded slowly. Oakham followed suit, looking like she was about to be bitten by the snake, which had now curled up in Bite's lap. Bill nodded as well.
'We begin,' he said, and Agnes felt an enormous drain from the very depths of her soul. It was familiar, as she'd helped to power spells before, and not so bad as one she'd done in the past. She suspected it would get worse later. These things usually did, and this was going to be a spell of great power.
The room was dimming, she realised, and then they were falling. Her, Bath, Bill, Oakham and Randall fell through the strands of reality, backwards through time.
They were in a room. White walls. Clean and sanitised. Glass jars with hundreds of pipes and cables surrounding them lined the walls. Inside each was a foetus. Some of them moved limbs in their pre-natal dreaming. There was a man there, and a woman.
'Well?' the woman asked.
'All pure, as you asked,' the man said. 'Sperm and eggs from the original colonists and their pure children.'
'Excellent. I do not like this method, but if we do not have more people, there will be no pure humans left out here.'
'I understand that. Otherwise I would not have agreed to help.'
The room dimmed, and then they were somewhere else. A council chamber perhaps. Circular. Benches lined the sides, tiered in six rows. All the spaces were occupied by a variety of people such as Agnes had never imagined. On one side, everyone looked relatively normal. On the other - there were people like Randall, dark-skinned and double-jointed. Others with large eyes, no noses, enormous skulls, small skulls, extra arms... One from each side of the room stood in the centre, arguing.
'We have done what we needed to do to survive! Life is too fragile out here to confine ourselves to the two planets we have found which will support your kind of life,' the one with the large head and dark skin and four arms was saying. He wore what looked like a small gas cylinder on his belt, and a clear tube ran from it into his nose.
'There is no need to expand,' the other one said. 'On two planets we are safe enough for now, and soon we will be able to construct safe and reliable habitats on worlds such as yours, where the air is not fit for humans to breathe. See how far you have fallen, that you cannot even breathe the air of your home world!'
The one with four arms took a deep inhalation through his tube. 'My children can breathe the air of both,' he said. 'We advance ourselves as we learn, the same as do you.'
'Do not compare us. We are barely of the same species anymore! You have taken your humanity from yourselves with your meddling. We were made this way! This is how we should stay.'
'Until God wills it otherwise?' the four-armed man's tone was mocking, and there was an uncomfortable shifting of people around the room.
'Until God wills it otherwise,' the other said.
'If God wishes to object to what we have done, let Him do so,' the four-armed man declared. There were nods from his side of the chamber. 'Until then, we shall continue.'
'And when you die, and find yourself in hell?'
'Then we'll spend eternity together in torment. I've heard of your experiments, Jack. You're breeding an army in the vats. A pure army, yes, but an army nonetheless. What would God say about that? Were children not meant to be born from the womb?'
'At least we have not corrupted what it means to be human!'
'At least we do not deceive ourselves.'
Another world, another day, another place. The man from the council chamber who had been named as Jack.
'They are coming,' he said. 'They will not listen to us.'
His companion stirred, unfolded her arms. It was the woman from the room with the vats. 'If they wish to fight,' she said, 'then let us fight.'
Darkness again. A drain deep from her soul, and the light came back into the world. Agnes stood in the meeting room, gasping for breath. Bath was beside her, Bill still with a hand on her shoulder.
And in front of her, Captain Elizabeth Randall and Commander Lauren Oakham, holding each other, weeping.
'We started it,' Randall said, over and over. 'We started it. We almost wiped you out, and we started it. We started it.'
'You're human,' Oakham was saying. 'You're human.'
Eventually, they embraced, and there was hope.
Three months later, all was quiet. The world had changed again, but it was quiet. The Geraldine liked quiet. She'd just got back from exploring some of the more interesting oceanic features on New Earth, having travelled there on the Homeworld which, relieved of the need for a cautious and well-timed approach, could make the trip in a matter of days.
Bill sprawled on The Geraldine's sofa, sipping a cup of tea with his feet on the coffee table. She picked up her own cup and joined him. Linda came in from the kitchen with her own cup.
'There's one thing I still don't understand,' she said.
'What's that?' asked The Geraldine.
'When we were talking to the Queen of the moon people, she gave Agnes and I a number,' Linda said. 'I never found a use for it.'
The Geraldine frowned. 'Strange.'
'Not really,' Bill said. 'You know who planted the prophecies?'
'Yourself, Gillian and Lloyd I assume,' Linda said.
'Exactly. You met Gillian. Would you put it past her to put some useless information in there as well, just to keep you on your toes?'
'Not at all,' Linda said. 'That would be just like her. I've been worrying about that for months now.'
'Except she might not have done. There will, no doubt, be other battles. Perhaps she saw more than I thought while she was here. Don't forget it.'
Linda nodded slowly.
'I won't,' she said. 'I won't.'
Thus ends the Future Prefect Saga