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Field Trip
By Keith Robinson

"Now, now, settle down, settle down," Instructor Xopl called over the babble of chitchat. "Alphi, kindly cease your telekinetic activities this instant. You know the rules."

Alphi jumped guiltily and let the floating formation of writing implements clatter back onto his desk. Sirrus, seated next to him, snickered silently.

"Now, class," the Instructor began in a high-pitched, quavering voice as seventy-two young students faced him attentively. "You've all done very well with your history lately, and I believe you're ready for a test tomorrow."

The class groaned in unison. The Instructor raised his voice. "And in an effort to further your understanding of the varying stages of life on this planet, today will be a field trip."

The class cheered, and Alphi, brimming with excitement, glanced sideways at Sirrus. Sirrus returned a broad beam, his eyes shining.

The Instructor waited a moment. A tiny smile had crept over his gray, pallid features. "Much fuss is made by the Authorities over the issue of meddling with time, and not without good reason. That's why time travel is illegal except in educational and scientific environments. Take a moment to study the ancient texts of the ape-men..."

He turned to a large, transparent screen suspended from the ceiling. Alien symbols flashed across the glass surface. "Our people salvaged many ancient tomes from the period of the ape-men, and spent decades translating them."

He touched a small square at the foot of the screen. The alien symbols blurred and refocused as readable text. "From these ancient tomes we have learned much of the ape-men and their cultures. Today, I want you all to get into groups, as large or small as you like, and take the school's vessels back to the ape-man period. I want you to collect and study samples of the species, and report back with your findings at the end of the lesson."

There were a number of gasps. "Can we bring samples back to take home?" asked an excited student from the back of the class.

"No, Mercuron, I don't want ape-men running around the classroom knocking things over. Just pick them up, study them, and put them back. Clear?"

"Yes, sir," Mercuron muttered.

Xopl's voice took on a stern tone. "Remember, everyone--put them back when and where you found them. Do not meddle with time. And do be careful. These ape-men are primitive and can be extremely violent when provoked. Use your minds to subdue them. Now, off you go. Each of you take a Permission Pass for the vessels--and don't forget your filters!"

The excited students bustled out of the room and down the corridor, heading for the hangar.


Alphi and Sirrus whooped with delight as their small, disc-shaped craft escaped into the dull red sky. Alphi, at the controls, immediately steered up and away from his classmates, and from a safe distance he and his friend watched the stream of gleaming, silver saucers spewing from the hangar exit like beads of mercury through water.

Through the sky's crimson haze burned the orange glow of what was once, hundreds of thousands of years ago, a blinding, yellow sun. Alphi pulled back on a small lever and his obedient craft instantly shot into the upper atmosphere of the planet, where the haze diminished and distant stars sparkled in the blackness of space. Far below, other students whizzed around in the sky above the city domes, specks of silver over the landscape.

One of the students tore past overhead. Alphi watched the small disc hurtle away in the direction of the moon, then take a sharp turn upwards and streak off into space.

"Okay," Alphi said, rubbing his hands together. "The ape-man period here we come!"

Alphi twiddled a dial on the control panel, and the craft began its slip back through time. The Earth promptly vanished. "Um," Alphi mumbled, confused. He paused the time slip and stared out into space. The sun had shifted position and stars twinkled all around, but the Earth was nowhere to be seen.

Sirrus punched Alphi's arm. "You idiot. You didn't tether us to the Earth first."

Alphi stared at him blankly.

"If you don't tether us, we'll stay in a fixed point in space while we slip back in time," Sirrus explained. "So the Earth and the solar system will move on without us. Take us back to our time--but carefully."

Alphi twiddled the dial again, slowly this time. The sun moved across space as hundreds of years passed in moments. As they neared their own time zone, Alphi slowed the time slip to increments of decades, then years, then months. The Earth appeared as a tiny blue speck in the distance and rolled toward them in a wide arc, growing to gargantuan proportions as it approached. Alphi slowed further and allowed the Earth to spin silently into position beneath the ship. A thinly-veiled atmosphere swept over them and the blackness of space turned a dirty red.

"That'll do," Sirrus nodded approvingly. "Now tether us."

"Tether activated," Alphi muttered, touching the computer screen. "Let's try again."

He twiddled the time slip dial once more. Now safely tethered, their time slip remained relative to the position of the Earth. Where it traveled, Alphi and Sirrus went with it.

Hundreds of years passed in a second, but nothing much changed on the surface of the world. Alphi turned the dial to increments of thousands of years a second, and the dull sky outside began to shimmer and brighten, as the dying sun grew younger and stronger. The domes below vanished in an instant, like bubbles popping in a breeze. Twisting the dial further, the continents began to shift and churn as the world rejuvenated itself. The glare of the strengthening sun began to hurt Alphi's retinas.

"Oh, the filters," Sirrus exclaimed, digging into the pocket of his silver suit.

Alphi reached into his own pocket and found a pair of dark, soft-plastic filters. He carefully placed them over his eyes, and the glare of the sun dimmed to a comfortable level.

He turned to Sirrus and snickered at his friend's bizarre appearance; his eyes looked eerily black against his slim, gray face, thin lips and domed head. "You look like a bug."

"So do you."

Alphi stopped the time slip. They had arrived in the early part of the ape-man period. The students were awed by the fierceness of the sun's rays, even through the filters.

"Look at the sky!" Sirrus breathed. "It's blue!"

Alphi and Sirrus stared out the window for a while, taking in the unusual hue of the atmosphere and the brilliant whiteness of the puffy clouds. The landmasses were utterly different from what the young students were used to, and much, much greener.

"No domes," Alphi said softly. "I mean, obviously they didn't have them back in the primitive ages, but--" He thought for a moment. "You know, I'd really like to see the large reptiles that were here before ape-men. What do you think?"

"Xopl will know," Sirrus argued. "We'll get detention--"

"We'll say it was a mistake. We overshot our target. It'll be fine."

Sirrus opened his mouth to argue, but Alphi was already twiddling the dial once more. Millions of years slipped by as the craft hurtled further back through time. Sirrus groaned, and Alphi caught him shaking his head out of the corner of his eye.

In just a few moments the craft had stabilized above the surface of a very different Earth; the continents had changed beyond recognition once again, and, on closer inspection, the environment seemed far more lush and untamed than in the ape-man period--somehow more dramatic.

"Hey, look!" Alphi pointed, and they watched a large, scaly, lumbering beast with an enormous head and tiny, pathetic arms chasing a small, terrified creature with a long, skinny tail. They disappeared out of sight in the dense foliage and Alphi edged the craft closer, trying to get a better look.

"What's that?" Sirrus said, distracted by something else. He pointed out to the side across a large expanse of water. "There's a head poking out of the lake."

"Ooh, let's see." Alphi turned the craft and zipped out across the water, coming to a bobbing hover above the enormous head. It was blue-gray in color and the small, beady eyes seemed wary. But the creature made no move, evidently not seeing the saucer-shaped craft as a threat. "Let's nab it," Alphi said suddenly.

"What?" Sirrus exclaimed. "Are you mad? Nab it? How are we supposed to fit that thing inside here?"

"We don't, idiot. I was just thinking about pulling it out of the water so we can see it better."


Alphi hovered over the beast and activated the tractor beam, then swiveled in his seat to watch. The solidity of the ship's smooth floor shimmered and became a rippling, transparent pool in the center, about five feet across with a walkway all around. As the tractor beam went to work, the monster lifted clear of the lake and hung limply, making strange, whining sounds.

"It's huge," Sirrus said simply. The monster had a long neck and tail, a streamlined body, and powerful fins instead of feet. This beast wasn't merely bathing in the lake--it lived its life there.

A bleep sounded on the control panel and Alphi jumped guiltily, swinging around to face the computer screen. A stern face stared back at him. "Um, yes, sir?" Alphi said, gulping.

"You boys," the quavering voice of the Instructor said. "I tell you one thing, and you do something else. Do you think I don't know what you're doing? I have a large, red, flashing light on my screen here that tells me you're in the reptile period. Are you trying to get me into trouble?"

"I'm sorry, sir--I was just curious about--"

"I told you to study ape-men, not reptiles. Get going before you both get the longest detention you've ever known."

"We overshot our target, sir," Alphi explained innocently, spreading his hands.

The Instructor's face loomed closer on the screen. "Don't pretend I'm a fool, Alphi."

"Right, sir." Without further ado, Alphi twiddled the dial and the ship hurtled forwards through time.

They arrived once more in the ape-man period and stared out at the diminished forests and expansive plains of green grass and yellow-red sand. "The creatures of this period actually walked around outside, in the open air," Sirrus said. "My dad took me back to the Creation of the Earth once, and it was spectacular. The only way to really see it is to speed forward in time a few hundred thousand years a second. Then it's really cool. I've been to the Creation of Life, too, but it's not the same..."


"Because creatures don't hold still long enough. You can watch continents shift and change over thousands and millions of years. And if you slow down to mere decades at a time, you can watch a single tree grow in an instant, because it just stands in one place. But animals move about, so when you speed through time they're just a blur."

"But you did see the Ceremony, right?" Alphi interrupted.

"Yeah," Sirrus said, frowning. "You view it from miles away, though, on a large screen. It's a bit of a let-down, really. A return to that moment when lots of scientists stood around a pool of bubbling mud, making notes. Then the big moment comes and they throw in that vial of living organisms. Big deal." Sirrus gave a bark of laughter.

"And they turned into reptiles, right?" asked Alphi. His history was a little raw; he always argued that people from the distant past had less history to learn than those living in the present. It wasn't fair.

"Well, not straight away, but near enough," Sirrus agreed. "Then the meteor hit and, sixty-odd million years later, the ape-men popped up and started evolving. They eventually got into space four million years into their evolution."

"Painfully slow."

"Yeah," Sirrus said, nodding, "but most of their technology came along in the last thousand years of their existence! A thousand years out of four million! It's staggering! All that time as ape-men before finally getting their act together and getting off the ground."

"Only to be wiped out by volcanic ash."

They pondered awhile, staring out at the peaceful landscape below them. "So," Alphi said finally, "what makes you believe in the Ceremony?"

Sirrus sighed. "I knew this was coming. Look, Alphi, as boring as the Ceremony was, it had to be performed. Those cells had to be dropped into the warm water. Otherwise we wouldn't be here right now."

Alphi opened his mouth to argue, but Sirrus interrupted. "We should probably get on," he said, nodding towards the controls.

Alphi was a little disappointed. He liked to discuss the Creation, and was genuinely intrigued by the way his friend had totally opposite views to his own. But for some reason Sirrus didn't much like arguing about it, however friendly the discussion. "Well, okay then," Alphi agreed. "Let's find an ape-man."

He moved a lever and the craft shot across the surface of the planet. But Alphi frowned, staring at his controls. "That's strange," he muttered, distracted. "Something's wrong..."

A blue, sparkling ocean rolled by below, and another continent appeared ahead of them. The sun dropped behind the curvature of the Earth to their rear and the way ahead was shrouded in darkness.

"Um," Sirrus suddenly said, peering behind him. "I think we forgot something."

Alphi glanced over his shoulder--and slapped his forehead. The floor was still a transparent, rippling pool, and below, the huge water beast still hung in the tractor beam. "Oops! No wonder the controls feel sluggish! We'd better drop the monster off somewhere."

"What, here?" Sirrus exclaimed. "In this period?"

"Well, we'll drop it into the ocean and it'll--"

"It'll die," Sirrus retorted. "It came from a freshwater lake, and the water below is full of salt. It'll die. Take it back to its own time period and put it back where we got it from."

"Are you mad? We'll get detention! We'll be banned from field trips forever. We have to get rid of it here somewhere."

Sirrus considered. "Well, there's a landmass just ahead. Find a lake to drop it in."

Alphi slowed and, squinting in the darkness, located a group of long, slim lakes nestled in the mountains of a small body of land off the main continent. He took the craft down and dropped the monster carefully into one of the lakes. It went in with a tremendous splash. "There," Alphi said, satisfied. "Okay, now back to business. Let's find an ape-man."

With the ship fully recovered from its earlier sluggishness, they searched the local area and eventually came across a village full of the strange species of bipedal, pink-skinned, hairy creatures. Their small abodes were extremely primitive. "Don't seem to be many around," Alphi said. "I guess they're all asleep."

"There!" Sirrus said, pointing. "See? Three ape-men walking."

Alphi steered the craft closer and switched on the spotlight. The ape-men immediately froze and stared up at them, shielding their eyes from the glare. Two then ran away in opposite directions, but the third remained, transfixed. Alphi couldn't contain a shudder at the sight of the hideous hair sprouting from his face. "It's so weird."

"Shall we grab it?" Sirrus asked, undecided.

"We'd better."

And so they picked up their first ape-man, using the tractor beam. The creature, immobilized, lifted gently through the liquid-like floor and hung suspended; then Alphi flipped a switch and the floor solidified. The ape-man remained suspended while the young students cautiously approached.

Their first task was to remove the creature's odd garments. Alphi nudged a small button on the control panel, and a soft whine sounded, lasting two seconds. The creature's garments disintegrated into a pile of dust on the floor. A single burst of powerful suction removed the debris in an instant.

They prodded the naked creature with a stick for a while before injecting it with various fluids to see what would happen. Sirrus noted the effects in a small, handheld computer. Then Alphi made a small incision at the back of the ape-man's neck and inserted a long, sinuous probe. It snaked its way around inside the torso and returned with a slew of interesting readings. Satisfied, the students returned the ape-man to the ground.

"Apparently," Sirrus said, "according to the ape-man tomes, they kept pretty good records of what they called 'alien abductions' throughout the world. That's why it's important to return them to when and where we found them, so as to avoid messing up the history books too much. But I've heard of classes who have really messed up."


"A group of students once removed a whole boat full of ape-men a while back, for study. They left the boat, just took the crew. But the students put the ape-men back in the wrong time period, just dumped them on land somewhere, thousands of years in the past. The boat just kept on sailing along with no crew, and that messed with the history books."

"Ah, but did it though?" Alphi questioned, suddenly interested. He turned to his friend. "How did it mess with the books, exactly?"

"Well, according to the ancient tomes of the ape-men, there are a number of entries relating to a ship called...er...the Merry Celestial, or something like that? No, that wasn't it. Something like that, though. Anyway, the crew disappeared. Well, those entries weren't there until after the students removed the crew and failed to put them back. So the books changed because of that error."

"Are you sure about that?" Alphi demanded. "Did anyone look specifically for those history book entries before the crew went missing?"

"Well, not exactly, but--"

"Ah!" Alphi exclaimed, triumphant. "See, that's my point! I bet the ape-man history books already mentioned something about that boat and its missing crew. I doubt that those students changed history; they probably just closed a time loop on something that had already happened."

Sirrus shook his head. "But meanwhile, the records of an ancient ape-man civilization changed too. Where the civilization had previously been recorded as primitive, suddenly the records changed and reported them as surprisingly advanced. See, that boat crew had no business being in that time zone. Stuff like that messes with history."

Alphi pondered on that while he twiddled the dial on the control panel and moved forward through time.

"Ah, the technological age," Sirrus said, nodding with approval. "Look, high-rise buildings."

Ugly structures stuck straight up into the night sky, their design seemingly bereft of imagination. Surrounding the tall structures was a huge expanse of gray, squat buildings, dimly lit with pinpricks of yellow light.

"Are those...roads?" Alphi asked, pointing at thin, meandering lines running between the buildings. "On the ground?"

"Yeah, that's how they traveled from place to place. Hardly any air transport in this period."

"There's an aircraft of some type," Alphi said, pointing upwards. A machine crawled through the night sky, lights flashing steadily. Alphi nudged a lever and shot up to the aircraft's level, and then carefully bobbed along beside it. "Look at the ape-men!" he laughed.

Several tiny faces peered out though round windows set along the side of the aircraft. Alphi moved closer for a better look. "There're loads of them! Shall we nab one?"

"Nah," Sirrus declined. "Let's go and get another from the ground. It's easier."

They whizzed back down to the shadowed surface. "There's one," Sirrus said, pointing. Alphi squinted and spotted an ape-man running into a small, lighted building in something of a panic.

Alphi moved in closer and hovered over the building, which appeared to be a primitive dwelling of some kind. He switched on the spotlight and illuminated the entire building in a brilliant glow. Through the shimmering, transparent floor he and Sirrus watched as ape-men emerged from the dwelling, stared up at them, and then scampered back inside.

"Let's go down and get one," Alphi said, switching to autopilot. He and Sirrus stepped out to the center of the shimmering floor and sank slowly through it. Almost weightless, they descended until their feet reached the ground.

This was the first time either of them had set foot on actual ground, outside the protection of their city domes or the small craft. The air smelled strange--a mixture of pleasant sweetness with a hint of foul, ape-man polution. It was a strange feeling, breathing the untamed, natural air of Earth's past; not physically unpleasant, but a little surreal and disturbing. The absence of any protective dome skin caused Alphi's stomach to knot with anxiety.

They studied the entranceway to the building. It was guarded by what seemed liked nothing more than a sheet of wood with a basic latch mechanism. Alphi tried the latch but it wouldn't budge. Shrugging, he concentrated and sent a thought. The latch moved and opened from the inside, and the door swung open. Moving cautiously inside, Alphi and Sirrus found a family of four cowering on the floor in the corner. "That one," Alphi said, pointing at the adult female. He and Sirrus moved closer and sent some calming thoughts, and the female stopped cowering and slowly got to her feet, a dazed look on her strange, pink face.

Ignoring the other members of the family, they motioned for the female to follow.

"Well, that was easy," Sirrus said as they returned to the ship. "Okay, let's take a look at it."

Alphi moved the ship up into the sky, switching off the tractor beam. He felt safer away from the surface of the strange old world. Bobbing safely in the upper atmosphere, Alphi turned his attention to the female. "So, make notes, Sirrus," he said briskly. "A female from the late period..."

They began the usual series of tests as they talked amiably. "So," said Alphi brightly, and his friend groaned, evidently recognizing the start of a discussion he didn't want to have. Alphi pressed on. "I know you believe our forefathers created life with the Ceremony and everything, but do your parents?"

"Of course they do. They take me to Discussion every week. They're devout believers."

Alphi shook his head. "I just can't get my head around it. A bunch of scientists go back in time and drop cells in the primeval sludge, and supposedly close the loop on our own existence. But what if they hadn't gone back and done that? I really believe we'd still be here, regardless."

"But we wouldn't, because the cells that developed into early life forms couldn't have got there on their own!" Sirrus argued tiredly. "You really think they just appeared out of nowhere? No, our best scientists were right to go back and perform the Ceremony. People all over the world stopped feeling as if they were about to wink out of existence. It made everybody feel a lot better, I can tell you."

"Made people like you feel better, anyway," Alphi retorted. "Look, how can we create our own species?"

Sirrus chuckled, extracting a long, sinuous probe from the back of the creature's neck. "We didn't, directly. We created many different species that died out, and then the reptiles came along, and then the ape-men, and then our own species. But the point is, we started life on the planet. If we didn't do it, then who do you think did? Nobody, that's who. If nobody had gone back to throw those cells in the mud, then we wouldn't exist and none of the past would have happened."

"But it did happen," Alphi argued. "That's my point. Everything in history had happened before our forefathers ever decided to take a field trip back in time. Before time travel was ever conceived, actually. So if it had all happened anyway, which it had, then why did we need to go back and do anything? What would have happened if we had just, you know, not bothered?"

Sirrus shook his head. "That's the big question, my friend. Half the people on the planet ask that same question all the time. Did we create ourselves, or not? Did the cells we threw in that pool make the blindest bit of difference to our existence? Maybe we evolved from other cells that miraculously appeared out of nowhere. Or maybe aliens from another planet put them there."

"Aliens," Alphi chuckled. "Yeah, right." He grew serious again. "But I don't know. I still have a hard time believing. I wish they could have left the whole Ceremony thing a bit longer."

"Until when, though?" Sirrus reasoned. "If we'd left it too late we might have become extinct."

"But at least we'd know for sure!"

Sirrus blinked, confused. "But if we did create our own life, and we left it too late to go back and close the loop and somehow winked out of existence as a result, then we'd never have existed in the first place."

"So then we wouldn't be here to worry about it!" Alphi argued persistently. "Besides, who said it was our own species that created life? There might be a species that comes along after ours, after we all become extinct when another meteor hits the Earth. What if the next species goes back in time and throws cells in a pond? What if it's those cells that kick-start life on this planet? Maybe our own Ceremony was pointless."

"Maybe so," Sirrus sighed, tired of going around in circles. "But you're arguing against yourself, now; you're suggesting that life was created by somebody going back in time and closing the loop--maybe not us, but the next species that comes along after we're gone. It's virtually the same argument I was making. Anyway, believe what you like, Alphi--whatever makes you feel good."

"It just doesn't make sense," Alphi muttered quietly.

They let the ape-man go and hurtled forward through time again. Now they looked out on a harsher climate, where the sun had scorched the surface of the planet and vegetation was sparse. The cities were larger, and thousands of small vehicles streamed through the air in what seemed a fairly organized fashion. It was hard to find any ape-men walking about outside, though.

"The sunlight is so strong," Sirrus muttered, peering out of the window. "The Earth's protective shield has thinned out, and the sun's rays are too strong for the ape-men to stand. They've become an indoor species, like our own. Let's grab one."

Finding one was easy--each tall building contained thousands.

"They're not so far removed from our own species, now," Alphi pondered, staring at the ape-man suspended before him. "Do you think this is why we're the way we are? Thin and gray-skinned, compared with the tough muscle and weather-burned ape-men of the past?"

"Well, possibly," Sirrus agreed. "But of course, the volcanic eruptions are soon going to wipe out this species and nothing is going to survive except the fish. So we're not direct descendents, in case that's what you're thinking."

"How do we know nothing survived?" Alphi said. "I mean, what if some of these people somehow lived through it?"

Sirrus shrugged. "We've had scientists studying this stuff for decades, ever since time travel was developed. No one survived. You'd think they'd know, if anyone did."

"Maybe they know and aren't telling anyone."

There was a sobering thought. Being descended from ape-men...That was enough to give anyone nightmares! "Well, if they are covering it up, it's probably for the best," Sirrus said at last, finishing his tests and returning the ape-man back to the safety of its abode.

They moved forward through time a little further. The ape-men had started construction on domes--enormous frameworks encompassing blocks of sun-scorched buildings, and each dome connected to another with surface tunnels. The Earth's surface was barren and dry, and Sirrus estimated that the population of the ape-men had dwindled dramatically. "This is ape-man's last stand on the planet," Sirrus murmured with fascination.

Hundreds of years slipped by. The sky darkened and the ground shifted; earthquakes split the continents apart and more domes appeared all over the surface. "They're determined," Sirrus muttered, impressed. "They held out a long time. But look--slow down."

Alphi twiddled the dial carefully. Thick, black ash and dust had begun to creep over the horizons, rolling over the landscape and casting an impenetrable gloom across the surface. "We should have been on the other side of the planet to watch the volcanoes erupting," Sirrus said regretfully. "We could nip back and watch it over again--?"

But the students were so fascinated by the eerie cloak of darkness closing in from all sides that they continued to watch from where they were, mesmerized as the ground finally disappeared from view beneath the thick clouds. Alphi nudged the lever and took the craft lower, surprised at how dense and acrid the cloud was. "Boy, it's really thick," he exclaimed. "How long did this last?"

"Too long," Sirrus said, shrugging. "Everything died--whatever remaining vegetation there was, the ape-men, animals, the lot. The ape-men made a brave attempt at escaping the brutal sun, but they still counted on the planet's continuing resource of oxygen. But the volcanic activity, the ash...it was too much, to unexpected. Only the fish survived, and even they had to adapt pretty fast."

They hovered over a dead city that lay blanketed in darkness and a thick layer of ash. Dome after dome lay silent and dark.

But then they found something odd. In the center of the city, where a gigantic central dome should have stood, was an enormous, perfectly circular crater. Surface tunnels leading to the missing dome cut off abruptly at the crater's edge.

"What happened?" Alphi asked.

Sirrus simply shrugged, perplexed. "It's like a meteor hit smack in the middle of the city, obliterating the main dome. But there's no sign of debris, and the linking tunnels are cut off so cleanly it's almost as if--"

A bleep sounded and a face appeared on the computer screen. "Uh-oh," Alphi said. "What have we done now?"

As it turned out, they had done nothing wrong--but somebody else had. "All students are required to return at once," the Instructor said, his expression serious. "The field trip is over. Calypo and his four passengers developed a fault after accidentally skimming the ground in the late ape-man period, or so they screamed into their flight recorder, and have gone down. We're not going to attempt to recover the bodies."

Alphi gasped. "You mean they're dead?"

The Instructor didn't hear him, since his broadcast was one-way, but he seemed to expect the reaction and continued with, "Four dead, one severely injured. The Investigators are already on their way to the school. I'm about to clear out my desk." There was a heavy sigh. "Let's hope these ape-men don't poke and prod the survivor too much--he's not a lab rat, after all. Anyway, return home at once, all of you. The field trip is over."


So," Instructor Xopl said heavily as the class settled down, "which idiot dropped a very early, seven-foot-tall, primitive form of ape-man into the middle of a forest in a later period?"

A gray, skinny arm rose slowly into the air. "Um, that was us, sir," came a nervous female voice.

"Detention for you, then, Neptua," Xopl retorted. "And the rest of your group. I'm disappointed with you, girl--I thought you would have had more sense than to tackle a beast that size, not to mention releasing it into the wrong period."

Alphi decided not to mention the large reptile he had dropped into a lake.

"And, Alphi," the Instructor said sternly. Alphi jumped guiltily. "When I caught you messing with large reptiles and told you to return immediately to the ape-man period, I did not mean for you to drop off that water-dwelling beast several million years into its future. That was very irresponsible. Detention for you and Sirrus too."

Alphi groaned and some members of the class snickered. Sirrus sighed.

"Now then," the Instructor went on, "it's a great shame about Calypo and his group, and I'm afraid there's going to be an investigation. I, myself, may end up in, ahem, detention, for my poor judgment in letting you all go off with the school vessels without adequate supervision."

"He'll end up in a depression tank," Sirrus whispered to Alphi. "Or worse--he'll be aged."

Alphi nodded soberly.

"Now, I want you to take a look once again at some of the ancient texts of the ape-men," the Instructor said, getting back to business. Strange symbols flashed across the surface of the large, glass screen. "Due to your irresponsible meddling today, I have been informed that the records of history have altered slightly. Take this extract, for example..."

He touched the square at the bottom of the screen, and the strange, alien symbols changed to readable text. "Roughly translated, this excerpt from an old tome speaks of a crash in a small, remote town in one of the larger continents, where what the ape-men call an 'alien craft' crash-landed and five bodies were discovered. These, of course, are your unfortunate classmates, changing history."

Instructor Xopl looked around the room. "Before these students left the classroom on this field trip, this particular extract from the ape-men's tomes did not exist. We know this from simple comparison between the original tomes and our translated copies. They've changed, proving once again that history can be meddled with."

Alphi shook his head. "That can't be," he muttered. He spoke up. "Sir? If history is so easy to change, why don't we go back and really shake things up? Make things better, maybe save the ape-men from extinction?"

Instructor Xopl gazed at him. He seemed to think for a long moment. Then he lowered his voice and glanced at the door. "A fair question, young Alphi. But the truth is...we already have."

The class gaped at him.

"I shouldn't be telling you this, boys and girls, but it's my opinion that our own people went back and saved a large portion of the ape-men just before the volcanic ash shrouded the planet and snuffed out all remaining life. They were dying in their domes, you see, and so we scooped up one of the major city centers and brought it forward to a post-volcanic era, at a time when life on Earth was viable once more. After a struggle, and a little help from us, those ape-men flourished and propagated, and...evolved."

Alphi turned to Sirrus, his mouth hanging open.

Xopl spread his hands. "It's just my opinion, of course. But I believe that, like it or not, we are descended from ape-men. We're highly evolved ape-men, of course, a far cry from those brutish monsters of the past...but ape-men all the same."

Three imposing figures loomed suddenly in the doorway. "Ah, the Investigators are here," Xopl said mildly. He cleared his throat, bowed his head, and strode from the classroom.


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