The return hyperjump to Pluto Station was anything but routine. Orchidia's mission to the dwarf starburst galaxy NGC 4449 turned up little of profit; only a plant that could copy appearances, even human heads. Yet they arrived at a dark and deserted moon-sized sphere, not one bustling with activity. The logical course was a return to Earth for answers. During final approach, the AI switched them to stealth mode, making them invisible to observers below.
Commander Moast looked up from the tactical display. "Orchidia, explain."
"Problem: this is the year 2021."
That was a problem to say the least. "It explains Pluto Station: it hasn't been discovered yet."
First Officer Kyra methodically got down to cases. "The Builder portal has a time-travel aspect it wasn't designed for. Orchidia, account for influencing factors."
"The dwarf galaxy inhabits the star cluster Canes Venatici. Its blue spectrum is indicative of metal-deficient stars of ancient origin. Theorizing: its hyper rate of star production has altered the enhanced dark matter content typical of dwarves, diverting the stellar stream from the Magellanic Clouds. The portal's quantum field generator--"
"Message received," Moast said. "The portal has a bug. The question now is how we get home."
Berl, the beefy helmsman, swiveled about. "If it helps, I'm seeing a lot of civil strife worldwide, especially in the U.S."
"Ancient history," said bearded navigator Chet. "That was the start of the Cataclysm Wars."
That worldwide collapse of civilization gave rise to soldiers of fortune like Moast. His exceptional talent led to his being chosen as a starship commander by the Mars-based Consortium.
"Warning: scanning two anomalies."
Moast sprawled in the command chair. "Helm, transfer graphics control to the AI. Orchidia, we may have a unique chance to determine the cause of the insanity. Proceed with analysis."
The main viewer featured a human figure alight with thousands of bright dots.
"Violent anarchists and their handlers are infected with nanobots."
Moast traded a puzzled look with Kyra. "That technology wasn't available at the time. It suggests an offworld source."
"Collating a series of unexplained events. All are beyond scientific plausibility."
Kyra frowned. "If not scientific, that leaves the supernatural."
It caused the AI a rare second of hesitation. "There is no verification of the supernatural. However, I have used a matrix construct to locate the origin of these events."
Moast stared at the screen. A man with a goatee stood with a mischievous-looking woman and a large-boned man in a suit. At the end was a dwarf in logger's cap. He read the graphic. "The Wicca Horror Show?"
"I am scanning a super intelligence that has just become aware of us. The source is verifiably offworld. In addition, the dwarf and the female vibrate at different galactic frequencies compared to indigenous forms. They are not from this dimension."
Moast took a moment to digest it all. "Are these people responsible for the wars? They must be stopped. Kyra, you're with me. We'll need clothing from this era."
"There's a bigger problem," Kyra said as they walked to the turbolift. "Can they or will they help us get back to our own time?"