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Chapter 1
Put quite simply, my plan was to kill myself as soon as I got home and disarmed the security system. I had already taken care of all my worldly affairs. Even the fish in the pond out back had a week’s supply of food in the auto feeder. So knowing everything was ready, I settled comfortably into the darkness on my drive home. As the road wound ever upwards my headlights cut through the evening gloom flashing briefly on patches of fog where night had chilled the summer air to mist. In the daylight these foothills resembled rumpled quilts tossed off against the base of the mountain. The mountain where I would exit this earth.
I had made the winding drive down about this same time a month before with Barbara slumped unconscious next to me. It was her last trip to the hospital. She abandoned her struggle as they moved her onto the gurney. I never even got to say goodbye. Not that it mattered. We had hardly spoken the past few years anyway. But her passing had affected me more deeply than I had expected, and I began finding myself at moments with a near pathological impulse to end my own life as well. Just to escape the endless little failures and misunderstandings that I suppose everyone has.
Finally, with the end so near, I dared to call out old memories previously crammed down into the darker recesses of my mind. I studied them for a time as I swerved around the hairpin curves on my
way home. Bothersome little flashes of my past. Regrets. From when I was a kid mostly. Forgettable things. Except I could never seem to forget them. A perfunctory encounter, a studied indifference, an ignored touch. Oh, and I was always behind in class and among the last chosen on the playground. I was a loser. Everyone knew it. Only one other kid was a worse athlete than me. Little Arlen who killed himself in junior high school. Or so I had heard. Arlen, who could be forgiven for being the biggest loser in Stubbinville, that little scab of a town on the pine barrens of the Florida Panhandle.
But eventually things began to change. I spent a summer practicing batting and catching and discovered it was all just a matter of learning how to do it. But the earlier failures stuck with me
Now it would all be over in a few more minutes. What relief. There was nothing left that could alter my plans for the night. Nothing whatever. And there was a certain sense of fulfillment in carrying out a well-formed plan. I turned off the highway and continued up the quarter-mile private road to my summer house. As the drive leveled off and turned right along the front acreage, I noted a rather large hole. That was new. I stopped the car and climbed out into the late evening air. The night’s moon was
already well up.
But this was no small hole. It was a crater. It must have been two hundred feet across and deep
enough to hide a barn. In mild alarm, I peered across the abyss and noted with some relief the
silhouette of my house against the Milky Way. At least this hole wouldn’t interfere with my evening’s
Still baffled, though, I returned my attention to the crater. It was perfectly round. There was no


debris field thrown up as a meteor would have done if it had impacted my front yard. And where was the missing dirt? I surveyed the surrounding area. There should have been dirt. Lots of dirt. But there was nothing. I stepped cautiously over to the rim and peered down into the darkness.
Something touched my neck. “Be careful. The edge is unstable.” “Shitfire!” I yelled, almost jumping into the hole.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“You didn’t startle me,” I wheezed. “You damn near sent me into cardiac arrest. I’ll be eighty next week.”
Then I remembered that, actually, I wouldn’t. I’d be dead. I finally turned to confront whoever
had destroyed my front lawn. Not that it mattered, I reminded myself. But when I saw her, I wondered
if perhaps I was already dead and had just forgotten about it. She stood a bit shorter than me with
spiky red hair that caught the moonlight on its tips. As she studied my face she said, “I’m Lovely
If I had been F. Scott Fitzgerald, I might have said right then and there that she was not like you
and me.
“I’ve had an unforeseen equipment failure,” she continued quite unfazed by my near death at her hands. “On my time glider. And it has dropped out of sequential bypass on its return home.” The moonlight was just bright enough that I noticed her lips didn’t move when she spoke. They remained frozen in an elfish grin. Then I noticed she was jaybird naked. My nearly eighty-year-old heart almost stopped for the second time since I’d gotten out of the car. Maybe I wouldn’t have to kill myself after all. This Lovely Pebble thing already had a pretty good start on it.
“I see.” I dropped my hand from my chest. “Well I’m real sorry to hear that.” Then realizing the poor girl must have been stressed, I remembered my manners. After getting my breath back, I extended my hand. “I’m Micajah Fenton by the way, but my friends call me Cager.” She studied my hand and, after a moment of obvious confusion, touched it gently.
“Then may I call you Cager?”
“You may if it suits you,” I said, ever one to enjoy a double entendre.
She responded with obvious relief, “Then you may call me Love,” oblivious to the undertone. “Would that be appropriate?”
“Well, normally it might,” I said with as straight a face as possible. “To keep things respectable, though, why don’t I just call you by your first initial. Ell.”
“Yes. I like that much better. Actually, we use formal names in only the most extraordinary circumstances. This is only the third time I have ever used mine.”

Well, clearly something most extraordinary had occurred in my front yard to leave me facing a two hundred-foot-wide crater and a naked woman whose lips didn’t move when she spoke.
“Then we are friends?”
“As long as you don’t make any more holes in my yard.” “I couldn’t help it. I’m sorry.”
“Well, in that case, I suppose it’s okay.”
Ell now appeared vaguely perplexed. I began to suspect English wasn’t her native language.
Hell, maybe Earth wasn’t even her native planet. “Relax,” I said as I started back toward the car. “I
was just messing with you.” She seemed to ponder the exchange as she tagged along. I pushed the car
door shut then leaned against the cold front fender. “So. You say you’re, a what, a time traveler? Do I
have that right?”
She perked up at that. “Yes. Well, almost. I’m a space-time traveler. My travels cross both space and time.”
“Then I take it you’re not from around here.”
“Well, yes and no. I’m from your galaxy.”
“This very galaxy? You don’t say. Then we’re almost neighbors. But, and I’m just guessing here, you’re not actually human are you?”
“No,” she said with a trace of concern in her voice. “No, I’m not.” “Then why do you look human?”
“I don’t.” Then after a studious pause, “Oh. You mean why do I look human to you. It’s a matter of protocol. We aren’t supposed to interface with humans. Or any advanced creature for that matter. But this is an emergency and emergency protocol is to appear as a non-threatening organism of the same species if that ever becomes necessary. My glider’s records on humans are sketchy at best but indicate females might be the least threatening way to interface with males.”
“Yes. So, am I doing it right?”
“Well, yeah, so far.” She hadn’t quite managed to kill me yet.
“Okay. That’s a relief. I’ve been in space-time research in this area for only about fifty of your years and this is also the first time I’ve had to interface with an outside race of intelligent beings. I don’t want to mess this up.”
So, I actually was in contact with an alien from another star system. And my evening’s plans had

been going so well up to this point.
“So I guess I should mention that I detect you plan to end your life tonight. I hope you won’t do
that. I really need some help here. The failed part has never failed before in the history of space-time
research. But I was working on your planet’s early history. The period shortly after your moon
“I thought I was far enough back from the ocean to avoid the mile-high tides generated when your
moon was orbiting every ten hours, but I failed to account for how far those tides would reach inland
and I had left the real-world access door open by mistake. My glider flooded under a rushing wall of
seawater. That wasn’t the actual cause of the failure, though. It was the boulder that washed in with
the water. It struck the subspace linkage. The glider cleaned itself up immediately but the linkage was
damaged just enough that it snapped right after I departed for home. I dropped back into reality here
right where I was when I left but billions of years later.” She paused to see if I was following.
“I see,” I said, unable to come up with anything to top what I’d just heard.
“Anyway. The glider came out just below the present ground level. Its failsafe cleared away the surrounding earth so I had access to the surface. But I still need help. I’m fairly sure your technology can manufacture a replacement part. The tolerances aren’t so critical a civilization that can make your car can’t make this part. And I’ll gladly reward you for your effort. In fact I’m compelled to reward you. You have only to tell me what you want.”
I just stood there for a long time. Was this creature reading my thoughts? It already knew of my
evening’s plans for self-elimination. Probably knew the reasons, even if I didn’t understand them
myself. But so what. It seemed harmless enough. Finally, without moving my lips I thought, “Of course
I’ll help you. You won’t owe me anything. I’m head of a corporation that probably has the resources
to build whatever it is you need. Let’s go over to my house and we can work out the details.”
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