Someone needs to know what happened. Someone needs to know about us. I am the last. Please, don't forget us.
I surveyed the wreckage. Our airship, the Ouranos, had gone down in a terrible hurricane, and now we were trapped on an island in the middle of nowhere. I shook my head sadly. The old girl had taken me to the four corners of the worlds, and I'd been at her wheel for nearly two decades. But there was a lot of damage, and I doubted she would ever fly again. I brushed away a tear. Whatever repairs were possible, we would do, and I couldn't afford to wallow in self-pity. I turned to the assembled crew. "Okay, the ship's taken a beating. But she will fly again. See to it that we don't lose one more ounce of hydrogen. I want everybody taking care of that, except the seven of you-" I pointed "-who will work on the skeleton. Jones, McKillon, Jackson, you get the rigging back in order and patch up the skin. And I want the botanist and chief zoologist with me, for the purpose of exploring the island." A few crewmembers grumbled. "Why do we have to bust our backs while you go exploring?" voiced McKillon. I raised my hand and the crew fell silent. "This goes against my better judgement, but the orders we have from Queen Victoria are to explore uncharted territory, discover new races, new flora and fauna, and explore the mysterious skies. This island, as far as I know, exists on no maps and is listed in no records I could find in the ship's library. Therefore, it is my duty to explore it. Now see to your orders, men. Sven, I'm putting you in charge. I expect you to maintain discipline in my absence." Sven saluted. "Aye aye, sir!" I nodded. "Dismissed!" The crew attended to their duties while I joined zoologist Maxwell Williams and botanist Harriet Wiggins. "Not a pretty sight, is it Captain Gryffen?" I shook my head sadly, staring at what was just yesterday an elegant airship. "No it isn't, Mr. Williams."
As we ventured further inland, it was obvious that this was a fairly big island. I was surprised it hadn't been discovered yet. It was a lush, tropical isle and could have easily been as large as one of the Hawaiian islands thousands of kilometres north. Towards the centre of the island was a fairly large volcano, and to the east of it a smaller mountain with the top and most of the side blown off. Obviously, there had been some sort of eruption. I speculated the mountain might have been twice as large as the first one before it exploded. What a day that would have been! The entire island would have doubtless burned hotter than the devil's inferno. The volcanoes had probably formed the island, and judging by their scale it was obvious why the island was so big. As fascinating as it was, my mind drifted back to the Ouranos. I loved my ship, and I didn't want to see her scuttled in my lifetime. But the way things were going, I doubted she would fly again. My reverie was interrupted by the botanist, Wiggins. "Take a look at these plants!" said Harriet. I turned to look. "They don't seem unusual in any way to me." Harriet seemed quite puzzled, though. "But these ferns shouldn't be here." I took a closer look at them. They were strange ferns, but no more so than any other jungle plant, I assumed. "Are they not indigenous?" inquired Max. Harriet shook her head. "That's not what I mean - I mean they shouldn't be here on Earth."
Her words chilled me. "What do you mean? Explain." She stood up. "These plants haven't been around for… millenia. No, more than that - millions of years. Countless millions of years." I was stunned. "How many millions of years?" She shrugged. "Well, let's just say we're perhaps the first humans that have ever seen them alive." I suddenly felt dizzy. In all the vastness of human history, back to that ancient time before civilization, and indeed before the Piltdown ape-man - this fern predated humans! "And that's not all," Harriet continued. She looked up at the trees. "This species too, is ancient. And extinct." She continued to another tree. "An ancestor of the gingko plant. Found only in fossils." She continued, pointing to one of the larger trees that towered above the forest. "Prehistoric sequoia." She turned to me. "Wherever we are, it is a place frozen in time."
As we continued, I saw the forest through new eyes. We were the first men and women to ever see these primeval woods. I wondered if, perhaps, creatures of old persisted on this strange isle as well. My question was soon answered. "Captain, you'd better have a look at this," came the gruff voice of Max. We wandered over to his location on the beach, where he held a creature in a spiral-shaped shell. "A nautilus?" I inquired. He shook his head. "An ammonite. An ancient cephalopod, one which predated the squids and octopi. These creatures are long gone." I shivered, despite the tropical heat. "What is this strange land we have discovered?"
We soon found evidence that we were not alone - strange footprints of an unknown animal walking on two legs, and burned-out torches around a patch of charcoal. There was also a sort of primitive village of thatch and dried mud, long abandoned to the elements. We also found kills, relatively fresh ones. They were strange creatures, large reptiles in nature. The only mammals we found were small, mouse-sized ones, who lived in trees. They seemed to be afraid of something, for they scampered away whenever we approached. Birds too were found, but not as common as back in England where they filled the air with melodic song. After we discovered a pit trap with spikes, we retreated back to the Ouranos.
To my astonishment, the repairs were nearing completion after only a few hours. I approached Sven, who seemed shocked to see me. There was stubble upon his face where none had existed before I left. "Captain!" he exclaimed, "you live!" I was very confused now. "Of course I do. Why should I be otherwise?" He stammered, pale, as if he'd seen a ghost. "B-but you've been missing for a week!" My jaw dropped. "You must be joking. Our expedition lasted merely a few hours." Sven shook his head. "A week has passed since you and your expedition left, captain." I felt ready to faint. A whole week, that much time stolen from my life? It was too much to believe. I had to remain commanding in spite of my shock. "Sven, you are relieved of command and will resume your previous duties before this… incident occurred. And let it be known that nobody will leave the area until further notice, in case that was responsible for this foul trick of the clock." Sven saluted. "Yes, sir. Good to have you back, Captain Gryffen." I nodded. "If anybody needs me, I'll be in my quarters." I staggered towards the Ouranos, ready to faint at a moment's notice.
That night, there were screams on the beach. I was awakened by a cabin boy. "Captain, you'd better come see this." I got out of bed quickly and hurriedly put on my uniform. Then, I followed the boy to a spot about twenty feet from the wreckage. There, one of the men lay dead with a spear in his back. To my shock, I realized it was Sven. A young man, Lt. Darren, stood nearby, stunned, talking to Mr. Williams. "They were monsters," he whispered, "like lizards and birds, but with eyes like men! Five of them emerged from the trees while we scouted the area and attacked without provocation. They stabbed Sven. Ensign Cartwright… he fired at them, shot two, and they crawled into the bushes to die, the other three slit his throat with their claws, and one dragged him into the night. I tried to stop them, but they slashed at me, almost killed me. I pretended to be dead while those… those monsters feasted on the remains of Sven. That was when I shot one in the eye with my pistol, but the other ran off." I turned to Darren. "And what evidence is there that you didn't commit the crime yourself?" Mr. Williams shook his head. "I doubt it. Because we have one of the bodies."
Later that night, I examined the creature along with Mr. Williams. It was a foul cross between a bird and a lizard, and it stood up like a man. It had deadly claws and feathers all over it's body, with sparse scales underneath it's plumage. The head didn't look to contain a particularly large brain, but I could see in it's eyes. Intelligence and hatred flickered in them even after death. The other two bodies had apparently been devoured, and I surmised that poor Ensign Cartwright was doubtless being devoured by these godless beasts. I swore that I would kill the two which had escaped alive. "Captain," sad Mr. Williams, "it's getting late." I nodded. "Yes, it is. I'll get some sleep." As I turned to return to my quarters, I turned to the shaken Lt. Darren. "Make a note, Lieutenant. All personnel must carry their arms at all times."
The next day, reports came that a veritable army of the man-beasts were waiting in the forest, stalking and waiting. Two more men, an ensign and the young man who'd awakened me the previous night, went missing and were presumed dead. Later, the two creatures who'd previously escaped returned wearing the bones of the dead as a grisly trophy. A bit of flesh still clung to the bones, but the rest had been eaten. Blood stained their snouts.
At twilight, the tense stalemate was interrupted by a deafening roar. The men repairing the ship turned towards the source of the noise. The man-beasts seemed to scatter as a reptilian monster of huge proportions crashed onto the beach. It too walked on it's hind legs like a man, and immediately I knew this had to be some form of Megalosaurus, an ancient dinosaur from long-gone ages. And then it suddenly occurred to me - we too had been relegated to long-gone ages, transported through time. The monster charged towards us and devoured a man too slow in fleeing. The men fired at it and the air was filled with rifle smoke. Then, it occurred to me - we were creating a smokescreen, and those man-beasts could sneak past us and attack. I tried to yell and warn the men, but I choked on the smoke which lingered in the air. By then, it was too late - I could hear the screams below. The battle had begun.
We tried to mount a defence to prevent them boarding the vessel. Bravely, the men held their ground, but within minutes they were all killed, some dragged off to their foul lair to be eaten alive. Many of their number had been killed or wounded and were cannibalized by the cold-blooded killers, and then they continued on into the ship. The men mounted a defence to protect the bridge, the engine rooms and the hydrogen containers. If any of them took damage, we would never be able to take off and try to return to our time and place. I defended the bridge, and I held a rifle at the portal to the walkways along with eighteen other men.
Before long, three of the monsters came and were gunned down. After them came six others, and one threw a spear that caught McKillon in the chest. He fell dying and one monster grabbed him and fled to devour the man alive. Out of mercy, I shot at him and he was killed. As for the other five, they were killed, though one leaped past and quickly overpowered us in close-range combat, which we were unsuited to due to our bulky rifles. Fortunately, one of the men managed to produce a pistol and shot the creature in the head before it could kill anyone. Then, twelve more were upon us and downed three of our riflemen before we could shoot them all. Three of the wounded retreated, and in the smoke I saw seven more approach. They were upon the wounded in seconds and ate them up. Strangely, the wounded made no effort to flee and seemed to be unafraid of death by tooth and claw. They surrendered themselves almost ritually in a gruesome spectacle. Horrified, I realized that by culture, they actually wanted to die if wounded and unable to fight. These barbaric creatures doubtless had no concept of medicine and healing and treated the simplest of ailments with euthanization. But there was no time to speculate, for the other seven approached. Two more men died, leaving only twelve, before all the creatures were slain. I knew we couldn't continue this way, and would be overrun before long. But what could we do to survive this onslaught?
I came up with a rather dangerous idea then and left the main group. I retreated to the bridge and came to the wheel. I then began to turn it. Immediately, the engines roared to life. Then, I cut the ropes anchoring the Ouranos down and lifted up into the air. This way, the creatures couldn't board the ship and the ones already aboard were on their own. We had a fighting chance.
The men were encouraged and swept through the ship, gunning down the seventy or so creatures that remained on the ship. The survivors took as many bodies as they could and leaped overboard to their deaths. I breathed a sigh of relief, but I knew the fight wasn't over yet. I could feel the ship straining, for the repairs to the skeleton were incomplete. The Ouranos would rip itself apart at the seams if she stayed in the air too long, and reluctantly I brought her down, scattering the creatures on the beach. They fled back into the jungle. But it would only be a matter of time before they returned.
As repairs to the ship went on, I hoped that whatever was wrong with time would slow down the creatures long enough for us to escape. As it was, only three days after the first battle, five men were killed and eaten. The creatures soon surrounded the ship and we held them at bay with gunfire. The repairs were almost over, and we needed to buy time until we could launch the ship and return.
I surveyed the army from the bridge. This time, all of them wore the bones of our men and of their fallen, killed and eaten. I felt a shudder of fear and hoped to be gone from this strange and alien place, in spite of it's great wonders.
I gathered the men around the Ouranos and addressed them. "Men, we have held strong for weeks," I announced, "and now we must hold strong for one more bloody hour. If we want to return home to our friends, our family and our loved ones, then we must fight to be free from the tyranny of these inhuman monsters. Take up arms and fight for the crown of England!" A cheer rose up from the assembled crowd and they began to arm themselves. I knew that before the hour was done, most of them would be dead. I saluted them for their courage and went to join the last stand protecting the repair crew. Bur first, I had one task.
Staring up into the sky where this strange gateway of times was located - invisible, I had found, until twilight, when it shimmered with a strange, otherworldly light - I launched a homing pigeon. It had a message for the crown explaining what had transpired in the event that we did not return. Then, I picked up a rifle and marched down the halls of the Ouranos, waiting for the horn meaning the attack had begun.
As the horn echoed across that damned beach, the creatures charged across the sand, and now they had pistols, obviously stolen from the dead. Others were armed with crossbows and cut down several men before they came within the range of the guns. After perhaps ten minutes of fighting, the creatures broke through our lines and slaughtered many of the defenders in close combat. They wasted much time feasting on the dead, and then they charged into the vessel. It took them another fifteen minutes to get into the Ouranos itself and forty-five minutes of that crucial hour had passed before I saw the first of them. It was garbed in the bones of dead men and I downed it with a single bullet to the heart. The next five minutes were a bloodbath and I remember little of it, but by the end the thirty men I was with had been reduced to ten and blood stained the halls and floor. And still they came, pouring in like water. Behind me, an engineer poked his head through. "Launch her, our repairs are done! Ten minutes ahead of schedule!" I nodded and five men accompanied me down the crimson halls to the bridge.
As we fought our way forward, three men were slaughtered and I was given a bloody scar on my cheek. But we made it to the bridge, which had been defended at the cost of several men, and I lifted the Ouranos into the air and steered her towards the gateway. Then, I heard the growl of predators and a scream as one of the men with me was killed. I whirled and fired at three creatures which had come into the room. They were killed, but the man's body was gone. They continued to pour in, and the other man was hauled away before long and eaten alive. As we passed through time and they kept on coming, I bled from many wounds, and slowly I fell into unconsciousness and prepared to die.
When I awakened, about eleven men stood by my side. We were surrounded by the bodies of creatures. Mr. Williams nodded approvingly. "Good, you're awake." I groggily got to my feet. "Did we succeed?" Mr. Williams nodded. "We managed to kill them all. The twelve of us are the only survivors." I turned to look out the window at the waters of the Atlantic. I noticed some seagulls flying in the distance. Then, I looked closer. Their wings were leathery, and their heads had crests upon them. "What?" I muttered. Then, I noticed a strange vessel, something like an aeroplane, coming towards us. "What's going on?" I heard some men say. I shuddered. "We haven't returned home," I realized with a sinking feeling. "We changed something, in the past, and now the world we knew is gone." Then, the vessel opened fire and a bolt of light streaked towards the bridge.
Kluktan turned to his apprentice. "It ends there." The apprentice shivered in the dark tomb, located on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere. "So what this means," Kluktan continued, "is there was another sentience." The apprentice nodded. "Which would explain the strange nature of the bones. And their mammalian appearance." Kluktan sighed. "And I'm guessing this structure is what's left of the airship Ouranos. Kluktan turned to the apprentice, grinning. "This is why I devoted my life to exploration. There's simply so much we don't know." The apprentice nodded, reverently. "So much to discover." They stared at the writing on the wall, absorbed. Then, reluctantly, they turned to head back to their ship.