"A Saint is a dead sinner revised and edited."
Ambrose Bierce, "The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary"
ALICE THROUGH THE FLAMES
Another day at the office over with, Colin had decided to settle
down with a good book. The year before, he had had installed a
'real fire.' As he had said at the time, "It gives the place a
homely look - with a log fire blazing merrily away in the living
room, you can really believe that your home is an impregnable
fortress, gallantly keeping the elements at bay whether you be
sleeping or awake." Colin smiled to himself, as he often did at
these moments, and gave thanks that his wife had taken Jason, the
two year-old, to her parents for the weekend. A long, pleasant
and - above all - quiet weekend stretched out before him as he
lowered his body into the comfy armchair by the fire. Colin
shifted slightly, to get as comfortable as possible, then
adjusted the table lamp to just the right angle before picking up
the book and beginning to read...
Just as the hero was about to decapitate the gargantuan nine-
headed beast, Colin's attention was diverted by the sound of
someone moving around in the next room. "Strange, there's nobody
home. Maybe Karen had to come back early," Colin said to himself.
"God, I hope not - I think I'd prefer burglars!" The middle-aged
civil servant hoisted his bulk from the chair and wandered into
the other room to investigate, pausing only to procure a poker
from beside the fire. "Just in case..."
"Odd," thought Colin as he approached the door. the sounds from
within had started to collect into words. Speech. In a very
strange accent, but - nonetheless - English. He slowly opened the
door and, poker brandished at the ready, strode into the room.
"Who are you, and what are you doing in my home?" Hardly an
original line, but then nobody awards points for creativity at
Colin stopped. There were four people in the kitchen. Three of
them were arguing over the toaster, while the fourth - a tall,
and rather attractive, blonde woman - looked on. Deliberately and
carefully, the blonde turned to face Colin.
"We come in peace." she stated, simply. It looked like cliches
were to be the order of the day. Was this some kind of joke? She
didn't look to Colin like she was joking but, nonetheless, her
words - and that weird accent!
Colin hesitated a moment, then: "Do you, now? Do you usually
'come in peace' by breaking into someone's house, and ransacking
"I must apologise for my friends. They are being, perhaps, a
little...over zealous..." The three, dressed - as was the blonde
woman - in brown, discoloured rags and bereft of shoes, now
seemed to be in the throes of a disagreement over whose turn it
was to drink from the cold water tap. The blonde followed Colin's
gaze, looked at her friends then returned her stare to the
house's owner. She shrugged.
"Perhaps I should explain myself," she continued.
"Yes, I think maybe you ought to!" snapped Colin, who now looked
on, bemused as the strange blonde's three companions had a fight
over the contents of the icebox.
Unperturbed, the blonde introduced herself as, "Just call me
'Alice.'" and went on to describe how she and her three
companions were refugees from Colin's own future.
"Oh. Of course," burst in Colin,"I had somebody from the twenty-
fifth century for tea last week. Why didn't you say so? Perhaps
you would like a quick cup of coffee, before going back to battle
daleks or take a spin around Saturn's moons?" His voice cracked,
as he shrieked, "Do you think I was born yesterday? You come in
here, argue about who gets what in my home then expect me to
believe any cock and bull story you care to spin about being time
travellers? Well, you're not time travellers!"
"How can you be so sure?" broke in the blonde, Alice, smoothly.
Surprised by the simple audacity of the question, Colin was
momentarily nonplussed, before spluttering: "Well, for one thing,
time travellers would be better dressed!"
"Look, just hear me out, then - if you still don't believe me -
we'll leave you. Okay?"
No, it's not bloody okay! Get out now, or I'll call the police!"
"We're not going. I am not going. Not until you've at least
heard us out." Colin sighed. He'd had a wonderfully peaceful
weekend planned, and it seemed to be falling apart about his
ears. But he resigned himself to hearing Alice's story, and led
her - followed by her retinue - into the living room, where he
settled down in his comfy chair and awaited the tale. At least
there would be some entertainment - if only he could find the
"Picture it: North America, ravaged by war and plagued - yes,
literally plagued - by disease. The Statue of Liberty toppled
like a house of cards, the remains used by destitutes as stepping
stones across the Hudson. The Capitol's roof destroyed, caved in
by the backwash from an atomic blast. The Golden Gate Bridge no
longer capable of supporting the weight even of an anorexic ant.
The United States now disunited, and battling amongst themselves
for what remains of the spoils of war, while Mexico and Canada,
themselves war-torn lands, sit on the sidelines, occassionally
swooping, vulture-like, on the carcasses of shattered
principalities. Picture it, if you can. That is the world I - we
- left behind. And, unless we can do something - unless we can
convince you to help us - then the war which began the nightmare
will come to pass. And The United States will be destroyed, along
with the rest of the world."
Colin, mouth gaping, stared a moment at Alice. Then, taking
ahold of himself, shook his head as if to clear Alice's
description from his mind. "You're serious." It was a statement,
not a question, but Alice nodded nonetheless. Colin picked up the
'phone and dialled, carefully: 9...1...1.
"Hello, emergency services? I'd like a - what the Hell..? What?
Oh, never mind..." He put the 'phone down, replacing the receiver
in its cradle with all the care of a raw-egg juggler. Emulating
the studied patience and concentration of a Zen master, Colin
watched the receiver settle in its bed before looking up to check
what had so startled him a moment before. It was still there. Or,
rather, they were still there. The original group of four had
multiplied to eight while Colin was watching. Nobody had entered
the room - not by conventional means, anyway. Yet four people
had...appeared. Colin was, to say the least, mildly surprised.
The four newcomers were dressed far more smartly than the first
arrivals. Perhaps they came from a different time period. Colin
caught the thought. Time travellers? Well, let's face it - either
the second group teleported in, which is impossible, or they
arrived via a time machine, which is impossible. The difference
lay in the fact that they claimed the latter. And so the pendulum
of decision hung in that direction, for the moment.
Colin looked the latest group over. The clothes were definately
plusher than Alice's band - they wore loose-fitting robes, after
the fashion of Ancient Roman togas - each robe being a single
solid block of a bright colour: red, blue, green and...a tall,
statuesque brunette wore a white 'toga.'
That brunette turned to look at Colin, as he gasped in
astonishment. Alice! The two Alices noticed each other then - and
paused to look one another over. Ragged Alice was the first to
speak: "You dyed your hair. It doesn't suit you."
"Who are you? No - don't answer that," began the be-toga'ed
Alice, "I know who you are - you're me. But how? And why do you
have such goddawful clothing? Are you Me, from my future? If so,
why are you here?"
"I was about to ask you the same things. Since I have no memory
of having been you - and you seem to have none of having been me
- perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me why you are here?"
"You know as well as I why I'm here - your presence indicates
that your research has led you to the same conclusion to which
mine led me. This is a junction point. To be more precise, this
man is a junction point. His actions can start, or prevent, a
Colin burst in, "What are you two talking about? I'm no world
leader - how can I start off Armageddon? I'm just a government
clerk. I'm good at my job, sure. But that's as far as it goes."
The trampesque Alice broke into Colin's monotribe: "Tomorrow, a
memo will cross your desk marked 'SFF-524G/Q.' If you fail to
pass it on, the Pentagon will be unaware of a small, but
significant, item of information. This ignorance will lead to a
breakdown in communications and then, gradually, to a small
conflict between states within what you know as the United States
of America. As further states join the dispute, so the conflict
will escalate until those states which currently maintain a
nuclear arsenal - in the name of the National Defence - use them
on those regions which they view as enemies. The automated
defence computers will register a first strike on US soil, and
launch a counter-attack - against the Eastern Bloc. The resulting
conflict destroys most Life on Earth."
"My God," Colin breathed, "For want of a nail, the kingdom was
lost...Well, I must ensure that I don't lose that memo! Will that
make things alright? Will that stop the war?"
"We think so," began The war-torn Alice, "But, just to be
"Wait," blurted the more refined Alice, "Think this through.
Sure, there will be no war. But - well, perhaps I'd better tell
you why I am here...
"In my history, which seems to be different from yours," she
gestured in the other Alice's direction, "the memo got through.
There was no war, and consequently no massive investment in
research - How long from now is your war due to begin, if the
memo fails to get through?" The question was directed at the
"Twenty-four years before the opening of hostilities, One
hundred and sixteen years before the first atomic weapon is used.
"Just a thought. Don't you realise that mankind needs this war?
If there is no war, then there is no impetous to survive - to
live. War means money poured into research - defence systems,
weapons systems, computers, space. No war, no research. No
research, no advancement. In short, stagnation. The human race
will reach its demise gradually, through apathy. Nobody caring
enough to do anything anymore. The world ending, to borrow one of
your phrases," she nods at Colin, "Not with a bang, but a
Colin, half out of his chair, sank slowly back until he felt the
cushions enveloping his body, moulding to his shape. "So," he
said, eventually, "If I send this memo through, then - according
to you," he pointed at the second Alice, "there will be no war,
and the human race will bore itself to death. If, on the other
hand, I withhold this memo, then you say," He pointed at the
ragged, and now rather pensive, first Alice, "that there will
come a world war which will destroy the human race. Whichever I
choose, the human race doesn't seem to stand a chance."
Alice one's brow furrowed, as she thought furiously. Turning to
the rather flashily dressed Alice two, she said, "I've been
thinking. Maybe a war would be a good idea, after all - at least
then we go out with a bang - a light show which aliens might
point to in their skies. A kind of last funeral pyre for
The second Alice considered this a moment, before saying, "No, I
think no war would be better - after all, humans might recover
from this period of apathy, you know..."
"No - war would be a good idea, we can re-build the world..."
"Uh uh. No war is better: that way, there's no need to rebuild!"
Colin broke in, laughing, "Ladies! Ladies!" he shouted, "You've
both done a rapid volte-face, have you not? Why is this?" He
silenced their explanations with a wave of his hand, "No, don't
bother to lie - I can see it in your faces. You've both realised
what has just become clear to me. If you had succeeded in your
original mission, then my future would be altered. Your future
would cease to exist: you would no longer be 'real'. Instead,
your counterpart - the woman you are arguing with at the moment -
would be in the 'true' future. However, now your pleas are not so
much for the human race - that seems doomed either way - but for
your own existence."
The women looked sheepish. Colin was correct, and all of them
knew it. Walking across the room, Colin replaced the poker -
which he found he was still gripping in his right hand - in the
stand beside the fire. He turned from the flames and, with a wry
"Well, I will toss a coin to decide which future shall come
about. Does that seem reasonable to each of you?" The women
nodded. Reluctantly, they nodded. Colin took a quarter from his
trouser pocket, then flipped it: "Heads, war; tails, peace." Even
raggedy Alice's companions stopped bickering over a toga,
previously belonging to a now-unconscious cohort of the other
Alice, long enough to watch the coin come down. It span in the
air, glinting brightly in the flames of Colin's real fire like a
single phoenix feather before hurtling toward the carpet, and -
as it landed - nobody in that room dared draw breath.
The coin landed on its edge.
"Well," came a familiar voice from the corner of the room, "It
seems the human race has a chance after all."
(c) 26/4/90 Roy Stead
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.