A Hop through Space and Time

No two people see the world the same. My not-mother taught me that.

That thought returned to me as I stood in the middle of an alien spaceship with a world destroyer in my hand. It felt like my long-lost rubber duck and smelt of diesel and gasoline. Outside the window, the Earth and the Moon hovered in the darkness like distant lovers desperate to be reunited.

I caught my reflection on a monitor, a shock of white hair and vampiric eyes, and turned away. Seeing myself only reminded me of my many mistakes. That must have been why my parents had thrown me away.

But I couldn’t dwell on that. An angry humanoid lizardman was pointing a gun at me.

‘How did you get on this ship?’

Surrounding me was an army of Zardoz, human-shaped reptilian bipeds whose language was unpronounceable. Well, not to them, obviously. Most of them could pronounce it all right, but unless you had a universal translator as I did, it was like listening to an asthmatic tractor spewing out rotten potatoes.

I ignored the question. ‘This is the smallest antimatter engine I’ve seen. The tech is too complicated for your species. And it’s stopped working. So somebody sold you a dud.’

He opened his mouth, and an aroma of dead fish and burnt toast invaded my space. His forked tongue flicked around his lips, licking at the tiny parasites lingering there in a symbiotic relationship.

‘You removed the ship’s engine?’

I showed him the dead power source. ‘I had to. Now be a good bloke and land this vessel on the Moon for repairs. I’m missing a royal wedding for this.’ His yellow eyes glared at me. ‘Hey, is that why you’re here? I’d never believed that rumour, but I’ve seen stranger things in this universe.’

He stepped forward, stuck out his chest and bellowed at me. ‘How did you get your scrawny, malodorous crab flesh onto my ship?’

I puffed out my cheeks and gave the speech I’d given many times before.

‘My name is Ruby Quartz. I’m here to prevent this ship from crashing into the Moon in about ten minutes. So you need to land it now while you still have time.’

The lizardman glared at me. ‘How would you know this unless you’re a spy sent here to cause the damage you claim?’

He raised his weapon and pointed it at my head. I sighed at the stupidity, gathering my determination together like fingers making a fist.

‘You’d fire that here when one blast could rip open the side and suck out the atmosphere?’

It seemed reckless.

It was something I’d do.

Reckless. Spirited. Sometimes hot-headed. That’s what my not-mother said to me the first time we met. My parents must have given her a list of my most charming qualities before they gave me away. It was hard to say because, as Peter Gabriel once warbled, I don’t remember, I don’t recall.

The moment hung in time like the Titanic just before it hit that iceberg. I’d failed to prevent that tragedy as well.

‘You will die a fiery death, human child.’

Well, that wasn’t pleasant at all.

There are over six thousand species of lizards on Earth. Of that number, only two are venomous, the Gila monster and the Mexican beaded lizard. The first time I heard that name, I thought they were bearded lizards, so I was always looking for hirsute scaly creatures lurking in the shadows. The Mexican beaded lizard’s venom was not so powerful to kill a person. Still, it caused acute pain: like listening to jazz non-stop or watching the cinematic oeuvre of Steven Seagal on repeat. But, for the Zardoz, all it needed was human skin to brush theirs, and a terminal spasm would overcome you.

So I took one step back.

‘Okay, I’ll tell you the truth.’ I held the antimatter device over my heart. ‘I’m a time traveller, though I prefer to describe it as time-hopping. I know this ship will crash in about six or seven minutes. You’d think to hop in and out of time I could be more precise, but it doesn’t always work like that.’ His watery eyes glazed over as he listened. I was ready to leave, but I waited for my friend, Dash. If the Zardoz didn’t listen to me, Dash was their last chance. ‘If you allow me to look at your engines, I can prevent them from failing and save you all.’

There were less than five minutes to impact.

‘You spew deceit through corrupt, mendacious lips.’ He appeared to enjoy insulting me. His men caressed their triggers. ‘You’re a ratchet-faced scrawny sprog.’

‘Scrawny? I’ll have you know I’m as tall as Serena Williams with a stronger forehand. So watch what you say, mate.’

Something slithered along his finger and into his palm. ‘How old are you, whelp?’

‘Pish pash tosh,’ I said. ‘Age is unimportant unless you’re a cheese.’

The lizardmen hissed as a bunch, sounding like rain pounding on glass.

‘You lie, child. Nobody can do what you claim.’

‘I wish I could prove this to you, but I can’t. But look at my face.’

I gave them my brightest smile, the one that had charmed the Devils of Danzon into submission and convinced the Princess of Peloponisia to ditch her engagement with the Prince of Kyrgios.

But it wasn’t working on them.

‘More falsehoods,’ the captain said. ‘Everything you’ve said is umpossible.’

A shiver ran up my spine. That was unusual, but so was the word he’d uttered.


I tapped the universal translator implanted in the side of my neck. It was a strange word to get wrong. My head throbbed, and I couldn’t work out why.

‘Time travel is umpossible; every species across the farthest reaches of space knows this.’

He inched closer, so I moved back. Church bells were having a punch up inside my skull.

‘There’s no such word as umpossible. It’s impossible.’

‘No,’ he said. ‘There’s no such word as impossible; it’s umpossible.’ My head was pounding. ‘You’re a gibface foozler.’ Drool slithered over his lips and dripped onto the floor.

‘Nice,’ I said as the atmosphere shimmered around me. ‘Now you’ll see something quite umpossible.’

The reptile man’s avocado face changed from pleasure to confusion as the last remaining catwoman in the universe popped out of thin air and stood next to me. The six-foot-tall feline scrutinised the surroundings and twirled her paws through her whiskers.

‘Did they listen to you, Ruby?’ she said.

I shrugged. ‘What do you think?’

Dash sighed and addressed the captain. ‘One of the earliest defining human features, bipedalism, the ability to walk on two legs, evolved over four million years ago. Other important human characteristics, such as a large and complex brain, the talent to make and use tools, and the capacity for language, developed more recently. Many advanced traits, including complex symbolic expression, art, and elaborate cultural diversity, emerged mainly during the past 100,000 years. But for my people, all of those things happened further back in the mists of time. Which means I’m quite clever.’ She smiled at the lizardmen. ‘So if you don’t believe my friend’s warning about your ship, listen to mine. You have little time left.’

Her voice was mellifluous and uplifting, like a melancholy violin humming in your ear. Every time she finished speaking, I expected her to let out a lilting meow, but she never did.

‘Did you have any luck augmenting their power source to replace the faulty antimatter engine?’ I said.

Dash shook her head. ‘Sorry.’

‘What is this nefarious sorcery?’ the reptile man barked. ‘The planet Felineous was destroyed a thousand years ago with every creature on it.’

There was fear in his eyes. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he and his crew would die in less than a minute. There was no longer any time to save them. It was one of the great ironies of time travel that I never found pleasant. I held out my hand and took Dash’s paw as I shrugged at the reptile man.

‘Time travel,’ I said as the Zardoz leader lunged towards me. He snarled as we disappeared and landed home. I dropped the antimatter device onto the tatty-looking sofa beside the stack of videotapes covered in dust. ‘Why are you dressed like a Victorian dandy?’

I stared at her flamboyant clothes, attired in a high stiff collar, gloves, a delicately tilted silk hat, a cane, a boutonnière, a velvet bulging frock coat and tapering trousers. She stood in front of a large, gilded mirror and dipped strawberry-perfumed pomade wax through her whiskers.

‘You don’t like my outfit?’

‘It’s good.’

Dash furrowed her eyebrows at me. ‘Only good?’

‘That’s better than bad.’

She shook her head. ‘I was having cream tea and scones with Oscar Wilde and lost track of time. I’m afraid I may have made a slight unintended change to the timeline.’ I raised my eyebrows at her. ‘I had to force my way out of his rambling. I told him I had no more time for the gutter as I was going to the stars. Oscar’s eyes sparkled, and I saw him jot the words down on a napkin as I left.’

Dash giggled, a curious feline sound mixed in with something resembling a child’s laughter. She finished waxing her whiskers and removed a small toothbrush from a box near the mirror. She placed a minuscule amount of almond-flavoured paste onto the fuzz of the brush before applying it to her pearly whites.

‘We change the timeline frequently, Dash, but you know I don’t like you visiting that period on Earth.’ I slipped off my shoes and crawled in front of one of the neon screens flickering in the corner. The vibrations in my skull were still there but subsiding.

‘I resisted the temptation to look for you. Don’t worry.’

My first memory was from 1882, standing on a pier on my fourteenth birthday. There was no cake or presents, just my mother and father pushing me into the arms of a stranger.

My not-mother.


She soon stopped being a stranger, and during my two years with her, she became my teacher, mentor and friend.

And my saviour.

A Watcher.

The Watchers: time travellers who observed and recorded all of history. Diana was the only one I’d met, but she was training me to become one of them.

That was until something went wrong.

Dash sidled up to me as I stared at a computer. She removed a tiny snuff box from her jacket, opened it and pulled out a small blue pill. She stuck out her tongue, popped the capsule on the end and swallowed. I skimmed through the data on the computer, finding the information I wanted, staring at a long-range black-and-white photograph of a crashed spaceship on the Moon.

‘Their engines failed for no reason?’

‘It would appear so. It started with the antimatter engine, which somebody had set to cut out twelve hours after its ignition. I tried to save them, but they wouldn’t believe me.’

I hadn’t liked the reptile man who’d wanted to kill me, but I’d had no desire to see him and the others die.

‘I know, Ruby.’

Dash placed a paw on my shoulder. A purr emanated from her chest, the sound and tremor relaxing me a little. The aroma of strawberries flitted around my head and triggered my hunger. I wouldn’t take one of those pills she loved so much. I wanted real food.

I removed her paw and stood. A low hum whispered something I couldn’t understand in the back of my head. There were so many memories inside me since I’d escaped the Watchers, recollections of all my travels through space and time, but no matter how hard I tried, I could never resurrect the missing ones.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if you can’t remember the first fourteen years of your life, does that mean they never happened?

I wandered into my room, unbuttoned my shirt, and stared at the marks on my wrists.

‘Are you decent?’ Dash shouted from the other side of the door.

I let her into my room. ‘What a thing to say to a teenage girl.’

‘For a teenager, I’d wager you’re older than me, and I died a thousand years ago.’

Dash joked about how we met, but I knew it still gave her nightmares.

As it did for me.

She did that cat thing where she twirled her whiskers without touching them. ‘Are you still writing in your diary? You know you can record all that by speaking into one of our machines.’

I pushed my diary aside. ‘Only good girls keep diaries. Bad ones never have the time.’

‘I find your reluctance to use the available technology ironic.’ She rolled those curious emerald-brown eyes at me. ‘Which reminds me, what will you do with our latest stolen equipment?’ She pointed at the open doorway and the antimatter engine in the main room. ‘I don’t fancy having to sleep next to something with the destructive force of a collapsing star.’

‘It’s a dud now, Dash. It won’t spring back to life, but we’ll put it where we store all the others in the vault at the end of time.’

She pulled up a chair and slumped in it, puffing out her hairy cheeks.

‘First, it’s hardly a vault, more a storage locker; and second, you know there’s no such thing as the end of time.’

‘There’s a beginning and an end to everything, Dash.’

‘So you’ve told me more than once.’

‘Do you think life will go on forever, never-ending?’

‘Nobody knows, my friend. It’s the biggest mystery of the universe.’

‘Maybe it isn’t,’ I said. ‘Some philosophers and scientists believe we live in a block universe, where all things happen at any time and place. So the past, present and future all exist and are equally real. There is no specific present moment, and past and future moments are relative. It’s like a roll of film of a never-ending movie.’

Dash sighed. ‘We’ve had this conversation before.’

‘That’s the point, Dash. We’re always having this conversation.’

‘You know what I mean, Ruby.’

I laughed. ‘Of course, but we’re usually drunk when we discuss this subject.’

‘Did the Watchers tell you this theory concerning time travel?’

I shook my head. ‘Well, I only met one Watcher, and she never got around to explaining the mysteries of time travel to me before I had to leave.’

Dash shrugged. ‘What we do is still an enigma to me.’

I gazed into the other room. ‘Don’t forget the mystery of how the lizardmen got the antimatter device. And why somebody sabotaged their ship to crash.’

Dash stood and paced around the room, that strange feline loping stride she had where she appeared to bend further than her knees would allow.

‘No doubt you have a theory about this.’

I had a theory on most things, and this was no different.

‘Whoever gave it to them also fixed it for their engines to fail. They wanted the Earth destroyed. If I hadn’t changed the coordinates on their system, it would have happened.’

‘Why are you so obsessed somebody is always trying to harm your little planet?’ She strode around the room, scowled at the mess, and kicked over a pile of magazines drenched in dust. ‘There are thousands of habitable worlds in the universe. Why is your Earth so important?’

This was another of her gripes, understandably so since her planet no longer existed.

 ‘Because that’s where I was born.’

Her eyes gleamed bright enough to illuminate the shadows. ‘And that’s the greatest mystery of all.’ She ran a paw through a layer of dirt and shook her head. ‘How long will you wait for your memories to return?’

My stomach growled. ‘However long it takes.’ I pretended indifference, but frustration ate inside me.

‘The Mentatts of Furst have an immersion process that takes the subject right to recollections hiding in the shadows.’ Dash waited for a response, but I was impassive. ‘Or I could hop back there, record your life until…’

‘My parents gave me away?’

Dash’s eyes shrank into pinpricks of sorrow. ‘Don’t you want to go back and ask them why?’

I shook my head. ‘You know I don’t.’

Dash scrutinised me. ‘I’ve reviewed the recording you made on that ship.’

My guts grumbled again. ‘Why do I feel you’re about to tell me off?’

‘Some things the lizardman said were true.’

‘Such as?’

‘Well, you are a liar and a thief,’ she smiled at me. ‘You stole from the Watchers. You interfere with time when you’re not supposed to.’

‘For which you have your life.’ I turned away from her. ‘And you’re welcome.’

She faced me and placed her paws in my hands. ‘You know how grateful I am, Ruby.’ Her fur rose as it poked out of her extravagant clothes. I stepped from her and walked towards the fridge to see if it contained anything tasty. I opened the door and stared into the vast white emptiness.

‘This is umpossible.’


‘We have nothing to eat, and I only went shopping the other day. It’s umpossible.’

Dash removed the electronic device from her pocket. It was like mine, a library of information from across time and space, covering all known planets, cultures, and species, something else I’d stolen from the Watchers. I observed her as she searched for that term.

‘There’s no such word.’

‘What about alien languages?’

‘I’m checking.’

She went through the other apps on her communicator. Finally, after two minutes, she gave up.

‘No, that term doesn’t exist in the universe.’ She seemed pleased with herself.

‘And yet Captain Lizardman used it many times with me. And he said the word impossible doesn’t exist. So recheck the recording.’

I left her listening to the audio of the experience with the Zardoz and went to the main room, knowing somebody apart from us was changing history.

I thought of the lizardmen again and wondered what to wear for our trip to the Moon.