“So, mister clever navigator, which maps did you use to get us here?”
“The regular ones, Skipper. Same ones I’ve always used. Never let me down once. Dead accurate and everything.”
“Okay. Come out of your map room, leave your compasses behind, get your tail up here and cast your eyes starboard. What do you see?”
“Don’t look like it oughta, Skip.”
“Don’t look like it oughta, Skip? You’re damned right it don’t look like it ought to. What’s your GPS say about our current position.”
“GPS is down, Skip.”
“Down? Down? What do you mean down?”
“No signal, Skip.”
“That’s not possible. According to the last status report I saw, the GPS system currently employs thirty-one active, healthy satellites. There are no planned outages and, for goodness’ sake, the Yanks aren’t going to allow the system they use for their own civilian and military operations on land, sea and in the air to drop out of service, are they?”
“I suppose not, Skip. But the nav system says no satellites can be found. What more can I do?”
“You can tell me exactly where we are for starters! That’s what I pay you for.”
“Maybe I can help you with that,” a voice boomed. The voice seemed to emanate from a heavy-looking cloud directly above them. The cloud was pulsating with different-coloured lights in time with the voice, putting Johannes, the Skipper, in mind of the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
“Where do you think they got the idea from?” the voice asked.
“Y-y-you can read my mind?”, Johannes asked, looking skyward.
“Darned tootin’ I can.”
“So, where are we?”
“What is the right question?”
“Look around you… both of you, search your memory and come back to me when you’ve worked out what to ask me.” The cloud stopped pulsating, reverted to the white, fluffy form that is common in the area – well, not common as such, the sky being cloudless for much of the year – and shrunk in size.
“What do you reckon, Skip?” the navigator asked.
“No idea, Sam. The waterway looks like Khor Dubai well enough, and that’s where we are supposed to be, but I’ve never seen the shoreline looking like that. Mind you, I’ve only been working these routes for the last five years.”
“If I stretch my mind back. This maybe looks a bit like it did in the 1970s—”
“A-HA!” came the booming voice from the cloud, which had just expanded and taken on its colourful pulsing form.
“What?” the two mariners asked in unison.
“Do you now know what question you should be asking me?”
“I suppose,” Johannes replied, “If we are indeed in Dubai Creek, perhaps I should ask you when are we?”
“Hark. Did I just hear the unmistakeable sound of a small coin striking the deck?”
“Oh, you are obtuse, aren’t you. Let me rephrase it using words your limited intellect can comprehend. Has the penny finally dropped?”
“Okay, Great Intelligence. So we’re where we want to be but not when we want to be. Am I right so far?”
“Aren’t you going to tell us when we are?”
“That explains the lack of GPS signal, but – ignoring for a second the major question of your purpose in shifting us through time – why 1979?”
“Ask your navigator to bring you his chart for this region.”
Johannes asked Sam to bring his charts up but Sam said that they were too large and heavy to carry up. Johannes went below, with Sam, to the map room.
“Now look at the copyright line at the bottom of the chart.”
“It says copyright 1979 Acme Charts.”
“And nothing has changed since then?”
“Nothing significant,” Sam offered, “unless you count the new island complexes and—”
“Precisely. My name is Harrison McCleod – don’t laugh – and I represent Acme Charts. I have a simple message for you. Once I have delivered it, I shall return you to your time. You will have no residual memory of this incident or of meeting me, but my message will nag at you until you take the appropriate action, kapeesh?”
“Okay, Harrison Mc Cloud—”
“It’s McCleod; C L E O D, but it’s pronounced the same. Continue.”
“Very well, Mr Harrison McCleod, what is this message you are so keen to deliver to us. What is it that you would have us do to allay your obvious wrath?”
“BUY SOME NEW CHARTS!”
This original fiction was written in response to Kreative Kue 385 published on this site earlier this week.