The Lieutenant frowned. "What did I tell you?"
Captain Cadungog squinted at the readings.
"I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it
Lt. Ihemelu looked up from her console.
"I told you. It isn't a signal transmission, it's a
She tapped a long, dark finger on the screen.
"This signal wasn't shot through the wormhole. It's
spiraling like water down a drain."
Cadungog rubbed his chin.
"And it has signature human lifeform readings?"
"Human, quite human."
"Any possibility it's a trick or booby trap?"
"From who? There's no one within transmission
"Can you reconstitute the signal?"
"Sure, with standard protocols. Do we want to?"
Cadungog wiped his hand across his forehead.
"Yes. This might be the result of some accident."
"I haven't seen any notices about a transmission
accident recently--and I check the updates constantly.
It's my job, you know."
"This might be an old accident. You said the signal
has been captured."
"There were screw-ups in the early days. I guess the
signal might be many years old. You want me to grab it?"
"Yes. Grab it, fill it in and fill it out. We may
just be downloading a corpse, anyhow--but it may answer
some historical riddle."
Ihemelu's fingers played across the control pad.
"Here goes nothing."
After 30 seconds the high-pitched whining stopped.
She poised a finger. "Ready? Not gonnna call any
"I've got my own sidearm," he said.
"It's your call." She pressed the holopad.
The recon tube seemed to glow brighter than usual,
and the sound of the orgo/recon unit was louder than
Cadungog looked at the transmission tech.
"We've got two humans," she said. "Both alive."
The usual mist floated out as the tube dissipated.
She had read the transporter signal correctly. The
form of the two creatures who appeared in the mist was
Cadungog and Ihemelu looked at each other.
They were each dressed in only what could be
charitably described as "bedraggled" early 20th century
One was obviously dressed in a man's clothes, while
the other wore a brightly colored dress. "Where the hell
are we?" the 'female' blurted out in a deep baritone.
"They must be in deep shock," thought Ihemelu.
"They've been badly burned."
Indeed, both the men's faces were blackened.
Cadungog raised a hand to Ihemelu. "American
English," he said. "I know the lingua, I grew up in
He took a step forward. "You're aboard a space
station." The two men looked puzzled.
He smiled in a way he hoped would put the bizarre
pair at ease and spoke. "And who are you?"
The 'man' waved a hand. "We is Fergy and Bess, da
bestes comedically-talented perfoh-mers in vaudeville!"
The other man--the one in a dress--turned to his
companion. "Cut the bullshit, Joe, this is serious!"
He turned towards the two members of the Transmission
"OK, you two, can you tell me how one minute we're in
a doctor’s studio in Dallas, and the next we're in a
hold of a ship stuck with a chink and a nigger?"
Admiral Steyn steepled his fingers.
"Certainly the strangest case I've ever seen."
"We needed to dose them with relaxation drugs, or
else they might have completely stroked out," said the
"Understandable, considering the disjunction they've
undergone. Come in."
He waved the pair from Engineering into his office.
"Captain Cadungog and Lt. Ihemelu--who were the
officers on duty --pulled this pair in." The doctor
smiled at them as he left.
"Must have been quite a sight."
Ihemelu snorted. Cadungog shook his head.
Ihemelu leaned against the bulkhead while Cadungog
"So how are our minstrels?" he asked.
"Sleepy." The admiral smiled. "We've had to use
pharmaceuticals on them. They were born over 100 years
before neural ports were invented."
The admiral leaned forward on his desk. "But not
before H.G. Wells. They actually ‘got’ the story about
the time travel we fed them."
He stood and looked out the viewport. "Now, I'd be
grateful if you two would talk to them and determine
how they were transmitted."
Ihemelu uncrossed her long arms. "How would someone
get accidentally transmitted in..., what year was it?"
"Well, there was radio and television back then,"
said Cadungog. "Must have been some bizarre accident."
"Certainly a unique one," said the admiral.
"I don’t want to talk to these bastards," said
Ihemelu. "They're cavemen. They called me a nigger."
She scowled at the others. "I had to think for a
minute before I remembered what that ancient obscenity
"Unfortunately, their attitudes were not uncommon for
their day," said the admiral. "Just think of dealing
with them as rather advanced cultural sensitivity
"Racism isn't culture."
"I'm not asking you to debrief them, Lt. Ihemelu, I'm
"Aye-aye, admiral." She didn't smile.
"I understand how you feel, Ada, they insulted me,
too," said Cadungog. "But you have to remember, this was
long before the various cultures and races on Earth
began to mingle to any real degree."
"All people were racists when it came to their own,"
said the admiral. "I had ancestors who lived in the
Republic of South Africa, which was one of the worst
offenders in the 20th century."
Ihemelu sat down heavily. "Where do we interrogate
The admiral ignored her attitude. "How about back in
the Engineering section, where they arrived?"
He looked at both of them. "It might help you explain
"Worth a shot." Cadungog shrugged. "Give us an hour
and trot them back."
The security officers sandwiched the two men as they
came through the door. One gestured for the pair to sit
down on a bench in front of the engineers.
Robert--the one who had been dressed as a woman the
day before--sat on the edge, obviously hostile and edgy.
Joe sat up straight and stared straight ahead.
They were both dressed in drab, one-piece inside
space station suits--which looked somewhat like an
old-fashioned pair of coveralls they might have been
familiar with, except they had a regular shirt top and
Cadungog smiled. "Glad to see you changed clothes for
Cadungog rubbed his hands. "Gentlemen, I know members
of our medical staff have explained how you have been
the accidental victims of time travel."
He tried to look sympathetically at both. "You've
certainly have a right to be unhappy, and maybe a little
"Cut through the Wells crap," Robert snarled. "What
do you want with us?"
"We want to get some idea of how this accident
happened," said Cadungog. "It might help us help you."
"It was the teller-vision." Both engineers looked at
Joe. Ihemelu leaned forward.
"You were on television? There was no television in
"It was that crazy doctor's idea," said Robert.
Now they peered at Robert. Cadungog gestured for him
"Doctor Armsford. He was in radiopathy," said Robert.
"He treated diseases with X-rays and radium. Dr.
Armsford said he could convert an X-ray type tube and
put out a ray that would take a picture and transmit it
The engineers looked at each other and then looked
back at the pair.
"How did you get involved in this?" asked Ihemelu.
"The doc used to take in our show at the Majestic. He
came up to us in the dressing room one night, and told
us how much we made him laugh," said Robert.
"He said he wanted to return the favor, and make us
famous," said Joe.
"He said his tube--the iconoscope, he called
it--would make television as simple as radio. And just
like people listened to radio programs, in a few years
they could watch television shows," said Robert.
"So he asked you to help him test his machine?"
Joe nodded to Cadungog. "He said he would like to
practice, if we put on our act, using his iconoscope, so
we got on the togs we used for our Fergy and Bess
routine and went to an old studio the doc rented right
behind the Cotton Exchange. It was smack dab in the
middle of Dallas."
He turned to Robert. "He sure did have a startled
look on his face right before everything went south."
"Yeah, I remember thinking--'oh, shit, something's
gone wrong'," said Robert. "Then it all went white. Next
thing, I'm in fog and looking at you two."
Cadungog tilted slightly towards Ihemelu. "This
doctor must have accidentally duplicated a transporter
"Ridiculous," snarled Ihemelu. "They would have
needed a laser. They didn't even have masers back then."
Cadungog scanned the pair. "Did the doctor ever
Robert's eyebrows raised as Joe nodded. "Yes, as a
matter of fact. I remember thinking how strange that
sounded," said Joe.
"He said he would shoot his ray beam through some
radium crystals to make them strong enough to take the
picture," said Robert.
Ihemelu dropped her hands in her lap. "He
accidentally produced a pulsed micro-radiation beam,"
"Combine an explosive power surge with the right
radioactive crystals and a primitive focused ray," said
Cadungog, "and you get a nice transmission beam."
"Sorry, folks, you've left us in a fog," said Robert.
"Howsabout translating into English?"
"You friendly doctor accidentally evaporated you and
turned you into electricity," said Cadungog, "and your
electricity went off into the sky."
Both men got very quiet.
"That was 450 years ago," said Cadungog. "We
accidentally caught your signal--your electricity, as it
were--and were able to make you whole again," said
Cadungog. "But today we have a way of sending people by
electricity for real. We also happen to be very, very
far out in space."
Robert looked thoughtful. "I know, they told us in
the hospital that this is some kind of rocket."
"I guess we should be grateful to you all," said Joe.
"Can you get us back to Earth? To Dallas. To 1927?"
"Yes, no, and no," said Cadungog. "What used to be
Dallas is now underwater. And as for time travel, H.G.
Wells was wrong. There's no way to really time travel."
Robert stood up. "Well, how the hell did we end up
423 years in the future?"
Cadungog looked up at him calmly. "Your signal was
traveling into space all this time."
"We're more than 450 million light years from
Earth--not that that means anything to you," he
Robert glared at him and took a deep breath. Joe
"This place is a goddamn zoo!"
Robert poked around in the carbohydrate cracker bowl
that held his white stew.
"The races are all mixed up, the beaners and chinks
and niggers are all running loose."
Joe smiled thinly at their old outfits hanging from
hooks on the bulkhead.
"Yeah, sorta queers our old mick and kraut and eye-tye
routines too, don't it?" he said. "After all these
years, everyone’s pretty much equal."
Robert poked at his food.
"They might as well put us in a zoo," he said.
"Or a museum. The world is too different, it’s changed
too much. I don’t know we’re going to get along."
"Well, for starters, they've certainly been nice to
us," said Joe. "I mean, what would we have thought if
someone from Queen Elizabeth's time suddenly appeared in
the middle of Dallas?"
Robert grunted and kept eating.
Joe sat down opposite him and began to stab his soy
steak. "What are we going to do with ourselves?"
"You mean, like work?" Robert grimaced. "Heck, I was
born in a trunk, I don't know what else to do with
He took a swallow of his white stew. "I guess go on
the dole. Hey, this shit ain't half bad."
"You know, people haven't changed that much," said
Joe. "They still want shows."
"I know, I've seen their picture shows. Pretty neat,
actually. But I haven't seen that anyone goes to live
"Not on this space rocket, anyway. But I've asked
around a little in the past couple of days," said Joe.
"They still have plays and shows and stuff when they're
on solid ground."
Robert thought a little and then changed the subject.
"Do you understand all this crap about space travel they
"Traveling faster than light goes? I guess." Joe
rubbed his forehead. "I guess I get the part about
punching a hole through the curtain of stars. I kinda
like the name they call it, the wormhole."
"Yeah, sounds like the worm put a hole right through
old Professor Einstein's science book," Robert smiled.
"I wonder whatever happened to Professor Einstein?"
Robert was most of the way through his stew. "I
figger he ended his days as president of some German
university and died with a bunch of Nobel prizes on the
wall. Who cares?"
Joe looked at Robert and knitted his brows. "I guess.
Vaudeville is dead s a doornail."
"We're dead in the water," said Robert as he pushed
his tray back. "I wonder if they still need street
sweepers back on Earth?"
Joe snapped his fingers, which startled Robert. "Hold
it, not all our routines made fun of different types of
"Name one piece of business we used to do that
wouldn't insult somebody in this mixed-up world."
Joe wagged his finger. "’The Stranger With a Kind
Face'--remember, we did it in Texarkana when Ted Healy
was in the audience?"
"Hey, that's right. I forgot that one!"
"There's not a kike or dago or mick joke in there,"
Robert stood up. "You're right. Remember how it
"God, how could I forget?" Joe stood up and began
walking back and forth in the small cabin. "OK, I'm
pacing in a park, head down, mumbling to myself.…"
Cadungog leaned over the admiral’s shoulder.
"Are you sure this is for real?"
"Yes, our friends want to show their
appreciation by demonstrating to us how they entertained
people back in the olden days."
Ihemelu put a hand to her brow. "This is gonna be a
The admiral half-turned in his seat. "They assure me
there's not a racial or ethnic insult in their routine."
She grunted. "I'll believe it when I see it."
Cadungog looked around the lounge. "Everyone on the
station is here."
"Of course, it's a spectacle."
The admiral smiled. "Ada, let's give these guys a
She sat back heavily in her seat. "Right."
"I guess you don’t want to do the introduction."
She just glared at him.
The admiral smiled again. "I guess that leaves you,
The lights came up on the corner of the lounge.
Cadungog rose and loped down the aisle.
He went to where space had been cleared in the lounge
and waved the pair of old vaudevillians over.
"I'm sure you are all familiar with our special
guests of our past week," he said with a nod to the pair
in the wings. "They were entertainers, in-person
performers, in their previous life. They said they would
like to show their appreciation to the crew of the
Wheeling Station by putting on one of their shows. It's
called a skit."
Joe leaned over. "Do most of these folks speak
English?" he said sotto voce.
"Most do," said Cadungog. "The rest have little
translators stuck in their ears. Are you ready?"
"As we'll ever be," said Robert.
Cadungog raised his voice and did his best to imitate
what was once called ‘stage patter’.
"Ladies and gentlemen, direct from the Majestic
Theater of Dallas, Republic of Texas, circa 1927, we
bring you those accomplished performers. Robert Bessimer
and Joe Ferguson."
Joe began pacing back and forth, head down, shaking
his head and mumbling.
Robert had retreated somewhat, but now walked forward
like a man strolling through a park. Joe reversed
direction and the pair almost collided center stage.
"Watch where you're going, friend."
Joe stopped and spun around, a wild gleam in his eye.
"Friend! Friend! No has called me friend in over seven
He closed one eye and squinted at Robert. "You have a
kind face, stranger. I can tell you're a good-hearted
person." He turned and shook his head. "But there's
nothing you can do for me."
"My goodness, what happened to you?"
"It was a woman."
There were some chuckles from the audience as Robert
looked out and shook his head. "It always is."
"She ran away with him. He had been my best friend.
But one day, I came home from work and found a note."
Robert clucked and shook his head sympathetically.
"I went to Grand Central Station. A clerk remembered
them, and told me they had taken a train up the Hudson."
"I began to hunt them down. It was a chase, but I
kept after them. First I went to Yonkers, then
Poughkeepsie, then Schenectady, next Albany...." As Joe
began to reel out the names of Upstate New York cities,
in a wild-eyed rant, members of the audience began to
laugh. It just sounded funny. "On to Onandaga,
then Canandaiguia, through Skaneateles, past Syracuse,
through Oswego and Oneonta, outta Ithaca..."
Robert put on a look of fake interest.
"I knew the rat would make a break for the border
with her, and I got closer and closer, day by day. Then
I finally caught up with them, in Niagara Falls."
Joe had paced back and forth as he told his wide-eyed
story. At this point, he was across the stage from
Robert, who innocently repeated: "Niagara Falls?"
Joe shouted: "NIAGARA FALLS!"
Joe turned, a finger stabbing the air. He raised a
leg. "Slowly I turn. Step by step, inch by inch. I run
up to him and I grab him…." As he broke into the present
tense and began to advance menacingly on his companion,
almost everyone in the audience began to laugh.
When Joe reached Robert, he began a series of
punches, slugs and pokes that culminated in a crescendo
of blows that left Robert on his back, all the while
crying out maniacally: "I punched him, I jabbed him, I
When the 'violence' started, a security officer on
the sidelines instinctively reached for his sidearm, but
in a moment he joined everyone else in guffawing at the
cartoonish physical humor.
Joe leaned over his companion and pretended to 'snap
out if it'. The penitent maniac reached down and
extended a hand to the reluctant victim.
"I think we got them," he stage-whispered.
"I think you're right," Robert whispered back as he
was yanked to his feet.
"I'm sorry friend," said Joe in a loud voice. Robert
was now on his feet.
"It's been seven years since I caught up with him.
I'm sorry, I still go crazy when I hear that name."
Robert was dusting off his clothes. "I understand, I
guess. About Niagara Falls."
"NIAGARA FALLS! Slowly I turn..."
"Stand under the vent there, if you have to smoke
Captain Cadungog motioned to Robert to move over.
"Thanks, bud. I can't believe you found one of
these." Robert puffed ferociously on the cigar.
"They're not easy to get--I mean, out here," he
Robert nodded vigorously in thanks as he puffed.
Joe turned to Ihemelu.
"I think we went over big, didn't we?"
"Yes, you did." She smiled.
"We don’t get much live entertainment on the
station," she said. "And your kind of comedy--what do
you call it?"
"Is actually quite primal and silly," said Ihemelu.
"A great release."
Robert was leaning back and enjoying the smoke. He
waved the cigar at Cadungog.
"I'm grateful to you--not just for this, but for a
lot." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "I'm sorry I
called you a chink."
Cadungog smiled. "That's OK, you didn't know any
better. It didn't hurt much. And I'm actually Filipino."
He looked at Ihemelu, and back at Robert, who thought
for a second and grimaced.
"I'm sorry, miss, also, for calling you a... you
"Apology accepted. Let's forget it."
Robert nodded as he puffed and hurriedly finished the
cigar. The quartet walked from the empty lounge and
began heading back to guest quarters.
"By the way, we received confirmation of your story.
We received a jaypeg from Earth of an old newspaper,"
"It has a story about an explosion and fire on Market
Street in Dallas, Texas, during the spring of 1927."
Robert flung the cigar butt down a wall garbage
"Yes, the studio was rented to your friend, Dr.
Armsford--but his body was never found."
"Must have been blown to kingdom come," said Joe.
"Why wasn't he, uhh, transmitted like we were," asked
Before Cadungog spoke up, Joe spoke up.
"You ever see a shotgun misfire? All the hurt goes
out the back." Robert nodded.
Cadungog spoke up. "I had a visitor from Station
Charlotte ask after your show if you could visit them,
he said he was sure everyone would split wide open
laughing at your skit."
Robert and Joe stopped at the entrance of their
quarters. Robert shook Cadungog's hand.
"It's a gig, then."
Joe took Ihemelu's hand. "Thanks for everything."
After the door closed behind them, Robert turned to
"I swear, even though she's a darky, I think she
"She's pretty," said Joe. "When she smiles, it's like
the sun coming out."
Joe walked across the cabin and got a thoughtful look
as he popped open a drink.
Robert sat down. "Something's on your mind."
"I was thinking of Bert."
Robert looked at him seriously.
Joe sat down across from him at the small table. "You
know Bert was the best vaudevillian there was. There was
"I saw him once in ‘Blackbirds’." Robert clasped his
hands on the table. "I was ready to give vaudeville up
after that and become a shoemaker."
"I know things have changed, but maybe they're for
the better. Think of Bert. He worked harder than anyone,
to get his place in the sun. But it was so hard, because
he was a Negro."
"He dropped dead from it, remember. Pneumonia. Five
years ago--I mean then." Robert shook his head. "You
know what I mean."
"Did you ever hear what W.C. Fields said about Bert?"
" 'He was the funniest man I ever saw, and the
saddest man I ever met.' I heard that after Bert died."
"You know that if Bert was white, he would have
played the Palladium.
"The Palace! Hell, he would have been in the Follies
"Well, those times are long gone. Too late for Bert."
Robert rubbed his knuckles. "It would be better for
Joe looked at him. "Is that a bad thing?"
"No." Robert stood up. "I guess not."
"I guess we'll all get along fine now," he added. "No
more jokes and gags about micks and wops and…" He popped
open a drink and sipped as Joe leaned back. "Times sure
changed, in some ways. But then, people are kind of the
same still, aren’t they?" He took another sip. "By the
by, you never told me what Healy thought of our act in
"Oh, you know, he was looking for sidekicks. He
talked to me backstage afterwards. He said he had
thought about taking us on."
"Why didn't he?"
"He said after seeing the bit, he realized he wanted
more than a couple of guys. He said he wanted at least
three, to make a routine of it, I guess.
Robert sat back down and took a long sip. "The last I
heard--not that it matters much any more--I heard he
hooked up with the Howard Brothers."
Joe raised his can. "Well, a toast then, to departed
Robert raised his.
"To Ted. I hope he lived happily ever after with his