Gateway

ship

From one version of the cover of Andre Norton’s novel “Galactic Derelict”

The Ninth Story in the Time Travel Adventures of Ross Murdock

The very fact that Rossa woke up surprised him. The last thing he’d heard was a gunshot and then he felt an impact in the middle of his back. His back hurt, but not like a gunshot wound. Tranquilizer dart?

The room he found himself in was dimly lit and resembled the huts of the villagers. There was a crude wooden table in the center of the room and sitting on upended log on the other side of the table was a man.

The man was dressed similarly to the Axmen but his hair and complexion were darker. The man looked past where Rossa was lying on a loose collection of furs and nodded.  He felt himself being lifted to his feet by men on either side of him. The two other men, dressed the same as the first man, pulled him to a seat by the table facing the man who seemed to be in charge. He nodded again to the two men and they left.

The man spoke in the language of the Axmen and Rossa had spent enough time with them that he understood the basic question, “Who are you?”

“I am Rossa of the Beakermen, traders from the south. I follow Assa, our clan leader. We are building an outpost to trade with the Axmen.”

The man sitting across from him must have noticed his accent and switched to the Beakerman tongue. “Why did you come here?”

“I was on a hunt with Ullfa and his men. We were following a game trail.” Rossa didn’t know if he should mention the ghosts or the attack. He didn’t know if he’d been found by a clan from another village or by Soviet agents, but the latter seemed more likely given how easily this person switched languages.

“How long have you been a trader?”

“I joined the apprenticeship in my eleventh year under my clansman Assa and have been with him ever since.”

“Where in the south do you come from?”

Rossa gave the ancient Bronze Age name for a region of modern-day France. His father was Gurdi. This was Rossa’s first journey to open new territory. Assa is a well-known far voyager. He has a wife Ai, who is Daughter of the Earth Mother Gaea. Two of their companions, Borr and Hunn went on a journey many days before and have not returned.

The young time traveler was grateful he wasn’t carrying any 21st century technology, not even a pack of emergency rations. His only real worry was the transponder implanted under the skin of his right shoulder. It was supposed to remain inert unless manually activated by him or remotely by someone on the extraction team so they could locate him. It was very small and most likely would be overlooked, but there was always a chance they’d find it.

Rossa’s mind had wandered and he hadn’t noticed his interrogator signaling one of the men behind him. An object loudly clattered onto the table top in front of him. It was an assault rifle, a 9A-91. It had to belong to either Borr or Hunn.

“What is that, Beakerman?”

Rossa hoped his momentary expression of recognition hadn’t been noticed. “That? How could I know? It is like nothing I have ever seen.”

The interrogator picked up the rifle, released the safety catch, pointed the barrel at Rossa’s face, and placed his finger on the trigger. “Now do you know what it is?”

The time trader had been conditioned to control his voluntary responses even under great stress, but there must be a dozen involuntary signals he was transmitting that anyone skilled in questioning prisoners could pick up.

“What is this thing? Leave me alone. I am a trader. Let me go back to my people. I’ve done you no harm.”

The interrogator pulled the trigger and there was a loud click. Rossa cursed himself for the tiny flinching motion he made.

“Take him.”

Rossa felt something sharp prick his left bicep and in a few moments he was unconscious.

He woke up in what looked like the interior of a small, one room hut, but there were no windows. He tried the single door but it wouldn’t open. Rossa felt the walls and they didn’t seem to transmit the cold that should be on the other side if this was a village hut.

A simulation? Come to think of it, there weren’t any windows in the hut where he was questioned.

Of course he was a Soviet prisoner. The assault rifle definitively proved that. So why continue the pretense? Surely they must have figured out he was an agent.

The door opened abruptly. Rossa hadn’t heard anything like keys or a locking mechanism being released. One man stood at the door with a bowl. The other behind him had a hand gun.

“Food.”

The first man put the bowl on the floor, stepped back and closed the door. Rossa thought he caught a glimpse of a corridor beyond. The lighting looked electrical.

On the other hand, the food was standard fare you’d find in any Axmen village. Rossa didn’t know how long he’d been here without food or water, but he discovered he was ravenous.

As nearly as he could figure, they fed him twice a day and changed the bucket he used as a toilet the same interval. He planned on using that schedule to his advantage.

Living in a room the size of a small home office with an open container of your own waste is disgusting, but then again, Rossa had been rigorously trained to endure the world of the Bronze Age, which hardly had indoor plumbing. He was betting that whoever was guarding him here wasn’t used to such conditions.

The door opened to serve breakfast. Rossa was holding the bucket and drenched the two men and what would have been his morning meal in urine and feces. They were sputtering, but the one with the gun quickly refocused on the prisoner.

That was only long enough to see the prisoner rush at the both and quickly incapacitate them. Rossa took the guard’s gun. They all smelled terrible, but that was the least of the escapee’s problems after depositing the two Soviets in his cell and locking it. Which way to go, left or right?

He gambled and went left. For a while, Rossa thought he was doing pretty well. He managed to avoid people who were casually strolling up and down the various halls.

Elevators were out of the question because they required a key card to activate and Rossa in his haste, had failed to steal one from his captors. He made it into a stairwell, but he heard voices above, so he went down.

Just as he’d reached the doorway at the lowest floor, a man dressed in the uniform of a Soviet lieutenant opened it from the other side. He was momentarily shocked at Rossa’s presence, giving the trader the opportunity to render him unconscious. Rossa pulled the man back inside where he had come from, a small control room.

There was a supply closet. Rossa bound and gagged the man and stuffed him in it. He turned to the controls. He had visited the control room of the time gate at the arctic base enough times to recognize what he was looking at. This was an auxiliary station, used in case the primary failed.

He didn’t know how much time he had before someone sounded the alarm, but he couldn’t turn away from this opportunity. It would be a miracle if he could find Borr and Hunn in this hidden Soviet complex, assuming they were still alive, but what he saw displayed in front of him eclipsed all concerns for his missing comrades.

Ross Murdock was no scientist, but he was intelligent and, if not well educated in a formal sense, he was well-read. He’d absorbed not only the literary classics, but quite a bit of knowledge about quantum and temporal mechanics. He’d learned even more from striking up “casual” conversations with Operation Retrograde gateway techs.

What he saw here was incredible. It was a timeline map, a graphic presentation of the ages and time jumps made from not just this time gate, but all of the Soviet time gates.

Operation Retrograde jumped up and down a single timeline, mainly because that’s all anyone expected to exist. The Russians did something else entirely. They had created a virtual spider’s web of timelines some running parallel, some shooting off at odd tangents. Even to Murdock, it was impossible, at least in the short time he’d been studying it, to tell where the original timeline began before the Soviets and Americans began using time gates, and the changes in the nature of reality that Ross always thought was the only reality.

According to this, the Nazi’s never should have invaded Britain, and we should have won the war in Europe without threatening Hitler with the use of atomic weapons.

Ross put his finger on the spot that showed the Soviet Union falling in the early 1990s. In that reality, the Berlin Wall was breached for the last time on November 9, 1989.

But all that was gone, or more accurately never existed, not in the timeline Ross had been born into. How had they done it? Could it be undone? Should it be undone? Murdock hadn’t noticed others had entered the room behind him until they grabbed him. He couldn’t overcome three men. His pistol was on the desk a meter away, too far away and he was too late.

“You Americans always think you will win in the end. You escaped your cell, but I promise you a prison you can never get out of.”

The struggle was brief and once again, the world blacked out for Ross Murdock.

When he woke up, and again, he was surprised they continued to let him live, his Beakerman clothing was gone. He was in what looked like a bathtub filled with dark-reddish gel.

Sitting up, he felt perfectly clean and uninjured. The cuts and bruises he’d picked up while in custody were gone. Had he been out long enough to heal?

ice age

J. Raloff/Science News for Students

He got out of the gel bath. It was the only furniture in the room, which was round, about the size of his former cell, and while not metallic, was constructed of an artificial substance Ross couldn’t identify.

At the foot of the tub was what looked like a one piece jumpsuit. It was uniformly blue-grey in color. Being the only available clothing, Murdock slipped into it. At first it seemed far too large for him, but as if by magic, the size adjusted to fit him perfectly. He felt neither hot nor cold, as if the suit were regulating the temperature for him.

The room had a door with no knob or handle. As Ross walked toward it, the door slid open. He seemed to have been put in some sort of ancillary chamber off of a much, much larger one.

What Murdock saw at the center of the vast cavern was astonishing beyond belief. It could only be a Forerunner spaceship. It was roughly spherical, about four stories tall. The Soviets were near to completing a massive time gate framework around it. In perhaps a few more days, a week at most, they would be ready to bring the ship forward in time…

…which meant the prison the Soviets taunted him with was their base in Earth’s last ice age over 11,000 years in the past.

The previous stories in this series are:

  1. The Recruit
  2. Escape
  3. The Artifact
  4. The Traders
  5. The Curse of Lurgha
  6. The Cache
  7. Ghosts
  8. Captured

This series was inspired by an original piece of flash fiction that led me to consider refactoring Andre Norton’s (Alice Mary Norton’s) 1958 science fiction novel The Time Traders.

The next chapter in this series is Invasion.

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4 thoughts on “Gateway

  1. It’s going very well…a flavour of Norton is there, but I have read a lot of Norton, and so have you! I always prefer jumping from an entanglement in the wilds to an entanglement in more advanced, mysterious venues.

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    • But Norton never introduced variations in the time stream as I have, plus there’s more to consider in future stories. Thanks for your vote of confidence. The best is yet to come.

      Like

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