Epilogue: The Time Traders

desert planet

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The Epilogue to the Time Travel Adventures of Ross Murdock

Ross Murdock and Major Vasnev Danya Romanovich were facing each other standing on snow and ice. The ghosts of trees surrounded them, barely visible through the fog. The sky was overcast and it was threatening to once again snow. Romanovich was pointing his Soviet Army issued Makarov pistol at Murdock’s chest.

“So you want to know why I saved your life in the Ice Age, Murdock? It started out so simply. My men were engaged with the invading Forerunners. Months ago, one of our technicians accidentally activated some sort of transmission device on the spaceship. Apparently it emitted a signal that can travel faster than light, assuming the Forerunners who arrived came from outside our solar system.

“The invasion force hit without warning, repelling down through the opening above the spaceship’s chamber. I was the only one to get out in time. I planned to use you as a bargaining chip. I knew that our scientists had developed the time gate by studying portions of the alien technology we had recovered years ago from the first site in Siberia. I knew the Forerunners might follow us into the Bronze Age.

“I planned to defect. I was going to use you to negotiate with your people, secure safe passage on your submarine back to your base, and then return with you back to the present. I know where other spaceships are in the past, Murdock. I know of at least one in the Americas. I would have helped you find it, even before the Forerunners linked us telepathically.

“Why did you hit me and run? We could have escaped together. Didn’t you sense my thoughts, understand my intent? You understood the alien. Why didn’t you understand me? Why didn’t you save me like I tried to save you?”

Ross woke up startled. It was a dream, just a dream. Or was it?


Ashe found Murdock in one of the small conference rooms. A detailed map of a part of the Arizona desert was being projected on the wall in front of him.

Ross turned as the older time traveler sat in the seat to his right. “I’m glad you’re here, Gordon. I want to show you something.”

Murdock told Ashe about the dream. He’d had the same one for the past three nights running, always right before waking up in the morning. It had to mean something more than a dream. Along with Romanovich’s monologue, Ross saw an image of a map, a map with all of the Forerunner bases and outposts in the Americas.

“The one in Arizona is our best bet. Soviet intelligence believes it has suffered the least amount of degradation over time, though Romanovich didn’t know exactly how the Red spies came across that information.”

“You just now realized that you had been telepathically linked not only to the alien but the Russian as well?”

“That was a lot of data the Forerunner crammed into my head. It’s taken months for me to sort through this much and I think there’s more. With time, I should be able to process it. Who knows what’s still running around up here?” Ross tapped the side of his head with his index finger.

“I’ll call a meeting.”

Murdock rolled his eyes at his partner. “Not another meeting.”

“We’ll have to recall the other time agents in the Indo-European eras.”

“So we’re going to Arizona.”

“We, Ross? You were to be released from the project at the end of the current mission. You’ve been a terrific help, but with your criminal record erased, don’t you want a life outside?”

“Forget it, Gordon. I’m hooked. Nothing I’ve ever done before can compare to the project. I’m in for the duration if you, Kelgarries, and Zheutlin will have me.”

“I have a feeling you’ll be accepted, especially because of the knowledge that you’ve assimilated from the Forerunner and the Soviet. Right now, you are the best source of intel we’ve ever had. Welcome to the team, Ross.”

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
  9. Gateway.
  10. Invasion.

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.

Technically, this is the end of my version of Norton’s novel “The Time Traders,” but it’s not the end of the adventure. We still have to find out how the Forerunners are “terraforming” Earth and whether or not it can be reversed.

We also need to know about the Forerunners in the present. If they are responsible for changing the planet’s climate as a prelude to invasion and colonization, what’s the timeline? Will humans have to be extinct or will we still be here when they return?

And what about Forerunners and time travel technology? Did they really invent it or did the Soviets simply exploit and adapt the alien tech they discovered? It certainly seems as if the Forerunners understood how to use the time gate.

The answers are forthcoming in my upcoming adaption of Norton’s 1959 novel Galactic Derelict.

The first chapter in my “Galactic Derelict” homage is Canyon of the Moon.

10 thoughts on “Epilogue: The Time Traders

    • I’m really going to have to deviate from Norton’s plot in my next “mini-novel,” Q. So far it’s a lot of fun. If I were developing this for real, I’d have to work a whole lot harder to develop characterization and more realistic depictions of the Bronze Age and last Ice Age.


  1. Is this also where the first Norton novel terminated the story, including the implicit linkage to the sequel? Does the sequel explain or expand upon the mental linkage between Ross and Romanov, which appears as if a portion of Romanov’s personality was downloaded into Ross’s brain to run as a semi-independent parasitic entity? Can Ross get rid of him (essentially requiring an exorcism of sorts)? And is anybody devoting any effort into determining how they might clean up the timeline other than to prevent runaway climate change? Do we ever find out whether the Forerunners are merely selfish bastards or if they have (or had) a more benign agenda that has been misunderstood or has gone awry? Might we see a glimpse into Forerunner politics which render both perspectives true and representative of an internal conflict among them? How are we ever to pull a happy ending out of such a mess [:)]?

    You asked a question in your epilogue to the story’s epilogue, about the Forerunners’ knowledge of the temporal tech. But you had already answered that question in a prior episode, where Ross recognized Forerunner circuitry in the ancient time-gate that he was being carried through. And you clarified that the Soviets didn’t invent any of it, but merely decoded some of the operating procedures by trial-and-error. It seemed to me that they had not even succeeded to reverse-engineer the tech into their own new devices, but perhaps I’m excessively discounting things like the display of alternate timelines that you mentioned in passing. Was that also in Norton’s story, or did you insert that because I asked about it? (If the latter, thanks, it was a nice touch.) If such controls and displays integrated the Forerunner tech with modern Soviet tech that facilitated human interface with the alien tech, then at least some engineering credit must go to the Soviets, just as the Americans reverse-engineered what they perceived as Soviet temporal tech. And that leaves us with yet another question about how the Soviets in the original timeline discovered the Forerunner temporal tech prior to the fall of the Soviet Union and somehow managed to change the timeline in their favor so as to preserve that regime.


    • More less, PL. In the original novel, Ross and Ashe found some tapes at the Ice Age base and got them back to their base in the present. The tapes were what told them where alien ships were in America, not telepathy.

      There was no Romanovich in Norton’s novel, and it was Murdock who discovered the alien sphere, which was almost completely buried in ice some distance away from the Soviet base (the Soviets had left Murdock outside on the ice to freeze to death). Murdock got inside the sphere, discovered the gel bath and it’s healing properties, put on an alien body suit, and then accidentally activated the communications equipment, confronting a “Baldy” over the comm link.

      In my version of the story, a lot was downloaded into Murdock’s brain, but then again, an equal amount was uploaded to the alien’s brain as well as Romanovich’s. If Romanovich had lived (and maybe he did…I’m still thinking about that part), he’d eventually process the information and know what Ross knew at the point of the mental link. Who knows, maybe (again, assuming Romanovich survived), maybe the link persists on some level.

      Are the Forerunners selfish bastards who go around hatching plots lasting thousands of years in order to alter the climates and then hijack planets, or is there some other reason for all this? Good questions. I’ll have to mull them over.

      It was an assumption that the Forerunners invented time travel technology. This was based on Murdock’s observation of the Soviet time gates and how they’d integrated Forerunner tech (while the American gates did not). There’s more going on than meets the eye. For instance, if the Forerunners have time travel, why didn’t they set up a series of gates and invade different time periods? Why not select an era where temps were a lot warmer and settle there if that’s what they want?

      None of that was in Norton’s novel. I took the basic plot and twisted it quite a bit. I also left out a lot of details about wolves and other wild animals attacking the time travelers, mainly because wolves and many other predators will actually avoid humans if they can. Plus, it didn’t further the plot.

      Yes, some engineering credit really does go to the Soviets and that will be made clear in future stories.

      As I mentioned in another comment, if I were writing all this for publication in some form (I’d have to get a bunch of permission to do so from Norton’s estate), I’d have to go back and spend a lot more time refining the chapters. Right now, I’m half making this up as I go along.


      • Why would the aliens need a series of time gates at various periods? If their goal were to effect climate change for some future set of conditions, all they would need would be gates at the beginning and end points, with maybe one monitoring point somewhere in the middle just to verify and that the change they had initiated was proceeding on schedule. That would seem to correspond with your existing plot points of 11,000 BCE, 2000 BCE, and the present. Note that, given temporal tech, the aliens do not need to wait for any length of time to complete their program. For them, the period of planning, initiating, and monitoring their program, and benefitting from its completion, could be very short. They could jump back and forth every couple of hours, for example, to see the beginning, the middle, and the end, and the entire program could be completed in less than a day of their present contiguous time. So the program would not be “lasting thousands of years” of their time, even while playing out over some 14 millennia of terrestrial development time.

        This would also provide Ross and company plenty of time to meddle with the alien plan before they might notice that it was not proceeding as expected. It might only be because of anomalies like the accidental Soviet triggering of a Forerunner alarm that the aliens would even have noticed the human interference. Even their realization that such interference had occurred would not necessarily enable them to catch up with the humans who escaped the “invasion” to another point in time (our present) which is not a part of the alien program whose endpoint is still somewhere in the terrestrial future. Can they even find or operate a human-built gate (which probably lacks the sophisticated tracking mechanisms that the aliens probably built into their own gates)? They would need to expend a lot of effort to plot and unravel multiple strands and loops of alternative time to identify where the humans became involved and what they had done to meddle with any or all of the timelines. The aliens themselves would have a stake in trying to clean up most of the extraneous timelines that clutter up the change that they wished to accomplish. Their original plan would have initiated just one clean alternative timeline, with a predictable result (whatever that was supposed to be), Instead, human interference created a complex network with untold numbers of unpredictable results, perhaps none of which would correspond with the result that the aliens intended or with the result that would have ensued in the original timeline. Maybe the impending runaway climate change was one of the unexpected consequences of human meddling (Soviet meddling, in this case) rather than a Forerunner plan. The story so far really has not explored all the motivations and intentions of its various players, nor their causes, effects and possible effects.

        Maybe the aliens weren’t trying to wipe out the humans at all. Maybe all they were trying to accomplish was to grow some plant that would provide a medicinal substance and that could have been harvested surreptitiously, without humans even noticing their visitations. Maybe everything went wrong by accidental side-effects of humans finding the hidden alien tech and trying to figure out how it works. Oh, the tangled web we weave…. (when unknown tech we try to retrieve).


      • A lot of good ideas there, PL. But if all that were true, they’d only need to have spaceships in the ice age. Then they’d just set up their gates at key points in history and jump through when the climate was right…unless you have millions of people, then bringing them in by spaceship in the present/future might be more practical.

        What other reasons would aliens have to changing our climate, or was it deliberate? Maybe it was something the Soviets did, but if that were the case, what do the aliens want? I’ll have to ponder all that.


  2. Leaving multiple spaceships (timeships?) hidden in the past does raise questions about their purpose. Perhaps they were hidden there because of Forerunner politics such as I suggested above, to keep them out of the hands of some powerful Forerunner faction that would confiscate them to prevent the faction which hid them from completing some plan. And we don’t know if either faction cares in the slightest degree about human well-being. Suppose, for example, that the intent of one faction was to spring a surprise on the other faction. Hiding the ships on a planet prior to the rise of any technologically sophisticated civilization, for later retrieval, could have been a strategy that simply failed to account for the emergence and unexpectedly rapid development of those pesky humans. And the unexpected effects of human involvement might have upset altogether the alien faction’s plans. So, should the aliens attempt to elicit human cooperation, or just try to get them out of the way? That choice would reveal something about the alien civilization and its cultural values and conflicts. Meanwhile, of course, “back at the ranch” (so they say), at least two factions of humans are trying to figure out what’s going on and to do something about it as well as about their own conflicts. Oh, boy, does *that* ever add to the complications!


    • I only have a vague idea for the endgame for all of this in mind but your suggestions are somewhat shaping the course of my tale. Hope you’re enjoying the start of my adaptation of “Galactic Derelict.”


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