Fox and Ashe were talking, staring into the pool of water supplied abundantly from an underground source, the lifeblood of beasts and men. The soldiers had been keeping their distance but Travis was aware of their presence and the potential threat they represented.
“I can’t believe you remember me after fifteen years. It was just one class.”
“I was an impressionable eighteen year old, Dr. Ashe, and in you I thought I’d found a kindred spirit, a man who valued the traditions of his ancestors as much as I did. Most of my family thought I was crazy. Still do.”
“Mine too, Travis. And call me Gordon.”
Fox was still embarrassed at having been taken by surprise earlier, so this time he was paying better attention, and his keen hearing detected the man approaching them both from behind. Almost anyone else would have been taken unawares. Whoever the newcomer was, he was very good at being quiet.
“Just got the call from Kelgarries, Gordon.”
They both turned to face a man in his late twenties, average height, suntanned, like he’s spent a lot of time outdoors, brown, closely cut hair, steel grey eyes. Travis took one look at him and knew this man could handle himself. His eyes betrayed the man’s experiences, someone who had seen pain, tragedy, and something stranger.
“What did he have to say, Ross?”
“Your friend is clean. No security risk. The Major trusts your judgment. If you want to bring him in on all of this, you can.”
“Oh, forgive me. Travis Fox? Meet Ross Murdock.”
“Mr. Murdock.” Travis offered his hand, not because he was bring friendly, but because it was expected. He still had no clue what he’d stumbled into.
“Fox.” Murdock shook the other man’s hand. The stranger was an unknown element in a critical situation, but then again, so was Ross when Kelgarries took a chance and recruited him into Operation Retrograde.
“I don’t think we have much of a choice, Ross. No one’s supposed to know we’re out here. If he goes back and tells the authorities…”
“Hey, wait. I thought you were the authorities.”
“Well, sort of, but we don’t want to advertise.”
“Dr. Ashe, uh…Gordon. You didn’t answer my question before. What are you doing here in the canyon? It can’t be archaeology. Not with those guys hanging around.” Travis waved his arm to indicate the nearby soldiers.
“Actually, in a way, it is.”
“The hell you say. I’ve done some digging around here. Found a few artifacts. Probably Pre-Columbian. Not enough to merit a formal expedition.”
“Want to see what I’ve found so far?” Ashe’s eyes lit up.
“Do you think you should, Gordon?” Ross didn’t used to be the voice of caution, but harsh experience had changed him.
“We can always put him on ice until the operation is finished, Ross.”
“Hey wait. Put me on ice? It’s not like people won’t expect me to get back home tonight. They’ll come looking.”
“That wouldn’t be a good idea, Ashe. The last shipment came in an hour ago. Kelgarries wants us to go live in less than forty-eight hours.”
“It’s alright, Ross. I’ll take full responsibility.”
“Would you quit talking about like I’m not standing right here?” Travis was indignant, which was overriding his anxiety about the situation. One of the world’s most talented archaeologists was literally in the middle of nowhere, accompanied by soldiers plus whoever this guy Murdock was supposed to be. No, he wasn’t military, but he was dangerous.
“Sorry, Travis. Occupational hazard.”
“Besides being an archaeologist, what is your occupation, Gordon?”
“Come with me, Travis.”
Ashe led the young rancher back to the camp and into his tent. Murdock followed at a discrete distance as did the armed guards.
Inside, Ashe unwrapped a number of objects that were covered in soft cloth.
“A Folsom point? Here? It’s got to be a fake.”
“Nope. I verified it myself, Travis. I know. Unusual, but definitely possible. Other Folsom sites were previously discovered east of here.”
In addition to the spear point were some arrowheads and pottery fragments. The last item was the most startling, though.
“Now that is a fake.”
“I checked it myself, Travis. Its age is consistent with the Folsom point.”
“But that’s nuts. You’re talking about finding a modern handgun that’s 10,000 years old.”
“Yes, Travis. That’s exactly what I’m talking about, and it’s not the most unusual artifact I’ve discovered since we set up shop here last month.”
“What are you after here, Gordon? What sort of expedition is this?”
“I’ll tell you if you’re in and if you let your family know that you’re alright and you’ll be out of touch for a few weeks.”
“Phone call, Fox.”
Murdock was talking from just outside the tent. Travis stepped out and stood to see Ross holding a satellite phone out to him.
Fox took it and put it up to his ear. “Hello?”
“Travis. Are you alright? The man who called said you needed to talk to me or Wendell.”
“It’s okay, Cassie. I’m fine. I ran into an old teacher of mine. He’s out here on an archaeological dig and invited me to participate. Oh, tell Wendell I’ve found water but we’ll have to wait to bring the herd out.”
“Travis, what’s this all about?”
“I told you, Cass. I’ve decided to join this dig for relics. It’s on our land and the tribe has an interest in what’s been found. I can’t just leave all this to the university eggheads.”
Travis hoped and prayed Cassie would buy his story. She knew of his passion both with preserving the artifacts of their people and amateur archaeology. It was a bit of a stretch about waiting to drive the herd to fresh water, but that part couldn’t be helped.
“Well…if you say so, but Wendell will have a fit, plus the kids were expecting you for dinner.”
“Tell them I love them and kiss them for me, Cass. As for Wendell, he’ll probably love it that I’m not around for a week or two. Makes him think he’s the big man on the Double A.”
“Call me again soon, Travis. I love you.”
“I love you too, Cass. I’ll call when I can.”
“Are you sure about this, Travis? It’s really sudden.”
“It’s like I said. One of the archaeologists is an old teacher of mine. Haven’t seen him for years. He’s offering me a terrific opportunity to be part of discovering and preserving our history and culture. I can’t pass it up.”
“Just be careful out there, Travis.”
“I will. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. Talk to you soon, Cass. Bye.”
He broke the connection before his wife could think of any more objections. Travis gave the phone back to Ross. “Thanks, Murdock. What made you think to call my wife?”
“I figured if Ashe was bringing you into all of this, we’d need to give your family an explanation.”
“How’d you know my number?”
“You know we had you checked out. Your phone number is online.”
“You’ve got the internet out here? I can’t even get cell service.”
“Never mind, Fox.”
Ashe had come out of the tent. Travis turned back to him.
“You have a habit of not answering my questions, Gordon. If I’ve just joined your expedition, shouldn’t I know what you’re looking for?
Ashe pushed his glasses back up onto the bridge of his nose and gave a short, dry chuckle. “Folsom hunters…and a spaceship.”
This is an extension of my Time Traders homage, a small collection of chapters honoring Andre Norton’s (Alice Mary Norton’s) 1958 scifi cold war thriller The Time Traders. In 1959, she published a sequel called Galactic Derelict which introduced the character Travis Fox.
The chapters of my previous “book” are here:
- The Recruit
- The Artifact
- The Traders
- The Curse of Lurgha
- The Cache
- Epilogue: The Time Traders
The first chapter to my “Galactic Derelict” homage is Canyon of the Moon.
The next chapter in this series is Derelict.