The Canyon of the Moon was selected as the location for the construction of the time gate not only because it yielded the unusual ancient artifacts Ashe had shown Fox, but because it was very remote. It was not thought, however, to be the main site where the spaceship could be found. In fact, the area Murdock saw in this mind, the map that was communicated to him telepathically by Romanovich, yielded nothing useful in the present. On the other hand, the dating of those artifacts gave them an era to which to time jump, approximately 8,900 BCE.
Ashe hadn’t shown the Apache, at least at first, everything he had discovered, particularly the fragments of Forerunner technology that were found in the same area as the U.S. Army issued Beretta M9 handgun. The archeologist assumed that a soldier providing security for their team had, or rather will lose his sidearm during a jump back. Exactly how that happened or will happen was unknown.
Travis had been at the camp for a week, long enough for Ashe and Murdock to brief him on their experiences in Bronze Age Britain and Sweden. Five days ago, the personnel time gate had been constructed in the caverns at the far side of the canyon. Holden and Byrd went back disguised as ancient Folsom hunters with strict orders not to engage anyone. They were to scout the area where the ship was supposed to be found using a heavily modified flying drone. At a distance, it would be mistaken for a bird, but the camera mounted on the device would tell them everything they needed to know.
Travis was startled when he saw the two scouts come back through the gate, not just because of the miracle of time travel technology, but because of how convincingly they appeared to be men from the distant past. Their skin was bronzed like leather. Their hair, dark, wild. The tattoos were a detail Fox wouldn’t have thought of. They carried spears with hand-made Folsom tips and hand carved atlatls to improve throwing distance and accuracy.
Both men looked completely out of place amid the men and technology of the 21st century but would be right at home at the end of the last Ice Age.
Byrd was showing the video from the drone on a laptop that was sitting on a portable conference table in a chamber just outside the gate’s enclosure.
“As you can see, the ship is mostly intact, but we don’t believe it was here as a backup vessel like the one Murdock saw in Sweden.”
“I’d say not, Byrd. Not only is it larger than the one at the Soviet installation, but this one landed at an angle with two of the four support struts crushed. A crash landing by the look of it.”
“Where’s that haze in the air coming from?” Fox’s question drew surprised looks from both Byrd and Holden who considered the rancher an outsider, even if Ashe did vouch for him. Byrd looked at Ashe who nodded.
“You’ll see in a second.” Byrd would tolerate Fox, but only because the team leader said so.
The image continued to shift and presently a volcano came into sight.
“This might be why we found nothing of the ship in the present, Gordon.”
“Agreed, Ross. The whole area was tectonically unstable in that era. I wonder why the Russians thought this would be the best place to find an intact ship?”
“Probably the weather. The dry air preserves just about everything. A second site is in the Brazilian rain forest and I wouldn’t imagine that technology would hold up very well there for 10,000 years.”
“The other thing is that the Soviets believed a Forerunner base was located here, and yet this seems like a crash. Nothing else. Where’s the base?
There’s only one way to find out, Boss.” Murdock knew Ashe hated being called “Boss,” but the two had established a good enough relationship that they could handle a bit of teasing now and then.
“Yes. We have to go back.”
“We, Ashe? What about Byrd and Holden? They’ve been preparing for this mission for months.”
“Ross, they’re not as familiar with Forerunner technology as we are. We can get away with wearing wigs. Our complexions are already spot on, and contact lenses will correctly color our eyes. I can get rid of these damn glasses as a bonus.”
“What if we encounter any other people?”
“I can answer that, Murdock,” Holden volunteered. “We saw one hunting party, maybe ten to twelve men at the extreme range of our sweep. They were a good ten klicks from the ship and headed away from it. My guess is that the whole area was considered taboo back then. Either that, or they weren’t too anxious to be sharing real estate with a volcano.”
“So when do we go?”
“In three days if you’re game. It’ll take that long to paint on the tattoos and get the costuming ready. Then the five of us can take a closer look at the wreckage.”
“I thought we could bring Travis with us, if he’s willing.”
“Willing? I thought you’d never ask.”
Murdock exchanged looks with Byrd and Holden. Four out of five men at the table had extensive experience traveling in time, blending in with ancient people. Fox had exactly zip.
“Look, we won’t be encountering the indigenous population. Holden said there was only one group of people anywhere near the wreck. We’ll be there just long enough to do a close recon of the ship and then come back. But we need to know if it’s worth bringing forward in time and if we’ll have privacy there long enough for the tech teams to build the large-scale gate around the vehicle.”
Byrd seemed to be listening to something. “Chopper coming in.”
“That would be another addition to the team.” Ashe smiled, which told Murdock who he was expecting.
Aiyana Zheutlin, historian, linguistics expert, ducked as she exited the Huey and walked quickly toward the cave entrance. She was dressed in jeans and a denim shirt, a small suitcase was in her right hand.
“Ashe. Murdock.” She was yelling to be heard over the helicopter’s engine as it took off.
“What are you doing here, Aiyana? I didn’t see your name on the personnel roster.”
“Relax, Ross. Ashe asked me to come and give your new team member a crash course in ancient history.”
“Hi Ai. Good to have you here.” Zheutlin dropped her luggage and she and Ashe and hugged. Murdock had long suspected their relationship went beyond being colleagues or even close friends. No wonder they played the roles of husband and wife so well in the Bronze Age.
“You must be Travis Fox.” Zheutlin extended her hand and Travis shook it. “Yes, and you?”
“Aiyana Zheutlin. My expertise is ancient peoples, languages, and civilizations. I’d love to go back with you and have a look at actual Folsom men, but this time we won’t be making human contact.”
“Then why do you have to give me that crash course you were talking about?”
“Anything can happen, Travis,” Ashe said in answer to the young man. “We can’t be certain we won’t have a chance encounter, so it’s best to be prepared.”
“Besides, it wouldn’t hurt for both Murdock and I to have a brief refresher ourselves.”
Murdock blinked in surprise at Ashe’s statement but kept his feelings to himself. He suspected the real reason Aiyana was here was to see Ashe, which Ross found amusing.
Five Folsom hunters stood in front of the time gate as it activated. They were actually Ashe’s team but to any casual observer who didn’t know better, they were men from the past visiting the future rather than the other way around.
They were equipped with period appropriate clothing, though there wasn’t much of it besides loincloths, fur cloaks and soft skin boots. They carried hand crafted spears and hidden in their cloaks were the rations and other equipment they’d need to survive for several days in the past. There’d be no time for hunting.
All five had small transponders injected under the skin of their right shoulders in case an extraction team had to go in and find them.
For Ross, this was the best part, standing in front of the active field about to jump into the unknown. For Travis, it was almost completely terrifying, and he didn’t scare easily. Ashe, Murdock, Byrd, and Holden all seemed so calm, as if time travel were an everyday event for them. He was about to jump backward into the end of the last Ice Age.
He might see native North American horses the size of dogs. Mammoths roamed the plains. He wasn’t anxious to meet a Dire wolf, but a Glyptodon would be amazing. Of course, Saber-tooth tigers were still around. It was an opportunity without comparison, yet the men he was going with made it seem almost ordinary.
Ashe moved toward the crackling, shifting temporal field, and as a man, so did the other three. Travis was a fraction of a second slower but made it just behind Murdock.
Then they were in another world.
Travis whirled around. Nothing.
“Where the hell did the time portal go? How can we ever get back?”
Ashe expected this. Fox had been fully briefed, but even a trained agent sometimes panicked the first time through the field.
“Relax, Travis. We told you about this. If we were building a permanent outpost in the past, we’d construct a gate on this side, too. Since this is temporary…”
“I know. The field is still there, we just can’t see it.”
“Right. They’ll turn it off until we’re scheduled for extraction. We can’t have an animal or Heaven forbid, a person accidentally step through to the present.”
Murdock added, “They’ll activate the field every two hours for five minutes in case there’s an emergency and we need to get back.”
“Five minutes every two hours,” Travis thought. “And we’d have to be right here to jump back to the present. If we don’t go through at the scheduled extraction, they’ll send in a rescue team, but by then, we could be long dead. And I volunteered for this?”
“Let’s get moving.”
Ashe looked around. The cave was now a deep depression in a cliff. The canyon was a shallow arroyo. There was a lot more vegetation than a few minutes ago. It was about an hour after dawn. The sky was overcast, but some of that was smoke from the active volcano not too many kilometers away.
Part of what Zheutlin had taught him was how Folsom hunters walked, in what sort of formation. It was possible they could be seen before realizing it, and it was vitally important that they not be taken for anything other than what they appeared to be.
The wig was actually pretty comfortable, but Travis wasn’t used to having long hair. He always kept his crew cut short. He hated the hassle of taking care of long hair and didn’t understand how Cassie could actually like it.
Cassie. She wouldn’t be born for 10,000 years give or take a few centuries. If something went wrong and he couldn’t go home, he’d have to test his survival skills for real. He prided himself on being Apache, on knowing the old ways Chano taught him. But even Chano never faced a world like this.
The arroyo ended leaving them on an uneven plain with trees, brush, and rocks for cover if they needed it. Travis was disappointed that he didn’t see more wildlife. A few birds in the air. He spotted what looked like a large rodent briefly, but even though they were moving as silently as ghosts, whatever lived here knew they had arrived and were avoiding the “hunting party.”
“We have to crest that ridge. The ship is in a small valley on the other side. Until we descend, we’ll be visible and vulnerable so keep a sharp eye out.”
Two hours before they jumped, Byrd sent a flying drone through. Equipped with infrared, it scanned area where they’d be traveling and especially the site of the derelict. Plentiful nocturnal life, but no people. Still, it paid to be cautious.
They quickly made it over the ridge. The depression seemed like a crater of sorts, and for an instant, Travis thought he saw something else past the ridge on the other side. A reflection in the early morning sun as it broke through the clouds.
“What’s that?” He pointed in the direction of what he’d seen, but by the time the rest of the team looked, the clouds obscured the sun again and the reflection was gone.
“We’ll check it out later,” Ashe said softly. “Let’s get down to the valley floor and the ship.”
Ross had been right. It was a lot bigger than the ship he’d seen at the Soviet base in Ice Age Sweden, nearly twice the size. It was also in terrible shape. It was still spherical in shape and meant to be supported by four landing legs, but two of those legs collapsed. It looked as if the spaceship had landed in a semi-controlled skid, since a furrow had been carved on the valley floor. Ashe took out a small camera, a cell phone actually, from his cloak and took photos.
“I can’t be certain, but the age of this indentation where the ship landed may be around a century old.”
“This ship’s been here for a hundred years, Gordon?”
“Maybe, Travis. I’m taking some soil samples back with me. We can also take samples of the ship’s hull. There are plenty of small fragments here.”
“The main hatch of the ship is open and the way the sphere is tilted, the edge is just within reach. We should be able to get inside.”
“You first, Murdock,” Byrd teased.
Ross didn’t have a problem with that, actually. “Give me a boost, Byrd.”
The time agent joined his hands together so Murdock could rest his foot there, and then get an assist so he could jump up and reach the open hatch.
Murdock barely made it and scambling with his legs, managed to get enough traction to help pull himself over the edge and into the alien spacecraft.
“What do you see, Murdock?”
“Give me a second, Ashe. It’s dark in here. Getting out my flashlight.”
A few moments later, they heard Murdock yell.
“What is it?” Holden had visions of Forerunners still living in this wreck as he reached for his miniature automatic rifle.
“Nothing. Forerunners, all dead and decomposed, mummified, really. Gave me a start for a second, that’s all.”
Murdock found plenty of Forerunner uniforms he could tie together to make a sort of rope. He tied one end securely around the support for what looked like an acceleration couch that was fused to the floor. He threw the other end out of the hatch so the others could climb up.
It took less than twenty minutes for Ashe to come to a conclusion. “This hatch has been open to the elements for a century. The bodies are somewhat preserved but the instruments are damaged beyond repair, at least our repair.”
“Too bad, Byrd. I can’t even tell what sort of room this is supposed to be. Airlock? Control Center? For all I can tell, it could have been the laundry.”
“We’ve got plenty of photos and samples to take back with us, Ashe.” Byrd was holding out on of the sample bags he carried with him which contained technological debris.”
“What are you staring at, Travis?”
Fox had been standing at the hatch looking out for the past few minutes. “I was just wondering what I saw over the far ridge, Murdock. You expected there to be some sort of base here. Maybe there is.”
“We about through here, Gordon?”
“We are as far as I’m concerned, Ross. I guess we could take a look at what Travis thought he saw before heading back.”
Murdock was first man in and last man out. He called down from the ship, “What should we do with the rope. I don’t want to leave it hanging down for some Folsom man to find.”
“My guess is that they’d never come near the ship, not only due to its relative proximity to the volcano, but because it would be likely considered taboo, sort of like the ghost lands in Bronze Age Sweden.”
“I’ll pull it up anyway Gordon, just in case.”
After doing so, Ross jumped to the ground. “Guess we’d better have a look at what Travis saw.”
“Or thought he saw,” added Byrd.
Travis ignored the jibe. After all, it could have been anything; a pool of water, even a reflection off of the sand.
The five climbed the ridge at the valley’s far side, which was steeper than the one they had descended.
Byrd and Holden got to the top first and just stood there.
“Ashe, you are definitely going to want to see this.”
“What is it Byrd?”
A moment later, Ashe, Murdock, and Fox made it to the top and looked down into the next valley.
“Another ship, Ashe. It’s a lot smaller than the one I saw in the Red’s base, but it’s intact.
“Gentlemen,” Ashe offered. “I think we’ve found what we were looking for.”
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
Here are the chapters so far for my “Galactic Derelict” homage:
The next story in this series is The Second Ship.