The temporal field in the alien time gate sparked and cracked for several seconds before anything came through. Then it appeared, a single Forerunner, an Orange.
“Watch out!” Murdock sounded almost panicked. “It’s a Forerunner weapon.”
It looked like the same race as the Blues. Skin color was a little darker, but everything else was identical. No hair on the exposed head and hands, human enough eyes, flattened nose, more or less a slit for a mouth, lumpy skin texture that looked like an orange peel. It was holding an object Ross recognized as the telepathic weapon the Blue used on him back at the Soviet base in the Ice Age.
Murdock, Ashe, and Zheutlin all reflexively reached for weapons they didn’t possess. Lynn Huỳnh never took agent training, so her response was to freeze.
The tip of the alien object glowed yellow which Murdock knew meant it was activated. He rushed forward to stop the Forerunner before it could paralyze them all.
Too late. Murdock collapsed at the Forerunner’s feet, grasping his head in agony. A moment later, he passed out.
“Please do not attack. I mean you no harm.”
Gordon, Aiyana, and Lynn heard a voice in their heads. The Forerunner wasn’t speaking. It was the alien’s thoughts coming through the device. The voice was soft, melodious, androgynous.
Right before Ross collapsed, the tip of the object in the alien’s left hand had flashed for a moment, but now the glow was muted, almost pleasing.
“What did you do to him?” Ashe indicated Murdock’s prone body.
“That one attacked me believing I was a danger. I could not permit that being to harm me. That one will recover in a few moments.”
Murdock moaned and began to move a little.
“Please inform that one…him…I will not cause harm if that one refrains from attack.”
Ashe slowly walked over to Murdock who had just regained consciousness and crouched down next to him.
“Take it easy, Ross. It only attacked you because you acted aggressively. The rest of us are alright.”
“Says you,” Murdock moaned. “I’ve got the mother of all headaches.”
“Your pain will pass.”
Ross heard the same voice in his mind everyone else was listening to. He managed to sit up with Ashe’s help and raised his face toward the Forerunner.
“Forerunner. That is as good a name for us as any you might imagine. I do not believe your language could be used to form our true name.”
Ashe helped Murdock to his feet and they rejoined Zheutlin and Huỳnh who were still standing near the gate’s control console, though Lynn was standing a few feet behind Aiyana.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“I might ask you the same question Ross Murdock, since you have occupied our station and are accessing our technology.”
Murdock opened his mouth to answer but didn’t get the chance to speak.
“I have read in you, all of you, your experiences, how you acquired our vessel in your planet’s past, brought it forward, and were carried here. We had hoped you would have discovered us on your own and had traveled here in space vehicles you constructed for the journey.”
“What?” All four might have thought that question.
“It is the purpose of this station, to wait, to make contact on your terms, in your timing. We didn’t want to frighten you as the…” they heard a series of sounds that were incomprehensible, more like static, popping, and paper being crinkled than speech “…have done.”
“You mean what we call ‘Blues’.”
“Yes, Aiyana Zheutlin. I see your species has interesting naming conventions. The ones you call Blues. I continue to see more of your history. It explains much of the motivation of the Blues as you call them.”
“Wait. Let me understand. You built this space station inside Ceres for the purpose of waiting for mankind to build ships, explore our Solar System, and make contact with you.”
“Yes, correct Gordon Ashe. By accident the Blues discovered your planet and that it held intelligent life forms. A ship crashed on your planet during an Ice Age period.”
“Yes, I’ve seen it.”
“No you haven’t, Ross Murdock. The ship to which I refer was all but destroyed. The Blues informed us of this. A communication was sent from the craft before it crashed. It had experienced a malfunction and diverted to your Solar System from below the plane of the elliptic. It found your planet to be the nearest and habitable by us, a place to make repairs.
“Unfortunately, when in your atmosphere, its propulsion systems failed. That information was contained in its last transmission.”
“Then what became of the ship, your technology?”
“A Blue ship was sent to investigate. They discovered the wreckage. All hands were lost and little was available to salvage or so they thought. The Blues found your world habitable and the primary species to be intelligent but uncivilized. They established what you would call outposts to monitor but not to interfere.”
“Some non-interference. Do you know how many people died at the Soviet bases they destroyed in the Ice Age and Bronze Age?”
“I am not aware of the precise number, Ross Murdock. However, I am aware of why they died. We did not approve of that destruction, but now seeing what is in all of your minds, I understand their justification.”
“What do you mean?”
“Gordon Ashe, the Soviets and you Americans have developed temporal gateways based on what the…Reds found at the original crash site in a place called Siberia. The use of these gateways has caused unanticipated effects because of your incomplete knowledge of the technology.
“The Soviets first became aware of the time tangents and environmental damage temporal gate use caused to your planet. When the Blues received the transmission from the ship they had left in reserve at one of their outposts and investigated, they realized humans from the future had traveled to the past using our technology and that these humans were attempting to acquire more.
“They sought to destroy those temporal gates. We were too late to save the Soviets but we sent a ship to intercept the Blue vessel assigned to destroy yours.”
“Oh my God, Gordon. That was the Blue ship we saw crashed in Arizona in the past. It was trying to destroy our time gate at the Arctic base in the Ice Age. We came that close to suffering the same fate as the Soviets.”
“The Orange ship that brought us here, Ross. It was sent to save us.” Ashe turned to the Forerunner. “But why?”
“We had hoped to make peaceful contact with you when your species had matured enough to develop space travel. We wanted to assist your race in repairing the damage, but up until this moment, we had no concept of how severe it had become. Had we realized it, we might have endorsed the Blues to continue to remove all temporal gateway technology, by force if necessary.”
“I don’t understand. Who are you? Are you different from the Blues? You say you wanted peaceful contact, but now you agree with the Blues, that we should be exterminated?”
“Lynn Huỳnh, it is difficult to answer your questions because your culture is so unlike our own. Perhaps Gordon Ashe’s culture, his…mother’s is the closest analogy.”
“A caste system?”
“Correct, Gordon Ashe. That is what you call it, but it only crudely describes our own culture. The Blues are a closely related species to ours and have evolved to be explorers, to be aggressive, to have…adventures.
“We…Oranges have a symbiotic relationship with the Blues. We have evolved to be planners, organizers, thinkers. We are generally more passive. We wait. We watch. That is why we chose to develop this station. We were waiting for you.”
“That doesn’t explain why you defended our base by attacking a Blue ship.”
“Do not think of us in terms of absolutes, Ross Murdock. The situation involving your species possessing temporal technology caused a very rare rift in our culture. We and the Blues found ourselves at odds with one another. We desired a peaceful solution, so after we stopped the Blues from destroying your gateway, we created this base as both a means of eventually making contact with you and monitoring Blue activity on and near your planet. It is the reason they did not attempt any further aggression against you.
“Now I realize they did not need to. They believed that you would eventually destroy yourselves simply by continuing to use temporal devices.”
“So, you’re saying that both the Soviets and we are responsible for damaging the timeline, just by using the time gates.”
“Correct, Gordon Ashe.”
“You also said you could help us fix it.”
“Until I saw what was in Ross Murdock’s memories, I had no idea how extensive that damage was. I am not sure all of it can be repaired, Gordon Ashe. I do believe that one priority should be to either reverse or prevent the continuing damage to your planet’s climate.”
“You know about global warming, climate change?”
“It is in all of your minds Gordon Ashe, and from Ross Murdock’s memories of the Soviet timeline map, I know that damage would not have occurred if humans had not made incursions into time.”
“You mean climate change is human caused, but not because of greenhouse gases.” Lynn was almost whispering to herself, thinking about all of the alternate theories to global warming she’d examined as an undergrad but dismissed because they clashed with the most popularly held theory. The one regularly touted in news and social media.
“Correct, Lynn Huỳnh. The mechanism is complex, but there is no other viable explanation. The conclusions arrived at by your science practitioners, while somewhat plausible, are incorrect.”
“What do we have to do?”
“I can tell you how to modify your temporal gateway technology to prevent further damage to your planet’s climate and timeline Gordon Ashe, but I cannot help you…fix it.”
“Why the hell not? I thought you said that’s one of the reasons you were waiting here to make contact with us.”
“Because Ross Murdock, the information in your memory is incomplete. The Soviet timeline map was only partially constructed. I understand from the memories you contain from Vasnev Danya Romanovich, that the Soviets acquired that information from a Blue outpost in your Bronze Age. The Blues must have made a complete map. Only they have the required information.
“How do we find them?”
I do not know, Aiyana Zheutlin. Based on Ross Murdock’s memories, they must also have a station in your Solar System, but after we prevented them from destroying your temporal gateway, they broke off all contact with us here. We know they established outposts to monitor your activities in your last Ice Age, then moved forward to do the same in your Bronze Age, but we do not know the location from which they operate.”
“Europa. Their base is inside Europa, under the ice, in the water.”
“Yes, Ross Murdock. That thought was deep within you. You have just recovered it.”
“Then we’ve got to get to Europa. The answers we need are there.”
“Consider, Ross Murdock. Both we and the Blues natively reside in the era of your planet’s last ice age, approximately…10,000 years or more in your past. The answers you require may not exist in the present. Perhaps the Blue’s base in Europa does not exist in your present. They may have withdrawn from this Solar System completely, believing that the damage you have done to your planet will suffice.”
“If we somehow travel back in time and visit Europa of the past, we’ll be hip deep in Blues, and I know how much they love us.”
“Ross Murdock, your colorful use of your language occasionally makes it difficult for even this device to correctly communicate your intent. However, as I understand it, you are essentially correct. There is only one way to confirm. Take the ship in which you arrived and travel to Europa in this era. Determine if the Blue station exists and if it still contains the data required to repair your timeline and your planet.”
“Wait. There’s one thing I don’t get. If you live 10,000 in our past, how did you know we were here?”
“Lynn Huỳnh, attend to this control console.” The Forerunner moved forward toward the group of humans causing them, and especially Lynn, to hesitate and consider moving away. “Please, I mean you no harm. Allow me to approach.”
“Thank you, Ross Murdock. Now as I was saying Lynn Huỳnh, attend to this section of the console. As Ross Murdock had previously noted, there are three pre-set points in time configured for this temporal gateway. The first is our native era. The second is your Bronze Age. The third is approximately fifty years into your future.”
“I get the first two. You wanted to monitor Blue activity in those eras, make sure they didn’t attack our time gates again. But why the third?”
“Because Ross Murdock, that is the projected time of human extinction. In approximately fifty years, your planet’s climate will reach a point to where the global temperature will exceed your ability to adapt and survive.”
“Fifty years?” Lynn looked as if she were seeing something no one else could. “But if I got married, had children, grandchildren…”
“Lynn Huỳnh I am still attempting to respond to your previous question. In addition to these pre-set temporal coordinates, this gateway is configured to respond to any entry into this chamber by living beings. It then sent a signal back to me, one of the watchers, so I could determine if our hopes were justified and if your species had reached out into space.”
“You hoped we’d discover the Ceres base before we became extinct.”
“Correct Gordon Ashe.”
“Well, we’re here. You wanted to help. You were waiting to help. So help.”
“I desire to assist your species Aiyana Zheutlin, however the situation is more complex than we originally believed. With your permission and the permission of Gordon Ashe, Ross Murdock, and Lynn Huỳnh, I would like to teach you what you need to know. I can also upload the necessary information into the ship in which you arrived so you have access to an external reference.”
“A somewhat similar experience to what Ross Murdock previously had with the Blue. A memory upload, Aiyana Zheutlin.”
“That hurt like hell and it took months for me to make much sense of anything.”
“That, Ross Murdock, was because the Blue’s intent was to acquire information. The data exchange was a necessary part of the process, but the intent was not specifically to teach you any useful information. My intent is to teach you useful information.”
“Will it take long?”
“Perhaps you need to refresh yourself first, Lynn Huỳnh. I am aware that you have to…pee really bad. Here are the coordinates you require.”
Lynn blushed while realizing the Forerunner was giving her directions to the nearest bathroom, directions only she could hear.
“Thanks.” She looked around at her companions. “Be right back.”
There was a pause of about fifteen minutes for the party of humans to “take a break” before returning to the time gate chamber and continuing their encounter with the Orange Forerunner.
By the time they returned, the room was different. Actually a section of one wall, which had been blank before, now displayed a large number of virtual control panels.
“What you see is an interface to the rest of the station and also to the ship in which you arrived. I have assessed the station’s current status and repaired the faulty landing system which almost caused your vessel to crash. I have uploaded the necessary data into the vessel’s computer system. By the time we finish here, you will know how to access it.
“I also see that approximately two years ago, a spacecraft from your planet entered orbit around this station. An automated communications device attempted to contact the craft. Because it received no response, no information was relayed to us. I see now our method of communications was incompatible with your craft destroying its ability to transmit and receive radio signals.”
“The Dawn probe. So that’s what happened.”
“Correct, Lynn Huỳnh. Regrettable, however we have more pressing matters to which we must attend.”
The tip of the Forerunner’s device began to slowly glow brighter and as it did, the four human beings experienced drowsiness. The room around them became indistinct, almost as if it were unreal. Their attention drifted but at the same time, it was as if they were intently watching other thoughts and feelings, like dozens of fireflies were dancing around their heads.
“It is finished.”
“That didn’t take long.”
The alien paused for a moment as if recalling something. “Lynn Huỳnh, it took several hours to impart the information to all of you.”
“You were unaware of the passage of time Gordon Ashe. That length of time was necessary for your minds to correctly assimilate what you were taught.”
“But I don’t feel any different.”
“Aiyana Zheutlin, your culture has a saying. You will have to…sleep on it.”
“What else to we need, Forerunner?”
“You have everything you require, Ross Murdock. Your ship has sufficient energy and supplies for the voyage. Your minds contain all of the information you need. You currently require nothing further of me. I will return to my own era.”
“Wait. How will you know if it worked?”
“If you or others like you do not return here to inform me, I will never know, Lynn Huỳnh.”
“The survival of our entire race depends on us succeeding, on you helping us save our world!” Lynn indignantly thought it was pretty cold-blooded of the alien to walk away and leave this enormous enterprise on their shoulders.
“I have provided you with all you require for the next part of your journey, Lynn Huỳnh. The next set of tasks requires the four of you. It is my hope that you are successful and further, that you return to inform us of your progress.”
“There’s one thing to consider. If we repair the timeline, it’s possible that none of this will have occurred, that we won’t remember any of it. There’s no way to predict the outcome.”
“That is true, Gordon Ashe. It is one of the dangers the Blues somewhat anticipated. By creating alternate timelines, humans have created alternate outcomes, not only for your world but perhaps for ours as well.”
“So, you mean when they attacked the Soviet base and tried to attack ours, they were acting out of self-preservation, not malevolence.”
“Correct, Aiyana Zheutlin. Now that I have had this encounter with you four, I understand much better why the Blues acted as they did. I also understand that the Blues may not have fully examined all of the consequences. Human beings possessing temporal gateway technology have become a great danger not only to yourselves but to us.”
“But instead of extermination, you chose to respond with compassion, Forerunner.”
“Compassion may not be the exact response we have had toward your species, Ross Murdock. We value an intelligent species, particularly an emergent one. If we can be your guides into time and space, we are more likely to become allies than adversaries. However, your species has become a significant threat. I sincerely hope you succeed in your mission. If not, the very least that will occur is that you will cause your own extinction.”
“Besides that, what else might happen?”
“Aiyana Zheutlin, the worst that could happen is that your disturbance of the timeline becomes so profound that it threatens our existence as well, to the point that we either also become extinct, or to preserve our species, we are forced to destroy yours.”
“But if you do that, if it’s even possible for you to exterminate billions of human beings, that won’t repair the damage to the timeline.”
“Gordon Ashe, we are both space and time travelers. In order to preserve who and what we are, we can use the temporal gate to ensure that your species never comes into being. Please save yourselves and save us. The alternative is for your species to be completely erased from time.
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. My adaptation is loosely based on her work but significantly deviates from it in the later chapters such as this one.
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 chapter is called Europa.