“Travis. Darling, wake up.”
Travis Fox opened his eyes and saw his wife Cassie. “Good morning, beautiful. How…?”
Then he realized he was in the wrong bed. Why was his wife leaning over him instead of lying beside him? He wasn’t at home. He never made it home last night. Wait. How long had he been away from home?
The time gate. He’d gone through with Byrd and the others to help get Holden’s group back home from the past. The Folsom men. The attack. They’d tried to kill him.
“Where am I?”
“In the hospital. Luke Air Force Base. Travis, they won’t tell me a thing. What happened to you? How did you get hurt?”
His mind was whirling. Obviously Kelgarries hadn’t told her anything. Should he tell her the truth? Would she even believe him?
The door opened. “Excuse me, Mrs. Fox.”
Cassie turned to face the person who’d just walked in. “Dr. Carlson. My husband’s awake.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Fox. I’d like to examine his wound again. Could I get you to step outside for a few minutes please?”
Cassie saw a nurse entering after the Air Force Captain and two MPs, or whatever they called themselves these days, standing by the door. She had the feeling if she didn’t leave, the guards would make her go.
“Alright, Doctor.” She leaned over Travis again and kissed his cheek. “I love you, Travis. I’ll be back soon.”
Travis tried to smile and then realized how weak he felt. The wound or maybe the drugs they were giving him.
After his wife left, Travis thought of employing the old cliché, “How bad is it, Doc?”
“Good morning, Travis. I’m Perry Carlson, your doctor. You’re in the hospital at Luke Air Force Base. You’ve been with us for a little over two days.”
“Thanks. Cassie told me.”
“You’re going to be just fine, Travis. Fortunately, the spear hit you at a shallow angle, so the impact wasn’t severe. Your scapula is fractured but I think it’ll heal up okay.”
The doctor started giving the nurse orders and they proceeded with their examination of him.
Travis started remembering. He blacked out then the spear hit him, but not for very long. He had hazy memories of medics treating him at Folsom Base in the present. He was in a vehicle, no, a helicopter. That must be how he got to Luke.
Of course. They couldn’t take him to a civilian hospital and then explain how he’d gotten injured by a weapon that hadn’t been used in 10,000 years.
Cassie. He had to tell her. But what about Kelgarries?
Hundreds of millions of miles away from Travis Fox and the Earth, an alien spacecraft was being drawn into a secret base under the ice of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Ross Murdock and the other three time travelers were helpless to prevent it.
“I can still hear the voice, but I can’t make sense of it.” Aiyana Zheutlin, historian and linguist, had become the ship’s Communications expert after an encounter with an alien Forerunner on another base inside the drawf planet Ceres.
“It sounds more like clicks, moans, and someone crinkling paper.”
“The same sorts of sounds the Orange Forerunner made. Same language or a dialect?”
“I’d need more time to study it, Gordon, but that’s not our biggest problem.”
An aperture large enough to admit their spacecraft had opened in the ice below them as they approached the surface of Europa. No, the ice wasn’t melting as they first thought. It looked like maybe a hologram or something similar had disguised the opening they were now entering. They descended nearly fifty meters before landing on a platform. The “ceiling” over their heads once again became dark, and then they experienced the feeling of going downward.
“An elevator?” Lynn had been feeling less anxious after the Orange Forerunner had his telepathic contact with her, but now in the outer darkness, the voice of a presumably Blue Forerunner still coming over Aiyana’s communication’s channel, she began to feel panic seizing her again.
They heard mechanical sounds, a sort of whirring. They had no way of measuring regular time. No one was wearing a watch, and the cell phones they’d brought (everyone except Ross) had long since run out of power. However, the ship did had a chronometer, and they now knew how to read it, so 64 minutes later, their downward motion slowed and finally stopped with a loud clanking sound and a jolt.
“I think we’ve arrived.” Ross was looking around the cabin but it was Lynn who saw what was happening on the monitor in front of her.
“Lights are coming on outside.”
At the same time, they heard the sound of rushing air.
“Seems the airlock or whatever the ship’s in is being pressurized.”
“So no docking tube this time, Gordon.”
“I’m reading that here, Ross.” Lynn leaned forward to one of the panels at her station. “Outside pressure is equalized now. We can open the doors.”
“Wait. Let’s have a look around.” They all viewed their monitors but there was no activity outside.
“No reception committee.”
“The voice I’d heard when we were entering the aperture stopped a minute or so after we started going down. I haven’t heard it again.”
“Possibly Gordon, but we shouldn’t make assumptions.”
They waited another 20 minutes but there was still no activity outside the ship.
“That’s long enough.” Ross was getting impatient.
“Agreed. Time to exit the ship.” Gordon Ashe had remained seated while the others had been walking around the deck. He got up and moved to the ship’s airlock, opening the inner door. “Everyone grab your equipment.” The Orange had imparted to them the nature of some of the portable devices on board their ship and had told them where to find other mechanisms on the Orange station they’d need to accomplish their mission.
“Forever hold your peace,” Gordon quipped dryly, then he opened the outer door. This time the ramp extended allowing them to walk down to the floor of the chamber. It was round, like the docking bay of the Orange base inside Ceres, but there were large viewing ports, one on either side of the bay.
“Probably some sort of control or monitoring stations.”
“Just glad we don’t see anyone in there, Ross.”
“Lynn, if there were Blues here, they’d probably have shown up by now.”
“I’m about to open the hatch to the inside of the base. Lynn, get ready.”
Huỳnh raised the hand-held device she’d discovered under a panel in the engineering cabin on their ship. It looked a little like a tablet and she liked calling it a tricorder. After being reassured that the base was probably deserted, she was getting her sense of humor back.
Ashe pressed a panel and the hatch opened to a tunnel. Lynn activated her “tricorder” which started mapping the base’s interior.
“It would have been handy to have one of those on Ceres.”
“We did, Aiyana. We just didn’t know it.”
Lynn watched as the scanning device drew a series of corridors, levels, and chambers on the display she was holding. “I’ve got it, Gordon. Straight ahead, first left, left again, right, elevator, and then five floors down. The Blue’s time gate.”
“We’d better hurry.”
Gordon led his team along the course Lynn had described. When the elevator door opened at the bottom of the shaft, they ran down a short hallway and opened the doors. “Hurry, Gordon.” Lynn ran inside behind the rest of the team.
Ashe bolted forward while activating his own device. He pressed it on the control console, which was almost identical to the one they’d found near the time gate at Ceres. Then he pressed a series of buttons and panels on the console in sequence.
“Locked out. Now the gate can’t be activated from the other side into the present. Hopefully I stopped the alarms in time to prevent the Blues from even knowing we’re here.”
“Gordon, they’re more than 10,000 years in the past.”
“You’re the thief. Don’t you want to make a clean getaway?”
“People noticed that they were robbed after the fact, Gordon. I think the Blues might, too.”
“Now for our next miracle.” Ashe pulled out a second device and also attached it to the console. “If the Orange is right, this should record the time map we need to repair the timeline.”
The lights came back on the console and a large display appeared on the wall to their left.
“The map,” Aiyana murmured in wonder. “Oh no. Gordon, look.”
Travis was now able to sit up in bed. Dr. Carlson had ordered his medication to be reduced so he could think a lot more clearly. Seated to his right, both his wife Cassie and Major John Kelgarries. The Army officer had just finished briefing her on what Travis had really been up to the past several weeks.
“Damnit, Travis. Are you out of your mind?”
“I’m sorry, Cassie. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“You could have been killed you son of a…” She started sobbing. “Didn’t you think about me? Didn’t you think about Boyd, Warren, or little Susie? How could you risk leaving them without a Father, leaving me a widow?”
Travis opened his mouth but realized anything he could possibly say wouldn’t help. Being a rancher was inherently dangerous. He risked being hurt or killed on an almost daily basis. He knew this was different, but it was also important.
“I’m sorry. I know it was a terrible risk. But think of it, Cassie. To travel in time, visit the past. To go on board an alien spaceship. How could I pass that up?”
Before Cassie could answer, Kelgarries interrupted. “As I explained Mrs. Fox, you can’t tell anyone about this. Your husband’s involvement with our project is Top Secret.”
“You almost got my husband killed.”
“He volunteered, Mrs. Fox.”
Travis admired the Major’s ability to remain calm under the circumstances, but then again, Cassie wasn’t his wife.
She turned back to Travis. “You’re coming home when you get out of here, right? No more time traveling.” She looked Kelgarries again. “I won’t tell a soul about any of this, Major, but my husband is through working with you.”
Cassie turned to her husband. “Tell him you’re through, Travis. Tell him.”
Walter Byrd was in operational command of Folsom Base in the absence of Kelgarries. Captain Toni Blair had taken over at what remained of the large time gate after the Forerunner ship unexpectedly launched with four members of Operation Retrograde aboard. She was responsible for cleaning up the wreckage and shipping it out, but was ordered to keep the area secure in the hope that somehow the spacecraft and their people would be able to return.
Louis Aramazd and his team of time gate technicians were monitoring the other end of the gate and especially the volcano’s activity. The eruptions had subsided for the moment and there was no sign of the Folsom hunters who had attacked Holden’s party. The Lieutenant was sending back teams to clean up as much of their mess as possible. They still couldn’t find Rodriquez’s M9, but they’d managed to get the wrecked Humvee and the rest of their gear back to the present.
“This is damned odd.”
“What is it, Aramazd?”
“Another feedback event, like the one I reported when we first linked this gate to the one we built on the other side..”
“How many does that make?”
“Five in the last two-and-a-half weeks.”
“Nothing as far as I can tell. The field just keeps deciding to flux for no reason.”
“There’s got to be a reason.”
“Hey Louis. I’ve got something over here.”
Heidi Watson was running a parallel console next to Louis’s.
“What do you have, Heidi?” Byrd and Aramazd walked to her station. Louis leaned over the display. “That is damned strange.”
“What?” Byrd knew just enough about the time gate to perform an emergency start-up or shut down but he had no idea how to interpret the readings the two technicians were looking at.
“There’s some sort of resonant field here in the cave.”
“What does that mean, Aramazd?”
“It means that there’s something here in the cave that’s reacting to the temporal field.”
“More than that, Louis. The reactant energy has a Forerunner signature.”
“How come we didn’t detect this before, Watson?”
“It wasn’t there before, Lieutenant.”
“I want it located! Now!”
Wendell Fox was lying on his belly on the same ridge overlooking the Canyon of the Moon that his nephew Travis had some weeks before and he was viewing a very similar scene. The camp had grown since Travis first saw it, but Wendell still observed the same collection of soldiers and civilians moving in and out of the big cave opposite the spring water pool.
“What the hell were you up to, Travis?” He was murmuring to himself while observing all the activity through his binoculars. “Mysterious disappearances, BLM boys suddenly finding another watering hole for the cattle so we don’t have to herd them here, you ending up injured and taken to an Air Force hospital hundreds of miles away. What sort of secrets are you keeping?”
His brother Evan left the ranch to Travis in his will. Wendell knew why. Travis honored the old ways as did Evan and he didn’t. Wendell thought their Father Chano was an archaic old fool.
Somehow Travis was involved with this military operation. Now maybe he could learn something to use against Travis, something that would make him give Wendell a stake in the ranch rather than just being the hired manager.
He’d tied his horse to a barren tree when he arrived and now his Paint was making noises behind him. A snake maybe?
“Put the binoculars down and get up slowly.”
Wendell did what he was told and started to stand.
“Let’s see those hands.”
He held his hands up and turned. Two soldiers with their sidearms pointed at him. Wendell had the same misfortune that Travis previously had; being caught by armed troops.
One of the soldiers holstered his Baretta M9 and got on his walkie-talkie. “Yes sir. Found an intruder.”
“Hey look, my family owns this land. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Keep quiet.” The man still holding the handgun on him was unwavering. The other soldier moved off a bit so Wendell couldn’t hear what he was saying anymore.
He came back and talked to his partner. “Lieutenant said to hold him here. He’ll be right up to question him.”
Byrd left the cave letting Aramazd and Watson continue to work on the temporal field feedback problem. “I’ve been tracking the intervals of feedback occurrence since the first one, Louis. There’s a pattern.”
“Yes, I can see it now. First one occurred eleven days ago.”
“Right. The second one seven days ago, the third five days ago, then three days, and day before yesterday.”
“Prime numbers, Heidi.”
“Do you think this was planned somehow?”
“It sure doesn’t seem random. Seven, five, three, two, and now one…today.”
“Here’s another thing. If you map the particle distribution, it becomes narrower for each event. For the first incident, the distribution was random, but with each subsequent event, it gets more focused.”
“Today it was like an arrow. The wall and floor of the deepest chamber in the back of the cave.”
“Exactly, Louis. Something’s buried back there. I think we found the Forerunner base.”
“You are the second member of your family to cause us heartburn, Mr. Fox.”
“So Lieutenant, do you mind telling me what the hell you’re doing here?”
“I mind a great deal, Sir.”
“But my nephew knows what’s going on. That much is clear.”
“You’ll have to ask him about that. I’m having these two men transport you and your animal back to your ranch. I’d advise you not to tell anyone what you’ve seen and especially not to return.”
“This is private property.”
“A remote part of your private property, Mr. Fox. We are conducting maneuvers in the area related to the bomber crash you heard about in the news.”
“What if I don’t keep quiet? I have free speech rights and the last I checked, we still have a free press.”
“I’m sure you don’t want to end up arrested, Mr. Fox.”
“On what charge?”
“Interfering with a Federal investigation.”
“Federal investigation? Isn’t that something more in the line of the FBI than the Army? Why are your maneuvers so secret?”
“Have a good day, Mr. Fox, and remember what I said.” Byrd turned to the nearest soldier. “Corporeal, take this gentleman back to his ranch and arrange for his horse to be returned.”
“Yes sir.” The corporal snapped off a salute and then turned to Wendell. “Sir, please get into the vehicle.”
Wendell Fox didn’t have much choice, at least not at the moment, but he was still determined to find out what was going on and why Travis was involved.
“I think I can upload all or most of this into the ship’s memory.”
Lynn was working at one of the data retrieval consoles she’d discovered when she’d mapped the base on her device. This one was on the same level as the docking bay in a small room about the size of a four person cubicle. It also had a display on one wall that showed the base’s exterior, the ocean of Europa.
The base was actually anchored to the underside of the ice, about twenty kilometers below Europa’s surface. Scientists had long speculated that there was an internal heat source which kept the ocean liquid. Part of the data Huỳnh retrieved was on the research the Blues had been doing on the Jovian moon.
“Looks like the external sensors wake up every so many decades and take readings. The last time was just a few years ago. Oh my God.”
“What is it, Lynn?”
“It’s a life forms registry. There is definitely life in this ocean. There has been for tens of thousands of years. Probably a lot longer. According to this, its continuing to evolve, Gordon.”
“Maybe. I’d have to study this more before being certain.”
“Upload what you can to the ship. If what you found out before is true, we don’t have much time. We’ve got to get back home.”
The team had been in the Blue’s Europa base for a week. Originally, they were only going to lock the time gate, compile the time map, and get back to Earth, but Ashe was bothered by the fact that the Oranges weren’t able to create a time map themselves. After all, they had the same time gate technology. There was something going on.
The Blue Forerunners did have computing technology, but their databases were radically different from anything designed by a human being. Even understanding the Forerunner written language, it was still difficult for Lynn to access data at will. She came across the most vital bit of data by accident.
The Blues weren’t going to destroy the American time gate in the past. The Oranges had either been mistaken when they shot down the Blue ship at the end of the last ice age, or the Orange on Ceres had lied to them.
The time map showed 240 separate time anomalies, a lot more than they originally thought existed. They might not have to fix them all in order to prevent global warming if they could determine whether it was traveling in time itself was the cause, or if they or the Soviets had inadvertently done something to alter the global climate in the past.
“Okay, I’m done here.”
“Good. Let’s go see how Ross and Aiyana are doing.”
“I can’t make the switch over until after we’ve left Europa. We still have to appear like a Blue ship. Otherwise, the automated launch system might not let us go.”
“After leaving Europa, how long will it take you until communications are configured to talk to Earth?”
“The better part of a day, Gordon. It’s not too complex, but there are a lot of components to adjust, plus I want to make sure that only Operation Retrograde can hear us.”
“What about your project, Ross?”
“I’ve got the ship’s systems talking with the base. I can manually initiate a liftoff anytime you say.”
“How long will the trip back to Earth take?”
“Eight days give or take an hour or two. I can get us back to our original launch site in Arizona.”
“What if after we talk to Kelgarries we have to change that?”
“I should be able to override the automatic settings and choose a different landing spot.”
“I just verified that the ship’s computer received the data dump I made from the base. We’re ready to go on my end.”
“What about you, Gordon?”
“It’s a gamble, but I set the lock on the time gate here to expire in about six hours. I think the Blues will definitely know we were here, Ross.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“With the information Lynn found in their computers plus my own suspicions, I think it’s the right thing to do.”
“Okay, Gordon. Then we’re all set.”
“Everybody assume your stations. Ross, let’s take off and get back to Earth.”
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:
- Canyon of the Moon
- The Folsom Mystery
- The Second Ship
- Space Flight
- The Encounter
The next chapter is called Time Storm.