Captain Toni Blair stared up in awe as did her officers and troops as the Forerunner scout ship landed on the exact spot where it had launched so many days ago.
It’s landing legs had extended. The ship touched down. It’s vibrations and shuttering ceased, and then it seemed as inert as it did when it first came through the now destroyed time gate, before it came to life and took flight.
The hatch opened and the ramp extended downward. Four time travelers turned reluctant astronauts, dressed in alien garb and each with a haunted look in their eyes, began the long descent back toward the sand of their mother planet.
Gordon Ashe, Ross Murdock, Aiyana Zheutlin, and Lynn Huỳnh all set foot back on a world they thought they might never see again.
“Dr. Ashe,” reported the Captain. “Major Kelgarries has retrieved all American personnel from the past and shut down the gates. We’ve only got one that we’ve just been notified that’s been reactivated.”
“One? I was explicit in my transmission. They must all be shut down immediately! The risk…”
“According to the head gate tech, they can’t power it down yet. The Forerunner base here in the Americas. They say they’ve found it. It’s at the Canyon of the Moon.”
“But that’s impossible. We went over every inch of the canyon.”
“Back in the cave. It’s deep. Probably the volcanic activity in the area in the past. That’s why we missed it. They’re using the gate as a resonance scanner to pinpoint the location.”
“No! That’s exactly what they can’t do! Shut it down! Shut it down now! That’s what changes everything!”
Yesterday, on course for Earth.
“Gordon, I’m correlating the time anomaly map to the information we got out of the Forerunner database.”
Ashe walked over to Lynn at her station on the ship.
“What have you got?”
“The time map. I don’t think we’ve been reading it right. We’ve assumed that hundreds of time jumps have created the 240 time fractures on the readout, but I don’t think that’s right.”
“How do you mean?”
“I think we’re looking for only a few causal events, maybe even just one.”
“Wait. What are you talking about?”
I think there are just a few events that result in a chain reaction. That might be a good thing because if we can isolate those few and stop them, we can recover the original history and set everything right. It will be as if climate change and all of the other damage never happened.”
“Can you pin it down, Lynn?”
“Not quite. I think we’re looking for some sort of confluence, a collision of Forerunner technology and human time gate activity.”
“The Soviets. They activated the communications array of a Blue Forerunner ship while building a time gate around it. Then the Blues came and used the Soviet gate to move forward from the last Ice Age to the Bronze Age in Sweden.” Ross hoped he had the right answer. Maybe it was as simple as going back and stopping the Soviets from finding that damned ship.
“Maybe, but I think it more has to do with active fields from Forerunner and time gate technology, at least as far as I can tell from this. I don’t know. It’s even possible the key time event hasn’t happened yet, but it’ll take more expertise in those areas than I have to tell for sure.”
“Perhaps, but I think the information downloaded into us by the Forerunner gives us the edge.
“I’d like to think so, Gordon.”
“Well, if all of our gates are being powered down as Kelgarries said in his last transmission, then we still have to find a way to stop the Soviets. They’re the only possible catalyst now for temporal disaster.”
Active fields from both Forerunner technology and a time gate built by humans. Exactly what was happening at Folsom base right at that moment.
“Blair! Contact Folsom base. Tell them to perform an emergency shutdown of their gate now!”
Unfortunately for Gordon Ashe and the rest of human history, they were already too late.
Folsom Base. Lieutenant Walter Byrd was still in command. Major Kelgarries had gone back to Operation Retrograde in the arctic to supervise the shut down of all time gates.
Byrd had followed orders and had the Folsom gate shut down.
Louis Aramazd and Heidi Watson had been using their gate to locate and map the lost Forerunner base in the Americas.
It was buried far below the cave floor, which was how the archaeologists and even deep scanning radar had missed it. There was an active energy source, a 10,000 year old energy source, Blue or Orange, no one was sure, but they had been on the verge of isolating it.
“Louis, all we need is a few more minutes. If we don’t use the gate, there’s no telling how far under the cave the alien base is or where we should start digging. If we pick the wrong spot, we could destroy a technological treasure trove.”
“I know Heidi, I know.” Aramazd was always more curious than cautious, but he didn’t take disobeying orders lightly. Kelgarries had radioed Byrd and told him to shut down their gate. Byrd ordered Aramazd and he obeyed. But no one told them why. He might have made a different decision if he had been told why.
“Just a few more minutes, Heidi.”
“Louis, what do you think you’re doing?”
“You said it yourself. It’ll only take a few minutes. We don’t even have to open a portal to a different era. Standby to activate the gate. The circuits are still hot. It won’t take long to re-initiate the field.”
“What about Byrd?”
“He’s out patrolling the parameter. By the time he gets back, we’ll be done.”
“Radio message from Captain Blair’s unit. The ship has landed. Ashe and the others are back.” The communications tech watched as Louis and Heidi went through the start-up sequence. “What are you doing? I thought…”
“Just routine, Martinez. Mind your station. In a few minutes, we’ll have the exact location of the entrance to the Forerunner base mapped and be able to give Gordon Ashe the best welcome home gift he’s ever had.”
Martinez notified Captain Blair that their gate was being reopened right before all hell broke loose and they ignited the storm.
“Excuse me, Sir. We’ve got an emergency message coming in.”
“What is it, Martinez? What emergency? Put it on the speaker.”
The technician switched the feed over from his headset so everyone could hear.
“The is Ashe. Shut down the time gate. Do it…”
Aramazd couldn’t hear the rest of the message because at that moment, the confluence between the Forerunner energy emissions and the gate’s temporal field reached critical and there was an explosion.
When the rescue team got there, when Ashe and his team got there, it wasn’t so much that Aramazd and his people were dead, they were just gone.
Everyone, everything was gone. No time gate. No hidden base. It was all gone, as if it had never existed. Not just the people and technology in the cave, but all of it, the entire camp and its surroundings. Lt. Byrd and his men never knew what hit them.
“Alright, Ashe. Let’s have it. What do we have to do to fix it all.”
A week later at the arctic base of Operation Retrograde, but to Gordon Ashe, it seemed a lifetime ago when he was last an agent here.
“We’ve got conflicting data, Major Kelgarries. The Orange we talked to on Ceres said that the Blues planned to destroy our base here in the arctic back during the Ice Age. The Blue records say they had no intention of doing so. If that’s true, then why did the Orange ship destroy the Blue?”
“Screw that. What happened a week ago in Arizona. Byrd, all of his people. They’re all gone. It’s not like they died. It’s like they never were there.”
“That’s my point, John. That’s why I wanted the time gate there shut down. It’s the event. The one that changed everything. It’s what started the time storm.”
“It was shut down. As near as we can figure from the last message we got from Folsom, Aramazd acted without orders in reactivating the gate.”
“We could have prevented it. We could have prevented it all.”
“You don’t know that, Gordon. If not us, then maybe the Soviets would have started it.”
“Well, it’s started and somehow, we have to stop it.”
“The modifications to the portable gate are being made but it’ll take another week before they’re complete.”
“It’ll take that long to derive our first destination from the time map. Lynn, do you have any idea of where or when that is?”
“Not yet. I’m working with the development team to see if we can speed up the process of reading the map. We can tell where and when all the changes are, but we don’t have the how and why yet. We also need the next catalyst event. That should be our focus.”
“Gordon, given that the Orange was less than truthful with us, do you think we can trust its instructions on how to modify our gate?”
“What choice do we have, Ross? We’ve got to do something.”
“The other thing that bothers me is that both time gates, the Orange one and the Blue, were configured to three identical dates, the last Ice Age, where the Forerunners are presumed to live, the Bronze Age, and then fifty years from now. Why?”
“I don’t know, Ross. What I do suspect is that we can’t be sure which side to trust. We can only go forward knowing what we know. That said, I don’t think the Blues are as much of a threat as we’ve been led to believe, and in fact, we may need them before all this is through.”
“You could get your wish, Gordon. You unlocked their gate at Europa. I suspect they discovered we were there. I hope their response isn’t hostile. I’d hate to have them aggressively invade our present the way they did the Soviet base in the Bronze Age.”
“So excuse me Wendell, but what were you complaining about?”
Travis Fox and his uncle Wendell were each sitting on horseback in the middle of the Canyon of the Moon. It was absolutely deserted. Not only was there no scientific or military operation going on there, but the area showed no sign of ever having been used for that purpose.
“But this is ridiculous. I saw it. I talked with Lt. Byrd. He threatened to have me arrested. Hell, even if it was just some sort of archaeological dig, there should be some evidence of it being here.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Wendell. You can go to the press with your story, but you have absolutely no evidence to back it up.”
“Then at least tell me what’s going on. I’ll keep it in the family, Travis.”
“I think you’d be happier if we all just went back to the life we had before I ever rode into this canyon.” Travis Fox turned his horse Ranger back toward the arroyo they’d come from and left. Wendell got off his horse and spent hours in the cave system opposite the watering hole. He found nothing but rock and dirt and emptiness.
On his ride back home, Travis had plenty of time to think. He hadn’t answered Cassie when she asked if he were through with Kelgarries and Ashe. He knew he shouldn’t continue. After all, they hadn’t asked him to keep working with the Operation after he was released from the hospital, although they did compensate him generously.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Fox?”
He owed it to Cassie to quit. He owed it to his children, Boyd, Warren, and Susie. They deserved a full-time husband and dad. The Double A deserved a full-time owner and rancher.
So in spite of all that had happened, why did he still desperately miss walking through the gate into another world?
Eugene Taylor and Petrov Yeshevsky met clandestinely in a quiet corner of a small cafe in Arlington. Ambassador Yeshevsky, as far as the staff at the Russian embassy was concerned (including the covert KGB operatives who had infiltrated that staff), was spending the afternoon with his mistress. As far as Mr. Taylor’s people at the State Department were concerned, the personal aide to the Secretary had taken a vacation day to go scuba diving off the coast of South Carolina.
In reality, no one could officially know they were together and especially it could never be known what they were discussing.
“You realize how insane this sounds.” Yeshevsky spoke excellent English and Taylor could barely hear any trace of an accent.
“Come now, Petrov. You and I both know that all of this is not only possible but has been in operation for years.” By comparison, Taylor’s Boston accent was so pronounced that on occasion, Yeshevsky, who had learned English as part of his formal education, had difficulty making out words such as “car” and “dollar” when the American spoke them.
“I have submitted your request through covert channels to my superiors. I am rather concerned that they may think I have either gone mad or am allowing my sojourn in your nation to influence my loyalty.”
“This is the only way, Petrov. If either side continues to use the equipment in question, it won’t be a matter of national security but of global disaster.”
“Yet, I am supposed to accept, on your word, that your agents will only use the modified equipment to prevent such a disaster rather than to further your own interests.”
“You’ve heard my proposal. We will accept one of your agents on our team, both as a show of good faith, and so he can report back to your Government that we are as good as our word.”
“Only a select few in my Government even know of the existence of what we are discussing.”
“I’m sure you realize the same is true in my Government. That’s why we have to meet so informally.”
“I agree with that, my friend.” Yeshevsky took in a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. “Very well, Eugene. I’m expecting a response by courier within the next forty-eight hours. I will inform you of the decision it contains. Oh, and if I suddenly disappear and am replaced by another member of the diplomatic corps, you’ll know what that decision was.”
It was supposed to be a joke, but given the reality behind the sentiment, it wasn’t funny at all.
“I thought you were dead.”
“I am very much alive, no thanks to you Ross Murdock.”
Soviet Army Major Vasnev Danya Romanovich joined the rest of the team in a small conference room at the arctic base of Operation Retrograde. Romanovich walked up to Murdock, who had been seated at the table with the rest. Ross stood and faced the Russian.
“Friends?” Romanovich smiled and extended his hand. It was so unexpected that Murdock froze for a second. Then he took the other man’s hand and shook. “Provisionally, Major.”
“Oh come now, Ross. We’ve been through too much together and are about to go through so much more. Please call me Vasnev.”
“Alright, Vasnev. Since you’re now part of the team, have a seat. You’ll have to tell me how you escaped the Forerunner attack sometime.”
“I would be delighted to, Ross.”
Ross sat to the right of Gordon Ashe while Romanovich sat at the archaeologist’s left. Major Kelgarries was at the head of the table. Aiyana Zheutlin and Lynn Huỳnh were also present.
“I told you to expect a Soviet representative on the team. It was part of the arrangement we made with them so they would shut off their gates for the duration of our mission. I never thought it would be someone you already knew, Murdock.”
“You read my report, Major.”
“Yes I did. In any event, Major Romanovich has the right qualifications to join the team. I expect cooperation from all of you. Both sides have to lay their cards on the table if we’re going to be successful.”
Kelgarries turned to Lynn. “It’s your show, Ms. Huỳnh.”
“Thank you, Major.” Lynn started to stand but felt uneasy that a Soviet officer was in the room. What she was about to say would have been kept strictly away from the Reds just a few days ago. Lynn walked over next to the wall display and used a remote to activate it.
“This is a representation of the time map we recovered from the Blue Forerunner base on Europa. It indicates 240 separate anomalies in the timeline. All of them started here.” She indicated a point on the map that represented the exact location, date, and time of the storm unleashed at what was formerly Folsom base.
“As it turns out, Soviet intelligence was correct when they believed that there was a Forerunner base on that site.”
“I take it Ross received that information from my own memories, eh Dr. Ashe?” Romanovich seemed to be having a lot of fun at the expense of the Americans.
“However, we aren’t sure how they learned of it since we’d been sitting on that site for weeks without ever suspecting its existence.”
Lynn turned her head to look at the Soviet Major and then so did everyone else in the room.
“I see I’m on the spot as you might say. I can only tell you that we have certain…eh, equipment aboard some of our satellites that can detect Forerunner energy signatures.”
“Son of a bitch.” Ross was the first to react but everyone else responded similarly. Kelgarries recovered from the shocking revelation before the rest.
“Okay, take it easy everyone. Just revealing that much to us tells me the Major is willing to play ball with us, hopefully for the duration.”
“You have my word as an officer on that, Major Kelgarries, stopping short of treason of course.”
Kelgarries believed in military tradition and he hoped Romanovich felt the same way since, up until very recently, they had been on opposite sides in the Cold War.
“Lynn, you can continue.”
She paused to collect her thoughts and put aside the idea that Soviet spy sats could detect Forerunner technology from orbit, or tried to.
“After the…incident at Folsom base, we did a thorough sweep of the area. The bad news is that the entire encampment, people, equipment, everything was erased without a trace including the fact that there was a violent discharge of energy on site.
“The good news is that the Forerunner base is still intact beneath the cave floor, most likely buried by volcanic activity that occurred in the distant past.”
“That’s all fine and well Lynn, but what about our next incursion through the gate. Where and when do we have to go to begin to repair the timeline?
“You won’t believe this, Aiyana, but we have to go back to the Canyon of the Moon.”
“At least 12,000 BCE or about 14,000 years ago. We have to go back to the Forerunner base before it was buried.”
“Will we encounter Forerunners, young lady?” Romanovich leaned forward in his chair. Although he knew it was a distinct possibility, he still wasn’t enthusiastic about meeting face to face with the aliens again.
“It’s difficult to tell, even though we’ve been studying the time map for a while. I don’t think so, but I’m not making promises.”
Approximately 365 million miles away in a secret base anchored to the bottom of the ice shell surrounding Jupiter’s moon Europa, the quiet was interrupted by relays clicking and power systems humming. The time gate control console began to glow and a temporal field began to form in the gate.
In the water outside the base, someone or something was watching and listening. Then others began to gather and wait.
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
- My World is Blue
The Prologue for my homage to Norton’s next novel “The Defiant Agents is: Prologue: The Defiant Agents.
I’m trying to rework everything so the “book” divisions make more sense. I don’t have the time to do a proper job, so I hope what I am changing will do. Guess we’ll see.