“That’s right. This isn’t the first time Atlantis has been rocked by quakes, there have been three other events in the past two months, but the innkeeper says this series is the most severe.”
Gordon Ashe was reporting to both Captain Owen Redfeld and Lynn Huỳnh aboard the nuclear submarine Nereid and to the extraction team, now on the top of the cliffs near the city of Meropis, Travis Fox and Vasnev Romanovich. It had been four days since Ross Murdock went missing inside the city’s central tower, but intermittent contact with his implanted communicator indicated continued life signs.
Owen here, Gordon. We’ve been seeing heavy shipping traffic here, all outgoing. Every available sailing ship and galley has been packed to overflowing with people leaving the island.”
“Airborne drones report similar activity on the other three islands as well, Gordon.”
“Gordon, I don’t see why you won’t let Travis and me enter the city, find Murdock, and get you all out of there.”
“When it gets dark Vasnev, you and Travis come in the south gate as planned. I needed the time to find out more about that tower before we went storming in. We’ve gotten some pretty wild reports, not only of violent quakes, but odd lights sweeping over the islands and into the sea. Several fishermen reported strange ocean life including what I suspect is our Megalodon.”
“Right, Gordon. I talked with some recent arrivals from the northern most island, and one of them told me of strange animals that seemed to appear out of nowhere and were definitely not native. The description of the largest ones sounded a lot like Woolly Mammoths.”
“Aiyana and I will stay here at the inn. The innkeeper and his family don’t care anymore. They’ve packed up what they can and headed toward the docks. They say the Captain of a Libyan trading vessel owes them a big favor and they’re going to collect by getting passage.”
“They think we’re nuts for staying, but we told them that our gods would protect us.”
“You mean the god ‘Nereid,’ Aiyana?”
“And her patron saint Owen Redfeld.”
“I’m glad you two can still joke, but I’m getting really worried. The energy output from the power source on top of that tower has accelerated past projected levels. I think Atlantis is going to blow early and if we aren’t out of here within eighteen hours, twenty tops, we’re going to go with it.”
“That’s well ahead of previous projections but we’ll still be out of here before then, Lynn. The population has thinned out considerably, so Travis and Vasnev won’t have much trouble getting in after dark.”
“Speaking of which Gordon, will Vasnev and I be using our portable Somni-wave generators? We originally planned to activate them so we could get into the city by putting everyone asleep.”
“Hold off on that unless absolutely necessary, Travis. Just about all anyone can think of doing right now is getting off this rock. If we put some innocents to sleep, we might be trapping them on a doomed island.”
“Better them than us, Gordon. I, for one, do not wish to be skewed by the spear of some panicky sentry at the city gates.”
“We’ll play that one by ear, Vasnev. Sunset is about two hours away. We know Ross is probably being held about halfway up the tower. If nothing else, once you’re in the city, we’ll meet up and use the wave generator to get inside. After that, it should be a simple matter of extracting Ross and making it back to the sub using our escape route.”
“Gordon, why do you think he hasn’t communicated since the Orange attacked him with the telepathic weapon.”
“Lynn here, Aiyana. Based on his vitals, I think he’s been unconscious all this time, maybe even in a coma.”
“The Forerunner weapon the Blue used on Murdock and myself only knocked us out for a few minutes. Are you sure you made the right move leaving Ross alone and untreated?”
“If we barged in there right when Ross was captured, chances are we’d be Forerunner captives as well. I know it seems harsh, but as team leader, I’m responsible for the success of the overall mission. Sometimes that means leaving one person at risk. Now everyone follow the plan. Travis and Vasnev will enter the city after dark. If we’re successful, we should retrieve Ross and be out of here before dawn. Hopefully our missing man learned something about what’s causing all this.”
“Hopefully our missing man isn’t permanently in a coma or worse.”
Fox’s words stung Ashe, but this was no time for emotionalism. Gordon valued friendship and loyalty, but their mission had to take precedence.
“Less than two hours until we move, people. Owen, we’ll signal when we’re ready for you to surface and pick up our raft.”
“Roger that, Gordon. We’ll be ready.”
Carel was loyal to the Princes of Atlantis though he had never seen them. He was one of the few still standing his post at the city’s south gate, though he doubted anyone would be trying to get into Meropis. Everyone seemed to be trying to get out, though the harbor was at the eastern end of the metropolis, so he saw little activity where he was. He could hear screaming in the distance. He’d heard rumors of looting in the marketplace. Probably because traitorous sentries abandoned their posts. Well, Carel would hang on as long as he could. If anyone could abate the disaster that was supposed to befall the Eternal Realm, it would be the Princes in their High Tower.
The sun was just setting over the western peaks when the guard spotted two figures approaching. There was no one to help him close the gates and he was just about to go inside the walls to do it himself. “Who goes there?”
One of the men spoke to him in a language the Atlantean didn’t understand, a language he’d never heard before.
“I don’t suppose it would do any good to tell you that we won’t hurt you and that we’re just looking for some friends.”
“Forget it, Travis. This city sentry likely will not understand your English or my Russian, so perhaps we should just put him to sleep before he decides to attack us with that rather formidable sword of his.”
Gordon’s voice crackled over their communicators. “Just knock him out for an hour or so. Turn the generator off when you get inside. I doubt you’ll encounter any further resistance.”
“I’ll do the honors, Travis.” In his right hand, Vasnev, had the activation remote which would turn on the Somni-wave generator in his backpack.
Carel drew his sword and took a defensive stance. “Identify yourselves. If you do not, you shall not pass.”
“Now.” Vasnev pressed the button and the guard began to stagger.
Carel had no idea what strange malady had suddenly befallen him but it was as if he had not slept for a week. He felt like the first time he had overindulged on ale and had been unconscious for over day.
“He’s down, Gordon. I set the intensity so he should be up and around in plenty of time to get off the island, if that’s his intent.”
“Fine, Vasnev. Now you two get to our location as fast as you can. You should have the coordinates.”
“Got it.” Travis was consulting his tablet which contained an electronic map of the city showing directions to Gordon and Aiyana. “Barring complications, we should be to you in twenty minutes.”
Ross Murdock woke up with a splitting headache. He was nauseous and disoriented. The time trader decided to lie on his back until things started making sense. His vision cleared. He was looking up as some sort of lighting panels in the ceiling. Forerunner technology.
“The Forerunner. The Orange.” Ross was still in the room where the Forerunner used his telepathic device on him. He tried to remember but all he got was a jumble of images, confused and distorted.
“Gordon, Aiyana. Are you out there?”
“Ross? Yes, we’re still in the city. How are you? Where are you?”
“I think I’m still in the same room where the Orange got at me, a floor above the platform level. I’m okay. How long have I been out?”
“Nearly four days, Ross.”
“Four days? How…?”
“How are you, Ross?”
“Hang on, Gordon. Let me find out.”
Murdock slowly sat up. His head was beginning to clear, but his stomach felt awful. He tried to stand and had to brace himself against a wall.
“I’m on my feet but just barely.”
“Ross, we’re coming to you. Travis and Vasnev have just entered the city. We’ll rendezvous with them in less than twenty minutes and then make our way to the tower.”
“Careful, Gordon. The Forerunners and humans seem to be cooperating here.”
“We have our Somni-wave generators, Ross. That should take care of the opposition.”
“Good to hear your voice, Travis.”
“Gordon again. Just hang on. We’ll get to you as fast as we can.”
Murdock felt a rumbling and the whole room shook violently enough to knock him back to the floor. “What the hell was that?”
“This is Lynn, Ross. There have been earthquakes on the island for the past several days, increasing in intensity. I’m pretty sure the Forerunner energy source is causing them.”
“Then this isn’t just me feeling shaky.”
“Definitely not, Ross. Just hang in there. We’ll get you out.”
“Thanks, Gordon. Just make sure you don’t get caught while rescuing me.”
“We’ll be careful. Ashe out.”
In spite of all the encouragement from his team mates, Murdock still felt alone and cut off. He tried to remember if Forerunner doors had locks. He reached the one in the chamber he was in. It was closed and didn’t budge. Suddenly, another quake, even more violent than the last.
When Murdock looked up again, the door frame was twisted and the door had separated from it making a space big enough for him to crawl through. He looked around. He was still wearing his trader clothing, but all of his equipment was gone. Fortunately, whoever had searched him had missed the surgically implanted microphone and receiver.
He could hear chatter between Travis and Vasnev. They’d encountered a group of people who were looting some of the markets. Vasnev wanted to use the wave generator but Ashe told them to find an alternate route. Ashe thought they were probably just panicked citizens who were taking anything they thought they’d need before deserting Atlantis.
Ross was outside the enclosure and on the docking bay level of the tower. Behind him at the far wall it looked like the hatch was just closing on one of the scout ships. It was vibrating and making sounds he recognized as the ship about to launch.
He turned the other direction toward the ship closest to him. He saw two Orange Forerunners directing a small group of humans, who were also dressed in Orange skin suits, into the craft. Ross was curious. He wanted to get a closer look but he wasn’t anxious to be recaptured either.
Then a figure ran past him, probably coming from the direction of the elevators.
He was a human male in Forerunner clothing. He stopped and turned suddenly having noticed Murdock standing there. He spoke in a language completely unknown to the former thief. It didn’t sound like any of the ancient languages he had learned or heard of. In fact, it didn’t sound like a human language at all.
On second thought, the language did seem familiar. Almost like a dialect of the Forerunner spoken language. He recognized the clicks, but doubted the human tongue could make the sound of crinkling newspaper.
The man at first motioned with his arm like he wanted Ross to come with him and then he stopped. He stared at Ross as if trying to figure out who he was. A voice shouted in the formal Forerunner language from near the hatch of the spaceship. It was one of the aliens. The interloper looked at the ship, back at Ross, and then ran away toward the space vessel.
“I hope someone got all this. Lynn, did you record what he said?”
“Recorded, yes. Understood, no.”
“I’ll study the language when we get back home.”
“If you get back home, Aiyana.”
“We still have plenty of time. Travis and Vasnev are almost here.”
Murdock wanted to respond to Gordon but then he noticed the Orange Forerunner by the scout ship was staring at him. It wasn’t the same Orange who had telepathically assaulted him. Then the Forerunner stopped looking at Ross, turned and walked up the ramp and into the ship. The hatch closed behind him, or rather, it.
A loud roar sounded behind him. Ross wheeled about. The bay was open on the other side of the tower and the first Orange craft was lifting off.
From the street, the Russian watched the spectacle. “I see the rats are deserting the sinking ship, or in this case, sinking island.”
“That’s just one of two ships, Vasnev.”
“It makes an impressive sight, which is getting dimmer and further away by the second.”
“No time for sightseeing, Vasnev. We’re almost to Gordon and Aiyana.”
“As you wish, Travis.”
Murdock pressed his back up against the damaged door of his former makeshift prison and watched as the docking bay hatch of the ship nearest him opened. This ship made the same sorts of sounds the other had when powering up its engines. “The second ship’s about to leave.”
“I wish I could say that was a good thing, but the power emanations from the top of the tower are still increasing. I’ll say it again, people. You’d better hurry.”
“We’re at the inn where Gordon and Aiyana are at. No one around. Yes, we see them. They’re at the door, Lynn.”
“No time for a tender reunion,” Gordon barked. “Let’s get to the tower.”
As the quartet made their way to the center of the city, another quake hit, but this time Murdock kept his balance. “What if I can stop the thing in the tower? It is why I came here in the first place.”
Murdock ran to the elevators. He pressed the only button available but nothing happened. “Maybe it needs some ID like a key card.”
He went to the stairs and tried to open the door, but it seemed jammed. He pushed harder and it budged a few inches, enough to let him see that the stairwell above had collapsed.
“Damnit. I can get the door open wide enough to get into the stairwell, but there’s no way up. I can’t get above my level. Maybe I could have stopped the whatever it is.”
“Can you get down?
Murdock looked. “Stairs down seem intact.”
“Start going down to the ground floor.”
“What if I encounter anyone.”
“I don’t think you will, Ross.”
Why not, Travis?”
Because we’re at the main gates to the tower. They’re open and the two sentries on duty are dead, fallen on their own swords.”
“So either desert your post or die at it.”
“It would seem so, Ross.”
“I agree with Vasnev and Travis. Just come on down. We’ll make sure the way is clear and use the generators if necessary.”
“You know that’ll put me to sleep too, Gordon.”
“One problem at a time.”
“Okay, I’m descending.”
Another quake hit while he was walking down, causing him to fall onto a landing below.
“Ross. How are you?”
“Fell. Not bad. Nothing broken. I’m coming.”
The stairs were cracked as were some of the walls. Whatever Forerunners used for emergency lighting held up, but the tower seemed built of contemporary materials and would eventually collapse. Ross met the rest of the team as they opened the stairwell door on the ground floor.
“Glad to see you guys.”
“Ross, you’re limping.”
“Just twisted my ankle a bit, Aiyana.”
“As you Americans say, let’s blow this popcorn stand.”
“Yes, Vasnev. Before it blows up in our faces. C’mon, Ross. Lean on me.”
“Won’t Gordon get jealous?”
“Shut up and lean on me, Murdock.”
If Gordon heard Murdock’s slight jab at their suspected relationship, he ignored it.
When they were far enough away, Ashe and his team turned back toward the tower. The two open spaceship bays were clearly in evidence and the top of the tower was glowing ominously.
“Power levels have ramped up again, everyone. I don’t think we have more than a few hours before it peaks.”
“We understand, Lynn.”
The island was continually rumbling now and it was difficult for everyone to keep their feet.
“This is no good, Gordon. Ross’s ankle is badly sprained, maybe even fractured.”
“I can make it Aiyana. Don’t give up on me yet.”
“Who’s giving up, you idiot?”
“Let us help, Ross.” Vasnev got on one side of Murdock and Travis on the other, supporting him as they made their way through the city.
“Ross, you’ll never make it to the cliffs let alone the climb down. We’ll have to take another escape route.” Gordon called out on his communicator. “What’s the sea traffic like, Owen?”
“All if the big ships and most of the mid-sized ones are gone. Just two left and one of them swamped because too many people tried to pile onboard.”
“Anything small left at the harbor, enough for the five of us.”
“Sure. Plenty, Gordon. You couldn’t use them to get out very far into the sea. Why do you…?”
“Make for the harbor. Try to get as close as you can without endangering the sub. That’s how we’ll get to you.”
“You do realize I’ll have to surface to pick you up.”
“I doubt it matters very much now. Most anyone left here will die and even if someone on the last escaping ship sees the sub, it will be just one more fantastic story they’ll tell about Atlantis.”
“Will do, Gordon.” Setting course now but make it fast. If those structures overlooking the harbor collapse, I don’t want to be anywhere nearby.”
“Got it, Owen.”
The sub’s skipper was right about the harbor. The smaller of the last two ships attempting to leave had sunk under the weight of hundreds of panicked Atlanteans and whatever visitors from other lands had been trying to board. Most of them had drowned, and the rest were either trying to swim back to shore or from madness, out to sea.
The five of them had their pick of smaller harbor craft. Vasnev and Travis eased Ross into one of them and then climbed in afterward. Gordon and Aiyana followed. She untied the rope fastening their small boat to the dock and then the two members of the extraction team started rowing.
“I’ve got you on my periscope. Turn fifteen degrees to port and make for the center of the harbor.”
“Aye, Cap’n.” Vasnev was still cracking jokes, but Ross remembered that he’d mentioned once it was better to laugh than to give in to the gravity of a desperate situation.
In the distance, some of the last survivors saw their boat slowly making way. A few scoffed until another strong tremor hit, then they too made for the smaller craft, perhaps thinking a slim chance was better than none at all.
The entire tower was glowing now in an eerie light. That light was rippling up and down the tower, occasionally pulsing into parts of the city itself.
“I’m reading the energy signature of those emissions and they are definitely part of a temporal field.”
“Lynn, some of the people here said a light like that shone over the whole island chain and into the water.”
“Right, Gordon. And others said that recently they’ve witnessed strange land and sea creatures.”
“Like the Megalodon, Aiyana. Yes I see where you’re going with this. It’s possible that fluctuating temporal fields might randomly retrieve objects and life forms from other eras and bring them here. It’s why we contain our fields in a gate or now, in a vessel, so they can be precisely controlled.”
Lynn looked at her scanners again. “I highly recommend you don’t let that field touch you. Uh oh.”
Gordon almost asked the technician what she meant by her last comment, but then he looked back at the inner harbor. Two of the light water craft had launched with several people aboard each. The energy field flowed over the docks and into the water like a thick syrup made of orange and yellow light. The two small boats were enveloped and vanished.
“No, Gordon. I read a definite temporal flux. Whatever was inside that field was transported through time. With the equipment back at the Project, Dr. Barnes might be able to analyze my readings and tell where and when they went.”
“Gordon, you’re in position. Have Travis and Vasnev hold your craft steady. I’m surfacing.”
Captain Redfeld blew the ballast tanks and the Nereid rose from periscope depth to the surface about ten meters further out. The top hatch released and opened. “Get in here fast.”
“You don’t have to tell us twice, Owen.” Travis grabbed his oar and both he and Vasnev put every effort into making for their escape vessel. Gordon helped Ross into the sub first and then Aiyana followed. Finally Gordon, Vasnev, and Travis entered while struggling to keep their footing on the wet hull in a moving sea.
“I’m taking her down now. Get strapped in.” Even before everyone was secure, he opened his tanks allowing the ancient sea water to enter, taking the Nereid down to the depths.
“Course is due West at top speed. Lynn, how long?”
“Who cares, I’m activating the temporal field. In less than five minutes, we’ll be back home.”
“No wait! We can’t return to the present this close to where Atlantis sank. There are dangerous currents and shoals all over that area in the present. We have to get further away. Give me thirty minutes.”
“But Owen, according to these readings, Atlantis will blow in less than thirty minutes.”
“Then it’ll be close.” The seaman returned his full attention to his controls and steered as straight a course as he possibly could away from the legendary and doomed island.
As they sped away from the Atlantis, Lynn was still monitoring it through two of the flying drones. “The whole island is engulfed in that energy field now. I’m wondering if Atlantis explodes or just transfers to another time.”
“Is there anyway to find out?”
“Maybe, Gordon. The time gate at NAVSTA Rota is still open and receiving intel from the drones. They can remain in play as long as possible, longer than we can stay here. Maybe they’ll give us something we can interpret.”
“How long, Lynn?”
“A matter of minutes, Owen. Are we far enough away yet?”
“Almost. Maybe five minutes at this speed if the engines don’t overheat.”
“Make that no time at all. Sorry but ready or not, here we come, twenty-first century.”
That was Gordon’s last comment before she pressed the button activating the temporal field around the boat. At the same time her monitor picked up a brilliant flash and then a vast explosion. A massive tidal wave shot out in all directions but worst than that, the temporal field was expanding toward them, and then…
Lynn lost transmission from the drones. The sub shuddered and rattled, the light around them vanished for an instant, and when it reappeared, they were a hundred feet under the water with daylight filtering through the ocean.
“We made it. We’re home.” Lynn was laughing and crying at the same time.
Owen realized he’d been holding his breath and let it out with a sigh.
Gordon and Aiyana, sitting next to each other at the front most stations on the sub, looked at each other and smiled, then briefly touched fingertips.
“When I get back on shore, I’m going to get very, very drunk.”
“Not before returning to base and debriefing, Vasnev.”
“You are what they call a buzz kill, Gordon. Very well. I will get drunk after debriefing.”
“Can’t wait to get this ankle looked at. Now that the excitement is over, it’s killing me.”
“Man up, Ross. I thought you were tough.”
“Trade ankles with me and we’ll see how tough you are, Travis.”
They both laughed at each other and with relief.
“I’m getting radio traffic from Rota, folks. I’m informing them that our mission has concluded and we’ll be docking in under forty-eight hours.”
“Fine, Owen. Good work. Good work everyone.”
“Thanks Gordon, but what did we really do? We didn’t discover what the power source was or how it destroyed Atlantis.”
“I think you’re being premature, Ross.” Lynn was switching off the time controls while also looking at the scans she received right before they transported through time. “We’ve got plenty of readings and with whatever the drones were able to transmit through the gate after we jumped, we might have all of the answers we’ll need.”
Dr. Edward Nieves, head of Project Retrograde’s medical division, was going over a decoded transmission from his operative at the Project’s Nevada installation. For some time he suspected that Dr. David Link, who was leading the team examining the Blue and Orange Forerunner corpses recovered by Ashe’s team from Folsom Age Arizona, had been holding back vital information. Now he had the proof.
Dr. Nieves knew a great deal about David Link, not because of any covert spying, but due to the thorough background check required of anyone who was recruited for the Project. Link was 35 years old, openly gay, but had never been married or even been in a long-term relationship. The public reason for this was that his work was his first priority, but psychological evaluations suggested that the brilliant forensic archaeologist was unable to commit and preferred more casual sexual and romantic relationships.
That played well into Nieves’s plan. It wasn’t difficult to recruit one of the nurses, Bradley Camden in this case, to let Link know he was “available” with no strings attached. Except that Nieves had “strings” on Camden and it was the nurse who was feeding him information.
Nieves was in a private jet flying to Washington D.C. for the supposed purpose of meeting with the Project’s NSA liaison. However, he was also scheduled to have a clandestine meeting with Petrov Yeshevsky, a member of the Russian diplomatic corps and suspected agent of the Russian Federal Security Service, the descendent of the defunct Soviet Union’s KGB. Nieves was being well paid to feed certain details of Link’s research to the Russians while leaving them out of his reports to the NSA.
He was sure that they’d find two facts Link had been keeping to himself fascinating. The first was that the Blue Forerunners were possibly amphibians, having evolved from a sentient undersea race, and the second was that the Oranges were modified clones of the Blues, likely created by the Blues themselves.
There were many questions remaining in both of those areas, principal among them was why would the Blues create the Oranges only to have the Oranges seemingly rebel against them?
I wasn’t sure how much more I should include in this particular “book”. In retrospect, the title “The Defiant Agents” doesn’t fit very well with what I’ve written, but that was the title of Norton’s third “time traders” book and this is mine.
It’s difficult to know when to transition from one book into the next. Information from this story will become critical in the next tale, where the team makes great progress in not only understanding the cause of climate change, but the nature of the Blue and Orange Forerunners, their relationship with each other, with humanity, and what their ultimate goals are. I’ll just leave this here and hope it’s taken as a natural break between one volume and the next.
Previous “chapters” in this book are:
- Prologue: The Defiant Agents
- The Time Trap
- Tomorrow or Yesterday
- Turn and Face the Change
- Ashurbanipal’s Library
- The Tower at Meropis
This is part of my homage to the works of Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton) which include The Time Traders, Galactic Derelict, and now The Defiant Agents. At this point, there’s no resemblance in my tales to Norton’s original story lines beyond the existence of some of the characters. Hopefully, she’d like how I’ve interpreted her vision.