Twenty year old Fred Valentich was reaching the end of his rope or at least his dreams. With only 150 hours of flying time, he had been twice rejected by the Royal Australian Air Force and failed all five of his commercial pilot’s licensing subjects, not once but twice. He’d also been cited for deliberately flying blind into a cloud and received a warning for straying into restricted air space.
He wanted to be a professional pilot more than anything, but everyone who knew anything about flying said he was no good at it.
At 1819 hours on October 21, 1978, he took off in a rented single-engine Cessna 182L from Victoria’s Moorabbin airport near Melbourne, Australia with the intension of heading across Bass Strait to King Island near Tasmania. He’d told flight officials that the purpose of his trip was to pick up some friends from the island, but he’d also told his friends that he was going to pick up some crayfish.
Neither was true. He just needed to get away and clear his head. His life was mundane, boring really. He was enthralled with UFOs and thought it would be great to encounter one in the air as other pilots claimed to have done. If nothing else, he could log a few more hours flight time.
He was about to inform King Island of his intent to land but he thought he saw something pass over his aircraft. “Oh my God.” He fumbled with the radio’s mike. He had to contact the tower right away.
“Melbourne Air Flight Controller, this is Victor Hotel-Delta Sierra Juliett out of Moorabbin, over.”
His hands were shaking. He tried to focus on keeping still. The Cessna was wobbling slightly.
“This is Melbourne Flight Controller, Victor Hotel-Delta Sierra Juliett. Go ahead, over.”
“Is there any known traffic below five thousand, over?”
“No known traffic, over.”
“I am…seems to be a large aircraft below five thousand, over.”
“Roger that. What type of aircraft is it, over?”
“I cannot affirm. It is bright…bright light, maybe landing lights. The aircraft has just passed over me at least a thousand feet above, over.”
“Roger, and it is a large aircraft? Confirm, over.”
Fred was terrified. What the hell was it? It damned well better be another aircraft and the bloody bastard ought to be written up for approaching so close.
“Er, unknown due to the speed it’s traveling. Is there any Air Force aircraft in the vicinity, over?”
“Negative, No known aircraft in the vicinity, over.”
“It’s approaching right now from due east towards me…Oh my God. The light. It’s coming for me right now. We’re going to collide, we’re going to…”
“Say again, say again. Confirm your actual level, over.”
Air Traffic Controller Steve Robey was only somewhat concerned until now, but when the pilot abruptly went silent, he felt panic rise in his chest.
“Come in, Victor Hotel-Delta Sierra Juliett. Report your position, over. Is the other aircraft still with you? Over.”
Throughout the entire exchange, the only object clearly indicated on radar over Bass Strait at 5,000 feet was Fred Valentich’s Cessna, although there was another faint image, probably a radar reflection of some kind, that intermittently registered. Then there was nothing. It wasn’t as if the Cessna lost altitude and crashed. More like it had disappeared into thin air.
On Monday, October 26, 2020 at 1757 hours John F. Kennedy International Airport tower radar picked up an unknown light aircraft five miles south-southeast of Long Beach, an aircraft that hadn’t been there a second ago.
Air traffic controller Roy Austin keyed his mike, “Unknown aircraft at four five zero zero feet, this is JFK ATC, you are in commercial air traffic lanes. Identify yourself and immediately turn left 75 degrees descending to three zero zero zero feet, over.”
Austin thought he could hear a voice through the static but there was some sort of interference.
Inside the Cessna 182L it was all Fred could do to maintain level flight. He had a raging headache and for several seconds had become totally disoriented. “What the bloody hell just happened to me?”
The bright light in front of him had shimmered like a bubble and then engulfed his aircraft. For an instant, he couldn’t hear the engine and was terrified that it had stalled, then the light was gone and he was still in the air…but where?
“Unkn….zero, zero…JFK…air traf…turn left to…feet, ov…” There was a voice on the radio, but it was only coming in sporadically.
Fred saw that the sun was just now setting to his left, but half an hour ago it had set to his right. What the hell was that ahead? It wasn’t King Island. There were way too many lights and buildings. It was a huge city instead of…wait. “New York? That’s fucking New York City…”
Then the sky lit up all around him. The mysterious light? A UFO? No. Much too bright. A giant fireball shooting east to west.
The greater metropolitan New York area watched in horror as a brilliant explosion illuminated the sky directly over Manhattan. There was no time to react at all as millions of people were suddenly incinerated when the alien Forerunner time-spacecraft’s experimental drive exploded, vaporizing the State of New York, most of New Jersey, and parts of Connecticut and Philadelphia. The end of the human race had just begun.
“We know sometime in the afternoon or evening hours of Monday, October 26, 2020 Eastern Daylight Time, the Forerunner time-spaceship will re-enter normal time and its engines will detonate somewhere over the New York area. All of New York and most of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Philadelphia will be instantly destroyed and people as far away as Syracuse will almost immediately receive enough thermal energy to suffer third-degree burns.
“Richard Word, our information source from the future, was severely injured as far away as Buffalo, and unfortunately those injuries were compounded by his being shifted in time and space and then being exposed to the elements for several hours, resulting in his eventual death here in 2017.”
“Thank you, Dr. Barnes. We’ve got all that. What we need is a solution and although three years sounds like a long time, it actually isn’t.” Kelgarries was getting annoyed. It had been three weeks since Ross and Aiyana had interviewed Mr. Word and two and a half since the young man passed away.
Actually, it was worse than that because in the Fall of 2017, Richard was a high school senior in Bridgeview, Illinois, so even though his older self had just died weeks ago, the younger Richard was still alive.
Based on current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the environmental team estimated that global climate heating would happen at a faster rate than it had when the Tunguska Event occurred over a century ago. If they allowed the Forerunner Event to take place over New York three years from now, by 2120, the planet would become too hot to support human life. They’d bought humanity about fifty years, but the goal was to eliminate the threat permanently.
“Obviously, redirecting the time-spaceship temporally but not spatially is too dangerous. Even with precise calculations, we cannot even approximately predict when the ship will appear. Even if we prevent it from exploding over New York in 2020, we still need to find some method of shifting it away from Earth. Otherwise, the best we could do is translate it to another point in time to detonate over some other area of the globe.”
“I thought that was supposed to be impossible, Barnes. Everything I’ve ever been taught about time gates says that you can shift a person or object in time, but the geographic location is a constant because the point-to-point link is a virtual tunnel between where Earth is relative to the rest of the universe in the present vs. where Earth was at the destination time.”
“Well now that no longer seems to be a constant when dealing with these time storms or miniature time tunnels is it, Mr. Murdock? A man disappears some five hundred years ago in one part of Brazil and reappears in 1996 in another. Another man disappears from the City of Manila in the Philippines on October 24, 1593 and reappears three days later in Mexico City with no memory of any time passing.”
Aiyana Zheutlin was impressed with how Dr. Barnes had memorized the events and dates of the more notable time transfer occurrences they were aware of. “But all that still happened on the planet, Doctor.”
“If a person was translated from say, Chicago in 1922 and reappeared in deep space in 2095 in the exact location the Earth had occupied in 1922, how would we ever know?”
It was a good point and a terrifying one. A person lifted out of time and space on Earth and deposited into the vacuum of interplanetary or interstellar space would last less than a minute, and for all they knew, it had happened hundreds or even thousands of times. Maybe the people they were able to trace who had been transplanted by Barnes’s “time tunnels” were the exception and not the rule.
“That still doesn’t tell me what I want to know, Barnes.”
“Colonel Kelgarries, you can bark orders and make demands of me all day long and it will still not accelerate my ability to arrive at a solution. I have a working theory and ideally it will lead me to that solution, but I need more time.”
“Fine. You have exactly one thousand, one hundred, forty-six days, ten hours, and an odd number of minutes to arrive at and execute your solution, Doctor. Do we have any other business before ending this briefing?”
No one in the room had ever seen Kelgarries and Barnes at such odds with each other. Romanovich took it in stride as did Murdock, but the reactions of everyone else, Aiyana, Gordon, Lynn, and Travis, registered in a range between mild discomfort and anxiety.
“If you will all excuse me, I have to return to my work.” Barnes abruptly turned and walked out of the room.
“Was that necessary, John? Antoine is obviously working as hard and as fast as he can.”
“Yes, I know that, Gordon.” Kelgarries lowered his head and ran his fingers through his hair as if he wanted to rip every follicle from his scalp. Then he looked back up at the team. “Five-and-a-half years ago, terrorists detonated a 10 megaton nuclear device in the heart of London killing over 23 million people and injuring millions more. It will take decades for England’s largest metropolis to recover and the world is still reeling from the event.
“Now the ultimate terrorist weapon is poised to destroy another large city, instantly killing millions more, and on top of that, dooming the human race to extinction in a little more than a century. Unlike London, we have a three-year advance warning on exactly where and when this ‘bomb’ is going to explode. We are the only group on the planet equipped to save it. Nothing else we’ve accomplished up to this point comes close to what’s at stake now.”
“You realize of course that Russia also has time travel capability and while it isn’t Moscow or Leningrad that will be vaporized. the extinction of humanity is as great a motivator to them as to us.”
Vasnev Romanovich, a Major in the Russian Ground Forces sounded a lot more like he was working for America and Project Retrograde than Vladimir Putin’s national government. Unlike his friend, temporal scientist Mineyev Nikolay Duskin, he had not overtly declared his intention to defect, continuing to play both ends against the middle. To coin a phrase, only time would tell which side of the fence he would land on.
“I’m already in contact with my opposite number in Russia, Major. His government is uneasy about your friend Duskin’s recent disappearance, but fortunately, they have yet to formally implicate the U.S. or you in it. For now, they’ll let us take the lead rather than compound the situation by launching uncoordinated time incursions. I’ve assured them that you’ll keep the Russian government fully informed as to our progress.”
“Yes, of course, Colonel. As always, it is my duty to do so.”
“Incoming telemetry from Ceres FR1, Bennett.”
“Let’s see it, Mohammed.”
Ceres FR Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. For decades, the JPL has been the hub for all of the space agency’s unmanned probes ever since Voyager 1 and 2 back in the 1970s. Both Voyagers were now at the beginning of their long journey through interstellar space, but the vessel currently approaching the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter made them all seem like a child’s Lego models, largely because it was almost totally alien in origin.
When it was discovered that the Orange Forerunner Scout Ship contained up to a hundred small, highly configurable probes, all spherical and about the size of bowling balls, a few dozen were sent to NASA for analysis. In a joint Retrograde/NASA venture, the government quickly green lit a mission to Ceres, supposed headquarters in our Solar System for the alien Orange Forerunners, for the purposes of reconnaissance.
It was well-known in certain confidential circles that a team of four time travelers had inadvertently been launched into space in the Forerunner Scout Ship and visited first Ceres and then the Jovian moon Europa. It was also somewhat lesser known that the Orange had manipulated the four members of Project Retrograde in an attempt to get them to destroy a Blue Forerunner base on Earth of the past.
Colonel Kelgarries of Project Retrograde, along with the U.S. military and the Executive Branch of the government, to which Retrograde was attached, wanted more intel on Ceres and if the Oranges were active in the present.
Ceres FR1 had been equipped with Forerunner communications gear so it could receive any of the alien’s signals without being damaged as the more conventional Dawn space probe had been. It wasn’t to go into close orbit or make contact with Ceres, but it was to perform covert surveillance of the planetoid in the hopes of learning something the Orange Forerunners didn’t want them to know.
Thanks to the inertialess drive powering the probe, it took days rather than months or years for it to reach the general vicinity of Ceres. While the probe’s drive was highly futuristic, its communications device could not send a message any faster than ordinary radio, so at this distance, a signal still took 55 minutes to make the round trip.
Mohammad Kouri was the chief technician on the project and the project’s head, Bennett Mitsuzuka was leaning over his shoulder looking at the display.
“Put it up on the big screen, Mohammad.”
“You’ve got it, Chief.”
The mission was top secret, the U.S. Army overriding NASA’s usual policy of transparency, which meant that whatever appeared on the monitor stayed in the room rather than ending up on CNN.
Good thing, too.
“It looks like…” Mohammad checked some readings on his console. “…like almost a tenth of the mass of Ceres is gone.”
“That’s a massive impact crater.”
“Not reading like an impact crater from over here, Bennett.” Erin Thomas was in charge of guidance but that was in name only. Her skill sets were expansive, making her one of the most adaptive members of the team. “I’m reading melting and scorch marks. If the instruments are operating right, I’d say that some sort of high energy plasma came into contact with the surface, vaporizing it down to…over 100 meters.”
“What could do that, Bennett?”
He could have answered Mohammad’s question because he’d been briefed on all aspects of the Scout Ship including its weaponry, but that would have been a breach of national security.
“I don’t know. Getting any readings from Ceres?”
“Nothing. Just normal background noise.”
“I’ve got something faint, Bennett.”
“Let’s have it, Erin.”
She pushed her glasses higher on the bridge of her nose and brushed away a stray lock of blond hair from her face. “It’s…it’s temporal radiation.” She turned her head to face the mission director. “I think the Forerunner time gate survived.”
“I’ll be right back.” Bennett hurriedly walked to a small private office just off of the mission control room, closed and locked the door behind him, and then picked up the secure phone.
“Are you insane?”
“Colonel Kelgarries, you wanted a solution. I have one for you.”
Dr. Antoine Barnes, much more composed than he had been in past weeks, was standing in front of the Army officer’s desk in his office.
“Okay, that didn’t come out right. Please have a seat.”
“Thank you, Colonel.” Barnes took the seat to his left. “Let me explain.”
“I think you’d better. You want to link our primary time gate to an active gate on Ceres and use that to divert the Forerunner time-spaceship from Earth into space.”
“Yes, it is quite feasible.”
“As you know, most energy can travel no faster than the speed of light, but not so chronoton radiation, the type we use to form temporal fields.”
“So far, this is ‘Time Gates 101,’ Doctor.”
“Quite so. My point is that I believe I can create in essence a faster-than-light bridge between the two gates through what is colloquially referred to as ‘sub-space’, a quantum domain outside of our material universe. It’s what time travelers momentarily pass through to get from the present to the past and then back again.”
“Or from the future to the present in some cases, Doctor.”
“In one case we know of, Colonel. In any event, using the Time Map readings plus the knowledge of where and when in the future the Forerunner ship will arrive, we can divert it much in the way we did when we shifted the vessel from its destination above Siberia in June 1908 to above what would become the coast of New Jersey 55 million years in the past.”
“But you hadn’t set a specific destination for the ship, just severely biased the field for the past.”
“True Colonel, and it had worked until we were forced to initiate a second incursion to return the timeline to its present configuration. This time, instead of a general bias, the redirect point will be highly specific. Ceres.”
“In what time period?”
“Several reasons. The first is that we don’t know how far in the past the Orange Forerunners had been occupying the dwarf planet, perhaps as far back as 16,000 BCE or even further. So little is known about the Forerunner native time frame and we don’t want to risk changing the timeline again by interfering with Forerunner activity in our Solar System of the past. Secondly, we know Ceres is now lifeless. Most of its systems are offline. It’s spaceport capacity is non-existent, but a low level temporal field indicates the gate and its power source are marginally active.”
“Active enough for Orange Forerunners to come through to the present?”
“I believe not, but it is active enough to act as a target.”
“You’ll probably obliterate what’s left of Ceres.”
“Better Ceres than Earth, Colonel.”
“Which begs the question Doctor, what all but destroyed the Orange base on Ceres? Reports say the crater was caused by a high energy plasma discharge which certainly sounds like a Forerunner weapon.”
“Two possibilities, Colonel. The first is some sort of accidental, internal explosion in the base, which I discount. The second is an attack, most likely from Blue Forerunners in the present. We know that on our team’s visit to Europa, although the Orange on Ceres had directed Gordon Ashe to permanently disable the Blue time gate at their base, he only shut it down for a limited period of time.”
“You think the Blues detected the intrusion, somehow traced it back to Ceres and retaliated.”
“That’s as good a theory as I can come up with, Colonel.”
“What makes you think the Blues won’t interfere with your plans to use the Orange time gate to divert the time-spaceship to Ceres?”
“It’s a risk, I admit, but I don’t see that we have much choice. I don’t know how else to redirect the experimental ship and its drive that far into space.”
“You’re sure this will work.”
“As the younger generation is fond of saying, I’ve done the math. It all checks out. My team has run an independent analysis and has come to the same conclusion. I believe this is our best option for permanently ending the menace of the experimental ship and preserving the timeline.”
Kelgarries paused, turning the various implications over in his head.
“Can I make a few calls? This one is a lot bigger than I am.”
“Of course, Colonel. There are a lot of preparations to be made anyway.” Barnes stood, obviously relieved that Kelgarries seemed to agree with his proposal.
“Give me twenty-four hours, Dr. Barnes. I’ll have a decision for you this time tomorrow.”
“Hopefully a favorable one, Colonel. If we don’t implement this solution and fairly soon, it might be too late.”
“Wait. What do you mean?”
“I mean that the further we move toward the impact point in 2020, the more difficult it will be to temporally and spatially divert the time-spaceship. A month, even a week might make the difference between success or failure.”
“Very well, Doctor. Give me one day to make some calls.”
“Of course. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Before Kelgarries could respond, Barnes turned, opened the office door, and left.
Colonel Kelgarries was convinced, but if he was going to order the deliberate destruction of nearly a third of the mass of the entire asteroid belt, and possibly attract the hostile attention of Blue Forerunners, he’d have to get the buy off of someone with a lot more clout than he had. He picked up his secure landline and dialed a number known only to a dozen or so high-ranking military and government officials.
“This is Colonel John Kelgarries at Project Retrograde. Get me the President.”
It was exactly one week after the private meeting between Barnes and Kelgarries and Dr. Barnes was personally supervising the initial test linkage between the large Arctic gate and Ceres. At JPL, Mitsuzuka had ordered the FR1 probe moved to what was considered a safe distance in order to monitor the test, but while the temporal field linkage would be all but instantaneous, they wouldn’t observe the result via the probe for just over 27 minutes.
Thomas Lucius, more commonly known as “the control voice,” was lead technician on the project.
“Okay, Mr. Lucius. We’re going to establish a minimal viable link between the two gates, just for sixty seconds. After that, we’ll power down, analyze the readings here, and then wait for the radio telemetry from the Ceres probe.”
“Yes sir, Doctor.” There were few people who intimidated Thomas but Antoine Barnes was one of them. Barnes had personally requested that he be assigned to the Project straight out of Stanford. He had made Thomas’s career which was a lot more fulfilling than any conventional engineering position he otherwise would have had.
There were any number of technicians, engineers, and scientists in the observation deck overlooking the main time gate chamber. Among them were Ross Murdock, Gordon Ashe, and Aiyana Zheutlin. Lynn Huỳnh was among the technical crew configuring and monitoring the gate’s performance for the test, while her three teammates were curious observers.
“This is Thomas Lucius.” His deep, melodious voice came over the loudspeakers. “Initiating time gate for link test one in sixty seconds.”
As the gate charged and sparked, the temporal energy seemed to parallel the emotional excitement of everyone there. No one had ever attempted anything so ambitious. They had saved the Earth before and now they were about to do it again.
Somewhere in what Barnes had called sub-space, the time-spaceship was describing a trajectory that took it from a distant prehistoric era to October 26, 2020. They wouldn’t intercept it today, but soon, very soon, if Barnes was correct, they would activate the two gates, intersect with that very specific trajectory, and radically alter it, pointing the Forerunner vessel at present day Ceres the way that Kelgarries would aim his sidearm and fire it at a target at the base’s shooting range.
“Five seconds. Four. Three.” The field inside the gate was shimmering and moaning like an angry spirit. “One second. Initiate.”
The link only registered on their instruments. The FR1’s cameras were transmitting but it would take nearly half-an-hour before the images were received on Earth.
“Looking good, Doctor. Field strength is stable. Link is established with the Ceres gate.”
There were cheers all around the chamber and in the large observation booth.
“It’s going to work, Gordon.” Aiyana was just as excited as everyone else. Lynn looked up from her console on the main deck at her partners and smiled, particularly at Ross.
“Getting an unusual vibration from the gate, Doctor.”
“Ease the power levels back, Mr. Lucius. Not too fast.”
“I’m on it.”
The power levels decreased and the field integrity began to weaken. In just a few seconds, the minute long test would be concluded.
“Power surge, Thomas!” Lynn was the first to see the readings suddenly spike. “Hit the panic button.”
Lucius mashed the large red button down with the palm of his hand initiating an emergency shut down of the gate. The gate’s framework shuttered violently, but it held together. At first it looked like the field was sparking again, but then the energy discharge formed a tendril.
“What the…oh no. Time tunnel”.
It was an anomaly, the anomaly, the one that translated anything it touched from one point in time to another.
“The gate’s off, the gate’s off.”
The framework bled off the last of its power but the chronoton conduit moved seemingly randomly and too quick for the eye to follow, that is until it engulfed Aiyana Zheutlin. The field rippled around her like water and then it vanished taking the historian with it.
“Aiyana!” Gordon had been standing less than a meter from her and was totally unaffected, even though he tried to grab her at the last instant.
“Ross, she’s gone. Aiyana’s gone. She was taken by the time storm. Only God knows where and when she is. We’ve lost her forever.”
I’m again playing fast and loose with “mysterious appearances and disappearances.” Most likely Fred Valentich caused his own problem and crashed without the interference of a UFO or time conduit. I’ve put links in the body of this story that can tell you more. I adapted the official transcript of Valentich’s exchange with air traffic control to make it more consistent with my particular scenario. Oh, all of the air traffic control “speak” from JFK ATC I made up, so doubtless it’s all wrong.
Hopefully, I’ve been able to keep the suspense up regarding the Forerunner time-spaceship, the dying man from the near future, the fate of New York and the human race, as well as the “abduction” of Aiyana Zheutlin. Where will she end up and when and will she ever regain the present?
In my homage to the works of the late Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton), this book being called “Key Out of Time,” and the chapters thus far are:
- Prologue: Key Out of Time
- Interlude: What Lies in the Deep
- The Lost and the Found
Next time we’ll see if Antoine Barnes’s plan will really work and follow Aiyana to whatever fate awaits her.
The next chapter is Diverting Armageddon.