“Papa, why do I have to go to Hebrew school? You didn’t.”
“My dear little Miss, that’s because I’m not Jewish. You and your Mama are.”
“But it’s so boring. I already know all of the Hebrew, the cantillation is so easy, and Rabbi Endelman drones on and on and…”
“Now stop it. Rachel Aiyana Zheutlin, you will not mock your elders. This is important. There are so many Jewish children behind the Iron Curtin who would love the opportunity to have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, but…”
“I know, Papa. The Communists made it illegal.” Almost twelve-year-old Rachel Aiyana hugged her Papa. “I’m sorry. I love you and Mama. I just sometimes get…well, frustrated.”
“Languages come far too easily for you and what they’re teaching you learned ages ago.”
“Yes, Papa. That’s right.”
“You have to do this for your Mama’s sake and for yours. I know it might not seem important now, but someday you’ll look back and realize what a tremendous privilege it is being Jewish.”
The child sighed. She doubted that day would ever come but she would do what she was told. Besides English, Yiddish and Hebrew were the first languages she’d learned. Since then, she’d picked up Polish (Papa’s native language), French, Spanish, and German. but she was working on Mandarin and Cantonese and planning to learn something more exotic. She hoped by the time she got to high school, she’d find greater challenges.
Someone was saying something, but she couldn’t understand. If only her head would clear.
She was lying on her back. It was dim. She was indoors. The voice she was hearing belonged to a woman. No, not English. What language was that, Hebrew? Not modern Hebrew. Not Biblical Hebrew. Something older.
Aiyana’s vision focused. It was a woman. She was putting a damp cloth on her head. Was she in the hospital? No.
It was night. An oil lamp was burning. She could hear other voices. A man’s. Children. All speaking Hebrew, but a dialect that was old, ancient.
“Where am I?” She made the mistake of speaking in modern Hebrew.
The woman seemed puzzled.
Aiyana used her elbows to push herself up a bit and then realized she was only covered with blankets. What happened to her clothes? How did she get here?
“Where am I?” She was able to use a dialect close to what the woman was using.
“Hush, now. You are safe. My husband Aviram found you in the field while tending the sheep. I am Tovi. What are you called?”
“I…I am Rachel bat Ester.”
“The Time Storm. That’s what happened,” Aiyana’s remembered. “I was on the observation deck. Something went wrong with the time gate test. A temporal conduit formed. It came for me, swallowed me. Now I’m here. But where and when?” She kept her thoughts to herself. Aiyana Rachel Zheutlin, 21st century historian and linguist for Project Retrograde could only hope Dr. Barnes and the other scientists on the Project could figure out her location and retrieve her. If not, she was destined to live our the rest of her life here in the past.
Colonel John Kelgarries called in a lot of favors, but he managed to get recent Russian defector Mineyev Nikolay Duskin assigned to the Project. Besides Antoine Barnes, Project Retrograde’s chief temporal mechanics scientist, Dr. Duskin was one of the world’s leading experts on time travel. Barnes showed him the current Time Map configuration and explained the problem. Anywhere from five to fifteen thousand people, animals, and objects had been removed from their native eras and transported to some other point in history. Even with the Time Map though, they were incredibly difficult to track.
Barnes was deep into configuring the large time gate so it could be used to divert the experimental Forerunner time-spaceship from New York City on October 26, 2020 to the general vicinity of the dwarf planet Ceres in 2017. This was the best plan he could come up with to avert a devastating explosion that would kill millions and trigger runaway climate change. If he failed, the human race would go extinct in a century. There was nothing more important than the project.
But one of their own had been taken. Dr. Aiyana Zheutlin had been translated from the present into the distant past, even Barnes wasn’t sure where or when. That’s where Duskin came in. Kelgarries, along with Major Vasnev Romanovich assigned to the Project by the Russian government, recruited the defector for the express purpose of locating Aiyana in time and finding a way to return her to the present (though for Romanovich’s sake, the Russians could never find out about this). So far, no one who had been taken by what Barnes called a “time tunnel” had ever been recovered or returned to their origin point. If this worked, maybe there’d be a chance for at least some of the others, but they had to save the world first.
She disappeared a month ago. Kelgarries still remembered the aftermath.
“What the hell went wrong, Barnes?”
Kelgarries had pulled the physicist into his office for what the Army called a “butt chewing”. If Barnes were in the Army, he’d have him standing at attention in front of his desk looking like he had a pole up his butt. At least he was standing.
“Technically nothing, Colonel. It wasn’t the gate.”
“What are you talking about? We all saw it. The gate generated one of those time conduits or whatever they are. It took Aiyana right out of the observation deck in front of fifty people and you’re telling me nothing went wrong?”
“Excuse me Colonel, but it wasn’t the gate. The power could have been totally off and the gate inert and the time conduit would still have appeared in that place at that moment.”
“You mean it was a coincidence? You and I are in the business of not believing in those things.”
“Please, Colonel. We don’t know why a time conduit appears at a specific place and time. They might be random or there might be some sort of pattern we are unable to determine, but I can tell you that the time gate test did not cause the disappearance of Dr. Zheutlin.”
“So what do we do about it?”
“I think you’re forgetting our priorities, Colonel. We…”
“I haven’t forgotten a thing. Your first duty is still to stop the Forerunner ship, but you have plenty of other people on your staff. I want some of them working on the problem of finding Aiyana and getting her back home.”
“That may not be possible, at least in the short run.”
“You’d better find someone who can make it possible, Dr. Barnes, and I mean right now.”
“Well…” Barnes paused and looked up for a second. “There is one person who comes to mind Colonel, but you’ll have to make the arrangements for bringing him in.”
Kelgarries was standing just outside the open door of one of the Project’s aircraft hangers, the one containing the Forerunner Scout Ship, smoking a cigar. His wife made him give up the habit five years ago, but he’d started again. He got home so infrequently that she’d never notice. He hated keeping things like this from her, but then again, he kept a lot more critical information from people besides whether or not he had a few Chohibas smuggled in from Havana every now and then.
She hated the name “Rachel” so ever since she entered Reception, what Americans called Kindergarten, she told her teachers and classmates her name was “Aiyana”. Everyone at synagogue still called her by her Hebrew name. This year, her birthday coincided with Parashat Pekudei. The Haftarah portion included the beginning of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple.
Mama and Papa took Aiyana to Israel for the first time when she was eight. She remembered the tears in Mama’s eyes when she davened at the Kotel in Jerusalem. Even then, it was difficult for Aiyana to understand the dedication of all of these Jews toward a wall. After all, there was no definitive proof that someone named “Solomon” actually built and dedicated a Temple to Hashem, the God of the Hebrews.
“Wonderful, Doter.” Mama was clapping, tears streaming down her face. “I am so proud of you.”
“Mama, really. It’s just Hebrew. It’s not that…” The stern look on Papa’s face stopped her from continuing. “Thank you, Mama.” She walked over to hug her and then Papa. She couldn’t wait until this was all behind her. She wanted to please her parents, but she knew Papa only went to Shul to make Mama happy. He didn’t believe any more than Aiyana did, but he went anyway. He even seemed to enjoy it.
The eleven year old would be happy never to walk into a synagogue again.
Thirty-two year old Aiyana woke up from her dream. She had to help Tovi and her daughters Havah and Sarai make the morning meal and then do the chores. The sun hadn’t risen yet but Aviram and his sons had to tend to the sheep and it was the duty of the women and girls to take care of the home.
Aviram’s family had been very tolerant of the stranger in their midst. It took less than a day for “Rachel” to master their language variant and accent, but it took a little longer for her to learn the daily patterns of caring for the household, the subtleties of their traditions, and particularly the clothing she had to wear. Tovi and Aviram thought the dress they’d discovered her in to be scandalous and Aviram had ordered his wife to remove and bury it.
“Rachel” found it strange that she now experienced listening to Aviram’s morning davening as so beautiful. She hadn’t been in a synagogue in years, not since her younger sister’s wedding, and she hadn’t thought of the prayers in a long time. Mama had been so disappointed when she told her that she had no intention of marrying a “nice Jewish boy” and settling down. At least Judith had made Mama happy and Aaron was a nice guy.
Aiyana made a good aunt, but she couldn’t imagine being a mother, raising children, and keeping a “Jewish home.”
“Doduh Rachel, Doduh Rachel! Go get Eema. There’s a man coming from Jerusalem!”
It was just a few hours after sun up and the men were out with the flock. Little five-year-old Sarei reminded her of her niece Elisheva. She was bright, excitable, and loving. She was the first one in the household to “adopt” her as an “Auntie”. She had been feeding the chickens and was now running back toward their home, spilling feed out of her sack.
Aiyana stopped sweeping out the front of the house, set her broom aside, and squatted down.
“Slow down, Sarei. What are you saying?”
The child skidded to a halt almost running into the woman from the future. She was out of breath but still talking.
“A man. A man from Jerusalem. Wants to talk to Eema, Doduh. He says he’s from the King.”
“Time gate now powered down.” Thomas Lucius, also known as the “control voice,” announced the end of another successful test of what he called “Operation Divert Armageddon”. Dr. Barnes had been observing fluctuations in the Time Map as they linked the large gate in the Arctic to the temporal field active inside the planetoid Ceres over 400 million kilometers away. Of course in the case of chronotons, distance was meaningless, but the Ceres FR1 probe was still monitoring that section of space, measuring the energy output of the alien gate or what was left of it.
Barnes’s best guess was that the Orange Forerunner installation was attacked, probably by the Blues since the destruction was consistent with the use of a Forerunner plasma weapon, but that the time gate equipment was deep enough inside of Ceres to survive. It’s energy output was sub-standard for passage through time, but still strong enough to lock onto and be capable of enacting the plan of diverting the time-spaceship from New York in 2020 to the area of the dwarf planet in the present.
“Yes, thank you, Mr. Lucius.” Barnes was at the console next to Thomas’s looking at the latest readings. “I’m worried.”
“I can see it, too. A small but definite drop off in power from the Ceres gate.”
“We’ll have to move up our time-table. I’ll tell the Colonel.” Barnes looked up and turned to look at the chief time gate technician. “How long do you think we have?”
Thomas knew Barnes had already done the math in his head but he liked to challenge his staff. “If the drain remains constant, maybe two, two-and-a-half weeks.”
“I’ll have to confirm this, but I’d say more like ten days at the most. If we don’t divert the Forerunner ship by then, the gate on Ceres won’t be generating a great enough temporal field for a positive lock and it will become impossible to accomplish our mission.”
“Meaning we’ll have missed our shot at saving New York.”
“And the world, Mr. Lucius. And the world.”
Gordon Ashe hated being a professional. Being a professional meant he had to take Aiyana’s loss, at least publicly, with dogged stoicism, not showing how he truly felt. Of course his team knew. His relationship with her was one of the worst kept secrets in history, even though everyone except Ross pretended they didn’t know.
For weeks he’d hoped Barnes would find a way to recover her, or at least locate her in time so he could lead a retrieval team and bring her back home. Kelgarries brought in Duskin for that specific task, but it had been over a month and no news whatsoever. On the night he gave up, Gordon got extremely drunk. Vasnev had surreptitiously brought in a case of vodka and out of some instinct, gave Gordon a bottle.
Surprisingly, he had virtually no hangover the next morning, in spite of the fact that he almost never drank. Gordon had been raised a Hindu by his mother and an Anglican by his father, so he rarely used alcohol. He looked over at the night stand and there were only two fingers left in the 750 millilitre bottle.
It was three mornings later. Having no assignment at the moment, he allowed himself the luxury of sleeping in, not that it really mattered one way or the other. Without Aiyana he didn’t feel very alive inside. He was even considering quitting the Project and maybe picking up a teaching job somewhere. Her ghost was too much a part of Project Retrograde. He could only hope she was alive and happy in some past era.
He was just walking out of the bathroom in his small apartment at the base when a loud rapid set of knocks on the door startled him. He threw on his robe, which had been lying at the foot of his bed, and opened the door. It was one of the new MPs, Gordon had forgotten his name.
“Sir, Dr. Duskin wants to see you right away. He’s found something. He thinks he’s located Dr. Zheutlin.”
Gordon almost left with the Corporal right then, but remembered he’d probably better put on some pants and a shirt first.
“That’s two bottles of vodka you owe me, Vasnev. You said it would take me months to isolate Dr. Zheutlin’s location in time but I did it in mere weeks.”
“I’ll pay up, my dear Mineyev. An officer and a gentleman does not welsh on a bet.”
“You may be an officer, but you’re no gentleman.”
Vasnev Romanovich and Mineyev Duskin were laughing as Gordon walked into the observation room above the deck of the base’s primary time gate. The big industrial gate, the one used to move heavy equipment back and forth in time, was employed by Barnes and his team for “Operation Divert Armageddon,” but the most heavily used time gate, the one typically operated for the purpose of transporting time agents, was assigned to Duskin.
“I came right way, Duskin. You’ve found her, you’ve actually found her?”
As Gordon trotted up to the Russian physicist, Colonel Kelgarries walked into the room behind him. “What’s the news?”
“Good morning, gentlemen.” Mineyev winked at Vasnev as a reference to the joke he’d made a moment ago. “Yes, I believe I’ve located Dr. Zheutlin. Please observe the screen.”
The current configuration of the Time Map was displayed on a large monitor mounted on one wall. “It was difficult to isolate her pattern among the thousands you see described here but…” He picked up a remote and manipulated the controls so one line, a faint trajectory from the recent to distant past, was magnified. “…I have managed to find her. Fortunately, she was taken from us while the time gate was still operational, so the point of her departure was well…”
“Where and when is she, Duskin?”
“Patience, Gordon. We will find her and we’ll bring her home.” Vasnev put his hand on Gordon’s shoulder by way of support, but the archeologist was too distracted to notice, or if he did, to mind all that much.
“She is in the mid-Ninth Century BCE, about the year 832 I’d say, but I’ll have her exact temporal coordinates calculated in a few hours.”
“Where is she, Doctor?”
“The middle east, Colonel Kelgarries. Specifically between Hebron and Bethlehem, some twenty kilometers south of Jerusalem.”
Gordon was muttering to himself. “The United Kingdoms. She’s in Judah in the time of…King Solomon.”
“According to legend anyway.”
“Now Mineyev. There are those of us to actually believe what it says in the Bible.”
“I’ll have to brush up on my ancient Hebrew, not sure Ross and Travis would be appropriate for the mission. Lynn certainly wouldn’t be…”
“What are you saying, Gordon?”
Ashe suddenly realized he’d been talking out loud. “The extraction team, John. I’m going back to get her.” He turned to Duskin. “How close can you put me to her arrival point? The less time she’s back there…”
“Wait a minute, Gordon. I think you’re forgetting about the Project’s primary mission at the moment. You know, saving the world?”
“You don’t need me for that. It’s up to Barnes and his people. Time agents are irrelevant in the diversion project. I just need two or three people to go with me on the retrieval team. John, we have to bring her back.” Gordon had grabbed Kelgarries by the shoulders, realized what he was doing, and let go. “Please, John.”
“I didn’t say no, but we need to plan this out like any other mission. Are you sure you’re the right person to lead this team? I mean, your objectivity…”
“Try and stop me, John.”
“Okay, okay, but we still need a mission plan.” Kelgarries turned to Duskin. “When will you have exact coordinates and an insertion point?”
“Early afternoon at the latest, Colonel.”
“Fine.” Kelgarries faced Gordon again. “How about I buy you some breakfast? Then you can get cleaned up while I arrange for the pre-mission briefing.”
“Sure John.” Ashe remembered that he hadn’t shaven in three days and he was still wearing a pair of dirty jeans and a t-shirt. “Thanks.”
“Are you going to be ready in time?”
Kelgarries was standing on the main deck of the large time gate talking with Dr. Barnes. The physicist looked like he hadn’t slept in days which was probably close to the truth.
“Twenty-four hours, Colonel. I need twenty-four hours before I make the attempt.”
“You said the Ceres gate shuts down in forty-eight. You’re cutting it pretty fine and you’re only going to get one shot at this.”
“If I do it right, one shot is all I’ll need, but if you rush me, it’ll be a miss.”
“Your word then. One more day.”
“I know my job, Colonel.”
“Okay, in that case, I’ve got another mission to supervise.”
“Dr. Ashe and his team are ready to retrieve Dr. Zheutlin?”
“They’re fighting something of a time limit as well. If they want to reach her as soon as possible after her arrival, they need to leave today.”
“I understand. Please let Dr. Ashe know I wish him luck.”
“Sure, Antoine. I will.”
As Kelgarries walked across the deck toward the chamber’s main doors, he thought that Barnes must be getting sentimental in his old age, though he was hardly old at forty-two. Then again, maybe fatigue was softening him up.
Twenty-four hours. After all the work, the preparation, it’s finally going to be over in one more day…well, one way or the other.
“Given our window of connectivity if we want to reach Aiyana as soon as possible after her arrival, we need to send the team back now. No time to fly them and a portable gate to Israel, especially if we want to maintain security protocols.”
“So what do you have in mind, Thomas?” Kelgarries was standing on the floor of the main personnel time gate and he had a feeling that whatever innovation Lucius had come up with, he wasn’t going to like it.
“We actually have a gate set up in the countryside north of Hebron under tight IDF security but it’s only a relay.”
“We’ll link our gate here at the base to the relay gate, also in the present, in Israel. That gate will be configured to sent Ashe’s team back to ancient Israel.”
“And this will work.”
“It’s a calculated risk, Colonel, but one I believe will work.”
“It had better. I’ve already got one high risk time operation going.”
Kelgarries turned as Ashe’s team entered the chamber, already in costume. Lucius signaled Lynn Ms. Huỳnh who was manning the observation deck. They initiated the power up procedure. Then he headed back to the big gate to supervise the Ceres mission.
“So you only managed to scrounge up these two?” Kelgarries waved his arm at Murdock and Fox. All three were costumed appropriately for their destination but two of the men still seemed a little “off”.
“What’s wrong with us, Kelgarries?”
“Why nothing Ross, except you can barely speak ancient Hebrew and you Fox can’t speak it at all, plus how many Scotsmen and Apaches do you imagine were running around the Kingdom of Judah in the Ninth century BCE?”
“Scot-Irish descent, actually. What about Ashe? His mother’s from India.”
“He can speak the language fluently and foreign traders weren’t unheard of in ancient Israel and Judah.”
“We’ll manage, John. At such short notice, I didn’t have time to recruit another team. Besides, Aiyana is located in a rural area, so all we have to do is make contact, pose as relatives of her’s, and take her away. I doubt we’ll be gone more than a few hours. A day at most since the family she’s living with will doubtless want to offer hospitality.”
“Okay, Gordon, it’s your show. We’ll leave the gate open assuming you’re right about the timing. Oh, Barnes said ‘good luck’.”
“Don’t tell me he’s going soft on us?”
“Who knows, Travis? He’s been under a huge strain lately. Maybe it’s taught him a little humanity. By the way Gordon, are you sure the animal is really necessary, especially since you won’t be gone very long?”
Travis was holding onto the makeshift rope bridle of a small donkey.
“I want to create the impression we came from a long distance, so having a pack animal would be expected. Wish we’d have thought about this for our Beaker trading missions.”
“Just don’t let it shit on the floor. Janitorial will have a fit.”
“Excuse me.” Lynn Huỳnh’s voice came out of the loudspeakers. With Lucius now with most of the other gate techs working on the big gate, she was assigned to head up the main personnel gate for Ashe’s retrieval mission. “The gate’s charged. Departure in less than five minutes. I’m heading down to you now. Link up established with the relay gate.”
Ross looked up at the observation window and waved. Lynn smiled, waved back and then headed for the door and down the stairs.
“Good luck, Gordon. Bring her home.”
“Thanks, John.” The two friends shook hands.
Lynn walked into the chamber and over to the main control console on the deck. Then she turned to Gordon and abruptly gave him a hug.
“We’ll get her back, Lynn.”
“I know, Gordon.”
Ross noticed she was blushing when she let go. Lynn walked back to the console.
“Less than two minutes. Positions please.”
The trio and their animal posted themselves directly in front of the gate as Kelgarries moved next to and a little behind Lynn.
“The gate is live. Link up is stable. Sixty seconds until transit.”
The field crackled and sparked then the power discharge leveled out.
“Thirty seconds. Twenty. Ten, nine…” She continued the countdown and then, “We are a go.”
Ashe and his team had never used a virtual link up between two gates to simultaneously travel both temporally and geographically, so they could end up quite abruptly dead. They trusted that their companions and friends knew their jobs and really, what choice did they have?
Gordon walked through the temporal field followed by Ross, with Travis and the donkey bringing up the rear. The momentary disorientation felt much longer this time and when the three men and their pack animal reached tohe other side, they (aside from the animal) were all on their knees suffering from nausea and severe headaches.
Over a minute later, Kelgarries and the gate team heard Ashe’s voice through the radio link. “We made it. Bumpy ride but we’re okay. It’s right before dawn. We arrived just where we planned, about a kilometer from residence where Aiyana’s been staying. Looks like some shepherds are at the far end of the valley. I’ll keep you posted.”
On the other side of the gate, Ross opened part of the donkey’s load and took out what looked like a rock about the size of a large grapefruit. He unscrewed the top and lifted it off, pressed a button, screwed it back on, and then put the object on the ground near the gate.
Keying his throat mike, he said, “Murdock here. I just placed the sensor so you’ll know if someone or an animal is getting near the gate. Don’t want anything to accidentally walk into the future.”
“Roger that, Ross.”
He thought he could actually hear her smile.
“Acknowledged. Murdock out.”
“Let’s go, brothers,” Gordon said in ancient Hebrew. Both men could understand him thanks to their crash course in the language, but Ashe would have to do all of the talking. Fortunately, they wouldn’t be here very long.
An hour later early morning sunlight was streaming from their right. They were finally approaching the shepherds who had been tending the flock through the night.
“Shalom, good shepherds, we are seeking a nearby dwelling. We’ve heard one of our kinsfolk who was lost to us, a woman, has been living there with the family.”
“Shalom, travelers. Is Rachel bat Ester the one you seek?”
“Yes. She is our kinswoman. We have come to take her home. Is she well? Is the family with whom she dwells well?”
“Very well traveler, but none are in the dwelling just now.”
“Pray where did they travel?”
“You must be from a far place not to know. The King has sent messengers throughout the Kingdom with the announcement.”
“We have come far. Of what announcement do you speak?”
“Why the Temple, traveler. Have you not heard of Hashem, God of the Israelites? Our King, Solomon ben David has completed the construction of the Holy Temple, the House of Hashem, and the dedication is to be today. The household of Aviram, all of them, his wife, children, and Rachel bat Ester left for Jerusalem nine days ago to attend.”
“Nine days?” Gordon was whispering. Then he addressed the shepherd again. “For how long?”
“They prepared for a sojourn of seven days for the dedication plus seven more for the festival of Sukkot in the City of David.”
Two weeks in an ancient city crowded with people from all over Judah and Israel and from further away still, celebrating and feasting in dedication to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. How would they ever find her now?
“Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.
–1 Kings 8:41-43 (NASB)
I’m sure my friend “ProclaimLiberty” who is Jewish and living in (modern) Jerusalem will find plenty of mistakes with how I’ve depicted modern and ancient Judaism but I did my best with my admittedly limited research in trying to recreate a rural setting in the time of King Solomon.
I’m also getting closer to the point where Dr. Barnes and his team will make their attempt to actually divert the Forerunner time-spaceship away from the Earth. Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen next?
In my homage to the works of the late Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton), this book is 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
- Falling Down the Rabbit Hole
See you next time for Eye of the Storm.