Circa 1333 BCE – Egypt
“So you’re the legendary Sennedjem, called the Overseer of Tutors, Father of the God, Beloved of the God, and Fan-bearer of the Right Hand of the King. Such illustrious titles for a glorified teacher.”
“And you Ross Murdock, can only see and hear me because who I was, the legend and the man, was recorded in an alien artifact over 3300 years before you were born. Thanks to an extensive telepathic session with similar but dissimilar aliens, you are able to interpret that recording through means even a man of your experiences would find astounding.”
The 21st century time traveler and former professional thief didn’t seem to find it strange that he was standing on a balcony in a palace overlooking an ancient Egyptian city, and yet the city was not a ruin, but a living, breathing community of men and women, from the very young to the very old. He was dressed as he expected to dress when not on assignment, yet the man called Sennedjem was attired as an 18th Dynasty Egyptian.
“You brought me here to tell me something, Sennedjem. What? You’re an alien?”
“Hardly. I am as human as you are and we have something else in common. We both know about aliens and time travel.”
“The artifact. The object Ashe had Project agents covertly remove from the burial sled of Anubis, the one found in Tutankhamun’s tomb and on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It was emitting Chronotons.”
“Yes. I was on assignment. A group of what you call Forerunners had sent me to this era to fulfill a mission involving the boy King. The device was supposed to summon a gate when I was done but something went wrong.”
The “Beloved of God,” a name filled with irony, paced back and forth across the balcony. They were shielded from the afternoon sun, but the breeze blew hot. Ross could feel how dry his skin was and could swear he tasted sand in his mouth.
“They deserted me. Left me here to rot with a useless signaling device or perhaps that was the point.”
“You mean Gordon was supposed to find it in 1922, use it to help get him back home.”
“It also led you to me.”
“Gordon said the only mention of you historically is from your decorated tomb at Akhmim, and by our era, it was heavily damaged with most of the decorations lost. In fact, we’re not even sure you were buried there since the tomb was never finished. Tut had it built for you. We know that much, but your name was later erased. What the hell did you do?”
“The only thing I could do to send a message. Kill the King. Oh, slowly and painfully to be sure. I adjusted the device. I knew how to do that though my masters had no clue. I was aware of Tutankhamun’s multiple illnesses and frailties. Long term exposure to low-level but damaging radiation was enough to send him to an early grave. Somehow he eventually figured it out. He thought it was a curse. What he did to me in retaliation was…,” Sennedjem stopped pacing and shuddered, “…unthinkable.
“But the exposure also irradiated the body. You haven’t discovered it yet. The specific frequency contains a temporal reference. Combined with a separate set of coordinates encoded in the device your Ashe recovered, it will tell you where and when to find my people.”
“You said you served the aliens. Do you mean the Blues?”
“Back in your last Ice Age, and then during the Bronze Age, the faction you call Blues abducted humans from various areas on this planet and settled them on numerous worlds for their own purposes. I was born on one of those worlds, but later a whole community of us were abducted by the faction called Oranges, just as they’d done on some of our other colony planets. They trained us to be servants, not inheritors, both in time and space, but we were considered expendable.”
“Why? Why did the Blues kidnap human beings? Why take them, people like you to other worlds?”
“The Blues did it for survival, just like they’ve seeded those creatures in the under ice seas of Europa. The Oranges are not in danger of extinction, or at least they don’t care if they are, but they want us for servants, not to carry the heritage of the Blues forward into history on dozens of worlds in this part of the galaxy. The Oranges want to possess that heritage for themselves.”
“Why am I here?”
“Don’t be surprised to find that you’re dreaming, Murdock. The Blue on Europa told you it was sending you back with a message. I’m part of that message. Once Ashe brought my artifact back to your base and you were exposed to it, the programming was complete and as you say, the playback began.”
“You have to find us, Murdock. You have to save us. You have to save what’s left of the Blues. It’s up to you, now. If you don’t, an entire species of starfarers will pass from history with no legacy. Help us continue to be that legacy, Murdock. Reach out to us across history and the stars so that in some alternate reality, my descendants can greet you on a distant world in your present. Otherwise, we will become extinct along with those we were supposed to preserve.
The Present – Washington DC
“Do you have any idea how difficult it will be to convince President Putin to shut down the Russian…uh…project?” Russian Ambassador to the United States Petrov Yeshevsky was sitting at a table in a private room at a small but exclusive restaurant not far from the White House. His three companions were Eugene Taylor of the U.S. State Department, his fellow countryman Major Vasnev Romanovich, and the American Colonel John Kelgarries, who looked exceptionally uncomfortable in civilian garb.
“It is as I said, Mr. Ambassador, the United States is willing to exchange knowledge of the Forerunner space technology for the cooperation of our government in shutting down our time gates.” Vasnev noticed how Yeshevsky widened his eyes when he mentioned the term “time gates” out loud. “Fear not. Both our and the American security agents have assured us that this room is not under any form of surveillance.”
“It’s true, Petrov. Our government is putting together a proposal for a joint American-Russian space program, one that will allow both our peoples to eventually colonize the Solar System and perhaps beyond.”
Kelgarries was there mainly as a show of good faith. As Project Retrograde’s military commander, he represented his country’s time travel operations, but as an Army officer, he took orders like any other soldier. He had been ordered to attend this meeting, but all of the critical decisions had already been made.
Having both their nations operating time gates with competing objectives and priorities was a critically dangerous gamble. Both the Russians and the Americans had already changed the historic timeline of their planet on numerous occasions, some for the better, and some for the far, far worse. It had to end, but the Americans needed to retain use of the technology, especially if Ross Murdock’s dream wasn’t just a dream but a message not only from Forerunners, but from numerous human colonies on other planets living thousands of years in the past.
“I…um…I will have to present your proposal to the President and he will no doubt need to consult with certain critically placed advisers.”
“Look at it this way, Comrade.” Romanovich immediately regretted using the term, but he had grown up in the Soviet Union, which no longer existed in the current timeline. “If President Putin does not agree and continues to operate the gates, he will be guilty of perpetuating what you might call a temporal cold war that could have disastrous results on not only human history but the existence of the human race. I’ve seen this for myself. Further, he will be allowing the Americans to have an incredible advantage in space exploration technology that our government might never achieve.”
“Unless we discover the same technology in the past,” Yeshevsky countered.
“Or destroy the past in the process, Ambassador. Even now, the operation of the gates is problematic and we are uncertain if any time anomalies are continuing to travel in the time stream. People and other living and inanimate objects may still be at risk of being removed from their native times and placed who knows where or when. Tomorrow when Vladimir Putin wakes up, he might discover he’s the head waiter at a Moscow bistro rather than President of Russia.”
Vasnev knew that from Yeshevsky’s perspective, what he had just said was practically treason, but he also hoped the shock value would send a vital message, not only to the Ambassador, but to President Putin himself.
“I will consult with the President at once, Eugene. I expect we can have an initial response by the end of the week. There will no doubt be certain conditions.”
“If you mean returning Duskin, no dice.” Kelgarries hadn’t meant to speak during the meeting, but he knew exactly what the Ambassador was getting at.
Eugene Taylor put his hand on the Colonel’s shoulder signaling him to keep his mouth shut. “I’m sure we will entertain all reasonable conditions put forth by your government, Petrov.” The State Department man smiled too easily and it reminded Kelgarries why he hated all of the vultures who worked inside the Beltway.
“Then I should be off, Gentlemen.” The Russian Ambassador rose and the other three did so in kind. They all politely shook hands, but Kelgarries would have rather petted a rabid coyote than touch either Taylor or Yeshevsky.
“Thank you for the gift of vodka from home, Mr. Ambassador.” Vasnev was much better at playing the political game than Kelgarries. “I shall be sure to share it with friends.”
Kelgarries raised an eyebrow considering what Romanovich just said could be interpreted several different ways, most of them unflattering to the Ambassador.
“As I expected, Major. You are missed back home.”
“I serve our nation here representing our interests on the American project.”
That was the original arrangement Taylor and Yeshevsky made long ago when the threat of climate change was all too real. Now it seemed, if Putin agreed and didn’t push back too hard, that arrangement would be extended indefinitely.
The Present – Orthodox Synagogue – Birmingham, England
This was the first time Aiyana had accompanied her parents to shul in years. She had even recited the blessings over the lighting of the candles last evening for Erev Shabbat. Her sister and her family attended the festive dinner. Strangely, while the historian and linguist had always felt like a foreigner in synagogue when she was younger, she now was beginning to feel at home.
She remembered a Kohen, now long dead, a man who she was convinced heard the voice of Hashem. She remembered the dedication of a Temple, now only rubble, the songs of the Priests, the face of Solomon, and put together, she had learned what it meant to be a Jew, even in a time so removed from the House of Prayer for her people and the nations.
No. What is in the present isn’t what she’d found back then, but this is who the Jewish people are today. Someday, Messiah would come, rebuild the Temple, restore the Aaronic Priesthood. The songs of the Priests would be sung again. For the first time she found not only a connection to her people but hope.
Aiyana would never have believed such a thing was possible, but Rachel bat Ester saw it with her own eyes. Now the scholar and the woman of faith were the same person. In a way Aiyana couldn’t have imagined before, time travel made it possible to finally experience the presence of Hashem, the God of her forefathers.
But what did this mean for her future with the Project…and with Gordon?
The Present – Double A Ranch – Arizona
Yesterday, Travis had finally gotten back home after working with his Uncle Wendell and the hands driving the herd to the south forty for the past week. Today, Cassie stayed home with the children again while he did something more personal.
“I wonder if you ever managed to put the pieces together, especially as I got older, and my name and my face became more familiar? I’d like to think that you did, that you figured out the secret, that it was me who you met when you were a young man in 1953.”
Travis was standing at his grandfather Chano’s grave. The old man wanted to be buried next to his wife on a rise overlooking the ranch. It seemed so strange to have such different memories of him, one set about an aging Apache, a storyteller, a preserver of the old ways of their people, and a separate set of a young man with a pregnant wife, impetuous, bad-tempered, too quick with his fists, yet always seeking something beyond himself, reaching back into the past, to the spirits of their people, because his present was too difficult to bear.
“Not only do I have the honor of being the first Apache to travel in time and meet his grandfather as a young man, but it looks like I’ll also be the first indigenous person to travel in space, maybe to planets outside our solar system. Did you see any of this coming, Chano? I know I didn’t. I just stopped by to say thanks for the look back and the look ahead. I know you were proud of me in life. I hope you still are.”
Travis Fox turned and walked back toward his truck. He knew his wife and children were going to have just as hard a time with this as with his other absences. He hoped Cassie had come to a sort of peace with the life he’d chosen to live. He was part of a team that had saved the human race from extinction. Now, if Murdock’s dreams, visions, or whatever they were could be counted on as factual, there were other people on other planets that needed their help, too. And there was a race of aliens fighting a war tens of thousands of years in the past, not for their survival, but for their continuing legacy.
He had always wanted to pass on the lessons that his grandfather taught him to his children. The most important one was doing what was right, no matter what the cost. Travis had been lucky so far. After every journey into the past, after each time incursion when history had been dramatically changed, he still got to go home to the same wife and the same children (though due to one change, he now had four rather than three).
Would doing what was right, being a living example for the generation after him, cost him too dearly?
The Present – Project Retrograde
Lynn had hoped that after all the dust settled, she and Ross could get away again before the next mission, but here she was working beside Thomas Lucius on a new adaptation of the portable time gate, one that would fit aboard something as small as their “permanently borrowed” Forerunner scout ship. Ross had been locked away for days with a collection of shrinks, historians, NASA scientists, and who knows how many other types of “bigwigs” trying to squeeze as much information out of his brain as they could.
Gordon had managed a short vacation in England with Aiyana but then had to return to the base to continue his research on the Egyptian artifact. It was actually a Forerunner device used over 3300 years ago, assuming her lover’s dreams were more than just dreams, by a human being who was born on another planet and kidnapped by the enemies of his alien masters, or were they his protectors?
Romanovich thought the Russians would go for it, agree to shut down their time gates in exchange for Forerunner spacecraft technology. He would continue to represent his government’s interests as Project Retrograde embarked on a mission that would take them not only into the past, but hundreds of light years away from Earth.
For the foreseeable future, the Project’s Earthbound gates would also be shut down. For a while, she thought maybe Gordon would want to take a team back to Egypt of the past, to meet Sennedjem, but it was too risky. If they changed what he did in the past, the present could be radically altered, and they’d taken too many chances like that already.
Gordon Ashe was in his office pondering the artifact he had retrieved from the burial sled of Anubis. He knew his friend Tarek Tawfik, the general director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, would be mystified regarding how the low-level radiation his people detected from the “god” had now ceased. It was strange to hold the device that nearly ninety-five years ago had been his key out of time, the key that allowed him to return to the present, at least eventually.
He set the small amulet down next to Howard Carter’s private journal. It had been kept in a security vault at Barclays in London for decades. Gordon only found out about it because a historian, a colleague of Aiyana’s, came across an obscure reference to a man named “Gordon Ashe” in one of Carter’s public excavation journals in an entry made shortly after his initial discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. It was enough to point Ashe to one of England’s oldest banks and, upon presenting his identification and his appearance matching the description possessed by the bank officials, was allowed access to the box.
The book was small, pocket-sized, but it recorded all of the events the archaeologist had experienced in discovering the tomb that included the man who mysteriously appeared inside a chamber sealed for over 3300 years. It stated in part:
“I have concluded Mr. Ashe, that I should not disturb the contents of the burial sled of Anubis as you have implored me, thus perhaps preserving not only my fate and yours, but that of every man, woman, and child living or who will someday live. This I have kept from my colleagues, my friends, and even my beloved wife Elizabeth. My experiences with you, brief as they were, indeed were astounding, yet I will keep my promise and take them with me to the grave.”
The last entry was dated January 1939, less than two months before his death.
“Thank you, my friend.”
Gordon had returned to the base after a brief holiday with Aiyana, leaving her behind in England so she could visit with her family. She had been somewhat distant ever since returning to the present, and he knew her experiences in ancient Jerusalem had a profound impact upon her. What that meant for their future together, he didn’t know and he suspected his lover was still working it out herself.
Ten Days Later – Project Retrograde
“So, you have been given a new lease on life with us my friend Mineyev.”
Major Vasnev Romanovich was sharing a drink with Dr. Mineyev Duskin in the scientist’s quarters at the Project’s arctic base.
“It would seem President Putin finds my presence here more valuable than in our homeland, Vasnev. My defection is now considered an ‘extended leave’ here at the American project.”
“I understand it was Kelgarries who was most insistent that you stay with us.”
“Yes, I must remember to thank the Colonel.” Duskin raised his glass and finished the vodka in a single gulp. Vasnev followed suit. Neither man was entirely sober but they were far from being drunk…well, yet. Vasnev picked up the bottle, the gift from the Russian ambassador, and refreshed their glasses.
“So what next, Vasnev?”
“That, they’re keeping hush-hush, though I suspect tomorrow’s staff meeting will be most revealing. I understand that our engineers here and those from NASA are close to recreating a Forerunner ship, a larger version of our scout craft.”
“A mission to the stars. An ambitious move but a necessary one if the knowledge provided by Murdock is to be believed, Vasnev.”
“I have no reason to disbelieve it, Mineyev. I too have experienced a Forerunner telepathic device and the information it imparted still gives me the occasional nightmare.”
“A larger ship, you say? I wonder who will be selected to crew her?”
“If you’re interested, I might be able to put in a good word.”
“You already know, don’t you, Vasnev?”
“Let’s just say I have strong suspicions.” The Russian officer raised his glass. “Поехали!”
“Поехали,” the other man replied and they quickly consumed the contents of their glasses. Both men would be rather hung over tomorrow morning when Colonel Kelgarries revealed the details of their next mission.
And so we’ve reached the end of my latest time travel “novel,” “Key Out of Time” with hopefully a satisfactory resolution of all of the conflicts it introduced, plus those brought forward from my previous homage pieces. Oh, the toast shared between Romanovich and Duskin means Let’s get started referencing the next mission.
Here is the full Table of Contents to my “Key Out of Time” book, an homage to the works of Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton):
- Prologue: Key Out of Time
- Interlude: What Lies in the Deep
- The Lost and the Found
- Falling Down the Rabbit Hole
- Diverting Armageddon.
- Eye of the Storm
- Scattered Thou Across the Ages
- Walking on Fragile Ribbons of Time
- Time is the Longest Distance
The fifth and next book in Norton’s “Time Traders” series is called Firehand written with Pauline M. Griffin and published in 1994. I’ve decided to forego using Norton’s titles since my works have diverged considerably from hers. My next online novel will be called Time is the Fire.