Having revitalized the classic Solar Queen series to critical acclaim, Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith now turn their storytelling talents to Norton's popular Time Traders series.
Time agents Ross Murdock and Eveleen Riorden are recalled from their honeymoon to take part in a dangerous assignment: find a team of Russian scientists who have vanished without a trace from a research mission in the past of a far-off planet. Along with a team of Russian time Agents with their own mysterious agenda and Saba, a new agent teamed with Gordon Ashe, they leap into the alien world's distant history.
There they encounter several alien races, whose appearance, language, and customs are almost incomprehensibly strange. Something changed this world, and music seems the only tool that might prove a key to unlocking the planet's secrets.
But as they try to decipher a digital alien Rosetta stone, time is running out for their mission. Ross now knows what happened to the missing scientists--but can he save his team before they too vanish forever?
This thrilling adventure of a desperate race against treacherous time itself is a tale filled with excitement and wonder in the grand Time Traders tradition.
About the Author
For well over a half century, Andre Norton has been one of the most popular science fiction and fantasy authors in the world. Since her first SF novels were published in the 1940s, her adventure SF has enthralled readers young and old. With series such as Time Traders, Solar Queen, Forerunner, Beast Master, Crosstime, and Janus, as well as many stand-alone novels, her tales of action and adventure throughout the galaxy have drawn countless readers to science fiction.
Her fantasy, including the best-selling Witch World series, her "Magic" series, and many other unrelated novels, has been popular with readers for decades. Lauded as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, she is the recipient of a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention. Not only have her books been enormously popular; she also has inspired several generations of SF and fantasy writers, especially many talented women writers who have followed in her footsteps. In the past two decades she has worked with other writers on a number of novels. Most notable among these are collaborations with Mercedes Lackey, the Halfblood Chronicles, as well as collaborations with A.C. Crispin (in the Witch World series) and Sherwood Smith (in the Time Traders and Solar Queen series). An Ohio native, Ms. Norton lived for a number of years in Winter Park, Florida, and now makes her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where she continues to write, and presides over High Hallack, a writers' resource and retreat.
Sherwood Smith is the author of a number of science fiction and fantasy novels, including the Wren series for Young Adults, the Exordium novels (with Dave Trowbridge), the recent Atlantis Endgame, a novel of the Time Traders series (with Andre Norton), Solar Queen novels (also with Andre Norton), and many others. She lives south of Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
Echoes In Time
By Norton, Andre
Tor BooksCopyright © 1999 Norton, Andre
All right reserved.
THE PHONE RANG. Ross Murdock looked up, startled.
For a moment his eyes met his wife's across the room. Eveleen paused in the act of patting down the folded tablecloth on the basket they'd both just finished packing.
Strange, to hear a phone ring. It'd been days since they'd been so rudely interrupted--long, glorious autumn days there at Safeharbor, on the coast of Maine. No phone, no TV, no newspapers--nothing but seabirds, and the sound of the breakers crashing on the rocks down the hill from the house, and each other. Heaven.
"Let's ignore it," Ross said.
Eveleen shook her head. "This isn't our house, it's Gordon's, and it might be someone who needs to get in touch with him."
"Who?" Ross asked as the phone rang a second time.
Eveleen's expressive brown eyes glanced at him, rounded with amused patience. "Friends? Family?"
"Outside of the Project, he doesn't have any friends," Ross said, half joking. "And I don't think there's any family either. The Project is his friends and family."
Eveleen said, "I really think we should answer it."
"Then I'll get it," Ross said. "I'm closer."
On the fourth ring he picked it up. "Ashe residence." against that is the reality of our government struggling to survive, and the unrest so very close. No one must find out about these alien artifacts--either the ships or the time-travel mechanisms. You know that as well as I. Ratherthan let anyone find out, anyone at all, we blow up the ship--we blow ourselves up. These secrets cannot fall into the wrong hands. Every single government who knows the secrets agrees. And so necessity forces us all to compromise. To work together. To solve the mysteries we've been presented, before we find ourselves with bigger problems from outside our gravity well than we're causing for one another within it."
She sat back.
Misha sighed, presing his hand against his side. It hurt. "The mission?"
"The flight to New York leaves tomorrow. We begin the training there."
Lightning flared behind Misha's eyes. He strugged up, made it to his feet. "I'm going," he said, not caring that his voice broke. "Get me on that flight."
"But the doctor--"
"I don't care. I will be on that mission, if I have to blast my way across eight time zones to do it. And you know I never make empty threats."
They stared at one another.
"Zina." He relented at last. "Please."
The Colonel's lips creased. Just faintly.
Misha sank down onto the hay-stuffed bed. The effort of standing had made him dizzy. But that no longer mattered. He knew he'd won.
"We will leave tomorrow," she said, "but without you. As soon as your fever is down, you will follow us." She pointed at the bed. "Now get some sleep." The door shut behind her.
"Ross." The voice was immediately familiar--Major Kelgarries. "I've been trying to reach you. We've got an emergency--"
Ross slammed down the receiver. "Phone sales," he said, forcing a smile. "Let's get going on that picnic before the weather drives us back inside again."
Eveleen smiled back, hefted the basket, and opened the door.
Ross closed the door on the sound of the phone ringing again. "Looks like we might luck out weather-wise after all," he said in a voice of loud, hearty cheer.
Eveleen looked at him with her brows quirked, but she said nothing as he slid his hand next to hers on the basket, and with their picnic lunch swinging between them, the two started up the trail behind the house.
An hour later Ross lay stretched out on the cool grass, staring up at the cloud formations.
Emergency, he thought. Yeah, sure. There always was some damned emergency on Project Star, and it seemed to Ross that he'd been stuck in the middle of most of them.
Well, he'd done his time. They'd promised Eveleen and him a honeymoon, and he meant to have it. A honeymoon meant just the two of them, no interruptions, nothing more dangerous than the occasional bumblebee.
He glanced at Eveleen, who had been watching the wheeling seabirds swooping and circling above the Maine breakers. She had turned her attention to him. Their eyes met, and hers narrowed.
"Phone sales?" she repeated.
Surprised, Ross said, "What?"
Eveleen's mouth deepened at the corners. "I might be dense, but it seems odd to me that you'd still be angry an hour after hanging up on a junk sales call."
Ross snorted. "Angry?"
Eveleen reached over and traced her finger over his jawline. "Clenched. Just like some movie hero about to be blasted by twenty machine-gun-totin' bad guys." She tapped his hand, which--he belatedly noticed--had been drumming on the grass. "Not quite white knuckles, but the next thing to it."
Ross gave her a reluctant grin. "It was Kelgarries."
Eveleen whistled. Beyond her, a gull cawed, and far below, as if picking up the sound, came the mews and cries of myriad seabirds.
"This is our time," Ross stated. "I resent like hell their breaking their promise."
"But you know it has to be an emergency, or they wouldn't," Eveleen said. "Did he have a chance to say anything?"
Ross, remembering that same word emergency, gave a shrug.
"Darling." Eveleen looked sardonic. "Don't even waste the breath claiming you don't care. Or that they don't care. The fact is, Kelgarries's ghost is sitting right here between us, or you wouldn't be so tense. We might as well go back and find out what the problem is."
"Dammit." Ross got up, and began repacking the basket.
"Does 'dammit' mean that I'm right?" Eveleen asked, grinning. "A spouse likes to be able to decode these little clues."
"Dammit means dammit," Ross said, slinging the basket over his shoulder.
"I'll remember that," Eveleen said, chuckling, as they started back down the trail.
Within half an hour of their reaching Gordon Ashe's house, the phone rang again. Eveleen gave Ross that sardonic look again. "I'll get it this time," she said, and picked up the phone. "Gordon Ashe's residence," she said in a polite voice. "Eveleen Riordan speaking. May I take a message?"
Ross wished--absurdly, he knew--that she would follow that with "Sorry, wrong number," or maybe "No, we don't need any aluminum siding."
But ten seconds passed. Thirty. She still hadn't spoken.
Ross crossed the room to her side and waited in silence.
She finally said, "I understand, Major. And we appreciate the extra time you've allowed us. See you tomorrow."
She gently laid the receiver back into the cradle, and turned her face up to Ross. "Emergency indeed."
"Project Star." Ross swore, then added, "We should have used the damn transfer machine to blast us forward, or back, or somewhere in time when they couldn't find us." He sighed. "What kind of emergency? He say? No, he wouldn't--not over the phone."
"Correct. All he said was that they need us to report to the Center."
"What about Gordon?"
Ross let out a long sigh. "It was too good to last, I guess," he muttered, biting down what he really wanted to say. But cursing fate, the world, and his bosses wouldn't change anything. So he added only, "Tomorrow?"
"They're sending a copter to pick us up. At least we don't have to drive all million and a half of those windy roads back down the coast again."
"If it meant we could be alone a little longer..." Ross started.
Eveleen grinned, and wiggled her brows suggestively. "We have the rest of tonight. Let's make the most of it."
He had no objections to that.
* * *
GORDON ASHE POURED a cup of fresh coffee and sat down at the briefing table. He looked up at Major Kelgarries, who gave him a somewhat lopsided smile before saying, "They'll be here tomorrow."
"Was Ross pretty fluent?" Gordon asked, trying for lightness.
Kelgarries--a tall, hatchet-faced man--said, "Ross hung up on me. Ten tries later I spoke with Eveleen. When I mentioned an emergency, she seemed to appreciate our having given them as much time as we have. I suspect Ross might have had a more, ah, characteristic and colorful reaction, but she was the one to hear it--not me."
Gordon Ashe nodded, smiling. Truth was, he was impatient to get Ross and Eveleen back, to plunge directly into what promised to be a tough assignment. He'd never permitted himself to indulge in what he considered to be a dangerous luxury, romance. It was too much like weakness. Yet he had to admit that Eveleen Riordan and Ross Murdock made an excellent partnership.
The catch was that Ross and Gordon were no longer partners.
So would he go solo this time? Or would he, Ross, and Eveleen make a threesome?
Wait. Hadn't Nelson Milliard, the top boss, said something about a later discussion concerning personnel for the mission?
Gordon sipped at his coffee, resigning himself to a day's wait. His years of archaeological study had forced him to learn patience.
* * *
AT MIDDAY THE next day, Ross and Eveleen's second copter ride ended outside a nondescript building located on the outskirts of a small town in upstate New York.
They stepped out of the copter, bending low against the powerful blasts of air generated by the slowing blades--and by a cold rain-laden wind.
As if nature had agreed that their honeymoon was over, a powerful storm had swept down from the north during the night, and it had chased them steadily as they transferred from copter to small plane to copter again.
Ross was peripherally aware of his scarred hand flexing and then tightening into a fist as he and Eveleen crossed the tarmac to the front of the building blandly labeled NORTHSIDE RESEARCH INSTITUTE. His danger sense--whether sparked by the storm or by anticipation of whatever news awaited them inside--made him edgy.
He glanced at Eveleen as a security guard opened the thick glass doors for them. She looked neat and competent as always, her brown hair swept up into a chignon, her slacks and shirt attractive but easy to move in. Only someone who had been trained in martial arts recognized in her controlled grace the mark of the expert who was poised for action; though her face was pleasant, even smiling, Ross realized that she, too, was tense.
Just then she glanced across at him, a quick, assessing gaze. He grinned, she grinned.
So they were beginning to read each other's moods.
The elevator opened then, and they passed inside. Instead of going up one floor to what Ross figured were ordinary offices, they went down the equivalent of five or six floors, deep underground.
They did not speak during the short ride down. When the doors slid open again, they looked out on a familiar scene: the main offices of what had been known merely as Project Star, the work of a government agency so secret that there wasn't even any acronym to spark the interest of the curious.
Full-spectrum lighting and lots of potted indoor plants made the best of an underground facility sealed fifty feet below light and air. Ross and Eveleen strode past cubicles and desks, glancing at the busy support staff who researched projects for the Time Agents--and then sorted the data that resulted from the agents' excursions into the past.
How many of these people, most of whom he did not know, had had to read Ross's reports, and write up reports of their own?
He supposed he could find out if he wanted to, he thought as they passed through the double doors at the other end of the big room. But did he really want to know how much work he was making for someone else?
The thought caused him to repress a grin as they reached the outer office belonging to Nelson Milliard, the head boss of the Project.
At their entrance, three men and a woman glanced up. Milliard looked like a typical CEO--big, gray-haired, abrupt in movement, a man to whom time was precious. Major Kel-garries, Ross's very first contact in the Project, could never be mistaken for anything but a military man. But the third man, Gordon Ashe, looked to the uninitiated like an outdoorsman: brown-skinned, blue eyes, brown hair with blond sunstreaks, and very fit. It was not obvious to the casual observer that Ashe was also a doctor of archaeology, and a leader with a very subtle mind.
The fourth person, a woman, was unknown to Ross. Short, middle-aged, and gray-haired, dressed in a plain suit of blue linen, she displayed the same characteristics as Milliard; whoever she was, Ross decided after a second's evaluation, she was important.
"Ross. Eveleen," Milliard said in greeting. "Permit me to introduce you to Colonel Zinaida Vasilyeva."
Milliard turned to the woman. "Colonel Vasilyeva, these are Eveleen Riordan and Ross Murdock, two of our best troubleshooters."
The woman gave a short nod and a brief smile. "I have read much about you." Her English was excellent, if heavily accented.
I'll bet you have, Ross thought grimly. Question is, our reports--or those written by your spies?
"Please, sit down," Milliard said, indicating two waiting chairs. "Coffee? Something to eat?"
Just then the smell of fresh coffee registered on Ross, and he rose to help himself. As he poured out two mugs, he looked over his shoulder at Ashe, who watched, smiling faintly. "Russian?" he mouthed the word--knowing the others couldn't see.
Ashe's only response was a slight crinkling of the skin around his eyes.
Milliard went on. "We're still expecting Colonel Vasilyeva's colleagues, and one of our own people, all of whom were delayed by the weather in Washington, D.C. The Colonel came on ahead so that we could begin the preliminary briefings. The Major will give you the general outline of what we're up against." He nodded at Kelgarries, and sat down.
Kelgarries turned to Vasilyeva. "Would you care to begin, Colonel?"
The Russian Colonel gave a short nod, and folded her hands. "We have come to request your aid," she said slowly, in accented but excellent English. "In the past the politics of our governments have made us rivals, and perhaps we Time Agents fostered that rivalry in an intellectual sense even after the political issues were resolved."
Kelgarries grinned, and the Colonel's eyes narrowed in unexpected humor.
Ross found himself grinning as well. Early on during Project Star, the diminishing Cold War had kept the two Terran nations apart, even when they seemed to be fighting the same enemy. Later, after the Cold War was officially considered at an end, the race for knowledge had seemed less political and more of a game to see who learned the most the quickest. Except it had been a game full of danger.
"But you had reason to be wary about approaching us before this."
Milliard's diplomatic statement brought a sour smile to Ross's lips. He hid it by sipping coffee.
"That is so." The Colonel gave an abrupt nod. "In the very beginning, when we encountered the entities you Americans nicknamed the Baldies, we assumed incorrectly that they might be allies of yours. Their actions--destroying our bases without provocation--made investigation into your possible motives seem dangerous. It was deemed better to trust only ourselves."
Remembering those days, Ross felt a twinge in his hands. He nodded grimly.
"I see you agree, Agent Murdock," the Colonel said, comprehension clear in her dark eyes. "These Baldies are dangerous, and even after we discovered that you, too, worked against them, we did not know how far they had penetrated your own establishments."
Ross spoke for the first time. "So what's the score here? Baldies pulling a fast one on you?"
"Fast...one?" The Colonel repeated, frowning slightly.
"Baseball slang." Kelgarries turned to Ross. "No--at least not directly. Our target is a world, not a people, though the Baldies might very well be involved."
"But--" Ross looked from the Major to Ashe. "Dominion--"
"Is still safe," Gordon Ashe said quietly. "What this concerns is the world we first visited aboard that derelict, with Travis and Renfry. Remember?"
Ross grimaced, recalling the terrifying journey aboard a ship whose controls were totally alien, the worlds they'd nearly lost their lives on not once but several times. "How can I forget?"
The Colonel said, "When you returned, as you will probably remember, the tapes you brought back were shared among those governments who wished to exploit the knowledge on them. The random draw awarded to us the tapes that focused on that particular world."
"I remember that," Ross said. "And I was just as glad we were officially rid of that planet!"
The Colonel smiled, then continued. "We surmised, as apparently you did, that the ruined city you had visited was once a major starport, a center for many different star-faring species. Our immediate goal was to learn what we could about the Baldies to protect ourselves against another attack like the one that was so devastating to us. Our decoding of the tapes was frustratingly slow, and funding in our country is always an issue. Since we--I speak now of the Time Project--must remain a secret from the general public, and thus we win the government little advantage in the eyes of the citizens, the government wants maximum results for minimum funding."
Kelgarries and Milliard nodded, exchanging glances. Ross felt an unexpected spurt of sympathy for the Russians.
"It is much the same here, then?"
"Much the same," Kelgarries said.
The Colonel smiled again, this time her mouth curving in irony. "Well, you will understand, then, when I tell you that it was decided at high levels in our government to speed our research along by sending a party of scientists back to when the starport was flourishing in order to gather more data."
Ross whistled on a low, soft note.
Colonel Vasilyeva's brows quirked. "Yes, it seemed...premature to us as well. We planned what we believed to be a more cautious approach. Our time-travel team jumped back to when the tower you identified as a library was still functional, or at least intact, but after a time when we had adjudged the starport was no longer in use. After all, for all we knew, the starport might be peopled entirely by the Baldies, and we had no faith in their welcoming human beings into their midst."
"We'd probably plan an approach similar to yours," Ashe said. "I take it something went wrong?"
"That's what we need to find out." The Colonel turned to face him, her hands now tightly clasped. "Except for an abandoned Time Capsule, our scientists sent back to the past have vanished utterly, leaving no trace."
Copyright 1999 by Andre Norton, Ltd.2
Excerpted from Echoes In Time by Norton, Andre Copyright © 1999 by Norton, Andre. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
A splendid blend of the talents of two excellent storytellers.